On Power Yoga

Peacock Pose

No I Cannot Do the Peacock Pose

Last spring I signed up for a series of yoga classes at a studio that teaches yoga in the Baptiste tradition. I did this because I was feeling hamstrung so to speak over my inability to lift heavy weights as I recovered from an arm injury and wanted something that would help me continue to build muscle strength without further injuring myself.

I first took yoga at college. I remember my teacher well. She was a delightful, down to earth woman from Texas. She told us she was one of few people we’d ever hear say “cow” as a word with three syllables and she was right. Yoga really stuck with me. Over the years some movements or poses just became a normal part of my stretching routines. When I started back at it recently I had not taken yoga in a formal setting in 30 years.

One of my disappointments about middle age is how hard I must fight to retain flexibility. I’ve always been reasonably flexible. Now desk jobs plus age have me suddenly concerned with flexibility in the hips. This is more than an idle concern as the tension in this area can impinge on nerves and cause some fairly uncomfortable sensations which take time and hard work to alleviate once they get started.

The class I’ve taken most is Power Yoga Basics which is really a good full body workout. Some of the poses like the pigeon really seem to help with hip inflexibility. For me the key to making progress in yoga practice are:  take a place near the front of the room so I am as little distracted as possible by other people and how flexible and awesome they are and use a foam block to modify poses when needed so that I am doing as close to what I am supposed to be as possible while respecting my own limitations. My favorite place to practice is in the hot studio. It makes my muscles feel more limber. Also it’s just nice being warm at this time of year without being bundled up.

Recently the New York Times magazine had an article on the dangers of yoga. I think the main message I drew from it is that there is no physical activity that if done to extremes or excess does not carry risk and of course the same is true of yoga. That said, I plan to continue to be mindful of my limits and continue to practice. And having completed my series of classes I  plan to sign up for more.

What Inspires Me to Work Out

English: weight lifting

I am happy to take inspiration anywhere I can get it. Seriously. Years ago my pattern with exercising would sometimes be that things got hectic at work and in the rest of my life and I stopped doing everything physical. Those breaks sometimes lasted as long as six months. Thank goodness a friend and I started walking about 4 miles together in a local park on Sunday mornings. I think we’ve been doing that about ten years. One absolutely crucial effect of this routine is that it keeps me from getting into one of those no-exercise phases. There were times when the weekly walk was the only exercise I did. More recently it’s often icing on the cake. The New Rules of Lifting for Women calls it “active recovery” I believe. That is, something you do that’s not actually strenuous enough to be exercise but is good calorie-burning activity that allows you to be ready for more weight lifting the next day.

The fitness efforts of friends real and virtual also inspire me. From friends that are making great strides with their own levels of fitness and sharing awe-inspiring lifting, running and biking accomplishments to those whom I see looking great as they change their body composition in positive ways. Someone tweets that he’s at the gym or someone posts that she’s hit a new PR, that helps me feel inspired to hit the weights myself.

I also find it helpful to work on a program. I am quite capable of coming up with exercise routines for myself but I find that I do better when I have the guidance, structure and variety of routines put together by experts.  I know people are sometimes surprised to learn that I work out by myself in my basement and that I do keep at it. Ironically, for me the need to tear myself away from home to go to the gym would at this point in my life be a de-motivator and not a motivator.

Probably the biggest motivator of all is seeing results. This is especially motivating at first when one is making initial gains but one needs to be satisfied with more subtle progress as one goes farther on the fitness journey. A friend of mine recently introduced me to stickk.com which uses a combination of things to get one to set goals and stick to them including making donations to charities that one doesn’t like if one fails to meet a goal, having referees and friends to support the effort. This all coming from the results of a Yale study on what helps people stick to goals. I am not using it yet for that but the possibilities seem intriguing.

If I Did Make New Year’s Resolutions

I consider myself an agnostic in the New Year’s resolution realm. It seems foolish to make them in the sense that why structure around a date on the calendar committing to what we already know we should be doing?  On the other hand, it seems even more foolish to avoid using any momentum one can to help one do what one should…  So were I to make New Year’s resolutions what would they be?

First is to drink more water.  A couple of years ago I bought my first Camelbak water bottle. Eventually I figured out that I needed one at work and one at home since I spend lots of time in both places. Then I figured out that I should really be drinking three bottles of water per day so I bought a third one figuring that if I started the day with three full ones I might have a chance. I haven’t yet focused on this enough to be successful but I guess it’s good to have the tools in place. A colleague of mine who lost about 50 pounds and looks great told me she drinks a half ounce of water for each pound of body weight per day. I can see how that would be helpful in keeping one’s appetite under control and feeling hydrated. If I have to focus on filling a bottle at any time during the day when I have better things to think about–and that would be always–I am more likely to fail so the game plan is to have three full bottles at the start of each day and have drunk them by the end of the day.

Second quasi-resolution is to use my Rumble Roller daily.  I’ve used it about 10 to 15 minutes for the last two days and I already feel better. When I don’t do some sort of flexibility work my body quickly becomes stressed and crunchy feeling. I know that certain aches and pains are secondary symptoms of muscle tightness and that rolling will fix ’em. I know that as I roll more I can reduce pressure points and that rolling itself will feel better. If I want to go for the gold standard on this one it will be rolling my illiotibial band. Right now it’s so painful when I do that that I come close to seeing stars. I am sure my body would benefit considerably from that area of my body being less irritated. A couple of useful resources for how to foam roll are Jeff Alexander’s instructions for scaled myofascial release on you tube using a wall for things that would be too painful to do on the floor. (Sheesh that sounds bad.) Another helpful video was a longer and more thorough introduction to using a Rumble Roller by Coach Charles Staley.

Third would be actually taking the dietary supplements I aim to take. I measure them all out into little boxes each day for AM and PM. Just got

English: Damavand Mineral Water bottle

Drink .5 oz/lb bodyweight /day

to remember to get them down the hatch. The things I do try to take were inspired by recommendations of the “You Docs” Mehmet Oz and Jeffrey Roizen in their book You: The Owners Manual.

That’s probably enough for this year. I don’t feel like I have to resolve to exercise because I feel pretty motivated to do that.

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

Rumble Roller

Rumble Roller

A couple of summers ago I was letting an arm injury heal and found myself doing run/walk intervals and core work as a way to work out. One thing I noticed at the time is that my knees were killing me after running; and we’re not even talking about “running running” here but rather like 1 minute running followed by 2 minutes of walking repeated.  When I finally sought a consultation on my arm from a sports medicine physician I thought I’d get a ruling on my knees at the same time. I was pleased to find out there wasn’t really much of anything wrong with them for a person my age. The feedback I received is that my problem, rather than being anything intrinsic to my knees, had more to do with a lack of core strength; that is, it had more to do with my gait than my knees.

Since this experience I do think about whether aches and pains are signs of injury or secondary symptoms of other problems. Recently a few issues seem to be cropping up that are a result of muscle tightness in my legs and hips. I am here to report that the imperative to stretch apparently is greater as we age. I’ve always been a tense person and held a lot of tension in my shoulders etc. but the advent of low body tightness is new.

In her book The Female Body Breakthrough, Rachel Cosgrove recommends using a foam roller regularly; in particular on days one is not working out. I have a scary one called a Rumble Roller.  It really is like getting a deep tissue massage–sort of. Something I know I should do and don’t is to foam roll more; ideally every day I don’t work out.  As it is I only stretch when I work out so if working out gets disrupted so does stretching. Not helpful.

Warming Up

Rubber Bands

Gotta Stretch

Warming up always seems like it adds time I don’t have to my workouts. So I go into it with a slightly jaundiced attitude. This despite that I’ve seen over the years that stretching absolutely helps me continue to progress without injury in meeting my workout goals.

I am old enough to remember when static stretching was practiced.  But even as far back as the 1980’s we knew that ballistic stretching was a bad thing. What was promoted at the time was stretches you held for 30 seconds or longer.  You can now buy the 30th Anniversary edition of  Bob Anderson’s classic book that was the bible on this topic.

The most useful innovation I’ve encountered regarding warming up is the concept of dynamic stretching. Frankly, it looks funny but it seems to work.  The chief promulgators of this that have impressed me are Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson who market their knowledge via  the Magnificent Mobility website. To me a longtime hobbyist and layperson, they really seem to know what they’re talking about. Most of their information is available via subscription but there is also free information under the heading “dynamic stretching” on You Tube including warm up routines specific to different kinds of training. The website Sports Fitness Advisor has a simple set of exercises with handy moving diagrams.

The point of this type of stretching is that it is done through movement. Rather than just being stretches, dynamic stretches are themselves exercises that not only contribute to mobility but also begin warming up the body in advance of working out. At least six different stretches should form the start of your workout and become an integral part your exercise program each time you hit the gym

My Legacy Dumbbells

About 20 years ago I lived in the region of the country near York, Pennsylvania.  During those years I began a collection of York dumbbells starting with a single set of 5lbs.  There may be nicer ones on the market but I love these.  Eventually I added 8s and 10s and 12s. The last purchase was a set of 15s. Frankly it took me years to have much I could do with this last pair though now I use them regularly.  York still sells this style of weight. They’re called “legacy” dumbbells which is a synonym for “if you own these you were probably born long ago.” I’ve now put together 16+ and 18+ pounds sets from plate weights, little threaded weight bars and collars. I’ve been wondering if it might be time for a set of 20s from York.  An alternative course would be taking the plunge and buying a pair of those dial-controlled adjustable dumbbells. I gave a pair of these to my dad as a gift last father’s day. I guess the best gifts are the ones we really want ourselves… For him it was a good idea because he has access to a good gym at work but seemed to have pretty little equipment at home. I was hoping mom might take advantage of them also. For me the benefit would be that my house is tiny and all the separate weights take up more room.  That said, I must confess an emotional attachment to my weight set. It would probably be hard to give them up.

Breakfast of Lunatics

mine's green


Here’s a breakfast that has 224 calories and 25 grams of  protein.

  • 1/2 cup cooked instant brown rice
  • some raisins
  • 10 drops stevia extract
  • 1/3 cup Now Egg White Protein
  • 6 oz water
  • Vanilla extract and cinnamon to taste
  • Spray oil sufficient to coat microwaveable bowl

Mix the protein with the water in a shaker bottle. Spray the bowl wth oil. Put the rice in the bowl. To the egg and water mixture add the stevia and cinnamon. Shake some more. Pour the foam into bowl. Sprinkle the raisins on top. Microwave on 80% for 3 1/2 minutes.

Essentially I have a sweet version of this breakfast–this one–and a savory version which has no spices and 1/2 oz of cheese for flavor.  On that one I add mild salsa. It’s a bit time consuming for mornings on which I am in a hurry but it’s a way to start the day feeling great.

Vanity is Your Friend

"All is Vanity" by C. Allan Gilbert....

Over the years I have found myself often more motivated by preserving or enhancing my looks than my health. Probably I realize that while my health has been generally good in the looks department I really can’t afford to cede any ground. Vanity just motivates me in a way that health doesn’t. Maybe it’s because I realize that as much as I can do to support my health I will die eventually. Who knows? Mainly I think that it’s good to take advantage of whatever I can that keeps me actively pursing health and wellness. It doesn’t matter what my reasons are for hitting the weights as long as I keep hitting them.

Go, go, go, go: STOP

Green tea leaves steeping in an uncovered zhon...

Green Tea

I tend to exercise at night and in general I’ve evolved a lifestyle that includes go-go-going until I am ready to flip the switch into relax and sleep mode a process which usually does not begin until at least 10:30PM. Of course the body doesn’t work that way. Months ago I began drinking a cup of Tension Tamer tea when I am finally ready to settle down.  I have also tried L-Tryptophan which seemed beneficial though the form in which I was taking it was expensive and when I switched to a cheaper one it was  not as pleasant to use and I stopped using it. One beverage that is always relaxing is alcohol. I would sleep even less if it weren’t for this standby.

I do drink less caffeine now than I did even six months ago. I accomplished this by swapping out routine daytime coffee for green tea which I carry around in a really scary looking water bottle. Green tea is good to drink–Tom Venuto recommends about 4 cups per day–because it contains Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which helps the body use fat as fuel when exercising.  About 15 years ago I actually completely stopped using caffeine when a doctor recommended it to reduce fibrocystic breast disease. I was amazed at what a difference that made. The road back was slow and began with my gateway drug Diet Coke. I am happy to report that I have primarily cut that out of my diet–I used to buy it by the box;  now it’s a “treat.” I don’t know what the research is on this but I have a feeling that it gives you brain cancer.

My current philosophy is that being aware of and reflecting on my habits is important even if I can’t do the optimal thing at every turn.

Straightening out My Thinking

Mashed rutabaga

Explain to me how mashed rutabaga was a recommended photo for this post

I  am a recovered person with “issues” about food. And by “issues” I mean things that cause one to eat for reasons other than being hungry. Like everyone else, I lived what I learned. I grew up around people who had problems with food–used it to meet emotional as well as as dietary needs– and it took a while being out of that environment to stop having them myself.

I started my first diet at about 14 years old and I have watched my mom struggle with her weight over many years. I used to feel like if I didn’t pay attention I might suddenly balloon to great proportions though I know that doesn’t actually make sense.

My spouse of nearly 25 years has a healthy relationship with food and also is has been our primary cook and food inventory manager in recent years. Observing him and just doing what he did over the years helped me to adjust my relationship with food so that it grew simpler over time.

Also helpful has been using my body to do things I like including lifting weights. I can’t say I am there totally, but now I think about what I eat with respect to the goals I have and what’s best for me to put into my body.  Working to transform my body with weight lifting and diet provides a good demonstration of cause and effect. I now understand that you can’t train enough to make up for a poor diet and I anticipate that over time I will be able to come closer and closer to a diet that is optimal for me and for the achievement of my fitness goals. And I can proudly say that now my poor decisions about food stem from lack of self-discipline or commitment to goals and not from any lingering emotional weirdness. Oh happy day.