How to Kick-Off Your Health Goals For 2014

When saying goodbye to an old year and jumping into a new one, many of us will set new year’s resolutions. And it isn’t any surprise that the majority of us want to lose weight, start exercising or eating clean. Getting active and cleaning up your diet can have a tremendously positive effect on your health. Here are a few tips to help you stick with your New Year’s Resolutions.

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1) Set “SuPeR Smart” GoalsSSelf Controllable (Your goal must be something that you can control), P – Public (Reinforce your goal by telling another person, or possibly posting it somewhere for others to see), R – Reward (Allow yourself a reward for when you reach your goal), SSpecific (Make sure your goal is clear-cut and not too general), MMeasurable (For example, losing a specific number of pounds or setting a specific number of push-ups you would like to do), AAdjustable (It’s okay to change your goal to accommodate your lifestyle), RRealistic (The goal needs to be achievable), TTime Based (Set a timeline for your goal, or a date for when you would like to achieve your goal)

2) Find an online community or app to keep you motivated during your progress. Bodybuilding.com is a great website with lots of articles on nutrition and exercise. MindBodyGreen shares articles on holistic wellness, including nutrition, yoga and other health based topics.

3) Do your research with any nutrition or fitness plan. What works for others may not work for you. There are so many opinions on the internet on which “diets” and exercises are best for your health. Become aware of what works for your body and don’t compare yourself to others.

4) Keep your stress at bay. Have fun with your workouts, don’t stress over what you eat. Remember, one healthy meal won’t make you healthy, one unhealthy meal does not make you unhealthy. Get your recommended amount of sleep at night. Remember to breath. Try taking up yoga or meditation. Reducing your stress levels will not only make you feel good but look good as well.

5) Do not give in to the negative images that take up your social networking sites. As if the media did not do  a good enough job portraying it’s idea of “beautiful”, but now “fitspiration” is all over social media. Keep your health goals about your health rather than your appearance. Focus on how healthy choices makes you feel great rather than how it makes you look.

Minimize Stress, Maximize Health and Energy this Fall

Next week many of us will be back to school. Everybody is familiar with the “Freshman 15”, however you don’t need to be in your freshman year to succumb to unhealthy habits during your school semester! Poor nutrition, stress, and lack of activity not only work against your health but can also affect your work ethic. Check out these 5 suggestions to minimize your stress levels and maximize your health and energy throughout the semester.

1) Don’t forgo your fitness routine

I understand you have 3 essays to get started on and a mid-term to prepare for but keeping up an exercise routine, whether that’s yoga, weight lifting or running, will help decrease your stress levels. If you get your body moving you will increase your circulation. As the oxygen is delivered throughout your body you will feel as though you are more energetic, not to mention the release of endorphins (the feel-good hormone).

2) Prepare your own food to bring on campus

Take control of your nutrition and pack wholesome and filling meals to school with you. Not only are you likely to save money but you will know exactly what you are putting into your body. Take the time the night before, or wake-up earlier than you normally would to prepare your food/snacks/lunch. “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail”

3) Use a natural sweetener in your daily coffee fix

Stevia is a great all-natural sweetener that you can buy in little packs. Store a few of these in your backpack or purse. Putting process sugar in your daily coffee spikes your blood sugar, which can leave you feeling sluggish, and contribute to empty calories. Also avoid artificial sweeteners which can be toxic to the body.

4) Try breathing techniques to quickly reduce unneeded stress

Why do people feel so great after they have finished a yoga class? A lot of that has to do with focusing on the breath. If you feel stress approaching tune into your breath. Even if it is for a minute, breathing has a tremendous impact on our nervous systems and can help us to relax.

5) Keep your workspace organized and separate

I am extremely guilty of using my bed as my workspace. But experts say if we reserve our sleeping areas strictly for sleeping, we will get a better night’s sleep. Keeping an organized space, intended for working can increase work production.

5 Misconceptions About Yoga

People have preconceived ideas about yoga from what they’ve seen in the media or heard through word of mouth. Yoga unites the mind, body and spirit, and can impact your life in many ways if you allow it. Here are 5 false statements often thought about yoga!

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1) Yoga is only for those who are flexible and have good balance

Yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility and balance. You don’t need to be flexible or have great balance to start yoga. There’s a starting point for everybody. If you focus on yourself during the class instead of comparing yourself to others, your mind set becomes about your personal improvements and victories.

2) Yoga is not a good workout 

Different varieties of yoga will offer you a different level of exercise. It will also depend on your skill level as well. For example, Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga will offer more of a cardiovascular or strength workout. Whereas a gentler Hatha Yoga class could be less challenging, depending on the sequence of postures. The poses and postures performed in yoga work to improve your balance, breathing, flexibility and strength no matter what kind of class you are taking part in.

3) I can’t practise yoga with my injuries

Talk to your studio or instructor ahead of time, there are many variations of poses that can help you not only practice yoga while you are injured but help heal your injury. Yoga is great for strengthening the smaller muscles responsible for supporting your ligaments and joints.

4) Yoga is religion based

Although yoga is known to have originated from Hinduism, other opinions today suggest yoga predates Hinduism. Yoga can be a spiritual practise for some, but perhaps not for others, where it is strictly physical.

5) Yoga is only a series of poses and breathing techniques

Yoga is frequently generalized as a fitness routine where people get together and practice different postures and breathing techniques. What many people don’t know is that Postures (also known as asanas) and Breathing Techniques (also known as pranayama) are 2 of Eight Limbs of Yoga in the Sanskrit scripture Yoga Sutra. These include Yama (being honest, non-violent, simple, humble and moderate), Niyama (being self-disciplined and dedicated to one’s spirituality), Asana (what most people are familiar with – physical postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (withdrawing from the 5 sesnse to tune into ones mind), Dharana (concentration – creating a still, non-distracted mind), Dyhana (meditation), and finally, Samadhi (the goal of yoga, pure consciousness).

Is Fitspiration the new Thinspiration?

Thinspiration provides images of women with “thin” figures. The purpose is to motivate women to become thin; the consequence of this however is often disordered eating, which is why social networks like Instagram have blocked tags such as #thinspo, etc. But could Thinspo’s new counterpart Fitspo be just as dangerous and damaging to women’s health?

There is no doubt fitspo is paved with good intentions. Women with fit bodies, flat stomachs, six-pack abs, well-shaped butts and arms are seen in images often with a catch phrase such as “strong is the new skinny” or “Complaining won’t burn calories”. And I will be the first to admit that I spent countless nights looking at this “fitspiration”, thinking that if I only worked a little harder in the gym I would have the perfect body, but was I really inspired?

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I am a huge advocate for clean eating and exercising. However when it comes to women’s body image, I believe every woman should feel great in her own skin as long as she is healthy. I pass no judgment to my friends, and those I don’t know, who are followers of fitspo and I admire the dedication and passion it takes to build a fit physique. That being said, a person should not feel unhappy about their appearance because they don’t lift weights, practise yoga, or go for runs every week.

A part of me recognized that I wasn’t being inspired, in fact I realized I was only fixated on what I believed to be my flaws and became extremely critical of my body. It was the shame I felt that got me into the gym everyday, and I am confident that others have the same reaction as they go through their long feed of “fitspiration”.

How have we let images that promote low self-esteem be confused with inspiration? Although fitspo is suppose to be conducive to good health, all it has become is a hub for women to compare their bodies. It creates a new standard of what they believe they should look like to be happy, as if magazines, movies and television weren’t enough. Images of anorexic women can undoubtedly be defined as unhealthy; but it’s my opinion that constantly comparing your body to any shape or size negatively affects your self-esteem. The only standard any person should hold for their body is healthy and happy. Women need to properly educate themselves on nutrition and exercise to make decisions based what is best for their personal health and not base their well-being by a series of images we call “fitspiration”.

So, where do I find my fitness inspiration now?

  1. My parents. Between my dad waking up before 5 A.M. to get in his workout (-word on the street is that he is back to the weight of his football playing years) and my mom’s holistic approach to controlling her chronic pain, they both show serious commitment to their health.
  2. Professional bodybuilders. Angelica Kathleen, Bella Falconi, Karina Baymiller, Terica Messmer to name a few. They all show extreme dedication and diligence towards their fitness goals. And I enjoy watching their journeys unfold.
  3. Most importantly, myself. Practising yoga has helped me to remember how strong, capable and beautiful my body is. I remind myself constantly that I go to the gym not only to benefit my health but because I thoroughly enjoy it. I set goals for myself, and I look back at my accomplishments with pride.

Post-workout: Beat the heat

Our bodies are continuously losing water everyday through sweating and other bodily functions. It is even more important during the summer months to probably hydrate ourselves in order to restore the water we are losing naturally; especially if you are engaging in physical activities. The amount fluid needed to keep your body hydrated varies  from person to person. Try an infused water as a great alternative to plain water, vitamin waters or juices. Below I combined lemon, cucumber, strawberries and plums. After letting it sit for a few minutes it is ready to drink.
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Check out this article from MindBodyGreen to learn about the benefits of lemon water.

Good Morning

Fueling up for yoga this morning on the deck. Chocolate & banana protein pancakes and spearmint tea. Pranayama in the fresh oxygen before the hot yoga studio.

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1/2 cup of Wheat Free oats
3 eggs whites
Small teaspoon of stevia powder to taste (Krisda is my favourite)
Small teaspoon of organic cacao powder to taste
Any liquid you like to desired pancake batter consistency (I use coconut milk or h2O)
Topped with unsweetened shredded coconut and bananas

Add any protein powder you like to your pancakes, I’m not taking any supplements right now but adding a scoop of protein to your pancakes would suffice 🙂 you would probably need to add less stevia if your protein powder already comes sweetened

Review: Polar Heart Rate Monitor

Investing in a heart rate monitor is one of the best things that happened to my fitness routine. Originally, it was the count of calories burned that appealed to me. Becoming aware of my heart rate helped me develop a new realization of my body and my cardiovascular health.

Mine is the Polar FT4. It’s functions are basic; it records my heart rate through a waist band (seen below). I can look at my wrist at any point during my workout to see what my heart rate is at and how many calories I’ve burned. Each time I workout with my Polar FT4 it records my workout and I can look back at previous workouts as well. I can also set a “heart rate zone” and at the end of my workout see how much time I spent in that specific zone. At first, the waist band was uncomfortable to wear but after the first few workouts it wasn’t a problem.

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Why has my Polar HRM improved my workouts?

Whether you are looking to burn fat or improve your cardio, knowing your heart rate while working out is extremely important. Personally, I like to do interval training at the gym so being able to look at my heart rate at any point is vital. Discovering the heart rate zones specific to your body can help you achieve any fitness goal you have in mind. Try this link to learn about the heart rate zones specific to your body and needs.

Cardio Equipment Vs. Polar HRM

Today’s cardio equipment will calculate how many calories you burn however, this number is frequently false. There are many factors such as height, weight, and heart rate that will affect the amount of calories you burn. My polar watch uses all those factors to give me an accurate number of calories I burn. For example, the elliptical told me I burned 78 calories in 9 minutes, whereas my polar watch gives me the correct number, which was 60 calories.

Polar HRM for Strength Training

Aside from cardio, my HRM also tells me my heart rate during any strength training exercises. Before my polar watch it was always a mystery to know how many calories I burned, or what my heart rate was during strength training exercises. By knowing your heart rate during strength training you can establish interval workouts and learn how your body responds to certain stress.

The Only Negative

Learning about your body’s heart rate and calorie expenditure is a great advantage to achieving any fitness goals you have in mind. However, it’s easy to become obsessed with the amount of calories you burn. Use the watch with healthy goals in mind. Remember that calories are energy and obsessing over the calories in and out of your body can not only lead to stress but unhealthy habits.

Check out the Polar website!

6 Ways Yoga Helps Improve Weight Training

Yoga can be a beautiful, challenging practise; both mentally and physically. Western practises of yoga include, but are not limited to, Hatha, Yin, Bikram, Vinyasa (Flow), Ashtanga (Power). The many benefits gained from consistent yoga practise can be the perfect compliment to the different activities that are a part of your lifestyle.

Weight training, a variety of strength training, uses weights (i.e. dumbbells, barbells) to strengthen the muscles. The stress put on your muscles through weight training eventually allows your muscles to adapt, therefore making you stronger. The benefits of weight training include, but are not limited to, muscle strength, muscle endurance and improved muscle tone.

Weight training has been part of my workout routine for the past year. And although I have only been practising yoga for 2 short months I am already reaping the many benefits yoga has bestowed on my weight training routine.

1) Posture: position of the spine

The backbone is extremely vital to human well-being. Not only does the spine protect the central nervous system but also acts as a support to many muscles and organs. Yoga emphasizes the importance of the human backbone by not only strengthening the spine but lightly stretching it. It is easy to forget the significance of a strong spine during weight training. Bad posture while weight training can cause serious injury and decrease the benefits your body derives during weight training. The yoga studio should not be the only place where you practise good posture.

2) Body Awareness: letting go of unnecessary tension

In yoga it is easy to hold tension in places where it is unnecessary and avoidable. Holding an awkward tension in your jaw, shoulders, or anywhere it is not needed can actually afflict the posture or pose you are trying to hold. It is only necessary to keep stress in the areas being worked. This completely applies to weight training. An awkward tension being held in your neck, jaw or anywhere else can take away from the exercise you are performing. Become aware of any muscle tension that isn’t associated to the muscle you are trying to work. For example, if you are attempting bent-row dumbbell rows, keep the tension in your back and arm and not on the leg or knee that is supporting you. Let you face, jaw or tongue be soft.

3) Focus on your own capability – be self focused not self conscious

If others are weight training around you, focus on yourself. You hold your own capabilities. In yoga, just because the person in front of you extends their leg higher in dancer’s pose does not mean that your practise is any less valid. Everyone has their own beginning and their own practise. Time should be spent exploring what you can do instead of comparing yourself to the people around you. That being said, believe in your capability. Don’t push yourself to injury but stepping outside of your comfort zone can help you achieve what you didn’t think was possible.

4) A sense of community

One of my favourite aspects of yoga is the strong energy and community among the people that are practising. Initially I didn’t think that weight training could also have a sense of community. However, community is really there. Everyone around you is dedicating a portion of there day to gain some sort of benefit to achieve a common goal.

5) Moment of rest are just as important as moments of movement

Savasana is easily the most favoured pose in yoga. Savasana relaxes the body and relieves stress. Relaxing the body is just as important as moments of stress. Moments of rest between sets during weight training is essential inorder to not fatigue your muscles. It is just as important to allow time between training the same muscle group. Experts say 2-3 days would suffice to allow your muscles to repair. For example, it wouldn’t be wise to train your quadriceps two days in a row. Just as savasana relieves stress, giving your muscles time to rest allow them to repair and become stronger.

6) Not everyday is the same

Some days when I practise yoga my balance is flawless, other days it could use some work. Other factors could be the cause of this, such as a specific thing I ate, the amount of rest I’ve had, or internal stress, etc. This also applies to weight training. Not everyday is going to be the same. You may be able to lift more or less, longer or shorter depending on other factors. And this is okay. Work to your best ability and accept your body for what it can do in that moment.