Thursday, February 26, 2015

Taming the Waking Lion: Yoga Poses to Invoke Restful Sleep

Ask any girl her priority between sleep and sex and the majority of us will say sleep before sex. For males, it's the opposite (not really a 'knock your socks off' fact), sorry guys! A good night of sleep to me is the foundational beginning to a fabulous day. Sleep holds a strong grip on our creativity and mood plus determines how hungry and satisfied with food we feel. Thus, I am here to wave a pretty gift of sleep in front of you: Welcome, yoga poses for sleep. 

The first time I introduced my husband to yoga, I took him to the most hard-core yoga class I knew of; heated yoga sculpt, which is yoga with weights in a 100 degree studio. Prior to this class, he dismissed yoga as a workout just as easily as one could disregard curling as an Olympic sport. He actually ended up walking out of the class early because he thought he was going to pass out. Unfortunately, it was his first and last time to a yoga mat. But he never mocked yoga again. Our take-away lesson from this: Never underestimate the power of yoga.

Yoga has a plethora of benefits, such as digestion, improving blood flow, balancing hormones, increased flexibility, and muscle strengthening all while wearing ultra-comfy yoga pants. While yoga can collectively improve these things you could also specifically focus on one goal with gusto. For purposes of this article and because beauty sleep becomes less imaginary as I age, I'm here to share some tools to help you snooze like it's your job. These poses don't require a yoga mat, a punch-card or even any (yoga) pants to perform them.

Yoga Poses For Sleep: 

Scenario #1. Your Emergency Pass Out Plan!
 It's 2am, you woke from a deep sleep, wide awake and you have a BIG day ahead of you. Instead of letting your mind cycle through repetitive thoughts, be proactive... You can do these poses in bed with minimal risk of waking your (snoring) significant other or the dog. These both start with deep breathing and could end with corpse pose but any order and even doing only one move at a time, will work just as well. 

Start with deep breathing, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Calm your nervous system with oxygen and maybe even start a mantra, repeating inside your head, "re-lax." Give this about 20 breaths before moving on. 

Supine Twist. Lay on your back (hold your arms out in a T-shape if you have the space) keeping knees together and legs bent, let both legs fall to the left side while you look to the right. Hold this for 10 breath cycles to release anxiousness, then switch sides. Twists are great for cleansing your organs also, (your liver) if maybe you aren't sleeping because you had too much wine? It could happen. 

Alternate nostril breathing. Practice alternate nostril breathing by covering your right nostril and breathing in and out 10-20 times, then switch nostrils. This is instantly relaxing. For an additional variation, hold legs in criss-cross position, place blankets or pillows under your thighs so there is no stretching, just relaxing and hold this while tuning in to your alternate nostril breathing.

Hormonal Balancing Thumbs. Laying on your back, bring your thumbs to touch the space between your eyebrows and press with light pressure. This balances your hormones and to calm the mind and regulate sleep.

Corpse Pose. * My fav! * Laying on your back, open your legs to wider than hip width, to whatever degree is comfortable. Let your feet splay out. Relax your arms by your sides with your palms facing up. Stop here and just breath. If you need to mentally tell each part of your body to relax first you can start at your scalp, your jaw, move to your elbows, your knees, your toes, everything. Let it all go with an exhale breath and then just breath in and out slowly. This pose relaxes your central nervous system within 60 seconds, but give it a go for a few minutes, ten if you can. This is a position you might pass out in, enjoy every nano second of it. 

Scenario #2: Sleep Induced Bliss: 
You're winding down for the evening and want to invoke the most peaceful sleep you can. You've got a little time on your side and you're eager to rock a killer night of sleep. Let's make this night of sleep one for the record books. 

Start with deep breathing, breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Calm your nervous system with oxygen and start a mantra, repeating over inside your head, "re-lax." Give this about 10 breaths before moving on. 

    Seated forward Bend
    Starting in cross-legged position, hinge forward at your hips and slower lower your forhead to the floor. To help your head reach, sit on a blanket or pillow. A variation is to keep your legs straight out in front of you and fold over them, grabbing your legs or feet. Relax your face and neck. Give yourself a calf/foot massage for a bonus. Hold for 10 breaths.                          

If your hamys will let 'cha, go for it!

Legs up wall (or headboard). Lay down with your legs up against the wall (or bed) as close as you can get your booty while being comfortable. Place a blanket under your hips/butt for extra comfort and an inversion. Hold your legs up against the wall for up to 5 minutes. This move is great for dealing with edema in your ankles/legs, so I tend to use it when I'm traveling and get swollen feet/ankles. Important to note this pose should not be done if pregnant.  

Happy Baby. Laying on your back, hold onto the outsides of your feet and gently pull down on your legs. You want your shins and forearms as vertical as possible. This is also good for lower back pain. Hold for 10 deep breaths,  I dare you NOT to smile while holding this.
                                              Happy Baby - Yes

Locust Pose. Starting in a plank position, lower yourself down to your belly. Clasp hands behind your back (or hold them behind you if more comfortable). Keeping tops of your feet pressing against the floor, lift chest, head and arms while looking forward. Hold for up to one minute and repeat 5 times. 

  • Corpse Pose. This is a fabulous pose to end with. Laying on your back, open your legs to wider than hip width, to whatever degree is comfortable. Let your feet splay out. Relax your arms by your sides with your palms facing up. Stop here and just breath. If you need to mentally tell each part of your body to relax first you can start at your scalp, your jaw, move to your elbows, your knees, your toes, everything. Let it all go with an exhale breath and then just breath in and out slowly. This pose relaxes your central nervous system within 60 seconds, but give it a go for a few minutes, ten if you can. This is a position you might pass out in, enjoy every nano second of it.
   The more you can practice these poses and do them as part of an      evening ritual, the better. Your body and mind thrive on structured routine so if you get used to these before bed, they will become your                    non-prescription Ambien, minus the sleep-walking.

Sleep peacefully my little yogi. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Holy Matrimony, It's Double Unders, Learning to Dominate Them In Good Times and Bad...

Nope, def not me jumping
Never in my life have I had such an on again, off again relationship with anything in my life; introducing my relationship with the double Under. A
seemingly simple move - rotating a jump rope under your feet twice during one vertical jump into the air. Just like I can't dance, and I also can't coordinate my arms and legs to sync up enough to do multiple double unders consistently. The end result of my double under effort has left me with long-lasting whip marks and various tones of F-bombs spewing from my mouth. I also sigh and say "oh my God" a lot.

My best double under solution happened yesterday (hallelujah!!) with a double under seminar taught my Molly Metz of JumpNRope. Let me tell you the ease at which her and her team can jump rope. First off, Molly has been jumping rope for 32 years and she looks like she is 20 years old. Have you heard of rebounding (jumping) on trampolines and with jump ropes in order to detox your lymphatic system? Well, Molly is a breathing example to the anti-aging benefits of rebounding. Her team doesn't look at double unders like the rest of us, instead they do triple unders and even do gymnastic style jumping with splits and stuff that makes you question how a body can move like theirs.
Practicing Double Unders 5 months ago. Daughter  more impressed than I was

The double under seminar started with us meeting Molly and her writing our name on a name tag with the most double unders we have ever done consecutively. My number was 27, which meant I was grouped into the advanced category thus I realized I should have said my number was 5. It also meant I once had a spark of hope for my double unders and then I lost it because I wasn't consistently practicing them. If you're also missing your double unders, then your problem could be as simple as this: Consistency. Can you pick up your rope everyday and practice? (talking to myself here, too). Even if you have never done double unders in your life, the following tips should be incredibly useful, read on my jumping friend.

                Double Unders in One Minute: World Record, 169. Prepare to be amazed!

How To Have A Successful Marriage 
With Your Double Unders:

Part 1. Rope and Body Positioning:

  1. You want to jump with a rope that when rotating above your head, ends up being about 10" above your head. Any longer or shorter will work but 10" is the most efficient. A good rule is to stand on the rope mid foot and bring the handles up. The handles should reach to about nipple height
  2. Hold your rope mostly with your thumb and index finger, they will drive the rotation of the rope. Use your wrists to move the rope - it is what controls the speed and the rotation
  3. Keep your core in a hollow body hold position - which means suck in your gut and keep your chest up high. Don't lean back while jumping
  4. Keep your whole hand on the handle, holding with your thumb facing up, this will give you the most endurance during the wrist movement

    The Hollow Body Position
Part 2. The Jump
  1. Don't jump for 2 hours straight (like I did) if you have to do anything the next day that involves walking because your calf muscles will be worthless
  2. Focus on jumping higher, but also slower - you need time for the rope to under twice
  3. The most efficient way is to keep your hands and elbows near your hips, but the more tired you get the further from your core your arms tend to go. The Best tip I got for hand/arm position is to hold your jump rope and place your fists on your hips like headlights. Then relax your shoulders. The position where your hands are now is ideally where they should be for jumping.
  4. Relax your shoulders, relax everything that you can, in fact. Your goal should be to make double unders in your workout be a resting period. The only way to do that is to find a speed that works to make them flawless.
  5. Check your rope speed. This is the complicated part for me: timing. Can you slow down or speed up your rope while changing the speed of your jump? This is the part I struggle with most. My wrists tend to get over excited to double under, but my legs are less than thrilled. Thus while my legs are rolling their eyes like a cranky teenager, but arms are amped like little hampsters in a cage, so things get messy. Change the timing.
  6. Mantra them. Mentally (or out loud) say 1,2,1,2,1,2 over and over to keep rhythm
  7. Stay positive that you will get them, and practice like you mean it

Can you find me?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Avoiding Over-Training. And How to Deload

When I was a young, I was such a sucker for falling in love. Maybe I was so hell-bent on the idea of falling in love that I didn't ask myself if I was falling for the wrong guy(s). I interpreted clues as mixed messages all the time. Looking back, I see the mixed messages were due to a lack of objectivity. When your fearless, naive heart becomes involved, it tends to lead to fuzzy thinking. In cases of love, it took my very-honest sister, Wendy, to see the big picture and say, "he's just not into you Steph." Ouch. A objective punch to the gut.
In my prime, no not a PR, can I find this sweet spot again? Hell ya!

It's SUPER easy to become blinded by your emotions when your heart is involved. Which is why listening to your body's messages can be very tricky business. During a workout, your body gives messages like a red face, a pounding heart and burning limbs when the going gets rough. Does that mean you should stop your workout to drink some water and wipe your sweat off until your heart calms down? Hell no, that's when you should push harder to see big gains in your training! At least that's what I've understood of it. But when does that theory harm you more than help you?
A sucker for love, yup!

There are questions we must ask ourselves and look for truthful answers: Am I pushing myself hard enough? If I stop now am I doing my body a favor or am I quitting because I'm wimping out?  Does my body love running long distance miles or are my aches begging me to stop? When is your drive for fitness doing more harm than good? Where do you draw the line between training and over training?

One of the topics of my Crossfit Certification is that when you are training well and eating well then your physical markers should all move toward health. Markers like cholesterol, blood pressure, a healthy weight, etc. should improve. When you start to leave that cushiony "health" area then you might start seeing red flags. Those are your objective answers to does "he" love me. Red flags were waving at me and I wasn't listening, so... my body finally made me listen.

Cholesterol Level:  Total Cholesterol: below 200:  He Loves Me
                                                         above 240:  He Loves Me not

A fitness Over-achiever? Possibly...
Flashback to a year ago, when I started to clean up my diet, my body responded instantly to my changes. Results were popping out all over the place encouraging me to carry on, green lights ahead. Every week my clothes felt looser, and I bounced on and off the scale with a shit-eating grin (ah, I miss those days). I felt happy and light on my feet, I was lifting heavy, could run long distances without getting hurt, and barely ever had sore muscles despite PR after PR. I got to do what I loved (lift heavy and workout at a high intensity) my body was happy and life was like a giant hunk of chocolate.
Life, like a delicious hunk of chocolate

Who Turned off the Music...Flash forward to current, and welcome the "he loves me not" stage. Recently, my blood and saliva test results show high cortisol and low progesterone levels. Turns out my body was waving a red flag as I was racing down the race track.  I was told my cortisol levels were elevated from my workouts, having that coupled with raising my two young daughters.  Yes, a bad, ugly, dirty word was thrown at me by my doctor: over-training. That's like telling Santa he gives too many presents. How could I have fallen off the healthy boat?

Signs of Over-training- Your Red Flags:
  • Depression
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Inability to sleep (hyper alert)
  • Irritability
  • Injury
  • Belly fat on a normally fit gut (endurance bikers tend to have this)
Somewhere between feeling like a hunk of chocolate and present, something did change. My mood had shifted from happy to more often grumpy.  And this is where mixed messages walk into the scene. The only thing that got rid of my grump mood was working out. WTH. What I was doing was making my body think it was being chased by a tiger (he loves me not). What I've seen objectively is excess weight (7 pound weight gain) and clothes that are shrinking or else I'm growing. Say it ain't so. This is what gets me the most. I haven't felt like I'm in control of my body shape. Take away that control and I get really angry as a victim. So I decided to address the issue head on and create my game plan: The Adrenal Smackdown of 2015. 

So it's my goal to keep up my level of fitness while telling those pesky red flags to eat my dust! There are a couple words to throw around losely- cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Here is my self-prescribed Smackdown.

Avoiding Stress AND Training Like A Warrior, Tips 
Any form of exercise will increase your corisol levels, but outside of exercise you want to keep calm. Keep your cortisol level low, otherwise your body will burnout with constant high cortisol, Physically, you'll develop more belly fat, a little baby pooch that looks like you are a few months pregnant with a cortisol child. Mentally, you will become unfocused, slow and short tempered and your digestion will be as reliable as a losing lottery ticket. Over the long haul, you develop adrenal fatigue which guarantees a cascade of hormonal disorganization.  Let's give cortisol the boot:

1. Avoid Stress by Being Present
Pretend you are me. And you have a 3 year old daughter who is talking to you as you are cooking dinner while searching for a website on your cell phone, then you start to think about your busy day ahead of you and poof as your 1 year old starts pulling on your pant leg screaming to be held- You, (as me) as a stress ball, ya, that just happened. Trying to do too many things at once is a fault of mine. This is what it is like to live utside of the present moment. Both of those result in a loss of could-be-epic moments. If you've ever partially had a conversation while tapping on your cell phone, then you know. Your mind can't be in two places at once. The most effective thing to do is one thing at a time, studies have proven that multi tasking actually works against you. Put your cell phones down. Focus on the here and now. Remember, your body is always present, it's your mind that needs to be reset.

2. Keep the majority of your workouts to an hour. 
On a regular basis, anything exceeding 45-60minutes of high intensity work outs runs you the risk of over-training, which leads to adrenal fatigue. So my last doctor's visit had me wide eyed and reaching for some adaptogenic herbs to slow my cortisol roll. And if you are there (guilty) then give yourself some time, adrenals can take up to 6 months to rebuild themselves. Also, if you are going to put in more time than that in the gym, try instead to break it up into two separate workouts with some good recovery between: think relaxation + hydration + quality foods

3. Get Your Amino Acids. And Eat Protein for Breakfast
Train like an athlete and eat like one by keeping your protein intake high. For me, that meant adding in protein shakes after my workouts. Especially since my workouts were often 2-a-days and I tend to not be hungry after either one. Thus my muscles were starving for nutrition.
"Give me Steak!" My muscles said
"I'm too busy not being present!" I said back
More info on the protein connection with cortisol can be read here, The Adrenal Reset Diet.  In the book, he also stresses the importance of eating a high protein breakfast to offset your naturally high morning cortisol. Because I am not a dairy kind of a girl, I have to avoid whey protein which knocks off about 70% of the protein shakes on the market. Thus I found a pea/cranberry/hemp protein powder to make my vegan wanna-be self happy:

4. A Deload Week every five weeks. I learned this from my gymnastics studio. They program in a deload week every 4th week but I extended mine an extra week. You can structure these as you wish, but the way it's done in gymnastics is a progressive style. That means the first week of the month the goal is to maintain your strength and allow your muscles and your body a break. Crossfitters tend to go all out 100% of the time, and in gymnastics they want to avoid you getting injured and avoid you getting fatigued and burnt out. I have come to love this strategy, I am working to see if I can keep up with it. The best way to do it is mark it on your calendar. And if you have competition training, structure your de-load weeks around that.
Week #1 - Easy, maintain strength, workout still but not to exhaustion
Week #2 - Easish, adding in more skill work
Week #3 - You are starting to work harder and you're going to be tired
Week #4 - You are going all out, badassery here, PR's could happen here. Recovery need to be optimal

Hope this helps you! I plan to keep you posted on my journey back towards health.