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Author Archives: Shoshana Hebshi

You are what you eat

Cliche, I know, but I remember the days of carb-loading before a race or bingeing on 64 ounces of Mountain Dew before the big game.

Now, athletes are paying greater attention to nutrition and considering food as fuel rather than just something you eat. eat-real-food

Today, I’m on day 10 of a 21-day cleanse, where I’m refusing soy, gluten, wheat, processed grains, sugar, eggs and dairy. It’s a huge departure for me and my regular diet. Where I thought I ate well was subsumed by the heavy dose of crap I ate every day.

Most of my diet, all my conscious life, revolved around the idea that I could eat whatever and just work out extra hard later. A big piece of chocolate cake? Yes, please! I’ll just run an extra 3 miles in the morning.

But that only goes so far. As I’ve aged, dealt with weight gain and injuries, I know deep down that my diet must change if I’m to stay active and healthy.

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with yoga? The way I see it, eating well has to do with truthfulness (Satya), purity (Saucha), and non-violence (Ahimsa).

I’ll break it down:

Truthfulness/Satya

With my personal practice, and what I preach when I’m teaching, is to find your truth, my truth, the clear, honest truth that our psyches really have fun hiding from us.

We get glimpses of our truth from time to time. Sometimes it feels like a sucker punch in the gut. Other times it’s like having a reunion with a long-lost friend. It’s when things finally click. When they make sense. And that can be a fleeting moment, but the more you pay attention to what’s going on inside, what’s driving you, why are you doing what you’re doing, you’ll find that kernel of truth. It’s like that line from one of my favorite childhood classics (don’t judge) Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I,”: “Keep searching, keep searching, you’ll find it.” Yeah, you know what I’m talking about, Mel Brooks nerds. 

When we are honest about our connection to the food we eat, what we put in our bodies, what we decide to feed ourselves, to nourish ourselves, we have to be also conscious about those decisions.

So, when I reach for that third piece of pizza, even though I’m already satisfied and I could benefit more from a second helping of steamed broccoli, I should be honest about that. Do I really need it? What am I trying to do when I eat this and not that?

Like when I choose to eat something like roasted beets because I know it’s good for me (and because I love them), and I know it will make me feel good inside and give won’t make me momentarily hate myself, my distended belly and my poor choices, as I would after I ate that third piece of pizza. Instant gratification over intuition? Perhaps. Maybe I’m still stuck in the belief that poor choices don’t really matter. But, indeed they do.

Be honest about your choices, and choose with consciousness and not impulse or habit.

Purity/Saucha

In these 10 days of cleansing, I have discovered a lot about my regular diet that isn’t quite so pure and simple. I eat a lot of processed sugar. I grab what’s easy and fast, like throwing a tortilla and a slice of cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds for an easy lunch. I eat granola bars and protein bars after workouts or on long rides. I have always thought of the food I eat in relation to the activity that I have done or what is coming up: Calorie intake and expenditure, rather than calorie quality and wholesomeness to optimize health.

My biggest discovery as of day 10, has been that I can still complete a strenuous workout without feeling completely spent while eating good, whole, clean food. A banana and some almond butter or a brown rice cake and bean dip give me enough oomph to finish the workout, and I feel good afterwards.

From now on, I will be rethinking the foods I use to fuel my activity, knowing that all those bars are not nearly as satisfying or nutritious as real, balanced food.

Plus, what’s all that processed crap and sugar doing to my body in the long term? I’m positive I don’t want to find out.

Non-violence/Ahimsa

This is the first tenet of yoga. Everything stems from non-violence. This applies to the outside world, but it also applies to oneself. While it may be easy to treat others with respect and compassion, it doesn’t always manifest in the way we talk or give to ourselves.

Yoga is a form of self care. A dedicated practice can seem inconvenient at times, but if you look at is as a necessity to enable productivity, kindness and compassion in the rest of your day, it can become indispensable.

Being kind to yourself can be as simple as pausing to breathe or to eat a healthy, nourishing meal. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.

 

Yoga for Athletes: Everybody’s new bag

Sometimes as a yoga teacher it can feel isolating. You come in, you teach, you connect with your students, you have an experience, you leave. Rinse, repeat. There’s not always someone there to debrief your class, to give you feedback, to talk about things that occurred in class that need discussing. Sometimes it can feel like you’re on an island.

So when, two days in a row just this week, I happened to randomly meet two yoga teachers, both of whom have a passion for teaching Yoga for Athletes, I was delighted and encouraged…but also a little bit protective, to be completely honest.

I love teaching yoga. I love teaching yoga to athletes. As an athlete myself, I am keenly aware of the muscle fatigue, the soreness and tightness that occurs by doing activities other than yoga. Without yoga, I feel like I probably wouldn’t be able to walk due to the rigor I put my body through on a regular basis on the bike, in the pool and on the trails.

It was so cool to meet these two teachers, and I hope to attend their classes and see what take they have on teaching to athletes. I also hope they come to my classes, and maybe through those experiences we can discuss and grow and become better teachers to offer our students more wisdom, more variety.

Now about that guarded feeling…

Can the market be saturated? Are there so many yoga teachers now turning their focus on working with athletes that there won’t be anyone left to come to my classes?

That’s my fear. And, fear is never a good place to come from. Fear darkens our spirits, it hampers our ability to dream and forge new paths. It can keep us from living life fully.

But we all have experienced fear in the past, and it will continue to come up from time to time as our lives go on.

So when I think to myself, can the market of yoga for athletes be flooded? Why does everyone want to teach to athletes? I have to temper that by adding, because everyone needs yoga. And the more yoga that’s out there, the better the world will be. There’s no room for judgment, for criticism or jealousy. We’re all working toward creating more options for ourselves, our yoga practice and for our students’ experiences in class and in the real world.

While Yoga for Athletes might be everyone’s new bag, it’s a great bag. And there’s room in that bag for all of us.

Success with Summer of Core

Sometimes it’s hard to stick with the program. It’s hard to commit, it’s hard to keep it going.

But those times when you do, when you really stick to your guns, the outcome can be more than what you expect.

Katy Mangan

When Katy Mangan signed up to be a part of Summer of Core, she said she did so reluctantly. Though she has a dedicated yoga practice of four to five times a week, she wasn’t sure she wanted to commit more time to working on strengthening her core.

She started getting the emails and dutifully carried out each day’s exercise, and soon she began to notice an improvement not only in her abs and arms but in her attitude. “I feel stronger, so I feel more confident,” she said, sitting outside of Soul Yoga after class.

“Now I can really begin to realign my poses. Like in Warrior I and II, I can work on fine-tuning it,” she said. “Because I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve noticed I don’t have [the poses] down.”

Katy said her balance has also improved as her core strength has grown. She also feels proud of herself that she stuck with the program. In fact, she said, holding plank has become quite enjoyable.

“Plank now is a very reassuring pose for me, instead of being difficult,” she said. “It’s obviously what I need.”

 

Summer of Core Day 27: Finale Flow

Well, we made it! The last day of Summer of Core.

I have to say it’s a little bittersweet for me This has been so much fun, both to concoct all this and to share it with all of you. I have loved practicing in class with you, and hearing about your experiences outside of class.

Today’s “finale” is like a Summer of Core greatest hits put together in a flow. See the video below (it’s about 10 minutes long).

Let’s Do It

Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Straight-Arm Plank (Day 1, 3 breaths)
  2. Side Plank with arm tuck (Day 9, 3-4 reps on each side)
  3. Forearm Plank (Day 19, 3 breaths)
  4. Dolphin Push-Ups (Day 21, 3 reps)
  5. Spinal Balance Knee to Nose Crunch (Day 15, 3-4 reps each side)
  6. Side Plank T-Flows (Day 16, 3-4 reps each side)
  7. Boat (Day 3, 3 breaths)
  8. Boat with Obliques (Day 5, 3 reps on each side)
  9. Low Boat (Day 4, hold for three breaths)
  10. Hip Lifts (Day 23, 3 reps)
  11. Writing Your Name in Cursive (Day 12)
  12. Sphinx Roll Up (Day 20, 3 reps)
  13. Cobra/Upward Facing Dog
  14. Child’s Pose

It’s Been Fun!

Thank you for being a part of Summer of Core. I hope that it helped give you more core strength and greater awareness of how a strong core supports a strong and healthy yoga practice and everyday movement.

I hope you can continue to work on building and maintaining core strength on your own using all the exercises of Summer of Core.

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 26: L-Sit

Now that we’ve been practicing Summer of Core for almost a month (tomorrow is the last day!), we should have a much stronger core than we did when we started.

So I’m throwing in this “L-sit,” bramcharyasana in Sanskrit, which is a true challenge.

L-sit

When I first attempted this many, many years ago, actually the first time it was suggested to me by my yoga teacher I started laughing. How was I going to get my hips off the ground? My arms were too short! My arms weren’t strong enough! Etc. Etc.

Practice and all is coming, right? As the Ashtanga school guru K. Pattabhi Jois carried as a mantra, I continued to practice this but still could not get my hips to lift off the ground!

Then a teacher introduced the pose with blocks. What an awakening!

With the help of the blocks, I finally lifted my hips off the ground! I could feel the deep core strength needed to control this pose. The use of breath. The slightly tilted upper body position. Things began to unravel to make sense! It’s still a work in progress for me, as I can’t lift my legs off the ground yet. But…it’s coming.L-sit blocks

Still, L-sit requires strength. Good thing we’ve been building it up!

Let’s Do It

  • Sitting in staff pose, dandasana, legs extended on the floor, sitting up tall, hands alongside the hips.
  • Walk your hands about one hand length in front of your hips, finger pointing toward your toes.
  • Bring a block under each hand.
  • Inhale to lengthen your spine.
  • Exhale, draw your belly button up and in and press into the floor with your hands.
  • Your hips may or may not lift from the ground.
  • If your hips lift off the ground, try also lifting your legs by contracting your quads and pulling your femurs in toward your hip sockets.
  • Hold for as long as you can, maintaining your deep breath.
  • Release.
  • If you were able to lift your hips from the ground, try it without a block next time!

We’ll practice this in class today 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Join me!

~ Shoshana

 

Summer of Core Day 25: Plank Till You Drop

The other day in class, I said “Ok, this plank is until failure.” I got some chuckles and groans, and later, reflecting on my language I realized that “failure” is not something we say in yoga class very often.

But it’s worth exploring a little bit. The “until failure” directive I must have picked up from my CrossFit friends talking about their WODs (Workout of the Day). And what it means is until you can’t do any more, that you are so tired, your muscles so fatigued, that another rep, another pushup, another pull up, or whatever the exercise, is not an option. That is totally CrossFit culture. Not so much in yoga.

In yoga we say, “listen to your body,” and “come to your edge.” That edge is when your body tells you that you are working to your limit but not going beyond it in a way that will cause your body harm. You are pushing yourself, but not falling over the cliff, so to speak. This is a way of taking care of yourself, feeling good about where you are, building body awareness and trying to avoid injury. These are all good things, and as someone who is as capable as the next person to practice negative self talk, being kind to myself and allowing myself to back off when I need to is empowering.

That said, planking “until failure” is another way of building empowerment. Testing how long you can hold your body in this challenging position while maintaining good form, strong breath and a keen awareness of the moment.

We’ve been going on this Summer of Core journey now for almost an entire month. If you’re practicing regularly, you should be feeling quite strong. The weekly plank test is one way to gauge your increased strength.

So today, we will plank until we drop, until our form falls apart and we need to rest. Maybe you’ll feel your shoulders sag, or your belly sink toward the ground. Maybe your arms will begin to tremble, or your breathing will become too labored to go on. Or maybe you’ll lose the engagement in your lower abs. Pay attention to all of this, and when it’s time to come out, come out and be proud of yourself for your hard work and dedication.

Now, go do your plank with a time, and let me know how it goes!

Happy planking!

~ Shoshana