Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

Health 2.0 DC/VA/MD Meet-Up & on being a responsible health blogger

Last night I attended the Health 2.0 DC/VA/MD Meet-Up over in Bethesda (at The Barking Dog), which ended up being a really interesting event. I’m basically brand new to the whole adult world of networking events that fall outside of American University, which is now technically my “alma mater,” and I found it to be not at all intimidating and overall very informative. The event was hosted by Aquilent. They picked a pretty perfect venue for an meet-up with six rapid-fire 5-minute presentations from innovators and leaders in the area of health solutions that use Web 2.0 technology. The moderator had a whistle but I think he laid off it when one of the speakers announced he had “mean soccer coach days” issues.

One of my favorite speakers was Nancy Shute, contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report and writer of the OnParenting blog, which for some reason I sometimes read even though I’m not a parent. She talked about the struggles that journalism has faced with regard to a lack of fact-checking and how, when it comes to issues of health and medical care, those sorts of mistakes can be, well, deadly. One thing she pointed out that I found interesting is that for a while it was clear that people wanted to hear from others like themselves when it came to making decisions about their health care, but now the balance between trusting people like you and trusting medical doctors is beginning to level out.

What this presentation really said to me, especially as someone who blogs and potentially puts myself in a place where my advice about health and eating and wellness can be taken seriously, is that, like a journalist, I need to fact-check my sources and trust only reliable sites. I have struggled with this in the past in my personal life when I have turned into what you might call a “cyberchondriac.” (CDC? An acceptable place to find health information; random message boards? Not so much.) While the Web 2.0 age has afforded us the ability to share information and get help quickly and be in touch with sources online that are legitimate, it has also given a voice to a bunch of people that don’t know what the heck they are talking about. And our job, as the writers and re-purposers of that information, is to do so with utmost scrutiny and with an unbiased voice which isn’t swayed by sponsors or advertisers or celebrities (see Jennifer McCarthy and the autism/vaccine connection debate). We, as “citizen journalists” have to be able to discern when information isn’t accurate or useful so that we know not to trust it for ourselves and not to share it with our readers.

Update: See below for the slideshow from Nancy’s presentation. It’s definitely worth a look through.

Anthony LaFauce at Spectrum Science (who took some video at the event and has it posted on his Qik page) posted a great recap of one of the speakers from Infield. They provided interesting information about recent innovations that have allowed doctors to diagnose patients from afar, just based on pictures they take and send with their cell phones in developing nations where doctors are scarce. They’ve also developed ways of reuniting loved ones who are separated during natural disasters. They talked about how the person locator system was set up following the earthquake in Haiti, but that it took three weeks for this first program to start running, and then when the Chile earthquake happened, they were able to get everything set up in just 4 days. So from trial one to trial two, they cut the time it took to get the system up and running by 80 percent. Just think what that could mean for the unfortunate but inevitable next natural disaster.

This segues well into what I really am looking forward to doing with this blog down the line. As you can tell by my last couple posts, I am already moving away from the strictly food topics. But I will wait to get into that in a future post.


D.C. Yoga Week & my plan to get in tip-top yogi shape

OK. I have one confession and one announcement and bit of news.

The confession first…

I have been a bad yogi this year. A very, very bad yogi.

First, a little back story about me. I started getting into yoga my freshman year of college. I really found my groove at the Bikram studio in Tenley, which I loved and still do. Yoga was a hugely important part of my life. I worked at the studio to get free classes and really felt a part of something there. Then, I went abroad to study in Australia. And while I was there I bought a gym membership so I didn’t gain a thousand pounds eating out all the time and having the “I’m on vacation” mentality and what not, and it sort of worked for a little while. I was feeling pretty good.

And then, one April morning, I got hit by a car while crossing a street near my apartment. The driver didn’t see me, he was rounding a corner to make a left-hand turn, and I didn’t see him–I ended up with a tooth knocked out, a fractured sternum and lots of cuts and bruises. I don’t think I have ever mentioned that on this blog, but yeah, I got hit by a car while I was studying abroad in Australia. What luck! Getting hit by a car was obviously physically painful, sort of emotionally draining and worse yet because I turned into a paranoid ball of nerves for a month or two after. Only recently have I noticed I’ve let my super extra guard down when crossing streets; I was pretty cautious about it both in Australia and in America after. I guess there are some things worth being cautious about though. Anyhow, after the accident and during all the legal, medical and dental hullabaloo after, I got really bad about working out. I obviously couldn’t exercise for about 3-4 weeks after because I couldn’t even lay down at night and breathe without being in excruciating chest pain. Don’t even think about coughing or sneezing or laughing (yikes. thinking about it now is making me cringe.) After my sternum healed, I was basically able to return to normal, but for whatever reason I never really kicked into high gear again. I was in a fitness rut. I did yoga occasionally, which helped to calm me, and got sort of into a spinning class at my uni’s gym, but generally, I sort of fell out of shape.

On my way home, I did a stopover trip to Fiji and had the opportunity to finally get my open-water certification (a task that had been put on hold after the accident because of my breathing difficulties). While it was hands-down the best experience of my life, there were times I thought to myself, “I wish I was stronger so this equipment wasn’t so impossibly heavy.” I know, it’s supposed to be heavy, but I was also very weak and got the sense that I was struggling diving much more than I would if I were in stronger shape. When I returned to the States, I stepped on a scale at my parents’ house and was like, “Oh-em-gee.” I mean, I don’t ever really weigh myself anymore, because I have a past of being really obsessive about it, to a dangerous level. I should also clarify, it was never actually about the weight, however seeing that “evidence” did help to motivate me, in a healthy way. But when it came down to it, it was about how I felt physically, which was pretty awful.

So, I started running every day in the time between coming back home and starting up school again. And I shocked myself with how I was able to actually run a mile straight without dying. And pretty soon it was three miles straight. But, just like everything, if you don’t keep up a routine, you easily can slip back to square one, and that is what happened once schoolwork piled up and the weather got cooler. Meanwhile, I was writing the health column for my school’s newspaper, but sometimes would feel like a fraud, because I wasn’t really being quite the shining example I wanted to be. I had way too much on my plate this year and I can realize this now. Everything worked out as far as me being able to get through it all, but not really, because I let my fitness suffer.

and the announcement…

OK, so what does this have to do with yoga? Throughout the past year, I have gone through various yoga “phases.” I would get really into it for a couple weeks, then get really busy with school or just get lazy or ditch it for running for a week or it was too expensive or there were three feet of snow on the ground keeping me from getting to the studio, or whatever. I ended up writing my last health column on different yoga studios around my campus, which got me to try a few new styles, and it was awesome. I hadn’t forced my body to do most of that work for so long and it felt great. I decided after that I really need to make yoga a priority in my life and now that school is over, I have basically no responsibilities to speak of aside from bringing home the bacon and dealing with day-to-day life stuff. I have been told that this time after graduation is very strange because you find you have so much free time, and I want to use my free time in the smartest way possible.

This week, my new fave Vinyasa yoga studio in my fave day-time neighborhood in D.C., Dupont, opened up a new location. They kicked off their first week with free classes and I went everyday. I love the instructors there (Katja is my fave). The best part is that their regular prices, even for non-students, are pretty fabulous. Also, they are totally wind-powered, don’t sell bottled water, clean with environmentally friendly supplies, etc. Basically, I love them. And, the studio is right near where I will be interning for the next couple months, so it’s just darn perfect.

Further, starting today and going all week is D.C. Yoga Week! Today from 1-5pm, there is Yoga on the Mall, and I am going to try to get there for at least the tail end of that. But regardless, I am really going to use this opportunity to get myself back in the yogi routine. I am excited to start fresh. I am already feeling better and stronger (and sore!) after just one week.

So I was wondering, have you ever had an injury that threw you off track? How did you deal with it? Do you like to switch up your yoga styles or just concentrate on one (Bikram, vinyasa, ashtanga, etc.)?

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Get real, Obamas: “Let’s Move” campaign offers few real solutions

By now, we’ve all heard about Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Some think it’s great. Some dislike it for its focus on the Obama daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Some think President Obama should lay off calling his daughters “chubby” and quit smoking if he is going to pretend to care so much about their health. I won’t even throw out that stones-and-glass-houses quote, since it doesn’t really apply here, considering Sasha and Malia clearly have nowhere near a weight problem. Not to mention, none of us know what these comments are doing to their self-esteem, and fear-mongering isn’t really going to do any good.

from the Chicago Sun-Times

I feel it was irresponsible for them to involve their daughters in this campaign, especially in a not-so-positive way. You can read about my full take on this in my column in today’s Eagle.

And, I’m not “condoning” obesity in anyway. Weight-related problems are costing us billions, and obesity-related health problems such as heart attacks and diabetes are killing hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Not to mention, obesity-related deaths are the number two cause of preventable death. (But guess what’s still got number one? Yep, cigarettes.) I think maintaining a healthy weight is important, but being a little overweight does not an unhealthy person make. If you are chain smoking cigarettes to suppress your appetite, you are doing more damage to your health than a non-smoker who has a few extra pounds on them.

Childhood obesity is a problem, and it is important to tackle because crucial eating and exercise habits are formed at a young age.

from the Cape Cod Times

However, how about reforming our food system, and getting at the root of the problem, Mr. and Mrs. Obama? Mr. President, you picked on Sasha and Malia, and now, I’m picking on you. Yeah. What are you gonna do about it?

I’m addressing this issue in my next column, and hope to incorporate some possible solutions that deal with fixing our broken food system. Replacing the crappy food we eat with real food will allow people to maintain a healthy weight more naturally.

Leave me a comment with one suggestion you think would get at this issue without singling out our already body-conscious youth and turning the attention back to eating real food.

Lock the knee. Lock your eyes.

This week, I picked up my Bikram yoga practice again. I practiced Friday night, did Saturday afternoon, and am leaving for the Sunday morning class in about an hour. I practiced Bikram last fall/winter for about six months, but then stopped when I went abroad to Australia. There was actually a Bikram studio a few miles from my apartment down there, but I didn’t really see having that much extra time or money to keep going, so I never kept it up.

Then, last semester, my life was crazy and my class schedule, the Eagle, and babysitting just didn’t allow for me to squeeze in yoga. It is a little bit frustrating to go back to Bikram after such a long break. I remember everything my body used to be able to do that it can’t do anymore, and I am sort of mad at myself I let that happen. But, I don’t want to say I regret not going, because you can’t really regret something you had basically no control over. I missed it a lot. This semester I have made room for it in my schedule to go three to four times per week, because with Bikram, (and most yoga), it is really important to go at least that many times, ideally five days. The more regularly you practice, the more you get out of it. Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga by some, is basically a 26-posture, 90-minute routine developed by Bikram Choudhury. It is always performed in a room with a temperature of about 105 degrees and 40% humidity with the lights on bright. This allows your body to sweat out toxins but more importantly limbers up your muscles so you don’t strain something while you are working on the pretty demanding poses. It is amazing how much more flexible you become after spending a little time in the heat. I remember on my first couple days of Bikram yoga back in August 2008, I looked around the room at all the ripped bodies, some curvy, some with not a drop of fat on them, but mostly all in great shape. Let’s just say you could tell who had been coming for a while.

I started to compare myself to everyone around me. Then the class began and I started to compare myself to how well my body was working compared to other people in the room. Then I remember during Ardha Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana, which is a pose where you extend your arms with your biceps at your ears and push your body as straight as can be to each side, holding for a minute, then repeat again. It’s the first real pose aside from the all-important breathing exercise, but it’s intense. This excruciating cramp hit my right bicep (which isn’t used to doing any work) and then all I can remember thinking was, “Ohh, this isn’t gonna be easy, is it?”

From then on I knew I had to forget everyone else in there and focus on me. I perform my best postures when I completely free my mind of distraction and focus on my own eyes in the mirror. Which is sort of why I titled this entry that. There are a lot of phrases the instructors tend to use a lot, specifically, “Lock the knee!” “Push more! Fall more! Back back back!” etc. But I really like repeating, “Lock your eyes” to myself because it actually does help. I usually stand in the front, because if I can’t see my eyes in the mirror, I often can’t focus. If I concentrate on my own gaze, I’m not thinking about anyone or anything else, and I can work through some of the balancing poses a lot easier. The balancing poses are my hardest. I’m naturally quite flexible all around, but I can’t balance for the life of me.

I think that is the beauty of most lasting exercise routines, specifically yoga, which is so individual. You do it for you, no one else. No one in there is going to pat you on the back and say, “You know, you had a really excellent triangle pose today, much better than last week!” because no one knows your practice except you. Sometimes instructors will encourage beginners with comments on how well they did, and they also will correct your postures so you get the most benefit and don’t hurt yourself. Instructors are always there to motivate and instruct, but they are not what keeps you going.

This is going to sound really cheesy, but it’s your internal dialogue and patting yourself on the metaphorical back that keeps you going. Sometimes it’s congratulating yourself for touching your head to the floor in standing separate leg stretching pose, sometimes it’s just for getting your butt to class. Or to paraphrase what Emerson once said, “Finish each pose and be done with it. You have done what you could.” I’m off to see what I can do today. Namaste, everyone.

(not Bikram, but me doing yoga in Brisbane, one of the only photos I have of me in any yoga pose.)