Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

Health is a Choice

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”  ~Mark Twain

As we were all groaning upon completing our 30th push up in my yoga practice yesterday, the teacher made the comment that it does take work to take care of our bodies – health and fitness do not come in a pill.  It touched a nerve.

As those of you who know me or have followed my blog may know, my drive for health and wellness started in large part from my parents, who did not take good care of their health – particularly, my mother.  My mother passed away far too young (at 69), due to health problems that were very preventable (type 2 diabetes, heart disease).

After having eight children and entering middle age, my mother struggled desperately with her weight.  She loved food and she hated exercise, so spent much of the rest of her life looking for that “magic pill.”  Sometimes it was literally a pill and other times it was the latest fad diet.  There was even a rubber sweatsuit of some kind that was supposed to sweat off the weight – it just made her miserable (and she looked pretty silly, too!).  She had some success here and there.  A particularly successful diet resulted from her drinking a shake for every meal.  The problem is that most people do not want to forgo real food and drink only shakes for the rest of their lives.  As is the case with most diet and exercise programs, at some point, you attain your desired goal weight or level of fitness and go off the program.  Most people go back to the same lifestyle they had before the program and watch the weight and poor health return (as it was with my mother – time and time again).

Herein lays the problem.  To maintain that weight or fitness level, and to improve health, wellness and longevity, you have to make permanent changes.

It is so true that health, wellness and fitness are a lifestyle that I choose every day.  I do not diet and I do not exercise excessively.  My weight fluctuates very little – maybe 3-4 pounds at the most.  This is not because I have good genes (obviously not the case) or because I am tall (believe it or not, I often get the comment that it is so much easier for me to stay thin because I am tall!?!).

I choose to eat nutritious, whole foods – avoiding processed foods and red meat.  I choose to practice yoga and to work out moderately and regularly.  I choose this lifestyle because it truly enhances my life – I feel better, I sleep better, I cope with stress better, I look better.  It allows me to thoroughly enjoy activities that I adore – biking and hiking, in particular – and to keep up with my very athletic husband.  I am rarely sick.

Yes, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow, but in case I don’t, I plan to do all I can to live and enjoy a very long, healthy life.   Want to join me?

Angela, Wellness Warrior 🙂

References:

  1. Life, baby!

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , | 3 Comments

Turn your world upside-down

Before I started practicing yoga, I had not inverted my body in decades – probably not since I was a teenager.  So yoga inversions were scary – not just at  my age, but at my height.  That’s a lot of leg to hold in the air!

Inversions in yoga means putting your body in poses that literally invert it:  shoulder stand, headstands,  handstands, forearm stands, legs up the wall, etc.

The Bennies:

Regular practice of inversions calms the mind, promoting better sleep.  It enhances the ability to concentrate and focus.  While this may not be scientifically proven, those who practice inversions (including me!) agree that they have an incredible effect on your body and mind.

Additionally, inversions have many physical benefits:

  • Cardiovascular/Circulatory.   Inverting your body reduces the effects of gravity, increasing blood flow back to the heart for faster recirculation.  They provide increased circulation in the lower body and legs, relieving pressure in the veins, helping to prevent varicose veins.  Being upright the majority of your day causes the lower lung tissue to saturate with blood.  Inverting ventilates the upper lungs, ensuring a more even oxygen-to-blood exchange, promoting healthier tissue.
  • Muscles.  In addition to improving cores and upper body strength (particularly with headstands and handstands), inversions increase the flow of lymphatic fluid, reducing muscle pain and spasms.  The lymphatic system carries watery fluid throughout your body, filtering wastes and keeping the immune system healthy.
  • Back/spine.  Inverting your body’s weight during yoga postures applies mild traction to your spine, allowing it to elongate and creating more space between your vertebrae, reducing pressure on the disks and nerve endings.
  • Aging.  Increased blood flow creates a healthy, more youthful skin color, improves mental alertness and clarity, and enhances hearing and vision.  It also promotes good posture, helping to maintain your height (height decreases as you age, due to thinning back disks).  I can attest to the practice of yoga (generally) increasing my height – I have grown 1/2 inch taller since I started practicing (not that I needed it, but…)!
  • Hormones.  Inversions (especially shoulder stands) are recommended for perimenopausal and menopausal women due to the belief that the pose stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands, regulating metabolism.  Inversions stimulate your pituitary gland, as well, promoting a positive well-being.
  • Nervous system.  Inversions stimulate cerebrospinal fluid, which flows from the brain to the spinal cord.  In a headstand, the pressure on the top of the skull could also promote elasticity in the cranial bones, increasing the production of cerebrospinal fluid to the ventricles of the brain.

But note – inversions are NOT for everyone

Many health conditions exist for which yoga inversions should be entirely avoided or modified, including pregnancy, neck pain and/or neck injuries, high or low blood pressure.  If there is any question when it comes to an existing or possible health condition, you should always discuss it with your physician FIRST.

However, a good alternative to headstands, shoulder stands and handstands is an inversion called “legs up the wall” pose.  Lie on the floor on your back, with your legs straight in the air.  If you are a beginner and want some support for your legs, scoot your booty up to a wall, resting your legs on the wall.  If your hamstrings are tight, you do not have to be flat up against the wall – you will still benefit from the inversion with the elevation of your legs on the wall.

Angela, Head over Heels 🙂

References:

  1. “Everybody Upside-Down,” Yoga Journal; Yoko Yoshikawa, 2011
  2. “Inversion 101,” Yoga Journal
  3. “Yoga Inversion Benefits,” Livestrong.com (http://www.livestrong.com)

November 13, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yoga is for EVERY body

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

On this beautiful Sunday, I do not feel like spending much time writing/blogging, but I do feel inspired enough by Easter and the beautiful spring day on hand for a short blog about new beginnings and starting fresh.

Friends have asked me recently about yoga and their interest in learning more about it.  I have been quite passionate about it for years now and it is, after all, the exercise du jour.  I recently returned to practice after my back injury and I am SO grateful to have it again.  Oh, Yoga…how I missed you!

About five years ago, my body felt old and stiff.  I awoke with painful, stiff hips every day (I was sure that it was the onset of arthritis, which runs in my family).  I was tired and uninspired.  I worked out – jogging, cycling and strength training – but I really needed something more.  I tried yoga in the past, but I never had instruction and really felt like I did not know what I was doing, so it never felt worthwhile.

One day, I drove past a local yoga studio and decided that I was going to try it.  On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I dragged my stiff body to my first yoga class.  It was a Vinyasa class and one which I quickly found out was one of their most challenging classes (meant for intermediate to advanced yogis, taught by one of their toughest instructors).  It WAS tough and I struggled.  I came home tired and sore, telling my husband that I could not believe how challenging it was – I thought I was in good shape!  I jogged, worked out, I was toned and fit – and yet all around me I saw people of every age, shape and size that could do things with their bodies that I could not.  Watching them inspired me to return.

After my second class, I was less sore and more energized, so I kept going.  Within a few weeks, I no longer had hip pain, and looked forward to my yoga practice as a source of energy, inspiration and stress reduction.

Five years later, I am still practicing yoga.  At the end of each class, I feel calm, loose, energized and powerful.  Yoga has helped me considerably in alleviating stiffness, creating flexibility, keeping me fit and firm, and providing stress relief.   I have even grown in height by 1/4 inch (I was already quite tall, so I really didn’t need it, but for those on the petite side, that should be very motivating!).  I can not only touch my toes effortlessly, but I can do the splits (I don’t know many teenagers that can do the splits, do you?). 

In addition to increased flexibility, yoga provides:

  • Increased strength (many poses require supporting the weight of your own body)
  • Improved balance and posture
  • Increased lubrication of the joints, ligaments and tendons
  • Massage of all organs of the body
  • Toning of the muscles, giving you a lean, long, sculpted body
  • Better breathing (pranayama breathing focuses the attention on the breath, teaching us to better use our lungs)
  • Mental calmness (yoga is very meditative)
  • Stress reduction (yoga requires focus and concentration – allowing you to put aside other thoughts of the day)
  • Detoxification – ensuring optimum blood supply to various parts of the body
  • Increased body awareness and greater self-confidence

There are SO many yoga studios and classes at health clubs where you can try yoga for the first time.  My suggestion is that you do not do what I did (starting at an intermediate level) – rather, take a beginner’s class.  There is a great class at the studio where I practice; it’s called “Pigs Fly Yoga.”  It is meant for first-timers and they provide wonderful, enthusiastic instruction.  (If you live in the Twin Cities and are interested, go to their site, yogamn.com, for class schedules.)

Next up for me:  Meditation.  I think it will be an amazing enhancement to my yoga practice.  I am currently in a workshop to learn how to quiet my terribly busy mind.

Yoga is for everybody.  Namaste!

Angela, Yoga Nut 🙂

April 24, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape

Yes, this is a contortionist doing something that few people on earth can do.  But isn’t she inspiring? 

Until about four years ago, I was unable to do a forward bend with my legs straight and still be able to touch my toes – even as a child.  As an adult, years of jogging (without proper stretching) further shortened up my hamstrings.  Inflexibility is not a permanent condition and it is never too late to increase your flexibility.  You just need a little more patience with it as you get older.  I am living proof; yoga was the key for me.  I am now more limber than my kids! 

We all know that as we age, we need to take particularly good care of ourselves.  There are changes to our body that are obvious and we take steps to alleviate or manage those symptoms and ailments as they arise.  However, some changes are more subtle.  You may not realize just how important flexibility is.  Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of Americans participate in regular exercise and those numbers decrease with age.  While helping to prevent age-associated increases in body fat, long-term exercise also slows the loss of muscle mass. 

The ugly facts

As we age, our muscles shrink and begin to lose mass.  The number and size of muscle fibers decreases and the water content of tendons (cord-like tissues that attach muscles to bones) decreases as we age. 

We lose bone tissue as we get older.  The mineral content in our bones decreases, making bones less dense and more fragile.  As we lose mass, we develop osteoporosis (responsible for almost all hip fractures in older men and women), and the chemistry of the cartilage (which provides cushioning between the bones) changes and degenerates, making it more susceptible to stress.  Ligaments (the connective tissues between bones) become less elastic, further reducing flexibility.

With the changes in the ligaments and tendons, and as the cushioning cartilage breaks down, our joints become more restricted, inflamed and arthritic.

Sad, indeed.

What can you do to counteract or slow this process?

All of these factors not only emphasize the importance of strength/resistance training, but the importance of stretching to keep our muscles flexible and pliable.

One of the best times to stretch is right after a strength training workout.  In addition to increasing flexibility, it promotes muscle growth and decreases post-exercise soreness.

Stretching:

  • Increases flexibility, improving your daily performance for any task
  • Improves range of motion of your joints, allowing for better balance, making you less prone to fall (especially as we age)
  • Improves circulation, aiding in recovery after muscle injuries
  • Relieves stress by relaxing tense muscles

Some tips:

  • It is best not to stretch cold muscles – stretch after your exercise or at least warm up before doing any stretching (a brisk 5-10 minute walk or jog will warm up the muscles)
  • Target major muscle groups (calves, thighs, hips, low back, neck, shoulders) and muscles and joints that you routinely use for work or play
  • Pace yourself and hold your stretch (shoot to hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds)
  • Do not bounce!  Bouncing can cause small tears in the muscle, leaving scar tissue as it heals, causing more tightness.
  • Stretching should be pain free (you should feel tension, but not pain during the stretch; if you feel pain, back off until it dissipates, then hold)
  • Breath!  Don’t hold your breath as you stretch.

If you are attempting to increase active flexibility, it is important to also strengthen the muscles responsible for holding those stretched limbs in their extended positions.  Stretching should be combined with strength training to increase overall flexibility, as each enhances the other. 

And, of course, eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of good fats to avoid inflammation and to keep your muscles and joints lubricated.  (See my blog post, Body on Fire, for more on inflammation.)

Happy stretching!

Angela, Limber Lady  🙂

References:

  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org)
  2. MayoClinic.com (http://www.mayoclinic.com)

May 23, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hot Yoga Anyone?

I have been practicing yoga for about four years now.  Those who know me know that it has become one of my passions in life.

Most of us are inflexible or become inflexible over time, much of which occurs from under use of our muscles and joints, and also simply by aging.  All of my jobs in the last 15 or more years required long hours of sitting.  Yoga has helped me considerably in alleviating stiffness, creating flexibility, keeping me fit and firm, and providing stress relief – I have even grown in height by 1/4 inch (I know, not even necessary for me!).

My favorite form of yoga is Vinyasa or “flow” yoga, linking each posture and movement to the breath.  The breath dictates the movement of the body and length of time each posture is held.  I enjoy the athleticism of Vinyasa.  At the yoga studio at which I practice (http://www.yogamn.com/), the room is very warm (I haven’t looked at the thermostat, but would guess it is around 85°).  My body works pretty efficiently, so it does not take me long to sweat profusely, hence my trepidation to try Hot Yoga for fear of melting into oblivion.

However, two months ago, perhaps because I was so cold during this Minnesota winter that all I could think about were ways to keep warm, I decided to give it a whirl.  I was hooked.

Hot Yoga is a series of yoga poses done in a heated room.  The temperature of the room is 100-105°, with a 40% humidity level.  Obviously, standing still in this environment causes most of us to sweat very quickly, so you can imagine adding movement.  In addition to the standard benefits of yoga (physical and spiritual strength, flexibility, etc.), the high heat makes the body very warm, allowing the muscles, joints and ligaments to become even more flexible, helping prevent injuries…  Additionally, the heat thins the blood, increasing the heart rate and circulation for an excellent cardiovascular workout.  Many believe that the practice facilitates the body’s natural ability to heal, and cleanses the body by flushing toxins and metabolic waste (through sweat).  And of course, the more you sweat in the class, the better you will tolerate the heat, as sweating keeps your body from overheating.

Another benefit to sweating it out in Hot Yoga?  Many health professionals estimate that you can burn 400-1200 calories per class.  That is very motivating.

Some refer to Hot Yoga as Bikram Yoga.  However, the terms are not congruous.  The “Bikram” yoga method, created by Bikram Choudhury, consists of a series of 26 yoga poses, including yoga breathing exercises called Pranayama (one of the eight limbs of yoga).  Choudhury and his wife were both yoga masters in India.  He is a controversial figure in the world of yoga.  Recently, he was involved in a lawsuit when he attempted to copyright his series of 26 poses in a hot room as “Bikram Yoga,” meaning that anyone teaching yoga in a heated room had to call it “Bikram Yoga.”  He settled the lawsuit and now requests that the title only be used for those teachers certified by his Yoga College in India and who practice his prescribed method precisely.  (See http://www.bikramyoga.com)

At the end of a yoga class, especially Hot Yoga, I feel calm, loose, energized and powerful.  Rarely in my life do I allow myself the luxury of that much time for slow and gentle stretching. 

Some necessities to keep in mind for Hot Yoga:

  • Find a studio certified to teach Hot Yoga and consult with the staff to make sure you have no physical limitations in taking the class (i.e. you should NOT participate in this class if you are pregnant)
  • Wear very little clothing and make sure it is lightweight and moisture-wicking
  • Bring plenty of water – enough to drink before, during and after class
  • Bring at least one large towel and/or use a mat-size yoga towel (there are several brands out there – a nice one that comes to mind is sold by Yogitoes®)

Namaste!

Angela, Yoga Soldier 🙂

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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