What Yoga Looks Like (Guest post)

Today I am welcoming my aunt, Donna, as a guest-poster for the blog.

She is only a handful of years older than me, being my mom’s baby sister, and has often been more like a big sister than an aunt.

Many years ago, Donna was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  And just a few years ago she was hospitalized and was honestly near death.  Since her hospital visit she has had spinal surgery and is now awaiting another spinal surgery.  She’s had a long, hard road, but she has committed herself to her yoga practice and it has helped her through her struggles.  A few weeks ago one of her practice photos was so beautiful and inspiring that I asked her if she’d like to share her story.  She agreed.  I’ll let Donna tell you the rest.

What Yoga Looks Like

Donna Yoga 2

Donna is truly a #yogainspirer.  Follow her on Instagram @curvymomma_doingyoga

Greetings and Salutations!  I’d like to thank my niece – and best friend – Fit Bitch, for inviting me to share my Yoga Journey with her – and subsequently, with all of you.  o, Fit Bitch, thank you for always supporting me and believing in me; for being my “as-often-as-possible” yoga buddy; and in the spirit of full disclosure, for forcing me to pick up a (pink, of course!) pen, and (fresh, clean, untouched) paper (word of the day: papyrophilia = a lover of paper).

But, as much as I’d lover to tell you about my stationery obsessions, that’s not what I was asked to do.

My Yoga Obsession:  The Early Years

My whole life I avoided things that were meant for “skinny girls” – gymnastics, figure skating, ballet…yoga.

it seemed everywhere I looked I was being put down and left out.  The one and only yoga class I went to in those decades was a prenatal class.  That didn’t go so well; and I decided “Yoga is for skinny girls!”  Yoga would be added to the “Reward List” for when I finally got skinny.

The Intern

Over the years I’ve tried to get my Fibromyalgia body into shape.  My favorite activities were Aquacize, running, and hiking – the latter being the only one I am still able to do.

I “Got Sick”

A couple of years ago I became very, very sick.  In an attempt to treat my aforementioned Fibromyalgia, my family physician essentially poisoned me with too many dangerous medications, prescribed all at the same time.

My official diagnosis was Medication Induced Encephalopathy due to Polypharmacy.  I also had Serotonin Syndrome and Cymbalta Poisoning – followed swiftly by Cymbalta Withdrawal Syndrome 

I nearly died.

My husband was not able to get me to wake up and stay awake.  I couldn’t pronounce words properly.  My heart even stopped at one point!  I saw a vision of my late father walking down the hall toward me.  i was very, very sick.

After a couple of weeks of being hospitalized I was finally released from the Close Observation Unit of the Neuroscience ward, but with permanent damage to my thyroid, liver, kidneys, and the memory, balance, and speech pathways of my brain.  (I now have brain damage.)

While I was in the hospital, I had many tests done, as they tried to figure out what was wrong with me.  They did a CT scan and made the discovery we were not prepared for – I needed Cervical Spinal Surgery, and as soon as possible.  I was having significant spinal cord compression, which could, very suddenly and unexpectedly, cause paralysis.  I finally had the surgery in December 2014.

The Wait

After I got out of the hospital, I knew the fight for my life was beginning.  I knew I had to work hard if I was ever going to be that strong, independent woman I’ve always been.  It was not going to happen on its own.

My Wellness Plan was made up of 3 parts:  1) Get me a therapy kitten, as I would have to get up and care for her, and to give me something else to focus my energies on; 2) Walking – every day we took our little kitty for a walk, which got me out in the fresh air, and exercise my heart and lungs; and 3) Yoga: for improved balance, stability, and strength.  I was ready to hit the road to wellness running (well, hobbling) until I met with the Neurosurgeon:  NO YOGA until after  the Spinal Fusion surgery, due to the high risk of paralysis.  I was absolutely crushed!  It would be another whole year before I was finally given the green light to go ahead and finally begin my yoga practice.

Coco

Coco Chanel – the therapy cat.  It is my belief that this little girly helped save Donna’s life.  ❤

My Yoga Practice: #whosaysfatchickscantdoyoga

It was the end of May, 2015.  We were packing up the car for our trip to the Annapolis Valley (Nova Scotia) for the annual Apple Blossom Festival.  My husband asked me “what’s with the yoga mat?”

I very excitedly answered “If I do yoga tonight, I’ll be able to say ‘I’ve done yoga every day for a week’!”  I kept up that daily practice (I even participated in Yoga Fest with Fit Bitch) until November, when the FFF (Fall Fibro Flare) too me out of commission. Then my practice got demoted to every other day, focusing solely on Restorative and Yin practices (oh how I love my bolster!)

I love my home yoga practice!  I very rarely get to an actual live class, for various reasons.  The main reason being my actual reason for doing yoga in the first place…

My Intention:  Yoga is Making Me Feel Better

If  you look at a group of yogis in a studio class, heavy on Vinyasa, most of the people there will tell you the reason they are there is for a work out, for exercise, for weight loss.  And that’s great!  For them, and for most people, really.  But not for me.  The reason I show up on my mat is for healing.  My yoga practice is wholly therapeutic.  I am in it to get my body into the pose correctly, and painlessly, and I need to rest in that pose for a little longer than a flow class allows.  That’s why I love Yin classes!  Especially at night.  Letting gravity help clean every last drop of goodness out of each pose.

Donna Yoga

This beautiful photo is what inspired me to ask Donna to share her story.  

As previously mentioned, I have a home yoga practice.  I rarely go to a live class, but I follow some fabulous teachers on YouTube.  I have learned most of what I know about yoga from practicing along with videos.

Being in a body that hurts on levels of 7, 8, 9 out of 10 on the pain scale on a daily basis, being able to choose exactly what kind of class my body needs is extremely important.  There’s nothing worse than finally getting yourself to an actual class only to find out that you are not physically capable of doing that particular class.

The best reason to bring your practice into the solitude of your own home would have to be “pajama yoga”!  Or, maybe the pause button?

How I’ve Benefited from Yoga

One of the first things I noticed, as far as benefits go, was my sleep.  For the first time in my life, I fell right to sleep!  Truly amazing.  Another huge benefit I’ve noticed is that I now know how to use my entire body!  I am reaching with my whole side body, not just with my arm.  I can get down and back up from the floor now.  My balance has improved a great deal.  My ability to relax and calm myself; everything has come from my yoga.

I am learning how to use my body in the way in which it was intended and that has taken a lot of stress off the areas that usually “made up the difference”.  I am much more relaxed, overall, and that translates into lower pain levels.  All because of yoga.

The Wait 2.0

Sometime last Fall, I learned I have some significant lower back problems, causing referred pain down my left leg.  I was told to take it easy with the yoga until I got in to see the surgeon.  After a year of tests, switching doctors, and waiting, I finally got to see the back surgeon’s Triage Physiotherapist.  I was overjoyed when she reassured me my back problems had nothing to do with yoga, as I’d secretly thought to be the case.  Yoga and I, once again, got the green light.  I would be able to get ready for Yoga Fest again.  I was elated!  Until….

I passed the triage and was granted an audience with the good doctor himself.  Hoping to hear good things, like “We will fix you right up!”, only to be told, instead, “Be very careful”, left me, once again, in a pit of despair.

It turns out I have Spinal Cord Compression, which could very easily, and very suddenly, cause paralysis.  Sound familiar?  Here we go again.

So now I have the possibility of not one, but two spinal surgeries in my near future.  one in my lumbar spine, which is not being put on the back-burner, and one on my cervical spine (another one, that is), which takes presidence.  And once again, my yoga practice will have to be re-evaluated and checked for neck safety.  But mostly, we just wait.

At least I know that yoga will always be there for me, when I finally get the go-ahead from the doctors again.

Namaste.

Donna

********

I really want to add that Donna’s journey has been tumultuous.  And it has been hard on all of her family.  We have seen her down and out and suffering.

Last year, Donna and I were out shopping for a bit and I said something about living forever when she replied with “I don’t want to live forever.  I don’t want to live in this body for much longer.”  That was heart-wrenching for me to hear.  And it has made me sad ever since.  But, through all of this, she has maintained she is a yoga warrior.

I hope and pray that, if permitted, she is able to continue with her practice.  And that she will heal a little more each day and that the pain she endures daily will subside so that she will want to stick around with us a little longer.

Fit Bitch

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What you CAN do (Day 20)

Where Strength Comes From

We are all capable of great things.

We are all capable of overcoming those things we thought we couldn’t.

You (still) got this.

~Fit Bitch

Recap

Can you believe summer is nearly over?  I’m still having a hard time believing it.  It seems like it just flew by.

But, I’m not fully complaining.  It was busy…and it looks like the busy-ness is continuing through into the fall.

So,  the summer brought me back outside to teach my boot camp classes.  The classes were small this summer but the new sessions begin tomorrow and I’m full – with mostly new faces *AND* my first boy!!  I’m so excited.  I’ve had a little interest from men in the past (and currently) but none have ever bothered to follow  through.  I’m thoroughly stoked about this.

I’ve continued to run several times each week throughout summer, and in the disgusting heat wave.  However, most of my outside runs have been in the evening.  The rest of the runs have been in the gym – although that hasn’t been much better.  Twice last week the gym was a few degrees warmer than the air outside.  It was gross.

Twice last week the gym thermometer read 29 degrees (C).....that's like 82 or 84 (F).

Twice last week the gym thermometer read 29 degrees (C)…..that’s like 82 or 84 (F).

I also joined a yoga studio and got a 30 for 30 promo which allowed me to attend several classes a week on my lunch break, as well as some really cool evening classes.  My body loved it.  I always try and promote yoga to people because I love it so much.  And let me tell you that I love it even more now.  ❤

On top of all that yoga-ing for those 30 days I also participated in a huge yoga festival two weeks ago.  It was so much fun.  I was in absolute heaven!  Y’know, aside from being in the scorching sun and not thinking to wear protection on my head, which resulted in a sunburned scalp.  Other than that it was a blast and I’m looking forward to next year.

Valley Yoga Fest via K.W.

Valley Yoga Fest via K.W.

Valley Yoga Fest via S.C.P.

Valley Yoga Fest via S.C.P.

On top of all this yoga I’m also participating in the Sunset Yoga festival in Halifax in mid-September.  I am really looking forward to this.  It’s going to be a great evening with yoga, music, vendors, and friends.

Sunset

If you can remember, last year I participated in the Zombie Run.  I was so stoked when I found out that the event would be coming to a community semi-close to mine (it’s at least an hour away).  My friend Angie and I had the best time so we were certain to sign up again this year.  The race is the weekend following the upcoming Sunset Yoga event….as you can see, September is filling up.

And, on top of the Zombie Run I am the most excited to have finally been able to register for the huge annual Harvest Marathon.  I’ve been wanting to do this for so many years but something has always been in the way.  Last week I finally officially registered!!  I am beyond happy!  This race takes place the second weekend in October (Thanksgiving weekend in Canada) and it’s always a huge deal.  I usually have to get re-routed during my travels.

The next race on my list will be the Wine Run.  Wine + running.  Need I say more?

~Fit Bitch

When You Try

Via Yahoo

Via Yahoo

I got an email the other day from someone close to me that stated “though I will never be a runner…”

As soon as I read that I jumped into a reply saying “YES, You can be a runner!!”

You can be a yogi.  You can be a marathon runner.  You can be a boot camp rock star.  You can be a bench presser.  You can be a swimmer.  You CAN do it!

And that, my friends, is simply my point.  If you try, you can.

Last week I did my first head stand in yoga class.  I tried it and I did it.  I was so happy.  I never would have known that I could balance on my head if I had not tried.

So often we let opportunities pass us by because we’re afraid to try.  We watch beautiful things enter and exit our lives simply because we are nervous that we might fail.  Know what I say to that??  PFFFFFTTT!!!

I say go ahead and put those sneakers on and start out with your jog.  I say sign up for the class, join the gym, get some yoga use our of your yoga pants.  Do it!  DO ITTTT!!

Because you’ll never know unless you try, and then you’ll just be left with regrets.

You can do it!

~Fit Bitch

Start Again

via Yahoo

via Yahoo

The last couple of weeks I have been absolutely loving my workout routines.  I am fortunate enough to work with the owner of a local yoga studio, as well as with a few fellow yogis. So, some friends and I have been going several times per week during our lunch breaks (and some evenings) to the different classes.  I’m loving it so much!  There are a dozen or so different instructors so each class can be different.  Last week I went to a class every day and this week I was able to reach goals with my practice that I really didn’t think was possible.  They may have been small goals but they were milestones for me just the same.

I’ve also been going a little cray-cray with my boot campers but I think we’re all loving it.  Although, I still think I’m the only one who’s smiling through 5 minutes of squats.

And tonight, I shaved a few more minutes off of my run time (a 5k post-yoga, pre-Zumba run).  I’m feeling fantastic!

Last year I was struggling so much with the pain of my tarsal tunnel that I didn’t think I’d be running too much, nor did I imagine that I would get so much better.  But I stayed with it.  Like the caption above says: I took a deep breath and started again…and again and again.  Did I mention I feel fantastic??  I really, really do.

And you will too!  I know there are days you want to give up.  Days that you don’t think the struggle is worth it.  But it is because you’re worth it.  Your health and your self-love is worth it.  So stick with it.  Keep taking those deep breaths and keep starting again.

~Fit Bitch

Preventing Knee Injury When Exercising

I have mentioned many times over the course of my posts that I have very weak ankles.  I’ve had problems with my ankles for as long as I can remember – since I was a toddler, I believe.  They’ve both been sprained, strained, twisted, torn, rolled, and broken (yes, both of them).  Because of my ankle weaknesses I am always super diligent in doing my best to prevent (further) ankle injury.  So much so that I sometimes need to remind myself that other parts of my body need to be looked after.
Like the knees.
via Yahoo

via Yahoo

Because I’m so active, and because there is a history of osteoporosis in my family, I have made a conscious effort to be kind to my knees – and I’m going to let you in on these efforts:
First of all, be aware.  That’s pretty easy, right?  Our knees carry us and they take a lot of crap throughout each day.  So, if we are aware of the possible injuries we could endure – and what our lives might be like with a knee injury – we can ensure better care and safer performances.  We want to avoid a bigger situation, such as getting a knee replacement and having ongoing problems after that.  (The Zimmer Persona Knee Replacement is just one example of this.  Coincidentally, a few months ago I posted MOM-spiration and told the story of my mom being injured in a hit-and-run accident and has suffered her whole life with bad knees as a result. She is potentially facing knee replacement surgeries but is doing her best to avoid that option.  She’s been coming on-and-off to my boot camp classes (go mom!!) and has joined a walking group.  Knee replacement surgery is clearly something we all want to do our best to avoid.)
And of course having proper footwear is a key factor in preventing many types of injuries – knees and ankles included.  Making sure you have the right type of sneaker for your particular exercise is necessary, even if it will cost you a few extra bucks, it’s worth it in the long run.  Since I run and do a lot of plyo exercises I find it necessary to have a high end pair of sneakers or two with excellent shock absorption and tread, to start with.  And wearing proper and well-fitting gym shoes will help maintain leg alignment and balance (something I often need help with due to my weak ankles).
Having an exercise routine that includes a warm up and a cool down!!  THIS IS KEY.  I REPEAT <<– THIS IS RIDICULOUSLY IMPORTANT!!!   I make sure my clients, my fitness groups, and myself are all properly warmed up prior to exercising.  I can’t tell you how often I see people at my gym jump right into a workout without warming up.  That right there is one of the biggest factors causing injury.  If the body isn’t warmed up properly we’re not respecting it and we put it at risk.  Warming up before a workout will reduce the chance of soft tissue injuries and will lubricate your joints for easier movement. Cooling down and stretching after a workout is just as important as the warm up.  Our muscles tighten during exercise, so stretching post-workout will help loosen our muscles and joints, getting them back to proper mobility.  Although, we must be cautious of overstretching as this can further ail us by softening the ligaments under the kneecap or pulling tendons and muscles further than they should be pulled (stretched).  The Runner’s Stretch is guilty of this.
Having a strength-training routine is great for me for supporting my ankles and knees.  Strengthening my leg muscles will help me in the long run to reduce further injury, stabilize my muscles and joints, and keep me better balanced.
Knowing how to treat a knee injury is very important.  If it’s an injury due to over-training or over-use then there are several rules to follow.  I had an over-training injury to the side of knee that lasted for months this past winter and spring.  It was a terrible joint injury that caused me more pain than I had bargained for.  Here’s the routine I followed for a very.long.time: Ice and elevation, for starters.  I would come home from the gym, or from work, or from a class and elevate my knee over some pillows and then put the ice packs to it.  I was also very big on Epsom salts baths (Epsom salts are brilliant.  The sulfates play an important role in the formation of joint proteins and easing muscle pain.  Also, the magnesium helps with nutrient absorption, which can help with osteoporosis).  I would soak my knee for a good 20 minutes nearly every night for weeks on end.  I found a lot of comfort in doing this. I also made sure that I did some light stretching while my knee was warmed and soaking.  Compression wraps are something I had to deal with.  It would look big and bulky underneath my gym pants or whatever I was wearing but it had to be done to reduce the swelling.  Anti-inflammatories* became my best friend.  Well, not really, but when the pain and/or swelling got too bad I had to pop an Advil** here and there to reduce both.  (* and **  I am not promoting this, nor do I have any affiliation with Advil.  Please either see your doctor or your pharmacist or other health professional before taking any medication, and follow the instructions and/or recommended dosage of any medication.)  I also spoke to a professional to determine that my injury was indeed an over-use injury.  Because my pain was in a weird place I wanted to ensure it wasn’t anything more worrisome.
Following a yoga practice definitely helped – and continues to help me.  Yoga has helped me: increase my flexibility, enhance my performance, reduce stress, and stretch my muscles.  After all the exercising I do, incorporating a regular yoga practice is probably one of the smartest things I’ve done to help my body recover after my workouts and from the daily wear and tear I put it through.  My body (and mind and soul) continually thanks me for introducing it to yoga.
And lastly, but certainly not less important, knowing my limits and exercising properly is just as important as every other factor.  And this goes for everything I do.  Thankfully, my over-training injury healed up several months ago and I’ve been fortunate enough to not have another flare of it (I’m knocking on wood as I type).  If we are educated properly about exercises – whether it be by a trainer, an instructor, a doctor, or a teacher, then we can prevent almost any type of injury. For instance, we know that when doing a basic lunge the knee is not supposed to come out further than the ankle.  Just like we know that in a plank or push up our lower back should not sink in.  Anytime either of these happens we are putting our body at risk.  But there.  I’ve just told you the most important rules of a basic lunge and of a plank or push up.  Educating ourselves on correct form and exercise basics (what to do and what not to do) and how to avoid injuries is a great start to any fitness routine and respecting our body.
{FYI: I work with a man who has ongoing knee problems stemming from an old injury and ever since I found out about his issue (somedays, when flare ups occur and he’s visibly in pain) I will send him tons of info on preventing knee injury, strengthening his knees, and taking care of himself to prevent further injury/flare ups.  I think, perhaps deep down, he appreciates my scolding and sticking-my-nose-in.}
~Fit Bitch

Beast Mode

Beast ModeY’know, except for those times when I’m recovering from an injury, I always put 100 % into my workouts – even if I’m strapped for time and can only spare 10 or 20 minutes (this rarely happens for me nowadays) I put everything into my workout.  I want to leave the gym or a class feeling like I really accomplished something. I want to feel like I earned that sweat or those gloriously sore muscles.

Last week I hurt my back at the gym – I tweaked an old (serious) injury and the following few days I was in pain and hobbling around…..the fact that I was able to dress myself those days was a feat in itself.  And although I’d had plans for exercise I played it smart and safe and took a few days off.  Last night I did 30 minutes of yoga (from the P90X series, which is a little bonkers) and felt really good to get those stretches in and start a little sweat.  But once the back pain reared its head I decided I’d had enough.

Tonight I felt good and strong and ready to go.  I just finished a great workout – I didn’t overdo it and definitely didn’t do anything that I knew would leave me hobbling for the rest of the week.  But what I did do I did full beast mode.

(Note* – I don’t encourage or condone working out while injured.  I am a professional with a history of a recurring back injury and I know my limits.)

What my body was capable of I let it do.  And what my mind new better of, I made sure to avoid.

~Fit Bitch

A Workout Recap

I’m gonna brag here for a minute….I have honestly had a great week of workouts!

Monday night I taught my boot camp class.  It was the first class of the new sessions and a few new peeps were present so I wanted to keep it interesting for the regulars and just the right intensity for the newbies.  It was fan-friggin’-tastic!!  We all worked up a great sweat and felt exhilarated when the class was over.

That right there is important to me…I always want to feel exhilarated when my workouts are completed.  I want to feel good and accomplished; not like I’ve just finished a very menial task.

In fact, I had several notes after the class and the following day from a few of the boot camp participants thanking me for a great workout and that they felt great and were happy to be back.

The rest of the week’s workouts were spectacular – Wednesday night I worked out at home and I changed it up a bit – trying a combo of new workouts, Thursday night I hit the gym for a much-needed run, followed by a superb strength workout (by myself and then with my client), then I followed that up with a Zumba class.  I finished the night off with a yoga class and it.felt.so.good!

Last night it was a bit stormy here in Nova Scotia so I came home again and worked out here.  I did one round of one of my boot camp sessions and kicked it in the ass!!  It feels so good to do that kind of craziness!

I’m taking today off because my calf muscles are a little stiff and sore (likely from my run the other night) and I’m heading out for a massage shortly.  I really think I deserve that today.

Thank goodness for rest day!

via Yahoo

via Yahoo

~Fit Bitch

Chocolate Recovery

Yesterday was my first day to myself and to relax in weeks.  I stayed home all day. I avoided the hustle and bustle of sale shoppers and basically vegged out all day on my couch.  Okay, okay, I did do a cardio yoga workout and had a visit from my parents, but aside from that I vegged out on my couch for most of the day.

After a while I got pretty bored – I’m not used to having this much down time – and I ate.  I ate a lot of chocolate.  I mean, not hordes of it but more chocolate than I usually would eat.

ahhh....chocolate heaven

ahhh….chocolate heaven

I inherited my chocoholism from my dad….there are times when I can go weeks or months without a piece, but then there are times when I’m rooting through the cupboards hoping for a stash.

And with Christmas just a few days behind us the chocolate is bountiful.  So today I’ve sworn myself off chocolate.  I have a healthy balanced lunch packed for the work day, a yummy, mouth-watering berry smoothie waiting to be guzzled this morning, and after teaching boot camp class tonight I’ll find something replenishing for a late dinner.

See…I am human and I like to indulge.  It’s fine to indulge.  As long as our indulgences don’t happen every day or all day long.  I’m more than happy to live a little.  It’s going to make me work harder tonight and eat healthier today.

~Fit Bitch

30 Day Yoga Challenge

30-Day-Yoga-Challenge-1

Happy November (and Movember)!

I hope everyone had a great Halloween.  And if you had a great Halloween full of candy and junk then today is perfect for beginning  the 30 Day Yoga Challenge.

I can’t stress enough how great yoga is for one’s body and how everyone can benefit from a yoga practice.  (For a little taste of my yoga preaching go here.)

A daily yoga practice is also a great way to detox your mind, body and soul.

Know yogaI’ve been wanting to post a yoga challenge for a while now and I think that today is a perfect day to start.

via source

via source

The awesome thing about this challenge is that it not only gives you the pose for the day, it also provides a YouTube page (DOYOUYOGA) so you can watch your yoga practice.  Brilliant.

Also, you have the option of doing just your new pose everyday or adding each pose on the next day (ex. on Day 5 you can either do just the Bridge pose OR you can do Downward Dog (from Day 1), Warrior 2 (from Day 2), Cobra (from Day 3), Camel (from Day 4) and Bridge (from Day 5) flowing all together) <<— This is what I recommend but it’s your choice.  Listen to your body – it knows best.

I am so excited about this Challenge.  I hope you will give it a whirl and see how your body feels in a month’s time.

Namaste.

~Fit Bitch