Vacations and traveling can be refreshing and energizing but they can also leave us feeling a bit heavier upon return home. My dad used to tell me, “there are no calories on Holidays” and like so many others I take advantage of times with friends and family or on vacation as times to splurge and not think about eating “right” and just enjoying a good meal and a dessert. And there is nothing wrong with that! The last thing I would recommend is to go on a trip and not experience the food! But vacationing is not an excuse to be less active either….
On most of my vacations I do a lot of walking without thinking about it. Walking is great, and can mean the difference of 1.3 more years of healthy life in terms of cardiovascular disease if you are walking just 30 minutes a day. (according to a 2005 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine)
Living in New York City, I can easily walk 30 minutes a day when I include my commute to work and running errands in my neighborhood. If you live in a more suburban community getting those minutes in might have to be a bit more proactive when you drive everywhere you need to go. But exploring new cities, it should be easy to get in that burst of activity each day- but that might not be enough if you are also eating slightly more- or more richly than normal.
Unless you are at an all amenities included hotel, chances are you are without a gym. Here is when knowing how to get a good work out without relying on machines is most beneficial. Pilates and Yoga are both great to utilize in these types of situations. And getting creative with squats, lounges, and planks can give you a full body workout with limited space and equipment.
I found this article on a ten minute plank work out by Tina Haupert on Health Magazine’s Website. I tried it over the weekend and my abs and arms were definitely sore the next day. It’s incredibly intense and not suitable for beginners to plank workouts but it is telling just how little you need to work up a sweat. A modified version of this workout would be to add in moments in downward dog and child’s pose to rest.
Extra time stretching can also be a great addition to vacation time workouts. Stretching can be very relaxing and much needed after long periods of time sitting (travelling). Long trips on a plane or a car can be terrible for circulation. Try to stand up for a minute every hour or so, and making sure you rotate your ankles, stretch the calves and legs and doing a few straight leg press ups onto your toes can increase blood flow and prevent cramps.
This article originally appeared on Sarah’s pilates blog: sarahlehmanmovement.com.
In this series, Michele interviews YinOva friends and wellness advocates.
Kristin McGee is a certified yoga and Pilates instructor as well as an ACE certified personal trainer. As a fitness expert, Kristin has appeared on CNN, FOX , CBS Morning Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and more. She has contributed to many magazines like Shape, Fitness, Self, In Style, and Women’s Health and is a Contributing Editor for Health Magazine. She is Fila’s Yoga Ambassador and has her own DVD’s and a Yoga & Pilates App on iTunes.
First of all, thank you so much for your time. We know how busy you are!
Obviously since this is the YinOva Center, my first question is about Chinese medicine – what is your exposure to it or thoughts on it?I think Chinese medicine is fascinating. One of my favorite yoga teachers, Nevine Michaan, works a lot with Chinese medicine and the elements, the relation to our body with the earth and the seasons. And of course, I love acupuncture. I think YinOva and Jill and Noah are just amazing. Chinese medicine really taps in to the importance of our energy, how we use it, and how it can get stuck in our body. Yoga is much the same way.
What led you to yoga?I was first introduced to yoga at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I was studying acting in the early 90’s.
What does yoga mean to you?Yoga means to unite. Through my yoga practice I’ve discovered how to unite my body with my mind through my breath. By uniting with my breath, I have discovered how to unite my goals with my true passions. I’ve also been able to unite with so many amazing people throughout the years through my yoga practice and it’s a constant reminder of how we are all united.
I love that! How about happiness – do you think it’s a choice?Happiness is a state of being not a destination. We can choose to be happy every day. Happiness is taking every situation and cherishing it. Focusing on the positive not the negative and learning from experiences. We can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we react to it though.
Some think meditation can help us change our brain and our reactions. Do you meditate?Yes every morning. Meditation is the first thing I do. I roll out of bed and go to my spot. I sit on a pillow and find my breath and watch it for as long as I can. My mind is always running a million miles a minute. Meditation slows me down, helps me find insight, quiets my mind, and it reminds me of the most important things in life. It sets an amazing tone for the day. I don’t know what I’d do without it.
Where did you grow up? How is it different from New York City?Pocatello, Idaho – it’s the complete opposite of NYC! But I love it because it’s so different. I love NYC for the energy, the people, the transportation, the culture, the creativity. I love Idaho because my family is there, but also for the outdoors, for the connection to nature and for the people there as well.
Is Pocatello or New York your favorite city?New York is for sure…. but Paris comes in close behind.
I guess New York’s energy won out but how about relaxation – where can you relax in the city?That’s tough! There are so many great places in NYC. But I love to relax at home actually, with my husband or with some good tunes. I also find Washington Square Park relaxing or the West Side Highway promenade. Museums are also great places to relax, oh and Central Park. And of course, any good yoga class!
Where do you party and let your hair down? How about a favorite romantic dinner destination?Hmm…my favorite place to party? I don’t really party that much! But I love to go to the Comedy Cellar and laugh – if you call that a party. I also love to dance but have a hard time finding a place to dance in NYC that isn’t a club. I wish there were more weddings so I could dance the night away! As for a romantic dinner I love Raoul’s, in the back garden. I also love when Tim (my husband) cooks for me at home using fresh food from the Farmer’s Market, we open a bottle of wine and put on Pandora.
That sounds so romantic! What’s your go-to meal?Salmon, steamed veggies, brown rice, glass of red wine and a square of dark chocolate for dessert with raspberries and blackberries!
Yum! That sounds pretty healthy. Do you follow any special diet?Nope. I eat healthy but listen to my body.
You seem so balanced. Whom do you look to for inspiration?I look to many people, my husband, my family, my colleagues, my teachers, my friends, my practice, music, art, theater, the city, the outdoors, books and experiences.
Are you living your dream?YES!
How cool is that!? But if you weren’t teaching yoga, what do you think you’d do?I’d love to be a traditional schoolteacher. I’d also love to be a professional actress or be a host on TV..who knows maybe that day will still come!?
I’d bet on that! You’ve done so many fun things, from videos to creating your own App, what gives you the most joy?That is too tough to answer! I love doing it all really; but I think what brings me the most joy is all of the people I meet along the way. Being able to inspire students and to learn as well is truly amazing.
What are you most proud of?I think I am most proud of staying true to myself. Over the years, there’s been many times when I think I should be doing something differently or I’m not doing things “right.” My yoga practice has taught me there is no right or wrong way, just each person’s individual path. As long as I can keep connecting to my inner voice and breath, I can keep creating my own path in this world. All of my experiences along the way are a direct result of that so, I’m proud of the family I’ve come from, the places I challenged myself to go to, the man I married, the accomplishments I’ve made. I look forward to so many more wonderful things ahead of me!
We do too! But forget work for a minute, what do you do for fun that isn’t work-related?I love to travel, I love to read, I love to go out to dinner or to cook dinner with my husband, I love the theater, I love crossword puzzles, good walks, hiking, skiing, playing tennis, meeting friends, adventures like white water rafting, camping, etc. I LOVE spending time with my family when I can get home to Idaho or have them come to NYC or take them on a retreat of mine. I love to listen to music with my hubby and chill out with a glass of wine.
You travel so much, any tips?Yes! Always drink lots of water. Set yourself on the time zone of your destination as soon as possible. Sit in an aisle seat and get up and stretch as much as you can. Bring healthy snacks–raw almonds, fruit, string cheese, etc. Sleep a good 7-8 hours the night before you leave. Wear comfy clothes to travel in. Bring a great book. Invest in Gogo internet (in flight internet) and catch up on lots of emails and work! Also do downward dog when you arrive at your destination for the blood flow to your brain – it helps energize you, legs up the wall is a great pose too!
One last question! You are such a natural beauty, any beauty secrets to share?Oh my goodness you are too kind. Thank you for saying that. Actually, I recently did a piece for Well+Good NYC where you can see some of my fave picks as far as products. But eating healthy, drinking lots of water, laughing, being with people you love, movement and sleep, all play a big role. Also, keeping an inner smile! If you smile from the inside out you’re sure to radiate. Everyone is a natural beauty they just have to remind themselves that everyday.
Thank you so much. We think your inner smile certainly radiates!Get Kristin’s App here and take your Yoga and Pilates workout with you wherever you go!
Is there a “right” way to breathe?While there is not a singular “right” way to breathe, taking a look at what muscles you are using to breathe will tell you a lot about where you hold tension. And yes, there are more efficient ways to breathe that minimize excess tension and stress.
The diaphragm is the major muscle involved. A large, dome shaped muscle that lays horizontally separating the stomach and intestines from the heart and lungs. When the diaphragm contracts, the dome pulls downward and, in cooperation with the intercostal muscles of the ribs, this allows the lungs to expand resulting in a large inhale. Exhaling releases the diaphragm and relaxes the ribs back down.
As simple as that sounds other muscle players want to bring themselves into the mix. The most common are the muscles of the neck/shoulders and the elevators of the collar bones. Take a deep breath right now. Did your shoulders lift? If they did, you are most likely relying too heavily on those accessory muscles instead of the diaphragm. Being able to keep the neck and shoulders relaxed as you breathe will help decrease muscle tension.
Lay down on the floor and put your feet up on a chair so that your lower back is relaxed. Close your eyes and keep your arms down by your sides with your palms turned up. Now focus on your breath. Don’t try to change anything, just take note of what is moving, where your tension lies and how deep/shallow or fast/slow you are breathing. After a few minutes redirect your focus on your belly. On the inhale, let your belly expand and on the exhale let it fall down. Soften your throat, neck and shoulders. Imagine your shoulders gently falling open, widening against the ground.
Now let your rib cage expand wide as you inhale deeply. Then, forcefully exhale while engaging the deep abdominal muscles pulling them up and in, toward the front of the spine. Take a few more deep breaths like that, feeling the expansion and contraction of the ribs and the rise and fall of the belly. Diaphragmatic breathing allows the lung to absorb more oxygen which in turn allows the heart to slow down and the blood pressure to decrease. The opposite of belly breathing would be quick shallow breaths. This sort of breathing automatically speeds up the heart rate and raises blood pressure to ensure there is enough oxygen getting to the rest of the body. Shallow breathing also leaves one feeling anxious and on-edge where as slow, deep breaths promotes calmness and centering.
In Pilates, diaphragmatic breathing is used in combination with a technique called posterolateral breathing. The goal is to really allow the rib cage to expand wide so that the abdominal muscles are able to stay engaged while taking deep breaths. This is important to be aware of while you are exercising. The Pilates movements all heavily rely on use of and initiation from the core muscles. If you were only using diaphragmatic breathing you would have to let go of the abdominal tone and compromise the exercises.
The best way to benefit from this type of breathing is to practice. In the morning, before bed, or whenever you get a few spare minutes during the day, take a moment to sit quietly and focus on your breath. You’ll be surprised at how calming it can be. Hopefully the next time your “fight-or-flight” response jumps in remember to take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down and battle whatever comes at you with a clear head.
Most of posture correcting techniques or methods deal with breaking bad habits. Once you recognize when you are not in an ideal posture it’s easier to change into a more supported position. Having a sense of body awareness is crucial, not only for correcting posture but also for coordination and balance. Body awareness and posture also play a role in overall body language, which sometimes speaks louder than you might think.
But the real kicker with bad posture is that it contributes to chronic back pain. A lot of people spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer. It’s important to make sure you are getting up to stretch your legs and walk around periodically throughout the day. Staying in one position for a long period of time is stressful on the body. In order to improve your posture you will need to strengthen the muscles that run on either side of the spine. These muscles, especially the erector spinae, support your spine in an upright position. The reason why it’s often difficult to keep the back straight when sitting down is because of weak erector spinae.
The baby swan exercises in Pilates targets this muscle. By extending the back without using your hands to push you up, you are forced to use the muscles of the back. Do these exercises very slowly to make sure you are not using momentum or letting other muscles compensate.
Lie down on your stomach, engage your abdominals and place your hands, palm over palm, underneath your forehead. Slowly lengthen your spine to lift into an arc coming up only as high as you can control. Just as slowly lengthen the spine to lower back down. Do 4-6 repetitions and then stretch out the back by sitting in child’s pose or cat pose on all fours.
The benefits of exercising throughout your pregnancy are plentiful. Not only will it help limit weight gain, but mid-intensity work-outs, such as Pilates, have been shown to ease symptoms of pregnancy (i.e. back pain, morning sickness, fatigue), help shorten the labor, and reduce the time it takes to get your body to bounce back after you’ve given birth. Also, the strengthening and functional exercises will help prepare you for the lifting, playing, and running around you’ll be doing once you have a newborn in the house.Many women also find the breathing techniques of Pilates to be helpful in preparing for labor. The devotion to scheduled exercise time can be great for keeping a positive outlook during the pregnancy and a healthy mindset during a period of tremendous changes to your body.
There is a lot of contradictory information floating around about exercising while you are pregnant. The reason for this is that in the not so far past, doctors treated pregnancy as if it were an “illness.” What recent research is showing however, is that moderate exercise will help make the pregnancy easier. The body is incredible. It has an amazing ability to adjust to all the new changes taking place. While resting is important to remain healthy, exercising decreases the feeling of exhaustion and actually helps the placenta grow more efficiently. The more efficient the placenta, the better the baby is able to absorb nutrients and oxygen from the mother.
If you listen to your body, I believe it will give you signals. This is not a time to push your boundaries. Start small, especially if you are a beginner to exercise. If you are professional or recreational athlete you can continue, within reason, your normal routine but talk to your doctor or an exercise specialist for modifications and warning signs to look out for.
If you plan on working out on your own, remember to keep hydrated, fueled (eat a small snack before and after exercise) and always warm-up for about five minutes before you really get going. Due to changes in the vascular system, it is important to give your body a fair warning that you are beginning a workout. Save high intensity workouts for after the baby has been delivered. Stay in a range of 5-8 on the perceived exertion scale which means in the highest intensity you are slightly tired but you can speak a full sentence while you are exercising. If for any reason you feel light-headed, fatigued, or have abdominal area cramping stop immediately and talk to your health care professional.It is true that the body is under a lot of stress and many changes take place in a relatively short amount of time. However, keeping the mother’s body active and healthy is incredibly important for a healthy labor and a healthy baby. Think about it in terms of preparing your body for labor and delivery, an intense biological marathon. It is especially important to do a lot of core/abdominal strengthening in the first trimester before the muscles begin stretching. It is harder for them to continue to strengthen after that point and you are going to need them for the final pushing.
Pilates is a perfect compliment to any prenatal aerobic regimen. It will primarily work on building that core strength as well as toning the arms, legs and back. The functionality of the exercises will be beneficial to all the bending, reaching, lifting and squatting you will be doing with your new bundle of joy. To keep sessions interesting, I like to incorporate a couple different props such as an exercise ball, resistance bands and foam rollers to keep the movements flowing and to keep you safe.
So, what’s the catch? It seems like regular exercise is a miracle remedy, so it should be easy right? Well, unlike morphine, endorphins are not addictive. That is a good thing, but it also means that you have to have the motivation to get started and keep with a program. The good news is that once you start and begin seeing and feeling the effects of exercise, it’s easier to set fitness goals and motivate your self to meet them.
If you are prone to stress and anxiety, one of the things you should absolutely avoid is taking on an exercise routine that will only increase your level of stress! Choose activities that you enjoy and that you can look forward to during your week. Everyone is different. For me, the idea of taking a spin class is way too overwhelming but for others it’s just what they need to get into that zone and feel that “runner’s high.” For me, pilates is the perfect workout.
Pilates is an excellent addition to any exercise routine. Because it is physically challenging you’ll get the reward of endorphins which in turn provide a boost of energy. But the real benefit is gained by the attention to the breath, which is choreographed into the movements. The breath is a link between the mind and the body. In oriental medicine, it is believed to be the prana, or life force. Breathing exercises are thought to increase the awareness of bodily sensations so we are able to communicate to the body with our breath. Think about it, when we want to calm down, we slow our breath; when we are excited, our breath quickens. By incorporating the breath with exercise we learn greater control of our bodies and muscular activity in a soothing and organic way. Learning to breath properly by utilizing the diaphragm, will help increase lung capacity. When coupled with the Pilates technique of posterolateral breath which also keeps the abdominal muscles engaged, the breath becomes strong and helps tone and strengthen the core.
Pilates will help tone your muscles, improve posture by strengthening the muscles of the back and core, increase flexibility and range of motion, as well as increase your bodily awareness. As a bonus, these will all help boost your self-esteem! But it’s important to note, body awareness is not about noticing flaws in ourselves, but rather it’s about appreciating ourselves. With pilates, we gain greater control over our movements and we become more efficient as we get stronger. We learn to listen to what our body needs. What ever exercise routine you choose, make sure it isn’t painful. Pain is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Listen to those cues! Overdoing any form of exercise will be counter-intuitive to your stress and anxiety-reducing plan.
Most fitness professionals recommend starting out small, three times a week, if you are an exercise beginner. Exercise for at least twenty minutes if you can, gradually working up to longer workouts. I recommend starting out in the morning. Fewer excuses not to exercise can sneak into you schedule if you set aside a few minutes into your morning routine. This will also allow you to take advantage of the boost of energy it will give you and help you face the rest of the day with a positive outlook!
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