Conquering My Fears at Paddle-Board Yoga

“What time is yoga class?” I asked the nice instructor at the Adventure Center at the Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where I was visiting for my niece’s wedding.

“It’s at 7 a.m.,” said Katie.

“Ooh, that’s very early. A little too early for vacation,” I replied.

“You should try SUP Yoga VI,” said Katie. “It’s so much fun. I teach it at 9 a.m. at the cove beach.”

“What is SUP Yoga?” I asked.

“SUP Yoga stands for stand-up paddle-board yoga,” said Katie. “We paddle out on the water to nine feet and then we do yoga on our boards. You just need to know how to swim.”

Nine feet deep. Uh-oh. Oh no. Asanas on a paddle board on the water. I’m not the greatest swimmer. Uh-oh. Oh no. Should I? Would I? Could I do SUP yoga?

My body tensed as Katie put the sign-up sheet in front of me.

“I’ll go with you for moral support,” said my son D. (What a nice son. He doesn’t even practice yoga.)

“All right then,” I said. “I’m going to conquer my fears. Let’s do it.” (Go, Judi! Go, Judi!)

“You’re going to love it,” said Katie. “SUP yoga on the water is so relaxing.”

A New Level of Mind, Body and Spirit

The next morning I awoke early, put on my swimsuit (and lots of sunscreen) and headed down to the beach. Katie provided each of us a board with a paddle and guided us out onto the water. She showed us how to paddle forward and backward and turn our boards around. Then we were on our way.

Slowly, inch by inch, I got the hang of it. I knelt at first, too scared to stand. Once near the rope, we secured our boards, and Katie took us through a series of poses.

“Look forward when you stand up and stay centered near the handle,” said Katie.

I did exactly as I was told. A few fellow yogis who were midlife like me fell in the water. I actually forced myself in—one way to let go. (Go Judi! Go Judi!) The water was very salty. (Katie said that St. Thomas ocean water is salty like the Dead Sea. I had salt all over my body.)

As we went through the poses, my body began to relax. It was true what Katie said: SUP yoga gave me a “feeling of bliss and brought me to a new level of mind, body and spirit.” I was totally swept away.

By the time the 75 minutes were over, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I stood tall and paddled my way back to shore. Next to my niece’s nuptials, SUP yoga was the second best part of my trip. I highly recommend it for any practicing yogi.

More About SUP Yoga

I was envious of Katie and her SUP yoga lifestyle and wanted to learn more. I told Katie I was a blogger and studying to be a yoga instructor. She kindly answered all my questions.

Here’s the scoop:

Q: How is SUP yoga different from other styles of yoga?

Katie:Â SUP yoga brings elements of nature into your practice. It is nearly impossible to allow the mind to wander during SUP yoga. You are so heavily concentrated on the present moment that you truly connect with your breath. Without your breath, you will lose balance and fall in.

I have found that people learn to let go of fear in SUP yoga. We talk about this all the time when practicing on land, but frequently we find ourselves staying in our comfort zone. It took me years to try a crow press up into handstand. After a few weeks of playing around on the board, I have tried almost every pose I can think of, realizing that the water is under me as a safe place to fall. SUP yoga will tone your core, connect you to the present moment and provide a fun place to explore outside your comfort zone.

Q: How did you learn to teach SUP yoga?

 
Katie: I became a registered yoga teacher three years ago in Dallas, Texas. Following my certification, I traveled to a yoga festival in Colorado called Wanderlust. It was there that I took stand-up paddle-board yoga for the first time. The instructor, Rachel Brathen, is a social media sensation and renowned yogi. I was amazed at how unbelievable I felt after the practice. I started picking her brain about SUP yoga. She lived and started her SUP yoga business in Aruba. As far as she or anyone else knew, no one was doing it in the Virgin Islands.

I started researching St. Thomas. I found the perfect cove at the Marriott Frenchman’s Cove beach. After conducting extensive research, I registered for a SUP yoga teacher training in Houston, Texas. The class was a 25-hour continuing education course. Not only did it strengthen my practice, it changed my life.

Q: What are the benefits of SUP yoga?

 
Katie: Practicing yoga while learning to balance on a paddle board will keep your core engaged for the entire class. There is much less room for error when coming into a pose. If you lose focus or your breath, you fall. The board will let you know if you favor one side of the body more than the other. For example, if you are in down dog and have more weight on the left side of the body, your board will start to tilt. It will help you refine your form.

Being on the water during savasana (corpse pose) is the most relaxing feeling in the world. With the waves as your music and the sun providing heat, you find a new level of bliss. (I agree, Katie. It is the best-ever feeling. Ohm, ohm, ohm.)

Q: Any tips for yogis who are doing SUP yoga for the first time?

Katie:Â Let go of fear. The water is there to hold you, not hurt you! The sooner you embrace falling in, the more fun you will have!

Q: Any advice for midlife women who might want to try SUP yoga?

Katie:Â There is a place in yoga for everyone. The options and variations for poses are endless. Embrace your body and push your limits.

Are you ready to take the leap? According to Katie, SUP yoga is popping up all over the United States and internationally. In fact, I just read about classes that are available via Aqua Vida SUP Yoga in Philadelphia—not too far from my home. I might have to try it again.

As the team at Aqua Vida says, “If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.”

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Diabetes Educators Make a Difference

I am a 40-year-old Hispanic woman living in Sacramento, California, and I have diabetes. When I was diagnosed five years ago, I thought I was well-prepared to deal with the disease. Both my late mother and my brothers already had diabetes, and since I work in health care, I figured I knew everything there was to know.

But two years later, I saw no improvement. I started feeling frustrated, so I decided to talk to my doctor about it. That’s how I got referred to a diabetes educator.

And that’s when things started to change for the better.

Diabetes Education

I joined a small group where I participated in diabetes education classes regularly, which helped bring everything I knew about diabetes together. The program provided helpful tips and reminders, like healthy food substitutes and ideas for staying active. It also showed me how to put them into practice. Coming from a Hispanic home, I still wanted to enjoy all the traditional foods—just in a healthier way. My educators taught me how to do so.

I also took part in a diabetes education study, which was very rewarding. I used a tablet at home to record information such as testing times, sugar levels and meal sizes. I was able to share the data in real time with my diabetes educator, who helped identify changes that I needed to make in my daily activities, like when I should be testing and what I should have for dinner. I kept a journal for the 12-week study, and every week I saw improvement. To be able to visually see my progress was very rewarding and helped motivate me to keep moving forward.

And the most important part? It worked.

I lost 35 pounds, bringing my sugar levels down and making my diabetes more manageable. I have kept my focus on living with the changes I made for my health and still check my levels twice a week. I’m still working on my last 20 pounds I’d like to lose, but I know with continuous exercise and a balanced diet, I’m on the right track.

If I had to describe my experience with diabetes education, I would call it eye-opening. It was the little things I learned, such as that I should walk for 10 minutes after every meal, that helped me make progress.

One key to my success in fitness was purchasing a Fitbit. It tracks my daily steps and my overall activity. I aim to reach 10,000 steps per day. My coworkers, who also have Fitbits, are great at challenging one another and striving to keep healthy.

I am still working with a diabetes educator to this day. And like anyone, I have good weeks and weeks that challenge me. Having a diabetes educator keeps my goals present and achievable.

Helping Others

I recently also joined a patient advocacy and advisory committee with University of California–Davis, helping others manage their diabetes while I manage my own. It’s so rewarding to be able to take what I learned and bring it to others. I think it’s helpful that I can relate to them and tell them that I’ve been in their shoes.

For anyone out there considering diabetes education, I want you to know that it can really save your life. Coming from a family with a strong background of diabetes, I thought I knew enough for my own health. In fact, I did not. The education from the diabetes educators gave years to my life.

How to Tame a Hot Flash (No Hormones Required)

If I asked 1,000 women what the most troublesome and annoying symptoms of menopause were, the majority would no doubt answer hot flashes.

By no means a scientific survey, all I have to do is remember my own and look around me. Every time I see that familiar look (red face, beads of sweat, clenched teeth) and watch those familiar body movements (wildly fanning with whatever object is within reach, throwing windows open, stripping off layers of clothing), I silently commiserate.

To the three-quarters of North American women who suffer from menopausal hot flashes: I feel your pain and discomfort. We who suffer are desperate to find solutions, especially since the latest research finds that hot flashes can last 11 years—or more (sorry, ladies!).

As someone who hates the cold weather and is always freezing once the temperature outside gets below 60, being married to a man with the opposite type of thermostat has been a challenge. That is, until menopause hit. That’s when I finally moved over to his side: go ahead and throw the windows open even though it’s winter outside; keep the thermostat low. My winter sweaters got packed away, and I stocked up on short-sleeved T-shirts to get me through numerous long winters.

Understanding hot flashes is tough. Not even the experts can fully figure out what causes them or how to eliminate them. Diana Bitner, MD, recently named NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner of the Year by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), explains it this way:

“Hot flashes are complex, triggered by more than just low estrogen. To understand, it helps to go back to the physiology. In our brain, we have a thermostat, similar to the thermostat in your home, detecting when our body is too hot or too cold. The thermostat’s job is to get the body to heat up in response to cold (by shivering) or to cool off (hot flashes, sweating).”

Many women turn to hormones to cool their flashes, but what about those who can’t use hormones for medical reasons, or choose not to?

Fifty percent to 80 percent of women turn to nonhormonal therapies. There are plenty of products and techniques touted for taming hot flashes. But questions about their safety and effectiveness remain. The trouble is that many women experiment or continue to suffer because there is little out there telling them what actually does work.

A NAMS statement says that one survey showed that nearly half of all women feel confused about their options for managing menopause symptoms. Another survey showed that 75 percent don’t feel fully informed about herbal products.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know the real deal?

To answer that vexing question, NAMS convened a panel of experts to examine the evidence and reach some recommendations for the suffering masses. Those findings were recently published online in the journalMenopause.

The panel found solid evidence that a few therapies were indeed helpful.

Significantly effective:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy combining relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene and learning to take positive, healthy approaches to menopause challenges were found help “reduce women’s ratings of hot flash problems—although not their number.”

Also recommended: Clinical hypnosis

May be beneficial, but recommended with caution because evidence is not as strong:

Weight loss

Stress reduction

Soy derivative under study called S-equol

Stellate ganglion block, a type of nerve block

May be helpful, although may not offer as much relief as hormones:

Various nonhormonal prescription medications including:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These include paroxetine (the one FDA-approved nonhormonal therapy for hot flashes).

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine, gabapentinoids (gabapentin and pregabalin) and clonidine.

Do not work, but may offer other health benefits:

Yoga

Paced respiration

Acupuncture

Unlikely to help:

Over-the-counter and herbal therapies such as:

Black cohosh

Dong quai

Evening primrose

Flaxseed

Maca

Omega-3s

Pollen extract

Vitamins

Relaxation

Chiropractic intervention

Perhaps you’ve tried some of these and found success (or not). What works for one woman may not work for another.

“It is our job to recognize the best way to counsel a patient is to understand her unique situation and offer options,” says Dr. Bitner. “Each person has barriers that make one modality more likely to fit within her daily lifestyle based on habits, beliefs and health status.”

My opinion? Seek out all your options. Because menopause is complicated, some health care providers are hesitant to address its many variables and offer treatment. The data can be confusing and thorny.

Another reason to be informed and empowered to be your very best health advocate!

My Post 50 Yoga Journey: It’s About Mind, Body, and Spirit

Welcome to yoga training Methods & Techniques I,” said my instructor B as she addressed our first weekend class at Lourdes Institute of Wholistic Studies in Camden, NJ. “We come together as strangers, but we leave as a tight-knit community. These are your sisters.”

There are five women, or should I say five yoginis (female yoga practitioners are called yogini, male are yogi), in the YTT200 program this year. By May 2016, after 200 hours of training, we will be eligible for our first yoga teacher certificate from Yoga Alliance.

Discovering My True Self

I was excited and anxious to begin training. I started practicing yoga about seven years ago, after my husband passed away. It helped me heal my mind, body and spirit and work through my grief. It continues to provide an outlet for “letting go” and “slowing down,” which is an ongoing challenge for me since retiring from my fast-paced, full-time job.

“Explore your own creative expression as a yoga teacher, ” said B. “Don’t worry about anything. I’m looking at your growth during this training.”

Om, om, om, I breathed in and began to relax on my mat. This journey I am embarking on for the next nine months is sacred. Am I ready to discover more about my own true self? Am I prepared for what lies deep within?

Yes, yes, yes. It’s a bit scary delving deep, yet, at the same time, freeing. Plus, I’m eager to improve my own strength, flexibility and balance during my life after 50 and share all the benefits that yoga has to offer with others.

The Eightfold Path

B explained the “Eightfold Path” Of Ashtanga Yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, who lived and wrote a long, long time ago between what is thought to be 200 BC and 200 AD. The guidelines start at the base with yamas (restraints such as nonviolence and truthfulness) and niyamas (behaviors and observances such as contentment and cleanliness). The path moves up the hierarchy to asanas (postures), pranayama(controlled breathing), pratyahara (closed eyes to be with yourself), dharana (concentration), dhyana(meditation) and, finally, to samadhi (a blissful state of spiritual freedom).

“It is a roadmap to get to samadhi,” said B. “It can be a lifelong journey. There is always a deeper experience.”

Am I ready to walk this spiritual path? Yes, yes, yes. I have a strong desire to live a balanced life—mentally, physically and emotionally—during my second act.

Sequencing a Yoga Lesson

During our Saturday session, we learned how to create a lesson plan. “Follow the threefold sequencing approach,” said B. “First centering, next content and finally relaxation/meditation.”

Centering: I sat cross-legged with my body in alignment on a blanket on my mat. Centering can be done lying down too. “It’s about becoming more aware of your body and your breath,” said B. There was much to learn about the breath experience or, as a yogini says, pranayama. Our instructor M would cover more about breath on Sunday.

Our yoga instructor B taught us how to begin a class with centering.

“Ask students to set an intention and read a quote or piece of poetry or blessing for the beginning or end of practice,” said B. (My intention lately has been gratitude for all that I can do in each moment.)

Content: This is the main portion of a yoga class. As a first step, we learned warm-ups, including the joint-freeing series to massage all the joints in our body from head to toe. Then we studied and practiced the six movements of the spine—back bends, forward folds, side stretches to the right and left and twists on both sides.

B showed us ways to ensure that our students are safe during all of these poses, and we learned how to marry movement with breath. “Breathe steady,” said B. “Whenever you expand your chest, you inhale. Whenever you round your chest you exhale. When you are going up, you inhale and when you are going down you exhale.” (I hope my menopausal brain can remember all these steps. It’s a practice, Judy! It’s a practice, I reminded myself.)

Following warm-ups, come energizing poses, such as the warrior series and sun salutations. Then cool-down poses, like happy baby, legs up the wall and supported bridge. There will be many poses to learn in the coming months.

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Celebrate Women’s Health Month by Caring for Yourself

May is Women’s Health Month, so if you haven’t done anything to take care of yourself this month, then I ask you to take a moment to stop, breathe and be.

My yoga teacher N sometimes reminds us that “we are all human beings and that we should spend more time being instead of constantly doing.”

Now that I am retired from my full-time corporate job, I am learning to adjust to a more flexible schedule—however, I still often feel like I need to be doing rather than being. Maybe it’s because I spent 30-plus years doing—taking care of my kids, taking care of my spouse, taking care of my mom, taking care of work, taking care of everyone … everyone, everyone, everyone … but myself.

Sound familiar? Most boomer girls are great caregivers to others but are not great caregivers to themselves.

During the past six years, after losing my spouse, selling my house and emptying out my nest, I’ve tried to make an extra effort to take better care of myself. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

Now, as part of May Women’s Health Month, I’m going to share some of my tips with you.

Do Your Daily Exercise: Every morning I get on my stationary bicycle and pedal away. Now that I am not working, I pedal for 30 minutes. When I was working full-time, I used to pedal for 15 minutes each morning. It’s a great time to catch up on my pile of magazines. Throughout the week, I sprinkle in other forms of exercise like yoga, weight lifting and walking. (During the week, as a special treat to soothe my sore muscles, I get a massage because my friend D is a great masseuse or I take a warm bath with Epsom salts and fragrant lavender oil.)

Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables: I used to do public relations for V8 Vegetable Juice many years ago and ever since I always try to eat or drink my five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. A 100 percent fruit juice, smoothie or piece of fruit for breakfast, blueberries for lunch, salad and more vegetables for dinner. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I should also add my daily serving of dark chocolate covered raisins—raisins are a fruit aren’t they?

Take Time to Smell the Roses: I went to the farmer’s market to get a sweet potato for dinner. On my way to get the sweet potato I stopped in the flower gardens to see all the beautiful flowers. The colors of the flowers were magnificent, truly magnificent. In addition to my sweet potato, I bought a pot of pink flowers and put the pot in front of my house. Now the pretty flowers brighten my day every time I go outside. (Hopefully, I will remember to water my flowers throughout the summer so that they will not die and will continue to brighten my days all summer long.)

Talk to or Listen to Your Friends: My friends help me celebrate my good times and help me manage my bad times. My friends provide fresh perspectives on caring for my loved ones or thoughtful advice when it comes to making some of my big and little life decisions. Sometimes it’s great to just talk to my friends and have them listen. Yes, I’ve learned that listening is not only a good leadership skill for business but a good friendship skill to develop and share with others

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On Being a Breast Cancer Survivor

This essay is in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

This month—plus all other 11 months of the year—I’m reflecting on an experience that has rattled me and turned me inside out and back again. I’m also remembering, missing and mourning all the dear friends I’ve lost (especially my two best friends, Wendy and Shelley). And lastly, I’m holding each and every women who is fighting breast cancer deep in my heart, sending them strength and love.

Imagine, if you can, being handed a gift. It’s not your birthday or any other special occasion. You’re a bit stumped. Why am I getting this, you think? Where did it come from?

Once you take hold of the package—it’s thrust upon you; you simply have no choice—you notice its heft: Its bulky form defies definition. It’s confusing, unexpected and quite ugly. It weighs heavily on you, alters your breathing and makes you quite sad, really.

You yearn to give it back, or even—heaven forbid—re-gift it (but you don’t have the heart to do that).

What is this? I don’t want it. I don’t know what to do with it.

Why me?

Take it back!!!!

But as soon as the gift is given, the giver disappears, leaving you on your own to figure it all out.

You’ve heard rumors that it is, indeed, a gift that you will be grateful for one day. You’ve heard people say it was the greatest gift they’ve never wanted.

At first, you resent it, curse at it and throw objects, like sneakers, at it. It makes you bellow with rage. Hole up under the covers. How dare life go on around you; people smiling and celebrating and enjoying themselves when something like this is in your life?

You place it out of the way, on a high shelf.

But even though it’s not within reach, it brings out an ugly side of you that you barely recognize and are surprised to discover: An anxious, bitter, angry and cynical person. Your former self—the one who couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and embrace the day; the one who made people laugh; the one who loved her children so deeply she was afraid they’d crack under the weight of her hugs—has gone missing.

Time passes. And with each day, you begin to figure it all out. It’s hard work, making sense of this gift. Every once in a while, you glimpse it sitting up on a high shelf and its amoeba-like form begins to take on a more distinctive shape. The edges are not as blurry; the surface not as rough.

You eventually dare to take it off the shelf and hold it.

And when you do, you’re surprised: It’s not as heavy as I thought, you say out loud to no one. It feels quite nice, you think; almost comforting in a way. You stroke its strong, smooth shell, wondering what happened to the bumps that you swore once poked out of its surface.

And just as unexpectedly as the gift’s shape has changed you are hugging it tightly to your chest. As you squeeze it, you know that it won’t crack—by then you have realized your children haven’t cracked either—and you will be OK.

Breast cancer. It challenged, humbled and frightened you beyond measure. It was bumpy, heavy, cumbersome and ugly. You wanted to give it back.

But then … that gift, which metamorphosed into survivorship, sparkles and glows with such startling brilliance that you find that you need it just as much as the air you breathe.

All things suddenly seem brighter, more luminous. Was the color red ever so brilliant and complex at the same time? Why hadn’t you ever before noticed that traffic doesn’t matter and a bad mood will pass? Why did you ever think that a new day was a given and not to be celebrated?

That gift—the one once thrust upon you, unwanted and unwelcome—has morphed into a beautiful swan.

It’s brought new meaning to your life. Along with its challenges, it’s granted you peace, health, serenity and a brute strength that you never imagined could—or would—ever belong to you again.

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Why Second Opinions Count

Actress Rita Wilson, who recently announced her breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent doublemastectomy, did the right thing when she sought out a second opinion. And doing so might have saved her life.

But too many of us are hesitant to question a medical diagnosis: a 2005 Gallup Poll that surveyed 5,000 Americans found that about half reported “never” seeking a second opinion and a paltry 3 percent always sought out a second opinion on a diagnosis, treatment, drug or operation.

Pretty frightening statistics, don’t you think?

Years ago, when my own breast cancer diagnosis was still fresh, a woman I didn’t know very intimately opened up to me during a play date for our sons. “I have a lump in my breast,” she said, offhandedly.

“Did you have a mammogram?” I asked.

“Yes, and it was negative. So my doctor told me not to worry.”

I must admit that I got a little—no, a lot—pushy (in retrospect, it was a good thing, but the fiery passion I felt was out of character for me). “Are you kidding? Don’t take your doctor’s word for it! Go get a second opinion!”

She did. And it was cancer. Today, many years later, she’s cancer-free. When we occasionally run into one another, we hug warmly, and she thanks me for that day.

According to studies, 30 percent of patients who sought second opinions for elective surgery and 18 percent of patients who whose insurance company required them to seek a second opinion found that the two opinions were not in agreement.

Here’s another example of why second opinions are so important: a 2006 study found that when breast cancer patients came to a specialty center for a second opinion, recommendations for surgery changed for more than half, a result of different interpretations and readings of mammograms and biopsy results.

Why would anyone shy away from second opinions?

They may feel that time is of the essence. A cancer diagnosis is scary; and waiting on it is scarier still. Many people feel that they have to act immediately and get treatment right away; taking time to check out options, waiting for another medical appointment and sitting with the worry might just prove too difficult. While in some cases, it’s imperative to take immediate action, most people can—and should—take some time to learn about the disease and weigh their options. Only then can they make an informed and educated decision.

They may fear that they’ll insult their physician. How can I doubt what she’s telling me? What will he think of me if I go to another doctor? But the truth is that most doctors will welcome second opinions from another professional. They (should) understand your desire to be well-informed and an advocate for your own health. Many times they will recommend a specialist for you to see.

They may feel like medicine is an exact science. Medicine has made tremendous advances, but many times, it’s interpretive and not definitive. Not every doctor comes up with the same diagnosis. Not everyone agrees on treatment choices. And not every radiologist interprets imaging tests the same way. Keep in mind that there are so many factors that can influence opinions and diagnoses, such as technology, where the physician was trained, the level of experience in dealing with your particular diagnosis and his or her philosophy about treating something aggressively or taking a more wait-and-see approach.

They may fear they will be even more confused. What if the two opinions don’t match up? Then what? Sometimes that indicates you need to seek a third opinion, and then go with the one that gets the most votes.

They may not want to incur the added expense. Most insurance plans will pay for at least part of the cost (and Medicare will pay 80 percent of the cost), assuming the testing is medically necessary, according to The Patient Advocate Foundation, which recommends calling your insurance provider in advance to avoid any problems or questions about billing. Arrive at your appointment prepared with all your previous medical records (you do have the right to all copies!), contact information about the first physician and, as always, your insurance card, list of prescribed medications and allergies, and any diagnostic test results.

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