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Planks & elbow creases

Part of the My Peak Challenge workouts, I’ve been doing a LOT of planks – regular planks and side planks. I just started Month 3 of the program and can make it through 4 minutes of forward plank in 3 rounds, so that’s an average of 1:20 per round. I am noticing a big difference in my core and also in my arms, shoulders and back when I practice yoga.

There are a few adjustments that I’ve made in my own practice and that I offer to my students to make their planks stronger, which then improves their downward facing dog, chaturanga and arm balances.

Let’s first take a look at some common problem spots (with arrows!).

  1. Elbows are locked out and the elbow creases are pointing toward each other.  There’s very little upward lift through the arms this way, and as you lose strength and the elbows bend, they end up going side to side (no good for building strength for chaturanga and arm balances).
  2. Saggy shoulders. As the elbows lock out, everything dumps down, especially in the shoulders. I’m “hanging” here in my shoulder girdle, rather than pressing up. When the shoulder girdle sags, that causes low back pain, which can snowball into all sorts of other unpleasant sensations.
  3. Head tucked and hanging. I probably did this for all of my early planks as a way to hide from the discomfort of doing a plank and not feeling yet strong enough to hold for very long. It adds strain through the neck, which starts to round and crunch the back.

Now let’s take a look at plank that builds strength in the right places and is more stable.

  1. Elbow creases spin forward, micro bend in the elbow joint. Without moving my hands, I used the muscles in my arms to spin the elbow creases forward (see how my tattoo is more visible now?). This immediately causes the chest to broaden so your collarbones get a little more space. That little action also activates the core. The micro bend in the elbow joint keeps the muscles drawing energy up, instead of relying solely on lining bones up. My shoulders are also stacked directly over my wrists, not behind or in front.
  2. Puff up between the shoulder blades, draw them toward your heels. Action 1 broadened the chest, but you also need to keep the shoulders from collapsing. I’ll put a finger right between my students’ shoulder blades and ask them to push up against my finger. Belly stays tight. Then, lengthen through the spine by drawing the shoulder blades toward your heels.
  3. Drishti is under your face, not behind. Lengthening through the spine means all the way up to the top of your head. Keep the sides of the neck long and find a spot under your face to look (this focal gazing point is your drishti), rather than tucking the chin to see what’s happening at your feet (nothing interesting there).

    * All this upper body action works for plank from the knees as well.
    ** In the case of plank on the forearms, stack the shoulders directly over the elbows. Everything else applies.

Here are the two side-by-side for comparison.

Practicing plank with the right structure makes almost everything with weight in the arms become more accessible and a little lighter.

  • Chaturanga dandasana (4-limbed staff pose)
  • Adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog)
  • Bakasana (crow pose) and pretty much every arm balance
  • Pincha mayurasana (forearm stand)
  • Handstands
  • Even cat/cow pose

Give it a try, and come back to tell me how it went.

SXSW 2017: I love you. I see you.

It always takes me a good week to recover from SXSW, to let everything absorb and settle into my system. This year, I took a little different approach. I didn’t want to get over scheduled on sessions, and instead, I wanted to take advantage of having access to Film and Music.

Originally, I had a number of the Interactive keynotes marked. And then I started swapping them out for big celeb sessions, like Game of Thrones. To my surprise, I ended up at sessions for politicians. I imagine the current political landscape influenced my decisions. 😉

Cory Booker

New Jersey US Senator Cory Booker was the opening Interactive keynote Friday morning. He gave an emotional address about what love is, how we treat other people and how we cannot be silent when injustice is happening.

His message resonated deeply with me as I’ve been on a journey of softening, rather than hardening, in my life. Love. Inclusiveness. Not turning the other cheek. Not merely tolerating people’s differences, but SEEING them as fellow human beings.

After Cory Booker’s session, I had intended to head straight to Mashable House – something that I’ve missed every year. But as I left the session, someone was handing out flyers to see former Texas state senator and Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis across the street at the Hilton.

Wendy Davis

She spoke on a panel about gender parity and women in politics. It was uplifting to hear that there’s a huge uptick in interest among women wanting to run for office across the U.S and attending trainings for how to do so. They have many uphill battles to get past gender bias and will need the support of men feminists to do so.

I agree wholeheartedly in this point she made about motivating Democrats (or those who agree with Democratic agenda items) to vote and be heard. As a volunteer deputy registrar, it makes me so sad to hear that people don’t care about voting because they don’t think their vote counts for anything. It does! Especially at the local level.

Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden was a late addition to the SXSW schedule. I missed out on President Obama last year because attendance was done by lottery, and I wasn’t picked. For Biden’s session, we received a late night email about picking up a wristband Sunday morning. I hadn’t intended to make it downtown until after my noon class was finished, but I quickly set my alarm. It was also daylight savings, so I’d have to get up even earlier.

I arrived at 8:15 am, and the line had already started to wrap the building. Fortunately, I got a wristband and went on my merry way. By afternoon, I stood in line 90 minutes before his session to ensure I made it in the room and didn’t end up in the far back.

Vice President Biden announced his new initiative called Cancer Moonshot, which continues his work under Obama. Through urgency and the help of tech companies, Cancer Moonshot aims to accelerate cancer research and facilitate collaboration among research institutions. Amazon donated cloud storage to allow sharing of research data across the globe, which has been accessed 80 million times worldwide.

His passionate appeal that this is a technology problem and not a cancer problem was both emotional and enlightening. Cancer has touched too many loved ones. Through continued research and collaboration, Biden hopes to see children vaccinated for cancer the way they are for measles. I can certainly get on board with that.

I missed the Game of Thrones session to be at Biden’s. I regret nothing. We need strong leaders to guide us back to sanity, to love, to humanity, to tackling the real problems of the world. I felt encouraged and uplifted, rather than the constant doom and gloom every time I see news headlines.

McKinney Falls State Park

Ever since we bought a State Parks Pass ($70 for an entire year), we have been trying to make the most of it to see the natural beauties in Texas. The closest to us in Austin is McKinney Falls State Park, a quick 20 minutes from downtown. I’ve been there a handful of times, but there was recent rain that made the waterfalls a little more exciting than our visit last year.

We got there in the morning around 10 and brought lunch in a cooler. The kids were very excited about carrying trail maps, as if we were hunting for treasure.

Our first stop was toward the Lower Falls. The last time we visited, we told the Big Kid about how he lost a shoe as a baby, and it bounced on the rocks and landed in the creek below. He found the same spot we pointed out to him of the lost shoe and gave us a pose – both shoes firmly on his feet.

The Lower Falls don’t look like much when you first approach them, but as you hike around to the front view, the water is moving at a pretty good clip. A number of fishermen were in the pool at the bottom of the Falls, and my kids chose a spot nearby to throw rocks.

Bear Shark hasn’t quite mastered the sideways throw needed to skip rocks, so instead, he took fistful of pebbles to chuck into the water. He hardly noticed the falls once throwing rocks was allowed.

We picked a picnic table and sat down to lunch. Here’s the Big Kid showing off his strawberry mouth. For some reason, fruits and veggies seem so much more appealing to my kids when we’re eating picnic-style. They tend to go for those first. Perhaps it’s the novelty of eating outside as a special occasion?

By the time we made it over to the Upper Falls, the kids were getting pooped out. There was a lot of whining, “Why do we have to walk so much?” The crowd got bigger as we stayed into the afternoon, and we knew our time was limited.

There’s a paved path from the Upper Falls that follows Onion Creek and loops around the campsites. We’ve made a mental note to load up bikes and scooters for our next visit. Bear Shark lasted another 20 minutes on the trail before falling asleep on my husband’s shoulder.

Pooped out kids. Healthy lunch. A good dose of the outdoors. I call that a win. We’ll be back again soon! And if we get organized ahead of time, camping may be our next adventure at McKinney Falls. Campsites book up fast in the spring.

McKinney Falls State Park
5808 McKinney Falls Parkway 
Austin, TX 78744

SXSW 2017: Working Moms Meet Up

It was a joy to host the Working Moms Meet Up again this year! We had a mix of moms with different children’s ages, varying work/home situations and surprisingly many within advertising and UX. I loved witnessing the little sparks when someone could completely identify with another woman’s struggle or victory.

Parenting is truly a group effort. Even if you yourself have the most amazing mother as a role model, it isn’t quite the same as sharing with someone who is currently or has recently experienced what you’re going through. Working motherhood has an extra challenge in that networking with other working moms isn’t easily accessible. Your hours are limited perhaps to only weekends and evenings. Setting up playdates with other families with kids of the same age is a rare occasion or doesn’t happen at all.

Through technology, social networks, online forums and the like, finding and maintaining strong friendships expands beyond local networks. It’s still not the same as meeting another working mom and her kiddos at the local park, but the internet can start to bridge the gap.

I look forward to continuing our conversation online with the women I met, and I hope to be back next spring for SXSW 2018!

6 Poses to survive SXSW

Stretching helps to alleviate the aches and pains we accumulate in our bodies, especially if we’re sedentary for too long or on our feet all day. Experiencing SXSW will be a combination of:

a) trekking across town on concrete,
b) standing in line while carrying all of your stuff + swag,
c) sitting in a cramped room on small banquet chairs, and
d) repeating this for 5+ days along with overconsumption.

Here are 6 poses to help your body survive the Fest. These are great for pretty much anyone with a spine as they move the spine in all directions.

Seated twist

You can do this with the leg crossed at the knee or without. Sit up nice and tall and twist to one side, turning the head over the shoulder. Hold for 3-4 breaths. Unwind and go to the other side. I like to pretend like I’m “looking for someone” at the back of the room. Stretching incognito!

Side stretches

Grab one wrist. Take it up and over, elongating through the side body. Breathe into the ribs, through the armpit and up to the hands. Feel free to yawn. Hold for 3-4 breaths, and then switch.

Cactus arms + Rounded spine

These two poses combined mimic a seated cat/cow. Take the elbows wide, broaden across the chest and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Big inhale. As you exhale, stretch the arms forward, grabbing one wrist and round into the upper back. Draw the belly toward the spine and relax the head. Repeat between the two poses to find the heart opener (cactus arms) and a slight forward fold (rounding in).

Figure 4

To stretch out tight hips, find a cross of the ankle over the knee for Figure 4. Keep the bottom foot on the floor for a gentler opening, allowing the knee to open down. Sit tall and breathe. If you have a little something to prop up the bottom foot (perhaps in a ballroom with a row of chairs in front), draw the legs toward the chest. Breathe into the hip 4-5 breaths, then switch sides.

Figure 4 + Twist

Combine your Figure 4 with a twist for some super fun spinal action. Keep sitting tall as you rotate. Use the arm against the leg to gently press into the twist. Stay for 4-5 breaths, then switch sides.

Sukhasana, criss-cross applesauce, easy cross legged seat

Sitting in a chair can get old fast. If you have room to spread out a bit, take an easy cross-legged seat to give your hips some relief. Sit up tall and feel your sitz bones (two pokey bones in your butt) press into the chair or floor. Relax the shoulders.

You’ll find me stretching between sessions to save my hips and back from getting destroyed. I also do these as a precursor to heading out for the Fest and before bedtime. Give them a go!

Attending SXSW: Health & Fitness Edition

I’m going 7 weeks strong with My Peak Challenge, even with a few out-of-town weekends that altered my schedule and diet slightly. But the biggest hurdle coming up next week is the 10-day event that takes over all of Austin: SXSW. Free booze. Free food. More free booze. Late night debauchery. It’s the adult nerd’s spring break with more clothing and way more tech.

In the past, I shared tips on what to bring if you’re attending SXSW Interactive. These still apply for the general attendee. This year, I present tips for incorporating health and fitness without missing ALL the fun.

  1. Strap on your fitness tracker. You’ll want to get credit for all 15K, 20K, 25K steps a day you take while trekking around town. It’ll make you feel better that you canceled out at least 1 to 2 beers/tacos. It may even motivate you to skip waiting for a cab/pedicab/Mazda ride and walk instead. SXSW is also the week I invite everyone I know to a step challenge, so I blow them all away!!
  2. Hydrate like your life depends on it. Austin can get humid quickly when that suns comes out. Between the weather, all the steps you’re taking and all the booze, you’ll need to chug down more water than usual. Bring a refillable water bottle or go grab a free one that some company is bound to be giving out. The Convention Center and all the hotels will have filtered water so refill every chance you can.
  3. Put on the SPF. You’ll have a lot of outdoor time as you venture between the lounges or end up standing in long lines. Texas sun is nothing to joke about. Protect your skin. Grab sunglasses or a hat while you’re at it. Companies are always giving these out for free.
  4. Come early for the healthier free food. Breakfast is your best shot at getting good free food. Fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, yogurt parfaits, and granola bars are pretty easy to find with a buffet spread in the lounges. Breakfast tacos are loaded with protein to fill up and give you energy to start your day. (Stop at eating one, though. If you’re going to grab a second one, stash it in your bag for later.) The SXSW crowd tends to sleep in, so take advantage of the 9-10 am window when food is plentiful and it’s not too crowded.
  5. Stretch. Middle of Day 2 is usually when my body starts to protest being out in the crowds and overstimulated. My back is aching from carrying all the free swag across town, and my legs are tight from standing on concrete or sitting in crowded rooms (sometimes on the ground while charging my phone and/or taking a snack break). Some good back/side/hip stretches, twists, heart openers and forward folds will do a lot of good. You can do them while seated or waiting in line or find a quiet space in an offshoot hallway. I’ll share some of my favorite poses later!
  6. Take a moment to breathe. Yoga and meditation are sprinkled throughout the SXSW schedule. Companies are encouraging employees to de-stress through meditation and get focused through intention practices. So whether you drop in to a meditation meetup or find a quiet spot to rest your feet, it is just as important to recharge your body through breath as it is to recharge your phone.
  7. Resist the FOMO. You don’t have to do everything and make every keynote and catch every show or screening. FOMO is stressful. Make the most of a few key events while leaving time to wander in and out of spaces. Make conversation with people you meet along the way. Ask if you can share a table instead of sitting alone. Being present is key to a more pleasant SXSW.
  8. Sure, throw in some planks and burpees. Weird is to be expected both at SXSW and in Austin. No one would even bat an eye if you did some planks or burpees on the sidewalk or a hotel lobby or wherever. Valbo and Sam would be proud of you.

This will be my 6th year attending SXSW, and I’m committed to not letting the temptation of the festival ruin my health efforts. I mean, I may need to double up on my physical activity to counter food and drink consumption, but at least I know what’s ahead of me.

If you’re planning to come to SXSW, come join me at the JW Marriott on Saturday 3/11 at 9:30 am for my Working Moms Meet Up. All badges are eligible.

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