Monday, December 31, 2012

For Auld Lang Syne

On the eve of the new year, I always feel a mite of contemplation is in order. I see that many of my friends and acquaintances are very pleased to have 2012 over and done!  I am glad we're embracing the new and looking forward to bigger and better things, but at the same time, I don't want to send the old year away as if it were a dirty, regrettable thing.

We have faced our share of difficulties and losses.  We all have.  For myself, I lost several friends.  When I say "lost" I don't mean their friendship.  I believe the friendship endures after the person has left this earth.  I mean that they are no longer with us in this physical world.  These were all young people, too.  In the prime of their lives.  Lost to disease and unforeseen misfortune.  Too many, it seems.  It's hard to swallow.  On top of that, my mother has had a long and difficult fight with cancer this year.  There have been times that her well-being was the only thing in my thoughts.  People I care about probably felt neglected because I only had room for so many things in my head.  I changed my priorities a few times to make sure Mom stayed at the top.  There are times when that needs to be done.

But this whole year wasn't a blight for me, and I do not wish to release it feeling that it was only a year of facing death and illness.  This was also the year that I freed myself in many ways.  I spent probably the past 6 or 7 years in a frantic search to find myself, always feeling out of focus and slightly off course.  Well, things finally came into focus for me, and more importantly, I embraced my discovery.  I also paid off some debts, built my businesses, and gained some amazing new friends and clients this year.  My mother is winning her battle, when many doctors didn't think she would.  So there is too much to be grateful for to throw this year away like an old band-aid.

I prefer to remove it gently, moving beyond those painful things, but being joyful, and thankful for the blessings as well.  Yes, I am looking forward to 2013.  Yes, I expect it to be bigger, better, and greater in many ways than 2012.  It feels good to open up to something new.  New beginnings are always exciting.  For all of you, my friends, I wish you joy, love, and prosperity in the coming year.  When I say that, I don't just mean a bunch of words that sound good.  I mean that I wish you an abundance of meaningful friendships as well as time to pursue them.  I wish for you love that is heartfelt and always returned.  I wish for you more than enough resources to fulfill not only your needs, but also your dreams.  I wish you laughter, warmth, and success in all its many forms. I wish for you the wisdom to accept and recognize them, even if they come in surprising ways.

I raise my glass tonight to those who are no longer with us.  I love you. I miss you.  And also for those who are still here.  We have a great, wonderful, and joyous work that lies ahead, each of us, in our own way.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Let’s have a little talk about Yoga class etiquette.  I think these basic guidelines can be applied to any group fitness or wellness class, but are especially true for body, mind, spirit classes like Yoga and Pilates.  I suspect that as you look over the list, many of you will think these rules fall into the category of “common courtesy” or “common sense,” but as someone who has been a fitness professional for almost 15 years, I’m sad to say, that’s too often not the case.  Sometimes other people’s bad habits or thoughtless behavior give the impression that it’s OK to do things that really are unacceptable.  These behaviors come off as rude to the other people in the class and to your instructor. Often people do them thoughtlessly, not remotely meaning to offend or anger others, but that’s still not a good reason to do them.  Just in case you’ve ever wondered what is OK and what is not, or how should you conduct yourself in public classes, I’ll be happy to clear that up for you.  I think in some cases it’s nice to see it written out and confirmed, if only for your peace of mind.  Your mother probably told you some of these things a long time ago.  Turns out, they still apply.

Rule #1: Wear appropriate clothing!
Please make sure to wear properly fitted under garments with appropriate over garments so as not to expose yourself accidentally to a room full of strangers.  If you are the sort of person who prefers to go commando for whatever reason, might I suggest you choose your clothing wisely and make sure all your personal parts and pieces are tucked in and secured BEFORE class. Remember that you will be moving around and stretching into a variety of positions.  Consider what this will do with your loose fitting, un-tucked clothing.  Yes, I’m sure everything is properly in place when you’re standing upright in front of a mirror, but you won’t be in that position when you get to class.  Consider what will happen in Downward Facing Dog or Plow Position when you choose your clothes.  Ladies, a good sports bra will work with just about any top and, in many yoga and fitness classes, would be fine on its own so long as you stay in it.  If you really want to wear a skirt, wear tights under it.  Gentlemen, boxers are not always your friend in inverted postures.  Those very baggy, wide-legged basketball shorts are great when you’re standing upright, running around on a court.  Not so great when you’re on the floor doing crunches with legs lifted.  Just something to think about.
Also, if you’re taking Yoga classes outdoors or on the beach, please note that there is a difference between a “bathing suit” and a “swimming suit.”  One is intended for lounging and the other for athletic activity.  Choose thoughtfully.  You will not be in savasana for the entire class.  And for the record, if you are an exhibitionist kind of person, fitness classes are not a good place to indulge in that unless you are specifically enrolled in a Nude Yoga class (such classes do exist).  For the general public classes in gyms, yes, you can show a lot of skin, but you still need to maintain a little modesty.  In my experience, when a stray breast, buttocks, or testicle becomes exposed, the owner is often so mortified that he or she never returns to class again.  Don’t let that happen to you.  If you can’t twist, squat, forward bend, or jump up and down in it without flashing someone, please wear something else.

Rule #2: Take care of the equipment and clean up after yourself.
If you are using public gym equipment, please take care of it as a courtesy to the other people who also use the public equipment.  I think it is a good idea to clean any mat or block before class, but I absolutely require that you do afterwards.  You can’t always be sure that the person who used it before you was courteous enough to clean it for you, but you can absolutely be sure that you don’t leave it dirtier than when you found it.  This is your chance to put into use as an adult something you learned as a child called “sharing.”  You didn’t like it when your kid brother damaged your toys, right?  Well, when you treat public gym equipment poorly, you’re being the kid brother to everyone else who also pays for a gym membership and wants to use that equipment.  This includes Yoga and Pilates mats, blocks, straps, balance balls, and courtesy towels.  If you want to be a slob at home and destroy your own belongings, that’s fine with me, but when you come into a class, please remember that those items are shared. You are borrowing them for an hour. 

Yes, after class I always go around the room, pick up discarded towels, throw out empty water bottles and trash, and straighten the blocks and mats, but since I teach adult classes, I expect my students to take some responsibility for these things as well.  Let me help you look at the big picture.  Of course, part of this is the common courtesy of leaving the room ready for the next group of people who will be using it.  But let’s just imagine for a moment that a manager or the facility’s owner comes in after one of my classes.  The impression he or she is left with will directly impact how much budget is available for that class format in terms of future equipment and resources.  Classes who take care of the equipment and leave a room neat and clean tend to have the luxury of better, newer equipment provided for them.  Classes who trash the space tend to lose the option of gym provided class resources all together.

I’m actually a big believer in bringing your own equipment (mats, blocks, straps) just because then you will have just the right one for you and it will only need to be cleaned of your personal germs.  If you’re planning to stick with learning a class format, it is worth the investment.  But if you do decide to use public equipment, treat it with respect.  It will last longer, is nicer for the other people you share it with, and may result in better equipment for you in the future.

Rule #3: No talking in class!
I understand that for a lot of people gym time is their personal, social time.  However, time spent in classes is for the class not for chatting and catching up.  Chat on the treadmill or at the juice bar.  Once class starts, it is time to pay attention and focus on the format you came to do that day.  It is extremely rude and distracting to the people around you for you to natter away with your buddy all through sun salutations or the hundred.  I know some instructors who believe that if you have enough breath to talk, you’re not working hard enough, so they will amp up the level of the class until the talkers are too warn out to keep chatting.  The problem with this strategy is that talkers aren’t paying attention anyway so they never work any harder.  But the rest of the class really hates them for riling up the teacher.  If you’re not going to pay attention, just go ahead and head over to the juice bar.  Pretending to workout isn’t effective, and if you’re just going through the motions to have an excuse to chat with your buddy, you’re still not getting any benefit from the class and you’re angering the other people who actually want to be part of that format.  If you can’t resist, take a class your buddy isn’t in or take a class that you can stay engaged in without getting distracted into inappropriate side conversations.

This rule does not mean that speaking up is never advisable.  The times when you should talk in class are when you have a question or when you are answering a question the teacher has posed.  I like to ask my class questions from time to time either to get feedback from them (“Should we do another set of these?”) or to help them think and engage in the material (“Can anyone tell me the difference between Triangle Pose and Side Angle Pose?”)  And always, if you ever have any question or concern about anything in a class, you should speak up about that right away.  Don’t wait until class is over to say, “I had knee surgery.  Was that posture OK for me?” or “This hurts my back.  Is there something else I can do?” Yes, there is a modification, but you need to tell me immediately and not after class when it’s too late to change for you.

Rule #4: Turn off your cell phone!
This is sort of similar to #3, no talking.  Whomever is trying to call you can wait an hour until your class is over to talk to you.  If you think there is going to be an emergency call, put your phone on vibrate and go outside to talk or answer the phone.  Better yet, take that day to walk the treadmill so you can watch for your call and not disturb other people in the class with your vibrating phone.

This also applies to texting.  Texting during class is totally unacceptable.  Just put the phone away.  Even if you don’t answer the phone, a ringing phone is a huge distraction to everyone else in the room.  Turn off the ringer.  Put the phone in your locker.  Don’t even bring it into the room.  The world will still be spinning in an hour even if you haven’t answered the phone or returned your spouse’s text about what to have for dinner tonight.  So your kid got out of baseball practice early.  You aren’t going to go pick him up any sooner, and he should know you’re in class and can look after himself until the time you agreed to pick him up anyway.  Everyone else in the room has family and friends, too, and they’ve managed just fine with an hour of phone separation. One of the reasons people take classes at the gym, especially Yoga classes, is to disconnect from the stress of daily life.  So, disconnect!

Talking, texting, or even listening to messages on the phone is very disruptive.  You may think you’re having your own little private moment on your mat, but you’re in a public place, and it throws everyone off when you do that.  We have signs posted at all of the facilities where I work that say, “Please turn off your phone before classes start.  Thank you.”  To my way of thinking, that means you have no excuse.  Many of my fellow teachers feel that means they have license to take your phone from you and lob it out the door!  I’ve seen them do it.  And no, they will not be in trouble with the management, because the person on the phone is in the wrong according to their signed gym membership (it states you must comply with posted signs).  I handle things a little differently.  I will not take a person’s property from them.  But I will come stand directly in front of them on the mat, and direct the rest of the class to read aloud the message on the hot pink sign posted on the door.  That method has been quite effective for me, and I’ve rarely had to do it.

Think about the level of importance of calls you might get.  Are there really any so pressing that you MUST know before the end of the 60 – 75 minutes of class time? If so, is this maybe a good day choose an activity that will allow you to keep your phone with you without being in class where it will disrupt those around you?  A little forethought goes a long way.  The “just order a pizza” text can wait until class is over.

Rule #5: Arrive on time.
This is an iron clad rule for most instructors.  I’ll admit, I’m more lenient than most.  I’m glad you came, and I know traffic can be a nightmare, especially if you’re trying to get to my 5:30pm class from Bothell-Everett Highway.  Whew! Nightmare Traffic!  I have very rarely encountered folks who arrive late or leave early without a good reason and most are very apologetic, but as much as possible, you should make every effort to always arrive 5 minutes early and plan to stay until the end.  If you can't fit the full class into your schedule, it would be better to pick a different day and time for your class when you can fit in the whole class. When you arrive late, you disrupt the flow of the class and often cannot get your space set up properly.  You want to have enough time to get there, set up your mat, get your blocks and straps, get your shoes off, sit down and start your deep breathing before the class actually starts.  It makes for a better experience.  This also gives you time to talk with your instructor and let him or her know what you need from this class.  I almost always arrive 15 minutes before each of my classes specifically so I can have the room warmed up and set up and so I can talk to my students.  That pre-class time is also great for socializing with other students so you can get that out of your system BEFORE the class starts.

All fitness classes put you through specific warm up, main class set, and cool down exercises.  When you come in late, you put yourself at risk to injury because you miss part of the warm up.  Asking your muscles to go into exercises when they have not been properly warmed or stretched can cause tears and strains. Leaving out the cool down can also slow your progress over time, especially if you want to gain or maintain flexibility.

Some instructors and studios will lock the door once class begins, so if you do not arrive on time, you miss the class all together.  It is worth it to plan ahead.  You should already know which classes you plan to attend and at what times.  Consider what traffic will be like and leave a little early if you can to give yourself the time you need to arrive on schedule.  Being on time does alleviate stress.  It’s even harder to wind down in class when you’ve already wound yourself up about being late and come stumbling in, tripping over other people 5 minutes into the class.  Save yourself the stress.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get out of the class.

Rule #6: If you’re sick, stay home.
I wrote about this one at length in my October post, “Plague Spreaders.”  Please, please, if you feel unwell, don’t come to the gym.  You will only make yourself sicker and will likely spread illness to others.  This is counter-productive to everyone. If you come to my class coughing and sneezing, I will send you home.  I care about you.  I think you should be in bed.  I care about everyone in my class.  I need to protect them from your germs.  When I’m sick, I stay home.  I’ll call a nice, healthy substitute teacher to take care of you for the day.  When you’re sick, love yourself and your progress enough to know that anything you try to do while you’re not well will be poorly done.  Rest up.  Get well.  Give it you’re all when you’re healthy.

Sometimes even when you really do know how to conduct yourself, you forget, and a little reminder helps keep things in perspective.  If you see people in classes being rude or thoughtless, rather than following their example and assuming maybe it’s OK, choose to be the person who does the right thing.  Politely share a good example of class etiquette by always being one.  It makes for a better experience for everyone.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Two All a Good Night

This piece is a follow up to my original article posted in June 2012, “To All a Good Night.”  I encounter so many fatigued and exhausted individuals trying to push themselves through a fitness routine at the end of a long day, who then injure themselves or do not experience success because they are just too tired.  So, I feel we should touch on this subject at least once more.

For the record, I am not a sleep doctor, but if you are having trouble sleeping, you need to visit one.  Poor sleep habits, or inability to fall asleep, can be signs of serious mental or physical issues that should be addressed.  Over time, poor sleep habits can CAUSE mental and physical issues, as well.  For one thing, feeling chronically tired or stressed can raise your blood pressure and potentially cause other cardiovascular problems.  Lack of sleep also shifts your internal chemistry slowing your metabolic rate and disrupting your digestion.  If you need the help of substances to fall asleep or stay awake during the day, then you should be seeking medical help.   Consider also that substance dependency (to even common place things like caffeine) can cause fatigue.   Many people end up in a never ending cycle of needing caffeine to get through the afternoon or become awake in the morning, but then cannot fall asleep at night. It sounds cliché, but cut the caffeine and try getting to bed on time. You’ll feel better.

Many times in my classes, students fall asleep during savasana (the relaxation and meditation portion at the end of Yoga class).  I know many of my fellow teachers (and students) become irritated about this.  The purpose of savasana is conscious relaxation.  This means that you should be aware of your thoughts, your state of physical relaxation, and you should remain aware even as your relaxed state deepens.  Conscious relaxation should not result in falling asleep unless you are over tired. However, I always emphasis “listen to your body” as a foundation Yoga principle.  If your body is telling you to sleep, listen.  For that reason, I always allow students who drift off during savasana to have that extra sleeping time.  It may not being deepening their road to conscious relaxation or helping them learn to meditate, but I feel if their need for sleep is that great, I would rather let them have it.  It is a miss-step in the practice of spiritual improvement to ignore the body’s basic needs in order to practice any spiritual teaching.

Of course, this does not mean that you should give up on the practice of conscious relaxation or purposeful, mindful meditation and just opt to sleep through savasana!  Conscious relaxation takes work.  It really does.  It takes practice to learn to meditate.  So don’t give up or use “I always fall asleep” as an excuse to take a side door out of learning the process.  Listen to your body, and nourish it with the sleep it needs.  When you are well rested, focus on your practice of mindful meditation. 

Make sure you’re getting your 8-10 hours per day. Your body, mind, and spirit really do need it.  Best of health, and pleasant dreams.