How to Make Tangible Goals Out of the Intangible

Setting goals is hard, especially when it comes to fitness.  Unless you are a competitive athlete trying to make weight, break a record or win in your sport, it can feel like making something materialize from thin air.

One of my clients is working through this right now.  She knows she wants to feel and see changes in her self.  But what exactly does she want to see and feel? A certain number when she stands on a scale?  The feel of a bit more room in her jeans?  The sense of strength of picking up a weight she never thought she could?

Thinking it might help, I sent her the Spitfire goal worksheet.  After working with it a bit, she wrote a post on her blog about it.  From reading her blog post, I realized that I have left something off the worksheet or just left it vague.  What makes us want to have or do something?

In striving for an Olympic gold medal, an athlete may seek to push the boundaries of human potential, love from family, fame and fortune maybe even enlightenment.  Fear can also move us though it is about moving away from something than towards something.  I am sure there are Olympic athletes that train and compete to avoid shame, guilt and pain.

I believe Love is the ultimate motivator. Without getting too woo woo, I’ll just say that we humans accomplish tremendous things for the Love of a person or Love of the Divine.  You might run a little faster when you know the person you have a crush on is watching.  You might work extra hard to drop two clothing sizes for your wedding.  You might choose to practice yoga everyday for a month to deepen your connection with the Divine.

So whose Love is your goal for?  What do you want to do or have for them? Do you want more strength to protect your kids?  Do you want to lose weight for your honey or potential honey?  Do you want to learn to change your nutrition for the health of your family?  Do you want to run a 5k to feel a sense of accomplishment and self-Love?

Exploring why you want to do or have something makes creating tangible goals out of nothing much easier. When I was a kid, I worked on my jump shot in basketball every afternoon, because I wanted to be a Harlem Globetrotter and loved by fans.  I practiced my camel turn on roller skates, because I wanted a handsome prince to see me perform in an ice-skating show and fall madly in love with me (I blame Disney for that one.).  I concentrated on trying to levitate objects with my mind to gain Jedi powers and experience the flow of the Force in, through and around me.  I was crystal clear what I wanted, why and for whom.

Let Love lead you to your goal.

Lotus in Koi Pond

Certified Yoga Teacher In the House

Lotus in Koi PondYes, I completed my yoga teacher training with Gopi Kinnicutt this past weekend. What a journey these last six months have been!  It is difficult to articulate the changes I have experienced, except to say I am so much more awareness of my patterns now.

I know my edge now.  Instead of going to it, looking over, thinking, “Holy S**t! That’s scary.” and backing away, I linger to notice the landscape.  I still feel the pain and the fear but past that I see the wonder and possibilities.

I have made friends with poses that I have struggled with since I was a teenager.  Through understanding the breath and function of poses, I found a deeper place past the physical practice of asana.  I see that it’s not about the poses.  Yes, the poses serve a purpose.  They serve to link us with something greater within ourselves and to each other.

Gopi insists that we students understand that humility, tolerance, respect and compassion are the qualities we are responsible for cultivating as yogis and yoga teachers. We are but channels passing along what we have received from our teachers.  In this day of copyrights and marketing, it is a challenge to remember that.  Though, at some point, I may have to package the knowledge I wish to share and give it a name, I am just here to it along.

To experience some of what I have learned, come play:

Flow Yoga Level 1
Sport & Health Tenley
4000 Wisconsin Ave NW
Members: Free
Non-members: $20 all-day guest pass


The Lotus of Yoga

To say this past weekend’s yoga teacher training changed my life is an exaggeration and yet it’s true.  Just as moving a table in the living room can change the whole decor, I experienced small changes in my body, emotions and thought that are rippling through my whole self.

The way I approach my yoga mat is new.  The way I dance is new.  The way I walk is new.  The way I practice Combattitude is new.

Even deeper than that, I feel different in the world.  I feel grounded and strong; at peace and brave; alert and relaxed; and connected and independent.

So what magic occurred that brought on such change?

Diving deep and surrendering into my yoga practice from the foundation of my yoga and dance practices.

Just like a deep massage is painful, our practice went deep into painful area of my body but relieved the tension and stagnation that had been chronic.  Our first practice opened and released the ribs, diaphragm and chest.  These areas are associated with the 3rd chakra (will) and 4th chakra (heart).

Through my dance work, I know how to use images to affect the body.  Gopi suggested to the class that we imagine a lotus blossoming behind the heart as we were in an intense backbend.  She assisted me in getting deeper into the backbend.  As I placed the lotus image behind my heart and she moved me deeper,  I felt an electric charge right in that spot behind my heart that dispersed through the rest of my body like a firework blossoming.  It’s a feeling I have felt before in acupuncture so I knew that an energetic channel had been opened.

Our second practice dove into opening the hips in all directions to prepare for lotus.  Resistance was strong in me during that practice.  I had trouble finding the breath.  The sensations in my hips were powerful.  As we held pigeon, a pose I usually enjoy, my mind taunted me with reasons I felt pain and why I should get out of the pose.  After a while, my whole body started to quake.  Tears came.  I did not give into Resistance’s badgering.

As it turns out, everyone had a similar experience.  Later, you could see that it had moved something in each of us.  Some felt impatient and a bit angry.  Others felt exhausted.  I felt incredibly calm and unperturbed.  I realized that I became a little more tolerate of discomfort and uncertainty that day.

I still feel this after two days.  Creativity has been flowing.  I suddenly feel ready to get back to performing.  That is pleasant surprise.

To be less than half way through this yoga teacher training and experience this kind of change excites the imagination of what’s to come.

Have you had a similar experience with yoga?  Or anything?  Please share in the comments below.

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Mentors, Teachers and Crushes, Part II

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. ~Kahlil Gibran

Where did you get that exercise from, Jen?  Did you make it up?

How do you know all this?

I get these question from my clients quite a bit.  Sometimes, I do make movements up, though I’m sure someone else thought of it long before I did.  Other times, I can point to where the exercise came from.  Usually, it came from or was inspired by one of mentors or someone whose work I admire.  Who are these people?

I’ll tell you a bit about the people who have profoundly influenced me in creating Spitfire Fitness Arts in this series of posts called Mentors, Teachers and Crushes.

  • Mentors– People that I trained under for many years and shaped who I am.
  • Teachers– I have taken courses from, learned from their work on me.
  • Crushes– I never met them, but their work heavily influenced or inspired my own work.

Part II-Teachers

Colette Yglesias Silver: Through theatrical movement classes at Studio Theatre, Collette taught me about posture and alignment in movement, not just sitting or standing upright. She also taught me about the qualities of movement.

Dr. Sean Woods: My chiropractor for 8 years, Dr. Sean helped me get to know each vertebra of my spine and how to perceive when they are out of alignment. This helps me understand clients’ injuries and health issues caused by spinal problems.

Paul Chek: When I first started as a trainer, I struggled with training program design. I took Paul Chek’s course on the subject and it was never a question again. I first came across the idea of primal movement patterns from Paul Chek. Probably, the most significant, albeit gross, understanding I gained from him is the relationship of intestine health to core engagement and development.  If you’re full of crap, your core muscles cannot move.

Polina Gregory: Co-Founder of Elements of Motion Resistance Training Studio, Polina Gregory is a Muscle Activation Technique Master Specialist and personal trainer. Polina taught me that muscle imbalances aren’t always about tightness or strength. Often it is about the communication between the muscle and the nervous system.  Polina’s passion to help her clients feel better reminds me of the importance of what fitness professionals have to give.

Chuck Wolf: The gold nugget that I got from Chuck Wolf is that the feet are important.  The feet are important but we take them for granted.  Through a series of exercises during a seminar, Mr. Wolf demonstrated that you can change what is going on in the knee, hip or anywhere else in the body by changing how we stand on our feet.  In essence, he reminded us that every part of the body is in relationship to every other part of the body.  With this knowledge, I could help a client figure out that her knee pain was actually a symptom of hip problems.

Megan Davis: I have taken a few workshops in yoga therapy from Megan Davis. She has a vast knowledge of anatomy and alignment in posture.  She gave me an even deeper understanding of the importance of healthy, stable feet.  Megan also teaches undergraduate philosophy and religion.

Shiva Rea: Shiva Rea is a rockstar in the yoga community.  I have taken a couple of her workshops and practiced some of her yoga videos.  I think I really like her because she looks like one of my favorite cousins and she surfs, but she certainly deserves her rockstar status. She has a deep understanding of yoga and our relationship to nature and the Universe.  I particularly appreciate the ebb and flow of her practice.

Pete Egoscue: Reading an article by Egoscue gave me a tool to give to clients to discover the source of their pain by tapping into their body’s innate wisdom.

Clifton Harski: I took a one-day MovNat workshop with Clifton in Spring 2011.  He has such a great sense of humor and fluid way of teaching that we were all a little sad that the day was over.  Didn’t matter that we were tired, wet and dirty from 7 hours of playing in woods and on the playground.  From Clifton, I got a good sense of the MovNat principles laid down by Founder, Erwan Le Corre, as well as a slew of fun things to do in the woods.

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Go Upside Down for a New Perspective

Inversions, Climbing and Hanging Around

[Keating stands on his desk]
John Keating: Why do I stand up here? Anybody?
Dalton: To feel taller!
John Keating: No!
[Dings a bell with his foot]
John Keating: Thank you for playing Mr. Dalton. I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

Dead Poet’s Society, 1989

Having trouble thinking of new ideas?  Is there a problem you can’t quite solve?  Are you stuck in a rut?

Maybe you just need to change how you see the world by changing where you see it from.  Give one of these ideas a try:

  • Take a yoga class and practice headstands, handstands and inversions.
  • Try out the climbing gym or an outdoor rock climbing class.
  • Climb a tree.
  • Play on the monkey bars at the playground.
  • Hang from your knees on the Smith Machine at the gym.
  • Do some crunches on the inversion bench.
  • Find an AcroYoga or AntiGravity Yoga class.
  • Get a TRX Suspension Trainer.
  • Talk your honey into testing out those new positions on that app you downloaded on your Android or iPhone.
  • Swing on that pole.
  • Dust off those gravity boots in the attic, closet, under the bed.
  • Fly on a trapeze.

Getting more blood to your brain could help too.

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Q&A: Muscle Soreness Affects My Training

The Question

Thank you to Lisa for sharing her question about delayed onset muscle soreness on FaceBook.  She says, “I’d love to know more about mastering the blend of resistance training and yoga – I can’t seem to get into a weekly rhythm that avoids the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) of one affecting the practice of the other…”


Audio version: Muscle Soreness Affects My Training

DOMS is that soreness you may feel the day or two after training.  It can feel like a tenderness or burning sensation when you move or general stiffness.

What causes DOMS is a question up for debate.  Because of the burning sensation, there is an argument that is comes from lactic acid build up though there is little evidence to prove that.  Lactic acid is a product of prolonged muscle activity.  Mostly, it is believed that soreness comes from micro tears in muscle and connective tissue fibers.

If the latter is the case, then the body needs to repair the damage to the tissues.  There are things you can do to help the body heal faster and more efficiently.

Hydration and Nutrition

Be sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day and both during and after your practice.  Your body is made mostly of water.  If you are not staying properly hydrated muscle and connective tissue fibers become less pliable and tear easier.

Along with the water, you want to be sure you are getting enough electrolytes.  Electrolytes are minerals that regulate the flow of fluids around and within cells.  Without proper electrolyte balance, cells can become dehydrated or even swollen with fluid.  A simple and inexpensive way to get electrolytes without sugary, artificial sports drinks is to squeeze some lime juice and sprinkle of a bit of sea salt to your water.

Are you eating enough protein?  We, women, love carbs and sweets, but we often forget to get enough protein.  Protein is vital to repair and rebuild tissue in the body.

Something else to think about is having an anti-inflammatory diet. Cut back on grains, dairy, sugar, and coffee, which tend to be acidic, and add more alkaline foods.  Watery fruits and veggies like melons and cucumbers are more alkaline.  Also, add herbs and spices like ginger, garlic and mint.  Their anti-inflammatory properties help speed healing in the affected muscles.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Before you jump full force into your workout or practice, give your body time to warm up, especially if you are already sore. A good yoga instructor should ease you into your practice, but you may need a little extra time to do some gentle movement before class.

The cool down is most often ignored.  I am guilty of this after weight training.  After my last rep, I head straight for the locker room.  What I need to do is take the time to cool down and let the body know that it’s done.

There is argument about whether the human body really needs to warm up and cool down.  Back when we actually moved our bodies most of the day, we probably did not but given our sedentary culture, our bodies may need to ease into training.


Your body is still active when we sleep.  That is when it goes into repair mode.  You need sleep so your body can heal those micro tears that are causing soreness.

Granted it is challenging to get enough sleep these days.  If you cannot get 7-9 hours, try to get quality sleep.  Prepare the body and mind to wind down by keeping the lights low in the evening and turning off computers and televisions an hour or two before bed. Take a bath or shower.  Read a good book.  This will help you settle down and sleep better.  Eating 3 or more hours before bed can help you stay asleep throughout the night.  Darken your room as much as possible, including covering up digital clocks.  Reducing noise can improve your sleep as well.

Home Remedies

Your post-workout shower is a great hydrotherapy treatment for muscle soreness. I’ll a huge fan of hydrotherapy so I would go to someplace like Spa World in Chantilly, VA or Kabuki Springs in San Francisco after every training or practice, if I could. Turn on the water as hot as you can tolerate it for one minute to get circulation moving toward the skin, then turn on the water as cold as you can tolerate it for one minute to get your circulation moving toward your inner organs.   Go back and forth a few times to get the circulation pumping toxins out and healthy fluids into the cells.

Another combination that works well for me is to take a long hot bath then get into a cold shower.  The circulation moving feels like something prickling your skin but I find it relaxing and healing.  These hot/cold treatments are great sleep aids too.  Adding Epson salts to your bath water is very soothing.

When I know a client is going to feel sore after one of our workouts, I usually advise them to use Arnica Montana. Arnica is a homeopathic remedy that you can use topically as a cream or gel or, if you think your whole body will be sore, you can use the oral remedy.  Arnica relieves inflammation and speeds the healing of bruises.

When I was dancing with Naoko Maeshiba, Tiger Balm was my savior.  I would have very little time to warm up after an hour and a half driving commute before jumping into three-hour dance rehearsals.  Tiger Balm’s ginger-cinnamon warmth saved me from who knows what kind of injuries from tightness and stiffness. It smells great too.

Know Your Rhythm

DOMS usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise and lasts up to 72 hours.  Do you feel sore the day after a workout or two days afterward?  Awareness of when you usually feel it can help you schedule your workouts.

Say for example, you went gung ho in hot yoga class and you know that two days from now getting up from your desk will be monumental, but you plan to have your heavy weight-training day.  You may want to rethink that.  Have a light weight day or go for an easy walk.  If you have had a heavy weight-training day, you might want to opt for a restorative or gentle yoga class for the next workout.  If you are super sore, you may want to schedule a massage.

Don’t just take my word on these suggestions.   Experiment with any of these methods and let me know in the comments below which work for you.

If you have your own methods for overcoming muscle soreness, please share them in the comments as well.

With Love,


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The Aha Moment

Have you given up on your training practice because it seems too hard?

Is there something you have been practicing for a long time but progress seems illusive?

Get back to it.  Keep at it.  Find support from a friend, teacher or coach.  Surprise awaits you.

The culmination of practice often brings results when you least expect.

I see this all the time with clients. After I show them a new exercise, I see the battle within their minds. They say, “You make that look so easy, but I’ll never get there.”

My reply is always, “I’ve been practicing this for a long time.”

We’re Building Something Here

When a client struggles with a new exercise, I break it down into steps or modify it. We break it down to build it back up with a strong foundation. The body often gains understanding of how to do a movement while the mind stays occupied with judgment and comparison. I believe that is why the Aha Moment seems to come out of nowhere.

In Combattitude, the Aha Moment comes up all the time. We practice and break down a movement, practice and break down, practice and break down. The mind quiets down because it can’t keep up. When we stop thinking and just move, the Aha Moment smacks us like a Dharma stick. We’ve got it and we’ll never lose it.

At age 17, I taught myself to do headstand by following the Sivananda Companion to Yoga. It was a lesson in patience. Without the book’s guidance, I would have practiced headstand throwing my legs up in the air and hoping they would just find a way to stay in the air.

The book specifically broke down the steps to getting into headstand with the instruction to practice each step for a period time before adding the next. It was to teach the body to build a strong foundation then align and stabilize the spine on top of that foundation.

It took months but the “Aha! I got it!” moment, when I actually held a headstand for over a minute, did come. It never left me. Those headstand lessons became so ingrained in my muscle memory that I can get into headstand as easily as I can get out of bed.

Break down what you are trying to accomplish into smaller steps or phases.  Repeat them until they become second nature.  Then put the pieces back together.

Same Lesson Years Later

I have spent time this summer building my handstand and forearm stand practice, just as I did my headstand those years ago. Coincidentally, my six-year-old nephew recruited me last night into helping him do handstands and headstands.

After each “failed” attempt at standing on his hands or head by throwing his legs in the air, he proclaimed, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” and angrily threw his arms down by his side or across his chest. Like his aunt, he wants to be brilliant the first time he tries anything.

Once the emotional storm blew over, I showed him the steps I learned to build the headstand.  I showed how to use the wall for handstand.  In playfully demonstrating a forearm stand, I found my legs hovering overhead without the support of the wall. Aha! I had never done that before and I’ve practiced quite a bit in the last year. What a pleasant surprise!  I got it because my mind had let go of expectations.  I was just goofing around.  Without the pressure of getting it right, my body was free to do what it had learned.

My nephew is well on his way to his Aha Moment with his headstand. The handstand is not far behind. In my opinion, he is quite a yogi in the making. I look forward to when his stance changes from arms down in defeat to arms up in victory.

If you have been working really hard to get something.  Put it away for a while.  Let it steep.  When you come back to it, just play.  You might surprise yourself.

  • What do you wish you could do but think is out of reach?
  • What are you working on but can’t quite get?
  • What do you wish you had help understanding how to do?

Leave a comment and let’s see what we can accomplish together.

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