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A Flexible Lifestyle: The Power of Stretching

Ever since I was 8 years old, I understood the importance of stretching. As a dancer, athlete and performer, I can say without a doubt that stretching plays one of the biggest roles in my success. In ballet class, we’d spend the entire time active stretching at the barre. We would stretch before and after every class. After so many years, I became hard-wired to “active/dynamic stretch” to prep for dancing, then stretch after dancing to recover and get rid of toxins and lactic acid build up. It was ingrained and automatic, and one of the best healthy habits that I’ve held onto.

Stretching is not just sitting in a position and holding it there until you want to cry. It starts with observing what’s tight or achy, then researching various ways to lengthen and stretch the muscles in different ways. Lastly, and most importantly, there’s breathing.

BREATHE AS YOU STRETCH

Learning how to breathe before, during and coming out of a stretch is what people neglect the most. Use your breath to increase the intensity of your stretches. Move into your stretch on an exhale. Every time you inhale, hold the stretch. On each exhale, try to go further into the stretch, without forcing or tightening your muscles. Basically, sometimes there’s a point in a stretch where your body reflexes out of it, focus on breathing out and through that to retrain your muscles to tolerate more flexibility. The appropriate time to be in a stretch is actually two minutes!  

THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING

Being limber helps your body have more range of motion so that you can assume new and different positions without the risk of tearing or straining something. My boyfriend is a professional skateboarder and has no prior knowledge of stretching and how it can help prevent injuries. So I’ve taught him to loosen areas where he’s been really tight — and he had no idea! It was really cool to coach him through loosening his hips and to see how much it has helped him.


READ MORE > 8 MUST-DO STRETCHES TO PREVENT AND RECOVER FROM WORKOUT INJURIES


As a professional dancer, we don’t have guided warmups before auditions, rehearsals or even live performances. Our bodies have to be 100% ready when we step on stage. There’s a lot of prep before a performance so we can do our ultimate best each time without getting injured.

HOW I STRETCH

I love coming home after a long eight-hour rehearsal and stretch out the day. I’ll just plop down on the floor with a foam roller and some lacrosse balls and close my eyes. I’m not that talented at meditating, so I use stretching to help me calm my mind. I’ll find my breath and wring out any residual stress. It’s like a mental cleanse before hopping into bed then starting a new day.


READ MORE > 5-POSE YOGA FIX FOR DESK DWELLERS


Stretching isn’t just for those who are really active. It helps everyone. Even on a 9–5 workday when you don’t leave your desk once and you’re too tired to go to the gym, you go home and stretch! Stretch while reading or while watching TV. After sitting in that chair all day your back needs to be lengthened, your shoulders and chest opened from hunching over, your hips loosened and wrists unlocked. You will feel like a new human, trust me.


Shop Dani Vitale’s favorite Under Armour gear.


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Is Power Walking Still a Thing?

While there’s no exact point in time that marks when power walking started, or a precise definition, it’s often referred to as aerobic or fitness walking, and it’s a spinoff of race walking, which became an Olympic sport in 1904.

Lately, though, it seems power walking isn’t as popular as it once was — or is it that when people say walking, power walking is just implied. We did a little digging and spoke to experts to get the lowdown on the state of power walking.

THE BEGINNINGS OF POWER WALKING

Even before race walking, there was what we called pedestrianism. “Individuals would walk for distance or sometimes speed,” says Michele Stanten, American Council of Exercise board member, author of “Walk Off Weight.” “It was a popular spectator sport in Europe back in the 1800s and early 1900s.” Then came Volksmarches, explains Stanten, which were non-competitive distance walks, popular in the ‘60s, followed by the creation of charity walks in the ‘70s, where these events were used to help support a greater good. “The popularity of power walking rose in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” says Stanten. “It’s actually even when I started walking along with running and aerobics.”

There’s not an exact definition or reason to explain the rise of power walking, points out Stanten. “During this time period, we all learned that exercise did not have to be extreme — we didn’t all need to run 10Ks or marathons to have cardio fitness,” says Michele Olson, PhD, CSCS, an adjunct professor of sport science at Huntingdon College. “Walking, which is a very body-friendly form of cardio, was something anyone could do, and it was cost effective. The only type of equipment you truly need is a pair of quality exercise shoes.”


READ MORE > WALKING WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AFTER THIS WEEKEND: INTRODUCING EVERWALK


POWER WALKING FOR FITNESS

If done correctly, power walking counts for fitness — it can even be your sole form of exercise. Just try walking on a treadmill at 5 miles per hour for an extended amount of time without letting your form be affected. You need to have a fast gait and efficient movement, explains Olson, but that can be learned.

“Walking workouts often include interval and fartlek training, where you speed up, go off-road, up and down hills, incorporate walking lunges, walk sideways and backwards,” says Olson. “Recent studies even show that if you walk 15,000 steps a day you can stay fit, lose weight and fight off heart disease.” However, most of these studies talk just about walking — not power walking. So is it just implied that you should be power walking, or is just plain walking enough?

IS POWER WALKING STILL A THING?

From a public-health standpoint, the goal is to get all people moving, and even regular walking is a very good option for that. “That’s where the focus has shifted — pedometers and the research on steps throughout the day have shown us that all walking counts,” says Stanten. “But there are still reasons to promote power walking, especially to all the people who are already doing some walking.”

In short, if you love power walking, you should power walk loud and proud. Trends may come and go, but anything that keeps us moving — and walking at any speed — is worth doing.

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“Black-ish” Star and Panel of Influential Women Discuss the Power of Pain

There are many ways to deal with pain. Sure, you could meditate to work through whatever is bothering you — science says it can relieve stress, improve focus, help you think better and, more positively, boost self-confidence, but sometimes chocolate gelato just wins. The indulgent dessert is not the enemy. It’s important to know that whatever you resist persists. Ignoring emotional discomfort will not just make it go away. Instead, consider embracing pain as these three women have.


“It’s important to know that whatever you resist persists.”


We recently sat down with Golden Globe-winning actress and producer Tracee Ellis Ross of “Black-ish,” New York Times best-selling author of “The Universe Has Your Back,” Gabrielle Bernstein and body-positive advocate and yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley as part of a #WomanInProgress campaign with Motrin. Here are some highlights from their conversation about how learning to work through life’s most challenging moments — whether it’s at work, the gym or the dinner table — is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

Q: What attracted you to this #WomanInProgress campaign?

Tracee Ellis Ross: We all experience pain of different kinds, big and small, physical and emotional, in our lives and our days. The way we often connect with pain is that it’s a stopping point —  that it’s something you should run from. I really believe that pain is part of the journey. It’s often the beginning of when the blossoming happens. To me, it really speaks to the way I go about my life.

Gabrielle Bernstein: I think our painful moments in life offer us great opportunity for transformation and personal growth. When we hit bottom or a pain point, it’s an opportunity to pivot. At any given moment, we can look at those moments and say, “I’m not going to go there. I’m going to push this down.” But it will keep showing up. And I always say we have to show up for what’s up or it will continue to show up. Show up for the painful moments with grace and enthusiasm. When we say “yes” to those painful moments, we have a clear direction on how to get through them. It’s about having the willingness to feel discomfort and be brave enough to wonder what’s underneath it.

Q: Jessamyn, you’ve experienced a kind of pain that many women can relate to — that pain of judgment and self-doubt. It’s been a strong part of your journey. Can you talk to us about a defining moment?

Jessamyn Stanley:  I never aspired to be a yoga teacher. I wasn’t even interested in practicing at all. The time that I started, I was going through a very difficult period of trying to understand who I actually was versus who I’ve been taught or thought I needed to be. That conflict created so much unhappiness in my life. So, yeah, I did use yoga as a conduit to get to a better place.

In that practice, it brought me to so many places of emotional and physical pain, and really the kind of conflict that you cannot walk away from. Being able to see myself on the other side of that was so empowering. Everything that I thought was wrong with me is actually awesome. If I had not been in that place of conflict, I never would have come to terms with that. So I actually think that pain is a gift in a lot of ways. If you allow yourself to be open to it, it can teach you so many things about yourself.

Q: Tracee, as a very physically active person, how does that resonate with you?

Ross: Most of my life’s most delicious or miraculous or joyful moments have pain in them. Looking at it as this way to face it and dive deeper is really where all of it happens. Pain is big and small, physical and emotional. I have trouble with my knees, for example. I ran track all through growing up. I love running. But I can’t run anymore. I used to feel so free — put my shoes on, go anywhere and run. But at that point, when I started having trouble with my knees, I could have decided “no more exercising.” But instead, it opened up this wealth of different choices and ways to continue moving.

The pain of disappointment is another example. A guy not calling, a relationship not working out. Or landing at a certain age, and thinking, “Oh, my life doesn’t quite look the way I thought it should look.” This is an opportunity to frame this that something is wrong with me or I need to do something different. It’s an opportunity to look at who I am, what’s important to me, what I want more of and what choices I need to make that work for me.

Q: When people fall, how do you inspire them to get back up and try again?

Stanley: This is something that comes up for me constantly As a larger black woman, I end up teaching a lot of larger people in general, especially people who are also marginalized. When someone first walks into a yoga studio, they might think, “I can’t do this.” And when they attempt it and something hurts, they might think, “Oh, this hurts. I’m not doing it right.” You have to encourage them, “No, you’re good. Keep going.”

And then they might fall — and it’s an epic fall that really hurts, and they think, “I’m not supposed to be here!” But you have to get back up. I say this a lot when practicing inversions. How can you really learn to stand up on another part of your body if you don’t fall down? You’re never going to learn to take the weight out of your head and put it in your shoulders if you don’t fall. Accept that it is supposed to happen. If you just allow yourself to have this experience, you will come out of it so much stronger and more powerful.

Ross: As you were talking, I was thinking about feasible goals. Expectations get me in trouble. It’s a dangerous trap for me. Optimism and expectation are actually really difficult for me. I think that’s where a lot of my hurt and pain has comes from because I had an idea that something different should have been happening. And so I’m faced with matching up with what I thought it should be vs. what it is. The fear and terror that comes in between because the reason that is I didn’t do enough. There’s so many things in life that we can’t control. That I can’t try hard enough to make happen.

This made me think of my experience with yoga. The idea of being quiet for an hour and a half, I thought, “Are you kidding me?! Why?” Not only “why” but also “that’s painful… to be alone and quiet — that’s awful.” And poses that looked so complicated. I gave myself permission to go for 15 minutes. I did the first 15 minutes of class, and I left my mat by the door so I that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed to leave. I worked my way up in 5-minute increments. I remember when I made it to my first hour and a half, how proud I felt of myself. I was like, “Oh, I did it!” And I don’t remember how long it took me, but I did it.

Q: What are some other tangible tips and tools for people who want to manage their pain in the moment?

Bernstein: Breathe into the pain. Sometimes, if you let yourself just experience a feeling for 90 seconds, that feeling can change. Often we want to do whatever we can to avoid feeling discomfort. We’ll go eat some ice cream or pick up the phone and call a friend or do something to get out of that feeling. The simplicity is to just allow ourselves to be present with the feeling and breathe into it. That’s a mini meditation unto itself — to breathe for 90 seconds into the experience and then let it go.

I do this visual meditation with people and tell them to envision themselves in the ocean right before a wave is about to crash on you. The only way to avoid being knocked down is to dive into the wave. So when you see the wave coming at you, you take a deep breath, feel the discomfort of whatever is  up and then dive into the wave. Then you come up, feel that emotion again, and dive into the way. This is something that just came to me when I was in my own meditation practice trying to feel my feelings. All of a sudden, I started seeing the waves, and thought this is a beautiful image of allowing myself to be present in exactly what I’m feeling and dive into it. That creates a power to not be the victim of our emotions. We often feel very alone in our suffering. When we simply acknowledge that we all suffer — we’re all in it together — that in itself takes a lot of the pressure off.

Q: What does being a #WomanInProgress mean to you?

Stanley: So much of it is about understanding that this moment is just a moment. It is not forever. There is a tendency in my own life when I’ve come to a place where I’m like “I’m good here. I can stay here.” That’s just a plateau. Ultimately, there’s going to be a rise or a fall. Accepting that is coming is all about being a woman in progress. Accepting the ups and the downs is the reason that we’re here. It’s not about the destination, it’s about this journey til the very end. You should hope that it’s so interesting and dense and full of different kinds of hurt.

Bernstein: For me, it’s having the willingness to be uncomfortable so that I have growth all the time. I don’t mean to say that I want to be uncomfortable all the time, but just having the willingness to go through it and move through it. That’s where the progress lies.

Ross: I think we live in such a culture that is focused on perfection. And I love that the expression “woman in progress” opens up this idea that in a world that is so rigid there is space and willingness to be with the discomfort and to be with oneself and to have one’s own experience in the journey. It’s not how we see a woman on her journey, but it’s how we are in our journey.

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Yogi Daina Lynn on Balance, Falling & the Power of Yoga



“The fear of falling is often greater than just falling.”


In the time it takes us to do a vinyasa sequence, we’re digging into all things yoga with instructor, self-proclaimed music junkie and native Marylander Daina Lynn.

Welcome, Daina. Let’s set the stage with a sense of place. Where do you do yoga?

I do yoga in parking lots. I do yoga while cooking. I do yoga while cleaning. The principles can be applied anywhere, at anytime. Yoga is really simply quieting the mind. It is very much so like meditation. So sometimes that means I strike a warrior pose in Wegmans parking lot.

What pose is always a win for you?

I really love balance poses. I love the feeling of weightlessness when every muscle is relaxed, yet you are stern and stoic. They are so simple, yet so complex, that I love the challenge. No matter how much you practice them, some days they feel brand-new, because balance is not a permanent thing, it’s an eternal struggle.


“So sometimes that means I strike a warrior pose in Wegmans parking lot.”


What pose are you over?

A pose like reverse triangle is very painful for me because I have really tight hips and hamstrings from my love for running, cycling and lifting legs. Even forward folds can be painful if I’ve been training heavy that week. So, I have to do a little extra stretching for those areas to make sure I can still enjoy yoga and my other three obsessions.

Also, for me personally, handstands are ambitious. Everyone’s anatomy is so strikingly different. Things like leg length compared to arm length, or where you carry your weight or muscle, and even joint flexibility can affect a pose.

But everyone should strive to do the pose they dislike the most! Remember, what you do on the mat is purposeful because it is meant to translate off the mat.

Got it. Don’t let fear limit you. What if you’re afraid of just getting started in yoga?

Try and possibly fail. Yoga is something that cannot be mastered. No one has it perfectly figured out. Just showing up is the hardest part. It’s about finding your style, whether it’s a power style, a restorative style or maybe even hatha (more breathing).

Yoga is like a metaphor for life; there is no perfect time to start changing your life and never will be, but every step forward is a small victory.


“Try and possibly fail.”


And what’s the trick for keeping a practice going?

Yoga is my release. Some days, yoga is my source of meditation. Some days, it is my source of prayer. And yet some days, it will be my form of exercise. That’s why yoga is so important to me; it can be whatever I need it to be that day. Yoga should be purpose-driven, not perfection-driven. Also, it’s all about balance…you can work in to work out.

Sounds like you work the inner self and work the outer self. How has this framework benefited you?

From a physical level, it has given me so much relief. As a former basketball player and track runner, my body was not only tight but beaten up and injury-ridden. No more pain in my knees, hips or back. It’s been more effective than any pain medication I’ve ever taken.

From a spiritual and emotional level, it’s been just as impactful. Like I said, it connects me to the higher power in a way I have never accessed before — through breath, movement and quieting the mind.

You’ve got this dual approach down to an art. How does it relate to overall wellness?

Focusing just on your physical body is very important, but your exterior will never take care of your interior (mind). If you focus on the inside (mind) first though, the mind will help take care of the physical. It’s about finding the balance between the two. A healthy amount of working out with a healthy amount of meditation, prayer, yoga or whatever it is you call it, is my true epitome of wellness.


“It’s been more effective than any pain medication I’ve ever taken.”


Ah, yes, the elusive balancing act. Does that mean every practice is unique?

Yoga is like faith because it will be and should be to you what it needs to be. That means, your style and your love for it can be and should be unique to anyone else’s! So it’s beautiful that there are all these different styles and options because that means more people will be drawn to the beauty of releasing the mind! That’s why I don’t really say no to any style or type because different things work for different people.

OK, spill. When you’re trying all these styles out, what are you really thinking about?

On a great day, I couldn’t tell you! I am so into the movements and how they connect with my breath that I can finally rest my thoughts. But, a lot of the time, thoughts are coming that I have to deal with. Sometimes I am thinking, “My body feels light.” But, sometimes, I am thinking “My body feels heavy” and I can’t get a vibrant flow going.

Those are the days where I have to work much harder to quiet my mind. It won’t come every day. Just because you get on your mat doesn’t mean your mind just shuts off. The best thing I’ve learned to do is not to judge any thoughts but to be more like an outsider to my thoughts. I am not my thoughts. I can be an observer and choose which will benefit me and which won’t.

Can you share an example of what you do in those moments when you can’t quiet your mind on the mat?

I was mad about something I was going through off my mat, and I figured I could take it out on the mat. I fell out of almost every balance pose and nothing looked the way I wanted it to. I was focused on all the wrong things. Trying to fight anger with anger will never work.

I had expectations during that practice that I couldn’t fulfill because they were unrealistic. In fact, it only made me more frustrated because I was just adding more and more weight to something that was already too heavy for me to carry. Then, I finally found a child’s pose and didn’t move the rest of class. I changed my perspective and simply fought anger with peace. I didn’t leave the room alleviated of anger, but I at least started the process of letting it go, which is all we can ever want from our practice.


“Just because you get on your mat doesn’t mean your mind just shuts off.”


Sometimes it’s the opposite that works. Who taught you these types of lessons?

My favorite teacher has become one of my closest friends. She is teacher and reiki master Nilvis Frederick. She is perfect to me because she is raw and genuine when she teaches. She uses her own pain and her own problems and translates it into the deepest lesson you will ever hear. And, she can also kick your butt if she wants to!

We could all use someone like that. Do you think yoga is for everyone?

Whether they have arthritis and need something more than medication or they have anxiety and need something more than medication, in my opinion, yoga is the best physical and mental prescription.


“I at least started the process of letting it go, which is all we can ever want from our practice.”


I’m sold. So, let’s say you have a class of new students. What music do you play to inspire them?

I have two different kinds of playlists. One includes songs with lyrics. They’re deep songs — artists like Mumford and Sons, LP and even some light rock like Van Morrison. I want people to be moved by the words and inspired. I know that’s not conventional but not every person can be moved by the same thing. You have to meet people where they are, not force things upon them.

My other playlist is completely orchestral. There are no lyrics. I love musical scores, so I call it my “movie” playlist because it includes greats like Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman. Both styles are deep and they have the power to move your soul!

Before I go update my Spotify, what’s the biggest thing yoga has taught you?

The fear of falling is often greater than just falling. Your anxiety over your fear is greater than simply facing your fear.

I might fall on my face, literally, when trying a tough arm balance pose. I have been bruised, cut and hurt when I try and push or force a pose. But I’ve also been hurt in basic poses because that’s how life works. Nothing is permanent, but everything is connected.

That has translated into life for me with my everyday actions; I don’t fear much anymore. Not because there aren’t problems or terrible things in the world, but because I know that if I face my fear and risk falling, at least I will find freedom. And freedom is worth any momentary pain, whether that’s dealing with a tough life decision or trying to find a new arm balance pose.

Namaste.


Stay current with Daina Lynn and her practice via her Instagram and website. And let us know any additional questions in the comments below!

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