yoga

The Day I Accidentally Took 23,176 Steps

I’d already been wandering around Europe for about 2 weeks, and prided myself for not yet taking taxis or public transit… my friends and I walked EVERYWHERE. I never thought twice about it because walking was the easiest way to soak up all of the culture and scenery. I was able to immerse myself in Dublin, Edinburgh, London, and Barcelona.

It wasn’t until I arrived in Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia, a town relatively smaller in size than the other places I’d already visited, that my legs started telling me something. I often times forget I’m not superhuman, and that day my legs reminded me. They didn’t speak up until after I was halfway around the City Walls, a system of forts, bastions, casemates, towers, and detached forts with a magnificent view of Old Port and the Adriatic Sea. Its height reaches 83 feet and is about 1.2 miles around.

It doesn’t sound like that much. However, once you’re in the city walls, there’s really no turning back. There are endless stairs to climb (I also accidentally climbed 61 flights of stairs that day). And of course I had to stop to walk through and climb to see every fort and tower. My friend and I walked the city walls and saw almost everything the city had to offer. We left the walls where we’d started, and we both had the same look in our eyes saying, “I need food and water…now.”

My legs, my whole body, were telling me to chill out. But I didn’t want to hear it. Oftentimes, our minds are not aware of what our physical bodies are telling us. It’s a practice to become mindful of our bodies. I’ve learned to listen the hard way, but still forget in times when it’s most important to be aware.

My friend and I sat down to eat and rehydrate, and I looked at my iPhone Health App to learn I’d taken 23,176 steps by about noon. No wonder why my leg muscles ached. My mind went to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, reminding me that I am not my physical body – a concept I struggle with on a daily basis. That day it was quite important. Actually, everyday it is quite important. I don’t regret for a second not being aware of the amount of steps I was taking or flights I was climbing, or forcing myself to listen to the repercussions, or meditating on what it means to not have a superhuman body. There wasn’t a better place to contemplate the sutras than that day overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

Yoga Teachers as Public Health Professionals

The yoga teacher community is an untapped source of public health professionals. We reach many people in deep, meaningful ways, but our students don’t know the little amount of training that is required for us to call ourselves yoga teachers.

Students look to us as sources of health related information. We have the power to influence people’s lives by teaching what it means to be at risk for chronic diseases and how to reduce those risks… but many teachers don’t actually know how to answer their students’ questions. We aren’t taught such powerful information. If we were, we would all be correctly responding to our students and helping them enjoy their lives without disease, disability, or loss of productivity.

At this moment in high-income countries, thinness is portrayed as ideal. And despite being the norm in the United States, overweight women are stigmatized… which creates an extra hurdle to lose weight for women who actually are motivated to lose weight. With proper instruction, yoga can increase positive health options for overweight women.

While research shows yoga practitioners are not free of health concerns, most believe their health has improved because of yoga. Yoga is proven to be beneficial for those with chronic diseases. Yoga students agree that yoga has helped them attain or maintain a healthier weight. People do believe that yoga helps their health. Yoga does have the potential to increase healthy behaviors. Why aren’t we tapping into that, taking it for a ride on this crazy yoga craze American has going on, and promoting health for overweight women in America?

It doesn’t matter whether beliefs that yoga improves health cause women to seek yoga or if yoga practitioners develop beliefs after they see the benefits of yoga. Either way, we need to train yoga teachers to disseminate health information to overweight women. Because yoga teachers miss out on this crucial piece of education, there is no way for us to be aware of this population’s special needs. With an increased awareness, yoga teachers would maximize yoga’s impact as a weight reduction, health improvement practice, connect with their overweight female students in an even deeper, meaningful way, AND work to improve the health of the public. 

Yoga for Weight Loss: The Power of Yoga Teachers

As many of you know, I am a yoga teacher and a personal trainer. This past year (which actually still isn’t over), I was working, writing a master’s thesis, and finishing up grad school. My thesis topic was inspired by each and every one of my personal training clients (thanks you guys). Specifically though, the topic emerged after several somewhat overweight female personal training clients approached me to teach them yoga privately. I couldn’t figure it out. I encourage all of the people I work with to practice yoga outside of our sessions and do other forms of exercise. However, they were feeling uncomfortable attending group yoga classes. 

 As yoga teachers, we are taught and trained to create safe, non-judgmental spaces for all of our students. While conducting research, I attended classes imagining I was an overweight woman and observing how teachers and other students treat overweight women in the studio. This is what I learned: most classes aren’t safe or non-judgmental for all students. I was confused, and still am, that teachers are focusing on only one type of student. Maybe it’s just here in New York City, but it got under my skin.

 I began to understand many of the ways yoga classes can help overweight women, and it became my mission because these women I care about don’t feel comfortable attending yoga classes! Overweight women need to be taught yoga in a safe, non-judgmental space - a space that ALL yoga classes call for.

 And the type of yoga class I’m proposing will benefit everyone. When a person practices yoga asana, they are active, moving their body, and exercising, in addition to joining a supportive community. If overweight women feel comfortable attending yoga classes, research shows the physical activity they perform will encourage them to exercise outside of yoga classes. When yoga classes are successfully designed to include helping overweight women (which is the new normal in the United States), yoga teachers will help increase their mind-body connections, something we yoga teachers are all taught to do.

 While I recognize that yoga is about more than just asana, it is true that a physical yoga practice expends energy. Yoga and its teachers can help students decrease their food intake and feel more connected with their bodies. Yoga can act as a stepping-stone for health promoting diets and changes in physical activity, and we as yoga teachers have the power to empower overweight women to take steps towards lifestyle overhauls to increase their well-being. 

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Begin Your Day With Admiration for the Sun

It’s enlightening to understand the meaning behind sun salutations found in yoga. 

As we sweep our arms up and bow forward, we honor the earth, the heavens, and all of the life in between. As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth. As we rise up from the earth, we stretch through the atmosphere once more, reaching for the sky. As we bring our hands together in Namaste, we gather the space of the heavens back into our heart and breath, acknowledging that our body forms the center point between heaven and earth.”

- Christopher Key Chapple, Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology