Saturday, February 28, 2009

Power Yoga

I've been in the fitness industry for 20 years. I started out when we wore g-strings over our spandex tight (eeek!). I was also introduced to Kripalu Yoga ( in 1989 by my mother. It was my first taste of non-western exercise. Kripalu is a wonderful yoga although it didn't satisfy my very busy 21 year old mind at the time and I soon drifted into many other forms of fitness.

At the end of 2008, I reflected on my year and I felt the desire for balance of mind and body. After dedicating so much time and effort to what my outside should look like, I felt very lopsided. Training and living in the life of figure competitions is a very disciplined lifestyle but I found it very one dimensional. I have huge respect for all of the competitors but I was missing the nuturance and the balance of my spirit. Additionally, I had lost a great deal of range of motion due to the training. All of my muscles were being trained in a contraction.

I read an article in the newspaper about a place in Shadyside called Amazing Yoga ( These were the yogi's the Pittsburgh Steelers. Boy, did that appeal to me. I figured if it's physical enough for the Steel Curtain, it's right up my alley. I took my first class in January and was instantly hooked from the physicality of it. As I continued my practice, I became more aware of my imbalances such as tight shoulders, tight hips, etc. It started to become a source of frustration AND a challenge. Also as an instructor, the yoga practice greatly enhanced MY classes. I became more mind-body focused.

Yesterday I took Karen Conley's class ( Karen and her husband Sean, own Amazing Yoga. The class was intense and varied from the other classes I had taken. Her transitions were seemless, her guided meditation was powerful. For the first time in years, she took me to a place of physical and emotional surrender. I felt a release and success within myself that I had never before experienced. I felt my strength in a way in which I never had while cutting and training for a competition.

Needless to say, I'm inspired and I'm hooked. I am looking forward to what the next 20 years will unveil with the help of Amazing Yoga.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Autism and Yoga

My youngest son has autism. He is very high functioning, some people may call him "quirky". I think he's fanatastic. Lately little T has become enraptured with yoga and martial arts. He will often join me while I do a series of sun salutations and often cracks me up when he does his "om" (which he learned from the cartoon Skunk Fu).

His stepdad just took him to see his first martial arts class this week and he was over the moon. He has learned how to bow and how to do the greeting. He's raring to start his karate lessons with his big T (his stepdad).

One of the interesting things that is starting to emerge with my son is the effect that Eastern based activities are providing him. Because yoga and martial arts are based so much on the internal discipline rather than group competition, my son is beginning to recognize the control he can have over his world. A child with autism perceives the world in ways in which the "typical" person can't understand. Quite often their frustration and reaction are due to the fact that they don't "fit" and can't participate the way that the rest of us take for granted. The gift of yoga and martial arts is that it provides these kids with the opportunity to find their strength and their stillness in the chaos that autism cloaks their perception with.

So I have great optimism in what little T and I will find in the coming months as we explore our Eastern based training programs. Little T & I are working on some videos to share his progress with you!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The joy of SPINNING

I love Spinning, I love teaching it, I love doing the ride and I love the music! We had an excellent class today; we did TONS of climbs to old rock music. Nothing like busting hump to "Sympathy for the Devil". My quads burned like I was pushing the leg press!

I'm finding a complete body workout through spinning and yoga. I like the similarity of the mind~body connection that I get in both workouts. Yoga makes me feel incredibly long and strong, particularly my upper body. Spinning challenges my lower body in so many different variations from hill climbs to sprints to long saddle runs.

If you've never tried spinning, I heartily encourage it! Unlike traditional aerobics, spinning is an individual workout in a group setting. As an instructor, I often tell my students that my directions are really just suggestions. I know as I'm leading, I have specific type of ride I have set up for them but it is an individual choice whether you want to take that ride on that day. Today we did many, many variations of hill climbs and I was very happy to see that some of my students took the challenge and even happier to see that some knew when to back off and tailor the ride to their needs.

I always try to incorporate a meditative ride right after a particularly difficult segment; I've found that when we push our bodies beyond our comfort zone, we often find a new clarity and insight in that fatigue. In weight lifting that point is often called the "failure", I'm not a fan of that description for spinning. In spinning, I find it to be just short of "I can't". I will tell my class to find first position and find a visual focal point or to close their eyes. In this position, we can look inside after being stripped of our defenses and give ourselves a high five for meeting the challenge and focus on what we want from our ride and our day.

Come and ride with us!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Do you follow your heart?

I woke up the other morning with the thought, "do I live life or does life live me?". There are so many external influences in my life at the moment that have been weighing heavily on me and I've been feeling rather beat down.

I've taken up the practice of yoga, initially to help balance my physical well being, but an unexpected side effect has popped up. As I struggle to perform poses that are just outside of my reach, I'm often guided by a gentle voice that allows me to modify, accept, and celebrate the position that I can achieve. There was a psychic shift that took place this week for me also. I could no longer hang out in the dark where so much is out of my control. I realized that I was having wonderful thoughts of success and change. They were appearing in my daily consciousness and also showing up in my dreams. It's amazing how these intangible thoughts and feelings have lightened and brightened my outlook.

And so I come back around to my question, "do I live life or does life live me". Yes, I do both. I took action that changed my feelings/thoughts. Suddenly the life I was living was coming alive inside of me. There's a saying that you have to learn to walk the walk before you can talk the talk. I may stumble but the first steps have been sweet.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Maximum Heart Rate and Fitness

I get this question all the time.."how do I know how hard I should be working?". The pat answer would be to work between 60 and 85 percent of your maximum heart. The most well known formula for calculating your maximum heart rate is:

220-your age= x
x times 60-85%=Target Heart Rate

180 X 75%=135

This is a simple and quick method but not always the most accurate for my students and clients who are more experienced exercisers. A bit more complicated but much more precise is the karvonen formula. To use this formula, you need to calculate your resting heart rate. Preferable first thing in the morning or after lying down for a bit at the end of the day, time your pulse rate. This will be your resting heart rate.

To calculate with the karvonen formula:

220-your age=x
x-resting heart rate=y
y x 60-85%= z
z + resting heart = target heart rate

120 X 75%=90

As you can see from the calculations, when you add in your resting pulse rate, you get a more accurate calculation. My target heart rate is 150 calculated with resting pulse rate and 135 based on age, that's 15 bpm higher.

A third option that can be used is the "all out" method. WARNING, this is not to be used by people who are new to exercise or who have medical conditions where over exertion could be dangerous to their health. After a proper warm up, go all out in one aerobic activity for 60 seconds (sprint, cyle, etc). Preferably have a heart rate monitor on, check to see what your pulse rate is at the completion. You may find that your maximum heart rate is greater than the 220. If it is, you adjust the maximum heart rate in the above formulas.

Knowing your maximum and target heart rates is very informational and beneficial. My personal choice is perceived exertion. Quite often in class, I will tell my students to exert their effort to a 6 on a scale of 1-10. Not very scientific but very simple. In addition, the hard numbers you set with the formulas don't allow you the variance for an off day. If you know that your 75% THR is 150 and I ask for an effort of 7 or 8 and you can only get your heart rate up to 140, you may feel defeated. That's why I like rate of perceived exertion (RPE); it gives you the flexibility to adjust to what is going on with you on that day.

Always pay attention to how you're feeling when exercising. Just like in life, they are good days and bad. Just keep on track even when you stumble and you'll get to where you want to be.