Nourish Thyself

I’m back! After a much needed break I’m back to writing my newsletter and blog. I’ve missed it, but I haven’t just been sitting around the whole time; let me tell you one of the things I’ve been up to. I’ve become a green smoothie junkie! It started with juicing which then lead to blending. I also got some advice from my boyfriend, who has read all about it and even went to a lecture by the “Green Smoothie Girl”. So now I drink about a pint of my own green concoction daily (My boyfriend drinks about a quart) and it tastes good, much better than one might expect.

Why did I feel like I needed to start drinking a green smoothie daily? Well my exercise was going along fairly smoothly, but my nutrition was not. The lack of greens in my diet was abysmal. I knew I needed to change that, but prepping a creative salad everyday was too time consuming and only gave me a few vegetable servings. I needed to maximize my time and servings of veggies and the best way was to blend. It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit into a pint or so when you puree it. I put in two handfuls of spinach and some chard or kale leaves along with loads of fruit and some supplements. Voila! I get most of the 5-9 servings of fruit and veg I need in a day and any extra is just icing.

blending Nourish Thyself

So what is the big deal with fresh fruit and veggies anyway? I thought I knew, but I only knew part of it. I knew they were chock full of necessary vitamins and minerals, along with good fiber, but I didn’t realize they had a decent amount of protein, some fat and also phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds made by plants that are responsible for their color, smell, taste or feel. As opposed to vitamins, they are nonessential to humans, but eating them can have a very good effect on our health. Antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols are among the thousands of phytochemicals scientists have discovered. These plant chemicals can help prevent cancer, strengthen our immune systems and stimulate enzymes. So cool! Eating these foods raw allows us to get the maximum amount of phytochemicals and nutrients and breaking it all down in a blender helps the body absorb everything better and more quickly.

You can make a smoothie as complicated or as simple as you want. You can just put in water, a banana, an apple and some spinach, but you could also spice it up and add mango, bee pollen, coconut oil, plain Greek yogurt and spirulina. I like to experiment. No smoothie I make is ever the same as one I’ve made before. See my recipe at the bottom of this post. It’s just a jumping off point. Sky’s the limit! Just remember there is no need for regular (high sugar) yogurt, ice cream or sugar. This isn’t a dessert or on the other hand something to just choke down. If you get the right ratio of everything it is quite tasty. Drink half now and put half in the fridge for later. Eat with a meal or on it’s own.

green smoothie 261x300 Nourish Thyself

Amber’s Green Smoothie Recipe

Ingredients

1/4 c. water or fresh orange juice
1 banana
1 apple
1 ripe/mostly ripe pear
another 1/4 c. water or almond, coconut or soy milk
1/4 c. frozen mixed berries
1/2- 1 Tbsp of a healthy oil: Flax seed oil, Olive oil, etc. (or 1/4 of an avocado)
2 large handfuls of spinach
2 large chard or kale leaves
Optional- 1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt 1/4th of a small lime with rind! Supplements: Bee pollen, spirulina, plant protein powder
Vanilla, agave nectar or honey to taste (probably Tbsp or less)
Add these ingredients in this order, blending between every 2 or 3 items. Taste test along the way to see what you may need more of. This drink should be at least slightly sweet. It should also be easy to drink, so make sure you add enough water and it is well blended (at the highest setting).
You can substitute any of the fruits with a different fruit and any of the greens with a different green. Ideas: lettuce (green/red leaf, romaine), parsley (sparingly), Collard greens, Mixed field greens (pre-packaged), beet or turnip greens. As far as fruit goes, I’ve also tried jicama, mango, grapes, kiwi or peaches (in season). Bananas and yogurt or milk make the smoothie more creamy. Just remember variety is good, so try different substitutions from time to time. Enjoy!

Ahimsa: The First Principle of Yoga

I am a yoga teacher. This isn’t quite the same thing as being an exercise instructor, because yoga isn’t just an exercise regimen. I don’t just teach physical poses; I teach breathing, meditation, and mindfulness techniques as well. But that’s not all, I also teach the principles of yoga, a code of ethics, if you will, that teach us how to ease suffering in our life.

These ideas aren’t so different from other value sets around the world, but they are necessary to getting the full benefits of yoga, which are health for the mind, body and spirit. These principles include: truthfulness, not stealing or being greedy, and controlling our passions, but the first principle, the most essential principle, the one that I teach to every beginner is Ahimsa. Literally Ahimsa means non-harm, but in a larger sense it means kindness, non-judgement, compassion. This compassion extends not just to humankind, but to all living things, including ourselves.helpinghand 233x300 Ahimsa: The First Principle of YogaAhimsa sounds a lot like the principle of love and it is similar, but even when we struggle to muster up love for something/someone we can always have compassion for it/him. Actually, it’s interesting how letting ourselves have that compassion for someone, by putting ourselves in their place and trying to understand how they feel, can cultivate love in a way we never imagined.

I’ve done this before. I cried with a friend over the grief of their difficult childhood and it brought us closer together. I could see how their suffering at a pivotal age had negatively affected their life in many ways and suddenly my judgement for their bad decisions was gone and understanding took its place.

When we embrace Ahimsa, we pledge to do no harm to others and be considerate of them in all our decisions. I like the way the ancient Roman, Marcus Aurelius put it: “Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.”

So how does this apply when we are in a yoga class and doing our poses? To get the most out of our yoga practice we must use that Ahimsa on ourselves as much as we do for others. When someone starts working with me I teach them that they must have compassion for themselves as they work on their physical poses. I teach them to be kind to themselves. I tell them not to judge themselves harshly when they can’t do a certain pose that they see everyone else doing.

Just because I can get my feet or arms to a certain place, and you can’t, doesn’t say anything about you and your ability as a yogi. It simply says that your body is different than mine and we are at different places in our practice. In fact the concept of a perfect yoga pose is just that, a concept. In real life their is no “perfect” way to do any pose, no real “right” way. I ask my students, “are you feeling a good stretch without pain?” If they say yes then that is the “perfect” yoga pose.

We are often hard on ourselves for our seeming weaknesses; I am, at times, no different. What I love about yoga though is that when I get on the mat I let all that go-all judgments  worry, and fear and I just move my body. I am completely in the here and now and all my problems are somewhere else. What a relief and escape it is! How can we take that feeling on the mat and experience it the 95% of the time when we are not doing yoga? We can be kind to ourselves.

A friend of mine was having a hard time and was beating up on themselves for a problem they were having. I asked them, “what would you tell a friend who was having this same problem?” They got the point. They wouldn’t belittle or berate their friend, so why should they do that to themselves?

So here it comes full circle, if we can have compassion for all those around us and see ourselves in their place, then we can take that same compassion and use it for ourselves. We can see them in our place and grow to love the being that we are.

Namaste.amber r entry Ahimsa: The First Principle of Yoga

Skype Yoga and the Importance of a Teacher

One of my yoga teachers said, Yoga is about relationships, with yourself and with others. I have found that to be true. As a teacher, I’ve formed great relationships or strengthened relationships with each of my students teaching them on a weekly basis. As a student, when I have attended the same classes each week and gotten to know my teacher and fellow students, my yoga experience has been totally enriched; I feel comfortable asking questions and even embarassing myself. And if it wasn’t for a good friend and co-worker who taught me yoga one-on-one, I might not be writing to you today. A good teacher can make all the difference in whether you stay with it and progress or quit.

IMG 0139 1024x682 Skype Yoga and the Importance of a Teacher

Now what if a person wants to do yoga, but they have no access to a yoga teacher or in-person classes? Where do they go to learn? I have several friends who use and have used yoga books and videos to practice. In fact some of them have only done yoga through videos and books. This can be a good thing, but it can also be dangerous to their continuation of a yoga practice. The problem is students often get very frustrated with yoga and give up because they unknowingly do videos that are much too advanced for them. It is difficult to navigate the many DVDs and youtube videos out there. Many may say they are for beginners, but that term is very relative. What may be very simple to one new student may be very difficult to another.

For instance my friend told me, “I keep trying yoga every so often because people say how wonderful it is, but I just get frustrated with it. What is a yoga newby like me to do?” She could not swing her leg through her arms and into a lunge position in one move like the teacher in her videos. This made her feel like she would never “be competent” in yoga because her leg kept getting stuck and she would just have to kneel to move it. Of course her video teacher couldn’t see this and slow down for her to catch up, or give her a modification or tell her that it was perfectly normal to not be able to swing your leg through in one fluid movement and that kneeling is a great modfication! After I explained that this happens to me too sometimes and that I just make adjustments she said, “The people in the DVD make it look easy and smooth, I guess I didn’t realize they were making adjustments all the time.”

In my opinion learning the basics is best done with a teacher and one on one if possible. Now back to the question again, what if there are no yoga teachers? My solution is Skype Yoga. If you have never used the internet program Skype, it’s a free tool that lets you video call people worldwide as long as you both have a webcam and an internet connection. I got the idea to do this because I have a sister in England and I really wanted to teach her yoga. We already regularly “Skyped” so I could see my nieces and nephew and interact visually with them. Then I thought why can’t we do yoga over Skype?! It totally worked and now we do yoga every week. It not only helped my sister learn yoga, but actually strengthened our relationship and launched a whole new side of my business.

yoga skype 300x244 Skype Yoga and the Importance of a Teacher
A Family doing yoga over Skype!

It’s amazing to me, but I now have students that live all over the US (Indiana, Utah, New Jersey, California) and overseas. When my students travel for conferences and holidays I have taught them in Brazil, Arizona and Georgia! I teach families, couples, and singles, most of them beginners and ranging in age from 6 to 67 years old! Over the video camera I can still see them quite clearly. I demonstrate poses, then I look at my students and show them adjustments and help them improve their poses and practice safely.

There are a lot of benefits to doing yoga this way even if you can get a live class. First off it saves students the time of traveling to and from a studio and spending money on the gas to do so. It’s also less intimidating to some students, especially beginners, that are leary about having other people see them practice in a class at first. Also I cater the class to each students level and to fit their needs.

I am teaching an older couple who don’t live near any yoga studios and don’t have access to personal yoga trainers. They have been doing Skype yoga with me and are really benefitting from it. The husband is almost to kidney failure and will be starting dialysis and need a kidney transplant. He has said yoga has helped him feel better and has relieved the anxiety about his upcoming procedures. We only do a half an hour at a time and I suit the poses for his level so I don’t push him too hard. This is not something he could get in regular class and would otherwise not be available to him.
So in essence, there are many ways to practice yoga. Yoga videos and books can be helpful (I’ve used them myself), but they are no a replacement for having a yoga teacher that you can ask questions to and that can give you personal tips. So go out and find yourself a teacher privately or in a class, at the gym/studio or through Skype. Ask a friend who is skilled in yoga or find a free community class or perhaps take a day trip to a city with one of the above. You won’t regret it and you’ll find out how wonderful yoga really is!

GIVEAWAY!

KickStand Fitness and Melissa Davis Designs are teaming up for a Yoga Stuff Giveaway! Melissa photographed me making a DIY yoga mat bag and designed an awesome tutorial we think you’ll love (see the post below for the infographic).

So to get the word out we’re going to give away a free Skype yoga session, a yoga mat (you choose the color) and a custom yoga mat bag (made by yours truly). All you have to do is Pin it, Like it, Tweet it, Follow it, Sign up for it or Post it and you’re in. icon smile GIVEAWAY! See the end of Melissa’s blog for details on how to enter.

yoga mat bag GIVEAWAY!

What’s In You- Tapping Your Hidden Fitness Reserves

I totally surprised myself this afternoon. A good surprise- which inspired me to write this post. Let me give you some background. My workouts lately have been few and far between. It’s as if the universe has been conspiring against me to stop me from exercising. Bad weather, holidays, work, sickness, tiredness, and even cancelled fitness classes have been some of the culprits.

I was all geared up to attend a fitness class today. I had blocked out the time on my calendar and was certain I was going to get in a good workout, but then the class was cancelled and no other classes were happening until evening. Hmph…so I went along with my errands for the day telling myself it would have to wait until tomorrow. But I was restless and irritable and needed to be walked! I needed to move my body more than just walking it from my house to the car and from my car to the store.

Amber running at the Rose Bowl 300x225 Whats In You  Tapping Your Hidden Fitness ReservesI decided to drop everything and just go for a run around the track outside of the Rose Bowl. I used to exercise there often, it’s free and is a beautiful setting, but I haven’t been there in over a month and it’s been months and months since I’ve run more than a half a mile at a time. I didn’t think today would be any different, but it was. I starting running, slowly, but steadily. And then I surprised myself. I kept running and running and I didn’t stop until I was all the way around- 3.125 miles (a 5 K)! It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be; and I did it at a reasonable 12.5 minute mile pace. Nothing groundbreaking, but for someone who hasn’t really been running in a long time, it was a miracle.

Where did I find all this strength? I thought I had lost all that endurance and stamina that I had once had. Somehow my body or my mind remembered. I don’t know how it happened, but apparently I have hidden reserves of strength and endurance that I had no clue about! It’s actually very heartening and inspiring to know that I have this power I can tap into! And I don’t think I’m the only one. I think we all have more in us than we even know, more strength than we can possibly imagine.

So lesson learned– Don’t give up! The hard work we do isn’t for nought and even if we fall off the fitness wagon we can get right back on and not have lost everything we thought we may have. We never know what we can really do until we give it a try.

yoga quote 768x1024 Whats In You  Tapping Your Hidden Fitness Reserves

How to Make a Yoga Mat Bag DIY Tutotial

How to Make a Yoga Mat Bag

A step by step photo DIY yoga mat bag tutorial! See detailed instructions beneath the picture. OR you can buy one from us here.

how to make a yoga mat bag1 How to Make a Yoga Mat Bag

If you’re a little rusty on the sewing, you can buy a bag here.

Detailed Instructions

Get Materials:

One yard of fabric (medium weight)
Scissors
Measuring tape
Straight pins spool of thread
Sewing machine
Iron.

Arrange:

Lay your fabric on a flat surface folded in half with right sides*
facing out. Now lay your rolled up yoga mat on top of the fabric.

Cut:

Cut a rectangle around the mat giving 3 inches on each side of the mat and 3.5 to 4 inches from top and from the bottom, about 9.5 inches wide, 32 inches long.

Cut a rounded corner on the non-folded side bottom corner.

Cut a 3.5 to 4 inch wide strip of fabric as long as the fabric (36 inches).

Sew Bag:

With reverse sides of fabric together (right sides still out), sew a seam, all the way along the edge you cut, ¼ inch in from the edge of the fabric, but leaving the top un-sewn.

Turn the bag inside out and flatten out to the seams with your iron. Then sew a seam ¾ inch from the newly sewn edge. This will hide the first seam.

With the bag still inside out, turn the top edge over 1 ½ inches and iron flat. Next fold the bottom of that under by ¼ inch and pin. Sew all the way around the middle of the area you just folded under.

Sew Strap:

Take the strip of fabric and fold it in half, right sides together, (wrong sides facing out). Sew along the edge, 1/4 inch in. Turn right side out (this may take a while, but work it through). Iron flat.

Attach Strap to Bag:

Turn the bag right side out and flatten with your iron. Now open the bag up so the seam and original fold are back to back (right sides still out) and press down by hand. From here flare the non-rounded bottom bag corner into a flat triangle shape with the tip up and pointing the direction of the original fold(see photo Step 5).

Now take the end of the strap and put it on top of the triangle so the strap overlaps it by about 1 3/4″, tuck the raw strap edge under ¼ inch and then sew over the strap in the shape of the triangle underneath, go over the stitches twice.

To attach the other end of the strap to the top of the bag, take the end of the strap and with the bag laid flat with the original fold at the middle, place the raw end pointing down about 1 3/4″ from the edge of the bag (in the middle of the fold) so the strap makes a loop from the bottom to the top (see bottom photo of Step 5). Now turn the edge of the strap under a 1/4″ (you may want to pin it down) and stitch on top of the end of the strap in a rectangle shape near the edges and near the top edge of the bag and then in an “x” shape through the middle, corner to corner. This will reinforce the strap.

Now you are done and have your own sweet yoga mat bag! Congrats!!

*Right side of the fabric is the side that you to show on the outside
of the bag.

PDF directions here

Thanks to Melissa Davis for the taking the photos for this tutorial and for designing the layout. You can see more of her work and get awesome photography templates here.

And again, if you’d like a bag, you can buy one here.

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Just Breathe- Yoga for ADD

Guest post by Ryan Mendenhall

As a student of the mind I have always been interested in and explored all kinds of topics & practices that claim to enhance mental performance. It’s funny, I began that search years before actually learning that I have ADD. A year or two after my ADD diagnosis, I learned some great visualization methods from Dr. Lee Pulos in his The Power of Visualization audio course. He taught many valuable techniques that helped me to clear my mind of the feelings and thoughts that were wreaking havoc in my life.

With Dr. Pulos’ help I created a special garden in my mind where I could go when I needed to relax or gain insights. In the garden there was a golden mesh screen (I think was how he described it). He shared how I could walk through this screen and have any negative emotions that I was feeling cling to it, allowing me to come out on the other side a different person. This type of meditation/visualization often brought tears to my eyes as I swelled with gratitude. The post-screen feelings were so amazing. Once in this state I could reflect on my life in a much more clear way. The understanding was always welcome.

But I soon found that it wasn’t always so easy to visit my garden, and not for lack of trying; I would sit down to visualize and my mind would be like a blank slate. I could see no garden. I couldn’t see anything.  I soon thereafter learned that I wasn’t alone. Others were having a difficult time visualizing as well. And those with ADD, like me, were having a particularly hard time with meditation. Then came a breakthrough.

ryan in meditation 001 222x300 Just Breathe  Yoga for ADDThis morning while reading the book, Non-Drug Treatments for ADHD, by Brown & Gerbarg, I read about how breathing practices can calm the mind and reduce stress sufficiently enough for even those with ADD to reach meditative states more easily. Of course it can! I just hadn’t seen the connection until now.

I have been practicing yoga for about 8 months now. In yoga much attention is placed on the importance of breathing. “Ocean breath” is what I’ve been taught. I breathe in and out through my nose and constrict my airways to help me lengthen my breathing in order to reach a deeper, more relaxed state of mind. Often at the end of my yoga sessions, we’d wrap up with some focused breathing of this kind. It was after those times that I’d most easily return to my special garden, and often times unintentionally. I’d slip away, walk through the golden screen, say a prayer of gratitude, embrace some good friends, water my plants and receive counsel from a group of special men and women I like to invite to hear my worries.

It wasn’t until now that I saw the connection. Breathing is the key that unlocks the door to my garden and gives me access to all its amazing healing benefits. This type of inner insight can be helpful for many. If you’ve tried visualizing in the past and had difficulties, do some yoga, go for a run, then sit down, do some breathing and picture yourself in a peaceful place and reflect on life. I believe you be richly rewarded.

I’d love to hear how breathing practices have helped you. Leave me a comment.

Inspiration Points

Through my experiences, I have come to believe that for real change to occur you need a number of essentials. First you need hope. This is important because if you don’t at least hope something can happen then you’ll never try to do it. Next you need motivation; this is the reason why you are wanting to make a change. The thought of being able to complete a 10K may motivate someone to run everyday. Another essential is a having some kind of plan. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or by any means perfect, just some simple guidelines to keep you on track. Then you do need effort; some people think this is all you need for change, but that is simply not true. You do need to try, but brute force isn’t enough. A support system is also helpful; having people to love you through change and to be accountable to makes the process easier. And lastly-or maybe it should be firstly- you need inspiration.

Inspiration gives you a vision of what is possible. It can give you a feeling of hope. It can show you why you want to change in the first place. Maybe the reason why inspiration is often tied to the divine is that it can hardly be defined and when and where it will strike is usually a mystery. It can bring tears to your eyes and may seem to come straight from God. You just never know who or what will inspire you. It can be something very small, as small as an obscure tiny flower or insect or something very grand and conspicuous, like great architecture. Everyday people taking brave and bold actions may be the best inspirers of all. They act as an example of what can be done and how to do it. They pave the way for those that may be a little more timid.

I have been called an inspiration before. People have told me that seeing me lose weight and make big changes in my life has lead them to try harder to make changes in their own life. Friends have lost weight and gotten more healthy with the unconscious help that I gave them. This is an incredibly humbling thing to hear, because I never meant to inspire people when I did what I did, I was just trying to improve my life. I have another friend who feels the same way. In the last two years this friend has lost over 150 pounds and is still losing more. Recently he wrote this on his Facebook wall, “I go to the store today and as am walking across the parking lot a patron pushing her cart approaches me and says “I’m a strange lady I know” (this referring to familiarity not her personality) “but I have seen you walking around and seen your progress and think you’re doing a great job!” I have had this interaction with people in my hood before but then…she says “You inspired me, I’ve lost 60 lbs!” This story brings tears to my eyes as I tell it.  How marvelous that he could help people in this way.
amberbefore 189x300 Inspiration PointsAmber in pyramid pose 186x300 Inspiration Points

On the left, me in 2009 before; On the right me in 2012 after

 

 

 

 

I myself had an inspiration when I started to get healthy. I was a fan of the TV show, The Biggest Loser, for a few seasons before I made any changes in my life and then one season there was a contestant that was a complete inspiration to me. She was young and single and I just related to her in many ways. I saw her lose a lot of weight and change her whole mental outlook and become this fiercely determined, amazing person. I thought, if she can do it so can I. And I did.

So considering that inspiration can be elusive, how can we find it so we can make changes. Observation and self-reflection, I think, are two important ways. Why not look around you and look for inspiration everywhere. If you observe enough and look closely at things with new eyes then you are bound to find inspiration somewhere. Also sit down and ask yourself what in the past has inspired you. Use those past feelings to propel you forward. Change is possible, there is hope and inspiration is everywhere. Now get out there and make it happen!

Get a Move On!

P12405341 768x1024 Get a Move On!Variety is the spice of life they say. I believe that; actually it’s kind of my life’s motto. I love to constantly try new things, see new places and simply take a different route home from wherever I am. I just really dislike routine. And you know what, so do our bodies. They respond best when we keep moving them in different ways then they are used to.

You probably wouldn’t eat exactly the same foods day in day out- say only ever eating peanut butter and jelly for lunch, would you? In that same vein we shouldn’t only ever move our bodies in the same way. For instance, running for exercise is not a bad thing, but if it’s the only exercise you ever do your legs muscles will get very tight and sore. You need stretching and other exercises to counterbalance the negative effects of every movement. This seems like fairly common sense, but how often do we vary our exercise and even our work rountines? Do you sit in front of a computer for hours at a time? How often do you get up and stretch? I often hear from my yoga clients as I’m teaching them, “I’m not used to moving in this way!”

Lately it’s hit me just how important movement is. Movement is life and staying still leads to death. Think about it, a stream gets stagnant when it’s flow is stopped; To breathe we need to move air in and out through our lungs. When people are confined to bed doctors may prescribe use of a machine that compresses the legs or arms to improve circulation. Depression is characterized by a lack of wanting to do anything or go anywhere. Being healthy and happy is usually seen as making progress (moving forward), while being “stuck in a rut” in your life is seen as being unsuccessful. You get the point, but the common thread is movement, any kind of movement. Maybe that is why moving our bodies can affect our mind and our mood; and why going on vacation can help us face the daily grind.

I tell people to at least move their spines in six ways everyday. This includes side-streching, bending backwards, folding forward and twisting in both directions. Going upside-down is optional, but it does help! This is the basis of yoga, to move yourself in in new ways-mentally and physically. With the variety of poses, you are sure to reach the spots that you normally wouldn’t. So why not take a few minutes every hour at work (or at home) to get up and do a little yoga? You don’t have to get on the floor, just raise your hands to the sky as you breath in deeply and bend slightly backwards, then exhale deeply as you fold forward to your feet. You could then inhale and come back up lifting your arms and exhale and bend to one side and then the other; Finally what’s stopping you from exhaling and moving your torso to one side while keeping your hips forward, then doing it on the other side. Voila-instant health! icon smile Get a Move On!

So my thought is, why not think about how you can add a little variety to your own life? I promise you it will make your life more interesting and it will feel great!