Overthinking? Or, how I lost 5lbs over Passover…

If you’ve been following my fitness journey thus far, you know I’m a geek and I tend to love diving feet first into different plans and systems. Since July, I’ve been doing Ultimate Portion Fix and for the past several months, I’ve been doing timed nutrition. Basically, this means I’ve been carefully measuring my portions and timing my meals around workouts, eating every 2-3 hours.

When Passover came, I came up with a strategy, but I also felt drawn to really simplify things. We were going to be spending a week up at a cabin in the woods and with all the Passover food restrictions, I was already going to be eating very differently than I had been. I decided that it would be a good time to hit a pause button and just see how my body felt. I stopped all my heavy weightlifting workouts and intense cardio sessions as well as letting go of needing to portion out and measure or time when I ate.

Instead, I listened to my body. I ate when I was hungry and ate mostly simple fruits and vegetables and lean protein, but as much as I felt like eating as often as I was hungry. For exercise, I went on hikes with family, did yoga daily, and kayaked for the first time, which was SUPER FUN! I pushed myself as hard as felt good and relaxed. Naps were a regular thing.

When I returned, I expected that I would have gained some weight to lose, but I was pleasantly surprised to see my weight actually went down over the week…by 5lbs! Here I had STOPPED working so hard and I actually saw more results!

This got me to wondering if perhaps I had been overtraining a bit, between yoga teaching and weightlifting and maybe my body needed more than I had been giving it? I have since gone back to eating a more regimented plan, but I base the amounts and timing more on what my body is telling me. I am eating a lot of produce and lean protein, but I’m letting my hunger dictate more when and how much. I know if I start to see the scale creep back up, I can always go back to what I was doing before, but for now…this feels good.

It also feels good to go back to more plant based meals and I’m playing with ayurvedic cooking and noticing a big decrease in my acid reflux symptoms. This time of year, as the grocery stores become packed with fresh, in-season produce, I just feel drawn to eat more of it and less animal products…and I’m honoring that cycle for me.

Where have you been overthinking and could simplify this spring?

Why I Do NOT Call Myself a Yogi or Yogini…and Why I Won’t Call You One, Either

Words often have their meaning watered down in translation. I can remember when I lived in France realizing that somethings I really could only fully express in French and others only in English. Every time I lived abroad and came home, I always came home speaking a mix of English and whatever language I’d been exposed to because some things only can be understood in the language in which they were born. Nowadays, my speech is a mixture of English, Hebrew, and Yiddish for similar reasons. I choose the word that most closely fits what I’m trying to express and sometimes my ideas aren’t all in English.

Which brings us to a few words that often get tossed around in yoga circles, specifically, “yogi, yogini (the feminine form of yogi), and guru.

These often get used rather casually. Anyone in a yoga class becomes a yogi or yogini. Anyone you admire or follow on instagram or take advice from becomes your “guru.” Even inanimate objects or illnesses become your “gurus.” Your chronic pain becomes a guru because you learn something from it. I think we tend to use these words because it feels like it lends some greater weight or significance using an exotic, foreign word. Unfortunately, there’s a problem here.

These words already have meanings in the language they were born in and those meanings very often do not fit how we’re using them.

In the spiritual path of yoga, a yogi or yogini is a pretty serious adherent. The closest translations I can think of might be a priest or nun or monk or other renunciate in another religion, like a nazarite. This is someone who has done extensive study and taken some vows to abstain from many things in life, like material possessions or dietary considerations. This is someone who doesn’t just do the physical practice of yoga poses…in fact for many of them, yoga poses aren’t even included in their practices or if they are, they are a small part of it. It is not traditionally used for someone who joins a drop in goat yoga class. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…it’s just not the same level of study and dedication or religious focus.)

Similarly, a guru in the traditional sense is a spiritual leader, someone who has studied a long time and provides spiritual guidance to others. It’s a revered position similar to a Rabbi or Priest in other faiths. It’s not someone who just gives good advice or the wisdom of a stubbed toe telling you to walk more carefully.

Throwing these terms around casually is actually rather disrespectful. It’s similar to if I heard someone called a Rabbi because they ate a bagel or a nun because they wore a black and white shirt. I also don’t use them because it makes a lot of assumptions about the person being called these things. I for one am an Orthodox Jew, so I’m certainly not a yogini and I don’t automatically assume that because someone is in a yoga class with me that they are on a yogic spiritual path as well. They might be or they might be an atheist. I also don’t go looking for gurus. I have Rabbis and Rebbetzins that I turn to for spiritual and religious guidance and I assume that most people next to me in yoga class have their own mentors and guides as well.

I don’t see myself as qualified to be a spiritual guide. I took a training to help you move in and out of yoga poses safely and help you feel less stressed and more at home in your body…that doesn’t mean that I am in any way qualified to tell you how you should live your life any more than your car mechanic or massage therapist is.

I leave these terms in the language and culture they originated in out of respect in the same way I appreciate it when people don’t appropriate terms that have deep meaning for me from my culture in “cute” or “funny” ways. I also do it out of respect for the culture I do live in. For me, it’s about respecting the path of others while walking my own with my head high.

Don’t be Fooled By “Instagram Yoga”

If you look for examples of yoga poses online, you’ll often find tall, lanky people contorting themselves into all kinds of artistic positions. It can be discouraging if you’re just starting out in yoga or consider starting it due to some physical issues. It can look like yoga is only for the very flexible, very strong, or very lean and not for someone who has tightness, pain, and soreness that prevents them from getting a full range of motion in poses.

The truth is that most of these people are presenting an image of yoga that isn’t really realistic for a number of reasons and that’s important to keep in mind if you feel tempted to measure yourself by them.

For one, most of these people are athletes coming from disciplines other than yoga, like gymnastics and dance. A great deal of their strength and flexibility comes with them from those disciplines. Another factor which likely led them to those disciplines and yoga is that they are gifted with an anatomy that is NOT average. Some of the positions they show require not just years of practice, but also specific anatomical measurements that they were gifted at birth with. Other people may never be able to reach certain poses because their very bones won’t allow that much mobility in joints. There is a lot of variation in anatomy and these folks often wound up with a specific combination that allows them to do what others may not no matter how much they practice.

In addition, some of what they show, while it may be beautiful art, aren’t yoga poses at all, but rather poses used in gymnastics or dance. Where they do show yoga poses, they are often the most extreme variations that might not even be safe for others to practice or can only be held for brief periods of time safely. I still like these pictures as art, but I don’t look at them as a goal or anything I want to do.

As I learn and grow in my own yoga practice, I realize more and more that the measure of a pose is not really what it looks like or how “far” I get into a pose, but the effect the pose has on my body and mind. Sometimes, easing back in a pose actually brings me closer to my goals, even if it looks like I’m not going as far as I could another time. It’s not about what my pose looks like compared to anyone else’s, but about how my pose feels in my own body and how my practice feels in my own mind.

It’s ironic that a practice that is all about going inward and tuning in to our own unique bodies is marketed so much about outward appearances, about the right yoga pants or the perfect pose. Really, it doesn’t matter what you look like when you do yoga as long as it is benefitting you and helping you feel more free in your body and mind.

Often, what I Least Desire is what I Most Need

Yesterday was…a day. Both at home and at work, things just seemed to go sideways and by late afternoon I had that craving for chocolate. I was tempted to EAT ALL THE CHOCOLATE. Or…something. I craved comfort. My daughter’s oral surgery issues were continuing, work was driving me up the wall, my husband has surgery again today, and I got bad news about my son’s progress at his residential program. I had SO many reasons/excuses to just skip my workout that evening and indulge. I’m pretty certain I am working on a sinus infection on top of it all. And let’s not even bring up Passover cleaning and preparations.

I took a deep breath and I realized that everything I was craving was exactly what I didn’t need and everything I was tempted to avoid was exactly what was going to help me through all this.

My body feels better when I take care of it even when I don’t feel like it. I need my body to be in the best health I can be if I’m going to face all this craziness in my life and kick this budding sinus infection. Filling my body with junk and not moving was only going to lead me to feel even worse and have even less energy to deal with it all and my stress level sure wouldn’t be lower.

And so, with much effort and not a small bit of grumbling, I peeled myself up off the couch and ate a healthy snack and got my workout in. I had to slow down and rest a bit more than usual, but it felt good to sweat it all out. As I did my workout, it occurred to me that often the exercises that I like the least, the ones I would certainly prefer to skip, are the ones my body needs the most. Very often those exercises target exactly where I’m weakest or have an imbalance or they’re just what I need to see results. After that, I ate a healthy dinner and packed up healthy food for my day at the hospital.

Often, what I most desire isn’t what is going to be best for me. It’s what’s easiest or will bring me comfort in the moment. Instead, I have to choose what will nourish me longer term…and that’s often not easy when so much seems to come at me at once. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and give in and treat my body like a punching bag in the process. I can’t always trust those immediate desires to be in my best interest.

I don’t always win the battle. Sometimes it does get to be too much and I give in, but the more often I take that pause and make a better choice, the easier it becomes. The more I do it and feel the benefit of my body feeling better and my stress being lower, the easier it is for me to remember why I do this.

Embracing Rejection and Failure is Essential to Success

I’ve sent out resumes and applied to teaching positions, but I haven’t even heard back on volunteer positions. At this point…I can’t give yoga away. It’s very tempting to give up, but I’m not going to. Instead, I am reaching out and starting my own free class for friends and continuing to learn and grow. This is the tough part in trying anything new…that time of discouragement.

I remind myself I’ve faced this before.

I had a tough time breaking into network engineering until I got my big break and there were plenty of times I doubted myself. I remember sitting with my fresh and shiny new network certification and sending out my resume and getting…nothing. Then, by chance, I happened to get hired by a company to do something else…the week after they’d fired their network person. There I was, with the network certification and they had a need and next thing I knew, I had that big break. There often seems to be a chicken and the egg time where you don’t have experience, so no one wants to take a chance on you, but you have to find a way to get experience…so someone will take a chance on you.

Even when it comes to asking to teach a couple of yoga classes a week in your free time…for free.

This is the tough time in any new endeavor when self-doubt can eat you alive. Maybe you’re starting a business and you aren’t get seeing profits. Maybe you’ve written a book and you keep getting rejected by publishers. Maybe you’re training for a goal like a marathon but you just can’t seem to add on the miles. It’s easy to lose hope when you feel stuck. It’s easy to assume something just isn’t meant to be.

However, the only difference between me and someone who is actively teaching yoga right now is that they kept going until they found the opportunity to get that experience that led to more opportunities. Maybe they were in the right place at the right time, but more likely they faced some rejection at first and just kept trying. Most authors have a story of rejected manuscripts before their best seller. Most runners have stories of races that just didn’t work out. Most business owners have stories even of businesses that failed before their big one succeeded. You have to be willing to live in that feeling of failure and the vulnerability of risking failure over and over again to eventually be successful and that’s easy for me to forget when in my networking career I’m comfortably past that point.

So…I’ll keep sending out my resume for yoga teacher jobs and accept that there will be rejection for a while. I’ll keep finding those smaller opportunities where I can. And…I’ll keep believing that eventually this will just be part of the story of my success when I’m actively teaching and helping people in my “free” time.

Are you working on something and feel stuck in that failure period? Or, are you putting off trying something because you’re afraid of rejection or failure?

How Routines Bring Freedom

I used to crave variety…in everything. A little bit of this, a dash of that. Unpredictability was exciting. It was also, unfortunately, exhausting and made it difficult to develop good habits. Routines, I thought, were confining and boring, life of beige in a world full of colors.

Over the years, I’ve definitely changed my feelings about routines.

Routines are key to making habits stick. By creating a routine, eventually things just kind of happen on autopilot. My mornings are a prime example. I wake up at 5am, put on my workout clothes, make the same protein smoothie each day and then do my workout, then shower and dress. Even if I’m tired, I find it pretty easy to stick with this after doing it every weekday since the summer. I have all the stuff I need right where I need it and I don’t really have to think much or make much of a conscious choice to roll out of bed and get this all done. Once you have a routine in place, you can then hook new habits onto it and the existing routine will help you remember to do them.

And to old me, this probably all would have sounded awfully regimented and confining. Where is the spontaneity? Doing the same thing each morning…eating the same protein shake…how BORING!

But here’s the thing, because I have that routine down and on autopilot, it frees up my energy for things that I actually want to focus on. It’s similar to Steve Job’s wardrobe of t-shirts and jeans so that he doesn’t have to waste energy thinking about what to wear. That morning routine gets my day off on a good start. No matter what else happens, I started with a healthy breakfast and a workout and then I can go about my day with that checked off my list and without a whole lot of effort on my part.

I was recently reading a weekly email I get about minimalism that pointed out that most of us don’t eat as much variety as we think we do. We like to think we’re eating all these different foods, but by in large, we eat about 20% of our favorite meals 80% of the time. This rule is called the Pareto Principle and it plays out over and over again in human behavior. We’re creatures of habit and we stick with what we like. Most of us wear 20% of the clothes in our closets 80% of the time. We watch 20% of our TV or streaming channels 80% of the time…you get the picture. We are inherently predictable creatures because it takes a lot less brain power to stick with what we know we’ll like or has worked for us in the past.

Instead of viewing this as a negative, the article stressed how freeing this is. Instead of constantly trying to fight that inclination to eat the same things over and over…why not harness it? Embrace it? Go ahead and make a standard breakfast or lunch that’s healthy and easy to make and just stick with it. The article talked about how planning meals this way could save a family money and help make sure everyone was eating something halfway healthy as long as you made sure the 20% meals in rotation were on the healthier side. It stressed that you could still get some variety in there on weekends when you have more time or designate one night a week as a “new recipe” night or just eat something different when you go out to eat.

I couldn’t help but think about how this could translate into other areas of life and I could see how I already gravitate toward certain patterns.

In my workouts, I’m always fighting the inclination to do the same programs over and over. I like them. I feel confident in them. And, they’re designed to change things up enough to avoid plateaus. I’m currently doing my second round in one I had particularly good results in, but I actually felt a little sheepish doing that. Shouldn’t I be trying something completely different? Instead of shaking things up just for the sake of shaking things up…why not just stick with what’s working for me until it isn’t anymore?

I’m giving myself permission to embrace routine. I’m not going to look for a different breakfast unless and until I no longer want to eat this one. If I find a shirt that I really like, why not get a few in different colors rather than try to find another style that I like as much? The more I can pare down my choices to my favorites and free up my brain space for other, more important thoughts and decisions, the better! I can save my non-autopilot time for where it really counts.

The Difference is what You Do AFTER

Yesterday was what a favorite children’s book calls an “all bad, no good, very bad day.” Of course, in hindsight, I can see how my thoughts spiraled to make it seem like that, but in the midst of it all…I lost that perspective. It all started with my daughter having some very painful complications from her oral surgery. Then, work hit me with one of those “last straw” kind of things that really hit me hard on top of some burnout I’d been struggling against. Then…I just kind of lost myself. I felt like everywhere I looked my life was just out of control. A bunch of bills coming at the wrong times had me feeling poor. My house needed cleaning and I didn’t want to do it. I missed my son, still out of state and I worried about how I was going to handle driving to get him in the midst of my daughter’s pain and my husband’s upcoming surgery…not to mention Passover looming. I just…didn’t want to face any of it. My vision darkened and the whole world seemed so hard and cruel and my dreams and goals so meaningless in it all.

I fell into a pit of self-doubt and self-pity…and I sought solace in any way I could think of.

I took the rest of the day off as a comp day, which was a good idea and a healthy thing to do after the hours I’ve worked in the past few weeks. Then, though, I followed that with an all-out emotional eating binge that included nothing with much nutritional value and everything that made my stomach feel like an over-inflated tire and netflix marathon on the couch that left me feeling sicker. Last night I began to realize that I really was coming down with something, probably a sinus infection and I was in bed before 8pm, missing a class I’d been looking forward to. Essentially, I took everything out on my body, treating it like the enemy rather than doing things that might have helped lift my spirits, like taking a walk in the sunshine with my dogs or doing some yoga. In the midst of all this, I also realized I had been missing days here and there in my daily medications, forgetting to take it in the morning rush. I’d been working out as planned and eating better, but I had been letting other aspects of self-care slip. I was unprepared for just a few more straws placed on my camel’s back, so it’s no wonder I broke down.

I share this because I want you to know that I think we ALL probably have those days where we don’t treat ourselves with the most love and care. Maybe there is some instagram model out there who eats kale when she’s down, but I think most of us are mere mortals who do still fall into these traps from time to time…and it’s ok.

It’s ok because today is a whole new day and I can choose differently.

I don’t need to beat myself up for yesterday…the way I treated my body was punishment enough. I don’t need to swing to the other extreme and starve myself or overwork myself. I can choose to treat myself like I would a good friend and do the things I know will help my body recover. I’ll eat like yesterday never happened, going back to what I know fuels my body and makes it feel good as if I never slipped up. I’ll work out to the intensity that feels good. If my sinuses are still messed up…that might just be restorative yoga to kindly unwind any tight muscles. If they are feeling ok, then it might be something that gets my heart pumping and sweat flowing to release the stress.

Days like yesterday happen, but it’s ok. It’s what I do after they happen that makes or breaks my goals. We’re each human and sometimes life can be overwhelming and we can make mistakes and treat ourselves unkindly. Sometimes, I think we each need to give ourselves a break for the things we do on days like that.

What’s important, though, is that we don’t let that become the reason we give up on making the next day a little better. Today, I can clear off my dining room table of the clutter that’s collected, sit down and eat something with vegetables, and move my body in ways that help me feel better. Today I can choose to face my problems and have a heart to heart with my boss who is a great guy who wants to help make it easier for us to do our work and probably has no idea about the roadblocks that have been put in my team’s way. Today I can remember to take my medicine and when things are difficult, I can remember to slow down and breathe or cuddle a dog.

Today I can remember to be a better friend to myself so that I have more in the tank for those I love.

The difference between the people who we look up to and admire and ourselves when we don’t reach our goals isn’t what we do on days like yesterday…it’s what we do after a day like yesterday happens. It can be easy to let it become a pattern or admit defeat and just give in to old bad habits…or I can just let it go, dust myself off, and start again.

Every single day is an opportunity for a fresh start…if I allow it.

How to Eat an Elephant

I was recently talking with a dear friend who is planning a move across the country. She was describing how overwhelming all the details were. Remembering our own move from Alaska to the midwest, I was reminded of how there were times I had no idea how everything was going to work out. We had to work around school schedules, sell our house, and get flights as well as get our big down and furniture all moved. I advised her just to focus on the next step rather than thinking too much about the whole thing and I was reminded of this saying…

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I don’t think anyone should actually eat an elephant, but very often goals can seem so huge an overwhelming if you look at the entire thing, rather like the prospect of eating something as huge as an elephant. Still, no matter how big the project or goal, it’s possible to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps or pieces and then walk through each of those.

If you have a lot of weight to lose, you want to run a marathon, a big work project, a degree you’re wanting to complete, or any other major goal…what you do each day, consistently, is what is going to get you there. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll have to eat healthy over a long period of time. Running a marathon depends on following a training plan for months. A degree requires slowly working through classes. Work projects often require multiple steps over several months. In each case, if you are at the beginning, thinking of all those steps piled together can seem overwhelming. If you’re just starting running, running 26.2 miles for a marathon can seem absolutely impossible…but focusing on just running today, for as much as you can…can seem doable. Focusing on just following your nutrition plan today can be a lot easier than picturing eating healthy for 6 months. Focusing on just your classes this semester can be easier to do than thinking of all the course hours you need to complete.

Bite by bite, slowly, by building those daily habits, you progress toward your goals.

With our move, I worked hard to let go of worrying about any step beyond the next one and, once that step was done, I focused on the next and just trusted that the following steps would also be manageable once I reached them.

What elephant are you trying to eat?

Planning for Passover (or insert your diet-busting holiday here)!

I refuse to even consider that Passover is coming until after we get past Purim. I prefer to live in sweet denial up to that point, basking in the quiet period between holidays. Eventually, though, it comes time to start planning. I’m pretty sure every culture has holidays like this that are anticipated both with joy as well as exhaustion and then a little guilt at that exhaustion as it wrestles with the joy.

This year, my particular challenge in my Passover planning is that I don’t want to completely go off my nutrition plan for that week. If anything, I’m trying to bust through another weight loss plateau. Looking at what I usually cook for Passover, though, it looks like I need to make some changes. In most households, Passover involves removing a lot of foods that I depend on in any given week. For our family, with our customs, this means no legumes, no breads, no fruits or vegetables I can’t peel, and my spice cabinet is off limits. Imagine Iron Chef or Chopped or any other cooking challenge show with just sugar, lemon juice, salt, and meat and potatoes with some oranges thrown in…and make something healthy and tasty!

But…it really isn’t THAT bad, when I look deeper.

Potatoes aside, a lot of the dishes I usually make for Passover are already quite healthy. Each year I make a salad with grated carrots, lemon juice, and orange juice with a little olive oil and salt. In fact, most of the salads I make can happily stay. I tend to eat a lot of fruit during Passover and that can also stay with mangoes as a special treat that we don’t often eat as much of at other times. Most of my meat dishes are already pretty light as long as I avoid heavy sauces. The biggest challenge is healthy starches with a lot of fiber. There’s only so much whole wheat matzah anyone can tolerate. Here, I plan on leaning heavily on sweet potatoes.

And then…I come across my dessert recipes and this is where I stumble.

For my family, Passover isn’t Passover without my famous Passover chocolate chip cookies. They are good, but they’re also pretty much coconut oil, sugar, and ground nuts. I decide to make them and give them to the kids and avoid thinking about them. Passover brownies are similar…mostly sugar, eggs, and potato starch. I decide to eat fruit for desserts and leave the treats to the teenagers this year.

For me, it helps to look at this holiday more like a detox or cleanse. I always notice how much more I taste fruits and vegetables when I can’t cover them in my usual spice blends. It’s a chance to rediscover simple flavors for a week and then come back to my spice cabinet with a whole new feeling of gratitude for what I have the rest of the year.

For holidays in general, I feel like the more I have a plan going into the holiday season, the better I am able to stick to healthy habits. It’s when I don’t plan ahead and we’re all hungry that I find we’re living off of macaroons and mashed potatoes and feeling awful as a result.

What’s your holiday plan? Do you have any holidays that particularly challenge your fitness or nutrition routines?

What Stops Me?

I’m half-watching a yoga therapy anatomy conference presentation as I write up tickets for work…as one does, when a slide catches my attention and pokes at my brain in a certain way…there’s something here beyond just yoga anatomy.

“What Stops Me?”

In this context, the speaker is talking about normal variation in anatomy and how it can be the factor that stops someone from going any further in a position or pose. If the angle of your leg bone in relation to your hip joint doesn’t allow your leg to go any further…it’s not going to go any further no matter how much stretching you do. It simply can’t. There’s two things that stop you from going any further in any position, either tension or compression. Either there’s too much tension in tissues to allow you to go further or you’ve reached the point where tissues are pressed together as far as they can go, like in the example of the hip joint and leg bone. Everyone’s body is different, so everyone has a different place at which they simply can’t go further. Models on instagram or in pictures can often go far further than most people because they are gifted with certain proportions that enable them to do that, not necessarily because they’ve worked longer or harder at it than someone who simply can’t.

But…”What Stops Me?” off my mat?

When I have a goal I want to reach that’s not a yoga pose, what stops me? Where is the limit of how far I can push myself before I hit some kind of inherent limitation, like bone hitting bone? If I haven’t reached that point yet, what’s holding me back? Is it the tension I feel, the discomfort of change or trying so hard? Is it the compression of carrying so much? What stops me from reaching that goal?

I’ve been struggling with eating clean this month. It’s not that I’ve gone on huge binges, but each day there’s a little something I wind up letting slide and it’s leading to me just staying on another plateau. I’m not gaining weight, but I’m not really losing it either.

“What Stops Me?”

In this case, it’s evenings. After a long day of work, I just don’t feel like cooking anything and the easiest things to eat aren’t 100% on my plan or I sneak a few squares of dark chocolate after a long day. I’m tired. I’m likely not getting enough rest and I might be overtraining. By feeling into that question, “What stops me,” I’m able to start to ease into where I could stretch just a little bit more and I see that I haven’t hit some hard and fast limit here yet…I just haven’t taken the time to start to feel into what I need to be doing differently. I could food prep in advance for those nights I’m tired. I could add in more rest days and get better sleep. There are things I can try to go just a little bit deeper into this goal.

What’s stopping you?