Posts Tagged ‘Fitness’

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.

Putting “health” back in “health care”

Two weeks ago (geez, has it really been that long?!), Obama signed off on the health care bill. Meaning a whole lot of different things. At the time it passed, I asked my tweeps to give me their two cents on the health care bill.

Some opinions

“It isn’t about you (or me), mostly. Well, not at least until you turn 26, and/or get a job, or are determined to have a pre-existing condition. It’s about people our parents always taught us to help, those less fortunate, those we serve on Christmas Eve morning, at kitchens during the week. People we feel for, and want job training to help. Now, it also helps millions more without work, with cancer, diabetes. It opens a market with a serious competitor, not unlike Sams Club or Wal-Mart, it opens States to competition, it makes insurance companies less greedy.” – Dave

“We were the only rich country that didn’t ensure that its citizens have health insurance; now we’re not.” – John

Katharine at From A to Pink, who suffers with Cystic Fibrosis, directed me to the provisions in the bill that can help those with chronic disorder, like CF. The bill help people like her across the country who previously were denied coverage due to their pre-existing conditions.

“I don’t think insurance companies nor the government need to be involved in health care. Consumers pay doctors directly, costs decrease.” – John

“I do think health reform is needed- costs for doctors, patients and insurance companies are outrageous, but I don’t think this current bill is tackling the main problems like malpractice, the food system and preventative care. Also what scares me more, not just about the bill, but our government system in general, is how the bill got passed. I felt it got pushed too quickly and not thought out for the public, but for the politicians to get re-elected or liked by Obama. If it was written well, with a democratic majority, it should have been passed easily months ago, but even now, it barely passed and that scares me when it’s so expensive and might not comprehensive or helpful to us.” – Jacquie

“We have no money left. One day, someone will have to pay for this. Oh, and Obama’s a socialist.” – Charlie

“Health care bill…meh. It’s passed, so I’m going to have to get over my disagreement and hope it works out for the best!” – Gabrielle, at Une Vie Siene

Photo credit: adrianclarkmbbs

My opinion

At first glance, it appears that Obama’s health care bill has divided Americans into two separate camps: those opposed to it, who are focused on the economic toll it will have on the country—and those for it, who are focused on the obligation we have to make sure everyone has health care, regardless of  inability to pay or pre-existing conditions.

I feel like there are bits and pieces of all of these arguments I can agree with. The moralist in me sees that health care reform is needed while the pragmatist in me sees that it will be expensive and will not get at the heart of the problem. Maybe it’s pointless to talk in hypotheticals. I don’t think it is, though. And I finally have an opinion of my own about this whole thing (and sorry it has taken me so long to get around to posting it!)…

As is customary in this country, the government has focused on dealing with the problem (unaffordable health care and too many uninsured), which always creates more problems, instead of using tactics to prevent health problems in the first place. I know not all health care is treatment care, a lot of it is preventative care or care for illness that could not have been prevented—care such as annual check-ups, vaccinations, insulin injections for people born with Type 1 diabetes, treatment for cancers, autoimmune or other chronic disorders and a slew of other problems, not to mention treatment for accident-related injuries.

However, there are still too many health care dollars that are spent cleaning up messes that should have never been made in the first place. I found this article in Grist recently. Dr. Matthew Nisbet, who actually teaches at AU, was interviewed in a piece called, “Why aren’t climate scientists talking about health care reform?” I found it to be an interesting piece, and it is true. The climate change advocates aren’t really putting as much effort into drawing the connection between our human health and global warming. But I think this issue very similarly mirrors the gap that I see in the health care debate between “health/fitness/wellness” and “health care.” And why is there such a gap? Why is “health” sitting in one corner of the room while “health care” sits in another? It’s almost like when we, as individuals, think of “health” we think of all the personal actions we make to improve our health, while “health care” is the bureaucratic (and therefore often flawed) process we go through for the stuff we can’t take care of on our own. Why isn’t this relationship more interconnected?

My recommendations

  • Gym memberships Apparently, there are some health insurance companies that give rebates, discounts, or even free gym memberships. I doubt mine does. (But I guess I should check before I speak…no matter anyhow, as I have a couple free gym options at my finger tips as it is.) I think this is an excellent idea. How fundamentally smart. I was slightly appalled to read this on Insurance News Net: “…under the new law the government does plan to begin cutting payments to Medicare Advantage, a privatized, managed-care version of Medicare, in 2011. Such plans, in which members often enjoy little or no premium and free gym memberships, may be forced to reduce some benefits or increase premiums for the 10 million people enrolled in them.” Why not require health insurance companies to offer some sort of incentive for people to get active—in the form of free or reduced price gym memberships? Ten percent of the health care dollars we spend per year in this country are spent on obesity-related problems, mostly type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The food people are eating is much to blame, but so is a lack of activity.
  • Healthy eating and cooking workshops Jamie Oliver is making an effort to change the quality and nutrition of food in public schools (as is being documented on Food Revolution—and yes, I will be posting about this show soon. I am waiting to form my opinion after more episodes have aired)—however, children only consume about 16% of their total food from the cafeteria (more if they eat breakfast at school.) As Jamie Oliver’s program has so far revealed, many parents aren’t feeding their children properly at home. Sometimes it is because they don’t know how to cook healthy meals, sometimes it is about lack of time or money. Whatever it is, there is advice for them and that kind of  help should be something the government is interested in providing. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign will hopefully tackle this issue. But why not find a way to weave it into health care? Why not offer people an incentive to attend these workshops through their health care costs? If I was a parent, you better believe I would take my kids to a cooking class once a week if it meant I would get a rebate on my health insurance.
  • Smoking cessation In the U.S., smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death. Oh. My. Goodness. WHY. Honestly, this topic makes my blood boil more than the food system. The cost of medical care and lost productivity related to smoking is (conservatively) estimated to be $150 billion per year. I have a lot of friends and two parents that won’t love that I say this, but I will say it anyway, because I love them: tobacco should be outlawed. Call me a prohibitionist, but that is my opinion and I am sticking to it. Health insurance companies should be required to cover all expenses related to smoking cessation, whether it be in the form of the patch or hypnotism or whatever. If a method has been proven to work, it should be covered. It is an outrage that people are still dying from lung disease and cancer in this country (many from SECOND hand smoke!)
  • Rewarding people for rewarding themselves OK, here is a new-agey little idea. But whatever, I’m a new-agey gal. What if health insurance companies offered a “bonus” to their members if they could prove that they actually took their alloted vacation time? Stress is one of the top causes of heart-related problems, as well as a contributing factor of most other health problems. Taking care of oneself means taking time for yourself. Not enough people are doing this. And their health is paying the toll.

Pick apart my ideas as much as you like. I encourage a healthy debate. But keep in mind that sometimes it is the most radical and different ideas that become innovative solutions for complex problems. Does anyone have any other ideas for ways to incorporate more health into our health care?

The way I see it, health care reform doesn’t come down to health–it comes down to money. It comes down to the have’s and the have-not’s and the question of how we can provide health care to more people, but it doesn’t address how we can make people healthier. If we can implement ways to keep Americans from getting sick in the first place, we can save billions on health care, which will lower premiums for everyone.

Because we all need health care. But some of us aren’t doing our job of taking care of ourselves the way we should in the ways that we can. That is where the government should be focusing its efforts—helping people help themselves so costs for all can go down. That way, the people who need doctors’ help more than others can get the coverage they deserve.

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.)