Yoga Insights

HANUMANASANA – THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

Don’t let my long yoga lingo scare you. Any and all the terms yoga instructors use can be broken down and defined to make it easier for you to master them. First things first: asana (/ˈäsənə/), Sanskrit for “manner of sitting” or “a sitting posture” is the word used for any of the various yoga postures. Originally, asanas were developed by yogic sages to be used as comfortable meditative postures, since meditating has no real time limit involved. Now that I have introduced that term to you, let’s learn about one of my favorite yoga poses. All asanas have an accompanying story behind them, and one of my favorites is that of Hanumanasana. images-1

During mythological times, Rama, a king of ancient India, had a problem. Ravana, the demon king who presided over Sri Lanka, had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. Rama and his troops embarked on a journey to rescue Sita from the vile demon, but during the battle Rama’s brother, Laksmana, was severely wounded. The only way to save him was to procure an herb that grew far away in the Himalayas.

Just when it appeared that he would be lost, Hanuman, Rama’s greatest devotee, volunteered to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. He took one mighty leap that stretched all the way from the south of India to the Himalayas. Not knowing which herb to pick, he carried the entire mountain with him as he made another massive leap back to the battlefield. The healers found the herb in question, and Laksmana’s life was saved.

That giant leap demonstrated Hanuman’s love for Rama giving meaning to the idea that great power can come from devotion. Hanuman’s leap is memorialized in the pose Hanumanasana, a pose that asks you not merely to stretch your legs but also to bring true devotion into your practice. Hanumanasana expresses the expansiveness possible when devotion is in the heart. It is the sense that any obstacle can be overcome when desire to help is combined with reverence and respect, as long as it is accompanied by devotion. This asana helps you strive to reach much further than seems humanly possible.

The magnificent posture that results from striving to do Hanumanasana becomes meaningful when you become aware of the duality between your reach for the pose and the pains that may accompany your attempts. The discomfort of attempting to do this asana forces us to turn our minds inward, and I encourage my students to use their breath to access their heart to find the inner passion that created the leap of Hanuman.images

When you switch the mind from pain to passion and do the asana with a sense of Hanumanic devotion, amazingly enough resistance begins to lessen and the pose starts to blossom.As the mind turns, so the body responds and as your heart opens, so will your hips, hamstrings, and legs. Hanumanasanais a pose that figuratively splits us in two, helping us to gather extra power to extend ourselves further in the quest to find joy even when we are feeling frustrated, challenged and over-stretched.

The Greatest Stretch of All …

My canine companion Buddy does it. Almost every time he wakes up from a nice, long nap, he sticks his rump up in the air and stretches his paws out with a look of bliss on his furry little face. But did you stop to consider how we take lessons from both animals and nature in our yoga practice? The “Down Dog” or “Downward Facing Dog” position teaches us the push-pull dynamics of yoga where movement in one direction is balanced by action in the opposite direction.images-1

Although this pose, otherwise known as Adho Mukha Svanasana (no worries; I won’t make you pronounce it…), is a comfort/joy position, but if you find it to be a challenging one, please be compassionate and patient with yourself. Tight hamstrings or weak arms are not uncommon among us. Once you master the Downward Dog position, however, you’ll start to feel so good that you will want to get down on the floor with your pooch and join in the communal stretch.images-2

An important element about this pose is learning to ritualistically place your hands in alignment with your shoulders and hips. New students tend to place their arms too wide and their feet too close together, making their base unstable, their joints stressed, and their organs compressed. As you lift your pelvis to the ceiling and draw your hips back, make sure that your feet are hip-distance apart, aligned with your pelvis, shifting your weight back. That “Aha!” moment will occur when your weight is centered in your pelvis, and your arms feel light. Getting there is part of the process.

The most important thing is, of course, to breathe. Broadening your shoulders and extending your arms brings more space into your lungs. And exhaling can take place as you focus on the movement of your legs back and down through your shins and heels. This pose is nourishing, invigorating and relaxing all at once, which is why I tell students to go there as a “safe place” (like child’s pose) when they choose not to follow my verbal prompts. It is also the starting point for Vinyasa Flow movements — kind of like home plate.

Set the Child Within You Free

photoIf you are a yoga lover, you know there is a pose you can go to when you simply don’t feel like going anywhere else. It’s a place of refuge, a place of relaxation – definitely a place where you can let go.

What I speak of is formally known as balasana, or “child’s pose” and for some reason, getting there just “does” it for a number of students in my classes. Balasana is a resting pose where the upper body is situated over folded legs. It is referred to as “child’s pose” because it mimics the position a baby takes in its mother’s womb – all safe, warm and relaxed.

Balasana can be associated with bowing or becoming submissive, the act of which (while being considered demeaning in the west) translates into one of dignity in other parts of the world. I see child’s pose as a way of expressing and honoring all that is pure in the human condition – loving intention, devotion, and the ability to look inward. As with all yoga poses, this universal favorite teaches us something. It reminds us that the child within us can sometimes be our best teacher.

Yoga Mat Confessions: A Personal Story

I am often asked about my path to yoga after yoga students or retreat attendees hear the words I use to help them go deeper into their practice. They wonder where these words come from, so I decided to write a very intimate blog post about it.

Being a love addict with abandonment issues, I’ve experienced plenty of drama; I can honestly say that the fact that I am alive and sharing this with you is nothing short of a miracle. Whether it was a break up with a best friend in my youth, the end of a romantic relationship in my teenage or adult years, or a family rift, I was left feeling abandoned and devastated. There were times I literally thought my heart would stop because of the heartbreak. And believe it or not, there were times I wished it would stop.

Sometime back, my heart was broken once again and I was brought to my knees (a familiar place). This time, however, it was different. Yoga was nothing new to me at this point, but something inside of me began to shift. This time, instead of continuing to look down at the devastation that lay around me, my thoughts rose up and I looked within.

From that fetal position, writhing in pain on the floor and feeling imminent death, I felt the grace of God.

I got up.

From that moment I chose to walk the path that allowed me to be aligned with Source, God – whatever omnipotent power you want to call it. This newly-found strength led me to attend my first yoga teacher training. And instead of my original intention to attend the training for personal growth and healing, I realized I now had the power to offer a gift to others: the gift of yoga. To serve and help others became a reason for being – a way to help others find their way out of the darkness as well.

It’s not as if I haven’t experienced pain and suffering since this shift took place, but things are different now. Instead of finding ways to numb my pain, I allow myself to feel it and I have embraced the practice of letting go. I can’t say this is always easy, but I feel secure in the idea that as long as I have faith, I will have the strength to get back up.

I am never alone. You are never alone. We are safe and we are loved as long as we believe in the strength and goodness that lie within us.

Strength Training and Yoga — Birds of a Feather?

276848_430571310355116_1816970971_nIt’s easy to mix up fitness terms. For instance, a lot of my clients confuse strength training with weight training. Then they ask me if yoga counts as strength training. So I thought I would address how all these relate, offering you a more comprehensive fitness picture.

Experts advise doing some form of strength training at least twice a week to keep metabolism running efficiently, and many doctors recommend weight training as a preventive measure against bone loss. For many of us, this conjures a vision of becoming an eternal slave to weight machines, dumbbells or resistance cords. Truth is, yoga taps on strength as well, since you are putting your body in positions and orientations that you ultimately have to support with your muscles, essentially lifting weights.

I don’t like focusing on how yoga can sculpt your physique. I’d rather you focused on yoga as a way of thinking, feeling and being, versus being preoccupied with perfecting your appearance. Yes, you can increase muscle tone and definition (and even muscle size) with yoga. But because you’re limited to “lifting” your own body weight, it may take a lot more skill, time and determination than it would simply lifting weights.

If all you’re looking to do is build muscle, it’s fair to say that weight training is a more practical approach. Basically, your muscles and bones must be constantly challenged to keep developing. With traditional weight training, as your muscles adapt to the resistance and get stronger, you have to add more weight to achieve the same results. With weight training, theoretically you can continue to grow the size and strength of your muscles forever — as long as you continue to add weight. But while “bulking up” may be the goal for many men, it’s rarely a woman’s dream. That’s why yoga is a more balanced way to do strength training.

What many of my fitness and even my yoga students fail to realize is that a regular yoga practice can reduce the risk of injury and condition to the body, enabling them to perform better at things they do every day. This ultimately makes it a form of functional fitness. This includes walking, sitting, twisting, bending, and lifting things. It moves your body in the ways it was designed to move because both large and small muscles are used in many directions and not just back and forth on a one-dimensional plane, as in the motion of a bicep curl or leg lift.

For more information on fitness, strength training, and how yoga poses can aid in your overall quest, be sure to call me at 916.715.8377, or email me at andi@elitefitnesscoach.com. With dozens of fitness and yoga certifications under my belt while possessing an unending thirst for more knowledge, I have made fitness and yoga my life. I stand ready to help you achieve your fitness goals in any way I can.

Yoga Retreats: A Different Kind of Vacation

What is a yoga retreat all about? Those of you who already love what yoga does for them are halfway there with the concept. But retreating to another (sometimes exotic) location brings an entirely different perspective to it.

If your vacations have traditionally revolved around sightseeing, visiting relatives or restaurant-hopping, then going to a yoga retreat will be a true departure. While all Donovan Yoga retreats include time to appreciate your surroundings, eat sumptuous food, take memory-savoring photos and relax, ours take things a step further.

Our yoga adventures not only give you unfettered time to “go deep” with your yoga practice; it also introduces you to new yoga concepts, new friends, and new experiences – all poised to bring you home refreshed, relaxed and more yoga-fied than ever!

Yin Yoga: quietly going within

imagesYinYogaThe room is hushed and darkened. A single candle flickers and soothing music plays as Yin yoga practitioners sprawl out on strategically-place mats. Rolled up blankets, small supporting blocks, pull-straps and water bottles are everywhere.

When viewed by outsiders, the practice of Yin Yoga may appear to be effortless. After all, people are just posing and not moving very often. Those of us who practice it, however, know better.

The challenge of Yin yoga is precisely what you don’t see, since the most challenging aspects of this ancient practice are often hidden within the time spent in each pose. Yin Yoga is a unique style of yoga that emphasizes relaxation while also providing a beneficial stimulus to the bones and connective tissues of the body to promote optimal functioning. So the emphasis is on holding the poses for long periods of time while relaxing the muscles of the body.

To some, Yin yoga may appear challenging, but unless your doctor has told you to stay away from exercise and stretching, even the least limber yoga novice can benefit. The bones and connective tissue are no different from other components of the body and will respond favorably to appropriate stretching and stressing. Just as the health of the muscles is improved when we exercise them, similarly we can improve the health of the bones and connective tissues.

Yin Yoga’s gentle stress to these tissues has far reaching positive effects. It can help to prevent degeneration of tissues by providing a counter stretch against the continual tension present in the muscles and ligaments. The mild stimulation of the bones can also promote optimal bone density, improving bone strength as well.

Do you sit a lot? When you really think about it, we learn to sit for long periods of time when we are in elementary school and it gets reinforced our entire lives as long as we don’t work in environments where sitting is inappropriate. The dangers of a distorted posture may become real when you take into account that sitting places four times as much pressure on your spine as standing.

Yin yoga helps to protect your body from the fixation and immobilization of the joints. Sitting makes normal curving of the spine distorted. In some people the loss of the lumbar curve can be so severe that the vertebrae may actually fuse together, creating a major impediment to mobility. Yin yoga involves specific poses, such as pyramid, seal and saddle poses, that help to maintain the normal lumbar curve and can even reverse this tendency. Similarly, other poses in Yin Yoga have effects on the various joints of the body that promote their greatest range of motion.

Another benefit of Yin yoga is its ability to promote the flow of energy through energy pathways, called meridians. Recent research explores the prospect that the connective tissue may act as a conduit for the flow of energy through the body’s meridians. By activating the connective tissues, it may be possible to directly stimulate these meridians, profoundly affecting health in a positive way.

Because Yin is not a strenuous form of yoga, improving the flow of energy through the meridians can also be of particular benefit for individuals with chronic health problems resistant to standard treatments or for people who are recovering from illness. I also offer advanced forms of it within my practice sessions to those who are looking for more challenging variations on each pose. Even difficult poses can be adjusted to a relative degree of comfort during the practice of Yin Yoga.

Yin yoga also can help to promote general relaxation, the importance of which should never be underestimated. It is generally believed that stress-related health conditions can have far reaching effects on the your general health. When you are calmer, however, you are more likely to engage with your family, friends and others in a more positive way.

This form of yoga is not all physical, however. While the discomfort Yin yoga poses may begin as a physical sensation, it can develop into type of beneficial psychological unease, helping to increase an awareness of personal issues and fears as they rise to the surface. The quiet nature of Yin allows you to draw your attention inward, awakening you to the way you store tensions within your body as you release physical pressure and gain access to an enhanced sense of clarity.

Want to learn more about Yin yoga and begin to implement it’s benefits in your daily life? Call Andi at: 916.715.8377.

Food Cravings — All in Your Head?

Did you think you had a handle on your food intake before the holiday, but now you’re feeling that old familiar affliction – food cravings? You’re not alone. Between now and the end of the year, the average American will gain approximately 3 – 5 pounds. Now doesn’t that just send a cold shiver up your workout clothes…?

So what can you do to overcome cravings and perceived “addictions”? First and foremost, experiment with eating heftier breakfasts and lunches to abate hunger. (No, you will not “get fat” by eating more during the day. If you listen to your body, you will observe you are less hungry at night and will simply be able to consume fewer calories.)

And although it’s easier said than done, work on that attitude. Your mind is very influential. If you believe you are addicted to a food, you’ll have a hard time convincing yourself otherwise despite research that refutes the concept of food addiction and puts the focus on deprivation as a trigger to (over)eat.

If all else fails, the next time you have a craving for a specific food, relax, enjoy eating it slowly, taste it, savor the flavor, and linger over the treat. Do this several times throughout the week. Learn to enjoy the treat slowly, in moderation, without feeling guilty. Enjoy the foods you crave at every meal. For example, have a few Hershey’s Kisses day after day, at breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. Eat them so often that you get sick of them. This may sound unhealthy in the short term but a week or two of excess chocolate will not ruin your health (nor your waistline) forever.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known as the host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” explains that, we crave food for the same reason we crave sex. ”There’s a biologically mandated desire to nourish and procreate that’s hardwired at numerous levels to ensure there’s redundancy in the system, so it can’t fail because those are the two things you need to survive as a species.”

He offers some ways to get control of your cravings so they don’t end up controlling you.

  • Know your enemy. “There are two types of craving foods,” says Dr. Oz. “Those we can occasionally eat a bit of, feel satisfied and are done. And those that have you licking the crumbs from the bag then tearing apart your kitchen hunting for more. Everyone’s craving foods are different, so figure out what sends you on a food bender, then steer clear. Knowing the foods that you’re powerless around isn’t weak, it’s smart.”
  • Banish those pieces of kryptonite! “You’re less likely to gorge on chips or cookies or candy if they’re not readily available in your pantry or fridge, so you do yourself a huge favor by not even bringing them home from the market,” says Oz.
  • Put something healthy in its place. If you’re something craving sweet, try a date or a few strawberries. Something creamy? How about a low-fat Greek yogurt? When you need salt fix, reach for a dill pickle.
  • Cleanse your palate. “There’s a reason fancy restaurants serve sorbet between courses,” says Oz. “It cleans your taste buds so you can enjoy the next dish without being distracted by the flavors from the dish that came before. Use this same tactic to quell a craving. Brush your teeth, gargle with mouthwash, or chew some gum. Why? Because not much tastes good after you have that tooth-pasty taste in your mouth.
  • Cry for help. You don’t have to do this alone. Withdrawing from any addiction can get easier if you appoint a buddy to help. “Venting to a friend is a much more waist-friendly way of relieving stress,” says Dr. Oz.

By learning your body’s responses to different foods, you can at least become educated: food is not necessarily addictive and cravings are not all bad. What’s bad is trying to live hungry as well as denied and deprived of foods you enjoy. Then, like a phoenix rising to meet the sun, you just might find peace with food at last.

Thailand yoga retreat sees changes take place both within and without…

579380_4640123278064_1366102052_n1Those of you who have been following my Facebook postings might have gathered by now that my yoga retreat in Thailand has been nothing less than life changing . Co-producing this retreat while having had the pleasure of providing daily yoga, meditation, and transformational workshops has not only permitted me to guide others in their practices, but also experience these things as well — all in an ancient, beautiful and gentle land.

In addition to ”retreat” stuff, we’ve been immersed in Thai culture, from visiting Buddhist temples to engaging a local chef to teach us how to prepare Thai food, to shopping in local markets — and today we will be riding elephants!

It has been an action-packed few weeks, but not so jammed with activities that we haven’t had plenty of time to catch up on rest, reading or just chilling out with both old and new friends.

If you’ve never considered attending a yoga retreat or any other type of getaway like this, I highly recommend it as a way to recharge your batteries as well as your soul. Keep checking back for information on upcoming retreats. Next year’s agenda is currently being planned, with both serene Calistoga and beautiful Costa Rica in the works, with specific dates yet to be determined.

I am looking forward to sharing one of these powerful and life-changing experiences with YOU! In the meantime, leaw-jor-kan-mai (แล้วเจอกันใหม่) — see you soon!

The power of intention starts with one

imgres-1Of course you knew I couldn’t go on a journey without bringing all of you along! So I’m writing this first retreat blog 7.5 hours into my flight, 4,000 miles away and a little more than half way to Taipei.

My destination is Thailand, the place people call “the land of smiles.” Anyone who has visited there would agree that while the Thai people are a hard-working bunch, they seem to possess a fairly easy-going attitude about life. That’s why I considered it to be the perfect place to co-host my first international yoga retreat.

The Thai philosophy is one of Mai Sanuk – the word for fun, along with Mai pen ai –which translates into “never mind; it’s all good.” Doesn’t everyone strive for joy and peace in life? If we could buy these things, I’m sure Americans would have outsourced it by now. So here’s the kicker: while joy and peace aren’t products that can be purchased, the Thai people believe they are both achievable through a learned practice. From a very young age, Thai children understand that no price can be put on life’s abundances, so they are taught to cherish all the good things life hands them.

I believe that we could learn a lot from these friendly, welcoming people. So off I go to learn about living with an attitude of Mai Sanuk and Mai pen ai. My plan? To start a joyful revolution when I return home. I may be small, but my intention is mighty.

There is a God: You get to cheat on what you eat — occasionally …

So you’ve decided to begin reading food labels, take nutrition seriously, and start exercising portion control all at the same time? Good for you. This is an important first step toward change and you’re on the road to overall better health by making the commitment.

But there may be an annoying little voice inside you that keeps saying — this is it. I can NEVER enjoy the foods I’ve loved all my life – making you feel as if you should arrange for a memorial service of all the luscious desserts, gut-feeding meats, creamy potatoes and chocolate covered raisins of your past.

But let’s take a few steps back for a minute. People I am working with or have worked with in the past already know that I routinely hand out a nutrition packet to all my personal training clients. In it, you may have noticed (if you weren’t flipping through it too quickly) that I mention that you needn’t become a bad-food zombie after all.

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. I am the LAST person who would want to make you feel as if you have to be perfect, especially with all my positive yoga talk about getting in touch with the best possible you while accepting who you’ve been all along.

I won’t let you off the hook TOO much, however. 90 percent adherence to the nutrition program will do.

What? You can cheat? Well — a little. Since the difference between 90% and 100% is negligible, 10% “wiggle room” is not only allowed; it’s encouraged. Because life isn’t just about news, weather and sports. It’s also about what we love.

So how can you best follow the 90% rule?

Do the math. Since ideally you’re going to be eating about 6 meals a day for 7 days a week, you’ll have 42 meals ahead of you each week, as long as you are working out the number of times per week we have discussed in advance. 10% of that number is 4.2 meals. Therefore you’re allowed to deviate from your nutrition plan four times each week. Sounds generous, huh?

Please. Don’t get TOO excited here. These “deviations” from the plan shouldn’t include downing a full box of Krispy Kremes or an entire pizza. Binge eating can rapidly destroy your progress and make you feel sick. A day-long binge is not the equivalent of one cheat meal.

Rather, these “cheat meals” could include some foods, in reasonable quantities, that might not normally fit into your nutrition plan. This might include a couple slices of pizza on a Saturday evening, a piece of cheesecake after dinner on Sunday, a beer or glass of wine after work on Wednesday, a few Red Vines while chatting on the phone with a friend or some chocolate on Monday morning.

The point here is to be careful. Make sure your 10% doesn’t become 20% or 30%. ONLY if you’re eating those 42 (healthy, portion-controlled) meals a week are you allowed to eat four meals or snacks per week that aren’t part of the program. It’s that glorious 10%. That’s it. No more.

How can you do this and not go nuts (not that nuts aren’t good for you…)? The best way is to actually schedule your 10% meals. Choose a day and a meal and schedule it just like you’ll be scheduling your exercise days. This will keep you committed to your eating plan as well as have you looking forward to your little treat.

Of course, if you simply must have one of your 10% meals outside of its regularly scheduled time, go for it. But make sure you cross it off your schedule so you don’t double up on your 10% meals.

See? I’m not as mean as you think. And life as you know it is not completely over. You’re just living it more consciously. (Always with the yoga… sorry.)

To train or not to train: is that the question?

Personal trainers. These are fitness experts who used to be hired only by celebrities when they were trying to stay in shape for the next movie, photo shoot or public event meant an investment in their physical appearance. Hollywood is, after all, one of the cruelest places on earth to “let yourself go” if your goal is to stay in the limelight.

But especially over the past decade or so, more and more “average” people began to realize that the idea of having a personal trainer isn’t just about appearance or fame. Besides striving to look physically fit, it’s about health, flexibility, and balance as well. Personal trainers are used by people of all fitness levels, age levels and economic levels these days and because of them, lifestyles are changing all over the world, one body at a time.

So how do you determine whether sacrificing the cost of those extra few dinners out every week to hire a personal trainer is the right choice for you? Here are just a few things a personal trainer can do:

  • (1) Improve your overall fitness : Surveys have shown that the primary reasons people hire trainers have to do with cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, endurance, posture, balance and coordination. I have one client whose goals are to not only look good, get fit and make herself heart-healthy, but also to be able to continue to balance herself standing up while pulling on a pair of jeans by the time she reaches older age, to be able to turn her head with the same range of motion she did in her 20s, and to be capable of getting up off the floor without grabbing onto something or someone to help her. Sound crazy? To her, it’s not. Fitness, balance and flexibility mean different things to different people.
  • (2) Reach or maintain a healthy weight: Body fat reduction, weight reduction or management, body shaping and toning – all of these can be achieved with the help of a personal trainer, who can help you set realistic goals and determine safe strategies while giving you all the encouragement you’ll need to make big changes. Getting into an outfit you haven’t worn in years, getting noticed by others for your fitness efforts, and just feeling better about yourself overall are all gratifying results of getting to the size you need to be. And your internal organs (which were really not designed for a distorted body) will be grateful.
  • (3) Focus on unique health concerns: Did you know that nearly half of all personal training clients use a trainer because of a specific health concern? Arthritis, diabetes, obesity, low-back pain, rehabbing from injury, preparing for or recovering from childbirth, gaining back range of motion and robustness after an illness – your trainer can work with your physical therapist or any other health care provider to plan a safe, efficient program that can put you on the road to recovery.
  • (4) Determine the correct way to work out while not wasting time: Ever walk into a gym, and even if you’ve used a piece of equipment there long ago, you’ve now forgotten what it’s for and how to use it appropriately? Trainers not only train you on how to use fitness equipment; they can also design programs for you to use at home or in a hotel room while on the road. Believe it or not, it’s not just about repetitions! There are workouts that can actually get you into and out of the gym in a LOT less time than you’d imagine.
  • (5) Learn new skills while you get fit: Tennis, golfing, skiing, in-line skating, basketball – you name it and a personal trainer can help you condition to get better at it!
  • (6) Enhance body, mind and spirit: Most personal trainers believe they have a stake in your personal growth and even provide mind-body activities, such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or kick-boxing to help you uncover new insights about yourself, revealing potential you may never have known existed within you.

Carefully choosing a trainer means asking lots of questions, but it also calls for the ability to communicate your fitness or fat loss goals to the potential trainer in a Jerry McGuire “help me help you” approach. So think about it. Isn’t it about time you began taking responsibility for your own health? If you don’t, who will?

It all adds up: don’t throw all your fitness eggs in one basket!

Ever notice how a runner can have amazingly toned legs but reveal a muffin-top middle? Or a yoga enthusiast can be wondrously flexible but still appear to be overweight? How about a gym rat who can’t balance for very long on one foot or even sit cross-legged?

Everyone who knows me knows I am passionate about yoga. But did you ever wonder why I continue to teach strength training and talk about the need for cardio? The reason is that fitness isn’t just about one type of exercise. Each form of exercise offers its own unique benefits, making no single form of exercise or fitness discipline a one-size-fits-all proposition.

In a Wall Street Journal article published several years ago titled, Is Yoga Just Posing as a Good Workout?, writer Nancy Keates asks, “So who is right? Almost every study on yoga and fitness agrees that the practice has a significant positive impact on muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. But most find doing only yoga — without mixing in some traditional aerobic workouts — doesn’t exercise the heart enough. That’s a growing concern, with more than 14 million Americans practicing yoga and Tai Chi now, up from six million in 2000, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.”

My eighteen years of experience in fitness tells me that “being all you can be” with fitness includes a combination of cardiovascular exercise (pushing your heart rate to 60% to 90% of its maximum for 20 to 60 minutes at a time), high intensity interval training (a specialized form of training that involves short periods of maximum intensity exercise separated by longer intervals of low-to-moderate intensity exercise) and yoga (a system of posing, balancing and stretching the body practiced as part of a discipline to promote control of the body and mind in order to become toned, achieve and maintain good balance, and work all the muscles of the body, including the heart.)

Those trying to maintain a fitness regimen should keep in mind that doing the same form of exercise over and over again can lead to “overuse” injuries. Here are some reasons to mix it up when it comes to achieving fitness goals. Cross-training:

(1) Reduces exercise boredom

(2) Allows you to be flexible about your training needs and plans (…if the pool is closed, you can go for a run instead).

(3) Produces a higher level of all-around conditioning

(4) Conditions the entire body, not just specific muscle groups

(5) Works some muscles while others rest, promoting the reduction of body fat content.

For more information on how to create a comprehensive fitness routine that addresses flexibility, cardiac health and builds muscle, or for a schedule of classes, feel free to give me a call at 916-715-8377 or follow my posts on my Facebook page.

The end of the beginning: Andi Donovan’s gifts and lessons from within and without

Now that those of us who participated in Donovan Yogas’ very first yoga retreat at Calistoga’s Mayacamas Ranch are safely home and back into our routines, I feel I must tell what is in my heart before much more time has passed.

Although I did blog at the end of the first day (at the urging of my de facto communications director), I decided that instead of forcing myself to sit down at the end of an exhausting but happy day to type this out, it would be even more valuable to reflect on the weekend as a whole when I returned home. I knew that no matter what happened, memorable gems would come to me, forever shining like lights within my consciousness.

People arrived by ones and twos the first evening and it was fascinating to watch the social interaction that was happening throughout the weekend, since at first the only common denominator among them at first was – me! At first, couples or people who knew one another just hung together, while others began conversations with complete strangers, as only out-of-their-element travelers do. By the second day, however, people who had barely learned one another’s’ names seemed to have become buddies, and like birds of a feather, spread their wings. And by the weekend’s conclusion, they were trusting one another in ways they may never have predicted — holding hands, gazing into another’s eyes, and even placing complete trust in someone else to help them to achieve handstands and backbends. This is usually scary stuff, but it is indeed is the stuff of which yoga retreats are made.

One of the most amazing moments for me came when I lay in my bed around 11:30 at night. Instead of country quiet, I heard a gaggle of voices laughing and goofing off in the lobby of our cabin as if they had planned their own party. When I realized that most of the people who came to this retreat didn’t know anyone at all, I felt as if I had unwittingly played a part in bringing together a group of souls who may have touched one another in some way. It becomes even more believable when I look at photos from the weekend and see the joy in people’s faces.
Another endearing moment for me happened when I asked people to partner up and share stories in order to emphasize how active listening is actually a gift to one another. When the time was up, no one wanted to stop! Seeing that level of comfort and connection happening before my very eyes was precisely what I was hoping for.
I know now that retreats like this are my path. I know it as surely as I know the sun will rise and set, my breath will continue to enter and leave my body, and that the place I chose for this first retreat would be perfect. You see — I felt I had no choice. I had to share the gift that was given to me. Have you ever felt that way? If so, it may be time to listen to your heart and block out all the other chatter in your life.

You see, the week prior to this weekend, I had to come to terms with the idea of “letting go.” I had to trust that I had done the work and that everything would work out exactly as it was supposed to. I had to overcome those voices nagging at me over the past six months – the ones that asked, “what if nobody comes? ; “what if I fall on my face?”; “what if they don’t like me?” I had even begun questioning the theme of the retreat – ‘embracing the gift of you’ – since opening one’s self up to his or her many vulnerabilities is not an easy thing for many people. Funny thing is: while everyone else was going through his or her transformations, I was going through my very own, right along with them.
In other words, I took that tough step of permitting myself to be imperfectly perfect. And I knew the instant I saw all those beautiful faces trusting me to take them on this journey, I was where I was supposed to be.

Day one revelations : ‘Embracing the Gift of You’ yoga retreat

Written from Mayacamas Ranch, Calistoga, CA

How do I describe the feeling of seeing twenty precious souls take an entire weekend to practice yoga with me as their guide? For years, I have been dreaming of conducting my own retreat, but needed just the right place — a place where the quiet is indescribably deafening, where we would be surrounded by so much beauty that it would transport us all away, and where I would be able to realize my passion for sharing the gifts inside me while I receive them from others as well.

Mayacamas Ranch is such a place. But it isn’t only about the amazing facility. It’s also about being removed from everyday life — from jobs, from the routine we all understand so well, and from the constant chatter that goes on inside our heads that we usually silence by “numbing” ourselves with TV, computers, or cell phones.

Just as I describe the idea of “letting go” during the practice of yoga, I had to learn for myself what that would mean for this first day — a day I had planned down to the nth degree for months now. As we began our first journey together once everyone spread out their mats, surrounded themselves with pillows, blocks, straps and anything that could aid them in holding the poses they would be experiencing, the sky took on an unusual color for a late June day. As oceanic belly breaths became audible, pose by pose, everyone seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into their practice. Few heads turned to watch others, and as I spoke the words that led them down their paths, I realized everyone was experiencing something different.

It was at that point that my well-meant plans melted away. This was just as much their experience as it was mine. All I had to do was be there and, like the yoga we were practicing, things would begin to flow. And they did.

By the time the group had earned their “shavasana” moment of relaxation at the end of the session, I heard loud sighs of both pleasure and relief in the background. And then one of the attendees came up to me and shared her reaction to what she had just experienced. ”That was amazing,” she said. “As I lay there in total relaxation, I literally left my body. What was that? I wasn’t asleep, so what just happened?” What was interesting was that I know this woman to be a pretty non-nonsense chick — one who might have a tough time with the more “esoteric” elements of the practice of yoga. I explained to her that those moments at the end of yoga session are for that very purpose — to transport you to a different plane, if just for a few moments. They help you absorb the movements from class. It is a place for total relaxation and release of physical and mental states giving way to a complete surrender, and shavasana provides the ultimate reward after a rigorous yoga session.

It was then that I knew I would be learning more from my students than they were learning from me. And from now on, I would let the entire weekend flow like a stream that knows its own path without needing much direction.

Yoga and life: finding your path

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The Yoga Healer

Discovery can be a gift in life, sometimes happening precisely at the moment you need it most — as long as you keep your heart, your mind and your spirit open to new experiences.

I am writing this from a yoga retreat at Mount Madonna. It’s no accident that I decided to attend a yoga retreat the weekend before I held my very own. And what a rejuvenating weekend this has been for me! I feel calmed, inspired, renewed … precisely the effects I want next weekend’s retreat to have for my attendees.

I remember the moment I knew conducting my own retreats was to become a part of my destiny. It happened in far-off Bali at a retreat I attended last October some time after a group of us had visited a traditional Bali healer. These practitioners are not healers by happenstance. In fact, most claim that they did not choose this path in life. Instead, they felt they were “chosen” for this work by having discovered their gifts in the course of healing themselves.

Balian healers do not advertise, draw attention to themselves, nor even like to be recognized. They believe this can invite jealousy and bad feelings.

During my session with my healer, he poked my toes with a stick. He wordlessly examined my ears, my neck, my head and my shoulders just by rubbing them, asking not a single question in the process. His eyes were closed.

When he finished his examination, he said to me, “You wear a mask when you work.” Then this very skinny 90-year old man flexed his arms like a body builder and made an exaggerated, phony smile. Again, there was no verbal exchange. He didn’t know my line of work.

He finally asked, using broken English and charade-like gestures, that I take my tongue out from behind my top teeth and swallow deeply. I thought it was a strange request, since I had become aware some time back that I habitually do this when I am being photographed.

I did as he asked. I took my tongue away from my teeth and gulped demonstrably. And then he said, “Your smile needs to come from your tummy. Swallow your smile and make it come from inside.”

I thought, “Wow he’s right!” I realized that often when I’m overworking , I put on a phony smile just to make it through my day. But it wasn’t until later that evening as I was journaling about my day that it hit me: I wasn’t just there visit to the healer. I was there to experience breath, movement, meditation, and connection with others. The feeling of clarity, peace and calmness permitted me to feel and to let go of old stories. It was as if the earth moved – and not just on its axis. The next day there was actually a 6.8 earthquake! But more than that, it was as if my mind shifted. I suddenly knew that creating retreats was part of my calling — my dharma — in life.

Have you ever had a moment that served as a catalyst in your life? I hope you’ll share it with us next weekend. Because you never know when just hearing about your own life experience can have an effect on another’s.

And so I am at a new and exciting crossroads, just a few days away from my inaugural retreat — the first, I hope, of many. I look forward to taking you on this voyage with me and I am honored that you have put your trust me as your tour guide.

Andi takes yoga to California’s picturesque wine country

You can tell when a person’s passion for what he or she does in life runs deep. Like a master chef who lives to create perfect meals, Elite Fitness and yoga instructor Andi Donovan lives, breathes and digests her love of fitness, wellness and transformation with the enthusiasm of a gourmand.

While having trained and finely tuned individuals’ fitness levels for the past eighteen years is her claim to fame, nothing is more thrilling to her than what she is about to tackle – leading a weekend yoga and wellness retreat in the idyllic hills of California’s wine country. “This is a dream of mine,” says Donovan. “Practicing yoga it in a beautiful setting like this is just as much about personal transformation as it is about the physical practice of yoga. People who enjoy yoga will gain a deeper understanding of the practice as well. ”

Andi’s menu throughout the weekend of June 22-24th at Calistoga’s Mayacamas Ranch includes both Yin (a practice of opening the body through stretching poses) and Vinyasa Flow (uniting breath with a series of poses that flow into one another, both of which have amazing physical benefits). There will also be evening meditations, mini-seminars, healthy food, fireside chats and even time to hike, learn to paint and get a massage.

Having practiced and studied yoga in Bali, Andi insists on building upon her already extensive knowledge and will be heading to Thailand in October to instruct as well.

“I discovered yoga as a way to center my scattered focus, calm my spirit and focus on life’s most important gifts, which is why I am so adamant about introducing the benefits of it to as wide an audience as possible,” says the petite, toned instructor. “When something has the potential to make such a difference in people’s lives, sometimes you feel as if it’s your calling to expose them to it in the hopes it can help them as well.”

Although this retreat became an early sell-out, Andi intends to plan subsequent weekends like this. Stay tuned for the launch of her long-awaited web site, AndiReddenFitness.com for more information, regular blogs, instructional videos and class schedules.

Feel free to LIKE Andi Facebook page and watch for on-the-scene blogging throughout this special upcoming weekend to get an idea of what’s in store for her future retreats.

In the meantime, Namaste!

(written by writer friend/student Dena Kouremetis because Andi is so thrilled to teach everyone else the beauty of fitness and yoga, she barely has time to sleep…)

Andi Donovan’s article. Not denied. Just delayed…

Yin_Yoga_FolsomTo those of you who have been waiting incessantly for this, I know it has been a long time in coming. Most of you already know what kind of schedule I keep, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to say about my world — information I think can inform, educate and entertain you regarding fitness and yoga.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be taking more baby steps — I promise! The web site should go live soon and anything and everything you may need to check on (class schedules, events, instructional videos, photos of positions and articles about staying fit) will be there for you.

I have also appointed professional journalist and Folsom-based veteran writer Dena Kouremetis a “correspondent” to help me report on Elite Fitness activities, such as the upcoming yoga and wellness retreat in Calistoga and other events worthy of note. From time to time, she will also offer her own insight into the changes taking place as she continues as one of my students — how great is that?

I honor your loyalty to me, the interest you take in getting and staying fit, and I hope these blogs help you find wisdom in getting to know and understand your fitness goals.

Again, thanks for hanging in there….