Is Kefir for You?

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Actor Kiefer Sutherland, kefir lover?

Have you heard of kefir? I don’t mean the blonde star of TV’s “24,” Kiefer Sutherland. What a great show, though! I’m talking about the fermented milk drink – kefir, sometimes called the “champagne of dairy.” I’d heard of it but being somewhat lactose sensitive, I wasn’t sure I’d want to try it. Fermented milk never sounded very appetizing, but I was intrigued when a good friend said she had started cultivating it at home and found it to be an excellent alternative to yogurt and probiotic supplementation. I’ve certainly had my fair share of gastrointestinal issues and wondered if it could help me have better digestion. My friend gave me some of her cultured kefir as a starter kit to make my own at home and for several weeks I’ve been growing and drinking my own homemade kefir.  I have to tell you – it’s a hit! I have noticed far less bloat at the end of the day, more regularity and some weight loss as a result of consuming 1 cup of kefir each morning!

kefir1Author and dietitian Joe Leech, from the online journal Authority Nutrition, describes kefir as, “a fermented drink, traditionally made using cow’s milk or goat’s milk… by adding kefir “grains” to milk. These are not grains in the conventional sense, but cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that resemble a cauliflower in appearance. Over a period of 24 hours or so, the microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. Then the grains are removed from the liquid, and can be used again.” The word is derived the Turkish word keyif, which means “feeling good” and refers to the feeling of comfortable digestion and well-being after drinking it. It has been a common food item in traditional Eastern European and Southwest Asian cuisine for perhaps thousands of years and was a method of keeping milk fresh during hot summer months before refrigeration, as it’s shelf life lasts well beyond fresh milk’s.

kefir2Kefir keeps in the ‘fridge for several weeks, but you have to keep “feeding” the kefir grains with fresh milk to re-activate the fermentation process. It’s pretty easy to concoct, you just need some glass or plastic jars (the bacteria don’t like metal), a plastic strainer or cheese cloth and a wooden or plastic spoon. Kefir’s magic happens when it’s fermenting outside the refrigerator in a cool, dry place with a breathable cover like a coffee filter. Once the kefir grains are added to the milk at room temperature, or you get an already cultivated strain from a friend, the mixture starts to separate. The kefir grains rise and look like cottage cheese and the bottom of the milk looks opaque. After 24 hours (the Kiefer Sutherland connection) at a moderate room temp, the separation and fermentation are complete and you’ll want to pour the mix through the strainer or cheese cloth into another metal-free container and spread the kefir “paste” through the strainer with your metal-free spoon to release as much liquid as possible into your container. Then you have the kefir drink, which may have to be stirred to reconstitute the mixture, and the thick kefir grains left in the strainer, which looks like a pasty cottage cheese. You’ll want to put the kefir grains in an airtight jar and feed them with more milk, then store in the ‘fridge until you’re ready for your next batch to be made. The kefir liquid can be refrigerated for a couple weeks, but you’ll want to drink it once it’s cooled, each day, and keep making more fresh kefir to replenish it’s remarkable effects on your diet and health. If it’s too sour at first taste, just add fruit!

kefir4Kefir does taste a bit sour, much like plain yogurt, but has a “champagne” aftertaste due to the fermentation. It is said to have ten times the amount of probiotic cultures as yogurt, with over thirty strains of good bacteria and yeasts, and its consistency is much more liquid than solid, making it a convenient gut mending beverage. Kefir has also been shown to have anti-bacterial, infection fighting properties and immune stimulating qualities that inhibit cancer cell development, digestive ulcers and IBS contributors. Allergy and asthma sufferers have shown improvement of their symptoms while drinking kefir regularly as it can also help reduce inflammation in sinus and respiratory tissues. Even if you’re lactose intolerant, kefir’s enzyme profile and lactic acid bacteria make it much more digestible and a possible alternative to milk for those who have trouble breaking down the sugar in milk, lactose.

thefoodyoueatThough it may seem like a trendy and unfamiliar food item, certainly the benefits of drinking kefir are significant enough to give it a try. I never thought incorporating fermented milk in my diet would be as palatable as it’s become. I drink it on an empty stomach each morning to get my digestion started right. The typical American diet is severely lacking in fermented foods, which were once traditional and provided the necessary bacteria to break down proteins and fats more efficiently. Plus, all the refined sugar and flour we eat has done a lot of damage to our guts over the last century. Having a healing diet ally like kefir on your side each day can make the battle against digestive disease, diabetes and obesity a bit easier. I love it and have found it an indispensable part of my daily well-being. Maybe kefir is for you, too.  Look into getting a starter kit or try any of the good brands of kefir on the shelf in your health food store’s refrigerator section to get started. You never know if you’ll like it or how good it can make you feel until you try it, right? I now have several of my friends and clients becoming kefir coverts and they agree, “Kefir eats the bloat!” I hope you enjoy your kefir revolution, too!

“Let medicine be thy food and food be thy medicine.” ~Hippocrates

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10 Weeks to WOW!

Winston_stareAs a trainer I’ve seen a lot of exercise trends come and go. I’ve also seen many different types of clients try many different exercise plans.  No doubt, my most successful clients have strong goals, high commitment levels and the courage to redefine themselves and try new approaches to get what they want out of their routines.  But there’s one thing that never fails and always gets real results – a plan based on daily steps with variable exercises. The body, like the mind, needs challenge to change. If you force it to adapt by varying your routine you’ll see results much faster and with much less boredom. Let’s face it, a dull, repetitive plan gets flat results. You have to ramp up the intensity, repetitions and novelty of your plan so you won’t plateau. Make your routine less routine. Try something a bit new every time you workout and you’ll see new results all the time. It’s all about taking interesting, incremental steps each day – climbing the mountain one variable foothold at a time – that gets you to your peak shape and strength. Want to lose weight, get strong and feel great? Try this simple-to-follow but variable routine over the next 10 weeks to realize what I mean and leave a comment on how it changed your body, health and energy! It may not be easy, but doing anything new takes effort and you can do anything for 10 weeks!! Your will is stronger than you think… the challenge is yours to meet!!! Aren’t you worth the effort? 10_week_workout

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Exercise Essentials: The 3 P’s of Physical Fitness

3P_flex_manThere are a million different ways to approach exercise and the achievement of physical health and fitness.  That’s not a bad thing but the sheer plethora of options can make committing to a regular workout routine a bit confusing.  I want to let you in on a simple secret that can make your exercise regimen fun, simple and effective no matter what your fitness goals might be and especially if you don’t have a lot of time to get in quality workouts each week.  I call it the “3 P’s of Physical Fitness.”  The P’s stand for “push, pull and pump.”  You see, the body only moves in so many dimensions and applying specific physical motions in specialized workouts allows you to cover a lot ground in a short amount of time with awesome results.  If you exercise just three times a week for about twenty minutes apiece this plan of action will get you into peak shape and help you maintain your healthy physique without any guesswork.

Let me first give you an overview of what a multi-plane workout consists of so you have a handle on how the body moves through space and what needs to be done in any given exercise routine to get real results.  The human body is quite a magical, mechanical device for movement.  We have more dexterity, flexibility and capacity for dynamic, multi-dimensional motion than any other creature.  Even still, there are only a few ways we can move through space and these motions define how our bodies are shaped.  Let’s cover the basic four kinds of motion… Flexion, extension, rotation and lateral movements.  Then we’ll go into the 3 P’s.

3P_flex-extendFlexion is when the body bends at a joint, decreasing the angle of the bones of a limb and often describes a forward motion, shortening or tightening.  Think of a sit-up, knee lift or arm curl and you’ve got the picture.  Extension is the opposite motion, when there’s an “unbending” or straightening movement around a joint in a limb (as the knee or elbow) that increases the angle between the bones of the limb at the joint.  Extension is often a backward moving action.  A back-bend or straightening of the arms or legs would be good examples of extension.  Think long and tall.  Rotation is just what it sounds like: twisting.  A spinal twist, bicycle crunch or woodchopper cable pull would all represent rotational movement.  Lastly, lateral movements could be performed with flexion, extension and rotation or any combination of the three but the easiest way to imagine what it’s like to move laterally is to think “sideways.”  Often these are reaching, pulling, pushing or turning movements like a side bend, side squat or football passes.  I hope that clears up how he body is designed to move.  Now we can address a three day, alternating workout that incorporates all four movements in a thorough, comprehensive and empowering methodology.

3P_movement1The 3 P’s… push, pull and pump!  This type of workout is so easy to follow and so effective, you’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of it.  My answer: because it’s too simple!  All you have to do is 20 minutes, non-stop, with each of the three workouts, spaced 48 hours apart and then repeat the cycle over and over to lose weight, get fit and maintain your strength for a lifetime.  Sounds like a miracle, right?  It’s really not that earth shattering since it works the body the way it’s meant to be conditioned for optimal efficiency and power.  This technique also keeps you from overworking any one set of muscles and promotes the proper utilization of your energy storehouses for total body conditioning.  It takes about six weeks to start seeing measurable results in strength, endurance, energy output and reduced waistline.  We’ll start with day one: PUSH!

3P_leg-extendThe PUSH workout uses mainly extensive motions. You’ll be shortening your muscles briefly and then focusing on lengthening your muscles and joints as you push weight away from you or push your own weight away from the floor.  The six main pushing exercises I recommend are leg press, leg extension, bench press, shoulder press, tricep dip and pushup.  If you don’t have access to a gym or weight bearing equipment you can use your own body weight for an effective workout.  Even without weights or machines you can push yourself past your current limitations into a whole new world of strength and fitness!

3P_tricepdipsA leg press/leg extension can be performed as a body weight squat or wall squat, making sure to push your hips backward as you take a sitting motion and then pushing them forward when you stand.  Do twenty to forty in a row.  Hold hand weights for even more of a challenge.  Squats or leg presses activate your body’s metabolic engines: the quads (thighs) and glutes (buttocks), helping you to build strength and burn fat quickly.  For this reason, legwork is a great way to start any workout. The bench press and pushup can be alternated or one can replace the other.  I recommend lifting about a third of your body weight to start and increasing over time.  Try holding dumbbells while lying on a bench or the floor and lift them up toward the ceiling over the center of your chest.  This firms the pectoral muscles for a shapely chest.  Or just do pushups!  Try different angles like a military pushup with hands at shoulder width apart, then a decline pushup with your feet on a bench or chair, then an incline pushup with your hands up on the bench or chair.  Again, twenty to forty will do.  Tricep dips can be done on a bench or chair, focusing on the push upward from the floor with hands close to your body (a tight shoulder width apart) and only dropping a few inches for each repetition.  Going too low employs the shoulder muscles and can do more harm than good.  Shoulder presses should be done with lightweights to start so you can work on form and alignment.  I recommend seated shoulder presses for beginners but you can do them standing, too, for even more of a challenge.  Do somewhere south of forty reps for all these exercises, one after another in a row, and it should take you about twenty minutes.  This will translate into a thorough and powerful push-type routine that you can revisit once each week.

3P_upright_rowTake a day off between workouts to rest your muscles and then dive into day two.  The PULL workout will consist of shortening, tightening and crunching your muscles.  Your extensions will be shorter and your contractions will be longer.  You’ll be pulling weight towards your body so your joints will be bending inward.  The six main pulling exercises you’ll be performing are the pull up/chin up, lat pull down, leg curl, upright/bent-over row, bicep curl and abdominal crunch.  Again there are ways to do these moves without much weight and they can be interchanged, using your own body weight for some and external weight for others.  These moves will add meat to your muscles and quickly tone and shape your body into a fat burning machine!

3P_pullupThe pull up/chin up is a staple of shoulder and back muscle building.  Many people shy away from these exercises because they seem too difficult, but there are simple ways to modify them so anyone can do them safely.  If you don’t have access to a pull up bar consider getting one that locks into any doorframe at your local sporting goods or warehouse shopping center.  You can put a chair under your feet until you gain enough strength to bear your own body weight.  Or use the “Gravitron” assisted pull up machine at your gym.  You can calibrate a percentage of your body weight to lift and add more weight over time.  Try three sets of five reps to start and move to three sets of ten reps as you get stronger.  The lat pull down can be exchanged for your pull up or act as an introduction to building those long back muscles.  Always pull the bar to your chest, never to the back of your neck as this can cause injury.  The leg curl can be done to relieve the use of your upper body muscles and is most easily performed while seated or lying down on a bench.  Cable weight bearing machines at the gym make the process simpler but you can do in-place or walking lunges to simulate the leg curl exercise.  This helps build strength in the back of your legs, especially your hamstrings.  A dead-lift, holding a barbell at hip height and bending forward from the hips until your back is swayed and your arms parallel your legs perpendicular to the floor can also build the hamstrings and act as effective pulling exercise for the arms, legs and back.  Biceps curls can be done at different angles, like “hammer” curls with the knuckles facing in toward each other in front of your body or turning the elbows outward, away from the body’s center line until you feel different parts of your upper arm contracting.  Abdominal crunches, leg lifts, hip pumps and bridges can be combined to use the muscles of the abdomen, glutes and hips to pull your upper and lower body away from the floor for a sleek, toned, trim waist.  Do these pulling exercises for twenty to forty reps each, non-stop, back-to-back, just once a week and you’ll start pulling more strength into your life!

3P_kneeliftDay three: The PUMP part of your workout is about doing short bursts of cardiovascular training to get your heart pumping and supercharging your metabolism.  Walking, jogging, running, sprinting, biking, jumping, lunging, squatting, kicking, rock climbing, stair climbing, crawling, throwing, jumping/squatting jacks, balancing and “burpie-ing” are exercises that can be done in short intervals to cause a sudden cardiovascular adaptation in twenty minutes or less with a profound after-burn effect on your metabolism.  This can be combined with weight bearing for even more remarkable results.  Simply holding hand weights while you exercise can initiate a profound “cardio-resistance” effect, as your muscles and heart work harder to accomplish more in less time.  The key to the pumping exercise bout is intensity: you must get your heart rate up quickly and sweat rapidly.  It’s only for twenty minutes so squeeze out your best effort and put all of your energy into this heart-pumping workout just once a week!  You can increase the pump part of your weekly regimen to three or four times a week after you nail the first six weeks of the push-pull-pump alternating method.  A lot of the pump workout will revolve around using the big muscles of your legs to increase your metabolic rate so your body eats fat for energy.  Here’s an example intermediate push-pull-pump workout to get you started on your six-week training… Let go of the weights at first if their too fatiguing.  You want to keep going for twenty minutes with only brief 30-second rests between exercises in each workout so manage your energy wisely…

DAY 1: PUSH

20-40 weighted squats in a row, rest for 30 seconds… 20-40 pushups/bench press, rest for 30 seconds… 20-40 weighted shoulder presses in a row, rest… 20-40 bench/chair tricep dips, rest… 20-40 second planks, rest… 20-40 hips thrusts (seat-lifts or bridges)… Repeat! 20 minutes worth!

3P_squat

Day 2: PULL

20-40 weighted lunges, rest… 20-40 weighted dead-lifts, rest… 20-40 pull-ups/chin-ups or lat-pull down, rest… 20-40 weighted upright rows, rest… 20-40 bicep curls, rest… 20-40 decline bench sit-ups/crunches, rest… Repeat… 20 minutes! 3P_plank

Day 3: PUMP

90-second stair climber or incline lunges… 90-second weighted jogging in-place, 90-seconds of jumping rope… repeat for 90 seconds each until 20 minutes has past.  Throw in burpies, side lunges, planks, up/down-dogs, knee lifts, box step or box jump to mix it up.

3P_pump

Combo/Free Day: MORE PROGRESS… one more “P!”

When you don’t have time to finish your bout and need a make-up workout or you need another way to approach a thorough strength-cardio combo workout for quicker results, try the following 10-15 minute progressive pump workout

Quick stretch, with weights in each hand or holding a barbell do 40 squats… 40 in-place lunges… 40 deadlifts… 40 bent over rows… 40 pushups… 40 pullups/chin-ups… 40 dips… 40 second walking plank… 40 seconds Superman stretch on the belly!  No rests (or very brief rests)… this should take you about 20 minutes and you’ll be sweating bullets by the end.  Stretch again and go for a brief walk to cool down if you have time. 3P_stretch

Guaranteed post-workout effect: hours of metabolic burn and muscular adaptation and growth.  Plus it has a built in cardio-resistance element because you don’t stop, making the heart stronger while building overall strength.  Also working larger muscles first and smaller ones later helps you conserve energy for a more energy conscious and effective workout.

3P_stretch2

So keep it simple when you want a complete workout… either combine cardio and resistance or break up your muscle groups and movement dimensions by zeroing in on the push-pull-pump method.  Best of luck and please let me know how this technique worked for you!

Be the force of change… be your best… be dedicated… be well!

 

 

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Denny’s Top 10 to Zen

2015It’s nearly 2015!  How does the time fly so fast?  We must have been having tons of fun!  With all the hope, possibility and potential of the new year sitting right around the corner – and our resolutions sitting on ready – I’m reminded of all the past accomplishments and progress of the last year and inspired for future successes.  Many of my year’s best moments revolved around 10 practices or habits that I’ve incorporated into my life over the past twenty years to make myself feel happy and healthy, whole and well.  These “paths to peace” help me unwind, enhance my sense of well-being and shift my energy when I need it.  In my vernacular blog lingo – they help me to be more Zen.  All have had a special place and time in improving my life since I began practicing them and all can be life changing when they become habits.  I hope you’re inspired to take action and try some of them to advance your life and increase your health, wealth, wisdom and happiness…

Denny’s Top 10 Wellness Habits:

DennyPrayer11. Yoga – any style, anywhere, as often as I can get to it!  Yoga always makes me feel centered, balanced, aligned, strong, loose, calm and clear.  Yoga means unity and brings together the best of physical, mental and spiritual exercise and connects the parts of our being together through the breath.  My favorite forms are Ashtanga (power) yoga and Restorative yoga, both of which I’m certified to teach.  The daily practice of doing my own yoga at home has freed me from neck and spinal tension, rehabilitated my once shoddy knees and given me much greater flexibility, strength, breath control and mental focus.  It is such a complete exercise form and miraculous “nerve tonic” that simply doing twenty minutes of yoga each day can drastically improve your joint and cardiovascular health, muscle tone, nerve and immune response, digestion and lower your blood pressure.  Try a simple program of repeating Child’s pose and Down-dog pose in succession every morning for a few minutes to start and build your practice slowly from there.  If it wasn’t for yoga I’m sure I’d be tied up in knots right now!

acu_meridians22. Acupressure and Energy Work – Therapeutic acupressure, acupuncture, Reflexology, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Shiatsu, Reiki, Haptonomy and other forms of mainly Eastern energetic bodywork therapies can be fantastically effective methods to help the body heal itself.  Whether it’s mind over matter or matter over mind, accessing the body’s natural energetic centers, like the chakras, tsubos and meridians, through specific therapeutic practice can unlock one’s potential for health and restore one’s sense of well-being.  The power of touch, such as the “laying on of hands,” can not be over-estimated for it’s curative effects.  I have tried several forms of energy therapy to reduce anxiety, heal old emotional wounds and improve my concentration.  I became certified in acupressure and Reflexology over ten years ago when I realized it’s unique potential for helping others.  I still use it to this day to help friends and family in need of pain-relief.  I also learned Jin Shin Jyutsu, or self-acupressure, to hone myself in times of ill health or scattered energy.  I highly recommend learning this method for yourself.

trippy_cat13. Hynotherapy and Self-hypnosis – I became certified in Hypnotherapy in 2005 because I found it fascinating as a method for reprogramming the mind for desired behavioral changes.  I learned all I could about the power of suggestion and how the subconscious mind works as an autopilot response to keep us safe and confortable, even in our bad habits.  I realized I could help others “rewire” their thoughts to let go of past hurts and self-imposed limitations so they could experience more out of their lives.  I also became adept at self-hypnosis or auto-suggestion, the process of reprogramming your own mind through self-induced relaxation, visualization and retraining of the subconscious.  It’s empowered me to achieve great feats of memorization, overcome apprehension with public speaking and develop greater confidence in business and creative endeavors.  Hypnosis can help you stop smoking, lose weight, overcome insomnia and phobias or enhance your performance in any field.  Digital audio-visual hypnosis programs that use neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) or anything by life coach Jon Mercer can also work wonders for whatever behaviors you want to change.  All things are first a matter of mind!

arts14. The Arts – Be it acting, singing, music, dance, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing or participating in any kind of performance or artistic expression, the arts have been my lifesaver for years.  Some people are naturally more creative and need to express themselves in that way to free their spirits and live their purpose.  I definitely fall into that category, but I know many people who are more “critical” than creative minded who have greatly benefitted from exposure to the arts and some form of self-expression.  Seeing a work of visual or performing art can help you relate more to the human condition and allow your spirit to feel great depths and heights of human emotion.  It can be freeing, healing, calming, exciting, thought provoking, inspiring and life-affirming to experience art in any form.  I’ve performed as an actor and singer since I was in Middle School and love to write and tell stories.  This passion led me to obtain two academic degrees, star in two Off-Broadway shows, perform in my own comedy troupe for two years in Manhattan and fill the leading role in a two-act comedy, “The Year of Independent Living,” at this year’s Tampa Bay Theatre Festival.  I know the power of the arts first-hand and can attest to it’s magical ability to transform your life and open up your heart, mind and spirit.  Those who’ve gone through traumatic experience, dealt with mental illness or have been in need of physical rehabilitation have turned to the arts to help the body and mind heal via the soul’s expression.  I say, pick up a pen, paintbrush or piccolo and have at it!  Do it for yourself… do it for the love of art!

5. Fitness and Weight Training – I started strength training when I was seventeen but never got serious about it until I was about nineteen, a sophomore in college.  I discovered yoga about that time, too.  Once I really got into it, there was no turning back.  Still, I’ve had fits and starts, dry spells with waning enthusiasm and booms where I was fully committed to regular weight training, cardiovascular exercise and regular flexibility and stretching components to my workouts.  Everybody is different and needs different types of exercise to remain engaged.  I tried running but that really killed my knees and some competitive sports but they never satisfied my personal desires when it came to feeling physically fit.  I seem to do best with a combination of yoga, swimming and weight lifting.  It really makes me feel strong, supple and energized.  Having been a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor for over fourteen years, I know there’s a lot of information out there and it can be confusing and conflicting.  If you try various workouts you’re bound to find something that will work out for you.  Experiment, go with your interests and vary your routines until you find the right fit.  A great rule of thumb is to make flexibility 20-30% of your total workout bout, strength training 40-60% and cardio another 20-30%.  Doing your workout in that order also promotes the most efficient use of the body’s energy supply systems, not wasting too much energy on cardio early on and feeling too tires for strength training which builds and maintains muscle – the key to your metabolic rate and fat burning.  That way you do 12-18 minutes of stretching, 24-36 minutes of strength and 12-18 minutes of cardio at the end to manage your workout in a 60 minute time frame.  If you subscribe to the “afterburn effect” workout, you might want to stick with only strength training for 15-20 minutes, which supercharges your metabolic rate to burn calories for much longer periods of time than traditional exercise models.  There’s always more to learn when it comes to fitness so I encourage you to keep researching and stay active!  And don’t forget to feed your muscles!!

Gorgeous Beach Landscape6. Deep Breathing Exercises – There are many ways to breathe and we’re simply not taught how magnificent breath control is in beating stress, regulating the emotions, opening blood vessels, managing the heart rate, energizing the body, stabilizing mood and deepening mental focus and relaxation.  The breath is the most essential element needed for life.  We can scarcely live more than two minutes without it.  Yet we take it so for granted.  It’s really a miracle that the exact right atmospheric and chemical conditions exist to sustain us through the magical air we breathe.  Feeling grateful and joyful for each breath we take is the essence of living in grace.  The Ujjayi pranayama, a type of yogic throat breathing practiced in Ashtanga yoga, is called the “victorious breath” and deeply connects you with the universal life force energy known as prana.  But there are many types of simple deep breathing techniques that can help you find a tranquil state of body and mind like “reverse breathing,” where you inhale through the mouth like sucking through a straw and then exhale out the nose completely, which clears the sinus cavity and calms the central nervous system.  Diaphragmatic breathing, where your belly rises and falls with each breath is also deeply calming and expands breath capacity.  Focusing on certain body parts, like the eyes, fingers and toes while breathing can deepen your sensation of relaxation, too.  Simply yawning and sighing in succession can also make you feel peaceful, light and free.  Try sitting or lying down comfortably with a hand, a book or a pillow on your abdomen and watch as it slowly lifts and lowers as you breathe deeply.  Notice each exhale taking a bit longer than the last.  Feel the natural rhythm and flow of the breath deepening as you simply observe.  The navel will drop lower into your abdomen as you exhale more deeply and feel more relaxed.  Do this each night before bed and notice how well you sleep!  My breath has always been there for me in my times of need and I keep just practicing so I never forget how to do it right.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA7. Writing and Journaling – For the better part of twenty years my journal has been my constant companion and confidant.  When I was just out of college it became vitally important to record my thoughts and feelings so I could later make sense of them when all other reason failed.  I’ve used a spiral notebook to record my ideas for books, sketch comedy and movie concepts.  I’ve written a children’s book, short stories, poetry, stage plays and screenplays and I keep aspiring to be a published author because it inspires me to challenge myself such goals.  Writing is how I make sense of the world, which can often seem nonsensical.  Whether it’s creative writing, blogging or journaling, I always seem to be putting my ideas down somewhere so I can remember them and reference them when needed or simply express how I’m feeling in the safest, clearest way I know.  It’s a form of therapy for me and I highly recommend getting into a regular writing routine for anyone who needs to structure their thoughts and understand the way they think.  Who doesn’t need that?  I wrote my “morning pages” as instructed in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” for years – just writing out 3 pages of stream of consciousness journaling, long-hand, each morning until I would hit creative or cathartic pay dirt.  I have resolved many personal issues this way and found spiritual enlightenment through the patient, regular task of writing.  Many times it saved me from a sticky situation and protected my relationships and goals from rash, unregulated emotion and poorly planned action.  Dumping your psychic garbage and sorting through your thoughts in a journal can help you do the same.  Whether it’s writing lists, poems, lyrics, memoires or anything at all you want to express you’ll notice the act of jotting it down can make you feel better than all right.

chakras8. Meditating and Praying – Transcendental meditation has been a stalwart companion in my search for truth and inner peace for many years now.  It easily brings calm and serenity to my life and has become easier and more fulfilling the more I practice it.  Any form of meditation doesn’t have to be done cross-legged (called zazen in Zen Buddhist practice) for hours at a time to be of benefit.  Finding one’s inner power, purpose and patience can come in just a few minutes at a time once the practice has been mastered.  Simply listening to the breath with laser-like attention can make for an effective meditation practice.  Guided visualization, brain entrainment music like binaural beats or repetitive motions can also be utilized to induce the trance-like state associated with deep meditative focus.  Yoga is said to be form of moving meditation and prepares the body for the quiet stillness where oneness of body, mind and spirit can be attained through relaxation, focus and breath.  Meditation can also be described as listening to one’s higher self, the wisest inner voice that is connected to universal knowledge, where the answers to all of one’s needs and wants can be found.  Prayer, on the other hand, is where one’s questions or requests from the universe, creator or higher power are directed.  It doesn’t really matter what you believe, who you think is in charge or who you pray to when you take up the act of prayer.  There is no true separation of energy in divine terms and your prayers are being heard by the powers that be, whomever they are.  Since we’re all connected to the universe, our creator and each other, the energy of prayer creates ripples that eventually come back to us – so it’s best to stay positive and pray only for good, for the best possible outcome for all.  But prayer, like meditation, is a private act and very personal, so I won’t espouse my beliefs as definitive or dare thrust them upon you as superior.  I have faith that all good people who pray or meditate do it for the right reasons and I respect all beliefs that cause no harm.  I believe that if you’re a good person and practice your spiritual beliefs in positive ways, it all gets heard by the same benevolent, supportive power and the answers we need are given to us in accordance with the energy we radiate and with what we can handle.  Both prayer and meditation can help heal the body, mind and spirit and should be considered when other methods of self-improvement fall short.

machu_picchu19. Traveling – I think broadening one’s horizons is essential in developing a wider perspective on life and opening up one’s sense of adventure, possibility, wonder, enrichment and enlightenment.  Making more of one’s own life is what we all want.  When we travel we add new people, cultures, customs, languages, art, food, wisdom, stories, music, spirituality and social understanding to our concept of life and how we fit into it.  I have been lucky enough in my life to travel extensively through Europe and North America to sacred sites and natural wonders and have seen and done amazing things that forever enriched my sense of self and of the world.  From the Acropolis in Athens to Stonehenge in England; from the Duomo in Florence to the Louvre in Paris; from the cliffs of Moher in Ireland to the palace of Knossos on Crete I have experienced ancient history and architecture, the greatest works of art ever produced and nature’s most awe-inspiring vistas first-hand it and it made me grow and appreciate the world I live in so acutely.  Traveling to Chichen Itza in Mexico, hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Brice and Zion national parks, seeing the Grand Canyon up close and even viewing the New York City skyline at night have all shown me what magnificent opportunities and possibilities, both natural and man-made, that this world can offer.  My big bucket list trips still include the Big Island of Hawaii, Machu Picchu in Peru, Bali in Indonesia and an African safari in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.  I can only imagine how much visiting those places will reshape my worldview and remind me what a gift my life is.  I can’t wait to find out!  Even exploring local vistas that are new to me, like the Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, FL where the legend of the “fountain of youth” originated has made me a richer person for having the experience of visiting… and was fantastic for my skin tone!

volunteer110. Teaching and Volunteering – I’ll keep it simple and true: teaching and volunteering are two of the most fulfilling things I’ve done.  I’ve taught all kinds fitness classes and wellness workshops to preschoolers, seniors and everyone in between and it’s always a joy to help people learn and grow.  I’ve volunteered for various charitable fundraisers and foundations as a singer, yoga instructor, server, non-medical assistant and caregiver and it always feels great to help those less fortunate than myself.  I always walk away feeling more fortunate and grateful that I donated my time and energy and that I got to make a difference in some else’s life.  Selfless acts of kindness remind me to be thankful for my life and to be humble, to give generously of my heart and rejoice in alleviating someone’s suffering and savor the pleasure of feeling their gratitude and seeing them smile or hearing them laugh.  It’s those little things we do that mean a lot.  Volunteering and donating time, effort, energy and money, advocating for others well-being and supporting worthy causes for those in need uplifts the spirit.  Helping children, seniors, the disabled and the diseased and all of God’s creatures, big and small, makes this world a better place to live in and your life a bigger light in the world.  Teaching anyone to help him or herself is the easiest way to guarantee their betterment and the future benefit of others.  So pay-it-forward and give of yourself, make a difference and fight for what you believe in, spread your wisdom and compassion far and wide.  The boost to humankind will be worth it and the rewards for your soul will be immeasurable.

NY2015

Click on New Year’s Toast GIF

I also practice giving gratitude or counting my blessings daily, which always makes me feel more connected with the goodness and abundance in my life.  Each morning I’ll think of at least ten things I’m grateful for, like my health, friends, family, my home, my clients, my food and drink, my cat, my car, my computer, my imagination (and much more) to start my day in a healthy frame of mind.  Then at night I’ll think of the best thing that happened to me that day and recall all the many good things in that process of remembering, too.  That helps me go to sleep in a peaceful, joyful way.  Try counting your blessings instead of sheep the next time you need to rest.  This is my feel-good motto: “If you’re alive and thinking, be in love and thanking!”

I hope these 10 Zen practices help promote wellness and fulfillment in your life as you move forward and grow this coming year.  Thank you for taking this journey with me and sharing in my adventure of enlightenment.  May the promise of 2015 inspire you to be your personal best, reach for your dreams and achieve your goals… even the sky is not the limit!

~Be well, all year, all your life!

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Gluten-Free Guide to the Holidays

(See Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie Recipe below)

Thanksgiving1Recently I decided to join the gluten-free revolution and eliminate that sticky protein found in wheat, rye and barley products from my diet.  From the Lain for “glue,” gluten gives dough it’s typical elasticity, helping it to rise and keep its shape and gives breads their chewy texture.  As a binding agent, gluten is often added to food, cosmetics, hair products and adhesives to make them thicker and stickier.  Gluten is insoluble in water, which can make it irritate the lining of the digestive tract.  It’s estimated that 12-20 million Americans suffer from gluten sensitivity or intolerance, a toxic response to gluten, leading to digestive disorders like gas, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and abdominal cramping.  A full-blown, genetically born autoimmune reaction to gluten that damages the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients is termed Celiac Disease.  “Celiac” may present itself with symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping and distension, intense fatigue, sleeplessness, headaches, joint pain, skin rashes, tooth decay, reproductive issues, anemia and a wide array of digestive disorders.  An estimated 3 million Americans may be living with Celiac Disease and only 1 in 22 patients is accurately diagnosed.  That’s less than 5% of those who have it who actually know what health problem they’re dealing with!  The only known treatment for Celiac is a gluten-free diet for life.  No pharmaceutical drug can treat it and since the drug companies fund most diagnostic research, they have very little to gain from accurately diagnosing the disease.  But the right foods can be the best medicine for clearing up gluten related health disorders.  I’d like to share my private journey of digestive disorder, discovery and healing so that it may inspire you to adjust your dietary habits this holiday season and improve your overall health and wellness for good.

THE STORY OF MY GUT… THE GLUTEN YEARS

SADchartI decided to go gluten free because my nutritionist friend and I started talking about my past digestive issues, which my gastroenterologist diagnosed as the dreaded “IBS” in 2004.  I had long suffered from bloat, abdominal cramping and distension after I ate, since I was maybe 13 years old.  My stool was rarely solid and sometimes painful to pass.  Hemorrhoids became an issue and my skin would develop heat rashes out of nowhere.  I had Whooping Cough and Candida in high school, over and over, which was treated with every known antibiotic. I suffered from terrible tonsillitis until my tonsils and adenoids were removed at age 21.  My entire digestive tract was raw and my good gut bacteria were decimated.  Much of the immune system resides in the gut and it seemed mine was busted!  I kept eating like a normal teen and twenty-something, downing lots of coffee, pizza and beer throughout college.  I tried to go with the flow and enjoy the Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat, wheat and sweet foods.  But the abdominal pain got worse and lead to long bouts of diarrhea, fatigue and the formation of a fistula – a painful abscess near the anus caused by a strained colon.  It was colonoscopy time!

gut1The doctors proposed possible diagnoses that scared the crap out of me (more puns to come) and said I might have Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating autoimmune disease of the small intestine, or perhaps Ulcerative Colitis or Celiac.  My doctors probed me from stem to stern, scanned me right, left and center and poked and prodded me more times than I care to remember.  They finally had to operate on the fistula.  I sat on a doughnut for a month – still teaching yoga everyday – and took sitz baths while it healed.  It was an ordeal I would never want to endure again – a real, literal, undeniable pain in the ass (irresistible pun)!  They finally decided to label me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the ambivalent umbrella term for digestive disorders that doctors can’t quite diagnose with any certainty.  My diet was never addressed and no intestinal biopsy was taken to determine if indeed I had Celiac, the only sure-fire way to rule it out.  But I got some great pictures of my sigmoid for posterity.  (Okay, that was my final pun!) Unfortunately, aside from surgery or drug intervention, there was little hope the doctor-gods could give me.  I did my own research and decided to totally change my diet and went full-on “Macrobiotic” (think whole foods – grains, teas, fish/seafood and lots of veggies like the Mediterranean or Japanese diet), and supplemented probiotics and digestive enzymes for 9 months!  I fixed my gut, felt a thousand percent better and slowly re-incorporated the coffee, alcohol, starches, sweets and red meat I hated giving up.  Boomerang!  A few years later I had gained 65 lbs., became hypertensive and my tummy revolted again!

sigmoidIn 2012 I got back on track and started eating whole grains like quinoa and steel-cut oats twice a day to lose those 65 lbs. and lower my blood pressure (See my post  – Whole Grains, Whole New Me).  I went back to my yoga practice full time and cut a lot of sugar and red meat out of my diet.  I looked and felt a lot better than I had in years.  I still drank coffee and beer, but only on occasion.  I still ate some pizza, pasta, bread and cereal – but the best, organic brands.  My tummy seemed to be getting better – or at least looked flatter in the morning!  But at night I felt like was going to sleep on a bowling ball.  Then I’d wake up feeling like I hadn’t slept at all.  Dark circles formed around my eyes and my skin began to rash again.  I had no energy and my digestive bloating and cramping returned with a vengeance.  I was done broaching the issue with doctors so I asked my nutritionist friend what I should do.  She said everything I had described sounded like undiagnosed Celiac or sensitivity to gluten.  She suggested the best way to find out was to eliminate it from my diet and see what changes I noticed.  So began my education in gluten free eating and my process of eliminating that glue-like gunk from sticking to my gut to see if it was making me sick.

So two questions had to be answered: What foods must I avoid?  What CAN I have?  Here’s what I found out and how I altered my diet…

THE OFF-LIMITS GLUTEN FOOD LIST

gluten_foodThe only foods I had to avoid were those containing gluten: wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives.  So regular wheat or grain flour products like most bread, pizza, beer, pasta, crackers, breadcrumbs, croutons and cereal were off the table.  Bran, couscous, farina, graham, panko, semolina, malts, groats, pumpernickel and orzo are buzzwords for foods containing gluten that also have to be avoided.  Soy sauce usually contains gluten.  I knew this would be a challenging diet to start four weeks before Thanksgiving!  What am I, nuts?

THE GO-TO GLUTEN-FREE LIST

go-ahead-its-gluten-freeFor starters, some grains I could indulge in – quinoa, buckwheat, rice, corn, millet and cassava, plus my favorite breakfast food, steel-cut oats – if they’re certified gluten-free (as some oats are grown and processed near wheat which can contaminate them).  All fruits and vegetables are gluten-free.  Untreated meat, poultry, fish and seafood are perfectly fine, but no breading allowed!  Cheese is okay, except for blue cheese, which is grown on bread. Nuts, seeds, eggs, beans, butters, tofu, teas, wines and pure spices are delightfully gluten-free – giving me quite a lot of good foods to choose from.

GLUTEN-FREE HOLIDAY HINTS

So, finally we get to the challenge of remaining gluten-free through the most gluten-tempting time of the year, when food cravings strike and resistance is low: the holidays!  A time of joyful celebration, gathering together loved ones, unrealistic expectations, compounding stress and extra helpings of rich food and drink.  A recipe for disaster every year – how do we ever make it through?  With humor!  And a vodka tonic or four!!  To me the holidays are about being with family and friends and getting to enjoy their company.  The food, presents and decorations are secondary to feeling good about life and sharing that feeling with those you love.  But the food is going to be there, we’re going to indulge – so why not make the best of our excesses?  Going gluten free or staying on any diet isn’t too difficult if you keep a firm resolve, splurge on the healthy stuff and know what pitfalls to watch out for.

tapioca_flourThe gluten-rich foods to watch out for during the holidays include stuffing/dressing, gravy, mac and cheese, breaded or pasta-laden casseroles and most desserts like cake, pie, cookies and pastries.  Potatoes, mashed, sweet or any way you like them are fine, thank goodness.  Veggies, cranberry sauce, fruit desserts and most alcoholic drinks are gluten-free, except for beer and some whiskey.  Cider and wine are great options when drinking gluten-free.  Ham, roasts and turkey are all good – unless they’ve been stuffed or breaded with non-gluten-free breadcrumbs.  There are great ways to modify and replace those sticky starches with gluten-free alternatives… Mom is making her stuffing with gluten-free breadcrumbs for me this year, which can be found commercially at Whole Foods, your local health food store or in the high-end section of your supermarket.  Thanks, Mom!  Glutino is a reputable brand for gluten-free products.  You can bake with almond, quinoa, rice or tapioca flours.  Gravy can be made with chickpea or buckwheat flour.  There are tons of gluten-free breads on the market nowadays.  Most are better when toasted a bit as their texture is somewhat gummier than regular bread.  Quinoa and brown rice pastas can be a healthy, gluten-free substitute for macaroni-based salads and casseroles.  I’m making my “impossible” crust-free pumpkin pie with tapioca flour this year – it’s quite possibly the yummiest pie I’ve ever baked!  See recipe below…

MY GUT CHECK and TAKE-AWAY

healthyVunhealthy_dietTaking control of your health, digestion, weight and cravings is well within your reach this holiday season.  Going gluten-free, low-carb, low-sugar, vegetarian or any other route with your diet can be challenging but you’re worth the discipline.  For me, going gluten-free has been worth the supposed sacrifice.  My gut has gone flat, I lost 6 lingering lbs. and an inch at my waist, I have more energy, the dark circles around my eyes are gone, my skin has cleared, my head is less foggy and I no longer have the abdominal pain and digestive problems that plagued me only a few short weeks ago.  I had a gluten-free pizza the other day – it was actually pretty tasty.  Lots of restaurants now cater to gluten-free diners – all you have to do is ask about it.  It’s a brave, new, gluten-free world out there.  So no need to be shy about taking your health into your own hands and making yourself feel better.  A gluten-free diet can help stave off other autoimmune disorders like Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid arthritis, help minimize the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease, neurological disorders and diabetes and may possibly help prevent reproductive problems, depression and malnutrition.  The gluten-free pros well outweigh the cons.

turkey_pie_workoutI don’t feel I need to be diagnosed anymore.  This process of elimination and my own reason and experience tell me that gluten is not my friend.  Whether I have Celiac or just sensitivity to gluten, I now know how to treat it – by remaining gluten-free.  But if you suspect you suffer from a gluten related disorder or disease, I do suggest asking your doctor for the necessary tests to be sure.  It can’t hurt to clean up your diet, either way.  Remember, without your health, your life becomes very limited.  So be thankful for your good health, care for yourself and those you cook for and treat your body with respect this holiday season and at all times.  Best wishes for happy, healthy and safe celebrations this year with your family, friends and great food, festivity and love.

GLUTEN-FREE CRUST-FREE “IMPOSSIBLE” PUMPKIN PIE RECIPE

Ingredients:

1 Cup of Organic Cane Sugar

2/3 Stick of 100% Canola Margarine

1 and ½ Cups Evaporated Milk

1 and ½ Cups Cooked Pumpkin (plain, pie filling)

½ Cup Tapioca Flour

1 Tsp Baking Powder

4 Eggs beaten with a fork/whisk

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

3-4 Tbsp of pure Honey

¼ Tsp each of: ground Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice and Garam Masala spices

pumpkin_pie1Cream sugar and margarine together with a fork or hand blender until evenly blended with no lumps.  Mix in evaporated milk and pumpkin filling evenly.  Add Tapioca flour, baking powder and spices.  Mix in vanilla extract and beaten eggs (works best to combine eggs and vanilla before adding to the mix).  Mix until well blended.  Pour mixture into a greased 10-inch pie pan and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Remove pie from over before the top browns!  Upon removal, while still warm, drizzle honey on top for a sweet glaze.  Set to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Best if set overnight.  Enjoy sharing and savoring your gluten-free, crust-free custardy pumpkin pie!

whole_food_diet (Similar to Macrobiotic diet).

~Be thankful, be joyful, be free… and be well!

“I’m honest with myself about the reality of what and how I eat.  I choose well so that I can feel well.  The energy in what I eat sustains me and I honor that fact by preparing meals with gratitude, mindfulness and a loving heart.”  ~Nathalie Herrman, author

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Exercise Essentials: 5, 10 & 20 Minute Workouts

woman_flexTaking time everyday to get in regular exercise can be more than challenging these days with so many demands put upon us.  In fact, it can feel like a down right chore!  Even though we know that we need proper nutrition, activity and rest to lead a balanced life and stay healthy, often our priorities get shifted and those essential components of wellness get pushed to the wayside.  If you leave out or skip a day of exercise because it’s inconvenient or you get too busy you’re ultimately shortchanging your health and missing out on an opportunity to relieve stress and live more vibrantly.

feel_good_exerciseWorkouts are meant to give you energy, not take it away.  You always feel better when you’ve put in the effort and pour out some sweat.  Can you ever remember saying to yourself after a good bout of exercise, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t done that!”  So if the effort and energy aren’t the problem, why do we skip exercise sometimes, even though we know it makes us feel great?  When we feel we have to leave out a workout from our busy schedules the real issue is usually time management.  Somehow we have to incorporate exercise as an essential part of our daily, habitual routine and give it the priority it deserves as a central component to living, to one’s lifestyle.

simple-ways-to-get-exerciseWhen time is compressed (when isn’t it?) there are still very effective ways to get in your exercise and re-energize yourself daily.  Yes, the best-case scenario is daily exercise.  Our bodies are made to move, designed for activity, not sedentary living.  Just look at how the body reacts to long-term hospital stays or palliative care.  Muscles atrophy and lose most of their mass within weeks, joints stiffen and bedsores set in – all simply because the body is unable to move much.  Again, exercise shouldn’t be seen as optional or as a chore.  It can become one of the most fun aspects of your life!

suck_it_upHealthy activities can energize you for your whole day, beat stress, help you digest food better and allow for a peaceful rest at night.  I honestly believe the twitching and discomfort associated with “Restless Legs Syndrome” comes from nerves in the legs firing as if to ask their owner, “please walk me!”  We sit too much all day, at work, at our computers and in traffic.  So getting up and remaining active for at least a little while each day is more imperative than ever.  But here’s the beauty of what I’m suggesting – you only have to exercise for a few minutes everyday!  That’s right!!  In twenty, ten or even five minutes at a time (if you’re consistent) you can build up a daily workout routine and stay committed to it without shirking your other commitments (I don’t mean Youtube or the boob tube)!  Let me tell you how…

daily_exerciseI want to give you a few tips to get you started and then I’m going to walk you through a few simple workouts you can do at home, in the park or even on your lunch break so you can begin the journey of making daily exercise part of your lifestyle and reap all the inherent benefits.  Here’s a tip: Did you know that flexibility training should comprise 20-30% of your whole workout regimen?  If you’re committing an hour to each day’s workout, that’s 12-18 minutes of stretching.  Flexibility increases muscle strength by 30-40% and staves off joint pain and cramping.  Strength training should always be done after flexibility work and should comprise 40-60% of your total workout time.  Training your musculature with weight bearing keeps you strong, energetic and youthful, increases bone density and sets your metabolic rate.  If you want to lose weight – gain muscle!  Lastly, cardiovascular training should come last and comprises only 30-40% of your total workout.  Doing cardio last gives you the energy stores to test your endurance.  Shorter bursts of cardio training are often more beneficial than doing long cardio bouts because of energetic burn, muscle loss, metabolic shifts and increases in stress hormones associated with endurance training.  Yes, doing too much cardio can make you lose muscle and retain fat!  Again, that’s why strength training is so essential to staying fit, slim and energized.  Now, a few questions for you…

mouse_workoutFirst, answer this for yourself: when are you most likely to devote any time to your workout?  Is it in the morning, perhaps pretty early on?  Most business people and professionals prefer this option so they get it done and “out of their way” so they have energy to move on through the rest of their often highly stressful day.  Or is the late morning/early afternoon a better fit for your lifestyle?  Full-time moms or those with part-time jobs and seniors often prefer this time slot for exercise, when the kids are at school and traffic is lighter.  Or maybe you’re an evening exerciser?  I’m a bit of a night owl myself and often like an evening workout to re-energize me for the night or to sweat out the stress of the day.  A lot of people like to do their workouts right after work for the same reasons.  My best advice: make sure the gym or sports venue is between where you live and work so you have to pass it – or you may just skip it!  So, now that you’ve decided when you’re most likely to work out, you’ll want to figure out what form of exercise suits you best…

sports_suggestionsWhat kinds of activities do you enjoy doing?  I love yoga, group fitness, weight lifting, stair climbing, waking, jogging, sprinting, swimming and hiking.  You might not like any of those options and so you’d be less likely to engage in them or any exercise if I said you had to pick from that list.  Customizing your own workout based on your interests is a great way to ensure daily activity.  If you like to garden, which is a fantastic way to stay flexible and bear your own body weight to build strength, then gardening a bit everyday would be a terrific prescription to keep you active.  Trying new activities to see if they’re a good fit for you is another excellent strategy for staying fit.  Variety is more than the spice of life; it’s the hallmark of a diverse, dynamic and well-rounded workout!  The body appreciates adjusting to a challenge and the mind can get bored easily.  Keeping your body guessing while your mind is entertained can help you discover more ways to move, breathe and sweat on a regular basis.

Now we know when, how and probably where you’re going to exercise.  Let me walk you through some short sample workouts so you can begin framing your own exercise routines to your lifestyle.  Try these suggestions:

20-Minute Functional Exercise Workout

Bodyweight_workoutAlternate the suggested weight bearing strength exercises for one-minute each with one-minute cardiovascular exercises as suggested.  Then feel free to switch them around and mix them up, as you prefer.  Keep it fun, interesting and creative!  Click on the chart to the right for more cardio options:

(With a three, five or ten lb. dumbbell weight in each hand per strength exercise…)

1. Strength: Squat and stand.  Repeat for one minute or 20-30 repetitions.

(Set down your weight after each strength exercise to perform cardio…)

2. Cardio: Do jumping jacks for one minute.  Any pace is fine!

weighted_lunge3. Lunge in place, alternating legs with weights held at your sides.

4. Cardio: Mountain climbers with your hands stationary on the floor, alternating feet.

5. Strength: Weighted stiff-leg deadlift (see Dennyzen on Facebook for details).

6. Cardio: High-knee march, bringing knees up to navel or palms held at waist height.

7. Strength: Sumo or straddle squat, with feet wide apart, hips/knees open, holding the weight in front of the groin with straight arms.

8. Cardio: Squat thrusts or “half-burpees” (See chart).

9. Strength: Calf-raises, on a step or simply lifting to the balls of the feet, weights in hands held by your sides with straight arms.

10. Cardio: Arabesque leg extensions to the rear, lifting your leg from the hip, squeezing your gluteus.  Looks like a kick backwards.  Alternate legs.

11. Strength: Chest/bench press, flat on the floor, a ball or a bench, keeping thumbs lined up with the mid-line of the chest horizontally.

12. Cardio: Pushups, from the knees or feet, like a chest press but upside-down and bearing your own body weight.  Start with a few and work on your form.

13. Strength: Chest flies or “tree-huggers,” palms/knuckles of both hands face each other as you squeeze the pectoral (chest) muscles together.

prone-floor-cobra14. Cardio: Prone extensions or “cobras,” lying on the abdomen, reach hands apart and backward toward your hips as you thrust the hips into the floor to lift your torso.

15. Strength: Shoulder press, standing or seated, raising weights over your shoulders.

16. Cardio: Plank, resting forearms on the floor while balanced on the balls of the feet.  Hold the pose or start marching, keeping the abdomen tight, hips in line with shoulders.  You may lift and lower the hips in a thrusting motion, called “dolphin.”

17. Strength: Tricep press, weights overhead or on each side with a “kickback” motion outside hips like pushing ski poles.  Focus on contracting rear muscles of the upper arms.

18. Cardio: Bench or chair dips, balancing on hands squarely set under the shoulders, knees bent with buttocks off the front of the chair or bench, bending elbows only.

19. Strength: Bicep curls with dumbbells, alternating or combined, keeping weight below the chest with elbows behind the ribs.

20. Cardio: Bicycle crunches, supine hip thrusts/bridges or any quick moving abdominal exercise into a cool-down stretch on the floor.

*Twenty exercises, one minute apiece, for twenty minutes, non-stop.  You’ll love it!

Jefferson_Do_It

10-Minute Push-Pull Workout for Toning

Alternate “pulling” and “pushing” exercise for ten minutes.  This sequencing provides the best parts of muscular flexion and extension exercises for a thorough strength training session in a short amount of time.  Again, there are no rests between exercises, so your heart rate goes up quickly and your metabolism will spike for hours after this intensive session, helping you burn calories longer.  Great for weight loss goals since the basic equation for reducing fat storage is to burn more calories than you’re ingesting.  One minute per exercise.  Eat about 45 minutes after this workout to feed your muscles and watch them grow lean and toned.

Keep a dumbbell in each hand throughout this ten minute routine except for pushups and dips.  Hold them closer to your body for legwork.

1. Push: Seated single (or double) leg presses (bending knees) for one minute.

2. Pull: Seated single (or double) leg lifts (straight legs) for one minute.

3. Push: Pushups from the knees, feet or on a bench, one minute, no weights.

4. Pull: Bench/chest press with dumbbells perpendicular to the spine, one minute.

5. Push: Bench dips, bending the elbows, no more than a 45% angle, no weights.

6. Pull: Skiers squat with bent-over rows, holding dumbbells, pulling up.

7. Push: Standing or seated shoulder press, pushing dumbbells overhead.

8. Pull: Woodchoppers from the sides going across the body’s mid-line or overhead, chopping through the legs.  Works with dumbbells, cables or a kettle bell.

9. Push: Bicep curls with dumbbells or a barbell, keep your elbows behind your ribs.

10. Pull: Upright rows, combined with sumo squats for more dynamic movement, make sure elbows lift outside the ears each time you row upwards.

youre_worth_it

10-Minute Flexibility/Yoga Workout (see link)

hooping-image-hoopnotica

5-Minute Energy Burst Workout

When your energy is sapped and you need a surge of endorphins but you don’t have enough time to get a “runner’s high” try this quick 5-minute routine to re-energize!

1. One-minute weighted run.  Hold one dumbbell (or two dumbbells together) or a weight plate in front of your chest and jog or run, lifting your knees for 60 seconds.

2. One-minute weighted squats.  Holding weights at your sides or close to the chest, do regular, skier’s or sumo squats for 60 seconds.

3. One-minute alternating or walking lunges.  Holding weights at your sides, do forward, reverse or side lunges, alternating in place or walking them for one minute.

4. One-minute jumping jacks and squat thrusts (half-burpees), alternating five at a time.  Mountain climbers and burpees can be substituted.  One minute!

5. One-minute pushups.  Incline, decline or flat, from the knees, feet or on a bench, at any pace, keep pushups going for a solid sixty seconds.  You’ll feel so strong!

54321_workout  caloric_burn

5-Minute Stress Buster Workout

If your day has been long and arduous and your back feels like a coat of armor you’ll want to take a few minutes to unwind and transition from work to playtime.  This workout is perfect for business people coming home after battling their commute who’d rather pour a glass of wine and veg out but know that a stretch will help them shed their day, digest their dinner and drift more easily into dreamland.

1. One-minute down-dog yoga pose with deep breathing, keeping hips high, looking toward the navel.  Alternating a runner’s stretch to loosen the hamstrings is advisable.  This stretches the entire posterior of the body from the base of the skull to the soles of the feet (where most stress-induced tension resides).

2. One-minute child’s pose (or folded leaf), on the knees, sitting on the feet, resting the torso on the thighs, folded forward so the head and arms drop toward the floor.  This stretches the back, hips, buttocks, thighs, knees and feet and allows the head and arms to rest after a long day of activity and holding that down-dog!

3. One-minute alternating child’s pose with up-dog pose, hands planted on the floor or yoga mat, thrusting hips forward toward the wrists out of child’s pose then sinking hips back into child’s pose.  Keep swinging forward and back, exhaling into each pose, inhaling in between.  This thrusting action will loosen the lower back and hips and help the body feel relaxed with rhythmic, oxygenating breaths.

4. One-minute alternating knee hugs.  Turn onto the back and extend the legs.  Hug one knee to your chest then alternate on your exhalations.  You may end this with hugging both knees and rocking on the spine and then extending the arms and legs apart for a supine stretch to loosen any kinks along the spine or pelvis and lengthen the major joints so you’re free of work and traffic tension.

5.  One-minute alternating bridge pose with double knee hug.  Place feet and palms flat on the floor/mat and lift your buttocks off the floor, thrusting your hips toward the ceiling, keeping heels under the knees and the head, neck and shoulders flat on the floor for bridge pose.  Then lower the spine slowly and hug both knees to the chest for a few breaths.  Alternate and repeat several times until you feel relaxed and take a few moments of quiet, restful stillness until you notice your stress has evaporated with each exhale.

fftbriskwalkingbenefits1If you haven’t enough time or energy to commit to the above routines – make the time and you’ll wind up with more energy for having done the workout!  But if nothing else, go for a walk around your neighborhood to stimulate your cardio response.  People used to walk everywhere – to the store, the post office, to see their neighbors, even to work.  Now we rely on our cars way too much and our waistlines are paying for the convenience.  Walking has tremendous and well known health benefits but also helps clear the mind and calm the central nervous system.  So, go walking with a friend or by yourself to settle your nerves, digestion and evacuate stress from your body.  Connect with nature as you take in the scenery and breathe some fresh air.  Hiking, biking, dancing, swimming, kayaking, jumping rope, trampolining or playing any physical game or sport are other creative and fun ways to stay active everyday.

keep_exercisingI hope that these time-conscious but thorough routines and suggestions are helpful in making your commitment to daily exercise more manageable.  Remember, it’s your life, you decide your lifestyle – how you spend your time, energy and activity.  Make great choices that will keep you happy, healthy and well for years to come!  I’m always excited to hear about your progress or answer any questions you may have about my posts.  Please contact me anytime… stay active and be well!

 

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Supplements Your Body Demands

vita_head2Vitamins, nutritional supplements, dietary aids, medicinal herbs and weight loss products are everywhere these days. Some are great… others, not so much. Sifting through the panorama can be mind-boggling. I suggest doing your research. What your body might need may not be obvious. In lieu of simply popping prescriptions or trying what your friends recommend, take the time to understand what you might be taking. If you’re taking a new Rx and want to try a new dietary supplement or combine it with a product you already take, talk to your doctor or nurse about its risks and benefits and check out all the side effects before you take the plunge. Many times there are non-chemical and non-habit forming, natural vitamin and supplement options available on the market. If you’ve been feeling run down, achy, sleepy, grumpy, goofy or gassy your body may need some extra help to level off.

Vitamin-sandwichI have been taking vitamins and supplements for years and have personally experienced their beneficial effects. The following is a categorized selection of some of the best supplements I’ve used for various health-enhancing purposes. I’ve seen and felt them work in my body, but know that not all supplements have the same effects on all body chemistries. Just as when you take prescriptions or try new foods or herbs, you should always exercise caution when trying these products and do consult your doctor or health care provider if you’re not sure about possible allergic reactions or health complications. Also, some supplements should not be taken with prescription drugs. Please do your research before trying any new product!

vita_spoonThe statements I make here are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or affliction. The use of these products comes from my experiential knowledge. The purpose of this post is educational and the information I’m sharing is merely meant to help you look at options for advancing your knowledge of dietary and nutritional supplementation. The products I have pictured are brands that I trust, but there are many other great products on the market. Consult your doctor, dietician, nutritionist, herbalist or homeopathic practitioner for more information.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES

Turmeric-c-ws1Inflammation and swelling are the leading causes of pain in the body and are usually the precursors for dysfunction, disorder and disease. Reducing inflammation in the body makes your blood vessels, nerve pathways, muscles, joints and digestive tract more functional and makes you feel less achy. Some of the best anti-inflammatories come from natural plant extracts. Curcumin, the main anti-inflammatory agent in Turmeric, is a fantastic supplement for reducing joint pain and swelling. Cinnamon and cayenne pepper have also been shown to lessen blood vessel restrictions due to swelling. Apple cider vinegar balances the pH of your stomach and tones the digestive tract, reducing the bloat and indigestion associated with inflammatory irritation.

A group of phyto-nutrients, called “cyanidins,” have also been proven to mitigate tissue inflammation and can improve blood glucose and metabolic disorders. Red wine, pine bark, goji berry and bilberry extracts and resveratrol have some the highest anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and have even been shown to fight cancer cells! You may want to consider trying one of nature’s anti-inflammatories before you pop an Advil, Tylenol or Aleve. They’re much easier on the stomach and you can almost never develop an immunity to their effects.

ANTI-MICROBIALS

bacteriaMicrobes, or microscopic organisms like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, are no fun when they invade the body and make a home there. Their deleterious effects on the immune system can be devastating! Some microbiological organisms are actually beneficial and essential to our health, like probiotic bacteria that eat up waste by-products in our digestive tract that would otherwise pollute our blood and kill us. But others just make us so sick we wish were dead, like Influenza, Rhinovirus, Candida or mold spores. Still there are many less common microbes like Ebola, Malaria, H1N1, MRSA and Dengue that can set up shop in the blood, skin, respiratory system and intestines and cause more long-lasting health effects. Of course, Western medical science has come up with a slew of antibiotic drugs to combat these tiny marauders. Though in recent years over-prescription and abuse of antibiotics has lead to drug-resistant strains of microbiology and destruction of disease-fighting probiotics (as most antibiotics don’t discriminate what microbes they kill). Again, some of the best alternative options for busting these bugs and boosting the immune system come in the form of herbal and plant-based extracts.

IMG_0221My absolute favorite anti-microbial, the one I have used at the first sign of a cold or flu for nearly twenty years, is Oil of Oregano. It is perhaps Mother Nature’s strongest and most effective non-synthetic anti-microbial. The best way to take it is in liquid “P-73” form, but fair warning, it is extremely bitter and should not touch the tongue directly or it will cause a burning sensation. It can be mixed into a soup or stew but is most powerful when taken with a dropper directly down the throat, preferably chased by an acidic juice to hide the taste. It works wonders, reducing symptoms and duration of infection to usually only a couple days if taken at the first sign of illness. It can even be applied topically for infections of the skin!  Truly a diverse and divinely curative herb!

IMG_0217Some other astonishingly effective anti-microbials include garlic (Kyolic brand), zinc (Zicam or Opti-Zinc work great), ginger, colloidal silver, Vitamin D-3, cat’s claw and red marine algae (or Gigartina), which has been shown to reduce the viral load in HIV patients! There are still many plant extracts and herbal remedies being explored for their anti-microbial properties, but these are the major highlights and they are all worth considering if you have a temporary or chronic health issue associated with microscopic squatters.

STRESS REDUCERS, ENERGY BOOSTERS & MOOD ENHANCERS

Stress is the number one killer in the United States and we’ve been exporting that dubious cultural by-product for years now. It’s created a worldwide weakness and malaise with symptoms ranging from heart attack and stroke to eating and digestive disorders to mood and mental disorders, maybe even cancer! Thankfully there are a few natural ways of beating stress that don’t require sedatives, street drugs or murdering your boss!

ginsengIf your energy is sapped by stress, you might want to start taking a ginseng supplement. For centuries people from Eurasia have taken different breeds of ginseng root to lift their spirits and boost their energy, mood and productivity. Panax ginseng is one of the most common forms and can be found at your local health food store, or as I call it, my “home away from home.” Bee Propolis is another supplement that makes your nerves fire more efficiently and enhances cellular health and energy output. Of course, a solid, bio-available Vitamin B-Complex is essential for maintaining daily energy. If you’re not getting your B’s through proper nutrition, a supplement can work wonders for your energy and endurance.

IMG_0218Stress can put a significant strain on your adrenal glands. If you’re consistently tense and troubled, fighting and flying everyday, they may need to be detoxified every so often. I have had a great experience using Gaia brand Adrenal Health Formula and would recommend using it to anyone who’s been through a traumatic or turbulent time. If your mood is low, you may want to consider using the L-tryptophan amino acid by-product, 5-HTP, a plant extract from Griffonia Beans. IMG_0215Start with a low 100 mg dosage and increase only as needed. It is a precursor to Serotonin and helps correct brain chemistry so you feel less moody or depressed. There are many other supplements that can uplift your mood, raise your energy or reduce stress. These are just a sample of what I’ve used and found effective.

WEIGHT LOSS, DETOX & DIGESTIVE AIDS

If you want to shed pounds, improve your body’s waste management or cure digestive disorders there are several nutritional supplements that can help. Digestion is they ultimate key to having and maintaining good health. Some estimates state that perhaps 90% of our immune response comes from the digestive tract. So if your diet is poor, so is your health. No supplement can take the place of eating and drinking well. But a good fiber supplement, detox program or probiotic and digestive enzyme supplement can steer you in the right direction.

fiber1Here’s the skinny on losing visceral or belly fat, the most deadly kind of fat storage that leads to health problems associated with obesity, arterial decay, heart disease and diabetes. Eat more fiber! Fiber, in vegetables, fruit or whole grains breaks down fat and protein and keeps your intestines healthy. No fiber? Big problems! If you aren’t getting enough, try a daily fiber supplement like Fiber-3, Metamucil or Fruit-Eze. But also, really consider changing your lifestyle and eating habits to include more plant based fiber nutrition until you lose the weight and gain the healthy digestion you need to live a long, fruitful life!

IMG_0202Aside from that, there are some fabulous detox and weight loss supplements I’ve tried with stupendous results. Apple Cider Vinegar or Aloe juice seem to fix most common digestive disorders like indigestion, gas and bloating and can be used as a short-term, reactive detox after indulging in acidic, sugary or fatty foods. The best detox I’ve used is the Garden of Life brand Wild Rose Herbal D-tox, a twelve-day gentle digestive detox system that clears waste and undigested food from your gut! I love a good probiotic, too. I prefer an Isotonic formula (powder you add water to and drink), but most with a high potency, 50 billion or more live cell count will do nicely. ReNew Life Ultimate Flora is a solid go-to brand.

IMG_0224The best supplements I’ve used to shed or keep off excess pounds include Green Coffee Bean extract, Pau D’Arco (Candida support formula), Bladderwrack (Fucus Kelp) and Raspberry Ketones. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (or CLA) is another great way to reduce the loading of your fat cells when dieting. Ginger tea and alkaline water also reduce intestinal swelling and help improve digestion and shed water weight generated by an acidic pH imbalance.

SLEEP AIDS

Can’t sleep? You’re not a lone! More than half of all Americans complain of occasional or chronic insomnia. A lack of sufficient, quality sleep can have far-reaching ill health effects including poor focus, lowered immune function, obesity, mood swings, dependency on stimulants, accidents and impaired mental functions. With so many work deadlines, social responsibilities, media distractions, bright lights, alerts and technological buzzes and beeps keeping us awake until all hours, we’re on the verge of a zombie apocalypse. So how do we recapture those essential Vitamin Z’s?

valerian_poppyThe amino acid L-tryptophan, found in warm milk and turkey or taken as an oral supplement helps the brain to produce relaxation hormones like serotonin and can help you catch up on sleep, but may require a significant dosage if you’re deficient. Melatonin is another brain relaxing sleep hormone tied to your circadian rhythms and can be found in rice and fruit like tomato and grapes or can be taken in pill form. I’ve had excellent results with Valerian poppy extract, taken as a sub-lingual liquid supplement. But with all these, you must go to bed within fifteen minutes of dosing.

bach_sleepBach flower remedies natural Rescue Sleep aid and Rescue Remedy formula, in liquid or pastille form are an excellent option for non-habit forming sleep assistance as they calm the central nervous system with all-natural flower extracts. The homeopathic sleep aid, Calms or Calms Forte brand, taken in tablet form can also be a lifesaver when nothing else seems to make you drowsy enough to drift into dreamland. If these options don’t help you and counting sheep has become sheer nonsense, you may want to consider having a sleep test or reducing the stress and distractions in your life so you can find your bedtime Zen.

zen_lotusAs with any health, fitness or wellness program, the effectiveness of all nutritional and dietary vitamins and supplements depends on consistent and regular usage. Often supplements take four to six weeks to start working so one bottle, used at random, probably won’t give you the results you’re looking for. Consult a health care practitioner or nutritional expert if you’re not certain what product or dosage will work for your individual health and dietary goals and do your research before you explore the possibilities. The most important supplement to your health is always a quality education.

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3 Tips for Surviving Summer Fun

July4I hope everyone had a safe and joyful experience while celebrating the 4th of July!  The heat of summer is upon us and that means it’s time for lots of fun vacations, summer BBQ’s and pool parties. It’s your liberty to eat, drink and have a good time however you wish, but why not be independent of guilty over-indulgence this summer?  Small, simple choices make a big difference in how good you feel long-term.  Here are some quick tips to stay fit, healthy and trim while traveling and socializing, even while indulging in your favorite foods and delicious drinks.

BBQ1) Before you attend a BBQ or party, drink lots of water and have a small meal so you’re less inclined to over-eat or dehydrate on salty, protein-rich foods. You’ll feel less bloated and more energetic so you can really enjoy the festivities. Drink 2 glasses of water for every glass of alcohol you consume so you don’t wake up zonked the next day! If you’re concerned about cheating on your diet and want some appetizing options to keep you grounded, click on this link for yummy foods that won’t give you a guilt complex: Guilt-Free Cheats.  Leave me a comment if you’re interested in how to combine food so you don’t bloat or get indigestion.

foods-that-detox2) Consider a 3-day power diet detox before you party. When you know you’ll want to cheat on heavy food and drink a short detox can prepare your digestion for what’s ahead. Limit red meat, cheese/dairy, baked goods, soda, alcohol, fruit juices, tropical fruits, stimulants and sweeteners for 3 days. Instead, eat tons of veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts and lean protein – and drink lots of water to flush out impurities. Detox teas and herbal detox formulas work great, too. Here’s a link to a simple one-day detox you can do after indulging to restore healthy digestion: ACV Detox.  Contact me for even more thorough seasonal detox tips!  I use a very gentle but reliable brand every few months to stay trim.

watermelon_dispenser3) When you’re vacationing or eating out this summer, beware of five major fat and calorie pitfalls so you don’t return from your trip or your favorite restaurant with extra pounds or digestive pain. One, plan meals ahead and pack them with you to bypass all fast (fat) food. Don’t get so desperate for a meal on your road trip that you pick up a spare tire for lunch! Two, avoid appetizers and skip desserts. You know why!  Watermelon is my go-to summer dessert!  Three, limit alcohol, soda and juice – they’re liquid sugar with calories your brain thinks should get stored as belly fat! Put a spigot in your watermelon and make a refreshing, fruity, virgin cocktail… or spike it if you must! Four, buffets are evil – don’t get possessed! Five, when you eat out, ask for a to-go container so you can put half your meal away for the next day’s lunch. Restaurants serve 3-4 servings more than you need to eat at one sitting.  But most people will eat what’s in front of them – even if it hurts! Get it out of sight!! 🙂

watermelon_flagI love this creative culinary idea… A summer dessert plate with blueberries, watermelon and feta cheese.  Sweet, salty, tart, yummy, patriotic goodness!

summer-actIMPORTANT: Keep active everyday this summer! Work out, go for a long walk with your dog, ride your bike to the store, garden, do some yoga or take one of my fitness classes! Moving your body just a bit every single day keeps you fit, stress-free, uplifted and energetic.  Exercise sets your metabolic rate and ultimately decides how well you eat, breathe and sleep and determines your overall mood and how much pleasure you can derive from all of life’s experiences.  Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore.  It can just mean indulging in fun, playful activity.  Summer is the perfect time for enjoying yourself in the great outdoors!

Here’s some more inspiring fitness facts from a cute Tumblr page:

10-fit-tips

I hope these tips help you have a fun, healthy and guilt-free summer.  Please let me know how I can help you make more informed, empowered nutritional, exercise and wellness choices any time of the year.  Make this your best and brightest, healthiest summer ever!

~Namaste

 

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Guilt-Free Cheats

cheats_faceWhen you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy body, it’s important to have options for curbing your cravings so you don’t feel deprived and wind up cheating with foods that throw you off course. Keeping certain “addictive foods” in your house or office can also encourage you to make poor nutritional choices and begin a downward spiral. If you haven’t much self control when food cravings strike, it’s important to keep healthy meal and snack options available at all times. Stockpiling “guilt-free cheats” at home, at work, in your locker or even in your car can help you stay focused even when less healthy foods tempt you. For me, sugar is the enemy. For many, fatty and salty foods are what set off food cravings. In any case, there are good reasons why we desire certain foods over others and want to cheat, but there are also great options for replacing those foods with better choices. cheats_sugarfatsaltWhen we crave sugar it’s the body trying to tell us we need more complex carbohydrates for energy. The body won’t discriminate though – if it’s running low on carb energy it will take simple sugars instead. When we crave fats, it means the body needs essential fats. When we want salty foods, the body is lacking certain minerals and is usually already dehydrated. Here are some tips for curbing cravings and enjoying guilt-free cheats without cheating yourself or your diet and nutrition program…

cheats_5steppyramidEat a large, healthy breakfast with lots of protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates each day. A veggie filled omelet or frittata with Canadian bacon or turkey sausage is a great and filling option to get your metabolic engines running. It will also give you longer lasting energy til your first snack. Eating about every three hours will also help. Think of having three larger meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and two smaller meals in between (snacks). Like the old adage goes, “Eat breakfast like a king (big), lunch like a prince (medium) and dinner like a pauper (small).” If you don’t have time for breakfast – make time!  Prepare options before you have to rush out of the house.  I make a week’s worth of steel cut (or Irish/pinhead) oatmeal every weekend.  Then it’s there when I need its vital energy source.  A filling, energizing lunch can consist of a large green salad with mixed veggies, a cup or two of whole grains, legumes or sweet potato and a portion of fish, chicken, turkey or pork.  With any animal protein, a serving size is never bigger than your hand!  A small but satisfying dinner can have lots of vegetable-based carbohydrates, a small portion of protein and an even smaller helping of complex carbs like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, lentils or whole grain pasta/bread.  Eat your carbs at the end of your meal, too.  Your brain will think you’ve had dessert and the corresponding shot of serotonin it produces will keep you from snacking later.  Remember, eating only one really large meal a day and picking at food the rest of the day is a recipe for metabolic shutdown. The body needs consistent food energy all day or it starts storing calories as fat. The brain can’t help but try to help you survive when it thinks you’re starving, so whatever calories come in get stored in case you need their energy later. Eating fruit, nuts and veggies at snack time will keep you full and energized all day long. Oh, and desserts should always be the exception, not the rule. If you have a weight loss goal, desserts and sugary/fatty/salty foods must be eliminated or severely minimized in your diet until the goal is reached. cheats_yogaAlso, exercising a little bit daily – even a 20 minute walk or 10 minutes of yoga – will charge your metabolism and help you to organize your meals for your energy requirements. Sometimes a regular exercise routine has to come before nutritional management to iron out the body’s energetic needs.

We do like to focus on controlling diet first in our culture, though it’s not always the most important component for weight loss and health. The old “80-20” rule promoted by certain weight loss programs (who will remain nameless) is backwards! 80% of your metabolism is generated by your activity and exercise and only 20% by what you eat!! That doesn’t mean if you exercise all the time that you can eat whatever you want, either. There are no shortcuts and the body recognizes cheats, especially those with no nutritional value, as garbage it has to clean up. That “cleansing” process is your body doing cell repair work and it takes a lot of energy away from the metabolic process of turning food into energy for muscle and nerve health. Junk is junk and the body is smart enough to know it. If it can’t eliminate it, it stores it as fat! Food additives and artificial sweeteners are the worst kind of junk because they influence brain chemistry and tell us to eat and drink more than we need – usually more sweet, salty, fatty junk. cheats_wtlossStraight talk – when we want to lose weight (fat) and keep it off, your diet, exercise and rest/relaxation phases are the three spokes of the health and weight loss wheel. They all have to keep turning to make our metabolisms and digestive tracts work better. If something’s out of synch, we’ll tend to cheat – not because we’re bad people – because the body has energetic needs that aren’t being met! How do we meet those needs, satisfy urges and still enjoy yummy food? Here are some ideas…

Energy producing foods/snacks that actually help digestion and can curb your food cravings:

cheats_pineapplePineapple! The Bromelain enzyme in this tropical fruit actually assists your body to eliminate fats and toxins and facilitates digestion, especially of meat. It’s sweet flavor pleases your palate, aids your tummy and levels off your blood sugar. Pineapple is great for breakfast with cottage cheese and walnuts, too. Portion size: 1/2 cup.

cheats_humus2Hummus! Crushed chickpeas and tahini paste make hummus, a healthy snack you can have with whole grain chips, sliced veggies or pita bread or instead of condiments on your sandwich. Once you try it you’ll wonder why you settled for low fat dressings or fattening mayonnaise. Try out different flavors until you find the one you like. Chickpeas are great in salad, too!  You can have up to half a cup!

cheats_bananas2Bananas! Not only are they portable and full of essential vitamins and fiber, their rich potassium content is useful in preventing the onset of high blood pressure, stroke, immune disorders and muscular cramps. They’re also great with a quarter cup of peanut or almond butter for a healthy protein-to-carb ratio. Portion: small banana or 4 oz. sliced. The greener the better! Brown/speckled bananas are high in sugar.

cheats_avocadoAvocado! Slice up half of one large avocado or one smaller avocado and add some sea salt, olive oil and vinegar to curb cravings for fatty foods. You can eat it by itself or in a salad or on a sandwich instead of adding mayo. It’s just as creamy and contains essential fatty acids that help you digest and keep your cell energy high.  Ooh, guacamole, anyone?

cheats_almondsAlmonds! High in protein, lower in saturated fat than most nuts and very portable, these super foods can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood pressure and fight osteoporosis. I love almonds in my granola or in butter form for a snack. Walnuts and cashews are good snack options, too. Remember, the bigger the nut, the more fat it contains. Go for unsalted nuts and avoid peanuts, they can constipate you! Just a handful!

Yogurt! Greek yogurt is my favorite choice. It’s so creamy and thick, it makes you feel full fast. A convenient snack or protein option for work, but make sure you choose all natural and plain options. Many brands of yogurt have too much sugar, especially those with fruit or granola. Full of probiotics and good fats, this snack helps your digestive flora thrive, cleans out impurities and makes you more regular. Portion: one cup/day.

cheats_pumpPumpernickel! Love bread? Can’t get enough? Me, too! But I use a simple rule when buying bread so it doesn’t become digestion-clogging paste in my gut: Dark, coarse and heavy bread is the most fibrous and the best for colon health and gut busting! The light, white, flimsy bread is just puffed flour and has no real nutritional value. Rye, especially pumpernickel, Ezekiel fresh sprouted grain bread and any “ancient grain” bread is what you want. Trying to lose weight?  Only two slices a day, sandwich lovers!

Applesauce! Plain, unsweetened is the way to go to get a sweet fix without extra sugar or additives. Add some cinnamon if you want to bring up the flavor profile. Desensitizing your palate from overly “sweet stuff” helps the body taste natural, healthy sugars so you don’t crave syrupy sweet tastes. A cup will do.

cheats_cacaoDark chocolate or cacao! The darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Milk and white chocolate are too high in sugar to be a healthy snack. They raise your blood sugar and eventually lead to metabolic crashes. Chocolate with a high “cacao” content are rich with antioxidants, helping your cells repair and improving their energy without any crash! Their bittersweet flavor fulfills your body’s requirements for healthy sugar when you want to cheat. 4 squares a day is plenty to ward off sugar cravings.  Add some cacao powder to coffee for zing!

Bean salad! Try putting multiple beans together in a natural vinaigrette of your liking with herbs and spices and take it to work when you need an afternoon snack. Add cucumber, onion, tomato and celery if you like.  The fiber in the legumes and veggies will fill you up and the vinaigrette satisfies any cravings you might have for salty snacks. One cup is a good-sized portion.

cheats_cheese_fruitDry or sharp cheeses! If you’re a cheese fanatic, like I am, beware! Cheese is so fattening, only a small portion each day is recommended. In fact, cheese should be treated as a treat so it doesn’t become a cheat! Here’s a rule of thumb to get you through cheese cravings: Add a fruit serving to your cheese serving to help it digest. Apple, pear, grapes, pineapple, whatever taste suits you. The cheese serving should be no thicker than your thumb and no longer than your middle finger. And avoid fatty, creamy cheeses like Brie!

cheats_blueberriesBlueberries! Snack on these when you need a sugar fix and you’ll find your craving crushed! Great for energy and full of anti-oxidants, they also have an anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract. They lower cholesterol, cleanse the urinary tract, improve eyesight and your immunity. I put them into my steel-cut oats for a handy fruit serving. Really, all berries are a healthy energy snack.  One handful is enough to perk you up!

Frozen fruit bars! I like the brands “Outshine,” “365” (Whole Foods) and “Fruttare” for frozen fruit bars without a lot of sugar or preservatives. The more natural and fruity, the healthier for you! Having a frozen fruit bar every other day can curb cravings for ice cream and other frozen sweets. There are so many flavors, too, so you’re never without choice. I love Mango, Lime, Coconut and Mixed Berries, myself. Also, try adding frozen fruit to your water or sparkling water instead of ice for a bit of healthy, sweet pizazz.

cheats_eatwellplateThese are just a few options for grabbing good snack foods on the go that will ease your cravings and give you plenty of energy for your activities. They’re not all really “cheats” but will satisfy those cravings so you can eat and live better. I do cheat on occasion with a “Clif” bar or South Beach meal-replacement bar or some fro-yo sprinkled with cacao powder, but never during weight loss or detox phases. When you’re focused on a goal, it’s important not to cheat at all and stay away from food triggers. “Oh, if I eat just one it’ll be fine.” But when can you have just one? In times of craving we have to apply the motto, “eat to live, don’t live to eat.” Food is there for energy and enjoyment, but mainly to keep our bodies and minds working well. We do so much in any given day, it’s vital to keep your energy stores pumped. Also, it’s crucial to keep water on hand and drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day. So often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually thirsty and already dehydrated. cheats_evamorDrink a full glass of water before each meal and you’ll feel fuller and help pave the way for excellent digestion, which in turn helps process fat and can improve weight loss results.  I love “Evamor” brand pH 8.8 artesian water.  Full of minerals and keeps your body from becoming too acidic – the environment disease flourishes in.  Try it and you’ll remember what real water tastes like!

Other beverages like green tea or hibiscus tea can aid in energy production, suppress the appetite, cleanse the blood and ease blood pressure and stress reactions. Limit all other beverages, condiments, salad dressings and toppings and you can save 300 calories each day! Cut over-sized portions in half when eating out and ask for a doggie back – you can have a whole other meal at home for the price of one! Restaurants often serve three times a normal meal portion. We tend to eat what’s put in front of us, so put a portion or two out of sight right away. Stay off the sweet stuff so your palate can adjust to real fruit sugars and your taste buds can learn to crave less syrupy-sweet tasting foods. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many great strategies for maintaining weight loss goals and eating healthier but remember not to let yourself get deprived or your next cheat might send you over the edge. Feeling guilty about what you crave isn’t helpful or healthy so find ways to fulfill yourself without filling up on junk.  Guilt-free “cheats” like fruits (fresh, dried or frozen) and fruit smoothies, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grain snacks (like my steel-cut oatmeal cookies) and lots of water will help you maintain your goals and achieve the healthy body you desire!

“No food tastes as good as feeling thin and healthy.” ~my client, Jana.

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7 Building Blocks of Balanced Posture

Postural-Analysis1How’s your back treating you these days? How about your feet and legs? Feeling stiff and sore? Got chronic shoulder or neck tension? What about your head? Aching a lot? Pain and discomfort in your body can be due to various stress-related conditions, nutritional deficiencies, sedentary living, inadequate rest or inefficient workout routines. Tight, achy muscles and joints can also be the result of poor posture.

If the building blocks of your body’s posture are regularly misaligned, the body will tell you about it. The message you get often comes in the form of pain. The good news: your posture is something within your control. In fact, good posture is all about gaining control over your body by the power of your will and awareness. I sometimes think we should go back to the practice of sending young people to “finishing schools” where they have to walk around with books on their heads to learn sound postural habits. Our “pants-on-the-ground” pop culture is certainly no help to anyone’s spinal health, but I suppose it’s awfully good business for chiropractors and orthopedists.

Posture_Pilatesquote1Good posture is as important to your physical wellness as any other aspect of your health and fitness. Holding your body in awkward or imbalanced positions for too long puts undue stress on your frame, making your muscles compensate, twisting and warping your body over time. Aligning your body correctly and developing sound postural habits can mitigate physical discomfort but it isn’t always clear how to fix what you’ve gotten used to carrying a certain way. Laying a new foundation for how you hold your body is a powerful first step to making yourself feel better.  Attention to good posture allows for stronger, more dynamic workouts with less discomfort.  Training with posture in mind has been a lifesaver to me and my clients for years.  It can greatly enhance your fitness and wellness, too.

Posture_DevolutionThe human body moves through various planes when standing, sitting, reclining, walking or performing strenuous activity. People, unlike animal species, have the unique stress of standing upright on two limbs. This requires specialized alignment of the joints to fight the effects of gravity, stave off improper muscular tension and keep the body balanced and pain-free. The following tips are proposed for maintaining an aligned erect standing posture and suggestions for developing appropriate seated positions, especially in regards to ergonomic workstation seated posture. Following these tips will also help you with your standing balance and strength to prevent slips, falls and resulting injuries.

While standing, think of your body as a house. If your feet are misaligned it’s like having an uneven foundation or a basement that’s caving in. Following that analogy, the ground floor is like your legs and pelvis. The legs represent the walls and the pelvis is the ground floor ceiling. You want everything level or the ground floor will collapse under the weight of the second floor. The spine and abdominal muscles represent the next floor up. Again, they’re like walls supporting the second floor’s structure. The ribcage and shoulder girdle represent the second floor’s ceiling or roof with the arms like eaves, hanging off the sides of the roof. Finally, the head is like the attic or third floor, sitting high on the spine’s metaphoric supporting buttress. If any of the building blocks of your body are habitually out of line or tipped too far in any direction, your analogous house will eventually cave in and collapse.

MAJOR INDICATIONS OF POOR POSTURE:

Side sleeping can create a laterally tipped pelvis and spine. The side you sleep on becomes longer than the side facing the ceiling. Well-placed pillows can help, but if you don’t correct this upon waking with regular stretches and re-alignment, the habit leads to muscular imbalances and weakness in the lower back and hips.

Contrapposto stance, or standing while leaning into one hip, can also create muscle imbalances over time. It causes the spine to sway, tipping the shoulders sideways, stiffening half the back and weakening the other half. One hip has to brace, leading to locked and twisted knees and ankles. The pose is usually employed when the body becomes fatigued (the main challenge to good physical form and alignment). When tired, try just sitting down or leaning against a wall – butt first!

Carrying a book bag, purse or heavy shopping bag on one side of the body or over the back can lead to a tipped spine, causing the pelvic and shoulder muscles to compensate and tip the rest of body in opposition. Bags or any weighty items should be carried in the hands and never over the shoulders unless evenly set across both.

Check your footwear. If you notice obvious wearing on your shoes or sneakers in one particular area that is an indication of poor posture and overuse of certain muscles. Wearing high-heels eventually causes the body to tip forward and creates pressure on the toes and balls of the feet and leads to foot disorders like bunions, heel spurs and ankle tension. Knee, hip and lower back dysfunction soon follow.

posture-sequence1If you notice numbness or tingling in your legs, without having other known medical issues, you may be pinching nerves because of poor posture. A common related ailment is sciatic nerve pain.  Joint tension and nerve or muscle pain on one side of the legs, spine or shoulders is often a sign of misalignment, too. A swayed or flat back or combined lordosis and kyphosis of the spine also have their roots in bad postural habits. Scoliosis and compressive disc disorders will eventually lead to imbalanced posture. Habitually misaligned joints may even be the original cause of such conditions. A craned neck, rolled shoulders, bowed legs, knocked-knees and foot and ankle disorders can also be indications of needing to correct one’s carriage.

7 BUILDING BLOCKS TO FIX YOUR POSTURE:

posture_foot_tripod21. Foot tripod/ Two-thirds Rule – The balls of the feet must be properly grounded when standing. If you draw a triangle on the sole of your foot from the heel to the big toe knuckle to the little toe knuckle and back to the heel an obvious tripod of three arches is revealed. Keeping two-thirds of your weight distributed over the front of the feet is essential to foot alignment, laying the foundation for good posture. A good way to tell if your feet are properly aligned is to raise up onto the balls of the feet while standing. If your weight is correctly spread into the front of the feet you can always lift your heels and balance. Lightly set your heels back down and let no more than a third of your weight reside in them.  When standing, feet should also be set hip-flexor distance apart or separated by the width of one foot.  This allows the center of the kneecap to align with the second toe on each side for best leg posture and freedom of lower body movement.

2. Soft knees – slightly bent. The knees should never be locked or braced. Check in with them while your standing in line or waiting for a bus. If you notice they’re locked or one is braced, soften them so they are slightly bent, allowing the muscles of the legs to relax around your knees. This also prevents the hamstrings from pulling and stiffening, allowing for more supple leg muscles and freer leg joints.

3. Loose hips with a balanced pelvis. The hips should “swing” from the pelvis, like pendulums when walking or running. Hips should never be braced forward or backward. The pelvic girdle should “float” or sit like a bowl, flat on a table. The tailbone is meant to point directly downward, perpendicular to the floor. Contrapposto, the leaning into one hip while standing, should be avoided as this sways the spine and puts pressure on the muscles that connect the back, hip and pelvis.

4. Absolute support in the Abs. The lumbar spine is the only skeletal support for the body’s mid-section and not designed to bear much weight or strain. The abdominal muscles are the key support structure of the lower torso and support everything higher up, allowing the muscles of the back, shoulders and neck to settle and relax. The abdominal musculature is exceptionally resilient and can be conditioned daily unless otherwise prescribed due to injury or dysfunction. The more you work them, the more work they can take, the better they support your upper body posture and take pressure off the hips and lower back. Remember this trick: Your bellybutton is a button! You have to sew your bellybutton in, all the way up to your heart. This causes you to lift your ribs away from your hips, giving you a long, lithe, trim and convex abdominal appearance and sound spinal posture.

5. Raise the breastbone! Lifting the center of your sternum, without swaying the back or standing at stiff “military attention,” relaxes the shoulder blades in toward and down the back. The scapula should feel like two flat plates lying or hanging on your back, not wings ready to take flight. Raising the breastbone also lengthens the upper spine (thoracic vertebrae) and helps to suspend the ribcage, encouraging greater abdominal contraction and support of the torso.

6. Chin in!  Tuck your chin, inward or slightly down and backward, almost giving yourself a “double chin.” Notice the back of your neck lengthen. Then make sure to relax your jaw. This is a quick fix for most cervical spinal tension and helps to align and loosen the neck. Make adjustments to this exercise until you notice your neck feeling freer and then tilt the head from side to side, as if setting your ears toward your shoulders. This stretch should prevent the lower neck muscles from overworking, especially the large trapezius muscle between the shoulders and neck, allowing the skull to sit tall on the spine.

posture-old7. Eye alignment. Wherever you look your spine follows. Look outward widely at something eye level when upright, standing, sitting or walking. Never look down when standing up or walking; it tilts the head and spine downward, causing the shoulders and upper back to round. It also promotes shuffling and missing obstructions in your path.  Tired eyes also lead to a tired spine. Resting the eyes from strain, such as staring at a computer screen or hand-held device for long durations, can help your spine – especially your neck – from feeling stiff and sore.

SEATED POSTURE and ERGONOMICS:

posture_at_work_stationThe term “ergonomics” refers to the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. In regards to postural alignment this has much to do with sitting at a desk and using equipment efficiently. The main postural issue we face when sitting for long hours in an office environment is “chair-to-desk-ratio.” If the chair is too low or the desk too high, or vice versa, our posture gets thrown and habitual tension or repetitive stress becomes the norm. When seated, the best posture comes from establishing right angle alignments. Sit with the hips spreading apart and backward and the tailbone pointed down at the seat so your “sitz” (ischial tuberosity) bones are planted squarely. The feet should be flat on the floor, the ankles and knees forming right angles and the thigh (femur) bones parallel to the floor, forming a right angle at the hip joint. The spine is then naturally elevated by abdominal support with shoulders relaxed and the head held high. PostureTheoryDiagramSitting at a desk, workstation or in a car seat should not require excessive leaning backwards or forwards or slumping to one side. Leaning over a desk or steering wheel causes the shoulders to roll forward and the neck to crane. Arms should also have a relaxed, draped shape – not overly extended or tense. Your mouse and keyboard should be well within reach so that the elbow can remain bent, pointing toward the floor or your thigh. If you have trouble seeing the computer screen at your desk or the road when driving, adjust your seat or have your eyes checked. Laptops can cause further slumping or rounding of the spine and should be placed at a level at approximately the height of your navel.  Please see diagrams for further information about workstation ergonomics.

MORE TIPS for BALANCE:

Floating head. Imagine a string attached to the center of your crown suspending you upward. This should make you feel like your head is floating and winds up making your ears more level, helping to stabilize your orientation and equilibrium.

balance2When balancing on one leg, the “eyes have it!” Stare at one spot, a focal point, to stay oriented and keep your balance. Try looking at a spot that’s at eye-level or slightly below where the tip of your nose points out. This keeps you from tipping forward and prevents the spine and shoulders from rounding.

Feel your toes and stay over them. We have ten toes for a reason – balance! Feeling your toes on the floor or ground helps keep your weight over the balls of the feet, recalling the Tripod/Two-thirds rule from above. Try gripping the floor or inside of your shoes with your toes when you need to feel more balanced.

Keep your abs in control of your center of gravity. Disciples of the Joseph Pilates method of core muscle conditioning have quoted him as saying that “keeping tension centered in the abdomen means the rest of the body is supported and can remain loose and balanced.” When attempting to balance or catching yourself from a trip or slip, keep your abdomen contracted to brace the spine and provide support for the limbs.

Balancing in a squat. When performing a squat or when moving the knee into a forward or bent position – especially when balancing on one foot – align your second toe, the center of your kneecap and your hip flexor (front of hip that bends to form the lap) into one straight line. The back should sway as you push backwards through your hips. Keep your sternum lifted and face forward with eyes level.

When balancing with the arms relaxed, the palms of your hands should face your thighs. This tells you that your shoulders are relaxed and aligned.

Your ears should ideally sit behind your collarbones at all times when balancing, aligned with the outside of the shoulders. This means the back of your next is long and your equilibrium is more reliable, both keys to good balance.

Make sure your tailbone points down, perpendicular to floor. The crown of your head points at the ceiling. Feel them stretching apart in opposition, downward and upward, respectively. Everything should be stretched and lengthened between them, keeping the abdomen tight and your spine tall.

FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS for GOOD POSTURE and BALANCE:

1. YOGA – Get into a regular yoga practice to balance, align and loosen your muscles and joints. There are so many kinds of yoga classes out there: gentle, restorative styles; power and fitness forms; and yoga for special populations.  Keep trying new classes until you find one that works for you.  Start off with a beginner class and work your way up. Don’t be intimidated or think it’s too difficult. It takes practice, yes, but its well worth the strength, flexibility and physical control you’ll gain. The mind-body focus and relaxation benefits are countless, as well.  Click the “Yoga” link for a chart to help you choose what yoga would suit your body best.

2. PILATES – Pilates mat exercise strengthens the body’s core musculature, frees the spine and pelvis of unnecessary tension, opens peripheral joints, lengthens the back and limbs and gives you a feeling of balance, grace and control over your body’s movements. Again, begin slowly with basic level classes and allow your practice to evolve over time.  Like yoga, Pilates exercise can be therapeutic, rehabilitative and rejuvenating.  Joseph H. Pilates once said, “you’re only as old as your spine feels.”  I concur!

posture_Alexander3. ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE – Frederick M. Alexander designed a postural alignment technique based on the body’s building blocks as indicated in my suggestions above. His method of postural alignment, reduction of harmful physical tension and “mindful movement” has been employed by many performers, athletes and orators to free their bodies of pain and strain due to poor physical habits and to open dynamic potential. See link for local classes and self-study options.

4. PERSONAL TRAINING and BODYWORK – Developing your physical fitness through strength, flexibility and endurance training or weight loss programming can certainly help you improve your posture and balance and minimize pain and discomfort in your body. Finding a qualified trainer you can work with is a great way to learn how. Physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors and other bodywork practitioners can also help you to unwind tight muscles, realign joints, relieve pain and learn how to balance your body.

5. DANCE – Dancing is one of the best, most fun ways enhance your posture and develop graceful movement and balance in your body.  You can find local classes in Jazz, Ballet, Modern, Salsa and Ballroom or join the Zumba Latin dance craze!  Find out which form your body likes most.  If dance sounds like it’s out of your comfort zone, you should probably try it!  Remember: having two left feet is better than having none!

I hope this primer on improving your posture proves useful to you. I’d love to hear how these tips may have helped you and appreciate your comments, questions and any information you may wish to share on this subject and other wellness topics.  pilates-quote-2“In all things worth doing, work wisely, remain calm, stay focused and stand tall.” ~DJ

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