• Limits? What Limits?

    Originally published for Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex on August 29, 2013

    I recently completed my first Olympic distance triathlon. It has given me a lot to reflect upon, mostly centered around the question “why do we do these things?”

    While I don’t have all of the answers to that, what I do know is that I strongly recommend that everyone experiences a challenging race at least once in their adult life. After all, there’s an athlete in all of us … some of us just don’t know it yet!

    A “race” vs. a “challenging race”

    We need to begin by defining a race as any organized competition that covers a set distance. But simply completing a race isn’t necessarily enough of a challenge. Some highs and lows can only be experienced with a challenging race. This is different for all of us; that challenging race can be anything from a one-mile walk to an ultra marathon.

    The challenge can come in many forms – the chosen sport(s), the distance, and/or performance goals (i.e. completion time). Make sure the goal is also attainable. In my triathlon, a challenging yet attainable goal for some participants was to finish. For others, myself included, it was to finish under a certain time. Clarifying your goals can sometimes be difficult, and this is one of the most overlooked skills a person trainer can bring to your planning. Make sure you set yourself up for success.

    How racing is different than other achievements

    My next point is that in these challenging races (and in their preparation), you will experience such diverse and intense emotions that we may feel elsewhere but never all at once.

    There was something magical and beautiful about all that I experienced during those few hours of competition that I’d never known before. This is coming from someone who sets challenging goals with almost everything – with fitness, hobbies, work, and relationships. It’s just not the same.

    This wasn’t my first challenging race, or even my first challenging multi-sport race. But it was the first one that I poured my heart and soul into for six months. The race develops so much meaning over the training period that when it comes to fruition and completion, it’s a deep experience!

    Whatever race you pick will be inspired by your past, become part of your present, and play a role in shaping your future. That’s why I think it’s important that a challenging race is undertaken as an adult. Life is just different – the triumph and adversities alike are experienced from a much different perspective. The emotions as you hit the finish line are overwhelming and indescribable. They are linked to so much more life experience than we knew during youth competition.

    Invaluable experiences

    - Connection: One thing that I didn’t expect was for so many people to be part of the race that I completed alone. But they were. The amount of support and encouragement that I received was incredible (much of which came from people who have zero interest in triathlons). It really felt like a team event, which was the most pleasant surprise. Your “solo race” will bring you closer to your “life team.”

    - Adaptation: You know that even if you train perfectly, things will go wrong during the race. That’s part of the lure, yet can also be a little nerve-wracking. Just like in the rest of our lives, we have a choice to quit or to adapt. In a race, there isn’t even time to mull it over. You just go with the flow. That was the most liberating aspect … although I still kind of wish the water hadn’t been 90 degrees!

    - Resilience: When you set a challenging yet attainable goal, it forces you to make it a priority in a life that’s most likely quite full already. When life and training collide, it can be a struggle to stay on track, but you have months of learning how to maintain this delicate balance before you really put it to the test on race day. It’s not just physical training. It’s an opportunity to cultivate mental toughness. (As an aside, as someone who loves working out and loves working towards goals, there were still two days when I “quit.” Know that there will be hard days, and that’s okay. It’s part of the journey, and you will find the strength to overcome them.)

    - Learning: This was an endeavor filled with self-discovery too. Six months of my life were devoted to three hours of competition, but during all of those hours of training, you create a great opportunity to learn more about your self.

    - “Accidental fitness”: The race was my motivator in all workouts for those six months. That makes racing a great strategy for anyone who has a hard time staying in a routine or staying motivated. You don’t feel like you’re working on fitness; you feel like you’re moving closer to achieving your goal.

    Ideas

    Be sure to give it some thought before selecting a race and a goal. Bounce your ideas off of a trainer. Set up a training plan – my philosophy is that if you’re putting the time in to train, get the most out of it through structure. If you already race, make sure your goals are challenging. You don’t have to give up fun or inspirational races either. Every race teaches you something.

    In closing

    I would like to share a story about two of our SilverSneakers members. This couple participated in a 5K on a whim. Without any training, they had a very hard time finishing. But they did! That experience inspired them to join Body Zone and train on the track for their next 5K. They recently completed one in 45 minutes! In a matter of months, “challenging yet attainable” went from simply finishing to sub-15 minute miles! Their lives, like mine, have been changed by racing. I hope you too will know the same joys

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  • The Importance of Balance

    Originally published for Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex on August 20, 2013

    Balance plummets with age, right? Try telling that to our 70- and 80-year-old members who are busy doing single-leg squats!

    Explaining how this is possible begins with a little bit of simple science. Improving balance requires better neuromuscular communication; we often think of balance as a muscular activity, but remember that everything the muscles do starts with a signal from the brain. The next piece of this puzzle is the core. Our core is not just our abs; it’s a group of 36 muscles in the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (a.k.a. the muscles throughout the stomach, back, and hips). In order to maintain balance, our brain sends out the message to our muscles, and if our body is going to respond properly, it needs a strong core to receive that message and act as our anchor. This is what we need to retrain.

    Try standing on a single leg right now (point your toes straight forward and keep your chest “proud”). If you feel your ankle wobbling, you are trying to use your leg to balance, when our focus should be on the core. Now try again, contracting (tightening up) your glutes and abs (draw in and brace your stomach as if you were about to receive a blow). This should feel more stable and is the point where your training should start. By starting slowly and following a structured, progressive plan, you too could one day be 80+ years old and doing those single leg squats with perfect form and complete stabilization. It is impressive and fun to watch, but it isn’t a miracle; it’s simply being committed to effective training.

    Improved balance can easily create a higher quality of life: decreasing your risk of injury, improving your joint health, and allowing you to more safely participate in and enjoy your favorite hobbies. Now is the time to take simple steps to ensure that you enjoy your life fully, no matter what age you are at.

    Don’t let age create a limitation that may just exist in your mind but does not reflect your physical capacity. The human body is amazing. A little knowledge goes a long way in restoring its natural abilities. If you are trying to figure out a safe way to get started on a balance program, consider attending one of our Older Adult Group Exercise Classes, which offer many options and are led by an incredibly knowledgeable and experienced team of instructors. No matter what path you take, make sure you start slowly and create a solid foundation that you can safely build upon (and that you have the okay from your doctor).

    One final point on balance training is that everyone will progress at a different rate. Balance is a dynamic process – you are either getting better at it or you are getting worse. So even maintaining your current ability level and preventing a decline is a victory. Take time to celebrate every step forward. Whether it’s a big step or a small one, you invested in your health and fitness, and it paid off. That’s always something worth celebrating!

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  • Maintaining Structure in the Summer

    Originally published for Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex on JULY 1, 2013

    During the summer months our social calendars fill up quickly, and we have to juggle seasonal responsibilities as well, like gardening and yard work. It’s also a great time to work on our fitness outdoors. But when all of this collides, it often means decreased visits to your fitness club. The irony is that it’s one of the most important times to maintain structure. And here’s why:

    All walking is not created equal. With warmer weather, we are drawn to walking or running outdoors. But simply walking is not enough. If you are monitoring your heart rate and having a structured walk, then you will improve your cardiovascular efficiency. If, on the other hand, you’re taking a leisurely stroll (even if it’s several miles), this isn’t interchangeable with a group exercise class, which is specifically designed to cover all aspects of fitness, including heart health.

    You deserve to finish strong. There’s a big difference between feeling great after a day packed with activities and crawling home in a state of exhaustion, only to ache for days. Let’s say you take a day trip that requires a lot of walking. If you tire easily, you increase the risk of injury and are looking at several “recovery days.” If, on the other hand, you devote a few hours a week to structured fitness, you should have the strength, balance, and aerobic capacity to finish the day with sustained vigor.

    Those pesky chores require some muscle! Whether it’s mowing the lawn, gardening, doing home renovations, or any of the other million jobs we undertake, think about how much strength and stamina they require. Where’s the best place to maintain those? In your fitness club, of course! Remember that fitness is like a moving target; you don’t want to work so hard building it up in the pre-summer months and then stop and move backwards when you need it the most. Keep the ball rolling instead. When you achieve total body fitness, you’re in the best state to tackle physically demanding jobs.

    The solution? It’s totally okay to modify your workout schedule during the summer, but make sure you continue working on the most important components. Start to look for the connection between your activities of daily living and the exercises you do. That will help keep you motivated and focused!

    If you are interested in creating a structured workout plan, drop into a Group X class or meet with a personal trainer. We take the guesswork out, helping you to maximize the results from your workout and enjoy your life to the fullest!

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  • Holiday Health Tips

    The holiday season is underway, which means we are all trying to fit more into our schedules than there is time for, but there are simple ways to make sure your health doesn’t suffer the consequences. As we approach the New Year, ensure that you enter it feeling well. That will make your resolutions so much easier to achieve!

    1. “Make” time, don’t “find” time.

    Your health and well-being require time and attention. If we wait until time magically appears, they will waver. We need to commit to invest time in our health, no matter the season or circumstance. Make it a priority now and see that commitment through!

    2. Schedule fixed times to exercise.

    In addition to all of the physical benefits, exercise is a great way to combat stress and even depression. So if you don’t have time to get a workout in every day, that’s okay, but before the week begins, set your times to exercise. Think of these time slots the way you think of other appointments; you wouldn’t miss an appointment with your dentist or mechanic, so don’t miss the appointments with your health!

    3. Schedule time to relax.

    Take at least five minutes a day to focus on YOU. You don’t need a day at the spa to release tension and feel at ease. Find something that works for you to provide a much-needed break from holiday madness. I love to do my favorite qigong exercise for just a few minutes. On the busiest days, I will simply visualize doing it. It’s amazing how much more we can get accomplished when we break the “overdrive” cycle. If you have a very active mind, give it a job: every day, express gratitude for the many things in your life that you appreciate.

    4. Eat in moderation.

    The holidays are the hardest time to maintain a healthy diet. The typical response is to overindulge and then beat ourselves up for it. Try a different approach this year: allow yourself the pleasure of some unhealthy foods, but make sure you think it through ahead of time. Have a plan, such as a healthy breakfast and lunch, and an enjoyable dinner. Enjoyable doesn’t have to mean many bad choices. Fill your stomach with healthy foods, and then you can feel satisfied with small tastes of the unhealthy ones. In other words, don’t start with dessert!

    5. BREATHE!

    Breathing is the most important technique in maintaining calm and wellness. If you aren’t familiar with abdominal breathing, it’s worth a few minutes of research. When we breathe through the stomach, we break the pattern of dysfunctional breathing, which fuels stress. Get in the habit of taking 5 conscious breaths every time it comes to mind (feeling your stomach rise as you inhale and relax as you exhale). The option with the greatest benefits is the one that can be done anywhere, anytime, without interrupting our lives, but instead, enriching them.

    I hope these simple, easy-to-incorporate tips will help you to create fulfilling and healthy holidays. Just remember that your health is always worth your time, and the healthier you are, the more abundantly you can give to loved ones during this special season.

    Happy holidays!

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  • Lionville Holistic Health Center Interview

    I was recently interviewed by the wonderful Gina Marks of Lionville Holistic Health Center prior to the first of many seminars I will be leading there. The interview is published on their blog, and the same text follows.

    (LHHC) We asked Ashley a few questions about herself by way of introduction. Enjoy!

    LHHC: How long have you been involved in your particular field? What drew you to get involved with this?

    Ashley: I became involved in the natural health field 8 years ago. Suffering from several chronic diseases, I sought the counsel of a homeopath. When my health was amazingly restored, my life path shifted. I first studied homeopathy and then branched into qigong, basic diet, and personal training/group exercise. Over time I expanded my business to provide comprehensive wellness services, offering education from a holistic perspective, encompassing mind, body, and spirit.

    LHHC: Are there any life experiences that continue to influence your work with people?

    Ashley: Disease can be a great motivator! My business was not only born out of that, but my background allows me to truly relate to suffering in others because I’ve experienced it myself. That was, and continues to be, the driving force of my quest for sustained wellness. Currently, as my qigong studies deepen, so does my ability to instruct classes. And this year, I’ve gotten very involved in sustainable living; this has carried over with my clients, as we now discuss not only how to be responsible for your own wellness, but also that of our environment.

    LHHC:What kinds of people seek out your services?

    Ashley: I’m very happy that there isn’t an easy way to answer this question! The only common thread in my client base is that it’s made up of people seeking wellness. My personal beliefs are centered around respect and acceptance so I love working with individuals with such varied backgrounds. I’m always learning new and exciting things.

    LHHC: What do you find most rewarding?

    Ashley: That is absolutely hearing joy in my clients’ voices. There is a pride and satisfaction that comes from knowing that you made your health a priority and reaped the benefits of that investment. It is so rewarding to know that I’ve played a role in this process for others.

    LHHC: What do you like for people to come away with after your sessions?

    Ashley: I really like people to believe (and know from experience) that limitations – mental, emotional, physical – are self-created. There is almost always a solution. And we all have a lot of power in finding that solution and employing it. Life isn’t a struggle. It may not always be easy, but it’s a gift, and it can be really, really fun if you let it be. Another big take-home message for me is that wellness isn’t difficult; it may require making some lifestyle changes, but it never takes away from your life. Also, I hope that my clients know that this is so much more than a business to me; I genuinely care about each and every one of them.

    LHHC: What inspires you both personally and professionally?

    Ashley: I am inspired by change and growth. When one person raises their general level of health, it affects everyone around them: friends, family, pets, co-workers. Health is radiant. People want to be surrounded by that kind of energy. The more I learn and grow, the better able I am to spark that change in others. Then our suffering is transformed to health and wonderful life lessons! That applies in my personal life too. I want to be the best and healthiest person I can not only for myself but for the people I love too.

    LHHC: What do you do for fun and recharging?

    Ashley: I love reading and studying new things. I’m almost always enrolled in one program or another. My favorite hobbies are mostly outdoors: running, swimming, kayaking, hiking. I love spending time with animals, especially my two cats. I just started taking riding lessons so this should be quite an adventure. I do a lot of traveling and exploring. But my favorite pastime usually comes as a surprise – watching football, hands-down.

    LHHC: What's your big vision?

    Ashley: I see so many people suffering and not knowing that other options exist. My big vision is focused on education that fosters independence and informed decision-making. With different tools, wellness abounds. I really hope to see the day when the “majority” are well. When it’s the norm to have an individual wellness plan. When the commonplace is optimism and joy and health. I am so grateful that I found a path where I can help this happen one person, one family, or one group at a time. I have the best job in the world!

    Thank you, Ashley! And we are looking forward to many more of your offerings at the LHHC in the future!

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  • Ashley's Qigong Featured in the Reading Eagle

    The Reading Eagle recently published a piece on the wonderful exercise program at the Heritage of Green Hills, a retirement community in Reading, PA. My fabulous class, to whom I provide weekly instruction, was photographed for the article. To read the full story, please click here.

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  • Homeopathy and Community Supported Agriculture: Like Peas in a Pod (published by Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative)

    As a CSA member, you know how important the quality of the food we put in our bodies is. In addition to our diet, there are many other opportunities to make better choices for our health. One route that many health-minded people explore is homeopathy. Homeopathy has great potential benefits for fellow CSA members and farmers alike. One of these benefits is the opportunity to create a more sustainable lifestyle. Before we address that aspect, it is important to first understand what homeopathy is, and what it is not. Many people use the term homeopathic interchangeably with herbal. It is not herbal medicine, although many of the remedies come from herbs; and, unlike conventional medicine, it does not work through suppression.

    Background:

    Homeopathy applies the opposite philosophy as conventional medicine, which is technically called allopathy. Most allopathic drugs are designed to suppress (or mask) symptoms of disease – i.e. antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, etc. Homeopathy, on the other hand, works through the “like”. The remedies are matched by finding a substance in nature that could cause similar problems to the ones you are experiencing. A great example is Allium cepa. This comes from the onion. We all know what happens when you cut an onion: running, watery eyes with burning. Allium cepa is most commonly used during allergy season, when we experience the same exact problems.

    The next important point comes back to why homeopathy is not herbal medicine. In fact, it cannot be classified as medicine at all. Homeopathic products are called “remedies” because they are energy-based. Therefore, they don’t work like medicines do. Returning to the allergy example, if you take an antihistamine, it is the physical matter in it that will suppress your symptoms. If you take two tablets instead of one, it might bring more relief because it’s a larger dose. With homeopathy, you could take one pellet or ten without seeing an appreciable difference. Either the remedy will bring relief or it won’t. With practice, you become more skilled at selecting remedies and potencies (strengths).

    One of the best strengths of homeopathy is that it can be used safely in conjunction with any form of medicine. This is not always true with herbs, which can have potentially dangerous interactions with medication. I love that you don’t need to choose between homeopathy and conventional medicine. Everyone can decide how much or how little of both you want to incorporate into your wellness plan.

    Applications for Individuals and Farmers:

    The potential benefits of homeopathy are very far-reaching, ranging from emergency to acute to chronic problems. A little bit of education goes a long way for ourselves, our families, and our animals (large and small). If you’re interested in research being conducted, please visit the following site - http://www.extraordinarymedicine.org/2011/01/14/extraordinary-evidence-homeopathys-best-research/.

    In addition to personal wellness, homeopathy has a very unique application in organic agriculture in that it can promote health while adhering to the USDA standards. Just as people and pets can benefit from homeopathic remedies, so can livestock and even crops. Following is a link to a study that was done on bovine mastitis. With antibiotics not being a viable option, homeopathy proves itself to certainly be worth exploring, especially for organic farms - http://www.hawl.co.uk/fileadmin/HAWL/user_upload/articles/comparativeefficacyindiastudy.pdf.

    A shared goal of many of us as CSA members is creating a sustainable life. We are always looking to integrate more sustainable components, and homeopathy certainly fits this bill. There is negligible waste in producing a remedy, and the remedies are replicated again and again by copying the existing pellets so the environmental cost of manufacture is also extremely low. Compare this to pharmaceuticals! Another plus is that there are no by-products of remedies in urine to contaminate our water source. I see it as a plus all around.

    If any of our members or farmers are interested in more information on homeopathy, please feel free to visit my website http://www.pagodawellness.com or give me a call (484)366-1670. Together we can create a more sustainable future!

    Ashley

    To view the article on LFCC's blog, please follow this link: http://lffcsa.wordpress.com/

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Reading Eagle article on Body Zone's
1,000 lb. Challenge, to which Ashley
contributed: click here

ABC 27 interview and article on Chia, to which Ashley contributed: http://www.abc27.com/story/17146441/chia-seeds-no-joke-to-the-health-minded

WITF Wednesdays article on Chia, to which Ashley contributed: click here

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