Healing and a New Moon

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2014 is charging ahead. It is supposed to be ripe with opportunity and to favour the quick thinkers and decision makers. It is also full of new moons already! In less than three days, we will have a new moon again, the third one this year. This new moon will be in Pisces. I won't attempt to give you an astrological or mystical breakdown of what awaits, but I have come to appreciate new moons as mini new beginnings so I will do the same with this one. Also, the topic of healing came up (my husband compared me to Chiron... I'll write a separate post on that, ha!). As you may know, I suffered from sciatica for three years. It was excruciatingly painful and had absolutely no physical source (at least initially). I talked to a few new mothers this week and some of them told me about their experiences with lower back issues and also sciatica. Sciatica just like many other ailments and pains, usually stems from imbalance, emotional or physical. We can treat the symptoms but until we attack the root cause, the problem will keep returning. It took me another 2 years to get to the root and work on eliminating it and therefore reducing the pain and it took some pretty big changes in attitude and behavioural patterns. I was able to heal with a lot of support from others but mainly because I sought and went after more balance in my life.

Now this new moon on March 1st is in Pisces and asking for a closer look at some of our patterns, it is supposed to set a tone for pause and reflection while we consider where our energy has become totally out of balance.

There it is again: balance. The word pops up a lot. We talk about work-life balance, mind-body balance, balancing acts, balanced meals, the balance of power, standing balances and being well-balanced mentally.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

Balance is such an integrative part of our vocabulary but still, we rarely achieve it in our life. This upcoming new moon wants to remind us how to do it. It asks us to tune inward and listen. To pay attention to our dreams. To flow and be connected. To merge and take a break from mundane activities. My interpretation and what I'm intending to do (especially since it's coming on the weekend) is the following:

  • Seeing people that I don't often see and miss (!). I started today with a lovely lunch and it made me happy.
  • Engaging in activities that I love and that allow me to reflect. I will probably go for a run.
  • Taking some me time.
  • Trying to refrain from being impatient for x amount of hours per day. With others AND myself.
  • Preparing and savouring nourishing food. And ideally sharing it in lovely company.
  • Resting and taking a moment in the morning to reflect on my dreams.
  • Beginning or ending the day reminding myself of what I'm grateful for (and writing it down).
  • Writing down my dreams for the future as a way of manifesting them / announcing them to the Universe.

I can't believe we are almost in March. Three weeks and change until Spring. Could it be true?

Let me know what you will be doing for the new moon or what you have done to heal after a difficult emotional or physical setback.

I would love to hear from you!

xxR

Postpartum Exercise after C-Section

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*** Please note that this article lists general recommendations that can never substitute your doctor's or other healthcare provider's opinion. Please make sure to obtain their clearance before engaging in any exercise or strenuous activity. *** The woman in the picture had her second baby 2.5 months ago. She also had a particularly difficult time after what was planned as a routine C-section. Recovery was much longer than the 6 weeks that doctor's often list as a good amount of time for women to wait before engaging in postpartum exercise after a c-section. But she braved it impressively and now only another 8 weeks later we did a first postpartum session since her daughter was born.

Before her c-section we trained 2- 3 times per week up until a few weeks before the birth and well into the third trimester, with a belly that was creating discomfort and even pain - when her pelvis sunk on one side and was pressing on the sciatic nerve and caused the leg to swell up with extra blood.

One thing that she kept saying throughout was that exercise (that was always tailored to her daily form, trimester and became less intense as the pregnancy progressed) had multiple emotional and psychological benefits for her. It eased the tension on one leg, it alleviated back pain caused by the weight gain and it always left her less tired after, than she had been before. Plus with a big smile on her face.

This particular example has taught me, as a health and fitness provider, 5 very important things about how to approach postpartum exercise after a C-section:

  1. I can't stress it enough: the exercise before birth has incredibly beneficial effects on the exercise after. Women who stay active before a c-section, recover faster and once they go back to working out, their body remembers and can re-enter on a higher fitness level as well as motivational level than if the last workout was over 9 months ago.
  2. After having an open wound, jumping into exercising too quickly will do you no good. Just like exercise is being tapered down with each trimester, you have to build up again, too. Athletes reduce their amounts of workouts before a big event and afterwards they take a break and then ease into it again. You have nothing to prove to anyone and the added stress of caring for a newborn will most likely have you running around as is.
  3. I like to create programs that focus on body areas that were under a lot of stress during the pregnancy before zeroing in on the core. I know all women want is to get a flat stomach and their core strength back but there are other areas that have had a lot of work to do and continue to, such as the arms, back, legs and hips. Focusing on these areas first, can give the stomach some more rest but works the cardio-vascular system and speeds up the metabolism.
  4. Partner exercises are a great thing to do both for strength workouts as well as relaxation and stretching. If you have had a long day and didn't make it to yoga or didn't have time to fit in a workout, take 20 minutes in the evening with your partner. Once the baby is asleep, you can challenge each other to some partner squats, some plank high fives and finish up in a partner stretch such as this one:postpartum exercise after c-section
  5. Relax: after a c-section you are healing from a big operation. On top of being tired, getting less sleep than before, your body has to heal multiple layers of tissue. For that, it needs time and especially recovery time. Make exercise part of your day in walks, taking stairs, and playing with your baby. If you can, take a few minutes a day to sit still, have me-time, meditate, enjoy a cup of tea, reflect, journal or day dream. It will give you so much more strength to deal with everything else that is happening around you, including exercise.

I wish you well.

xxR

Pre and Postnatal Fitness

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Pre and Postnatal Fitness is a topic that - when googled - shows varying results of very gentle movement with a lot of breath work. On the other hand there are professional athletes such as Kerri Walsh (who I am a HUGE fan of) who competed in and won the Olympics during her early stages of pregnancy and her open way of discussing it, earned her quite a bit of criticism. One of the first people that I started working with earlier this year was 4 months pregnant when we started and she stopped 2 weeks before her due date. Over the course of 4-5 months, we worked out up to 3 times a week, always according to how she felt, early in her pregnancy we did some running and later on we kept her heart rate up with fast walks with weights in hand. Each session included yoga and that portion increased over time. Every so often she would join my group workout in which the exercises often involved working with other expectant moms. Because I saw her so much, I got a really good glimpse into how the body changes, the mood changes and the muscoskeletal disposition can be affected by pregnancy. It was fascinating.

Mood wise, there were days when the feeling of heaviness and sciatic pain made her consider not working out but after a few times during which we saw the positive effects of gentle exercise on her mood, it usually took only the first minutes and a fun anecdote of my work week to get her spirits up and by the end of the session she would feel much better than before. Regarding the changes of her body, because she carried a girl, she said the felt different than carrying a boy the first time around: heavier around the hips (I'm looking forward to reading some comments from mothers whether they agree or disagree) and an earlier onset of more weight. Towards the end of her pregnancy we were presented with a different problem. Her pelvis had shifted to one side so now it was pressing on the veins that ran down her leg, causing it to swell to almost an inch more in diameter than the other. Her doctor ran tests to see if it was dangerous and it wasn't but we did an increased number of exercises to stabilize the pelvis (like in this video) and luckily the imbalance subsided immediately after the birth.

This pregnant woman and others have shown me a wide range of fitness levels and motivation. Regardless of what they are they are usually accompanied by a high level of insecurity of what to do and what to avoid. The safest bet is to take advantage of the many prenatal yoga classes that exist now. But there are many other exercise forms that are safe for women to do during and after pregnancy. So in my approach I have focused the first part of the class on getting the women's heart rate up, through walking, slow running, cardio exercises with resistance bands and in some instances light boxing work (it is intensely gratifying to punch those boxing mitts and it is stationary so there is no jumping or running involved). The second part of my workout includes strength. Usually it's focused on the main weight bearing areas such as the hips and legs. But a pregnant woman also wants to maintain a beautiful appearance which is why toning the legs, glutes and arms and shoulders is an essential component too. I do some core work but often the yoga with which I end the session, involves some of that as well.

Postpartum exercise is often similar especially in the early stages post baby, i.e. 6 weeks and later. Women who have given birth are usually very eager to return to a regular exercise routine quickly. But the body needs time. And during that time I have found variety to be the most important component. Just as for people who want to lose excess weight, keeping the exercises fun and diverse is key to making the workout routine a habit and therefore sustainable.

It makes me really happy to see women leave the class glowing. Not only are they doing something healthy for themselves and their baby by maintaining a good cardio-vascular level during pregnancy but after delivery they also take an hour for themselves, they laugh and talk and get things off their chest. Having mixed classes has been beneficial for both groups.

If you are currently pregnant and want my five tips on how to make exercise fun, please read this MindBodyGreen article. Or even better, come and join me for one of my classes.

I hope whether you are a new mom or currently pregnant, that you find a way for yourself to maintain or get back to exercising. And if you have any questions, concerns, comments or just want to say hello, please do so in the comments box below!

xxR

Monday Moves: planks, planks, planks / stütz, stütz, stütz

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I must admit, I wasn't always the biggest fan of planks in any form, but since doing them daily with and without clients, it is astonishing how it has defined and strengthened my core. It has helped me alleviate sciatic pain and I even recorded a little video with useful exercises and tips that you can find on YouTube or right here on the blog. I muss zugeben der Stütz, war nicht unbedingt meine bevorzugte Übung (kam gleich nach Klimmzügen) aber seit ich ihn täglich durchführe, mit Kunden und ohne, beobachte ich mit Staunen wie sich mein Rumpf verändert hat. Soviel stärker und definierter (Bonus!). Die Übung hat mir geholfen meine Ischias Schmerzen unter Kontrolle zu bekommen und ich habe sogar ein kleines Video aufgenommen, das ihr auf YouTube bewundern könnt oder direkt hier auf meinem Blog.

5 ways to get back to a healthy back

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I mention in my about section that I suffered from sciatica... It started at the ripe age of 28 and I had no idea what was happening. I was in a very stressful office environment under a lot of pressure to make a project happen and suddenly my leg started aching. Having just run a half marathon I assumed I hadn't trained appropriately or over-trained or simply wasn't young enough anymore to bounce back without problems as I would have ten years earlier.

With more pain that wouldn't stop, other thoughts came up: "it's the long term effects of training so hard as a young person", "I have a serious injury that I keep aggravating by exercising", "maybe I should try yoga", "ouch, stretching hurts- yoga is not the solution".

I became increasingly alarmed and stopped running, by this time the pain was shooting down my hamstring into the back of my knee and all the way down into my pinky toe. The result was that I couldn't sit in an office chair for many hours a day and worse, even lying became a problem.

I spent hundreds of dollars on heat patches, arnica, traumeel, tiger balm, eventually acupuncture and a chiropractor. I tried for as long as I could to stay away from pain medication to avoid getting hooked on them. What I didn't know at the time because it had never happened to me, was that chronic pain can cause a large number of other related issues: my digestion became horrible, irregular and it caused weight gain, any meal caused painful bloating. This was closely followed by skin problems, my face became a minefield of acne that I couldn't get under control, so I stopped going 'bare' and used more make up (I don't have to tell you that that wasn't a great idea). Other side effects included fear because I didn't understand what was happening and people suggested herniated and/or bulging discs, anxiety trying to still do well in my job and ultimately a slight onset of depression because nothing worked.

I am not trying to depress you here, but this is to show you how bad it was for me... Eventually I found out what sciatica was (I was way too young for it, but it is happening more to younger people).

And here is, what helped me:

  1. Realizing that there is usually a psychological component to physical pain that becomes chronic. I had gone through a breakup, work was intense and I tried to do it all at once, all by myself, and as fast as possible.
  2. Finding out that my pelvis and therefore my hips and shoulder strap were about 2 inches higher on one side (no wonder I was in pain). An amazing chiropractor placed a finger on my right hip and then one on my left, stepped back and showed me...
  3. Accepting that anti-inflammatory medication when used responsibly to avoid pain and manage it, will help. I was always worried about addiction.
  4. Walking away from doctors that were ready to operate, prescribe incredibly strong pain medication for open-ended periods of time and generally anyone who told me that I would never be well again.
  5. Listening to myself and addressing the root of the problem, namely the anxiety that was caused by my job, the stress that came with it and learning relaxation techniques (I went back to autogenic training, tried meditation and learned how to do yoga without overstretching which can aggravate lower back issues). Also, mindfully removing those same triggers from my personal life, carving out 'me time' and not being rushed.

I get VERY few onsets of sciatica these days, a whole lot of things have to happen all at once to bring on an attack but I've also learned exercises and tools to get back to pain free. It took 2 years to get to where I am now. And I am writing this article precisely because I don't want people to wait as long as I did, to take action and hopefully avoid surgery.

The NY Times Health and Science section posted an article today on how back pain is being over-treated. I will be posting a video of a few exercises to help level the pelvis and restore balance in the hips, soon; to contribute to healing naturally and empowering individuals like you, to stop the pain.

I hope you will like it and mostly of course, that you don't need it in the first place!

Today I ask you to tuck your pelvis and engage your core!

xxR