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Winter Nutrition Tips

It is pretty much a given in our culture that at this time of year we tend to overindulge in types of foods and liquids that may add a few unwanted pounds. To augment that tendency, many of us are more inactive due to the season, the colder temperatures, and the overall attitude that goes along with the winter seasonal quality of a more inward, introspective time. If we were more in touch with the aspect of introspection and truly took it to heart, it may actually help us to align and stay on a course that honors our own best interests. All too often though, with the hype of Christmas and all of its social activities we tend to add more distraction, which in the end pulls us even farther off center and our natural inclination to be still for a time.

It is important I feel, to allow for a little quiet time, especially during a season which we need to conserve our reserves. If you observe nature she is always letting herself rest and renew at this time, often to the extent of complete dormancy or hibernation. Nature can teach us everything really, and at a time when we live lives quite detached from Nature, especially our own nature, we could perhaps take some advice. I am going to suggest that you will more than likely fall off a little on your exercise regimes and to allow for that, without any guilt. This is ok – the most damaging thing to come from that tendency would be to feel guilty. Guilt will just develop into more of the same, which will lead to self-sabotage. So cut yourself some slack – but not too much, and relax a little. We need to be careful when we cut ourselves slack because if we don’t do it consciously and with intention we often feel we have to steal time for ourselves and end up feeling guilty, perhaps because we did not set it up properly or we broke an agreement because we said “yes” when we really meant “no”. We will do this to ourselves with food as well. Because we don’t allow ourselves to indulge and enjoy, with ease and discretion we tend to go way off in opposite directions – complete denial of pleasure or dangerous overindulgence. Find the middle road of balance and you will save yourself a lot of wasted energy.

Here are some diet tips if you feel a little heavier and wish to lighten up a bit in the New Year.

Begin with total acceptance of yourself as you are. From there make a realistic request to attract the ideal weight. Think of it like this: If you say to yourself I am too fat…bla bla bla…, you are affirming that, and the subconscious will continue to make that a reality because that is its job. Instead, imagine your ideal weight and how that would feel and go from there. You could say to yourself: “I am so thrilled to feel light, energetic and healthy in my body. I enjoy being my ideal weight (say your weight) and I love my body!

Make one choice to exercise. Let it be as simple as a walk, but make that choice and do it. If you don’t get to it, go to the mirror and say I chose not to walk today because…(“…….”) and really own that choice, not the guilt or the negative attitude that you may find yourself giving into. You will be amazed when you are conscious about the choices you are making; you will be more honorable about them. Remember exercise if good for you and important, your body loves to move!

Think quality when you are eating. At a time when many of our traditions are filled with starches, fats and sugars – the three deadly sins – you need to be diligent about the quality and type of food you put into your body. Ask not what the food doesn’t have, but what it DOES have that will serve you.

Feed and water every 3-4 hours. This is a concept that I will be addressing more in inserts to come, (The Seven Fit For Life Habits) for now however, simply to eliminate the huge meals and move more towards more frequent small meals. Your metabolism is like a fire. To keep it burning, throw a log on every 3-4 hours by eating healthy meals and snacks. Remember a “fired” metabolism burns fat 35% more efficiently than a sluggish one.

Drink plenty of water. Think of drinking water every time you go to eat, and drink at least eight ounces. That way you will be sure to stay hydrated, especially during a season when it’s easy to forget to drink as much. The body doesn’t have a natural mechanism for thirst, so often when we think we are hungry we are really thirsty. Aim for 2 full liters a day.

Get enough protein. To assist in eating fewer refined starches, include a 3-4 oz. serving of protein, plant or animal (fish is best), in all three of your daily meals. Remember the body will burn stores of fat faster, with minimal carbs present.

Eat lots of vegetables. Make at least half of your plate veggies for all of your meals. These provide all the nutrients and micronutrients. Your body won’t digest and process the food you eat efficiently without vitamins and minerals. You may need to consider supplements to get things working really well.

Be grateful for your ability to eat well, for your amazing body and its wisdom to efficiently carry out all of its processes and functions to assist in your experience here. Think of nurturing yourself, body, mind and spirit and eating will take on a whole new joy.

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Yoga builds strength.

So often I am asked if I “work out” or do a weight training circuit, due to the way my 46-year-old physical body looks. It is a great compliment to be sure, however I am careful to appropriately assign the credit to yoga. Yes it is true: yoga has been my single most consistent and effective tool for all-over body fitness. I can honestly say that at my age, I am fitter and stronger now than I have ever been in my entire life. This month I would like to address some of the reasons why that is so and some of the ways you can make that so in your own practice. I would also like to address in the “Yoga Page” the phenomenon of men and yoga and how men can benefit from this truly amazing practice and some of the tools they can use to overcome the natural and imagined barriers from getting to a yoga class, because the benefits for them are perhaps even more profound than for the opposite sex. The fact that yoga is my primary source of fitness and that many ask me if I weight train may not convince much that yoga is enough to keep one fit. You may recall from my August insert on fitness the definition of “fitness”, which was “the quality or state of being physically fit; the quality of being suitable, qualified or morally fit for something”. I like that definition in that it describes a total approach to fitness – physical, mental, and moral. In any case fitness as described by a physiologist may have many different meanings from cardio respiratory, muscular and overall body composition.

“Experts have long recommended that we do at least three different types of fitness activity to achieve optimum cardio respiratory and muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition. For example the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) recommends building cardio fitness by exercising at an intensity that raises your heart rate to at least 55% of your maximum heart rate, muscular fitness by targeting each major muscular group with eight to ten repetitions of weight bearing exercise, and flexibility with stretching.” (Yoga Journal Sept 2002)

Recently yoga was put to the test to see if in fact, yogis like myself measured up. The tests done at the University of California at Davis tested all areas of fitness mentioned above, on a group of 10 college students. The students attended four sessions of yoga a week and were measured before and after. After eight weeks the students’ muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 88 percent. Other benefits gleaned from the study included increased concentration; body mass composition, endurance and balance. In addition the results were derived from only a short period – eight weeks, which to some research experts was the most astonishing finding.

Why yoga works, is an exhaustive subject covering many areas. Suffice it to say the word is out and we know it does work because we can see the results. In terms of development of muscular strength, the Davis study at UCLA suggest that muscles respond to stretching by becoming larger and capable of extracting more oxygen more quickly, in other words one of the side benefits of flexibility include increased muscle strength and endurance.

Another great boost to the strength component of your yoga practice lies in the benefits to your joints. This is an example of the age-old wisdom of yoga. Many of the postures involve bonding or contracting one side of the body and then releasing. In this process the joints involved become what is called “close packed”. In a closed packed position no movement is possible because the joint surfaces fit snuggly together and this “locks” the joint. The least amount of muscular effort is required to stabilize the joint in the closed pack position, so muscular strength can be addressed in other areas, say the triceps in a pushup position with the elbow snuggly tucked in at the waist. The core body musculature can also be addressed when the ligaments around the joints don’t have to do all the work.

Another benefit of this concept and an affirmation for yoga and all of its wisdom, is that this very “closed pack” position, common in most yoga postures, is incredibly nourishing for the joints and bones. When a joint goes into a close pack position all of the naturally occurring fluid that surrounds the joint to keep it mobile are squeezed out into the capsule, and when the position is released the fluid comes rushing back in, replenished by the blood supply and new positioning.

The other way yoga helps to increase and develop strength is that everything in yoga is done bilaterally – or both sided, this not only develops symmetry but also balance, coordination and strength from the “inside out”. I remember being asked by a student why it may be important to hold my own body weigh in space, and quite simply I can’t think of any other weight I would rather hold – but also what a gift to be able to “hold oneself up”.

Men, who are naturally stronger than women but often more inflexible, may need to take heed as yoga moves into the world of fitness. Often they have steered away from yoga due to not wanting to have to do a pose that exposes their tight hamstrings or their egos. However with the new styles of yoga focusing on heat and power they can join in without embarrassment and usually do very well. Men do have somewhat of an advantage in that strength allows for flexibility in most cases. According to Men’ Fitness, Sept 2000, “Yoga may well be the greatest form of cross training available to men. What makes yoga unique is its ability to loosen up muscles while simultaneously strengthening them, giving the most amount of cardiovascular, anaerobic and flexibility benefits in the shortest period of time.” “Yoga develops a form of lightweight muscle that is powerful, flexible, and most important, usable.” Tom Birch.

“Yoga’s fluid like movements build thorough strength throughout the body that teaches the arms and legs to work with the torso, not independently from it.” Mens Fitness 2000.

So what are you waiting for? There are scads of yoga studios and classes out there to choose from. Next issue we’ll look into getting to your first yoga class – some tips and pointers. Be sure to check in.