Category Archives: Exercise

What can you learn from your post-vacation body?

So, you are back from summer vacation. The kids have started school, all your colleagues are in the office, and it feels like life is suddenly on overdrive.

What the H@!# Happened?

Just a few days ago you were feeling super relaxed. When you were on vacation your tension just melted away.

During re-entry, you started to hear all kinds of unexpected compliments: You look great. Did you lose weight?

And perhaps you were even a little befuddled. After all, you really let yourself go while you were away.

You didn’t go to the gym, or work out nearly as much as you usually do. You drank a lot more wine and to top it all off, you ate a lot. The scale even affirms that you gained weight. Clearly it is time to get serious about getting back to your usual fitness routine and diet.

Hold on just a minute!!

The scale is just a small measurement of overall health. A weight gain can be indicative of so many things, and if your body looks better and you feel better, perhaps there is a little assessing to do before getting back to “normal”.

I see this happen all the time with my clients when we start working together again in the fall after they’ve left town for a few weeks or a few months. While they’re seriously distressed about weight gain and “poor” eating habits, it visibly appears as though they’ve lost years from their life in a matter of weeks. Shoulder tension, bad posture, and even chronic pain seems to have dramatically gone away.

Getting back to business rarely if ever seems to build on the benefit from an extended break from daily stress and that is a big failing on our parts should we choose to ignore it.

The biggest cause of aging is our stress and the number one thing we can do to maximize on the benefits we’ve gained from our vacations is to measure acceptable stress and stress management through the lens of how we feel in the days following a good break.

So, how can you change the way you handle eating, exercising and other everyday tasks to maintain that lowered stress level you returned with?

That’s impossible!!

Well before you allow that thought to take over, consider this: If you do everything in your life EXACTLY how it’s been done before, you are correct, that is indeed impossible. But if you employ a different strategy, not only is a different result possible, it becomes highly probable.

Let’s take a closer look at the “faulty” health and fitness strategy you employed on vacation:

1) You had a lot of leisure time. You weren’t constantly in planning mode, trying to finish last minute work on projects, and working every second of every day.

2) You exercised for the joy of moving. Maybe you walked, swam, did a little stretching, but it was more a part of your daily lifestyle. Something you did to relax, start your day, or cap it off. Not something you did because you were supposed to do it or something that was part of beating yourself up in any way.

3) You rested when you were tired. You went to bed earlier, slept later, and took breaks from exercise when you needed it.

4) You ate what you enjoy and you enjoyed what you ate. It is totally appropriate to eat according to desire. You are actually more likely to overeat when you deprive yourself day after day. The more forbidden the fruit, the better it tastes. If you consistently tell yourself no, your inner child only wants it more and will eat more (often without even tasting and enjoying it) when the opportunity finally presents itself. If you allow indulgence from time to time, you will naturally gravitate towards healthier more nutrient foods most of the time (I know I do).

5) You connected regularly with friends and family. Having strong relationships is satisfying. It helps us process stress more easily and provides an amazing support network for us. If we are supported, we don’t indulge in unhealthy behaviors that often come from feeling lonely or not good enough.

6) You spent time on yourself. Whether it was through reading a book, a magazine, meditation, or a nap, you gave yourself space to rejuvenate without a specific purpose or end in mind. Leisure time is so important. We can’t work on our goals every moment of every day without burning out!

7) You lived in the present. Much easier when you don’t have such a lengthy to-do list, or a house to clean, I know. But we all can choose to live each moment of everyday in the present. Children do it naturally and the more we select how we will focus our time, and avoid overworking and multi-tasking, the easier it becomes to do this.

All of these strategies result in an overall reduced state of stress which is vital for us to function at an optimum level, lose weight, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Perhaps you shouldn’t eat quite as much as you ate, or exercise quite as little as you did, but in the quest to “fix” that, let’s not erase all of the benefits you gained by taking the pressure off yourself to be perfect.

Just think, how different would you be if you integrated just one of these ideas into your life on a regular basis?

Now it’s time to take action.

In the comments below, share your insights with me and the Leap Ahead Fitness community.

How is your body different post-vacation? What is one thing you did on vacation that you could continue to do in your everyday life to maintain lower stress and better health and fitness?

Me? I’m going to continue to enjoy wine on a daily basis. What the H@!#! You only live once!!

Health and Happiness,

Natalie

Yoga or Pilates – Which is better?

Happy September! Did you know it’s National Yoga Month?

In honor of this special month, I’m answering one of the most frequent questions I get. Should I do Yoga or Pilates? 

To better answer this question, let me share with you a little more about each practice and what it is good for.

Yoga is a practice that dates back at least 5,000 years. In its traditional form, the emphasis in yoga goes beyond the physical, focusing on breath, mental and physical exercise. The word Yoga itself means to join together – and is designed to bring body and mind into a state of union and harmony.

Pilates is a much newer practice created in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates. He was heavily influenced by various movement practices, like boxing, self-defense, and even yoga. Hence, if you practice Pilates, you will find yourself doing exercises that in some ways are quite similar to yoga. Pilates also adopted a focus on mindfulness and breath work. Originally called Contrology, the emphasis is on doing low reps of exercises, while focusing on impeccable form. A distinct method of breathing was also developed to maximize the breath in a way that builds core strength.

So other than their origins, what is different about Pilates and Yoga?

In Yoga, the emphasis varies somewhat depending upon the style  – the American Yoga association cites over 100 different schools – but generally, the focus is on meditation through movement and sustaining postures while breathing. Physical benefits include greater flexibility, improved mental clarity, freer breathing, and improved strength and balance.

In Pilates, the emphasis is on building a strong core.  As a result, it is often used for rehabilitation for dancers, high level athletes, and even for the general public. The primary physical benefits are strengthening core muscles, releasing chronic areas of tension, and improved posture and lengthened muscles.

While both practices use the mind, the application is quite different. The use of the mind in Pilates is more as a tool to control the body while in Yoga, the focus is on releasing thoughts to become more present in our bodies and our lives. By releasing thoughts, the breath flows more easily and more tension is released. Think of this difference between Pilates and Yoga as sort of a west vs. east or outside in vs. inside out kind of approach.

What if I’m really looking to get more flexible?

Yoga is renowned for its capacity to increase flexibility. If you think about it, every posture requires you to hold a stretch, but the great thing about it is that it is stretching in a very active way. I have learned some of my best teaching techniques from yoga teachers, who for the most part are excellently trained to emphasize the oppositional nature of stretches (all muscles have two attachments) as well as emphasizing the use of oppositional muscle engagement, ie. firming your quads in triangle pose, which protects your joints and increases your stretch.

When done well, I highly recommend Yoga to everyone who is seeking to get more flexible. Aside from finding an excellent teacher who corrects students individually, make sure that the class is at your level or at the very least that you don’t feel pressured to work harder or deeper than you are ready for.

Well, what about Pilates? Will it help my flexibility?

I’m frequently surprised to learn how many people believe that Pilates is simply a type of stretching. That is an extreme oversimplification of Pilates. In fact, while Yoga is stretching through held postures, any stretching in Pilates is through active movement – continuous motion.

This can mean that you don’t feel more flexible from Pilates right away. It also means that you probably won’t feel any intense stretching feeling while taking class.

You will, however, find exercises in a Pilates Mat class that will help lengthen your hamstrings, open your chest, and (to a lesser degree) open your hips.

If you have especially tight hips – and many of us do because of the number of hours we spend sitting – tight hip flexors may initially get tighter as they tend to overwork to compensate for weak abs.

Pilates helps you get more flexible primarily through strengthening muscles that are weak so that you are more balanced and through the oppositional muscle engagement principle (by activating your quads, you lengthen your hamstrings and vice versa).

There is a unique flexibility aspect to Pilates, though. The practice of articulating the spine. In doing all upright and straight spine activities, our backs and necks can get extremely tight. By incorporating both curling and arching positions – active and static – Pilates helps increase the flexibility of our spines.

What if I haven’t exercised in a really long time (or have little to no exercise experience)?

Pilates is probably the most gentle exercise out there. The fact that the majority of the exercises are done lying down (on your side, back or stomach) makes it super accessible if you have limited strength. It is also extremely safe if you have lower back or neck pain when the proper modifications are made.

I have personally found Yoga to require a lot more strength initially than Pilates, especially if you are really tight or recovering from an injury. Yoga consists of a lot of standing postures and poses that require you support your weight with your hands and arms which require more strength.

That being said, either practice could be great for you, if you get in the right class.  Be sure to listen to your body. If you are just starting, take beginner classes and don’t worry about being able to do everything. Pick a practice that you find the most enjoyable and make it a part of your regular routine.

What if I want to get stronger & more toned abs?

I definitely would recommend you start with Pilates. The primary focus of a Pilates is on building core strength and a good teacher will help you challenge your core, and teach you great form to help you get stronger while staying pain free. A good class will emphasize Posterior Lateral Breathing, drawing the navel to spine, and utilizing the pelvic floor.

Yoga does not incorporated a lot of postures that focus on ab work, though there are a few. Navasana (similar to the Pilates Teaser) is one. And a good Yoga teacher will reference Mula Bandha (akin to using your pelvic floor) throughout the class.

The breathing pattern in Yoga is different, yielding slightly different results. The yogic breath focuses on diaphragmatic breathing where you fully release the abdominals on each inhalation. While healthy for expanded your lungs and breathing capacity, yogis frequently have weak Transverse Abdominals (the muscles that draw your waistline in and support your organs and low back).

The Pilates practice of Posterior Lateral Breathing will help you increase your capacity for breath while strengthening the Transverse Abdominals at the same time.

What about doing both Yoga & Pilates? Is that overkill?

Yoga and Pilates are extremely complimentary to one another. I personally practice both.

Most of the Pilates I do is in the context of teaching group classes or a short sequence before or after a weight training session. This practice helps me keep my muscles long, my core strong, and my chronic imbalances from shifting into a painful zone.

Yoga helps me release tension in my body – particularly my hip flexors – and since Yoga has a lot more poses that involve rotation, opens up parts of my body that Pilates alone doesn’t seem to reach. I also have a deep appreciation for the meditative aspects of Yoga, and find that the benefits of practice include feeling more relaxed and helping me bring focus to my life.

Your Turn

I’d love to hear from you.

Do you practice Yoga, Pilates or both? What aspects do you enjoy about what you practice? Do you have any other questions about the differences between the two?

Leave your comments below.

 

Ready For Fall Fitness? New Strategies for Success on the Creative Wellness Podcast

As you read this, I’m finishing my last adventure for the summer – a 8 day trip on the back of my hubby’s motorcycle to Virginia and North Carolina to visit family.

No pictures here (I wrote this before I left), though there are undoubtedly a few on my Facebook and Twitter feed and I’ll be sharing more when I get back.

As you begin to think about getting back into your fitness routine this fall, I have two resources to share that you won’t want to miss.
First of all, check out my recent interview with Melanie St. Ours on the Creative Wellness podcast. You can listen on her blog or download the episode via iTunes. We talked about developing a healthy mindset and approach to fitness whether you struggle to get started or you have a tendency to overdo it 😉
And then, check out my article on the Top 5 Items I recommend you have for your home “gym”.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
See you after Labor Day!
Natalie