What I’ve Learned About Weight Loss From Decades In The Fitness Industry

A few decades in the fitness industry has given me a lot of time to focus on health and physiques, my own in particular.

I’ve tried a wide variety of workouts and diets. I’ve been a dancer, an aerobics instructor, a dedicated gym rat and a yoga instructor. I’ve gone vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, spent time in the Zone, and thrown it all out to eat whatever I felt like eating.
Along the way, I’ve had periods when I felt strong and healthy and others when I’ve felt worn-out, lacked joy, and been above my ideal weight.One thing I know to be true is that to achieve the health and wellness you want, you only need to learn one lesson:

Nothing outside stops you. You stop you.

This is a challenging perspective to live with. If we blame the cookie for our weight gain, our jobs for preventing us from exercising, or our relationships for our unhappiness—we don’t need to look too deeply into ourselves and our choices.

When we find ourselves feeling depleted, catching colds easily, or gaining unwanted weight, it’s often because we’re making lifestyle choices that are not aligned with our best interests.

Our bodies are a reflection of what’s happening in our heads.

Shopping for fresh food, cooking healthy meals, and exercising all require substantial time and thought. However, tearing open a bag of processed carbs, or sitting on the couch doesn’t take much effort at all.

When our thoughts and feelings have tanked our sense of self value, we’re no longer inclined to put forth the effort required to maintain our health.

The obstacle is not that we don’t have the knowledge, access, or ability to take care of ourselves, it’s that we don’t feel worthy of the effort.

This mindset also shows up in our approach toward self medicating. At the end of a particularly challenging day, do you tell yourself you deserve to take a yoga class? Or do you “deserve” a cocktail?

Of course, we deserve to feel better when we’re under stress. We deserve to give ourselves what’s best for us. We don’t deserve a toxic shortcut.

We know this. But choices get tricky if our self esteem is in the gutter. In these times, making a commitment to our health can take a gargantuan effort that’s almost impossible to sustain long-term.

When we feel good about ourselves and believe we’re worth our own effort, leading a healthy lifestyle becomes much easier.

It’s not the junk food, challenging circumstances, or difficult people in our world that prevent us from obtaining our wellness goals. It’s our inside world that steers our choices, our actions, and our reactions. Accepting this truth is like pulling a band-aid off in one jerk. It’s startling and it feels a bit raw, but healing what’s underneath is where the progress is.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen.

Is Yoga Marketing Hurting Older Women?

Most days when I look around the room at the yoga students I’m teaching, I wonder: Why don’t more of my students look like me? Most of the faces looking back at me are younger than 30 years old. This same demographic dominates the local studios I teach in as well as studios I’ve traveled to throughout the United States.
I’m female and 51 years old. I’ve raised a family, had multiple careers, built an amazing marriage and, generally speaking, lived a life. Yoga has transformed my health, the way I age, the way I think of myself, and the way I interact with the world. Thanks to my practice, and my teaching, my body is strong and I have a deep sense of personal power and confidence. Women transitioning from their 40s into their 50s could make good use of these benefits, so why aren’t they streaming, en masse, into yoga studios?
Bringing yoga into the mainstream of American culture necessitated shifting its public face away from the one we became familiar with from the 1960s through the 1980s — that of an older, Eastern man with leathered skin and shining eyes. Most product marketing in the U.S. likes to focus its lens on whatever is young and pretty. It sells.
Not surprisingly, the mass marketing of yoga has fallen in step with this approach. The result has been a great boon for yoga. Studios in most downtown areas have made yoga accessible. There is a depth and breadth of styles, information and training easily available to anyone interested. “Spirituality and Yoga” is a common Google search string. Western medicine has put a scientific stamp of approval onto the practice and the lifestyle. The net result is that we’ve all benefited from the creation of a profitable, and therefore sustainable, industry that’s also healthy and life enhancing.
Unfortunately for the American woman, the new face of yoga — which tends toward young, slender, lycra-clad (or under-clad) gymnasts — may be as un-relatable as the old face of yoga. However, the advertisers, magazines and social networks are not at fault. It’s not the commercialization or mainstreaming of yoga that prevents my contemporaries from enjoying the benefits inherent in a yogic lifestyle. It’s the mindset of the typical 40-year-old woman that keeps her from opening the door to the yoga studio.
We’ve created a culture in which women over 40 don’t know where they fit. They don’t know who they are, or what they’re supposed to be. Often when these women come to me, they’ve stopped believing they can build muscle, so they stop trying. They think having constant pain is to be expected at their age. They’ve developed a fear of failure that prevents them from pursuing risks or adventure. As their lives and bodies changed, they became so used to feeling helpless that they gave up their sense of power along with their skinny jeans.
I believe there’s a light that exists inside every woman over 40 years old, but it must be reignited so they don’t spend the rest of their lives on the sidelines. Promoters and brand builders can’t give them that spark, and they shouldn’t be accused of taking it away. It’s my hope, and actually my anticipation that as yoga becomes more commonplace through the promotion of yoga-lebrities, pretty pictures, creative products and increased profits, more people will become curious enough to step up to the threshold of significant life change through yoga.
This post was originally featured on MindBodyGreen..

What Yogis Can Learn from Prize-Winning Pumpkin Farmers

Recently, while internet surfing for a weekend activity, I came across a list of Giant Pumpkin Festivals. Giant pumpkins are a vegetable phenomenon that can weigh over 1,000 pounds.
One farmer grew a pumpkin, on a single vine, which matured to a weight over 2,700 pounds. That’s more than a ton of gourd! However, size is not the only factor taken into consideration when awarding a ribbon to a giant pumpkin. Color, shape and overall health are all considerations in determining prize winners.
Giant pumpkin farmers work hard at their craft and have developed best practices for gaining the most return on their efforts. Looking at the process that these farmers use to develop massively successful vegetables, it occurred to me that yogis can benefit from the recommendations of prize winning pumpkin farmer’s as we seek to grow our practice.
The Pumpkin Plan for Yoga:
1. Prepare your soil. 
Smart pumpkin growers begin composting, tilling and fertilizing their soil during the spring before planting season. Yoga takes root in your heart and mind and then grows out into your physical practice. Even if your first experiment with yoga is on the mat, you will come back because of something that resonated with you at a deeper level than your biceps.
Looking at what, in the practice, struck you – the peace and calm; the opportunity to care for you; the “Ah-Ha” moment; the flash of self realization. Identifying what struck you early in your yoga practice, will help you see where you need the most fertilizer and consideration in your life.
2. Grow the pumpkin you’re passionate about. 
There’s a wide variety of breeds to choose from. You might as well grow the pumpkin you love. There is a yoga teacher and style that is right for everyone. However, as you change, what calls to you may change.
I started my practice with diligent alignment and focus in the Iyengar tradition. In my 20s, I found freedom in power yoga. In my 30s, I fell in love with the flow of vinyasa. In my 40s, I started combining everything I was passionate about into the style I teach today. Every style of yoga has value, benefits and purpose. When you find the one that lights your fire, your growth will be self sustaining.
3. Develop your root system. 
Pumpkin vines grow a long way, so enriching your whole garden will help secondary vines grow strong. As your practice develops you will start to see its roots infiltrating your daily life. Your yoga quickly becomes more than the hour you spend on the mat.
You will find its influence in the other 23 hours as well. Through your mat practice, you learn to study, and increase yourawareness of, thoughts and reactions in your mind-body. As you apply techniques to manipulate your breath and observe your whole self, you gain control over your ability to generate focus, calm or strength as you need it. These skills intertwine and expand into your family and work life. Once it’s thriving, your root system of tools and skills will support you in your challenging moments and amplify your joyful moments.
 
4. Prune and weed. 
Giant pumpkin farmers are ruthless when they find something that doesn’t belong in their garden. Weeds and disease spread quickly. To keep the patch healthy, farmers must be diligent at detection and removal of potential problems.
Thoroughly weeding out bad habits, and harmful thought patterns, prevents disease in your body, your mind and your yoga practice. You will naturally bring negative auto responses, such as judgments and criticisms, with you onto your mat. Systematically weeding out what you don’t need (before it takes root) creates new space for your practice to flourish.
5. Mindful, steady growth yields better results than fast growth. 
Pumpkin damage is often caused by the plant’s own rapid growth, which causes splits and cracks that can lead to rot. If you rush through any part of your yoga practice, you steal the benefits of the process from yourself.
Rewiring your mind, growing mentally and physically, takes time and attention. For example, imitating a pose to achieve an immediate result without developing the understanding that comes inherently through practice, proper alignment and steady progress doesn’t build power. Fast growth only looks good for a brief moment before the damage becomes apparent.
The Pumpkin Plan for Yoga will yield the type of unique and inspiring success that wining giant pumpkin farmers achieve. When you practice the yoga you are passionate about, and cultivate its growth from a strong foundation with care and control, your achievements will be massive – if not 2,700 pounds.