Archive | January, 2012

Hot Yoga: The Experience of a Novice

31 Jan

105 degrees outside - as close as I had been to hot yoga before visting Sumit's Studio. Photo by James Patrick Photography

I step to the door and can see the condensation dripping down the windows.  I remind myself, “It’s going to be hot, and you’ll be fine.”  For some time I’ve been avoiding hot yoga, fearful of what I might experience.  One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2012 is a challenge to try a new sport or activity every month.  I hope that my experience will not only help others find new activities to enjoy but also push me outside of my comfort zone both mentally and physically.  It’s easy to become complacent with your fitness routine, and this goal will ensure that this doesn’t happen.  Today, my resolution leads me to Sumits Yoga Studio in Arizona.

Sumit Banerjee, the Founder and Creator of Sumits Yoga Studios, and Danya Henig, one of the owners, greet me at the front door.  Their smiling faces immediately put me at ease.  I’m surprised at my nerves.  I’ve grown comfortable in my fitness routine, knowing that whatever class I step into I will typically perform well. As a newcomer, I always get a bit nervous and I’m definitely new to this type of a class.  I’ve been there before, though, and I know that if I work hard enough, I can eventually perfect my skills. So, I allow myself to be a novice, and commit to learning everything I can from the experience and the teacher.

Something’s different about this place compared to other environments in which I’ve exercised.  There’s very little sense of competition, at least from what I can tell.  This knowledge relaxes me.  I feel more at home and supported and am grateful for this.  I talk with Dayna as I enter the room.  She shares with me how yoga has transformed her.  “I have always been a person that has worked out”, she shares, “and my initial attraction to hot yoga was for the physical benefits.  Over time though, I began to see how it helped me mentally.  It provides a space for me, separate from all the other roles in my life.  It helps me gain clarity and now I do it almost exclusively for that reason”.

With my water, yoga mat, and towel in hand I step into the yoga room, heated to 100 degrees. Summit explains to me that I should go at my own pace; this is my practice and I should be guided by my own abilities.  I’m competitive by nature, so my urge is to do every move perfect.  Most people are wearing a sports bra and shorts and they are all different sizes and shapes.  My friend, Amy, tells me I can do the same, and she hands me a hair band to wear to help the sweat from dripping in my eyes during the class.

I can already tell the heat is relaxing my body.  My mind is moving a mile a minute, making lists of things I need to do and goals I need to accomplish, as I move slowly into each pose.  It doesn’t take me long to realize though, that hot yoga is a practice that forces silence of the mind.  It asks us to stop, and be at peace in the moment.  Sweat begins to drip from me and I’m forced to stop thinking about all the things I need to do, and instead, focus on my breathing.  Deep breathes in and deep breaths out. I can only hear the sound of Sumit guiding me through poses, the soft music playing in the background and my own breath.  Sumit shares with me that “yoga has the ability to transform the mind.  While we begin somewhat self-conscious, yoga takes us to a place where we can appreciate our bodies.  It demands that we focus on ourselves, slowly, methodically.  It is the only discipline that tempers aggression.  It is that element of yoga that gives us the life approach, it transforms us.”

I’m doing well and as the class moves forward I hear that we have completed the warm-up.  In my mind I think, “That was the warm-up?”  I’m sweating and breathing deeply, but push myself to fully commit to this moment and reap the benefits of this class.  At one point, holding a pose, I’m concentrating so hard on my breathing and my form that I feel emotion rushing over me. I could smile, I could cry, I’m not sure which.  I opt to just be present, to work hard, and to feel my body growing stronger, something in time I’ve grown to respect.

Although I’m impressed with those around me, I spend very little time over the 80 minutes I’m practicing focusing on them.  The hot yoga experience is just me, almost like I’m in a room by myself, asked to leave all my baggage at the door.  It will wait for me.  As we near the end of the practice, my head feels clearer.  I feel oddly at peace, an emotion that I’ve experienced before in yoga, but never quite so intensely.

Sumit opens the door at the completion of class, and a cold rush of air whisks through the room. It calms me.  I made it, and am surprised with what I take from the experience.  Fitness is a lifestyle.  Whatever you do, you need to be able to connect with it.  It should not only enhance your physical skills, but it should offer you something mentally. If you are practicing a fitness activity and only benefitting physically, then you likely won’t stick with it.  Sumit tells me after the class that yoga is best practiced on a very regular basis.  Those who incorporate it into their life gain the most benefit.   Amy Pickett, a committed yoga student, shares with me that her 30-day challenge, “provided me with a sense of accomplishment.  It helped become strong and greatly aided in my flexibility while helping me calm my mind”.

Hot yoga is an activity accessible to people of any age because of its low impact on the body.  It aims to help us in developing strength, improving our mental ability, and providing us a high level of fitness.  It also has great benefits for those people with an injury since it offers a method where you can work through physical ailments and decrease pain.  Yoga is a healthy addiction, one that transforms you.  In a world where we are continuously bombarded with visual, audio, and electronic stimuli, you need things that demand you stop, even if just for a few moments, and recognize where you are emotionally.  Stopping for a moment, and being fully present in a meditative state strengthens your ability to appreciate life, to find happiness, and to gain perspective.  Hot yoga offers this mental benefit, while providing you a host of physical benefits as well.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience this.  I think I might be hooked!


13.1: Reflections on the PF Changs Arizona Marathon and 1/2

21 Jan
April King, finishing her first marathon!

When I first started running, I’d always had the idea in my head that participating in a half or full marathon was something I would love to accomplish.  It was one of those, in my lifetime, type things.  I never thought I’d be physically fit enough to actually do it.  Many days have passed since that time and I have completed several races, and every time I run, I’m struck by how racing transforms me.

Last week, having ran the Arizona PF Changs half marathon (www. for the second time, I was transfixed by the energy of the crowd.  PF Changs races remind me of Disneyland for fitness and health minded folks.  You might assume because this is a running event, that upon arrival you would be faced with highly competitive and fit individuals.  There is nothing further from the truth.  There are thousands of people are of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  Some come to race as a personal goal, others to support a cause.  Some come to support those whom they love in racing, and others hope to soak in the positive energy.

I’m always nervous at the start of the race, but this time I made a commitment to myself that I would take it all in, that I would be observant and really recognize what the experience was all about.  The national anthem played, the buzzer sounded and we were off.

Mile #1:   As you run through the crowds of people watching there is one common theme, pride.  The first mile the streets are lined with people cheering on others, and not just those whom they know.  There’s an amazing energy, and as I get warmed up, I take it all in and  use it to motivate me.

Mile #2: What jumps out at me are the children smiling along the path with their hands out offering high fives to runners.  Simply having them there reminds me of the value we offer our kids by involving them in activities such as this, even if just to watch.  I make a mental note that fostering health, positive body image and good habits often starts from a young age, and activities such as this are integral in shaping that perspective.

Mile #3: There is a runner in front of me, plugging through slowly but surely.  The back of her shirt says, “I’m running for Sally”.  I have no idea who Sally is, or what she’s done, but I suspect if others are running on her behalf, she’s likely someone worth knowing.  In my mind I decide maybe I should run for her too.

Mile #4: A person in a wheel cheer is moving alongside of me.  She clearly isn’t able to run.  I take for granted a lot of things in my life, one being that I have a choice as to whether to run.  I pick up the pace, deciding that I’m lucky to have the ability to run, and as a result, I’m going to give 100%.

Mile #5: I’m weaving in and out of the crowd and see a little girl with a sign that’s says “Cancer wont stop my mommy, she’s going to rock this race”.  I start thinking, what if that were me.  What if I was facing a serious health challenge?  I’m reminded that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% the attitude by which we perceive it.

Mile #6:  There are awesome bands throughout the entire race route.  Not only that, there are dance squads and cheerleading teams.  This helps keep me motivated.  I thrive off this sort of energy.  It’s a dynamic environment in which to be a part.

Mile #7: My running “high” is kicking in right about now.  That’s the point at which you feel like you can run forever.  I’m completely in the zone and focused.  I can feel each time my foot hits the ground.  I’m virtually silent like I’m walking on air.  This is a good sign.  Runners shouldn’t be able to hear their feet hitting the ground.  My core is tight and my form is good.  I’m on track to hit a personal record at this point and so I use all my mental energy to stay focused.

Mile #8: When in doubt, play The Gin Blossoms!  I’m always amazed at distance runners who can run in silence.  I’ve heard there are many benefits to this.  Although I can run without music, I choose not too.  Nothing pumps me up more than my running playlist!

Mile #9: Man down.  I stop in my tracks to see if he’s okay.  People come running from the sidelines.  He looks at me and tells me he’s all right and to keep running.  I think he had noticed I was pushing hard, and with the last leg coming up soon I have to keep pace to beat the time I set for myself.  Reassured that he was being taken care of, I sprint off.  In my mind, I’m now running for Sally and him.

Mile #10: The person’s shirt in front of me reminds me not to give up.  That the body always wants to quit at the end of the race and it’s the mind’s responsibility to get you to the finish line.  This is so true.  It’s all mental from here on out.

Mile #11: It gets quiet for a while.  I’ve broke away from the crowd and I’m completely in a zone.  I always start reflecting about this time, thinking about the journeys I’ve had running.  I’ve seen so many sights.  I’ve run in the rain, in 110 degrees, in other countries, and on many different trails. I’ve had days where I’ve barely made it through runs and had to talk myself through.  I’ve also had days where I didn’t ever want to stop running.  It all comes back to me every time I get close to the end of a race.

Mile #12: This is it.  I’m in over-drive now running as hard as I can.  My last 3 mile split is significantly faster than all the others.  I’m almost sprinting to the finish, and I look at my watch 4-5 times during this mile.  It’s the longest road, but it takes me to the end.

Mile #13: I cross the finish line.  I always smile and the end of the race.  No matter how bad I feel.  I feel accomplished.  I feel

Lisa, Taylor and I attacked by little ones with silly string after the race!

like I did something worth wild.  I’ve barely caught my breath and I am thinking about when I can run my next race.

At least once in your life, try it.  Run a race, attend a race, support someone who is participant.  You’ll be transformed by how even watching the race you are inspired to work hard at something.  You’ll be reminded of the many blessings you have in life.  Mostly, you’ll be inspired, by those around you working hard for a common goal and you will leave refreshed, with a renewed sense of spirit and pride.

Perfectly Beautiful, Stretch Marks and All

19 Jan

Standing in front of the mirror, I’m staring at my imperfections.  Despite countless hours of working on my physique, there are certain aspects of my body I can’t change.  The marks that grace my stomach are a reminder of my pregnancies; the days I watched my figure transform and my belly swell.  Other people may not notice them, but I always do.  I close my eyes and remember that feeling, the one of wanting to lose the baby weight and thinking then I’d be happy.  I stared at a picture, the person I wanted to look like, and thought if I worked hard enough I would get there.  Little did I know at the time, that I would lose the weight, that I would change what I could to feel beautiful, but that some things don’t change.  The weight came off over time, only leaving more marks.  The stretch marks never did disappear, a reminder of my journey to finding me.

Examining my untouched photographs I can see the marks. I know they can be photo shopped, and likely will, but they will always be there in person.  Thinking back on my college days, my experiences with fitness and wellness, my involvement in women’s empowerment groups, I’m struck now by the conversations with which I was a part.  I can remember many times that we sat discussing the unrealistic expectations of women.  How the images we see often encourage us to think of beauty in a very limited respect.  To think of beauty and perfection as flawless.  This perspective is so dangerous for society.  At the time, a small part of me, although I didn’t speak up, disagreed with my colleagues and fellow students.

Why not look to these women who rarely admit their flaws?  Who don’t appear real, on the outside or the inside.  Maybe that’s what we ought to strive to be, I thought. 

I questioned whether those around me advocated this type of thinking simply to justify their lack of trying to be beautiful.  I think now, I was sorely mistaken.  Beauty, to me, has come to be defined as something much more than physical.  It’s a carefully put together equation.  It’s one part charm, and one part depth.  It’s partially made up of compassion.  It includes realness.  It’s learning to value and care for ourselves.  It’s about the ability to look outside of ourselves and understand that the world is greater than us.

Over the years, I’ve realized that for many of us the imperfections we see when we stare in the mirror will never disappear.  We live in a society that’s image driven, where people are expected to be perfect.  The reality is, we should strive for perfection with the very clear realization that we will never get there.  I will always stand in front of the mirror and be tempted to see flaws, to see where I can make improvements.  I’ll be hard on myself at times that I am not as perfect as I’d like to be. I’ll work diligently to get where I want to be, but always fall a bit short.  I don’t want to be perfect with no soul though.  I don’t want to spend my time with people who are perfect because the reality is that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  I want real women.  I’d like to see people on the cover of a magazine that represent what they believe.  That are beautiful not only because of what they are but also because of who they are.  If you can inspire, if you can make someone smile, or make them laugh, if you can find that very special something about you that makes you unique, then you are perfectly beautiful to me.


Sleep Your Way to a Better Body

16 Jan

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about motivation and about what it takes to get in shape. I’ve read articles, talked with experts, conducted research, tried out tricks of the trade, and have found some common themes. I find great value in all the tips I read and as such, I try to implement many of them myself. However, I keep feeling like something is missing. I just put down an article, one of those “do it now” articles on getting fit. I’ve read several lately, and to be honest, I’ve slacked a bit this week. I’m partially blaming this on the fact that I am running a half marathon this weekend. However, to be honest, I just haven’t had made the time, and haven’t felt motivated to do it. Why is this? The why for me is actually pretty simple. I’m too tired!

The reality is that if you are not rested, nothing goes as planned. Your body simply lacks the ability to push yourself. With this in mind, I’ve decided from now on when people talk to me about their fitness goals, one of the first things I am going to ask is whether they are rested? In many ways, this is more important than what you eat or how and when you exercise. Why? Because good sleep lays the foundation for those items.

Sleep dictates nearly everything in our lives. First, it affects the nutritional choices we make. Lack of sleep makes us more likely to reach for foods high in fat and carbohydrates. It also promotes hunger. I think we have all experienced that at some point. Second, it prevents us from exercising because we do not have the energy to do so. Third, insufficient sleep affects mood, and can prompt depression. Depression can be a barrier to exercise. Thus; when we experience this we are less apt to move our body enough to get physically fit.

I had my own personal experience with lack of sleep recently. I am pretty disciplined, and despite being tired, managed to make it to the gym. Unfortunately during yoga I must have dozed off and ended up in child’s pose for five minutes. I did catch up on a few zzz’s in yoga, but I certainly didn’t get a good work-out. The bottom line… get some rest. Make whatever accommodations you need in your life to insure that you get quality sleep. Here’s some suggestions to help.

  • Set a firm bed time and stick to it
  • Aim to get the same number of hours of sleep each night
  • Shut off electronics an hour before bed
  • Invest in a quality pillow and mattress
  • Keep your room dark at night
  • Consider meditating before bed
  • Eliminate caffeine from your diet, or at least limit it to morning consumption
  • Incorporate quick naps, no more than 15 minutes a day to refresh yourself

If you get your rest, then your fitness goals will fall into place more easily. You’ll find you are more energetic, have improved exercise patterns, and that your mood will likely be elevated.

Now… if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a nap!

For additional information about getting quality sleep, visit one of my favorite websites at

New Year, New You: Three Strategies to Help You Keep Your Fitness Resolutions

13 Jan

The year has started an everyone has resolved to get in shape and lose weight!  There is a myriad of information available that provides us plans on how we intend to accomplish this but at the end of the day, it comes down to this: eat the right things and move.  Although you may be tempted to start another fad diet, pick up the magazine article, “Five minutes a day to the perfect body” or just stop eating in general, none of these things in the long run will likely help you toward improving your health, getting fit or loosing weight.  Fitness and health is best achieved through basic principles.

To keep you from derailing your efforts, here are some simple strategies to follow.  (Sorry, no fad diet advice here!)

Strategy #1: Place fitness on your calendar. 

For those of you who attended college, try to remember, what was the number one way to achieve satisfactory grades in your classes?  Working in higher education for several years and having talked with countless students about academic success, I know the answer to this.  Attend!  Show up.  That’s a sure-fire way to earn a satisfactory grade, which is a great start.  The same goes with fitness.  The best way to insure you are making progress is to show-up.  So, place your fitness activity, whatever it might be, on your weekly calendar and attend.  Even if you plan to not give 100% make sure and get there and do something.  Treat exercise like a priority. You’ll make progress and as you see results that will likely motivate you to work hard, earning you the grade you desire.

Strategy #2: Enlist accountability! 

Today, my friend posted her exercise and weight loss goals on facebook.  That was a bold move.  Better yet, another friend started a blog on her journey toward weight loss.  I imagine some of us write our fitness goals down and tuck them away in the drawer for fear that we will disappoint others if we don’t meet them.  The truth is, when you share your goals with others, you make a commitment to them.  If you truly want to get fit, lose weight or regain health, you need to be vocal about your plans.  If you fail to meet all your goals, it’s likely that it will be you that’s the most disappointed.  Your friends will be the ones that admire you for working toward something valuable.

Strategy #3:  Eat, and eat the right things.

Avoid the nearest fast food restaurant.  Think about this, every time you eat fast food is it because you truly are craving it or is it because it is quick and convenient?  I’m going to guess the latter is true for many of us.  Unfortunately there are very few fast food restaurants that offer healthy choices.  Fast food restaurants tout that they offer healthy alternatives but if we are going to take the time to stop at a drive-thru, the reality is we usually end up making a poor choice.  Planning is the key.  The best way to insure you eat the right things is to plan ahead.  Spend one day a week preparing meals and portioning out snacks.  If you do this I guarantee you’ll be less likely to eat poorly. Don’t forget, of course, to take your food with you and eat before hunger strikes.  If you get too hungry, you are going to eat whatever’s put in front of you.  Pack a cooler in your car, throw small bags of snacks in your handbag, and remember to eat regularly.

Simply by implementing these strategies you can improve your success in getting in shape in the new year.  They might seem obvious to a lot of us but the truth is we don’t all do them. Make it a priority.  You’ll be glad you did come next December!  Good luck in your journey!

What Will You Do to Win? Tips for Navigating a Career in the Fitness and Talent Industry

10 Jan

What would you compromise to win it all?  In any industry, at some point you find yourself backed into a wall. You are asked to be someone you’re not, asked to do something that you’re not comfortable with, or asked to change or deny who you are as a person. How far are you willing to go? How will your compromising really help you in the long run? Before you get too far in your career, take note of these four strategies for insuring your stay true to yourself.

Create a clearly-defined vision: The best way to stay true to who you are is to clearly identify and define your vision.  What do you stand for? Who is your audience? Who do you want to believe in you? What is your goal?  These are the questions you should ask yourself as you navigate the fitness and talent industry. Does this represent you?  Whether it’s the jobs you take, articles you write, competitions you participate in, pictures you publish, or images you produce, stay true to the brand you’ve defined.  It’s important to try new things, to reinvent yourself, but it’s equally important that you stay true to who you are in doing so.

Develop a strong sense of self: Confidence is the key to success.  When you have a strong sense of self and are aware of whom you are and what you stand for, it is easier to make difficult decisions.  A young friend of mine, aspiring to be a fitness model, was once told that rather than pursue a career in the fitness industry, he should spend time trying to land jobs in the fashion realm, as he would likely find work more quickly.  While the allure of being hired and making money was tempting, his pursuit of non-fitness related modeling opportunities would take him away from his true passion.  He easily could have made the jump and been successful doing so, but opted to stay true to his goals and has been successful in doing so.

Draw a line in the sand: At some point, if you have not already, you will find yourself in a situation where you are asked to do something that makes you uncomfortable.  For a modeling talent, it might be hearing that your images would look better if you were wearing a little less, had a harder look, took more supplements, endorsed a product you didn’t believe in.   For a competitor, it might be that you are more apt to win if you train with a certain person, because politics come into play.  Be prepared to respond to that instance when it comes.  Figure out exactly who you are, what you represent, and do not compromise that.  If you feel like you already have, use that experience as a learning tool, so that you are better prepared in the future.  Nearly everyone in the talent and fitness industry can identify some situation where they felt uncomfortable, where they made a decision they are not necessarily proud of, or can find an instance where if they could go back and change something, they would.  Don’t feel alone, draw your line and from here on out stay true to that.

Develop a passionate support network: Think about why young people make decisions.  They frequently fall victim to peer pressure because they lack the support of a mentor, a parent, or a trusted friend.  They are easily influenced by others.  Being new to the fitness and talent industry, it is much the same.  You strive to impress those who can help you succeed, and trust everyone. You often assume that based on their experience, they know what’s best for you.  A trainer might be tempted to take on too many clients in order to become better known; thus stretching themselves too thin.  An editor might feel pressure to publish a talent’s pictures because of who they are, regardless of whether the model’s image is a good fit for their publication.  Having a support network in the field not only serves not only as a sounding board for thinking through important decisions, but also will be there to back you up and keep you accountable to your decisions.  If you don’t have a support network, start building one now.  Identify local groups that you can get involved, attend a conference where you can make connections, join an online forum, or find a mentor. Work to build relationships and begin establishing your network.

So, what does it take win?  Some might say it involves making decisions you are not comfortable with, but I think you should consider what’s most important.  Is it winning or inspiring?  Inspiring people become legends.  They are well-respected for what they represent to others.  They become timeless and remembered for who they are and what they stand for.  Winners win for a moment, and then those moments gone.  You have many years to build a career, what you do now will follow you throughout those years. So think carefully about what you want that to look like.  Be confident, spend time crafting a vision of who you want to be, think ahead of time about your boundaries, and find a support network of like- minded people that will stick by you.  It’s a marathon, not a moment, look past the immediate gratification and figure out who you want to be in five years, in ten years, in twenty years.  Let that be your guide for navigating the decision you made as begin your journey in the fitness and talent industry.