Consent cards turn yoga studios into safe spaces

Consent cards make it easier for yoga students to indicate whether they welcome hands-on adjustment. Image credit: yogabysarah.com

Consent cards bring respect for personal space back to the yoga industry

Consent cards / Image credit: Yoga Standards Project / yastandards.comA couple of months ago, I wrote about my feelings about yoga. I was tired of the commercialization and the guru culture that permeates so many studios. While I loved how yoga made me feel and the health benefits, I had conflicting feelings about yoga culture. As yoga shifted from a physical meditation practice to a lifestyle, we compromised the intention behind the act. However, we also gained new practitioners — open to challenging themselves and attempting a new approach to wellness.

The yoga studio developed a reverence akin to a religious space and spirituality was often intertwined with exercise. As yoga studios began to spring up everywhere — just walk three blocks in any major city and see if you can’t find a yoga studio — we also became complacent to some of the more unsavoury practices going on behind those walls.   

As the #MeToo movement has grown, we’ve seen yoga studios called out as locations for sexual assaults. From those who gave their names to entire practices to specific teachers who performed handsy hands-on adjustments, yoga joined the number of industries where abuses of power were not discussed. By shifting the focus from the yoga practice itself by exalting those teaching it, the power shifts dramatically from student to teacher. That quiet spirituality we were asked to embrace became synonymous with not speaking up.

Fortunately, through exposés and public sharing, we’ve started to reclaim yoga studios as the safe spaces they were always intended to be. At a recent visit to a local Toronto studio, I was asked to take a Consent Card and place it next to my mat. One side featured the words “It’s OK to offer me hand-on adjustments during this class.” The other read “No thanks I’d prefer not to receive hands-on adjustments today.

This is how yoga students are taking their power back and silently informing instructors of boundaries and offering consent. By actively flipping the card to either side, the student is making a conscious decision whether or not they want to be adjusted. And for those of us too shy to tell an instructor they don’t want to be touched, they are ideal. For many students, their reverence for their teachers put them in vulnerable positions. Also, consider some of the trickier poses that we hold in class. I know there have been times where I’ve been in camel pose and seen an instructor walk by … and have thought to myself “just keep walking … just keep walking ….” Depending on the day, hands-on adjustments can go from being helpful to intrusive. For those of us protecting injuries, we are fearful that a simple correction may push us beyond a place of comfort.

As studios realize, like most industries, how easily power has been abused — the responsibility is theirs to protect their students. Consent Cards will not separate the teachers from the abusers, but they are a step in the right direction. We need to proudly take one at the start of a class and display it honestly. We also need to encourage all yoga studios to partake in this practice. After all, how can you focus on inner peace when you’re worried about being touched inappropriately in the guise of correction?


 

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Having fitness goals is a great idea, but be smart about it

Smart fitness goals: woman running across a bridge. Image credit: SoPosted.com

Setting fitness goals is a great idea, but you want to be smart about it

For many of us, deciding to start on our health and wellness journey begins with a goal. We may find ourselves winded after climbing the stairs with groceries or receive an invitation to a 25th reunion. Something sparks inside us and says: “it’s time to get healthy” or “it’s time to lose weight.” This will be the motivation we need to take that first step. The idea has been planted in our heads and  it’s time to make positive changes.

But how do you know if you’re setting a realistic goal for yourself? What’s the difference between declaring “I want to get healthy” and “I want do 45 minutes of cardio, three times of week”?  And which approach will be more successful?

No matter if you’re setting a goal for business or fitness, success is most often achieved when goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Reasonable, and Timely. What does this actually mean?

Specific: “I want to get healthy” is not a specific goal. What does “healthy” mean to you? Is it reducing your bad cholesterol numbers? Maybe it means snacking less on unhealthy foods and bringing your lunch from home. Think about the one thing that you want to achieve and make it very specific and personal.

Measurable: How do you measure “healthy?” By having a number as a target, you can achieve your intentions. Quantifying your goals makes your achievement clear. Did you go to the gym four times this week? Did you perform six pull-ups? Were you able to climb three flights of stairs? Either you did it or you didn’t. There’s nothing in between.

Action-Oriented: If you want to “get healthy,” there’s no concrete set of action steps to adopt. How will you get healthy? Whether it’s writing down everything you eat in a journal or not bailing on your interval training class when you would rather crash, your actions have consequences. What actions will you take?

Reasonable: If you said your goal was to run a marathon by October and you had never participated in a 5 KM run before — I would say that your goal would be unreasonable. However, if you wanted to run a marathon in October, 2019, and you were prepared to commit to training five days a week for the next year, I would applaud your dedication and we would work on a plan. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming and imagining ourselves achieving (and even surpassing) our goals. But we all need a shot of reality.

Timely: By setting a time-frame to achieve your goal, you will be more motivated to stay on track. It gives us something to work towards and an actual framework to work within. This isn’t the mindset of “special occasion” weight loss (which we’ve previously discussed), but a logical, measurable length of time.

One of the joys of setting SMART goals is that you can fall in love with the process. It’s not about the quick fix but the longer journey. Instead of focusing on the “when,” it’s a concrete plan for “how.” By breaking down your goal into very specific parts, you can track your success.

Take a look at your goal — and then take it apart. Tweak and adjust it until it’s SMART and you can evaluate your progress every week in a clear way. Did you achieve everything you set out to do? If not, what needs to change? Minor adjustments will keep you focused and increase the probability of attaining what you are setting out to achieve.

Diet tracking and the need to separate why we eat from what we eat

Woman eating fruit and using food tracking app / Image credit: mdslim.com

Diet tracking and the need to separate
why we eat from what we eat

There are many reasons we eat. We eat for pleasure, for boredom, for comfort, or for reward. We eat to be social and connect with our friends and family. We eat to celebrate our achievements and to build family bonds. Food is also our friend. It never rejects us or judges us harshly.

Food is so much more than fuel. If it wasn’t, we would simply ingest a grey, tasteless substance with a minimum required amount of calories.

When clients come to me and want to lose weight, they often defend their food. They refuse to believe their current challenges are because of diet. They cite stress and lack of exercise. But the truth is, food is often the root of our problems.

And it can be tricky untangling the reality from perception. What do I mean by that? People think they eat healthy. They believe they make correct choices. They prepare their meals in advance and describe balancing their plates with greens.

What they don’t remember is the cake wheeled out for a co-workers anniversary. It’s the extra helpings and the fortune cookies they reached for automatically at the end of a meal. It’s the french fries they stole off their partner’s plate during lunch when they were having a salad. All of these little bites add up. So while they think they are eating healthy, the truth is that they are not.

And the only way to break the cycle of mindless eating is to track everything. It’s a thankless task, but it’s essential.

There are many apps, notebooks, and tools designed for food tracking. Some apps allow you to easily scan your food barcode to break down nutrients. Others will allow you to log your meal by photographs. Depending on the app, you may be emailed weekly results or win rewards. Many will give you a calorie target to hit and show you how much water you still need to drink.

No matter how it functions, the best tool is the one that you will use. Every single day. Every single meal — and in between. Track everything — and look for patterns. Consider your emotional state and why you’re eating. This is just as important as what you are eating.

There’s no judgement in capturing what you have been consuming. If you are not completely honest, you will never be able to acknowledge your own eating patterns. Tracking food is the first step. Only through knowledge and self-acceptance can we start making positive changes — so it’s time to be real. To get healthy, you need to arm yourself with your own history and awareness. Once you take judgement out of the equation, you’re ready to evaluate and assess. And only then you can make informed, positive changes that will help you reach your goals.

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

Laura Rantin strong woman

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

One of the mottos we like to embrace at TrainingSpaces is “Strong is Beautiful.” This means we value mental and physical strength as our overall life goal. It’s about having that confidence to speak your mind and stand up for those around you. It means we aren’t interested in some fake, magazine, size 0 idea of beauty.

We’re invested in real people with real bodies. Being beautiful is carrying yourself in your body, pain-free, and creating a shape that helps you move through the world. We believe in functional fitness — and that can be achieved through weight training.

But so many women are afraid of weight training — a critical path to strength. Despite the benefits of resistance training, of the 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club last year, only about half used weight machines, and only one-third lifted free weights, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)!

The reason? Some women are intimidated by the weight room. Others don’t know where to start and don’t want to hurt themselves. But so many women are convinced that after one session of weights, they are going to bulk up like She-Hulk before going into battle. So they try to avoid weights and the benefits of weight training — instead focusing exclusively on yoga and cardio.

The truth is, women will never bulk up like men, because our hormones are different. If you are training for a bodybuilding competition, that’s a very different routine from your twice-a-week weights workout. Achieving this physique requires a serious commitment to changing your hormones, diet, exercise, and — really your entire life.  

A benefit of weight training we rarely talk about is how it will make you feel. Watching yourself move up from smaller dumbbells to heavier weights is an amazing ego boost. For women who have been told that lifting weights is not good for us because it will make us aggressive or manly, picking up that big weight and holding it above our heads is a sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s about saying “no thanks” when the man next to you at spin class offers to swap your 8 lbs hand weights for his 2 lbs pink weights during the arms routine. And why are those little weights pink anyway? Because they are for girls. Haha … very cute.

Combining cardio, weights, and stretching will only help you to look leaner as you become stronger. Once you start lifting weights, you begin to build muscle, and the more muscles you have the more calories you burn. And the more you lift, the stronger you get.

And well, this goes back to Strong is Beautiful.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Cardio Workout

Cardio workout: guys playing basketball. Image credit: Tim Mossholder / Pexels

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cardio Workout

When you commit to strength training, you are building muscular endurance and strength while keeping your bones and joints healthy and strong. Fat loss is a side effect.

To balance out the good work of strength training, I recommend that my clients participate in some kind of cardio exercise. And cardio is not an exact science. There’s no X times of week + Y speed = Results. Cardio does burn calories but it also helps you keep your heart healthy and prevents disease.

Should I do cardio in the morning or in the evening?

Studies say that you should exercise first thing in the morning. They also say you should exercise in the evening. I say you should exercise when it’s most convenient for you. If this means going for a quick run on your lunch break or waking up at 5 AM — the most important part in finding a place for exercise in your day. Make it part of your schedule and find a time that works for you. You know when’s not a good time to exercise? Never.

What kind of cardio should I do?

The kind of cardio you should do is the kind that you like. Forget about keeping an eye on the calories burned square on the machine. Those numbers are estimates and often exaggerations. This means there’s no point looking for the machine that burns the most calories — instead find something that you enjoy. Some people love spending the focused 30 minutes on an elliptical, catching up or rewatching their favourite TV show. Others would describe this as one of the circles of hell. For others, hiking on the weekend or taking a dance class contribute to their cardio.

Like my advice when it comes to finding exercise time in your schedule, the same goes for cardio equipment and type of cardio. The most important thing about cardio is that you do it.

How Long Should I Spend on Cardio?

If you’re getting started, you should spend 20-60 minutes on cardio, three to five days a week. If you are new to training, three days a week is a good start. If you are more experienced, I would aim closer to the five days a week to increase your heart rate. And this doesn’t mean that you need to run five days a week. You can mix it up with a combination of classes, activities, and cardio machines.

Cardio is one of the few things in life that really is all about you. So be selfish and find that me time. It’s your adventure, so what will you choose?

Strip away the scandals and focus on the benefits. There’s a lot to love about yoga

woman on pink yoga mat with hands extended

Strip away the scandals and focus
on the benefits. There's a lot
to love about yoga

How could anyone who embraces fitness, wellness, and balance dislike a centuries-old movement-based meditation practice? Yoga is linked to so many health benefits including calming your mind, toning your body, improving flexibility, and finding overall happiness. Why do you hate yoga?

And the fact is that I don’t hate yoga. I just hate how it’s perceived and what it’s a short-hand for in our society.

Unfortunate associations

Choudhury bikram yoga classI hate the corporatization of yoga and its connection to affluence. To be a real yogi, you need the right four-way stretch fabric and a special towel made from bamboo and unicorn tears. Yoga clothing carries astronomical price tags and is often made in unsafe work conditions. I think we can all remember when the CEO of Lululemon was caught out fat-shaming and insulting the very people who bought his clothes. It’s embarrassing, but it was part of a larger snobbery that separated appropriate yoga bodies from unsightly ones.

I hate the gurus. There are teachers who use adjustments as an opportunity to subtly touch their practitioners in a way that crosses the line. What about the power-hungry narcissists and sexual assaulters who gaslight their students to make excuses for bad behaviour? Or the enlightened individuals who preach humility and charity with one hand, while pushing unnecessary classes and workshops with the other? They abuse the trust of people who just want to be a little better than they were yesterday.

But I love yoga

With yoga comes the acceptance that we are all different. Just like we all struggle in life with different things, you can leave it all on the mat. You can sweat, flow, breathe, or just lie down. Every practice is different. The expectations you set for yourself differ every time until you learn not to set expectations. You learn to be present and take each pose as a mini-challenge.

TrainingSpaces owner Laura Rantin at the Grand Canyon.For many people, it’s hard to get back to the root of yoga because of all the bullshit. All the fake gurus and the cool clothes won’t take away the fact from the purity of breathing and focusing on the stretch. When you relax into a yoga pose, you’re treating yourself to some quiet time. You can tune out the world and all its violence, terror, and cruelty.

It’s easy to get caught up in the yoga lifestyle and the nastiness of it all. It’s easy to find ways to hate yoga. But it’s even better not to. Because yoga was here before the moisture-wicking fabric, and the predators, and the cool bags with extra pockets. And there’s something that endures about something that connects you to yourself — and challenges you to be a better person … one breath at a time.

Yoga meditation pose

Has yoga been good to you?

Tell us about your experiences with yoga! Any good stories? Any bad ones? An instructor you found especially helpful? A pose or position that was particularly difficult? Let us know in the comments!

Don’t let over-hyped evaluations get you down

Trainer discussing evaluation with client. Image credit: Youfit Health Clubs

Don't let over-hyped 'evaluations'
get you down

When you join a gym, many of them offer you a “free evaluation.” Fuelled with images of your new body and setting the record of pull-ups, you make an appointment with a gym personal trainer to see how close you are to your goal.

I have very rarely heard of these appointments going well. As a personal trainer, I am often confronted by my own clients following their initial evaluation. They could not perform the activities. They were called obese. They were pushed to perform exercises that damaged their body.

They felt like failures.

What my clients don’t realize is that there’s no such thing as a free evaluation. These one-on-one sessions are designed to sell personal training sessions. The gym environment is extremely competitive, and personal trainers often have to fight for clients. Offering new clients an evaluation is a trick to make them feel like they are extremely out of shape and can only be rescued by a personal trainer.

The fitness evaluation is a tricky thing. As there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to training, there is also no one-size-fits-all fitness evaluation. Instead, personal training is a give-and-take relationship with clients opening up about what they want from a session (or long-term plan) and a trainer constantly refining what exercises will help them achieve their goal. The trainers at most gyms quickly use a series of tests to gauge where they think a client is at — and select the exercises that will best highlight the weakness.

Evaluation as sales technique

I am not saying that personal trainers at gyms are unprofessional or unqualified. The truth is that they are under extreme pressure to retain their jobs and build a clientele. In a numbers-driven sales environment, trainers are pushed to make a hard sell to potential clients. These environments do not prioritize the trainer-client relationship. Instead, it’s about the numbers.

If you do join a gym and are offered a free evaluation, there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a try. Do not take the experience personally and remember the real reason behind the evaluation. However, there’s a simple way to test your fitness at a new gym that doesn’t involve the hard sell: take a class or try out a new piece of cardio equipment.

Instead of feeling badly about yourself, why not start your gym relationship positively? The potential to build a new skill and a challenge to conquer will keep you coming back to the gym — not feeling badly about yourself.

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you’re getting closer to your goal

woman holding scale and screaming because she's hit a plateau. Image credit: diyhcg.com

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you're getting closer to your goal

We’ve all experienced this: you step on the scale after a week where you rejected the office “it’s Thursdays so let’s have cake” celebration and swapped after work socializing for a killer run…only to find the numbers remain the same. How is this possible, you ask yourself. Why didn’t I indulge? And the whys and the hows just keep on coming.

Plateaus are extremely frustrating when you’ve been focused on your goal and find yourself stuck. But here’s the thing… if you weren’t moving towards your goal, you wouldn’t be stuck. A plateau is not failure. It’s the indication that you are moving towards your healthier life and away from your starting point.

I encourage my clients to start with a measurable goal in mind — whether it’s a number, a size, a rep count, or a weight amount. We make a plan and emphasize small changes along the way. Every week is an opportunity to make small modifications to the journey. Whether it’s logging food in a journal or adding an extra weights session, one change a week is not overwhelming and provides a sense of accomplishment. The following week, we’ll add another small change.

All these little changes add up to eventual results. I always emphasize that slow progress is about changing the behaviours … and making a lasting impact. Like all changes, at first this can be uncomfortable. Shaking up the routine and taking yourself off automatic can be tough. Finding yourself saying “no thanks” and putting yourself first is difficult. But we have to remind ourselves that we are doing this so we can be better and take care of others.

A plateau is when you get comfortable. It’s a signal that your body is getting used to these positive changes. If you want to keep moving towards your goal, you need to feel uncomfortable again.

To get back on track, we need to assess what’s going on with your diet and exercise by ….

Switching up your exercise 

Try a new class, activity, or ask for heavier weights. You need to feel challenged again — even if that’s holding a yin yoga pose for five minutes and just breathing through it.

Checking your food diary

It’s time to take a critical look at your food journal. Are there any trends that you’re noticing? If you thought you would give that food diary a break, it’s time to get back into writing everything/recording everything.

Although it might feel like you’re starting all over again, go back to the one change a week philosophy. What will you do this week to challenge yourself? How will you get yourself out of the plateau rut? Instead of being frustrated, it’s time for a reset and a celebration. A plateau is just a rest that reminds you that you’re on the right track … and you can keep going.  


Laura's question of the week

Have you ever hit a plateau? (Hint: the correct answer is always “yes.”) Was it weight loss? Strength? Flexibility? Aerobic endurance? How did you get past it? Let us know in the comments!

Plateau Point trail sign in the Grand Canyon. Image credit: artoftall.com

Running 101: how to overcome your fears and hit the road

Running 101: woman in track suit at the starting line. Image via Gratisography

Running 101: how to overcome your fears and hit the road

In the warmer months, many of my clients tell me that they want to start running. But, haunted by the ghosts of gym classes past, they are fearful. But running is for everyone — unless you have knee/joint mobility issues.

But how do you get started? Here are some tips to conquer your fear of running.

Get a Walk to Run app

There are so many programs designed to help wannabe runners progress incrementally. Most of these apps slowly increase your running time and you’ll see how easy it is to go from 30 seconds of running to five minutes to 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I recommend the Run 5K – Interval Training Program (https://www.felttip.com/run5k/) app or the C25K (Couch to 5K) http://www.c25kfree.com/ which both have simple interfaces and let you listen to your own music or podcasts while you train three times a week. They are designed for first time runners.

Make a playlist

And speaking of music, there’s nothing that can terminate a workout like a terrible song. It’s enough to make you give up. If you can craft a special running playlist, timed to your workout, you can give yourself the motivation you crave when you’re running up that hill.

Run somewhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to get motivated to run in a 5K loop around the neighbourhood. But what if you are running to something or somewhere? Why not run instead of waiting for the bus? Make sure you have plenty of time to incorporate your walks and runs — following your program. By running with intent, you need to maintain a pace or you’ll be late. This is an easy way to incorporate your run time into your weekly routine.

Sign up for a race

Sure races bring out the super competitive professionals with legs longer than your entire body. But they also bring out families, first time runners, and people who really believe in a cause. There are a number of races dedicated to fundraising for specific charities and institutions. Find something that you really care about and raise some money to support their initiatives. It doesn’t matter how slow you run — knowing that you’re running for a cause is enough to keep you going.

It’s just you and the road

Runners love the meditative running high they get by taking on the road. Some days you fly down the street and hit your milestones with minutes to spare. Other days, there’s an elderly lady speed-walking and leaving you in the dust. But at the end of every day, you’ve accomplished something great. Every run is worth celebrating. Speed and distance don’t matter. The fact you did it … that’s the true accomplishment.

So… are you ready to lace up and hit the pavement? Good luck — and don’t forget to warm up and stretch to prevent injury.

Trigger foods: the obstacles to our weight-loss goals

Woman eating chocolate, a common trigger food. Credit Pixabay.

Trigger foods: the obstacles to our weight-loss goals

I’ve had clients come to me in tears wondering why they haven’t achieved their weight-loss goals. It’s hard,  it’s frustrating, and it can trigger exasperation. As we always say, gaining weight is easy — losing it is hard. With the amount of food-tracker apps on the market and quick solutions, education about food density, and devices that calculate calories … we should be better at shedding those impossible pounds.

So what do I tell clients who are devastated by non-moving numbers on the scale? Well, we always start with being realistic. The healthy way to lose weight is 1-2 pounds a week. That’s it.

And then we look at trigger foods. These are the foods that you have an unhealthy relationship with. For some people it’s sweets. For others it’s salty. And I’ve had clients devour portions and portions of spaghetti bolognese. These are meals or snacks where there is a bottomless quality to your consumption. You can eat and eat without ever feeling full. Eating becomes an avalanche and you can’t stop until it’s all gone.

When you look back at your week, can you isolate those moments where you experienced a craving so severe that you couldn’t focus on your work? For so many people, the emotional component of eating undoes all their good work of exercise. Wanting a treat for finishing a project. A vending machine run in the middle of the day to break up boredom. A salty snack that is chemically designed for you to eat the entire bag in one sitting.

Honesty is key

Pasta, beer and bread are also common trigger foods. Credit: Stokpic.comSo, what should you do about these foods? Personally, I recommend avoiding them altogether. If you are honest with yourself, and identify a trigger food, keep it out of the house or desk drawer. Knowing yourself is the first step. And don’t lie. Being honest is hard, but it’s essential.

Does that mean that you’ll need to be on a sugar-free, no-salt diet for the rest of your life? No, it doesn’t. But if it means that you will never purchase a certain type of rice-cake flavour because you will consume it all in one sitting — that’s a fair trade-off to hit your weight-loss goal. By being as specific as possible about the item that causes you to want to consume in mass quantities, you can sever the relationship with this food. And keep on track to towards your goals.


What foods are red flags for you? How have you dealt with them? Let us know in the comments!