De-bunking the myth of the yoga body

A few years ago, a controversial article came out titled Yoga Body: The Conspiracy.  The article  drew attention to a video that had come out a few months before it. The video showed a lithe young woman, doing advanced arm balances, head balances and yoga poses. The article severely critiqued the idea and myth of a “yoga body,” something that yogis, teachers, fitness studios, yoga retreats and yoga studios have been pedaling for a while.

At first I was skeptical of the article. After all, if so many people have quote-on- quote achieved a yoga body, there has to be some truth to this notion. However, after a few years of following a consistent yoga practice, I am more sure than ever that Body Divine Yoga is right.

As a society that indulges in conspicuous consumption, we easily buy into myths and quick fixes to help us achieve our goals. Entire industries have been built around the “Thigh Master” and weight loss belts, products that are often pedaled as easy solutions to a fit body. The myth of the yoga body is the same. Yoga studios across the country showcase their instructors and models in Lululemon clothing, bending every which way to have us believe that with enough time and a consistent yoga practice, we too will ripple in our breathable spandex. I don’t buy it anymore. After  years of observation, I have concluded that the yoga body is an overworked out, stressed tight body. Most people who have that body don’t tell you the hours they spend at the gym, lifting heavy, training, working out and managing a strict caloric deficit on a  daily basis. What they don’t tell you is that maybe, just maybe if you do yoga, eight hours a day you might end up with something close to a yoga body. Yet we , as consumers, spend thousands of our hard earned dollars to buy into an idea that is fantasy at best, a lie at worst.

This is not to say that there aren’t benefits to a consistent safe yoga practice. As a keen follower of the discipline, I have personally enjoyed many benefits, mostly mental but even some physical ones of a daily yoga practice. One of the biggest benefits I have reaped from yoga is greater mental acuity and “mindfulness.” I have also found yoga to be really therapeutic and helps me de-stress big time. From a  physical standpoint I find yoga has helped me becoming much, much more flexible. Even small movements, like turning around to back out your car have become easier and more fluid. Other physical benefits I’ve seen are better circulation and a healthier appetite. I love yoga and definitely agree that it has a place in fitness. What I don’t agree with is marketing a false product to people who are trying to do right by their bodies.

Here  is the video that caused a stir in the yoga world:


 

Harness the fitness benefits of a good ride

As a rider, I’m always faced with quips about how horseback riding isn’t really a workout and how the horse does all the work. But anyone who has been around horses and a barn knows that it is hard work. Try straddling and controlling an 800 pound animal with your leg and seat muscles for an hour and let me know if you aren’t feeling pain in muscles you didn’t know you had.

1. Balance

A horse’s back is as undulating surface as it gets. A horse may seem stable when being led around on a lunge line, but the second you trot or canter a horse you are dealing with an animal careening around corners, moving at  uneven gaits and changing pace. This takes stomach muscles of steel. Staying in the saddle and maintaining what they call an “independent seat” takes a lot of stability and balance, abilities that transfer into other aspects of life.

2. Coordination

We all know the all too famous example of trying to rub your tummy, while patting your head and smack your lips and we all know how ridiculously hard it is. Riding is like that but multiplied by times ten. It is essentially developing an independent seat, while moving your legs and using your arms all at once in precise coordinated movements.Riding develops serious coordination that can carry over into other sports. Further, riding gives you a knowledge of your body that doesn’t come from anything else, save yoga. When my instructor first told me to isolate my seat bones to cue my horse it sounded to me like she was telling me to smile with my liver! Weird, but as some yogis who smile with all their organs will tell you, very possible.

3. Legs of steel

Contrary to popular belief, riding is not a passive sport. In addition to coordination and stability, you will develop muscles you didn’t know you had.  The quads, hamstrings and glutes do all of the work in this sport. A day or two after a solid ride, you will feel all the soreness in your lower half. Th forward, backward and lateral movements of your legs, along with hip flexors create tension and cue the horse. The constant movement and tension help build solid muscles and even improve muscle tone.

4. Improved flexibility

Riding requires a wide range of motion which requires flexibility. When a horse canters, it is a rocking horse motion and when it trots it is  an up-down motion. Ranges of motion require flexibility and that is exactly what horseback riding helps with. This flexibility carries over in other sports and even in regular workouts.

I’ve realized from many years of riding, that there will always be naysayers and people who scoff at the sport. I have always found it an amazing way to de-stress and be active. As someone who loves animals and is always looking for an excuse to be around them, it is one of the best and most fulfilling exercises I can think of.

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Here are Billy ,a quarter horse and I enjoying a Friday night at the stables.

How to give up excuses

As someone trying to be healthier and fitter, but relatively new to the habit and lifestyle, I have many excuses to not workout. I’m either too busy, or too tired, or watching re-runs of The Walking Dead. In my head these are all very good reasons to not work out. Mid-way through my blog, I took stock of my goals and I realized, while I have been doing better sticking to my new routine than I ever have before, I was still making excuses. Below are some of the tips and tricks I use to Make sure I can always squeeze in a workout

  1.  Don’t flop on the couch when you get home from work- Working out right after work can be super easy if you don’t give yourself an opportunity to sit down. If you sit down and get comfortable, it’s game over. You can go one step further and take your gym stuff with you to work.
  2. Make working out a priority – Have you ever felt that something you wanted to do or a hobby was a priority and no matter how many after work drinks you were invited to you were going to pursue your hobby? Make working out your priority, schedule it in your calendar and don’t plan anything to clash with your workout time.
  3. Try a morning workout –   Bear with me for a moment on this one. While this can be incredibly hard to do, it is one of the best ways to workout and to ensure you actually do squeeze in time for exercise. Also, waking up with the sun can reset your circadian rhythm and after a couple of weeks it will become super easy!
  4. Get a workout buddy – This is one I personally find very effective. When you are accountable to someone else, you will find a way to make time for your workout. Further, you know you are standing them up if you don’t follow through.
  5. Try working out at home – If getting to the gym is too hard, you can always try an at home workout. There are a number of online workouts on YouTube and other fitness sites. You can even follow along with personal instruction from an online fitness guru. I personally love Mandy Ingerber of Yogalosohy, who can take credit for Jennifer Aniston’s yoga body. I downloaded her wokrouts and just play them in my living room. An easy, peasy way to make working out, just a little easier.

5 Active vacations for the fitgirl

This week is not a good indication that spring is around the corner, but I am holding out hope that the weather will pick up. What better way to welcome the warm weather that is in the offing, than with planning a vacation. While I like the beach, the sand and mai-tais as much as the next girl, this year, I have been thinking about active vacations.  Below is my list of 5 active vacations for the #fitgirl.

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1. Bike tour down the Dalmatian coastline

I was lucky enough to live in Croatia for a couple of years after university and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen is the Dalmatian coast. On the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, the Dalmatian coast is known for its beautiful reefs, bays,  and beaches. Cyclists love this part of the world because it is a region rich in wine, cuisine and plenty of opportunities to jump into the sea.

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2. Clermont la grausse, France

Set in an 18th century chateau with accommodation in traditional stone barns, yogis can experience their practice in ancient and historical setting. Holistic Ayurvedic inspired  meals make up the cuisine at this luxury retreat. For those who need a little bit of history and art to go with their practice, there are ancient cave paintings, beautiful Cathar relics and local ancient strongholds to visit.

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3. Chamonix, France

If you are a snow bunny like me and enjoy the cold weather, then there is really nothing better than a ski vacation in the French Alps. Chamonix has widely been a popular destination for both beginner and advanced skiers. Whether you are looking for back country skiing or snowboarding, there are plenty of winter sporting activities for those who love the white stuff. Pistes of deep powder,crips blue pine needles – the slopes are exhilarating! Chamonix is one of those resorts that has a bustling après-ski culture and nightlife. Packed with restaurants from those that serve hearty french country cuisine from the valley and the three- Michelin star rated Le Bistrot, there is enough variety for food lovers.

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4. The northwest coast of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s northwest coast is fast becoming a popular spot for serious surfers. If you have island itch, and I don’t mean the kind you get from poison ivy on the beach, these crystal clear waters will exceed your every expectation. At really reasonable prices, try $6 a meal in the Rincon area, and soft white sandy beaches, this is truly a surf paradise.

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5. Wadi Rum, Jordan

This Bedouin valley has numerous sandstone and granite rock faces that are becoming more and more popular with climbers, hikers and trekkers. As interest and tourism grows in the region, this is soon expected to be one of the most popular climbing routes in the Middle East.


 

1-week Bikini Body Girl Guide Challenge

 

If you are a twenty something year old woman, and you don’t live under a rock, you have heard of Kayla Itsines. Just in case you haven’t, here is a quick recap. Kayla is the modern day Jane Fonda and is to fitness in 2016 what Jane was to stretchy neoprene leotards in the 80s. The 24 year old fitness guru  from the land down under, has launched an empire with her  12 week Bikini Body Girl workout and nutrition plan. Take to any fitness Instagram feed and you will see pictures upon pictures of formerly, normal to ample shaped women, who have quite literally transformed into fitness models, seemingly overnight. When something sounds too good to be true, I usually smell a rat. However, given this new, healthier me journey I’m on, I’d be negligent to not at least do some digging. So, I decided to give myself a 1 week trial of Kayla’s workout routine and diet for my own “bikini body.”

Some more money ( so far this whole healthy living thing has been draining my wallet) later, I had myself a copy of Kayla’s guide. I’m not going to lie, there are some serious circuits in there- among them burpees, squats, lunges and loads of different kinds of pushups. Sounds easy enough. This is basically what Kayla wants us to do right?

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My first time doing the workouts, I thought would be a piece of cake. After all, I’ve always been active. I’m not Ms. Universe but by no means am I a schlep at the gym. Boy are the workouts HARD. The workouts, while not requiring a lot of equipment, require a lot of resistance. Which means HIIT- High Intensity Interval Training workouts, with lots and I mean lots of reps.  Suffice it to say, I spent most of the week either dizzy, nauseous or seeing spots.  Here is a sample video of one of Kayla’s routine’s as she preaches atop a stage to a loyal following as well as her take on what it means to have a #bikinibody and talks to Aranka Van Der Voorden of the Fitgirl Code.

The diet and nutrition plan is it’s own challenge. While the guide tells you that all elements of the diet can easily be found at a grocery store, it doesn’t tell you to kiss good bye to your weekends, which will now be spent shopping, cutting, peeling, juicing and prepping your meals. The diet is essentially an elimination diet which means its a long list of all the things you can’t eat.

The verdict

By the end of the week in addition to the above symptoms, I had consistent pounding headaches. I didn’t feel like my body was healthy. I felt like it was over worked and underfed. Every bone and muscle ached. I was cranky, annoyed and a pain to be around and taking out my anger on my poor but loving boyfriend, who kept begging me to eat a proper meal. I acknowledge that I didn’t give the plan enough time to really get used to the diet and workouts, but given how I was feeling, Sunday night could not come soon enough. I don’t think I have ever looked forward to Monday morning before in my life.

While the plan works for some people. If you don’t have enough time to prep the meals and consistently follow this guide to the tee, I can’t see the guide working any differently than any regimented diet or workout plan. Even still, you have to admit, the rolling scroll of #transformations tells me one thing- this girl has one hell of a social media strategy.


 

The workout routine

As a blogging and fitness newbie I figured the smartest way to stay on track was to have a workout routine. Google is not your friend when trying to come up with a new routine. This because there are literally hundreds of bloggers, fitness websites, cross-fit gym blogs, YouTube videos, espousing advice, workout tips, routines, tips for building a buns of steel, tips for building eight-pack abs- you name it, Google’s got it. For the newly initiated, it can be an exceedingly daunting task to use the inter webs as your guide to a fitter you.

So I decided to go old-school and pull out an excel worksheet to build my own routine. Now I have some idea of what I want to achieve through this exercise. My goal- stronger legs, slightly more defined arms and a trimmer waistline. Seems simple enough. Here is a three day rotation of what I have been doing:

Circuit 1

Side plank and rotate- 15 reps on each side- add a 5 pound dumbell for more resistance

Single leg scarecrows- 15 reps each side

Squat, curl and press- 15 reps

Circuit 2

2 minute plank- repeated 4 times

Seated Russian twist- 15 reps on each side

Goblet side squats- 15 reps each side

Circuit 3

Assisted shoulder dips-15 reps

Assisted chin-ups-15 reps

Forward lunges- 15 reps on either side

The biggest lesson I’m learning doing this, is that routine and showing up is more important than what you are doing. When it comes to working out, there are so many excuses not to do it, so my focus has been more on going and getting simple workouts done than trying crazy new workouts.

 

The pre-workout snack

As if setting a goal to run and lift and get healthy isn’t enough, I have decided to make this plan even more challenging by adding some culinary pedagogy to the mix. If you know anything about me, you know that I am absolutely hopeless in the kitchen. I am the girl who goes on a bad date because there might be the shot of a good meal- and by good, I mean anything that didn’t come from my stove, which currently doubles as a sweater closet. So whats a girl with no culinary skills to do when she is trying to get fit and eat clean?

When faced with this conundrum, I decided that anything, and I mean anything I kept in my kitchen and cooked as part of this new plan had to be easy. And by easy I mean easy, peasy Japanesey. So here is a list of some of my favourite pre-workout snacks, that keep me upright on the treadmill and fuelled for 6:00am workouts.

 

Apple slices and yogurt peanut butter dip

Mix tart greek yogurt with some peanut butter and cinnamon. Cut an apple into quarters and dip. It’s that easy.

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Dark chocolate oatmeal

This one is great for a long run or an endurance workout. I like to chop up bananas and crumble bits of dark chocolate. I like the Lindt 70% Cacao- it’s not super bitter and balances the banana nicely.

Fruit-Oatmeal

Honey, almond butter and apple

Apple makes an encore in this dessert inspired pre-workout snack. A spoonful of honey makes the protein powder go down a little smoother. Add a spoonful of cacao powder and chop up some apple bits. Spread on toast or enjoy as is!

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No bake almond butter bites

I have learned that almond butter is non-cooking, non-baking, clean eating girl’s best friend. Low in calories, dense in nutrients and malleable, you can literally stuff it with anything and mold it to any shape you want. In a food processor mix a cup of almonds, raisins and cinnamon till you get a thick paste. Add apricot bites and pulse for 30 seconds. Place the mixture on a piece of baking paper, cut the square into smaller squares and place on the sheet in a freezer for 30 minutes and voila- a healthy, chewy snack before a workout that doubles up as a substitute for cookie cravings.

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