I pray for squashed bugs.

Yesterday I witnessed something beautiful: I got to watch a master yoga instructor work his way through a roomful of students who were experiencing different areas of stiffness ("resistance"). He guided each of them to a personal realization of how to heal themselves. Peter Sterios, cofounder of mBody Yoga in San Luis Obispo, California, is a 500-hour registered yoga therapist (RYT), and has been studying, teaching, and practicing for more than 30 years. As a former self-described stiff guy, he's uniquely qualified to teach about compassionately overcoming resistance in the mind-body-spirit complex. I feel privileged to be continuing my own lifelong training with him at his beautiful studio.

violent_universe

Among all that I learned yesterday during Peter's three-hour Yoga Mentoring class, one thing really jumped out at me. Here it is:

The Universe is a violent place. And that's OK.

This information came to light while we were all kneeling with our toes bent back. For a really...really...long...time. (OK, maybe it was a minute or so. You try it and get back to me, tough guy!)

At this precise moment, just as I was calmly (from the outside, anyway) observing myself about to blow a gasket from the intensity of the sensation, Peter brought up the topic of ahimsa.

Ahimsa is a concept in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras that is often translated as "nonviolence." It's become the basis of many a vegetarian and vegan diet, as well as countless personal practices that seek to cause as little pain and suffering in the world as humanly possible. Have you heard of the monks who won't bathe because they might kill microorganisms on their skin or in the water? I think that's beautiful in its earnestness, but then I get a little panicky because I think of the millions of microscopic organisms that I'm breathing—right now—that I just killed. There go some more! Aaaahhhhh!

germ

However, as Peter pointed out, "we live in a predatory universe." Everything living, in order to survive, is required to destroy something else, whether plant, mineral, or animal. Therefore, if we look more closely at the concept of ahimsa, and translate the ancient meaning more accurately, it really means something closer to "restoring balance." In my opinion, avoidance of and guilt over all kinds of "violence," even if it's the kind we use to feed our bodies or defend ourselves, is out of alignment with Nature and the natural order of things.

As an instructor of yoga and fitness and a practitioner of the martial arts, I've often told students, "If it hurts, don't do it." Pain causes a sharp, electrical, stabbing sensation that's the body's way of yelling, "Hey! Knock that s--t off!" But I also believe there's a critical difference between "pain" and "intensity." We don't want pain; we do want intensity. Intensity, whether physical or emotional, is where growth and rebalancing can occur.

Hey, I'm doing it!

Hey, I'm doing it!

So when we work with our bodies to keep them in their natural state of flexible strength; when you tell a coworker or partner that no, it's not OK for them to abuse your good will and generosity yet again; or when we eat (hey, those organic sprouts were loving life, too!), maybe you could see that as a rebalancing of energy, not being violent.

You have a right to thrive, too. And as a human, you have the unique option to do so with wisdom and compassion. So pray for those accidentally squashed bugs! Thank your sautéed chicken with greens as you sit down for lunch. Take back your power from those who mistreat you. Enjoy the intensity of the yoga pose that always frustrates you. Practice ahimsa on your path to becoming a real human being!

Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think. I'd love to hear from you!

Blown Away

The wind this week has been crazy where I live! The wind is an apt metaphor for how tons of people are feeling these days: blown around and buffeted like a leaf ahead of a thunderstorm, with no end to the chaos in sight.

So this week I felt inspired to offer several ways to reduce your stress levels—methods that I use personally throughout the day. Each of them resets chronic hyperventilation patterns (shallow chest breathing) to deep, natural belly breaths, eliminating or reducing the confused, anxious, irritable feeling that so many of us have come to accept, tragically, as our normal state.

Remember: you don't have to go to yoga class to experience the benefits of this ancient practice! While we'd all like an hour and a half to dive into a bamboo-floored, lotus-scented spa experience, if that's not an option for you right now, you can get virtually the same stress-relieving effect from incorporating these few techniques into your daily life for a minute or two. Real magic can happen when you make these and other fitness and stress-relief techniques part of your daily existence!

Share these with your kids, your parents, your love, and watch as your inner and outer worlds transform into oases of calm. Find the eye of the hurricane and enjoy a rest, even as the storm swirls around you!

Bust Out of the Workout Box, Beautiful!

I just launched a new series of classes for 2012 based on the nutty workouts I've been doing on my own for the last two years.  Well, people say they're nutty and that I'm nutty for doing them. But then they do them with me and (when they can put a sentence together again) go, "Oh, man, that's GOOD!" It's like your body finally gets the thing it's been craving for so long.

Watch video demonstrating moves and modifications.

 

 

Bonzai the Border Collie & Why You Remind Me of Her
Our bodies (and our minds, too) are like my border collie, Bobo, may she rest in peace. Those of you who know working dogs know that they go crazy when they don't have a job to do or a challenge to surmount. They get all weird and start pushing furniture around with their faces and barking at the corner and stuff.

These astronaut suits we call our bodies are meant to WORK, not sit for eight hours a day and then go home and sit for another 2.5 hours in front of the TV. (That's the average amount of time Americans spend in front of the television in 2012, by the way. The average. And how much do we complain that we don't have any free time to—ahem—exercise or practice yoga or meditate? Just saying.)

But Wait, There's More! So in my fearless search for the best way to get fit and stay fit without a gym membership, a huge contraption that will end up with clothes on it in the corner, or a closet full of Home Shopping Network Ab-zer-cizers or whatever they are, I've discovered that the cutting edge of exercise science points to short-burst, high-intensity, body weight workouts. Please benefit from my many hours of research and experimentation on my own personal self.

And Now, My Point Below is the handout that handed out to my new workout buddies at our first class this week.

Give it a try and see if it doesn't light you up! There's a short FAQ section after, too, in case you have questions. I think it's pretty entertaining as well, if I do say so. (For those of you who don't know the moves listed below, Jim and I are making a video this week to show you! Hopefully, he won't have to go to the bathroom in the middle of it like my last cameraman. UPDATE 1/14/12: My spectacular kid Cisco did do the video this week, and added his own special flair! Thanks, Cis!)

Rocket Fuel Renegade Fitness Burst (Week of January 2-8, 2012)

5-min. active warm-up: squats, side lunges, pushups, side bends, ankle/neck rolls

Main workout (each for 30 seconds); 1.5-min. break after each set, i.e., all 4 exercises in a row, for two minutes total; try for 3-8 sets

- Burpees

- Plank (hold with good form or add toe lifts)

- Lunge steps forward and then backward; add front kick if you want or weights

- Mountain climbers (bottom down, core stable, knees come way in toward nose)

5-min. cool-down: walk, half squats, stretches

Watch video demonstrating moves and modifications.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND DURING YOUR RFR WORKOUT:

  1. By the second set, you should reach a Level 8 on a scale of 1-10 effort, with 1 being a slow stroll and 10 being throwing up. HINT: Conversation is not possible at Level 8. Throughout the workout, you should never be comfortable. You should be working hard at all times, even during the rest interval (i.e., breathing hard).
  2. Go as quickly as you can with good form. Don’t let your back sag in plank/pushup or get sloppy with your mountain climbers.
  3. NEVER skip the warm up or cool down. Trust me.
  4. Maintain awareness of the core (abdomen and low back) at ALL TIMES. You’ll never see me do a sit up. The RFR makes them completely redundant. Besides, they’re a waste of time and not very good for your back and neck. Also, six-packs come from removing the layer of fat over your upper abdomen. Everyone already has a six-pack—that's how the muscles are shaped.

FAQs

Why is RFR a really good idea? Short-duration, high-intensity workouts are what your body is designed to do. It’s how it’s supposed to work. We evolved to run away from a lion or run after a deer for dinner, and then move slowly and steadily for the rest of the day. How do we know that? Because of how powerfully and quickly our bodies respond  to the demands this workout places on them! You'll notice  rapid release of fat stores (particularly the dangerous deep kind that surrounds your organs), quick muscle building and definition, an increase in human growth hormone (HGH: our biochemical fountain of youth), heightened feelings of well-being, and reduced stress hormones. (Did you know that the stress hormone cortisol actually signals your body to store belly fat? Talk about stressful...)

How often should I do these crazy workouts? Please note that too much of this workout will largely reverse the benefits (see my note above about cortisol)! Do not do the RFR workout more than 2-3 times per week, especially if you're a beginner. This is why I don't endorse those intense, 6x-week workouts that are so popular right now. Too much of a good thing. Rest is equally important to work, and critical if you want results! Also, once you get to a relatively high base level of fitness, you'll feel like the border collie above when it's time to work out—just TRY and stop ya! That's a good barometer. You should always feel better after your RFR workout, not worse. If you feel worse, take a day or two off, go for some nice walks, and start slower until you get that border collie feeling again.

What should I eat/drink to maximize my benefits? To get the most out of your RFR workouts, try to do them on an empty stomach (i.e., don’t eat for two hours beforehand). After the workout, whatever you do, do not eat anything containing fructose (like fruit, or especially sports drinks or anything with high-fructose corn syrup)! This will immediately shut down the release of HGH, which is the main benefit of the workout. Drink water. In general, avoid all grains, sugar (including agave, which through great marketing got the rep for being OK—it’s worse for you than HFCS), soy, and processed foods. This will greatly enhance the health benefits of your workout. Also, remember that fat doesn’t make you fat. Fat is your massive weight-loss friend. It’s the KIND of fat that matters. Avoid all vegetable oils like canola, soy, etc. Eat lots of organic coconut oil (only cook with this, too!), some raw nuts and nut butters, organic eggs, and raw dairy if you’re not allergic. Organic, grass-fed, free-range meats cooked gently are also huge sources of CLA, a special fatty acid that’s like a miracle for weight loss. (High heats damage almost all fats and make them unhealthy.)

Why should I give up my hour-long treadmill workouts or long-distance running/walking that the doc said I need to do for my heart/cholesterol/weight loss/etc? Docs know a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, they’re not trained in (or, in many cases open to) the latest science on nutrition and exercise. Too bad. The hour-long treadmill/long-distance paradigm is very old science and it’s wasted many hours of our precious lifetimes. We used to think it burned fat, and while any exercise is better than no exercise, it turns out that our amazing bodies are so adaptable that they quickly get used to these long, low-intensity workouts and get even BETTER at storing fat!

Your body will help you facilitate whatever it thinks you want to do, so if it sees you wanting to run 80 miles a week or spend an hour a day on an elliptical trainer, by God, it’s going to make sure to store up some fat so you can keep doing that! (Your joints will also probably start to hurt a lot, because they’re not meant to take that kind of punishment.) On the other hand, if you keep your body guessing and constantly change the demand you place on it (which it’s longing for you to do, by the way, like a border collie waiting for an assignment), it will burn off your stored fat and build muscle so you can be the lean, mean, fighting machine you’re asking it to be! It says, “Oh, Amanda needs me to be fast, strong, and light! OK, here we go!”

What are the psychological and emotional benefits of RFR? When you see how quickly your body gets strong, fast, and beautiful, there’s a tremendous sense of empowerment. You feel like you can take on the world. Your self-confidence grows exponentially. Sleep improves, mental acuity rises, stress lowers, posture aligns, sex improves, depression and anxiety recede, your mind opens, happiness grows, energy skyrockets, and life just gets way better.

But what if I get all big and bulky? If you’re a woman and you’re taking steroids, that could be a problem. If you’re a woman and you’re NOT taking steroids, it’s not going to happen. You’ll get lean, defined, and eye-catching. Linebacker necks and tree trunk arms only happen to men because they have a buttload more testosterone circulating in their blood. And those guys usually spend too much time in the gym. Men, the RFR will sculpt you into sleek Greek gods. Our bodies are designed to move gracefully and fluidly. Not like bulldogs or oil tankers.

How come I can't just find my own workouts and do them at home by myself? You can, and I hope you do! There are tons of great bodyweight workouts to try out online. However, in my own experience, I've found that I push myself WAY harder and have WAY more fun when I'm working out with others. I have a little competitive streak that adores pitting myself against others in the room. (Note: You won't see this side of me in yoga class!) I notice, too, when I'm working out in the living room, there are a million distractions: the plant leaves suddenly need to be relieved of dust, my cat is SO cute, those crumbs on the floor again.... You know what I mean. So come out and play with us, take some time for yourself, and really blast off into a new you this year! I'd love to help it happen.

What can I do to complement my new RFR speed and strength with flexibility and poise? Funny you should ask! YOGA is a great complement to RFR. Come try my new Thursday night Supersonic Yoga class at Bloom, my Monday 12:15-12:45 RFR class at Bloom, or any of the other wonderful local classes.