Blog

Exercise, Lifestyle, Pregnancy

Client Spotlight!

Welcome to the WellMom Client Spotlight, Jenn Chandler!  Jenn became a WellMom distance training client about halfway through her second pregnancy.  She feels her workouts helped her mentally and physically during her pregnancy and expedited her recovery after delivery.  She continues to train with me today, and she’s getting stronger all the time!  Way to go, Jenn!

Jenn Chandler

Mom to Jack (4) and Max (6 months)

What motivated you to work with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

When Jack (baby #1) was a born, I remember thinking, “wow, I never realized how physically demanding having a newborn is.” My back, neck and arms were so Jenn Chandler and kidssore from nursing, lifting him and carrying him (and his gear). For Max, (baby #2), I was nervous about being physically strong enough to keep up with a very active toddler AND carry around a newborn.  Plus, I worked out regularly during my first pregnancy with Jack; with Max, I did little beyond chasing a toddler and walking the dog.  I just felt sort of “blah” from not having a good exercise routine. I happened to see Chris’ interview on ARLNow and, on a whim, emailed her.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

Compared to my first pregnancy with Jack, I was not nearly as sore right after Max’s birth or the first few months after he was born.  Even towards the end of my pregnancy, I always felt strong and energized after my workouts. They were a great mental and physical boost.  I can now do 20 real push ups on my toes, and I’ve moved from 8 lb weights to 15 lb weights for some exercises!  Overall, I feel stronger and just more fit.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I really attribute those to having a good relationship with Chris and staying consistent. I do distance training with her where she emails me a full workout, with links to video clips for new moves, every Friday morning. As I’ve told her, I always get a little excited AND a little terrified to open that email every week and see what she’s cooked up for me. I can do the workout whenever is convenient for me and then report back to her. Chris knows how to push me without overdoing it and has always been great about offering modifications, especially towards the end of my pregnancy.

What goals do you have moving forward?

(1) Be able to consistently do 25 push ups on my toes; (2) Be able to crow pose in yoga (a move I’ve never been able to get); and (3) Get back into running shorter races and eventually run another marathon before I turn 40.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

Figure out an exercise routine that works for you. And then stick with it, even when it’s hard or not super convenient. I look forward to my hour workout from Chris every week. And even when I’ve had to start and stop the workout because of a fussy baby, I’ve always felt great after powering through.

 

Exercise, Lifestyle

45-min Workout – on the fly!

Yesterday I had 45-minutes from the time I stepped foot into the gym until the time I needed to leave to make it to a client.  I typically plan my workouts ahead of time, but I came unprepared on this occasion.  On the spot I created an efficient workout (check!) that first elevated my heart rate (check!) and then hit all the muscle groups I wanted to work, focusing on the posterior chain (check!).

The next time you find yourself with just 45-minutes and zero ideas, give this a go.  If you are unfamiliar with any of the exercises, just ask google.  If that fails, email me and I’ll tell ya 🙂

Warm up (~5 minutes):

  1. diaphragmatic breathing in quadruped.  30 seconds. (what?  breathing as part of the warm up?  Yup. And here’s WHY I start all my classes and personal training sessions with diaphragmatic breathing)
  2. cat cows x 10
  3. rocking psoas stretch x 10 each side
  4. body weight glute bridges with overhead reach x 15
  5. body weight squats x 15
  6. walking knee hugs x 10 each leg
  7. standing hip abduction x 15 each side

HIIT Training (10 minutes).  Pace: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest.  Then move on to the next exercise:

  1. Burpees
  2. Lateral high knees
  3. Double butt kickers
  4. Medicine ball slams
  5. Speed skaters

Resistance Training (~25 minutes). 2 supersets, each three times:

  1. Single leg rotational deadlifts x 10 each leg
  2. Dumbbell Lat Pullovers x 15
  1. Dumbbell glute bridges x 10+10 pulses at the top
  2. Decline push ups x 15

You might notice I failed to cool down.  When I have time, I do.  But if I ONLY have time to warm up OR cool down, I always opt for the warm up.  Personally I feel it’s more important, especially for injury prevention.  But if you’ve got 55-60 minutes, stretch it out, people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

Megan steps into WellMom’s client spotlight this week!  Since she started training at the end of last November, she’s increased her self-esteem, energy, and strength.  Oh and I did mention she also shed 25 pounds?

Congratulations on your wonderful accomplishments, Megan!  I look forward to seeing you continue to reach your goals in the months ahead!

Megan  

Mom to Ellie (7) and Jake (4)Megan Kerbs

What motivated you to work with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I started working with WellMom because I wanted to get back to being the person I used to be. I wanted more energy and to be able to play with my kids without feeling winded or injuring myself.  Some recent medical issues scared me and made me think about my long term health.  I want to live a full and vibrant life but knew that I would need to feel more comfortable in my own skin in order to do this.

Two realizations marked a turning point and caused me to reach out to WellMom.

  1. I discovered just how bad my self image had gotten when my daughter asked if I knew how to swim. She had never seen me in the pool or ocean even though I actually love swimming.
  2. I realized that I avoid being photographed and that this might affect my kids someday. Would they wish they had more photos of me with them when they were young?

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

Since working with WellMom, I have more energy, have lost weight and can run around with my kids more easily. My health has improved and I feel strong and proud of myself.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I attribute my accomplishments to how hard I have worked and how committed I have been to training. Chris made me feel comfortable when I couldn’t do any of the exercises. She listens to me complain the entire workout but never gives up on me.  She has been my non-judgmental cheerleader and has gotten me to a place where I look forward to exercise.

What goals do you have moving forward?

Moving forward, I would like to get even stronger and master some of the more difficult moves Chris has introduced. I would like to lose more weight and would also like to be able to do more push-ups.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

I understand just how hard it can be to set aside time for oneself and commit to self-care. I can always think of something else I need to do instead of exercising. I have had to actively ignore that nagging voice and remind myself that this inner chatter is moving me away from my goals. Once I started to see and feel the benefits, the voice has quieted down a bit and I find that I don’t dread exercise as much.

I have tried to set realistic and tangible goals related to something other than the numbers on the scale.  If I only focused on my weight, I would have stopped a long time ago. But seeing my strength increase from week to week has kept me going when the weight loss was uninspiring.

 

Exercise, Pregnancy

When You Just Don’t Want to Workout

We’ve all been there.  We know we SHOULD be making our way to the gym to exercise, but we just can’t muster the motivation.  Scrubbing the dishes sounds like a more attractive option. Though, of course, parking ourselves on the sofa sounds like the best choice of all.

As a mom or mom-to-be, you probably feel this way more often than you did during your child-free days, when pregnancy and the demands of motherhood weren’t further sapping your energy.

Here are five strategies to get you moving when exercising is the last thing you want to do. 

1. Lace up your kicks and see what happens.

Inertia is a powerful thing.  The longer we sit around, the harder it can be to get up.  Can’t talk yourself into a CrossFit workout?  Put on your shoes and take a walk outside.  Keep your goal modest – maybe just once around the block. If you’re someone who needs a destination, plan to walk to get the mail or grab a few groceries at the store. You may find that your energy levels pick up the moment the fresh air hits you.  And now that you’re out there, maybe that one trip around the block turns into four.  Maybe you get really motivated and power walk or find your way into neighborhoods with a few challenging hills (can you say, “interval workout”?).  Maybe I ride by on my bike and see you doing push ups next to your stroller.  🙂

2. Get a workout buddy.

Often finding the time for exercise comes down to accountability.  If you know your girlfriend is waiting for ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????you at the gym, you’re much more likely to show up than you would be if you were going on your own – especially on those low energy days.  Plus, it can be hard to find time to spend with friends, so working out together provides an opportunity for much needed time for yourself and away from family.

3. Remember you don’t have to “kill it.”  

If you get to the gym and you still don’t have energy for that 60-minute spin class, don’t sweat it.  Make today a light day.  If a yoga class is available, take that.  Or create your own workout: go low intensity on a piece of cardio equipment for 20 minutes; follow that with 20 minutes of low resistance weight training; complete your workout with 15 minutes of core work to strengthen your TVA and your pelvic floor (e.g. kegels).  Our bodies actually do BETTER if we combine intense exercise sessions with light ones.

4. Carve out time when you know your energy levels are highest.

People in general, and expectant moms in particular, have natural highs and lows during the day.  If you’re expecting a baby and are experiencing stereotypical morning sickness, plan to work out later in the day when you’re feeling better.  Are you more of a morning person?  Set an alarm and get that workout in before the kids get up.

5. Reward yourself.

And no, I don’t mean with Oreos (sorry!).  Treat yourself to a pedicure or a new article of clothing if you fit in at least 10 exercise sessions during the course of the month.  Need a more immediate reward?  How about a nice hot bath after your trip to the gym?  Or enlist the help of your spouse or partner, and ask for a foot massage to reward your hard work!

And if you just can’t do, be kind to yourself.  Obviously you shouldn’t ALWAYS give into inertia, but sometimes rest is truly what you need as a busy mom or mom-to-be.  Rest up today, and give it your best shot tomorrow.

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

These are my favorite posts to do.  🙂  WellMom’s newest client spotlight is Kara M.  We started working together at the end of June.  In less than 5 months, she dropped 25 pounds and drastically increased her energy levels, and she did it in one of the best ways possible: incremental improvements that over time built to sustained lifestyle change.  Her story is nothing less than inspiring.

Kara MMacek headshot

~Mom of Simon (4) and Alden (1)

What motivated you to work with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I saw a photo of myself at a work event in May while waiting to board a plane home and couldn’t believe how heavy and unhealthy I looked.  I was also feeling really tired and sluggish, but the photo is what really prompted action.  I sent Chris an email from the airport to see if she was accepting new clients.

My original goals were to simply gain strength and energy and to be a better example for my sons.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for huge weight loss or diet changes.  I honestly didn’t realize how much nutrition and healthy eating choices played into Chris’s one-on-one services.  But I am so glad that they do!

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

I have dropped about 25 pounds and gained strength, cardiovascular fitness, and energy.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

Macek side - 2017-11-19
…25 pounds less!
Macek side - 2017-07-15
Before…

I largely attribute my accomplishments to having someone to hold me accountable.  I also think that making some realistic, small dietary changes at the beginning and then gradually adding other changes was very helpful.

What goals do you have moving forward?

I would like to carve out time in my schedule to work out at least twice a week (once with Chris and once on my own). On the nutrition front, I want to have a plan for healthy weeknight dinners ahead of time every night to avoid scrambling for something quick (and likely less healthy) when crunched for time.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

Take it one step at a time and don’t beat yourself up if you slip every so often.  Old habits diet hard, and it can take time to make lasting changes.  Be mindful about whatever you eat and notice your mental state when you eat it.  Stop and listen to what your body is telling you.  Are you actually hungry or just snacking because food is there?  It’s hard to be mindful when we are constantly juggling the competing demands of work and family life, but it really helps.

Uncategorized

Feed Your Kids Well: 7 Time-Saving Tips

It can be hard to find the time to feed our kids (and ourselves!) wholesome foods.  With so many competing priorities, it’s easy to succumb to the lure of processed foods and less-than-ideal choices.

Try these 7 time-saving tips to increase the amount of whole foods in your family’s diet.

1. Go Raw
Many vegetables make wonderful snacks in raw form.  Think “crudite,” and serve sliced cucumbers, carrot sticks, snow or snap peas, bell pepper strips, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli florets along with lunch or dinner.  No time for chopping?  Splurge on the pre-cutbell peppers and pre-washed versions in the produce department of your grocery store.

2. Make in Bulk
For foods that require more prep than simply washing and chopping, make in bulk to save time.  Open my fridge right now, and you’ll find cooked oatmeal that will last me three or four days, cooked french lentils, edamame, and roasted sweet potatoes and okra (finger foods for my kids; salad toppings for me).  Like eggs?  Hard boil a bunch and have them at the ready for any meal or a snack.  My kids also don’t mind eating omelettes from the fridge or reheated in the microwave.  And each time I make dinner, I try to make at least enough for two meals.

3. Freeze It
Some things you can REALLY stock up on and freeze for later consumption.  About a month ago I made a large batch of mini banana muffins (keep reading for the recipe!) for my daughters, stashing a handful in the fridge while putting the majority in the freezer.  They each eat one almost daily, but only now is the supply dwindling.  I do the same thing with pancakes, making them silver-dollar sized for the kids.

4. Buy Frozen Veggies
Frozen veggies can be a huge time saver because they are often pre-washed and pre-cut.  They’re also great during the winter months when most veggies are out of season.  Go-to’s around my house include frozen broccoli, french green beans, peas, cauliflower, and corn.  Keep it really simple by opening the bag, dumping a serving in a bowl, and microwaving.  If you have a fussy eater, melt a little cheese on top.  Kids seem to learn at a very young age that just about everything tastes better with cheese!

5. Behold the Avocado
Remember those lentils I have hanging out in my fridge?  They can be a pain to feed my 20-month old – she likes to feed herself, but she’s kind of a slob.  I circumvent this avocadoproblem by mashing some avocado in a bowl and mixing in the lentils, so it all sticks together.  I use the same strategy with other grains, such as rice, barley, and farro.  This is a total win-win in my book – I make my life easier AND give my daughter a heart-healthy fat.  Avocado also belongs in the “Go Raw” category – just slice and serve!

6. Say “No” to Special Meals
Kids can be picky eaters, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of making them special meals.  Seriously, who has time for that?  To the extent possible, try to make healthy meals for the whole family. You’ll save time, and everyone will eat better.  It’s best to start this from day 1, when your babies are just starting on solid foods.

7. Go Nuts
Assuming you don’t have nut allergies in your house, toss nuts in your bag rather than goldfish crackers when packing your on-the-go snack.  Nut butters are also healthy and versatile.  Blend them into yogurt or oatmeal, or use them as a dip for apples.

Oh and remember those banana muffins?  In my world they are super health foods that masquerade as a treat (yes, I sort of brainwash my kids).  I modify this recipe, cutting out the honey and substituting coconut oil for palm shortening.   If you use a mini muffin pan as I do, they bake in 10-15 minutes.

 

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

Today’s client spotlight lost 47 pounds.  That’s the weight of your average first or second grader.

Rashawn is actually my “client” spotlight because she’s not a client at all – she’s my nanny.  Beyond modeling healthy behavior and allowing her to pick my brain from time to time, I played no role in her success.  She did it all on her own.

Client or not, Rashawn deserves some time in the spotlight.  Over the past 16 months, I’ve witnessed her completely transform herself through dedication, determination, and patience.  She succeeded above all because she recognized that a diet is a way of life – not something we go “on” and “off.”  I am so proud of Rashawn and grateful for the opportunity to share her story with you.


 Rashawn B

~Nanny Extraordinaire

What motivated you to make an improvement to your lifestyle? What goals did you have?

My motivation came from one day stepping on the scale and seeing it read 225 pounds.  I was 28 at the time and told myself, “you have carried this weight around since high school; getting weight off after 30 is much harder.”  With those thoughts, I made a goal to lose 30 lbs (minimum) and fit into a size 10 before my 30th birthday (Aug 28, 2017).

What are your accomplishments since pursuing those goals?

Since May 2016, I have lost 47 pounds (from 225 pounds to 178 pounds) and achieved better control of my exercise and eating habits.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

In the beginning, I did not enjoy the thought of exercise, and I lacked the motivation to get it done.  I decided, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it on my terms.  I love to dance, so I purchased dance DVDs and made a goal to exercise 3-4 times per week. I also made a goal to eliminate 1 bad habit a month.  The first habit I eliminated was drinking juice and soda.  I swapped these beverages for flat and sparkling flavored water (without aspartame). Then I eliminated red meats and fast foods and tried new low carb recipes (thanks to Chris and Pinterest).   After a month of the dance tapes, I found that I lost 10 pounds and had energy that was once lost.  Following the DVDs, I purchased a Fitbit watch, began walking a lot more, and joined a gym.  I focused on cardio and core workouts and using elliptical and ab machines. As I continued to familiarize myself in the routine of working out, I also began to make monthly challenges, such as no artificial sugars and no caffeine.  Months later, I began juicing and adding them into my regular diet. Each challenge started out hard, but as I continued the process, I began to feel mentally stronger, physically happy in my results, and more and more confident in myself as I gladly swapped my size 16 for a size 10!

What goals do you have moving forward? 

Going forward, I will continue to build my strength by working out and making more challenges for myself.  I have committed to a lifestyle change of healthy eating and exercise.  Overall, I desire to be confident, happy and live a long fulfilling life.

What health and wellness advice do you have for other women based on your personal journey?

It’s never too late and anything is possible.   Diving into lifestyle changes takes time.  Start slow, eliminate one bad habit at a time and replace it with a healthy one.  If exercise seems intimidating, start with your diet.  Good food choices will provide so much more energy – you’re going to want to get up and move!  Next, find time to get outdoors.  A nice walk and fresh air does wonders!! Lastly, do something you love and challenge yourself. You’re capable of more than you think. There will be bad days, but that is never a reason to quit.  Tomorrow is always a perfect day to start over.  Just make sure you start!

Rashawn before and after.jpg
Rashawn lost 9 inches from her waist, 5 inches from her hips, and dropped 6 dress sizes!

 

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

I am so excited to announce WellMom’s new Client Spotlight!  Brittany Y became a WellMom client in December 2015, soon after the birth of her third child.  Over the past year and a half, Brittany has made AMAZING strides on both physical and emotional levels.  Physically she improved the shape of her body and gained strength and energy.  Emotionally she experienced boosts to her self confidence and improved her body image.  Brittany’s story offers great insight for others, so read on!  And make sure you read all the way to the end – it has the best part!

Brittany Y

Brittany
December 2015: 38 second plank and 15 push-ups
May 2017: 3 minute plank and 27 pushups!

~ Mom of Isabelle (5), Sophie (4), and Ernest (19 months)

What motivated you to start working with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I met Chris at Clarendon Day.  I remember she had Lily (her youngest daughter) with her and she was engaging people as they walked by her booth. I was not looking for a personal trainer at the time, but after talking with her I felt she had some interesting ideas of how to help me meet my fitness goals. Her website was comprehensive and it was clear she was knowledgeable and passionate about health and wellness, plus her flexibly to do in-home training convinced me to try WellMom. Originally my goals were to strengthen my back, help improve running endurance, close my stomach muscle split after my third baby, lose 10 pounds, and increase muscle tone.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

I am so much stronger! It has been empowering seeing myself meeting and exceeding specific weight training and strength training targets. My back is so much stronger; I don’t ache as much as I did picking up my kids. My endurance and energy levels are higher. The muscle split in my stomach is gone. While losing 10 pounds was originally part of the goal, and while I did lose some weight, as I saw my body shape change for the better and my clothes fit more comfortably for the first time ever I didn’t really care about the scale numbers. I think if you have ever struggled with body image being able to embrace strength and health regardless of your ideal weight can sometimes be a difficult and uphill mental battle. I felt like Chris helped me so much with this piece of my overall health and wellness.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

Regular training, defining specific goals, having someone who knows how to coach you to meet those goals.

What goals do you have moving forward?

Maintaining my current strength level and finding other areas of my life that could be made healthier, nothing radical just improvements like reducing (not eliminating) my daily sugar intake. Perhaps aiming for a 4-minute plank, just kidding, well kind of :).

What insights have you gained on this journey that might help other moms?

If you find time to take care of yourself physically and emotionally you will value yourself and your time more and that will make you a stronger, happier individual and Mom.  Sometimes this requires asking a spouse, friend, or family member for help or may mean hiring a babysitter or a trainer like Chris. If your kids see you taking a little time each week to take care of your health they will value their own health more and it helps to give you individuality in their eyes beyond being Mom.

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year with the announcement of another Client Spotlight!  Alissa G became a WellMom client in late October 2016 with the goal of dropping 11 pounds, and today she is just one pound shy of that goal!  Read on and learn more about Alissa and her accomplishments.   Awesome job, Alissa!  Looking forward to working with you to knock off that last pound!

Alissa G

~ Mom of two, ages 6 and 4

alissa-with-head-2
Alissa wanted to remain anonymous. I say she’s a convincing Giselle. 🙂 #excusemypoorphotoeditingskills

What motivated you to start working with WellMom?  What goals did you have?

I was motivated to start working with WellMom because I couldn’t seem to lose that last 10 pounds after having my youngest. I also noticed that with age it was getting more difficult to lose the weight. My goal was to feel better about my body and increase my energy level.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

I am close to my weight loss goal while doing so during Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was proud that I could refrain from indulging in my favorite holiday goodies. I have also noticed I have more tone to my muscles and problem areas.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I have become more conscious of what I am eating based on the meal plan and tracking program that Chris and I developed for my journey.  I have also increased my workouts per week.

What goals do you have moving forward?

My future goals are to continue building strength, muscle and positive energy.

What insights have you gained on this journey that might help other moms?

My personal experience through this journey has made me realize how much I missed working out, which not only keeps my body fit but my mind fit as well. I am happier overall because I carved out an hour of time to myself 3-4 times a week to exercise.

Exercise, Lifestyle, Nutrition

Client Spotlight!

I’m proud to put the spotlight on WellMom client, Kristen D!  Kristen started working with me in July and lost 10 pounds in just 8 weeks!  Her weight continues to fall, and she’s developing the body shape she desires as she simultaneously gains strength. Keep reading to learn more about Kristen and her accomplishments.  She also has some great advice for other moms there.  Way to go, Kristen!  

Kristen D

~ Mom to Dominic, 3 years, and Damien, 10 months

kristen-degischer
“My best advice is to make time for yourself…[and] to be kind to yourself.”
What motivated you to start working with WellMom? What goals did you have?

I became motivated to start working out with WellMom when my second son turned 8 months old.  I was done breastfeeding, back to work, and dissatisfied with my weight and fitness level.  I wanted to lose 10 pounds, fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, and change my eating habits.

What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?

Since working with WellMom, I achieved my 10 pound weight loss goal and am back in those pre-pregnancy clothes!  Importantly, I have gained core strength and overall stamina.  I have also made meal-planning and prep part of my lifestyle so that I am not scrambling to come up with dinner ideas and resorting to take-out or frozen foods.  I feel more satisfied eating whole foods and saving splurges for something truly worthwhile.  Chris really guided me through this process.  She was always accessible via text, which made it so easy.

To what do you attribute those accomplishments?

I could not have reached these goals without Chris’s support!  Every week I knew that we would meet and discuss my weight loss.  This accountability helped me reach for healthy food choices and get in my workouts.  I also really appreciate that she tailored workouts to my needs.  I can do the circuits that she designs for me at home or at the gym, so I really have no excuse not to work out.  The exercises are also both challenging and fun!

What goals do you have moving forward?

I have set a new weight loss goal, with a continued emphasis on core strength, glute shaping (!), and overall fat loss.  I also hope to continue building on the good eating habits I’ve established.

kristen-after
After losing 8 lbs (and she kept losing)!
kristen-before
Before

What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?

My best advice is to make time for yourself.  I am a much better mom, wife, and friend when I feel good about myself.  Part of that is physical fitness and a healthy weight.  I am so glad that I sought out personal training to jump start a new health journey as the mom of two young kids.  I would also say to be kind to yourself.  Perfection is not the goal!  Rather, feeling strong and energetic are the best rewards.  Well, that, and fitting into your old jeans 🙂

 

Lifestyle, Nutrition

Does Eating Well Make You Feel Deprived? Consider a New Perspective

I recently had a check-in call with a nutrition coaching client.  Like many people, she has a sweet tooth that she struggles to keep in check.  In the course of the conversation, she expressed a frustration I often hear from those who are trying to improve their diet and lose fat.  She said something like this:

“When I avoid ‘bad’ foods, I feel like I’m missing out or being deprived of something.”

Let me begin by saying I totally get this.  Let’s pretend you’ve got a five-pound fat loss goal, so you’re trying to watch what you eat.  Like my client, you struggle most when it comes to curbing your intake of sweets.  You have a special weakness for cheesecake.  It’s Fridaycheesecake night, and you find yourself out to dinner with some friends.  Your waiter clears the main course and offers you each a dessert menu.  The house specialty is – you guessed it – New York style cheesecake.  Each of your friends unapologetically orders a slice, and now it’s your turn.

How do you feel?  Um, frustrated, perhaps?  Or in the words of my clients, a little deprived?

Of course you do!  Why do they get to eat the cheesecake when you don’t?!

(Oh, and did I mention that each of your cheesecake-devouring friends is 5’10 and weighs 125 pounds?)

But now let me tell you two things that I told my client that will hopefully change your perspective and your relationship with food.

First, if you really want the cheesecake, order it.  Yes, that’s right.  Your nutrition coach said order the stinkin’ cheesecake.

But there’s a catch:  limit yourself to just a few bites, and send the rest home with one of your friends.  Or offer to share a slice with a friend and again just eat a few bites.

If there is something that you truly love, you are entitled to enjoy it.  You will have a much healthier relationship with food and be more successful at establishing sustainable eating habits.  When most people think of diets, they think of something you go “on” and “off”: I’m on a diet.  But a diet should be a way of life.  If you truly love cheesecake and always deny yourself it, you are all but destined to fail.

So that’s the first point.  Nothing is completely off limits, though certain things should be consumed in small amounts.  How small depends on you and your specific goals.  

The second point requires us to first figure out your PURPOSE for losing the five pounds.  And your purpose is NOT something like, “so I can fit into the jeans I wore in college.”  Your purpose is the REASON you want to fit into those jeans.  It runs deeper.  It’s emotional.

Your purpose might be anything.  For my client it’s about being happier and feeling more confident with her body.

That’s the second point.  When you start feeling deprived, flip your perspective: you are not depriving yourself of cheesecake.  Overindulging in the cheesecake is depriving YOU of achieving your purpose, whether that be confidence, happiness, or something else.  

From experience I can tell you how true this is.  I also used to have quite a sweet tooth, but now I’m rarely tempted by desserts.  When I find myself at parties and can freely pass on the brownies or easily limit myself to just a single cookie, I feel nothing short of liberated.  My heart goes out to friends when I see them struggle to exercise restraint and then, should they succumb to the temptation, be mentally preoccupied with guilt and regret.  Did I arrive at this place overnight?  Of course not.  It took several years of making incremental changes to my diet.  But it did happen.  And it can happen to you too.  To take your first step in getting there, ask yourself, “What’s my purpose?”

 

Exercise

Breathe Your Way to a Strong Core: Part II

In Part I of this post, I noted that diaphragmatic breathing is foundational to core strength and shared a breathing exercise with you.  Be sure to check it out if you missed it.

Today we’re taking breathing to the next level, as I introduce two additional breathing exercises that further strengthen the muscles of the inner core.

With diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing,” we take slow, deep breaths in and out.  We strengthen the diaphragm on the in breath as it engages and descends into the abdominal cavity.  This fills the belly with air, which strengthens the other muscles of the inner core – multifidus, pelvic floor, and transversus abdominis (TVA) – when they eccentrically contract against the resulting pressure created in the abdomen.

We can further exercise and strengthen the inner unit through “piston” breathing.  With a piston inhale, we quickly and forcefully draw the breath into the belly; with a piston exhale we do just the opposite, expelling the air as quickly and forcefully as possible.  The inhale tones all the muscle of the inner unit in the same way that diaphragmatic breathing does, with a concentric contraction of the diaphragm and an eccentric contraction of the multifidus, pelvic floor, and TVA.  The piston exhale provides additional strengthening of the pelvic floor and TVA, as we must further engage these muscles to forcefully expel the air from the abdomen.

I demonstrate all three breathing patterns – diaphragmatic breathing, piston inhales, and piston exhales – in the video below.  I start the video with the slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths.  At 1:00, I transfer to the piston inhales; at 2:10 I start the piston exhales.

Here are a few tips to help you practice:

  • Always start with the slow, deep breathing in order to connect with the diaphragm.  Once you access the diaphragm and establish a rhythm, you can switch to the piston breathing.
  • Practice the piston inhales and exhales separately.  Take a slow, deep inhale before each piston exhale, and follow each piston exhale with a slow, deep exhale.
  • When performing piston inhales, soften through your belly and focus on shooting the air into the pit of your stomach as quickly as possible.
  • When performing the piston exhales, simultaneously engage both the TVA (i.e. draw your navel to your spine) and the pelvic floor (i.e. perform a kegel) at the end of the slow inhale, using these muscles to forcefully expel the breath from the body.

 

Exercise, Pregnancy

Breathe Your Way to a Strong Core: Part I

Winter Mom Camp started this past week, and core strength is a big focus in my Gentle Class.  While critical for everyone, core strength is especially important for pregnant and postpartum women since pregnancy and delivery wreak havoc on these muscles.  Many of the moms in my Gentle Class recently delivered, and I started class with a discussion of core strength that I’m sharing with you today, along with a breathing exercise that’s foundational to a tone core.

Those looking to strengthen their core muscles often turn to exercises that target the rectus abdominis (the “six pack”), like crunches. But TRUE core strength comes from an entirely different set of muscles, including the diaphragm, transversus abdominis (TVA), pelvic floor, and multifidus.  We might call this group of muscles the “inner core” or “inner unit.” You can think of it as a rectangular-shaped cylinder that sits in your abdominal cavity with the diaphragm on top, the TVA in the front, the pelvic floor at the bottom, and the multifidus in the back.

Arguably the most important of these muscles is also the most overlooked: the diaphragm.  It’s a parachute-shaped muscle that attaches to the bottom of the lunges.  When we breathe with our diaphragm, the muscle contracts and descends into the abdominal cavity.  This creates pressure in the abdomen because the pelvic floor, multifidus, and TVA eccentrically contract as the diaphragm descends.  I find the image of a french press useful here.  The diaphragm is like the plunger on the top.  When you breathe in with this muscle, it’s like pushing the plunger down.

Core strength comes from this pressure created in the abdomen, pressure that the diaphragm sets in motion when you inhale.  The pressure stabilizes the spine and provides support in your everyday activities, whether you be walking, climbing stairs, carrying children or groceries, or lifting weights in the gym. Moreover, every time you breathe with your diaphragm, you’re also strengthening the other three inner core muscles because they eccentrically contract in response to the movement of the diaphragm. That’s why the diaphragm is foundational for core strength.

Sounds simple, right?  Just breathe your way to a strong core.  Well, yes and no.  The problem is most people DON’T breathe this way.  I often have clients practice this type of breathing, and many lack access to the diaphragm, at least at first.  Instead they are among the many “chest breathers” out there: they breathe in and out, but the breath gets stuck in the chest, rather than traveling all the way down to the pit of the belly as it should.  If the diaphragm doesn’t descend fully into the chamber, it doesn’t properly pressurize, increasing your risk of lower back pain.

To gauge access to your diaphragm, try this exercise.  Assume savasana pose, lying on your back with your arms and legs extended.  Then place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Soften through your abdomen and take a deep breath in.  Imagine that your abdomen is like a vase, and the air is like water.  As you draw your air (the water) in, allow it to fill the pit of your belly (the bottom of the vase) first before rising up to the top.  You’re doing it right if you feel the hand on your belly rise first and the hand on your chest rise last.

Practice that every day for the next week, aiming for fuller and deeper breaths each day.  This will set your foundation.  In my next post I will describe other ways to further strengthen the muscles of your inner unit.

And by the way, there’s still ONE spot left in Mom Camp’s Gentle Class.  It’s perfect for pre- and postnatal moms, those with exercise limitations, and those who are new to exercise.  Would love to have you there!

Exercise, Pregnancy

My Pooch: Part II

Today I’ve got an update on my pooch. And that’s the belly pooch we’re talking about here, not the “bow-wow” kind of pooch.

Last I wrote, I was diligently doing my core training in an attempt to close the diastasis responsible for the belly bulge that remained after the birth of my second daughter in July. If you missed that post, definitely check it out for background information. There’s also a lot of good information there for you if you find yourself with an unwanted pooch.

When we left off, I was four weeks postpartum. My belly had shrunk considerably from delivery, but a noticeable pooch remained:

3 Days Postpartum
3 Days Postpartum
Four weeks postpartum
Four weeks postpartum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now here’s four weeks compared to ten weeks:

Four weeks postpartum
4 weeks postpartum
Ten weeks postpartum
10 weeks postpartum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And remember, ALL of these photos are taken with my belly completely relaxed.  No false advertising here by drawing in my abs. (Read my last post if you want to hear me get on my soapbox about THAT topic 🙂 ).

Now, I didn’t take belly shots before my pregnancy, so I can’t compare the 10-week photo to a pre-pregnancy baseline.  But my memory tells me that while I’m still not quite back to pre-pregnancy belly flatness, I’m certainly close.

And what about the diastasis?  Unfortunately, a non-trivial gap remains.  Depending on the time of day when I do the measuring, I can still fit more than two fingers into the space between the two sides of my abdominal wall.  But the WIDTH of the gap is only half the story.  The DEPTH of the gap also tells us something about the severity of the diastasis.  My gap is considerably more shallow now than it was after delivery.  This suggests that the linea alba – the fascia that joins the two sides of the rectus abdominis – is much stronger than it was before.

I’m now 16 weeks postpartum, and I’ve been continuing twice-daily exercises for my TVA.  Although I stopped taking the belly shots, here’s a fun photo of me and Lily at 13 weeks.  I’m very happy with how far I’ve come!

13 weeks postpartum. And I swear I'm still not drawing in my abs!
13 weeks postpartum. And I promise I’m still not drawing in my abs!

 

 

Exercise, Pregnancy

My Pooch

No, I didn’t get a puppy.  I’m talking about my belly pooch.

After giving birth to my first daughter, my belly returned to its normal flat self almost immediately, so I was a little disappointed to find that a bump remained after the recent delivery of my second daughter.  The bump was present despite my having done everything you’re supposed to do to avoid it, including staying active during pregnancy with a focus on strengthening the inner core.

I’m quite thin, and excess belly fat was not the explanation.  Diastasis recti, or the separation  of the rectus abdominis (i.e. your “six pack”) into left and right halves, was the explanation.  

We’re going to talk more about that, along with other changes that take place in the few weeks after delivery that help explain why you might still look six months pregnant after having your baby.  I’m also going to show you a series of belly pictures taken over my first four weeks postpartum to help illustrate these changes.

Before we look at those pictures, I feel compelled to note that I did everything to make them look as bad as possible: I took profile pictures; I wore a tight, white camisole; I completely relaxed my belly. I also took all the pictures in the evening, a time of the day when I’ve noticed that my belly is particularly distended.  I say this because it bugs me when I see other women post misleading pictures.  They will provide views of their bellies with their abdominals tightly drawn in, and they will look pretty darn good.  They will look something like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Three weeks postpartum, abdominals engaged
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Four weeks postpartum, abdominals engaged

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looks pretty good, right?  That’s me at three and four weeks postpartum, drawing in my belly. It’s even more impressive with a frontal view and some skin exposed.  Here’s me again at four weeks postpartum:

Four weeks postpartum, abdominals engaged
Four weeks postpartum, abdominals engaged

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately these pictures are dishonest.  Here’s what I look like at those same points in time with my belly relaxed:

Three weeks postpartum
Three weeks postpartum, abdominals relaxed
Four weeks postpartum
Four weeks postpartum, abdominals relaxed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you ask me, I still don’t look too shabby, but the pooch remains.

So the moral of the story is this:  if you see a fitness mom trying to sell you a flat belly after baby by providing a view with her abs drawn in, be skeptical.  It’s probably false advertising.  

Ok, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at an entire series of unflattering (but honest!) photos over the first four weeks after delivery:

Belly Shrinkage during First Four Weeks after Delivery (Abdominals Relaxed)

3 Days Postpartum
3 days postpartum
One week postpartum
One week postpartum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks postpartum
Two weeks postpartum
Three weeks postpartum
Three weeks postpartum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four weeks postpartum
Four weeks postpartum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woah!  Pretty cool, huh?  One thing that you should immediately notice is that my belly shrinks significantly at first but then more gradually.  That’s because of uterine involution.  At delivery, your uterus is at least 500 times larger than it was before you conceived, and it takes a while to shrink back down.  The rate of involution is greatest in the days immediately postpartum and then begins to slow, with the uterus returning to its normal size in about six weeks.

But uterine involution is only half the story.  By the second week postpartum, the uterus is considerably smaller and has returned to its original location in the pelvis.  Yet as you can see, I still have my pooch at week two.  That takes us back to the diastasis.  Let’s talk a little more about that.

When the two sides of the rectus abdominis split, there’s nothing to hold the contents of your abdomen in, so they pop out.  Most of what protrudes are your intestines, so if you have a diastasis, you may notice that your pooch is larger if you’re constipated or experience gas.

To correct the diastasis we must strengthen the transversus abdominis, or TVA.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, the TVA lies beneath the rectus abdominis. While the muscles of the latter run vertically, the muscles of the former run horizontally, acting like a corset to pull all four side of the body together.   If we tighten the corset by strengthening the TVA, we pull together the two sides of the rectus abdominis.  

As noted above, I HAD been diligently doing my TVA exercises while pregnant, so what gives?  Why did I still have the diastasis?  Was there something else I failed to do to avoid this fate?  Did I do something I shouldn’t have done?

Unless you consider having a second baby a mistake (I sure don’t!), there was nothing I did wrong.  Diastasis recti is simply more common in subsequent pregnancies than the first one.  Everything had been stretched out before, so things stretched more easily the second time around.  It’s kind of like how you tend to feel pregnant faster with your second pregnancy than you did with your first.  As a friend of mine once said, it’s like your body saying, “I know what to do!”

Having multiple pregnancies is just one risk factor.  Others include having a c-section, having a large baby, and carrying in the front.  I had a vaginal delivery, and although I had a 7 lb 5 oz peanut, I carried her WAY in the front, leading my husband to refer to my belly as the “torpedo” (Thanks, babe.  I love you too).  So make that two risk factors for me: second baby and torpedo.

Although I can’t prove it, it stands to reason that my diastasis would have been worse had I not done the TVA exercises while pregnant.  And these exercises remain the key for correcting the separation now.  Every day I collectively spend 25-30 minutes strengthening the TVA.  Depending on my schedule, I’ll either spend ten minutes on the exercises three times/day or 15 minutes twice/day.  I can’t precisely tell you how much of my progress is due to time and how much to the exercises, but I can say with certainty that my TVA is much stronger now than it was when I started doing them one week postpartum.

So what exactly are these exercises?  Pelvic tilts (both with and without heel slides) are definitely one of them. If you don’t know what those are, check out my earlier blog post that provides instruction. If you’re looking for other ideas, I’m currently taking new clients, both in-home and distance-based.  I’d love to work with you!

 

 

Pregnancy

Our Birth Story

The WellMom blog has been a little quiet for the past few weeks, owing to the arrival of our second second child on July 12!  Today I thought I’d share our birth story with you.

My due date was July 21, so I was surprised to find myself feeling unusual contractions around 11:30 pm on Saturday, July 11.  I was getting ready for bed when I noticed that the Braxton Hicks contractions that I had become so accustomed to feeling were coming with much greater frequency.  However, they had no discernible pattern, with some as many as five minutes apart and others as few as two minutes apart.  Flummoxed, I called my doula.  “Could it be false labor?” I asked.  She was likewise mystified, yet we both remembered how quickly my labor progressed with my first daughter, Siyona, and neither one of us wanted to wait too long and me give birth on the side of the road en route to the hospital!  I telephoned the midwife on call at the hospital to seek her advice.  She said it sounded like early labor but left it to me to decide if I wanted to come in right away or labor at home for a bit longer.  While Neil (loving husband) and I talked it over, the intensity of contractions began to pick up, so we decided to go in. We called a good friend to come over and sleep on the couch and be there in the morning to care for Siyona; when he arrived, we were off.

We checked into the hospital around 2 a.m.  At this point, the contractions intensified to the point where it was difficult to talk through them.  By the time we got upstairs to my room, each contraction stopped me dead in my tracks.  I found that the best position for me to labor in was seated on the edge of the bed with my arms draped over Neil’s shoulders, as I did my best to breathe and relax through the contractions.  A feeling of nausea signaled transition, the last part of active labor before the pushing stage begins.  The contractions then became even more severe.  After a very short period of time, I felt the baby descend into my pelvis and the need to push.  I remember exclaiming, “My water is about to break!”  After just a few pushes, break it did.  At this point I was laboring lying down on my side on the bed.  Just three pushing contractions later, the baby arrived at 3:10 a.m., weighing 5 pounds and 7 ounces. We’re old fashioned and opted to keep the gender a surprise, and the next thing I remember is the hospital staff asking my husband to announce the sex.  In the short pause between hearing those words and my husband’s reply, I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t care.”  And in that moment I knew it really didn’t matter to me whether we had a boy or a girl, just as I had claimed countless times during my pregnancy whenever people asked me which I preferred.  Then came Neil’s reply, “It’s another girl!”

We spent just 36 hours in the hospital, just long enough to finally decide on a name for our beautiful baby girl: Lily.  For the past three weeks, we’ve been adjusting to life as a family of four.  Help from family and friends has greatly aided the transition.  I’ve been amazed at my pace of recovery.  I was almost feeling back to my old self when we checked out of the hospital!  I attribute this to a combination of good genes (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and staying active throughout my pregnancy.

Here are some pictures of me and my girls during our first week together.  Enjoy!

Taken very shortly after birth.

Me and my girls at the hospital.

Siyona may look thrilled to be a big sister, but this was moments before she started pushing Lily away saying, “Off!” My hand is there to catch Lily!

Sleeping peacefully.

Me and Lily at home.

 

 

Exercise, Pregnancy

Pelvic Rocking with TVA and Pelvic Floor Activation

A few weeks ago I listed cat cow pose as one of five great yoga poses for moms-to-be.  If you missed the post, definitely check it out!

I also mentioned that you can enhance the core work in this pose by very consciously drawing your navel in towards your spine to engage your transversus abdominis (TVA) and by lifting your pelvic floor.  Today I’m going to explain why the TVA and pelvic floor are so important and show you how to perform this exercise.

When you think of your “core,” what muscles do you imagine?  Your “six pack,” perhaps?  If you do, you’re not alone, but you’re also incorrect.  When we talk about core strength, it’s the deep muscles to which we refer, including the diaphragm, TVA, multifidus (deep spinal muscles), and pelvic floor.  These four muscles create a rectangular-shaped box inside our abdomen with the diaphragm on top, the TVA in the front, the pelvic floor on the bottom, and the multifidus in the back.

Maintenance of intra-abdominal pressure is the key to core strength.  When the core is functioning properly, the diaphragm descends into the abdominal chamber when we inhale; this creates pressure in the abdomen, much like a we would pressurize a plunger cylinder by pressing on the top of the plunger (I find the image of a french press useful here).  The TVA, multifidus, and pelvic floor work in concert with the diaphragm to help create and maintain that pressure, by naturally engaging as the diaphragm descends.  Weakness in any one of these four muscles compromises the ability of the body to maintain this abdominal pressure and stabilize the joints. This leads to a variety of adverse consequences including lower back pain, muscular imbalances, and poor posture, as the body stabilizes the joints in less ideal ways.

Pregnancy and delivery make moms especially prone to core weakness. The TVA becomes overstretched and undertoned as the uterus expands.  The growing weight of the uterus puts strain on the pelvic floor and weakens it.  Depending on the mode of delivery, moms experience additional trauma either to the pelvic floor (in the case of vaginal birth) or the TVA (in the case of a C-section, which cuts through this muscle).

Moms-to-be can strengthen these important muscles by performing cat cows/pelvic rocking with TVA and pelvic floor activation.  As you exhale into cat pose, very consciously draw your navel in towards your spine to engage the TVA and then perform a kegel at the very end of the exhale to engage the pelvic floor.  The TVA work becomes increasingly challenging as you progress through your pregnancy because the weight of your uterus increases.  You truly are using your TVA to lift your growing baby and other components of your uterus!

Here’s a video of me performing this exercise at 38 weeks.  Look closely and you can really see my TVA working to lift the uterus as I exhale; you will also see my uterus descend on the inhale as I lower the weight of my belly back down.  Unfortunately, the kegels you cannot see.  We will have to save instruction on kegels for another day.  🙂

Nutrition, Pregnancy, Recipes

Sauteed Scallops over Green Lentils

I whipped this up the other day and felt mighty accomplished.

Sauteed sea scallops served over a bed of green lentils mixed with tomatoes and wilted arugula.

So far so good, right?  🙂

I’m willing to pay a bit of premium for things that I consume (is there any more worthy investment than our health?), and I like my foods simply prepared, so that the taste and quality of the ingredients stand out.  If I’m making a salad and it’s summertime, I’m going to the farmer’s market and getting fresh greens, heirloom tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and maybe some fresh herbs.  Maybe I’ll even get all wild and crazy and toast some pine nuts to add to the mix.  Then I’m tossing it all together with nothing more than a bit of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper to pull all the flavors together and really make them pop.  I can’t imagine, say, dumping a bunch of ranch dressing on that salad.  If I did that, I might as well just be eating ranch dressing because it’s all I’d taste.

This dish was no exception to that general rule.  When I took my first bite, I tasted only the medley of the fresh ingredients that comprised it.  The spicy arugula.  The sweetness of the tomatoes.  The robust and slightly peppery flavor of the lentils.  The sweet and rich taste of the scallops.

Technique was also important. Scallops are on the pricey side, and there’s nothing worse than splurging on them only to end up with a gross, rubbery mess!  I’ve found that two tricks are key to making sure they turn out just right:

  1. Placing them at room temperature 20-30 minutes before cooking to ensure even cooking.
  2. Ensuring a nice sear by patting them dry with a paper towel before adding them to the saute pan and making sure the oil and pan are nice and hot.

 

And did I mention how super healthy this is?!  I especially recommend the dish for moms-to-be because it has a lot of the goodies that pregnant women need in larger quantities, including omega-3’s, protein, folate, and iron.

Now that I’ve (hopefully!) sold you, let’s eat!

Sauteed Scallops over Green Lentilsscallops

Serves 2

  • 10 ounces sea scallops
  • 1/2 cup dried green lentils
  • 3 cups baby arugula
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper


Place lentils in a small pot with 3 cups of water and set burner to high.  Reduce the heat when the water begins to boil and allow the lentils to simmer until desired tenderness, about 30-40 minutes.  Drain any remaining water.

Remove scallops from the refrigerator about ten minutes into cooking the lentils.  Set aside.

While the lentils cook, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan placed over medium heat.  Add arugula and garlic and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, basil, and lemon juice.  Add to drained lentils and stir to combine.

Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan (more if surface is NOT nonstick) and place pan over medium-high to high heat, depending on your stovetop.  After pan is hot but not smoking, add scallops.   Allow to cook undisturbed until the scallops have a caramel-colored sear, about 2 minutes.  Gently turn scallops over and cook another 1-2 minutes on the other side.

Divide the lentil mixture evenly onto two plates and top with equal amounts of scallops.

Exercise, Pregnancy

Five Yoga Poses for Moms-to-be

Tomorrow marks my 36th week of pregnancy, and as I head into the home stretch, I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to a handful of yoga poses.  I’m sharing them with you today and highlighting the specific benefits of each for moms-to-be.  Even if you’re not expecting – heck, even if you’re not a mom… or even a woman! – these poses are beneficial to you too, so keep reading!  In fact, I have little time for yoga outside of the Vinyasa classes I teach, and I have no qualms about including all of these poses in my classes because they have such wide applicability.

1. Cat cow/pelvic rocking

Come into an all fours position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, spine neutral.  As you inhale, tilt your pelvis forward, so your tailbone rises and navel drops down toward the floor, while simultaneously turning your gaze to the ceiling.  At the end of the inhale, exhale as you draw your pelvis backward, turning your tailbone down towards the floor, drawing navel to spine, arching your back, and tucking your chin to your chest.  Repeat for several breaths.

Benefits: This pose is a gentle way to encourage your baby to drop into the pelvis. It also gently strengthens and stretches all of the core muscles, and helps relieve pain in the lower back, which is especially common in the second and third trimesters.

Tip: Enhance the core work by very consciously drawing your navel in towards your spine as you exhale into cat pose.  This engages and strengthens the transversus abdominis (TVA), which pregnancy weakens as your belly expands.  Add a kegel at the end of the exhale to strengthen the pelvic floor, another set of muscles that pregnancy weakens, owing to the increased weight of the uterus.

 

 

 

2. Bird dog

Come into an all fours position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, spine neutral.  As you inhale, extend your right arm and your left leg.  As you exhale, return to your starting position.  Repeat on the opposite side.  Continue for several breaths.

Benefits: This pose also strengthens the core and relieves pain in the lower back.  You can increase the intensity of the poses – and the core work – by holding opposite arm and leg extended for several breaths before switching sides.

 

 

 

 

3. Squat

I like to enter this pose from a wide legged forward fold with toes turned out.  From this position, shift your hips back and bend your knees.  Place your elbows on the insides of your thighs, just above your knees.  Drop your hips as low to the floor as you can and hold your hands in prayer at heart center.  Hold for several breaths.

Benefits and Precautions: This pose open the pelvis and strengthen legs for delivery.  It also stretches the pelvic floor and uses gravity to help your baby descend into the pelvis.  This pose is not recommended if your baby is in breech position, as it will encourage the baby to descend further into the pelvis in a sub-optimal position.  Those who experience knee pain in this pose should also avoid it.  This pose may also be inappropriate if you experience symptoms of sciatica and/or pelvic girdle pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Goddess

Take a wide-legged stance with toes turned out.  Extend arms overhead with palms facing forward.  On the exhale, lower your arms to cactus pose, retracting your shoulders as you lower your elbows and bring your forearms parallel to the floor with elbows bent to 90 degrees.  Simultaneously drop into a squat, lowering your tailbone down toward the floor and bending your knees.  Inhale and reverse the movement.  Repeat for several breaths.

Benefits and Precautions: The benefits and contraindications listed above for squat also apply to this pose.  However, because you don’t descend into such a deep squat, Goddess pose is accessible to more people.  Goddess pose additionally strengthens the upper back and shoulders, and it stretches the chest.  This will prove important when the baby arrives and you spend a lot of time carrying your little one around and feeding your baby.

Tip: Imagine that you are standing with your back against a wall in this pose.  As you descend into Goddess, imagine that your hips are sliding down the wall and keep drawing your arms back, such that your shoulder blades, elbows and the backs of your hands scrape the wall behind you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Savasana

Lie supine (on your back) with arms and legs extended, hands near your sides with palms facing up.  Relax and breathe.  Stay in this pose for at least five minutes.  If you prefer not to lie on your back, you can elevate your torso with stacked blankets or pillows.

Benefits: This pose is a great dress rehearsal for labor when you are best served by relaxing through contractions.

Tip: Savasana is an excellent opportunity to practice diaphragmatic breathing.  Not only is this relaxing, but the diaphragm is a part of your core musculature, and breathing this way helps to strengthen it.  Imagine that the abdomen is like a vase and the air like water.   When you fill a vase with water it fills the bottom first and then slowly rises to the top.  As you breathe in, visualize the air filling the lower portions of your abdomen and then rising to the top, filling the chest last.  I sometimes encourage my students to place one hand on the chest, the other on the lower abdomen, so they can feel the abdomen rise first.

 

 

 

 

Nutrition, Recipes

Lemon Chicken Roulade

It’s June and time to fire up the grill!  But instead of grilling up plain old burgers and dogs, do something different this week and try out my recipe for Lemon Chicken Roulade!

The fact that you roll up the chicken makes it look impressive, and anything with “roulade” in the name sounds super fancy.  But in fact it’s really pretty easy to make.  The most time consuming part was pitting the cherries.  If that sounds too daunting, feel free to swap them out with dried cherries or another dried fruit.  Though I have to say that I really did like the subtle sweetness of the fresh cherries (plus they’re Rainier – yum!).

I think I’ll skip the commentary today and go straight to the good stuff.  As always, try it out and let me know what you think!

Lemon Chicken Roulade

Serves 2

  • 1 T lemon juiceIMG_0442
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • 4 t olive oil, divided
  • 2 t dried thyme
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t pepper
  • 2 – 8 ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts, flattened to ½ inch thickness
  • ½ cup rainier cherries (about 8 cherries), pitted and chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, finely diced
  • 1 t garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 T pine nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups packed fresh spinach
  • 3 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, 3 teaspoons of the olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Pour marinade over chicken and refrigerate for four hours, turning once.

Heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add onion and saute for three minutes, until onions begin to soften.  Add spinach and cook until spinach wilts, another 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic, cherries, and pine nuts, stirring until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute more.

Preheat grill to 400 degrees.

Remove chicken from marinade. Divide the filling in half and spread evenly over each chicken breast.  Sprinkle 1 ½ tablespoons parmesan cheese over each breast.  Starting from a short end, roll each breast up and secure with toothpicks.

Brush grill grates with oil.  Grill chicken at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes each side.