Monday, November 30, 2009

Yoga for Athletes w/ Om Gal & Om Bro

Yoga for Athletes from from Rebecca Pacheco on Vimeo.

Yogis often ask me if yoga practice is enough to keep fit, and my answer is always: YES, as long as the style of yoga that you practice is vigorous (and consistent) enough. On the other hand, if you prefer a very gentle, restorative practice, then additional exercise is probably needed to ensure adequate cardiovascular health, weight management, immune system support, etc.

Meanwhile, athletes frequently seek my input on how to supplement their training programs with yoga, and sometimes, they even wonder how effective yoga can be as its own form of training. Is it challenging enough? Can it take the place of some of an athlete's strength and conditioning work? Again, the answer is YES.

So, I recruited my "little" brother, a former professional lacrosse player, to show you how. Recently, we combined our workouts at the storied New York Athletic Club to create a video for yogis, athletes, and yogi/athletes to illustrate how traditional strength training can be substituted or complemented by yoga.

Here, Reece (a.k.a. "Om Bro") demonstrates some high octane exercises, which I then translate into effective asanas with similar benefits. The exercises and asanas range in difficulty, but please bear in mind, a baseline fitness level is needed for all of them. As with any new exercise program, please consult your doctor first.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Going Shopping?

Here we are, the biggest, merriest, most confounding shopping day of the year. People wake up at ungodly hours to engage in parking wars and jostle each other outside Walmart for the latest Wii or flatscreen TV or whatever. I have never seen it. I don't understand it. But, I know it happens.

If you brave the annual shopping smackdown of Black Friday: Godspeed to you. Remember to meditate while standing in line or waiting in traffic or reasoning with a child (or husband) in the throes of a brewing tantrum. Deep, deep, breaths . . .

Photo above: Lululemon's Holiday Checklist display created by the team at the Boston store (Prudential Center), who maintain normal shopping hours today, in case you're wondering. Check out item #7 on the list . . . Love them.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sweets of the Holiday Season

Ah, the sweets of the season! Just now, Om Mama reviewed the assortment of desserts and pies on hand for our Thanksgiving dinner, and we, somewhat sheepishly, arrived at the conclusion that we went a little overboard. We're clocking in at nearly a pie a person (yikes!).

Do I see the irony of outing my family's sugary excess in a corner of the blogosphere that prides itself on living a balanced lifestyle, characterized by health and moderation? Yes. Yes, I do. Yet, above all, aims to be authentic (even when it means unintentionally invoking the ire of a militant vegan by posting a pancake recipe featuring cottage cheese or copping to a sugar addiction of my own). Candidly speaking, I'd be doing us all a disservice if I wrote a post on Thanksgiving that encouraged everyone to skip the pie and have some wheat grass juice instead. I might be a health nut, but at least I'm a realistic health nut.

To my readers*, I say, "Let them eat pie!" Do keep an eye on moderation, though, by considering the following:

Choosing wisely- A successful approach to wellness is comprised of lots of small, sensible choices, culminating in a healthier overall strategy. For example, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, hitting the gym rather than the couch, and drinking water instead of soda. Dessert is no different. Choose whole wheat crust for your pie; substitute apple sauce for butter in your pumpkin bread recipe; opt for the fruity desserts over richer ones. These tiny tweaks of your Turkey Day menu will ensure that you don't feel like a stuffed bird by sundown.

Sizing up your portions- If you simply can't limit yourself to one dessert, streamline the portion size of the two (or three, or four) desserts that you can't resist trying.

Nipping frequency- Listen carefully: It's not physically possible to become unhealthy or fat in a single day. However, you can lose your healthy habits over the holidays through continued excess. In other words, leave the leftovers behind. You should savor Mom's pecan pie today, but you do not need to eat it for breakfast tomorrow . . . and the next day . . . and . . .

As a self-proclaimed sweet tooth (or, in my case, "molar"), I find it helpful to identify sweet, seasonal choices that feel special but won't derail your healthy path if enjoyed on a regular basis. I am positively smitten with pomegranates and clementines right now because they're in season and delectably sweet. Coupled with my latest, on-the-go snack of choice, goji berries, I feel as though my penchant for sweets is sated, without running the risk of not fitting into my favorite, new lycra leggings (you know, the new frilly ones at lululemon).

*In the spirit of Thanksgiving: I am insanely thankful to all of you for your continued readership, feedback via emails to and comments on the site, and support on Facebook and Twitter. Many blessings to you and yours today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quote: Make More Mistakes

If I had my life to live over again, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones . . .

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.

-Nadine Stair

Friday, November 20, 2009

Favorite Flashback Fitness Workout?

We all gravitate toward certain exercise habits. We run the same route. We opt for the same machines at the gym, sometimes in the same geographic location within the gym (I call dibs on the treadmill near the windows!). We attend the same group fitness and yoga classes, taught by the same instructors. We see the same personal trainer (cheating on him/her is unthinkable!). Preferences like these indicate consistency, diligence, and motivation-- crucial elements for achieving one's wellness goals. However, every once in a while, every fitness routine needs a little shake up.

I knew I had arrived at one of these moments recently when I was far more interested in the Jon Gosselin circus featured in the cast-off tabloid magazine I was reading than the stationary bike I was riding. The songs on my iPod shuffle didn't hold my attention (not even Jay-Z, so I knew this was serious). Then, right around the time someone had to wake me from the catnap I was taking on a weight bench, I realized I needed a take-no-prisoners approach to snapping myself out of this malaise.

Surely the answer to a stale workout must be something new, so I set out to try a newly minted, high-octane fitness class . . . Body Pump, created by Les Mills. Did I know who Les Mills was? No. Would I know Body Pump if it right-hooked me in the face? No.

What did I think of the class? I liked it better the first time around, when it was called Tae Bo and taught by Billy Blanks. No disrespect to Mr. Mills, I am sure he is a topnotch motivator with oodles of qualified teachers across the country who delight students with a blend of jabs and high kicks and mock jump-roping, but, truthfully, I couldn't help but feel unfulfilled by "Tae Bo Lite." I'd seen it before, and it begged the question: Is a style of exercise any less effective just because it's no longer en vogue? (Of course not!).

And, I wonder: What tried-and-true, old-school activities might be just the thing to make a ho-hum workout feel new again?

I'd love to hear about your favorite retro routines: Buns of Steel from the 90s? Jumping rope from grade school? Running suicides like in high school varsity try-outs? Taking a traditional yoga class, held in a church rather than a swank studio? I've decided my next stop this winter is ballet class (I haven't been in one since I was 14). I'll keep you posted with how it goes . . .

This installment of Friday, I'm in Love: Please post the fitness flashbacks you long for most.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote: Fear

I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Clear Your Head

Sometimes Mondays are challenging, for a wide array of reasons. Perhaps you drank a bit too much wheat grass juice this weekend. Maybe you feel groggy for staying up late to watch a certain high-profile football game last night (with a certain heartbreaking outcome for New Englanders). Whatever the reason for your lack of vim and vigor, the remedy is simple: You need an inversion! Any type will do, though the easiest is uttanasana, also known as rag doll. (See below; arm bind optional).

Other options include: Headstand, Handstand, Shoulder Stand, Forearm Stand, Prasrita (like rag doll but with legs wide apart), my Friday fav Viparita Karani, and, even, downward dog.

The goal is to place your head [melon, dome, noggin] below your heart. This circulates precious, fresh blood to your brain, clearing out fatigue, anxiety, mild depression, and, yes, even a serious case of "the Mondays."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, I'm in Love: With Friday

It's been a doozy of a week, so if anyone needs me, I'll be in savasana (above) this weekend. Maybe headstand on Saturday night, if I'm feeling crazy.

xo Om Gal

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Do Yoga & Fast Food Have in Common?

To date, I've never eaten at Taco Bell. The first time I tasted a famed Wendy's Frosty, I was a freshman in college. As a child, my parents were more apt to allow me to keep pet chickens than habitually eat them in the form of a McNugget.

When I share details of my limited exposure to fast food, people usually assume I was raised on a commune by hippie parents who baked bread, practiced yoga, and taught me to make my own soap. Not quite. Though that kind of upbringing would explain a few things. . .

Instead, my parents are in the restaurant business, hence my brother and I were encouraged, nay, mandated to patronize small businesses rather than big, bloated chain restaurants whenever possible. Sure, they were health-conscious, but more than that, my entrepreneurial mom and pop were conscious of supporting mom-and-pop businesses, and, to be fair, no chef—from the standpoint of taste—wants to dine on mass-produced meals from a corporate kitchen, or encourage his/her children to do the same.

But, what does all this have to do with yoga, you ask? More than you think.

No doubt you've noticed that yoga is pretty popular these days. So popular that new styles of yoga seem to pop up faster than outlandish fashion statements on Lady Gaga. Increasingly, these different types of yoga are—you guessed it—being trademarked and/or franchised. Perhaps the most well-known yogi to "brand" a style of yoga is Birkram Choudhury, who went so far in 2002 to copyright his sequence of 27 postures. However, he's not the only one to trademark a style of yoga practice, train other teachers to teach and promote it, and franchise studios around the country, a pseudo “fast food” option for yoga practices. (I get a kick out of taking the metaphor one step further and imaging what I might name an actual fast food joint for yogis. Hey kids, who wants McYogis? Burger Raja . . . Breath In & Out Burger?).

Unless you've been meditating in a Himalayan cave for the past decade, you realize that yoga is not just popular, but, for some, profitable. In 2005, consumers spent $2.5 billion in yoga classes, yoga apparel and accessories, according to Yoga Journal. Last year, the figure exploded to $7.5 billion, a growth of 300%. With all this added demand for yoga and its accouterments; teachers, studios, health clubs, and retailers are continually amping up the supply, with varying levels of authenticity and success. Much has been made of the commodification of yoga in recent years, and for good reason.

One of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons of Sports Guy fame (who also hails from the state of Massachusetts), once put it thus, "The sound inside the cathedral is so peaceful without the clanging of the collection plate.”* He was referring to the ways in which we idealize the games we love, often failing to accept that sports teams are businesses (big ones) for which athletes perform a job, in exchange for money. We want athletes to love our hometowns, stadiums, coaches, and fans as much as we do and, for example, not feel wooed by other organizations offering higher salaries. However, let’s face it; that’s a little naïve. OK, it’s a lot naïve.

At its core, yoga is a spiritual practice, but there’s also a lot of money changing hands in the name of spiritual growth. Admittedly, this reality makes me uneasy, but I would also be naïve if I didn’t acknowledge that the yoga industry is just as susceptible to the pitfalls of being focused on profit over quality as, say, the restaurant industry. The crux is this: No matter what the industry, human beings are running it, and the human condition is vulnerable to the same triggers whether it’s selling Big Macs or yoga mats. The only safeguards we have against yoga becoming unbearably diluted as a spiritual practice is the individual attention and integrity that we show our own practices and life paths each day.

The expansion of yoga from a niche interest for the New Age set to a mainstream activity enjoyed by millions is a very good thing. More people are healthier and happier because of it. Yet, I often wonder how much flavor and finesse are lost when yogis cook up a style meant for mass-consumption.

Consider the upside and downside of yoga-related franchises . . .


Access: With more choices on the yoga menu today, a greater number of people are able to find a practice to meet their needs. This is a wonderful thing.

Expectations: People appreciate knowing what to expect when they shell out their hard-earned money for a product or service, whether it’s a Saturday morning latte or Thursday night yoga class. Like any valued franchise, branded yoga styles and franchised studios provide students with an experience with which they are fond and familiar. If you know what to look for, you’re more apt to find it.

Expansion: If you’re anything like me, you get a little lift when you can recommend your amazing hair stylist, off-the-hook massage therapist, or a delectable recipe for tofu pumpkin pie to your closest om pals. We enjoy sharing the small discoveries that make life stylish, relaxing, or delicious because, in many ways, we all pride ourselves on being connoisseurs of good taste. And, let’s face it; it’s easier to share your favorite yoga experiences if they’re easily identifiable by a trademark style.


Authenticity: I once heard some jamoke on TV describe his style of “Yoga for Regular Guys” thus, “Instead of namaste, we’re all about T and A,” referring to the, ahem, certain anatomical features of a woman’s body. Let me set the record straight here: That’s not yoga. Being creative and finding a niche audience is one thing; being a sexist buffoon is another. I’m just saying . . .

Experience: Given yoga’s recent surge in popularity, there are oodles of teachers certified in various styles all the time. Yet, newer styles sometimes omit important aspects of yoga’s tradition, and newer teachers are often certified in the first style that they try. Specializing in one style of practice is not a bad thing; however, I do believe that the best teachers have a broader repertoire.

Integrity: There’s no other way to say this: When yoga teachers or corporations engage in hypocritical behavior for the sake of shilling their goods to a greater audience, it shows. As any chef will tell you, you’re only as good as your last meal. So, while your dish can have some decorative flash (perhaps a fancy garnish or dollop of an expensive gourmet ingredient), at it’s core, it must be nourishing, wholesome, and fulfilling.

Readers, please dish your thoughts: When are yoga franchises convenient and inclusive? When are they disingenuous or diluted?

*I'm paraphrasing this quote from Simmons. I read it several years ago in one of his many memorable columns in ESPN the Magazine.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quote: Rumi

"Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder."