My Health Hero(es)

When Oscar Insurance Corporation asked me to write a post about my health hero I had a hard time picking just one.  In the end I decided that writing about multiple people would be fitting since Oscar, a provider serving New York and New Jersey, is all about promoting health through community.  As a fitness professional I spend my days trying to be a health hero for other people but really these people are the ones who inspire me.  You see, when I moved to Charlottesville, VA after working in New York City and Chicago I had a bit of a paradigm shift.  Charlottesville is a beautiful town as well as one of the most popular places to retire in the country.  Moving here at the ripe old age of 29 I had previously worked with mostly young professionals.  Nowadays the majority of my clientele are between the ages of 55 and 87.  These folks have no interest in 6 pack abs or 30 inch biceps.  In fact, I rarely focus on numbers at all these days.  They come to me with one common goal: to feel better.

My clients give new meaning to the phrase 70 is the new 50.  Due to Charlottesville’s proximity to Washington D.C. many are retired lawyers, doctors, and government officials.  One would think after living such fast paced lives they would be inclined to slow down but this is not the case.  They are well versed in working hard to overcome obstacles and this is apparent in the way they relate to their bodies.

I used to think my work was to make people look better in order to be more comfortable in their own skin.  I now know that being comfortable in one’s own skin is less about an aesthetic and more about a feeling, a confidence that comes with knowing that you are doing your best even when things are far from ideal.

My clients have not had it easy.  More than a few have fought and won their battles with cancer.  Some have lost.  Several live with multiple sclerosis.  I’ve written programs for clients with all manner of frustrating symptoms.  Whether due to a degenerative disease or the aftermath of valiant military service they do not see their struggles as a reason to give up.  They know that the road to better health is paved with commitment.

My clients have encouraged me to look at my own health in a new light.  My struggles used to make me feel like a fraud in the fitness world.  I used to think I should be effortlessly thin, glowing, a beacon of health.  Now I see that through my own struggles I am better able to relate to their struggles.   I am not a fraud, I am human.

Through working with this dynamic group I’ve come to know the importance of community support when it comes to individual health.  I’ve watched them cheer one another on and have received the benefit of their enthusiasm.  When I was pregnant with my daughter Eve they supported me through 40 weeks of training and teaching.  When my daughter tragically died due to a cord compression 3 days after her due date I didn’t think I would be able to continue working in the same capacity.  How could I go on preaching the benefits of a healthy lifestyle when my own body had betrayed me so egregiously after all my hard work?

During the days and weeks that followed delivery I received countless cards filled with kind words from clients that had accepted, long before I did, that try as we may some things in this life are beyond our control.  I soon went back to work and though every day is a challenge I know that my experience strengthens my connection to others who wrestle daily with their demons.

I would be remiss in not mentioning my littlest health hero, my daughter Eve.  As soon as I found out I would be having a daughter I knew it was time to start giving my own body more respect.  Like many women my body is far from the ideal I hold in my mind.  I didn’t want Eve to take on my insecurities so throughout pregnancy I began trading in the idea of exercise as self-punishment for one of self-care.  I focused less on calories and more on nourishment.  I focused more on exercising to feel good and less on the size of my thighs.  Though Eve is no longer with me her influence is still strong.  I want to live a life she would be proud of, one that honors her memory.  My body was her home and because of this it is sacred.  Every movement, every breath, every beat of my heart connects me to her and all those who seek greater health for a life well-lived.

Find Your Edge

What is going on in your body right now? Where are you holding tension? Is your breathing shallow or deep? Don’t forget to look for positive feelings as well, what parts of you feel at ease? Taking a moment, or several moments, to check in on the body is an essential part of any health and wellness routine. The more attuned we are to what is going on, the less chance we get to the point where the body has to scream for our attention.  This is precisely where stretching comes into play.

A few years ago there was a study that proclaimed stretching before a workout was not as valuable as once thought.  Most of my clients read the headline of the article in the New York Times but few went further than that. For those who didn’t like stretching, here was proof they didn’t have to do it!  The caveat was the stretching they studied was static (holding a stretch for 30 seconds or longer) and the impact it had when practiced before a workout. Performance was not improved because static stretching inhibits muscular response. The muscle is essentially in a relaxed state which causes it to fire more slowly . Therefore, if you want to warm up before a workout, you are better off performing an active stretch (moving through different ranges of motion without load on the muscle, mimicking the movement you plan on performing later in the workout). So where does static stretching fall into place in the overall health and wellness picture and is it worth the time and effort?  If static stretching “weakens” the muscle and temporarily inhibits intramuscular response it makes sense that we might perform it when we want the muscles to be more relaxed.

There is a saying in yin yoga that we store “issues in our tissues”. Physical tension is tied to mental tension and vice versa. Just as positive emotion can have a relaxing effect on the physical body, releasing tension in the muscles can have a positive effect on our mental state. I look at stretching as a time to “check in” on the body and emotional state.  After a workout it is more of the former (especially if you are in a crowded gym when doing so!), during a yoga practice it is more of the latter.

I remember being a little afraid to practice yoga or even take a walk by myself in the first few days after I lost Eve. Instinctively I knew that getting back to my body meant delving deeper into what was going on internally.  As humans our initial response is to back away from discomfort, which works quite well when we mistakenly touch a hot burner on the stove but less well when we repress, distract, or numb ourselves to our emotions.  Diversions have their place but it isn’t possible to turn away from uncomfortable feelings forever.  They will need to be dealt with sooner or later, and better during downward facing dog than during a meeting at work.

The internal aspect of yoga can seem daunting but it is really not so. Sure, there will be uncomfortable points but by staying with the discomfort we learn some key things about ourselves.  Notice what arises.  Sometimes it’s as simple as “My hips are really tight from all the running I’ve been doing lately”. Sometimes it’s “I hate this feeling, I hate sitting with this feeling, oh, wait, it’s starting to lift.”  The lifting and lightening is something that still takes me by surprise.  I always knew that if I held a stretch or a pose for any length of time my muscles would eventually relax and release.  For some reason it took me until recently to realize the same was true for emotions.  I used to think that negative emotions must be acted upon but in the face of Eve’s death there is nothing I can do to right the wrong.  When difficult emotions rise, as they often do now during my daily yoga practice, I acknowledge them, experience them, and watch them pass.  It takes as much, if not more work, than the physical practice but seems to help strengthen and repair whatever it is that is broken in there.

“Finding the edge” is a phrase that often gets repeated in yoga class.  The edge is the point of a stretch that is deep without going too deep, just this side of comfortable.  Everyone’s edge is different and you can’t find your own without testing the waters.  It’s the place where you are accomplishing without forcing, moving forward without pushing.  It’s the balance between letting things be as they are and warming to the possibility of growth.  What keeps things interesting is that our edge is constantly changing.  Even if you are someone who likes to perform the same stretching routine or yoga practice day after day it will never truly be the same.  The edge and the ease are rarely in the same places you found them yesterday.

What is the difference between a “yoga stretch” and a “fitness stretch”?  Yoga stretches are performed with the intention of noticing what is going on internally.  Fitness stretches are performed without this intention but may lead one down the same road by default.  Releasing, relaxing, and moving with more ease…seems worth it to me.

Results are Typical (Though they may be different than what you were expecting….)

As a trainer there is always one question that I hesitate to answer when taking on a new client: “How long will it take me to see results?”.  I hesitate to answer this because to answer would imply there is a finish line on the road to health.  As much as infomercials would like to have us believe there is no end game in the pursuit of fitness .  Yes, exercising can dramatically change your body, lift your spirit, and make you a more intelligent, well-focused individual.  I believe that with every cell of my being.  But, as with anything else in life, to really reap the benefits one must focus on the process rather than the end result.  I say this by no means to discount the importance of having goals.  If exercise didn’t assist in things like weight loss, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, elevated mood, increased strength, better bone density, and the like very few would see any point in doing it.  As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”.  It is great to have a goal and nine times out of ten you will reach that very goal.  Ten times out of ten you will discover things you never had the prior ability to visualize along the way and it will be these things that truly inspire change.

Maybe you start eating a cleaner diet with the initial goal of losing weight.  You start adding more whole foods, fruits, and vegetables and struggle for the first few days,  As you continue on this path you gradually notice changes that are not connected with weight loss at all.  Your energy soars to new heights, those irritating headaches have suddenly dissipated, you no longer need that 3:00 pm cup of coffee to get you through the work day.  Soon you start to lose taste for the convenience foods you once survived on, your body has had a taste of true nourishment and never wants to go back.  Your clothes are looser, your body is stronger, and you are amazed to find that the weight you were trying to get rid of has fallen off.  You haven’t been cranky or hungry or felt that sense of frustration you felt while on “diets” in the past.  It seems so natural now to live this way and you are enjoying and appreciating food more than ever.  The road to weight loss has been enjoyable and the outcome is now a nice side benefit.

B.K.S. Iyengar, who recently passed away at the age of 95, said this of yoga:  “Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.”   Maybe, like eating a cleaner diet, you began an exercise program with the initial goal of losing weight.  You begin moving more, lifting weights, and for the first few days it is uncomfortable and you are not sure you want to continue.  Just when you are considering quitting the gym you have a really tough day at work.  You consider going to happy hour to drink your cares away but decide to give the gym one last shot. You jump into a kick boxing class and find a release that is much more powerful than anything you have experienced on a bar stool.  After a few weeks of increased activity you are sleeping better, are better able to handle the stress life throws your way, and feel stronger both mentally and physically.  And yes, you’ve lost weight.  Your looser pants feel that much better paired with your new-found peace of mind.

Why does anyone ever want to lose weight?  The reasons are many but they all fall under the same umbrella: to feel better. But maybe we are barking up the wrong tree.  Maybe it’s the healthy habits themselves that we are truly craving.   It is unhelpful to put all our hopes and dreams on a desired outcome because, in fitness as in life, there is very little we can control.  As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”  Our bodies, our lives, and ourselves are constantly changing.  While keeping anchored to our highest goal can keep us on the right path it is more important (and ultimately more rewarding) to be fully committed and present to the journey.  

Running Right

“Laura, stop running like a bimbo!” This is the phrase that popped into my head on my Saturday morning run.  These exact words were yelled by a choreographer during the first modern dance piece I performed in college and 14 years later (no need to do the math people) they still make me giggle.  It was the first and last time I have been called a bimbo, at least to my face.  Ever since then I’ve wondered, is there a right way to run?

The jury is still out on proper running technique.  Are runners better off with a more cushioned shoe, less cushioned shoe, or no shoes at all?  Is it preferable to strike the ground with the heel or the forefoot?  The studies are mixed and though according to Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours theory I might be a fitness expert I don’t consider myself an expert on running.  I do, however, enjoy it very much, or at least enough to hit the road most days of the week.  I am, like many people, a late convert to running and don’t do it competitively but rather because I like the way it makes me feel.  Coming from the flatlands of Chicago to the mountain town of Charlottesville my runs became more challenging but also more frequent.  Despite its hilly terrain I’ve grown to love running this town.  This is partially due its more temperate climate, partially due to its inherent beauty, and partially due to time of life.  The following is my personal recipe for a delicious run:

1 part inspiring music: The ideal running tempo is 180 bpm but concentrating less on the beat and more on choosing music that suits your mood makes for a much more satisfying run.  Sometimes “workout” music is just the thing but other times it will drive you crazy.  If you aren’t in the mood for base-pumping club beats put on something you are in the mood for.  Listening to music is a powerful way to validate even the most difficult feelings and in this way it can act as a kind of therapy.  If you run to work through difficult emotions adding an emotionally poignant playlist can be very powerful.

1 part solitude: Running alone and uninterrupted can turn a tedious bout of cardio into a moving meditation.  Finding a time if day when the roads are quiet, such as a weekend morning, can contribute to a more peaceful session.  If you live in an area where the roads are never quiet finding an out of the way trail route is another option.

1 part adversity: Stress by its very nature is fuel for action.  Running is a great way to burn off excess energy whether you’re going through major emotional turmoil or going stir-crazy from sitting at a desk for too long.

1 part nourishment: After burning off all that excess energy refueling is essential.  Along with rehydrating, refueling with the appropriate amount of carbohydrate and protein will leave your body happy and energized.  Since there is a 60 minute post-workout window during which the body is primed for glycogen production it makes sense to consume something within the first hour of returning home from your run.  My favorite post-run treat as of late has been a protein smoothie with one or two tablespoons of raw cacao powder.  The mood boosting properties of raw cacao compliment a runner’s high nicely.

I am pretty sure I’ve stopped running like a bimbo but whether I am running the right way is still up for debate.  When I was working out during pregnancy Jed would always joke that I had the power of two.  I loved this idea because in a way having Eve did make me feel stronger instead of weaker.  The pain of losing her is largely what fuels my runs but I like to think the motivation goes deeper than that.  Einstein famously said “energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”  Judging from her formidable punches and kicks I know that my daughter had a great deal of energy and it is this energy that remains inside me, somewhere, propelling me forward.

Wide Awake

I think we can all agree that sleep is essential for overall health. There is nothing like a good night’s sleep to make you feel like you are on top of the world. It is during sleep that our muscles recover from an intense workout, the brain files away information and integrates it into memory, and skin cells regenerate and repair (hence the phrase “beauty sleep”). In recent years I’ve struggled with insomnia. It began with a fitness job that required me to reset my entire sleep cycle in order to be at work at 4:45 am each morning. I was frequently nervous that I would oversleep leaving 4 clients locked out of the studio and standing outside on a cold Chicago morning. This fear continued even after I moved on to a different job with more normal hours. When I was pregnant, worries about becoming a mother and general discomforts made it hard to sleep. Now that Eve is gone my brain seems to be trying to come to terms with reality and since I don’t have much time to figure things out in the light of day I find myself waking up at night trying to make sense of the whys, hows, and what nows. I thought I’d be spending sleepless nights with a baby, now I spend sleepless nights trying to come to terms with my baby’s death. These years of insomnia have made me somewhat of lab rat in my own clinical trials of sleep aids. Though every body is different and I am by no means a medical expert I thought I’d share my personal findings in case they are helpful:

-Forget About Eight Hours- As you might have guessed from my choice of career, I can be a total nut somewhat obsessive about trying to maintain healthful habits. I used to be obsessed with getting 8 hours of sleep, anything less was failing. Consequently, I would try going to bed before I was tired and often insomnia would result. Now I try to listen to my body’s cues. Since sleep is an act of letting go trying to force the act will only make matters worse.

-Natural Is Best- Again, I am not a medical expert and I know some people have issues that do require OTC or prescription sleep meds but right now, for me, natural remedies have proved to be the best. I’ve tried a number of OTC remedies that have left me wide awake and feeling like hell in the morning. I also had a short stint with doctor prescribed Ambien and though effective for getting to sleep my short-term memory was significantly affected (which is not ideal when teaching choreographed fitness classes). Used as directed melatonin and valerian can be helpful. If you are a fan of aromatherapy you may want to try keeping a spray bottle of lavender essential oil and water to spray on your sheets prior to getting into bed. Recently my husband’s cousin sent me a wonderful sleep serum that she makes which has helped quite a bit. You can find this sleep serum as well as a variety of other high quality, homemade products at

-Tap Into the Parasympathetic Nervous System- I know I sound like a broken record but yoga and meditation have proved very helpful in my quest for sleep. We spend so much of our day tapping into the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system that the body can forget how to transition to the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system required for sleep. Yin or restorative yoga when practiced directly before bed can assist in this transition. A long practice isn’t necessary, even 5 minutes in “legs up the wall” can be helpful. If you would prefer to practice under the covers consider downloading a guided yoga nidra for sleep.

When all else fails and a poor night’s sleep leaves you needing an extra boost in the morning try this smoothie for some extra energy: Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie with Raw Cacao I came up with this recipe after a poor sleep followed by an early morning. It is light on the stomach and offers a needed boost along with a host of antioxidants and nutrients. 1 frozen banana 1 1/2 cups almond milk (or milk of choice) 2 tbls raw cacao 2 tbls PB2 powdered peanut butter (or nut butter of choice) 2-4 drops vanilla creme liquid stevia (maybe omitted or replaced with sweetener of choice) 1 scoop protein powder of choice (I like Growing Naturals Raw Yellow Pea Protein Powder) Blend all ingredients and serve.

Move Along

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you may be wondering is this still a fitness blog or a blog about grief?  My answer to you is yes and yes.  Over the past few months I’ve been learning that the two are not mutually exclusive.  I’ve always equated happiness with fitness and fitness with happiness.  Look at any issue of Women’s Health and the woman running down the street rocking a six pack and $90 sports bra does not have tears streaming down her face.  She isn’t even grimacing.  She is beaming, beautiful, and happy.  When I was pregnant with Eve I read as many fit pregnancy blogs as I could.  My favorite were the ones that documented the pregnancy week by week.  I loved scrolling to the week I was in and seeing what other moms had experienced, what types of workouts they did, even what they ate.  Later in the pregnancy I had another habit of clicking on the “week 40” post which usually led to the birth story.  I loved looking at the pictures of these proud moms holding their adorable babies.  Staying fit throughout pregnancy had the most wonderful incentive: a healthy daughter.  It was what drove me to get up early every morning for a workout even when I was huge (third trimester) and exhausted (first and third trimester…and some of the second if I’m being truly honest).  It’s what made me, like a crazy person, reject a second glucose test and instead prick my finger four times a day to monitor my blood sugar so I wouldn’t have to ingest the sugary artificially colored beverage the test entailed.  It’s what made me memorize the “dirty dozen” so I wouldn’t run the risk of poisoning my baby with insecticides from non-organic produce.  It’s what kept me running up until the day I went into the hospital, swollen ankles and all.  There is no greater motivation for eating healthy and staying active than having a tiny human growing inside your body, or so I thought.

As it turns out, grief can be a pretty incredible motivator albeit not nearly as pleasant.  I was very worried that after losing Eve I would lose my motivation to carry on with the things that interested me in my old life like health and fitness.  I had a super-healthy pregnancy, took good care of my body and Eve while she lived inside it, and now she is dead.  I won’t lie and say I always feel like getting up and moving through another day, in fact most of the time I don’t.  I will say after all I’ve been through these last few months I honestly believe in the healing power of movement.  Fitness isn’t just for shiny happy people who always get eight hours of sleep.  If that was the case there would be far fewer gyms and fitness studios in the world.  Everyone has their s%*t.  Exercise helps people deal with their s%*t.  There is a little voice inside of my head that says “what good is being healthy in a world where crack heads and chain smokers go on to have living babies and mine lies dead in the ground?”.  There is a louder voice that says “move”.

Our bodies are wired for movement especially in times of stress.  We secrete hormones that are meant to help us fight or flee even when the stress we experience isn’t anything we can kick or run from.  Exercise isn’t a magic elixir that can take away all bad feelings and fix all problems.  Depending on how low you are feeling when you start it may not even make you any happier.  What it can do is give you something to do during a tough time that simultaneously burns off stress hormones and strengthens your body so you can deal with the next stressor that comes your way.  It may not make you happy today, it may not even make you happy tomorrow, but it can help you navigate through sadness to a time when happiness is possible again.

Maybe one day I’ll be one of those beaming, beautiful running women like those in the pages of Women’s Health (minus the six pack and $90 sports bra knowing my genetics and finances…) but for now I’ll settle for what I am: a grieving mama just trying to carry on.

40 Weeks of Fitness

This blog has been dormant for some time.   Preparations for imagebaby and maternity leave have left me with little time to write which explains this post today, December 29th, my due date. The feeling I have today kind of reminds me of a Saturday spent rushing around preparing for dinner guests. You spend the day cooking and cleaning, hop in the shower, and have just enough time to dry your hair before their E.T.A. Just as you hurry downstairs ready to greet them you receive a call that they are running behind and won’t be arriving for another hour. Suddenly you have all this time you didn’t expect to have and it is both freeing and disconcerting at the same time. That is how I feel today except my little dinner guest probably won’t be arriving in an hour, the only food she’ll require is my breast milk, and instead of spending the extra time rearranging a tray of hors d’oeuvres I’m writing a new post.

Months ago I expressed my desire to have a “fit pregnancy”. I am happy to report that through a mixture of perseverance and good luck I think I’ve done it. It’s been 40 weeks and I am still running, lifting weights, practicing yoga, and feeling pretty decent overall for a big ol’ pregnant lady.

I’d been teaching fitness classes and training clients in much the same capacity until I started maternity leave on Wednesday and am pleased to report that all 7 doctors and the one nurse/midwife I’ve seen have been very happy with my progress and the progress of my yet to be born little girl. I am hoping all the hard work pays off in labor but if not it’s definitely paid off in pregnancy. I’ve spent way too much time looking at blog posts of active pregnant women for ideas on how to maintain fitness during pregnancy so on the off chance you stumble across this post while scouring the internet for inspiration here are some things I did to help me survive (and sometimes even thrive) during the past 9 months:

-Surf (the internet):  The ability to google any pregnancy related question that pops into your head is both a blessing and a curse.  However, on those mornings when I doubted myself and wondered if it’s really safe to run or stand on my head being x amount of weeks along doing a little internet research and finding numerous studies regarding the benefits of exercise during pregnancy helped calm my fears.  (Of course I also checked with my doctor at every appointment to obtain their blessing to continue with my desired level of activity.)

-Multitask:  There are numerous podcasts available on the topic of pregnancy and motherhood and best of all they are free!  Putting a few on my Ipod or phone to listen to while going on a run or walk proved much more enjoyable and beneficial than hunkering down on the couch with What to Expect When Your Expecting.  If there is a specific book you are interested in consider downloading an audio version so you can get a workout in and gain some knowledge at the same time.

-Submit to your inner stalker: There are many blogs out there devoted to the topic of having a healthy pregnancy and many bloggers that post week to week updates documenting their exercise, diet, pictures of their bump, and other interesting tidbits of their journey. Though this “blogger” spent much more time reading than writing this pregnancy I tip my hat to those ladies who put themselves out there for the rest of us. Google “fit pregnancy blog” followed by your current week whenever you want to get some inspiration and fulfill your social media stalker tendencies. I did this at least once a day (well, maybe actually multiple times a day….)

-Find a new release: You can’t counteract the stresses of working during pregnancy at happy hour (at least without garnering a lot of unwanted attention from bar patrons and co-workers) so why not explore a new form of release through yoga and meditation? You’ll feel better physically, learn some breathing exercises you can take with you into the delivery room, and relieve stress to benefit both you and baby. I’ve been retreating to the nursery (formerly my yoga room) whenever I feel the crankiness of pregnancy hormones, am looking to alleviate some pregnancy discomfort, have trouble sleeping, or find myself worrying about labor and beyond. Basically I’ve spent the majority of the last 9 months in the nursery doing yoga and meditating……

-Don’t be afraid to kick some ass (if you are feeling it): Every pregnancy is different but personally I needed a little Yang to go along with my Yin. I love long walks, yoga, and meditation but still felt like keeping up with some more intense forms of exercise in the form of heavy lifting, interval training, and running. That said I firmly believe in listening to your body. After getting the go ahead from your doctor only you can decide what feels right and if you can’t quite decipher what you body is trying to tell you consult a fitness professional.

I would go on but this little girl in my stomach is telling me to get up and move. In my experience one of the biggest benefits to maintaining an active pregnancy is that you grow your very own little personal trainer inside your body. This little one won’t let me be lazy for very long and shows her discontent with a few swift kicks to the ribs and forceful punches to the bladder. I am curious to see if this trend continues after her debut but until then I am off to celebrate this due date with a nice long (and hopefully labor inducing?!?!) walk. Wish me luck!

Humble Pie: The New Superfood

About a month ago my husband and I attended the wedding of a a couple of friends.  It was a beautiful summer day at a ranchImage high up in the mountains of Colorado.  We had started out in Denver and had been enjoying exploring the city, tasting healthy food, running, hiking, practicing yoga, and (pregnant, sober) bar-hopping.  Being over a month into my second trimester I was especially enjoying a resurgence of energy and feeling pretty much like myself again aside from my Buddha-esque profile.  As we drove two hours into the mountains to the wedding destination I was looking forward to celebrating the marriage of my husband’s best friend and being a part of the classy New York Time’s covered event.  After a lovely ceremony the time came for cocktail hour.  We chatted with friends as my husband sipped his bourbon and I my water.  As I boasted relayed to another guest how wonderful I’d been feeling despite being pregnant my eyes started to gray out and moments later I crashed to the ground, narrowly avoiding the metal heat lamp behind me.  I came to surrounded by three nurses, my very concerned husband, and about 98 other wedding guests.  Needless to say I was mortified and more than a little freaked out.  As I hid in my hotel room I was comforted by the movement I felt in my belly, especially since my husband was able to feel it for the first time.  It was good to have some reassurance that things were ok in there despite recent events.

One thing I’ve learned about health and fitness in general is that although it does wonders for your confidence, it’s best to check your ego at the door.  Though I never pegged myself as a “fainter” I for sure would thought if such a thing were to happen I’d be squatting with a heavy barbell on my back, not standing with a glass of water in my hand.  Go figure.  As much as I hate to admit it, humbling experiences are not only beneficial but crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  The following are some positives to remember when you experience one on your fitness path:

They remind us to be mindful of our body: encountering an accident or injury often shifts focus internally, forcing us to become more aware of our deeper physical state.  It’s easy in fitness to get caught up in external goals (lifting heavier, running faster, still being able to kick ass with a baby in your belly) but not always as easy to recognize what’s driving us internally to accomplish these things.  No one ever embarks on a fitness plan in an attempt to feel worse but if we are not in tune with what’s going on internally that might be the end result.  Look at an injury or accident as a wake up call, a chance to refine your skills and accomplish your goals in a healthier and more productive way.

-They reignite our desire to keep continue with our goals: the upside of being an underdog once in a while is the desire to come back even stronger, and who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

-They make us better teachers: the tough thing about never encountering a setback is that you don’t know how to help others to overcome them.  Humbling experiences make us more compassionate and helpful human beings.

-They make us more resilient: The more times you fall down the better you become at getting back up.  Sooner or later falling down doesn’t phase you any more because you realize it is just part of the process.

-They make for good stories: If nothing else you can use your humbling experience to entertain friends at a dinner party or as material for a blog post…..

Enjoy the days when a great workout makes you feel on top of the world but when something happens that stops you in your tracks remember: A.) Failing is good for your health and B.) Humble pie is part of a healthy diet.

The Glass Woman

I found out I was pregnant for the first time right before New Year’s.  On New Year’s Day  my husband and I went to the book store and bought What to Expect While Your Expecting and a few other literary gems.  I spent the day pouring over these books and after a few hours was amazed at how many things could go wrong.  Consequently, I wondered if the best course of action might be to stay on that couch surrounded by pillows for the next 9 months to keep anything from jeopardizing the pregnancy.  Since my job requires constant motion this was a precarious situation.  I grew nervous about my own exercise routine as well as the classes I needed to teach that week.  Would I cook the embryo by raising my body temperature or shake it loose by standing on my head?  Did my run that morning already dislodge it?  A need for control and the fear of doing something wrong was overriding my professional knowledge, common sense, and intuition.  It took losing the first pregnancy after being extremely careful to realize that no matter what actions I take there are many forces beyond my control.  It is unlikely to lose a pregnancy by moving the wrong way.  Flash forward 6 months later to 23 weeks into my second pregnancy and I am pretty much keeping to my normal routine with a few modifications.  This time around I let listening to my body and good common sense guide me and (knock on wood) both the baby and I are healthy and right on track.  Here is what I’ve learned first hand about exercise and pregnancy so far:

1.) Do it!: Even on the days I felt pretty gross during the first trimester a little movement went a long way.  It was one of the few things that made me feel human again (that and TONS of sleep).

2.) First trimester=green light for activity: You can’t “shake the baby loose” “squish it” or in other words harm the baby with a reasonable amount exercise.  Most pregnant women aren’t up to killing it at the gym during this time but if you feel well enough to keep moving through your normal routine don’t feel like you have to downshift right away.  Rest when you need it , check in with your body more frequently, but don’t stop completely unless it’s a medical recommendation.

3.) Your body will tell you when it’s time to modify: I’ve learned this one the hard way a few times and lived to tell the story.  Your body will tell you when something doesn’t feel right.  There may come a point when you physically cannot lie face down on your stomach or exercising on your back starts making you feel faint.  You will eventually need to change the way you move to accommodate your changing body.  Your body will let you know when that time comes.

4.) Train in the second trimester for the third: Though you may not be training for the Olympics you are indeed training for one of the greatest endurance events of all time: giving birth!  Look at the second trimester as a chance to get prepared for it.  Strengthening your entire body while you have the energy and ability during the second trimester will only help when things get tougher in the third.

If you need further motivation check out this article.  You may want to print it out the next time you are working out and some ill-informed individual asks if you “really should be doing that”.   Yes, you really should.

My Toughest Client

I always wanted to adopt a dog.  Living a fairly transient life in New York and later Chicago made this difficult.  After marrying my husband we decided we were settled enough to add another member to the family.  A google search and several outings later we found a boxer-shepherd mix pit bull at the pound and named her Dee.

As a puppy Dee was super high energy.  We subscribed to the “Dog Whisperer” philosophy of wearing her out until she was too tired to be anything but calm and well-behaved.  When she became a pro at leash walking, I decided it was time to try running.  Being such a high energy girl I figured this would be right up her alley…as it turns out I was wrong.  2 minutes in Dee was trailing behind.  3 minutes in she was lying on her side in someone’s yard.

There is no physical explanation for Dee’s lack of enthusiasm for running.  She is 50 lbs of pure muscle and could win a figure competition by a landslide (if there were such a thing for dogs).  For a while I gave up and ran my morning loop solo, picking her up afterwards for a walk.  Eventually I got tired of wasting time and decided to think like a trainer.  What would I do to help a client work up to a steady-state run?  Thus began Dee’s physical training.

Though I initially wanted to jump right to running, I took a step back and started with run/walking since Dee is more of a sprinter than a marathoner.  I also played upon her motivation, taking her out first thing in the morning.  I realized that she was more apt to push through a workout with breakfast waiting for her at home.

Getting Dee out in the morning involves picking her up off the couch, standing her on four legs, and nudging her out the door.  Initially I felt guilty force-marching her through this process but no more.  Upon our return she comes in tail wagging, relaxed, and clearly proud of what she’s accomplished.  Just like any reluctant client Dee might hem and haw, but ultimately our runs increase her well-being.

We’ve been at this for a while now and, though I still have to peel her up off the couch each morning, the whole process has become easier.  We’ve even gotten my husband to join us on the weekends (the process for getting him up is very similar to what I go through with Dee…).  The moral of the story?  We all need some encouragement and, if you can relate to Dee, go ahead and find yourself a workout buddy.  This person should:

A.) Have the patience to take time to get you were you need to be

B.) Know how to effectively motivate you to get the job done

c.) Have the strength to “peel you off the couch” knowing that you’ll be grateful they did it afterward

Word on the street is there are some dogs who actually wake their owners up to go outside…I’ll believe it when I see it.