Saturday, March 14, 2015

Conquer A 30 Day Yoga Challenge

For runners there are races. In competitive sports there are playoffs. But what about the world of yoga? I would argue that the yogis’ equivalent is the 30 days yoga challenge.

This past month I completed this feat of 30 consecutive days of yoga classes. I had heard several people reference the 30 days yoga challenge on my Facebook, and while I do yoga regularly, the idea of committing to doing it every single day seemed daunting. I never thought I would be able to do it; with time commitments, or just being too tired or sore from yoga or my other workouts the day before. But last month I decided to give it my best effort. I made the commitment and harnessed my willpower. One week turned into 2 weeks, 2 into 3, and before I knew it I had completed 30 days. It was an amazing, inspiring experience.  Some days were really tough, but I’m glad I made the commitment and stuck to it! 

So why should you do it? For starters, it gives us yogis a tangible goal and challenge to work towards beyond our regular practice. It’s a challenge that you have to put time and energy into, which brings with it a great sense of accomplishment and empowerment. I find setting goals and completing them spills over into other areas of life because it give me confidence that I can do other difficult or intimidating things as well. But beyond this sense of accomplishment, the wonderful thing about yoga is the subtle shifts that come along with having a daily mind body practice.  You are bound to notice shifts in your energy, your mood, your awareness and being in-tune with your body.

I hope you consider doing the 30 day yoga challenge and here are some of my tips for completing it:

Don’t be Afraid to Do It Alone
I had the misconception that I was supposed to do a 30 day challenge in conjunction with a certain studio or group.  While I think this is great if you have a good community you want to do it, it’s absolutely not necessary.  I just did it on my own as a personal practice and that worked out wonderfully for me.

Schedule Your Yoga Practices Out For the Week
At the beginning of each week, plan out all the yoga classes for the next week that you plan to attend and block off those times in your schedule.  That way you aren’t scrambling last minute to try and fit in some yoga. You have a plan and have committed to it, which makes it easier to stick with it.

Modify In Class
30 days in a row means some days you will be sore, you will be tired.  Honor your body and take breaks on the mat.  Many days it’s a challenge in itself just showing up each day and being present, and trying your best.  But it’s not about doing each pose perfectly and or in the most difficult variation.  As the saying goes, “it’s a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect”. Sometimes the hardest part is listening to your body and easing off, if that’s what it calls for.

Take Hydration to the Next Level
Staying hydrated is important in any situation but this is especially true with new fitness routines and yoga, which tends to be detoxifying for the body.  Instead of drinking just plain water, amp it up to truly get your electrolytes back in balance. Add a dash of salt, a lemon or other fruit wedge, or add a sprig of your favorite herb and some stevia for even more fun!

Have a Back Up Yoga Plan
For me personally, I prefer to be lead in a yoga class outside of my home, but sometimes with life it was hard to match up your schedule with a class.  I had a Seane Corn class downloaded and ready on my laptop and did a guided practice with her one day. That way I was prepared and didn’t fall off the ship even though I couldn’t get to a live class.

Think About Diet Shifts
As you start to dedicate more time to your mind and body connection and paying attention to your body, notice how your diet effects how you feel. Are there little shifts that you should start to make to feel even better, such as more vegetables, or less sugar, or more healthy protein or fat sources?  Use your daily time practicing yoga to get in touch with you body and really explore what it may need.

Good luck and let me know how the 30 day challenge goes for you!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why We Should All Be Exfoliating

Our skin is the largest organ on our body.  Perhaps you don’t even give it much thought or credit on a day-to-day basis, but it’s constantly doing some pretty amazing things for us.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your skin sheds about 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells everyday, even though you do not see it happening. Your skin sheds a layer of these dead cells every 24 hours and renews itself about every 28 days. Your skin protects your inside organs while keeping infections out and prevents you from getting sick.
So the least we can do is take good care of it.  One great way to do that is to exfoliate. This is basically helping the body along with its natural function of replacing old skin cells with new ones.  Here are some reasons why exfoliating is a great idea.

Exfoliating can result in:
·      Smoother, softer skin. One reason for this is that moisturizers and lotions are absorbed better  
·      Improved looking skin. It removes any dull skin and dead skin cells from the top layer of your epidermis. By removing these dead cells, exfoliation can help keep pores from becoming clogged and leave skin with a refreshed and clean feeling. What's the benefit to clean and clear pores? Clogged pores can result in blackheads and acne. Additionally, when pores are clogged, they appear larger. You can help diminish their appearance by keeping them clog-free.
·      Improved health of your skin. It speeds up the skin renewal process. This may help reduce fine lines and wrinkles and even discoloration of skin.

Additionally it’s a great idea because:
·      It’s Easy! Just buy an exfoliating brush or scrubber to have on hand in the bathroom or shower.
·      They do it at Spas.  Why not treat yourself to a little self-care and pampering in the comfort of your own home?
·      It has been done for centuries.  This is another health practice that has stood the test of time.  Exfoliation practices can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian times, and across many different cultures from ancient roman baths to Turkish hammans.

Just remember not to overdo it.  A couple times a week is ideal.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What We Can Learn About Health From Nicaraguan Living

As originally posted on YWCA of Minneapolis website: 

Nicaragua Trip Reveals Healthy Lessons for Strong Fast Fit

posted on Thu, Oct 2 2014 9:53 am by Therese Genis, Latino Strong Fast Fit Program Coordinator

I recently spent two-and-a-half weeks in a whole different world -- at least, that was what it felt like in Nicaragua. I was out of my comfort zone more times than I can count: bathing with a bucket, riding in a tiny airplane, dealing with giant spiders, sleeping in the pitch dark, walking alone through the jungle, and riding in speed boats over 20-foot ocean waves.
Overall, it was an amazing learning experience and adventure. My trip took me to three places that showed a wide spectrum of Nicaraguan life. For the first week, I stayed in a rural community in northwestern Nicaragua, near El Lagartillo. This community is so small, consisting of 35 families, that it's not on a map. Then I spent some time in a bigger city called Matagalpa, which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and land where they cultivate coffee. Finally, I went to Little Corn Island off the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, where I spent time on a family farm in a tropical paradise. Since public health is one of my favorite topics, both professionally and personally, I made a point to spend a lot of time trying to learn about the state of health in these areas and learning about their most important health issues and best health practices.

I went into this trip hoping I could help to share my knowledge about preventing obesity and encouraging physical activity, especially in Latino youth. However, I didn't see a single overweight child while I was in these areas of Nicaragua. I was impressed, to say the least.  I wasn't sure what to expect, since I know Mexico has recently passed the United States for highest obesity rates1, but that apparently hasn't happened in Nicaragua yet. So I observed how they live their lives, and looked for what practices I could teach back home about healthy living. I understand that life here in Minnesota is very different and involves many complex components, and it's not possible in most cases to live the way that they do in Nicaragua. However, here are some simple things we can do here to be healthier and raise healthier youth.

Washing dishes
Eat less processed food. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it was apparent while in Nicaragua that it makes a difference. In the more rural areas where they had less access to packaged and processed food, everyone was lean. They don't worry about calories or how much fat is in everything, but are just eating whole foods without all the added sugars and chemicals. Once I got to the city where there was more of these things being sold in all the corner shops, there was more adult obesity. If it comes in a wrapper, package, can or bottle, it's not the best choice. Whole foods are better for you and your kids. Think banana versus granola bar, trail mix of dried fruit and nuts instead of chips, beans instead of mac and cheese from a box, eggs instead of sugary cereal. Cook more meals with whole food ingredients!  
Unplug. American kids spend an average of seven hours in front of a screen every day2. In the first community I was at, there was no internet. The teens were talking to each other and their parents, not burying their faces in a cell phone or computer. Many American parents don't limit their kids' use of them. To make this work, parents might start small, with electronics-free Sundays, no electronics after 7:00 pm, or for only an hour per day. There may be complaints, but trust me -- in the end, it will benefit them. They will get used to thinking out of the box and thinking of other activities to do -- maybe even things that are active! There has even been some research that claims that less social media use is linked to more satisfying relationships and improved interpersonal communication skills3.
Get closer to nature. Kids inherently like being in nature. Nurture this in them. Teach them to appreciate and respect it; then being active will come naturally as you start spending more time outside. Get creative, whether that means playing some pickup sports with friends, gardening, exploring or walking or biking to your next destination. Take them to the park, and ride or walk around the block with them. Spending time in nature has been linked to all types of benefits, from increased immunity4, to improved physical and mental health5.
Put family first. Nicaraguan, and Latino culture in general, put great emphasis on family. People that have strong familial ties and relationships live longer and have a higher quality of life. Spend time together and build up that communication and relationship with your children. Families who eat dinner together have lower obesity rates6. Eat your meals together, get active together -- and come to the YWCA and work out as a family!

Little Corn Island
Not to say that life is easy or better in Nicaragua, because there are many issues that they have to deal with that we don't in relation to access to education, healthcare and hygiene. Nonetheless, it's always surprising to see how little we actually need to be happy and healthy. So while I am very glad to be back home with the luxury of a shower, my comfortable bed, and the internet at my fingertips, I can also carry these messages of health with me and start trying to incorporate little changes like the ones listed above, and I hope you can too.
Rideout, Victoria J., Foehr, Ulla G., and Roberts, Donald F. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Rep. Menlo Park: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010.
Wansink, B. and van Kleef, E. (2014), Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI. Obesity, 22: E91–E95.  doi: 10.1002/oby.20629

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Steel Cut Oats With Butternut Squash

A Warming and Healthy Breakfast For a Cool Day

I love butternut squash – it’s delicious and full of vitamin A, so I have been experimenting with using it this winter in recipes such as soup and this one. Here is my yummy breakfast recipe with butternut squash. Enjoy!

1 Cup Steel Cut Oats
½ Cup Peeled and Diced Butternut Squash
4½ Cups of Water
Sliced Almonds
Sweetener (Such as Stevia or Maple Syrup)
Almond Milk

Put butternut squash and steel cut oats in water and bring to a boil – let simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (Or, I prefer to prepare the night before so it’s faster in the morning: Boil butternut squash and steel cut oats for 20 minutes. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Heat some up for breakfast the next morning). Stir in stevia or maple syrup to taste. Add almond milk. Top with sliced almonds and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Eat up!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sleep Hygiene Tips to Get You Better Rest

Most of us have trouble sleeping at some point (well there are those few people we know who always sleep like a rock – they may never understand how incredibly lucky they are – am I right?).  But for the majority of people at least, from time to time trouble sleeping can be a huge problem! It can mess with your mood and health and sometimes just render us useless if it was a really bad night.  Whether it’s having trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night or a combination of both, there are some things that you can do to help get quality sleep.  These practices are what is know as sleep hygiene. I have been looking into it per my doctor’s suggestions when I mentioned poor sleep, and here are some of the best tips I came across:

·      Keep A Regular Schedule
·      Exercise - We should all be exercising regularly, but did you know for sleep hygiene it’s better to do vigorous exercising during the day? Avoid working out during the night, or if you do evening workouts, go for something more relaxing such as yoga
·      Use Your Bed Only For Sleep and Sex/Intimacy – I admit, I am guilty of watching TV shows on my laptop in bed. These other types of activities condition your brain to associate your bed with things other than sleep which can disturb your sleep
·      Pay Attention to Diet in relation to sleep - Don’t eat big meals right before bed. This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to go to bed hungry but go for a healthy snack instead of a large meal if you know you are heading to bed soon. Skip protein for this snack – instead healthy carbs or dairy are shown to help bring on sleep better. Also notice how diet changes in general affect your sleep patterns, sometimes changes in diet can cause troubled sleep while you’re getting used to them. Avoid caffeine later in the day – that includes chocolate if you are very sensitive.  Don’t eat spicy food if you are very sensitive. Experiment with what works best for your body but think – if it’s hard to digest it may keep me up.  I’m talking greasy food, cheese, protein etc. Try kefir, which is healthy and naturally has tryptophan an essential amino acid that helps serotonin production and therefore may help with sleep.
·      Have A Relaxing Bedtime Routine - Having time to unwind is extremely important – schedule it into your evenings. What will be your nightly routine; Relaxation? Meditation? Bedtime tea? Stretching? Warm bath?  This routine is especially important if you are dealing with psychological stressors.  You can’t have just gotten into a big argument, just turned off a dramatic TV show, or just finished a stressful work project and expect your mind to immediately shut off. It needs time to unwind and move away from all the hustle and bustle of the day.
·      Exposure to Natural Light - This helps regulate a healthy sleep/wake cycle in your body.  I know this can be hard for some of us in the winter in cold areas (aka Minnesota), but just do your best. Open your window curtains to let as much light in as you can during the day and if the temp is bearable outside consider taking a 10 minute stroll during your work break. One cross sectional study from 2011 found that workers under-exposed to natural light during the day had more sleep impairments and wake disorders1.
·      Have The Right Environment - Take a critical look at your bedroom.  Make sure it’s relaxing and comfortable; this includes the bed and temperature.  Also remove all electronic gadgets from your room. We don’t need to be sleeping with or by our phones or laptops for the most part. Electronics that omit any light or signals can interfere with your body’s melatonin production.
·      Avoid Alcohol 3 Hours Before Bed - Sorry to bust your bubble, but the metabolism mechanisms that go into your body breaking down alcohol often disrupt sleep (Daytime drinking anyone?).  Even though alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep initially; you might wake up a few hours later once it is being fully metabolized. So maybe have your glass of wine before dinner instead of after or at the beginning of your evening out.

Cheers to a sound and restful nights’ sleep.

1 Leger, D., Bayon, V., Elbaz, M., Philip, P., Choudat, D. (2011) Underexposure to light at work and its association to insomnia and sleepiness: A cross-sectional study of 13296 workers of one transportation company. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 70 (29-36).