Sit-ups don't work. Here's what does!

Seriously, quit it.

Seriously, quit it.

If you're still a devotee of sit-ups and crunches, I have some bad news and some good news.

1. Bad news first: They don't work. You can't "spot reduce" that area to magically reveal a nice, tight six-pack. Also, they put tons of strain on your delicate neck and upper-back vertebrae. Are your neck and legs often more tired than your abs after a killer crunch session? Your body's super smart--it's recruiting those muscles in an effort to help you slog through your session. Its job is to make everything you do as efficient and easy as possible. So we have to shake things up! Also, by working those muscles in isolation, you exacerbate the imbalance between a tight front (abs, hip flexors) and a weak back that most Westerners suffer from, which generates chronic low-back pain.

2. Good news: You hate sit-ups, don't you? So cut that out. Let me show you something way more effective. By recruiting both your entire abdominal sheath of muscles AND the rest of your whole darn body, you'll burn off the fat that's covering your glorious six-pack (we all have them, but if you have some "padding," they won't show) and transform yourself into a sleek, powerful, graceful god/goddess.

Jogging, treadmilling, Stairmastering, ellipsing, and all those other tedious hamster-wheel exercises cause fat retention, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and extreme boredom. That's because human bodies aren't designed to work that way! We're meant to run from threats and chase prey. Because our genes still haven't caught up with the Information Age, if we want to stay fit and lean our whole lives, we need to simulate our hunter-gatherer ancestors and incorporate short bursts of intense activity into our daily lives.

Doing conventional crunches is also ineffective and a complete waste of your precious workout time. So let me show you what to do instead that's fun, fast, and—above all—effective! Here's Cisco's and my video of the week. There are a few additional instructions below the vid, so don't miss those for enhanced wonderfulness with this exercise.

A few extra tips for refinement:

1. In my martial art, we use the term taijutsu, meaning "body mechanics." Good taijutsu is very simple, but essential to make this effective for you. "Tuck your tailbone down" means, in other words, to stretch the base of your spine back toward your heels. I had a yoga student once whose back kept looking very swayed in plank pose. Turns out she was very carefully (and literally) pressing her tailbone toward the floor, causing her back to bend. Don't do that. As you press your tailbone back toward your feet, also draw your bellybutton toward your spine. This has the effect of firming and stabilizing the entire core area. Still don't get it? Picture a spiral of energy drawing the front of your body toward your face and the back of your body toward your feet.

2. If you're new to fitness and have been relatively inactive for years, PLEASE (yes, I'm yelling) start with the "easiest" version of this exercise, i.e., on your hands and knees. Neither of us will be happy if you hurt yourself and have to stop before you even get started. I'll come find you and box your ears!

3. Remember, you now have no excuses not to exercise! You can do my workouts anytime, anywhere. Depending on your level of ballsiness concerning working out in public spaces, the world is now your gym. Last week I did a quick workout on a pier over the ocean before a meeting. If people stare, invite them over to join you! You'll get laughs and smiles, and they probably won't, but I bet you'll inspire folks to get off their butts! This is revolutionary work, I tell you. :)

Next week: An amazing, spirit-boosting exercise that also sculpts your arms into beautiful, high-tensile steel (men and women both). No weights or pushups required!

Parking Lot Pranayama

upanishads

I watched my video last night before posting it here, and some words stuck out to me: "We're all so stressed out these days." Now, I could come up with a number of reasons why that seems to be the case, but it occurred to me that "being stressed out" might just be a matter of choice. And then, wouldn'tcha know it, I was reading this morning in my new Essence of the Upanishads by Eknath Easwaren (one-word review: wow) about the origin and causes of stress. Briefly, it appears I am on to something, according to this timeless Indian spiritual classic.

Apparently, in addition to the untrained human mind's default setting of living in the past (anger, regret, resentment, etc.) or the future (anxiety, fear, anticipation, etc.), our minds tend to react to circumstances and events based on an extremely narrow set of requirements that make up our definition of what's "acceptable."

It's kind of like if your body needed the temperature to be always 72-75 degree outside for it to survive. Anything outside that tiny range would prompt extraordinary, life-or-death measures to neutralize the threat.

That's pretty much what our untrained minds are doing when we feel the emotional and physiological symptoms of stress: high blood pressure, pounding heart, anger, depression (anger turned inwards), headache, upset stomach, and eventually the whole range of illness that can come with chronic, unrelenting stress.

Our untrained minds are reacting to a perceived threat to our survival. Common examples today include losing a job, a house, or a spouse, and hostile encounters daily with other peoples' hair triggers.

Easwaren writes, "Stress is not caused so much by difficult conditions as by what we think of such conditions.... [T]he world does not impose stress upon us; we impose stress on ourselves.... [W]hat brings on stress is often no more or less than our strong, self-centered desires and self-will—the fierce need to have what we want when we want it, and in the way we want it, too. If you look at anyone who seems chronically under stress, you will often find that person subject to rigid likes and dislikes which he or she cannot stand to have thwarted."

Easwaren goes on to tell the story of a famous surgeon whose reputation as high strung and opinionated was legendary. He often used to complain, "My life is at the mercy of any rascal who chooses to annoy me." He died of a massive heart attack one day immediately after a colleague contradicted him.

Can you relate? I know I can. How many of my days have I allowed to be ruined by a harsh word, an unintended slight, or even (gasp!) constructive criticism delivered with love?

Here's what we can do: train the mind through meditation. According to the Katha Upanishad (in modern language courtesy of the brilliant Easwaren): "When your mind is calm, patient, and compassionate, you do not respond to life with anger.... All the vital functions of the body keep their appropriate pace [despite the circumstances you find yourself in]. This is the kind of control I am interested in, for it has a direct bearing on living in full health, free from rigidity and destructive ways of thinking."

Well, here's Cisco's and my (poorly lighted) video of the week, which sparked my little epiphany! We hope you like it and benefit from it. Please let us know your thoughts!

It's Remember Who You Are Day!

Whenever I'm like, "D'oh! I totally can't work out today because my gerbil just threw up/the plant leaves are dusty / last week was the solar eclipse / my period's due in 20 days," etc., I reach for one of my favorite tools in my "Get-Your-Ass-Up-NOW" toolbox.

And that is the magnificently simple and amazingly effective Hindu Squat. Why is it Hindu? I don't know, look it up. Something about wrestlers way back when in India. All I know is, this exercise beats the freakin' pants off pretty much anything I can throw at my body without a massive investment in equipment, gym memberships (you already know what I think about those), or personal training. Or even stuff I can do around the house, for that matter. I'm telling you, people with a 5,000-year-old culture tend to know a thing or two we American babies have no idea about.

The Hindu squat is one of them. (And also a little thing called yoga, which I teach, doncha know).

Anyway, I thought this handy-dandy ass-kicker of a do-anywhere/anytime exercise would be just the thing for my Remember Who You Are Day gift to you.

One thing I forgot to mention in the vid: try to tighten your abs every time you return to the start of the exercise. That gets more challenging as you go, what with gasping for breath and all, but try at least to do it in the beginning.

K, here ya go. Let me know how it goes!