Choose the right yoga class for you

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The major factors to consider when choosing the right yoga class for you

Often when I tell people that I work with who want to use movement to help manage their mood, they respond with ‘Oh yeah, like yoga and stuff’.

There’s a reason that yoga is one of the first places people’s’ minds jump to when they think ‘movement’ and ‘mental health’ – several studies have shown results like decreased rumination (focusing on unpleasant thoughts), improved sleep, decreased severity of depression and improved quality of life. One study even found that a yoga intervention worked better for improving depression symptoms than pharmacotherapy (drugs)! So, there’s certainly validity in using yoga as part of a movement practice to improve mood. But, the difference it makes can depend on a few variables…

The style

Of course, the style makes a huge difference, and there’s no ‘better or worse’ –it depends on your purpose. If you want to work your muscles, get warm, and sweat it out, and increase energy, power yoga or vinyasa might be good for you. If you want to chill, breathe, stretch and find some calm, perhaps yin yoga or restorative is a better bet. I recommend doing some research, taking some time to think about what you want to get out of your practice, and then make an educated choice about which style you choose. And why not try a few different styles to see what works for you!

 

The teacher

Having completed many yoga classes with both fantastic teachers and those that made me go ‘meh’, I can say from experience that having an experienced teacher who is in it for more than the fitness aspect is a totally different experience than a class run by someone who is mostly about building muscles and improving flexibility. My favourite classes are always those that have some greater meaning or message built into them, whether that be in the form of a theme for the class, or just a few words that the teacher offers during savasana. Traditionally yoga is much more a spiritual practice than just physical poses, and teachers who offer a little bit of something for the psyche on top of teaching the physical movements are always my faves.

 

The time

I’ve done classes that go for 50 minutes, like group fitness classes in gyms, and I’ve always found they don’t really allow enough time to do a proper stillness practice. Some have written about savasana (the corpse pose) being the most important asana (pose) in yoga and it’s certainly important from my perspective. I love the practice of it in the studio, of taking a moment to let your body consolidate what you’ve just gone through in the last hour or so, and just focusing on breathing. I also love taking that concept into the rest of your life – allowing time for processing, resting, and taking a breath before moving on to the next thing. In shorter classes, there is usually only a couple of minutes of stillness, which I reckon isn’t enough. My fave classes go for 75 – 90 minutes.

 

The environment

I’ve done yoga in some pretty picturesque places. Like huge, converted warehouses with exposed wood beams and huge windows through which the afternoon sun streams in… And, while it’s not 100% a prerequisite for a good class, the additional calm and peace that comes from spending time inside a beautiful studio (as compared to a plain walled room with minimal natural light or air flow) is important.

That has the most impact on what makes a good class. The other stuff, like the mat or the clothes: less important from my perspective. Although having a good mat is a nice luxury – I’m currently using a Gaiam yoga mat which works pretty well while i’ve used ratty ones before (Recommendations for good brands of mat welcome!)


 

Did I miss any important considerations for a good class? Where’s the most beautiful studio you’ve practiced in? Let me know in the comments…

WAYS TO SAFELY WORKOUT WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS & AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

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The years before I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Disease (and before the onset of any symptoms), I played tennis, I cheered, danced, ran half marathons, did CrossFit and even, participated in tough mudders along with various obstacle course races. 

That path started to blur when I struggled to finish a workout. All of sudden, my energy levels plummeted, my hands went numb and blue during times, I sat out sets shivering on the floor, and I wasn't sleeping throughout the night. My CrossFit coach (as awesome as he was) thought I was simply lacking motivation. That I wasn't trying and needed to get tougher or push through. At the time, I was frustrated... thinking maybe he was right and I'd lost "my edge". And even now, looking back, I can't blame him. When you have an "invisible illness" your symptoms aren't tangible. They aren't easily understood. Heck, I didn't even know what was going on... other than knowing all of a sudden I could hardly bring myself to do anything. 

Getting diagnosed with Hashimoto's gave "formality" and answers to my workout struggles, though internally I didn't feel much better. Sure, I could still talk about who I used to be in the gym -- and how an illness changed all that. I could share my previous times and personal bests. But honestly? No one cared anymore. There was nothing visible to see when it came to the difference in how I could move. Only I can feel that -- and I never know when it'll start. Invisible illness is named so for a reason. Our symptoms aren't the only pain we feel. The misunderstanding -- the ignorant expectations -- can hurt just as much. 

I share this part of my story to tell you that fitness and physical activity have always been important parts of my life. Although the movement I could handle changed when I was diagnosed, I was determined to find a way to just. keep. moving. If you're reading this and feeling the same way -- maybe wondering how to move now that you have this extra "variable" to consider -- here are 5 ways to safely workout with chronic illness and autoimmune disease. 

(1) MOVE FOR YOUR HEALTH AND NOT FOR YOUR WEIGHT.

This might surprise you as the first of 5 ways to safely workout with chronic illness or autoimmune disease, but it's too important not to share. Many of us (yes, me included) have used exercise as way to lose weight. To tone up. To thin out. To sculpt our bodies. But, especially when trying to workout for chronic illness, this simply isn't helpful. 

When we move for weight rather than health, we tend to workout more, adopt "no pain no gain" mentalities, and berate ourselves into thinking if we only worked a little harder....

Simply put, we're more likely to overdo exercise, to workout in ways that may leave us feeling even worse when we started, when moving in order to lose weight or control out body shape. It makes it a lot harder to listen to our bodies and take much needed rest. (Here's why "no pain no gain" isn't the best approach for those with autoimmune disease or chronic illness.) 

Moving for health and not for weight involves undoing all of the diet mentality and body image challenges we face as a society. We can't claim we're moving for "health", for "medical reasons", for "healing", for "remission"... when we're really, secretly, subtly moving for "thinness". We've got to break down the societal barriers, fat phobia and the fear of weight gain -- and recognize thin privilege (plus the fear of losing or never have status because of it).

I bring this up first because many exercise programs, EVEN the ones designed not for weight loss but for health, are designed by experts who teach physical activity with emotionally-fueled rules leading the way. Many conversations around autoimmune disease, chronic illness, and movement are full of judgment, willpower, and even blame. (Have you ever felt that shame? That judgment of having an illness? I know I have.)

Some of you may be shaking your head right now, thinking... "Duh Kel. Of course I to want move my body for health not for weight. I want to feel better." And I totally believe you. I've uttered the same sentence and I, too, was working out to feel better physically and mentally... about 80% of the time.

But that 20%? THAT'S what we've got to talk about. Because more often than not a fear of weight gain or a desire for weight loss is at the core of body image struggles and a disordered relationship to exercise.

Even if we're working out 80% for our physical health - to feel better and alleviate chronic pain - we still need to eradicate that last 20% of working out to lose weight. It's the only way we can really CHOOSE physical activity that leaves us feeling good for the LONG run.

(2) CULTIVATE A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR BODY.

This sounds cliche, but it has been the. most. important. a piece of the puzzle for me when it comes to safely exercise with autoimmune disease (and less pain). 

We have to listen to our bodies -- and choose our workouts accordingly.

We have to look for initial warning signs that say we're pushing too hard, moving in a way we can't safely handle, or simply needing an extra day of rest. Because yes, when you're dealing with symptoms of a chronic illness or when you're trying to heal naturally, you probably do need an extra day or two of rest.

Now, as I write this, I get it. This IS frustrating, especially if you're a former athlete like me. It might also be frustrating because you have an "invisible illness" and no one really understands why you might scale a movement, hold yourself back, take an extra minute to rest, or choose a walk around the block instead of a run. I know what it's like to "reign it in" in a world that screams more is always better.

But the truth is.... none of that matters. YOU are the only person who will advocate for yourself in the gym or while working out. Is it worth pushing yourself -- "to look cool", "to get the fastest time", "to do what everyone else is doing", "because you used to do X", "because so and so does it" -- when you'll experience flares or subsequent symptoms that don't go away for hours, days, or even weeks?

I say this with a buttload of love and grace because I am that girl. I'm the girl who loves to workout.

I'm that girl who is as competitive as it gets. I've done two-a-day practices all my life. So, now? Having to purposefully skip the gym -- even when I want to go? Having to hold myself back, even when I want to set a personal record? Having to stop, grab a sip of water, wait on the sidelines, and pause in between rounds EVEN WHEN I don't "need it"? It's hard. 

I've had to learn to ask myself one very important question each and every day. It's a question that reminds me WHY I care about safely working out with autoimmune disease or chronic illness.

"Is what I do during 30 or 60 minutes at the gym worth at least 24 hours of headaches, nausea, and fatigue? Maybe a few sleepless nights, too?"

Almost always, the answer is NO. It's not. (Although it's totally okay if for some reason the answer is yes. We get to choose our actions -- and the consequences that may stem from those actions.)

I've learned that it's great to mentally push ourselves to work out -- especially because physical activity is good for the body and CAN help our symptoms -- BUT (and this is a big but) we must physically respect our boundaries. And, as much as we may or may not like it, those boundaries are different for people like us. Because when those of us with an invisible illness go to the gym, it's not about seeing how hard we can push day in and day out. It's about finding our sweet spot and allowing our BODIES (the ones doing the insanely hard work of keeping us alive despite the cards we were dealt with) to tell us when to hold back. 

If you're wondering how to cultivate this relationship and figure out how YOU can safely exercise with chronic illness and autoimmune disease, here's what helps me.

  • I ask myself how I want to move each day. Yoga? A guided walk? Strength training? HIIT?
  • I reign myself in if I feel a slight headache, lightheaded, or simply fatigued one day. 
  • I add inappropriate rest time as a non-negotiable. (Right now, I'm taking at least two full rest days off each week. I may add one additional recovery day where I solely walk my dog.) These rest days allow me to hear what my body has to say.
  • I watch my sleep patterns. 
  • I take note of my energy levels all day long. 


It's important that we feel energized by our workouts rather than drained and depleted. Sure, there may be a learning curve when we first start moving our bodies, especially if we took some time off, but we need to take it slow. To ease into things. And that learning curve, or that soreness, should not last. Speaking of which....

(3) TAKE. IT. SLOW.

I believe that one of the main reasons new exercise programs fail is not because we lack motivation, are too busy, or can't do it. It's because we try to do too much too soon - and/or without enough nourishment in between. (Or because we pick a movement or an environment, we hate.)

You see, when it comes to exercising with autoimmune disease, it's important we don't add TOO much additional stress to the body. And that stress can pop up in the form of overtraining as well as in the form of force and hate. We are far more likely to make time for something we enjoy - something that leaves us feeling good - rather than a movement, or even an environment, that leaves us feeling crappy, intimidated, or not good enough. Furthermore, hating what we’re doing, often because we feel forced to do it for some external reason, can also turn positive stress (even without a chronic illness in the mix) into negative stress - and work against our goals. 

Which means that, when incorporating new movements or when trying to heal our body, “no pain, no gain” is NOT the goal.

In fact, walking is one of the best things you can do -- whether just starting out or a seasoned exercise vet. 


This study talks about physically respecting your body and being sure to avoid overreaching/overtraining. When we do too much too soon, or too much on a consistent basis without proper recovery, the accumulation of training can require days and weeks to recover. We are more likely to experience an excess of soreness, flare-ups that may take days or weeks to subside, or other overtraining symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and poor performance. 

In addition to taking it slow, it's really important to take the time necessary to learn movement basics and proper techniques. This is, of course, a necessity for ALL exercise programs and workouts -- and so exercising with chronic illness is no different. We want to minimize the amount of stress placed on the body as a whole... and that includes minimizing the amount of stress placed on the joints. Working with a personal trainer who understands your specific chronic illness or region of chronic pain (and always under the guidance of your doctor) can be very helpful. 

(4) BUILD IN (EXTRA) REST + RECOVERY.

I mentioned this briefly already, but it is insanely important to build in rest and recovery. In fact, I believe it's a non-negotiable for safely working out with chronic illness, chronic pain, or autoimmune disease. Because at the end of the day... We are not like everyone else. Not in this way. (And that's a pretty awesome thing.) We have an extra "ball" in the air. We have an extra variable to take into account. 

We are fighting an illness.
We expend more energy more quickly.
We flare up from known and unknown triggers.
Certain "healthy suggestions" simply don't apply to us.

Which means that when it comes to exercising, we simply cannot do what everyone else can do. Or what traditional trainers tell us to do. Because even really great trainers might not understand what is taking place underneath the surface in our own bodies. This is why it's helpful to find one who understands your specific challenges! If you have an invisible illness, you've probably already experienced this. Because what we fight daily cannot be seen... and therefore is not often understood NOR remembered. 

We have to advocate for ourselves in the gym and build in extra rest and recovery from the start. We also have to take into account the amount of stress already placed on the body. This is a super important nugget right here.

The amount of stress our body is under is the TOTAL sum of stress in our lives. (P. 159 The Paleo Approach.) Which means we need to add the amount of stress placed on the body from working out PLUS the amount of stress placed on the body from chronic illness PLUS the amount of stress placed on the body from daily life PLUS any stress placed on the body from life transitions or difficult seasons. 

That can be a lot of stress, right?! 

S ince stress can lead to inflammation in the bodyand inflammation is related to chronic illness, we must be careful - more careful than the "average joe" - to NOT add so much additional stress that we take ourselves out of short-term stress (which by itself can improve the immune system) and into chronic stress (which has a significant effect on the immune system and chronic illness).

One way to do this is to actively schedule in rest and relaxation. To move every day, but for shorter periods of time. To add meditation to our workouts. To spend time in nature while we move. To make sure we get a full night's sleep... Etc. 

(5) EXPLORE ALL KINDS OF MOVEMENT.

Running on a treadmill is not the only way to get a good workout. (In fact, it might not be the best way at all.)

Crossfit isn't the only way.

HIIT workouts aren't the only good workouts.

Even Yoga isn't the only "restorative exercise" we can do. 

When navigating how to safely exercise with autoimmune disease or chronic illness, open yourself up to new possibilities. After all, exercise is just movement. It's a physical activity. It's giving your body the chance to move through full ranges of motion so that it can better handle day-to-day tasks. (And maybe play a little more than usual.) That's it.

If you like dancing, have you tried the NIA Technique?
If running puts too much pressure on your joints, have you tried swimming? 
If you like strength training, have you tried Animal Flow?
If nature is your happy place, have you tried a guided walk?
If it hurts to stand, have you tried chair Yoga or chair dancing?


KEEP EXPLORING UNTIL YOU FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE.

Find the movements and physical activities that will put your body into the relaxation response. (A term first introduced by Dr. Herbert Benson to essentially describe the opposite of the stress response.) 

Find workouts that feel gentle and kind to your body... and totally light you up. Try activities that both stretch your tight muscles and strengthen your weak muscles, so that you can move more easily throughout the day. Focus on exercise that strengthens your "powerhouse muscles" (the group of muscles at the center of the body that keeps us stable and secure), so that you can reduce pain and inflammation in other areas like the back or hips. 

Because THIS exploration is how you safely exercise with chronic illness and autoimmune disease. You let your body, and your JOY, lead the way. 

I know specifics can be helpful, and at least feed our curious minds, so here's the exercise plan that I currently follow. 

At least twice a week, I practice restorative exercise -- whether a workout at a gym or a local Yoga class. Once a week, I work out at a local gym and strictly strength train. Once or twice a week, I go to that same local gym for a class that mixes light strength training and cross conditioning. Five to six days a week, I go on a guided walk with my dog to break up the day. (I sit a lot for work.) No matter what, at the end of each formal workout, I always play. (Things like handstand walks, toes to bars, etc.) Because that "play" is why I move. It's why I'm so inspired to find a workout program that works for me. One that allows me to exercise with an autoimmune disease but without pain. 

Because movement IS meant to be fun! EVEN IF you can only do a little bit at a time or it doesn't look anything like it used to. 

I'd love to hear from you: What are your favorite ways to move??

CAN EXERCISE HELP AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE?

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I love to exercise but, when you're dealing with autoimmune disease, everything can be a trigger and normal "suggestions" aren't always applicable (Including those regarding movement). Things that are traditionally helpful, like using oils, vitamins, or gummies to strengthen the immune system, can actually make matters worse. When you're diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you're told that your body is attacking itself. Those with a chronic condition eventually start to question everything as being a possible trigger... taking note of what causes our symptoms to feel better AND what causes flare-ups to stay for days. 

If you have an autoimmune disease and
(1) wonder how to incorporate movement without worsening your symptoms,
(2) work out consistently 5-6x week and are starting to notice signs of overtraining,
(3) don't work out at all, or
(4) hate exercise and feel forced to do it, then keep reading. 

In this blog post, we'll talk about some of the best and worst exercises for autoimmune disease and chronic illness AND how exercise can help (and even hurt) when it comes to optimizing your body for healing. 

I'm not a doctor and I'm not going to tell you which exercises to do for your specific body or health challenge. Instead, I'm going to introduce to you some movements that may be beneficial even if you're suffering from health challenges. Always talk to your doctor before making any fitness or lifestyle changes. 

Before we dive into specifics, let's talk about the main function of exercise.

Exercise is the body adapting to a stress (or stimulus) over time. 

This simply means that the function of exercise is to adapt the body and the specific way we move will produce a specific body adaption. So that if we want a specific change or adaptation to occur in our bodies, then we want to exercise in a particular way in order to achieve that. In other words, all movements are NOT made the same.

A good general exercise program will not only focus on what you want to achieve but will also change as you achieve it. This is called exercise progression or periodization, which is simply varying an exercise routine in coordination with body adaptation. In other words, as we achieve our goals and get stronger, quicker, etc. We must change up our exercise routine in order to get even stronger, quicker, etc.

>>>> Here's what you need to know: A different type of stress (in this case that stress is intended to be positive and called  exercise) will produce a different effect on the body. The type of effect (and whether it is positive or negative) is dependent upon the movements we do consistently. 


WHY EXERCISE AT ALL IF IT MIGHT CAUSE A FLARE UP? 


For many of us, we know that exercising regularly is good for our health, especially if we're suffering from chronic illness or pain. For example, the author of The Paleo Approach, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, shares that while the study of physical activity and the immune system (exercise immunology), as well as the study of physical activity and hormones (exercise endocrinology), are still fairly new, there ARE a few things scientists know for sure. Dr. Ballantyne writes, "What can be stated conclusively, though, is this: being sedentary is bad for you, regular low-to-moderate-intensity exercise is good for you, and excessive exercise (in either amount or intensity) is bad for you."

If you want more research that concludes exercise (in one way or another) is good for you, then take a look at these studies. This study states that physical activity is widely recognized as a means for the primary prevention of chronic diseases. It also has beneficial effects on an individual's health and well-being. This study mentions that for years the treatment choice for chronic pain includes rest and inactivity. However, now we see that exercise may help reduce the severity of chronic pain. This study states that physical activity applied to chronic pain conditions significantly improves pain and related symptoms. Although in general strict and specific guidelines for physical activity might be lacking, the frequent movement does seem to be preferable to sedentary behavior.

>>>> Here's what you need to know: Much of the time, physical activity is beneficial because it improves the body's stress response. Not only does exercise help us cope better with the triggers of daily life, but the physical stress of exercise may help relieve mental stress. Exercise can be used as a form of meditation in motion.
 

WHAT HAPPENS ONCE I START? HOW DOES EXERCISE AFFECT THE BODY'S STRESS RESPONSE?

With almost all new movements, the first adaptation we see is neural. Our brains are getting better at communicating with the rest of our bodies, so that our brains can more efficiently tell our joints, muscles, etc. to move. Take, for example, early strength training gains. These early increases in weight are most likely not from an increase in muscle mass, but rather from more efficient communication between our brains and the muscles performing the lift.  

The more our brains, muscles, and joints practice good communication, the better the communication. The better the communication, the better our bodies do the activity we are asking them to do. This is one of the main reasons exercise can be so beneficial for our bodies. Exercise can teach us how to move through life and life's obstacles more efficiently. 

In addition, as mentioned previously, many studies show that physical activity improves physical pain and well-being, as well as helps improve resilience in the face of chronic and acute stress.

>>>> Here's what you need to know: Physical activity, in the right dose, can help us better navigate and cope with both the requirements of daily life and stressful situations. Since stress can lead to inflammation in the body and inflammation is related to chronic illnesscoping with stressful situations can be really helpful. 


 

HOW ELSE DOES CHRONIC ILLNESS COME INTO PLAY?

Exercise is STILL a stress. Even more, the total amount of stress on the body includes the stress of exercise AND the stress of daily life, big transitions, or underlying health challenges. (P. 159 The Paleo Approach.) Which means if there is a lot of stress already present in the body / our life, then we must be careful not to add too much more. We must be careful - more careful than the "average joe" - to NOT add so much additional stress that we take ourselves out of short-term stress (which by itself can improve the immune system) and into chronic stress (which has a significant effect on the immune system and chronic illness).

>>>> Here's what you need to know: The amount and intensity of exercise, along with the recovery between activity, is an important factor in whether exercise will help us feel better or worse. The amount of stress already present in our lives + bodies (such as chronic illness) is another factor we need to consider.
 

 

OKAY, WHERE DO I START?

One of the main reasons new exercise programs fail is not because we lack motivation, are too busy, or can't do it. It's because we try to do too much too soon - and/or without enough nourishment in between (Or because we pick a movement or an environment, we hate).

When it comes to exercise with autoimmune disease, we know it's important to not add TOO much additional stress to the body. It's important to note that stress not only pops up in the form of overtraining, it also pops up in the form of force and hate. By that, I mean we are far more likely to make time for something we enjoy - something that leaves us feeling good - rather than a movement, or even an environment, that leaves us feeling crappy, intimidated, or not good enough. Furthermore, hating what we’re doing, often because we feel forced to do it for some external reason, can also turn positive stress (even without a chronic illness in the mix) into negative stress - and work against our goals. 

Which means that, when incorporating new movements or when trying to heal our body, “no pain, no gain” is NOT the goal. Sure, mentally push yourself, but PHYSICALLY respect your body.

This study talks about physically respecting your body and being sure to avoid overreaching / overtraining. When we do too much too soon, or too much on a consistent basis without proper recovery, the accumulation of training can require days and weeks to recover. We are more likely to experience an excess of soreness, flare-ups that may take days or weeks to subside, or other overtraining symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and poor performance. (I was overtraining for a while, here's how I knew.)

>>>> Here's what you need to know: When it comes to exercise with autoimmune disease, it's important we don't add a great amount of ADDITIONAL stress to the body. "No pain no gain" is not the goal. Neither is picking exercises out of "shoulds", force, or hate.

So, what exercises might we want to pick? Here are some of the best and worst exercises for autoimmune disease. As always, make sure to consult your doctor and remember to listen to your body. You will know what leaves you feeling better... and what leaves you feeling worse.
 

 

THE BEST AND WORST EXERCISE FOR AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE AND CHRONIC ILLNESS



The Best Exercises
 

  • Walking

Easing into walking is one of the best things you can do. Physical activity at a light and very light intensity levels associate favorably with cardiovascular markers and lower disability and disease activity in RA.

Plus, it's got a low barrier to entry, as you can walk around your neighborhood or even around your living room to get started. Consider this walking meditation to get started and combine the benefits of both movement AND meditation.
 

  • Yoga

There's a lot about Yoga that's great. It's low intensity. It promotes relaxation in the body. Classes often end with a form of quiet meditation. There are levels for everybody. 

Yoga can also be great for those with autoimmune disease or chronic illness. In this study, patients with RA described how yoga practice helped improve physical and psychosocial symptoms related to their disease. In this study, evidence suggests a definite role of yoga in RA improvement, reducing pain, improving function, and creating a positive mental state.

In addition to these illness-specific benefits, Yoga also works the "powerhouse" of the body, or the group of muscles at the center of the body (including the abdomen, lower back, hips, and butt). We rely on this powerhouse for all activities of daily living (things we do every single day).  We can improve overall movement efficiency and posture, and therefore decrease stress on the body, by focusing on these powerhouse muscles
 

  • Moderate Strength Training

Functional strength training exercises can be used to build muscle, brace and protect the spine, and better perform everyday activities. This study shows that resistance training may be effective for reducing low back pain and easing discomfort associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Resistance training has also been shown to reverse specific aging factors in skeletal muscle.

The goal of strength training is to challenge our muscular systems. To do this, we need to do three general things: (1) Break down muscle fibers during exercise by working our muscles to exhaustion. (2) Eat nutritious foods full of protein and complex carbohydrates to replenish energy stores in muscles and promote repair after a strength-training workout. (3) Take proper rest to let our bodies heal and rebuild stronger. The general rule of thumb is to rest for 48 hours in between strength training the same muscle groups. This rest is even more important when training with autoimmune disease and ensuring your body enough time to recover (and also make sure those movements don't cause worsening of symptoms).
 

THE WORST EXERCISES
 

  • Long cardio sessions (think marathons, hours on the treadmill, etc.)

Running, or any aerobic training in moderation has a positive effect on health. However, this study reminds us that there is a point of diminishing returns, where chronic stress from overtraining, may be linked to problems in the adrenal gland. This study states "there is a direct link between stress and the adrenal glands, and the physical stress of overtraining may cause the hormones produced in these glands to become depleted."

In addition, cardio sessions often only involve moving in one dimension. Because we move in not one but three dimensions every day, it's important that our workout mimic these dimensions as a whole. (So that we're moving more efficiently throughout the day.) These 3 planes are called frontal, sagittal, and transverse. In general: The frontal plane is side-to-side movement (think lateral raises and side lunges). The sagittal plane is forward-and-back movement (think front raises, bicep curls and reverse lunges). Most running and biking also occur in this plane. The transverse plane is rotational or “twisting” movement (think horizontal woodchop). Yoga incorporates a lot of twisting movements, which occur in the transverse plane. Incorporating all 3 planes of movement will increase our range of motion, better prevent injury, and add overall stability to our bodies. 
 

  • Long HIIT workouts

Traditionally, HIIT workouts are short workouts torch major calories, burn fat, and challenge our cardiovascular systems. The idea behind these training sessions is to bounce between a high intensity (your heart rate ideally will be up close to your MAX heart rate) and a lower intensity (or resting period where your heart rate is closer to resting heart rate).  For example, you may sprint for 20 seconds, rest for 1 min, sprint for 20 seconds, and so on and so forth. This can be great because it kicks on a sort of "after-burn" called EPOC (much like Orange Theory Workouts are built around) and teaches the body to adapt to constantly changing stressors.

However, as with prolonged or chronic cardio, there may be a point of diminishing returns. Plus, HIIT workouts are typically even more intense than traditional cardiovascular workouts. (I should note that some people do great with short, HIIT workouts... so it's important to test what works for you and what doesn't. Also, remember that a short HIIT workout would leave you feeling very different than a long HIIT workout!) Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple mentions, "Intense, protracted exercise — think 30-minute high-intensity metabolic workouts, long runs at race pace, 400-meter high-intensity intervals — increases intestinal permeability. Elevated intestinal permeability has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, and researchers think it may play a causative role in other autoimmune diseases too."
 

  • Any movement done for the goal of weight loss

Exercise is not something to force, to punish, or to do to our bodies. It is, instead, one of the best tools we have for being in our bodies and cultivating a relationship with ourselves. This right here is the entire goal of wellness. It's the crux of optimizing your body to feel good, heal naturally, and live a life without restriction. We must cultivate a relationship with ourselves because we are ALL different and you are your greatest expert. We must learn what we need, what's too much or too little, and what we want so that we understand what leaves us feeling best. 

>>> What you need to know: When you exercise too much or when you move in ways you hate when you don't allow the body a chance to recover before exercising again... then you risk increasing your stress load and subsequently increasing your symptoms.

Mindful Movement is moving in a way that your body allows you to and not forcing it to do something due to societal pressures! Be your own best advocate and move in a way that suits your bodily needs. 

If you have any questions or concerns; please do not hestitate to reach out! 
 

What is & How to do Mindful Movement

What IS mindful movement? It’s yoga, right?

As someone who used to be a group fitness instructor, this is a question I sometimes get.

And for sure, many yoga classes could fall into the category of mindful movement, if you’re practicing mindfully – but yoga classes may also have a different focus, depending on the class, the teacher, and your own frame of mind.

Mindful movement – the way I practice it – refers to moving your body while placing your attention and focus on really noticing and feeling what your body does throughout those movements. This is different to just noticing a pain point, such as feeling that your hamstring is being stretched during a forward bend (and then often being encouraged to push it a bit further to see how far it can go.)

In mindful movement, we are practicing being aware of our whole body. So during that forward bend, seeing if we can move in concert with our breath – noticing both our breathing pace and the forward movement of our torso. Once in the position, noticing if the weight is towards our toes or our heels. How does the position of our torso change slightly as we breathe in and out. Standing back up, lifting our arms above our head and noticing – what muscles contract to do this movement? Can we lift our arms without also lifting our shoulders towards our ears? Does one arm feel lighter or heavier than the other? Often in a yoga class, we are instructed to move quickly enough that we don’t get time to ponder all these distinctions.

And as with other mindful practices, we aren’t bringing awareness to the body so we can fix it. This might be your focus in a yoga or even tai chi class – to be aware of where your body is in space to be able to correct it and bring it into the right position to achieve a certain posture. In my version of mindful movement though, it’s about simply noticing. It’s actually really hard to notice where your body is and then not move it, if when you notice it you realize it’s actually uncomfortable. How much of the time are we in slight discomfort and don’t realize because our attention is elsewhere?

A little exercise I often do, and that you can easily try out at home, is just getting MYSELF to sit down on the floor, and then get back up again without thinking too much about it. Then we repeat the actions, only this time doing it slowly and really noticing the way your body instinctually moves with this one simple direction. Do you roll over towards your side, use one or two arms to push up, which foot do your preferentially place on the floor first? There is so much movement we do throughout the day with out being aware of it. Sitting, standing, walking, bending, lifting.

Please don’t think I’m dismissing yoga as a non-mindful practice – by placing your awareness on your breath and your body as a whole, you can definitely get a mindful experience of a class. I personally really enjoy using yoga as a mindfulness practice. But it might be interesting to take note of when a yoga class is triggering you to compare the shapes your body is making to other people’s, or when you get so distracted trying to keep up with the teachers instructions that you realize you are moving without awareness.

be kind to yourself and move mindfully in the way that your body allows you to.

Mindful movement can be done in a class-type situation, as in yoga or other mindful movement practices like running, tai chi or weight training – but it doesn’t have to be. Mindful movement can just be part of your usual daily activities – done with a touch more awareness. Next time you sit down or get up; brush your teeth; dry yourself with a towel after a shower – try and bring awareness to the movements and see if you experience them differently.