UnBLOK by Manduka: Product review

manduka unblok

manduka unblok

The UnBLOK is a yoga block that’s rounded and convex on one side. It’s one of Manduka’s most recent innovations, and I’m a big fan.

To begin with, I want to clarify that I love rounded things because they don’t hurt me when I walk into (or in this case, fall onto!) them. Indeed, this rounded feature has been my favorite part of the UnBLOK. I can comfortably lean back onto it and do a chest opener without having a corner poke into my back! Since I do chest openers most days, even when I’m not doing a full practice, I have used it almost daily since receiving it.

I have also been using it like a regular block throughout practice. Some of my top uses for it include stability in balance poses, as well as to prop up my supported shoulder stands and a supported bridge pose now that I’m more pregnant and feeling it in practice.

My chief concern with the UnBLOK was that it might be less stable. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to work with a pair of these to try elevated transitions in arm-balances, for example, I haven’t had any issues. The convex side of the block is the side you’d hold in your hand in such poses, however, so I do anticipate the possibility of aggravating wrist issues using the UnBLOK directly in arm-balance situations.

The look and feel of the UnBLOK is also unique. The texture is smooth and comfortable, and the color of my block is a beautiful aqua (marketed as “breeze”), which is relaxing to look at. Plus, more than 50% of the materials it’s made of are recycled; it’s eco-friendly and sustainably sourced, just like most of Manduka’s products. It’s more solid (less foamy-feeling) than most of the blocks I’ve used in various yoga studios (including Gaiam and Yogitoes brands) although it is still made out of foam and lightweight. This is a plus for me because the block feels more solid beneath my weight, and because the sides are rounded anyway the potential problem of a hard corner poking in your back was solved in its design. That just about rounds out everything I could think of about the UnBLOK, please let me know if you have any questions, and get your own UnBLOCK here!  http://www.manduka.com/us/shop/categories/products/gear/recycled-foam-unblok/

Overtraining Syndrome

tired-runnerThere is such a thing as exercising too much. While many people can’t bring themselves to work out, others can’t stop! Overtraining syndrome happens when people work out excessively, to the point that workouts leave them tired instead of energized. Other names for overtraining syndrome include burnout and shutdown mode.

Improper nutrition, a monotonous routine or simply the lack of a rest week can all result in injury or overtraining syndrome. It can manifest itself in the form of fatigue, negativity, consistently poor performance, sleep issues, a decrease in appetite, a weakened immune system or even in shifts away from a normal heart rate during regular workouts.[1][2][3]

Overtraining is not muscle soreness from a harder routine, nor is it a temporary swing in your strength or fitness level. It’s similar to a shutdown of your body, and it occurs if you don’t take proper care of yourself.[4]

The resolution is to take it easy and vary up your routine. Try new types of workouts, incorporate cross training and include rest weeks regularly. If the problem is nutrition-based, then you’ve probably been eating too many sugary or processed foods, which need to be minimized from the diet for anyone who wants to maintain high performance levels consistently.[5]

An excessive training regimen is hardly at the forefront of most Americans’ problems, but balancing exercise with appropriate rest and nutrition is key to staying active consistently. When you stop taking care of yourself you boost your chances of injury and you risk overtraining syndrome, which will only weaken you until it’s addressed. It does not give anybody an excuse to be a couch potato either, but it does mean that it’s great to take it easy every few days with some cardio or a nice walk, explore new types of exercise routines, and live a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle.

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A Healthy Goal

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Garfield is known for his eat, sleep, and eat again schedule, which is depicted with the funniest of intentions. Yet the cartoon drives home the fact that many of us don’t realize how our thinking directly affects how much of life we experience. Garfield doesn’t have goals and sleeps away his existence, and likewise, many of us let our bodies go to waste by living an unhealthy lifestyle.

The goals we make either make or break our habits of eating right and exercising.

Many dieters restrict themselves dangerously for a limited amount of time to reach a set goal for an occasion, and then return to past habits afterward. If we think that we are working out and restricting what we eat to lose weight, we tend to start gaining weight once we attain our goal. Instead, it’s important to implement eating habits that we can sustain for the rest of our lives. Thus we can be ready for any event life throws our way, even if it wasn’t planned!

Similarly, people go through phases of working out. Gym memberships and personal trainer services experience a post-holiday spike each year and business slows from there on out.[1] This post-holiday spike illustrates the ambitious New Year’s resolutions that people make, and that for most people this proves unsustainable. The key to being healthy is staying consistent, and being physically active every single day.

Short-term health goals are great to kick-start a habit, but long-term health should be the most important focus. By focusing on “long-term health” as my fitness and food goal I’ve been able to let go of shifts on the scale, or the lack thereof. This was especially important when I didn’t see results for a while when I first began eating right and exercising. It’s also incredibly important now that I’m not trying to put on muscle or lose weight. Instead, my short-term goal is training to finish a triathlon, but its underlying cause is to keep me moving and eating right so that I’m healthy and happy.

LA Marathon: Consistency and camaraderie

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Photo credit: Michael Dorausch

Watching elite runners finish the LA Marathon, I was awed at how effortless their running looked after more than 26 miles. Once these very first runners completed the race, my husband and I waited for more marathoners because I had hoped to watch a close race to the finish – I had imagined that the runners would try to sprint and place at a higher rank. Instead, I saw competitors clapping and cheering each other on as they were passed.

Another aspect of the finish that surprised me was the variety of athletes completing the race simultaneously. Because of staggered start times, there were wheelchair competitors rolling in alongside the elite and even a man who had a prosthetic leg. This indirect competition also encouraged camaraderie toward the finish.

Running a marathon is not about the competition with others, it’s a personal challenge. People have different goals, and while for some it is about rankings, for most it’s simply about crossing the finish line (sometimes to support a cause). Still, others wish to finish within a specific time frame. While I knew people have varying goals, it nonetheless surprised me that many of the top athletes maintained their pace through the finish line instead of speeding up when it came into sight. Consistency was their key to getting through the first 25 miles, and they persisted on for the last mile as well.

I will also focus on maintaining good form throughout the triathlon I plan to compete in. Some people completing the LA Marathon had poor form, which made me think that perhaps they weren’t even nearing their potential for the race!

Once I had realized that we wouldn’t see a sprint to the finish between competitors, I gained further respect for these athletes. I thought about not only the grueling 26+ miles that they had to run during this race, but also all of the time and training they had done to compete at such a high level. Consistency at the finish line was just a sign of how committed they had to be throughout their race and the months of training they dedicated to achieve their LA Marathon goals. My goal for the triathlon I will compete in is to enjoy the course of the race and to be just as effortlessly strong at the finish line as the athletes I saw finishing the LA Marathon.

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Breakfast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABreakfast is my favorite meal of the day. For most of my life it consisted of sugary cereal with milk, until I found that it was the cause of daily migraines and reverted to experimenting with other foods or skipped breakfast until I decided on what I eat today.  I love egg whites and avocados, as well as vegetables and tea; these are my breakfast staples, which I eat most days.

While many studies have been done about breakfast and whether or not it is a good habit, I could not find a single scientific article that reported poorer health for people who ate breakfast compared to a control group. For example, a study that will soon be published in the Journal of Hypertension concluded that eating a larger breakfast reduced hypertension in subjects, as opposed to a larger dinner, which boosted blood pressure.[1] Several studies also claim that eating a regular breakfast contributing to good health is a myth, but they are also likely to be based on studies where subjects ate carbohydrate-rich breakfasts.

For many Americans, the typical breakfast is unhealthy. It’s often a multiple-course meal consisting mainly of sugary processed foods and beverages, like cereal, orange juice, flavored yogurt, toast and jam. This image of a typical breakfast is also often featured in the media, whether it’s in cereal commercials, fast-food advertisements or movies. This is what Wikipedia has as the image for an American breakfast:

American_Breakfast

This photo is mostly showing sweetened, highly processed foods that are high in saturated fat, as well as an entire avocado and a single egg. The proportions are all off! Meanwhile, studies have shown that what you eat for breakfast matters just as much as whether or not you eat breakfast.

A recent study showed that people feel more satiated and are less likely to eat a heavy lunch if they eat a protein-rich breakfast compared to a breakfast that contains more carbohydrates. [2] A protein-rich breakfast is still easy to make, you can even make it ahead of time.  Consequently, eating breakfast is a great way to kick-start your metabolism, establish a routine and be consistently healthy from day to day.

Try New Workouts

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Engaging in new kinds of workouts is not only good for you but also helps you keep workouts fresh. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy one type of fitness routine, you can take any aspects of the movements you learn and apply them to other new workouts. When I plan out my own workouts, like I did last week for hamstrings, I incorporate movements from a variety of disciplines in order to mix it up and focus on a set of muscles from different angles.

Variety is the spice of life and can help you consistently improve your fitness routine as well as your body. This past week I’ve begun a month of doing bar method workouts at least three times a week, the past two months I did yoga just as often.  I make sure to be hyper-aware of my body during new movements as a way to learn good form and prevent injuries. Doing different workouts on the days in-between my new focus also helps me check-in to observe sore spots or pain, and ask instructors how to mitigate it in the following class.

I switch up the main workouts that I commit to as a way to learn new movements, but more importantly to get to know my body better. For example, the yoga that I did last month made me aware of the tension that I tend to build up in my shoulders, and taught me how to let it go. Similarly, bar method is making me focus on my posture, though I’ve only gone to two classes so far!

To consistently stay committed to fitness, I constantly search for and think about disciplines I have yet to try or particularly love doing and desire to deepen. I’m currently starting to look into taking either kickboxing or kenpo-type classes in the future because I particularly enjoy the kenpo workout in P90X, or perhaps I will try Pilates   I try to keep an open mind to whatever pops up in my area, though I also check reviews to make sure that people are happy with the experience. Everybody is different and I may not love it as much, but I definitely love to try out a new kind of routine for a while and see what aspects I want to bring into the workouts I create.

Health is not a Competition!

compete-with-yourselfMany of us can get caught up in the competitive aspect of sports and fitness. This is similar to an eating disorder if you get carried away comparing yourself to others. Competition, whether it’s individually or as part of a team is motivational in itself as long as it is fun. But if you’re pushing yourself too far each time you exercise then you are likely to burn out or get injured.

Competitive sports are great when you’re having fun; but the moment that you “take one for the team” or go beyond your limit, you’re not benefiting your long-term health. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t made to take the continuous impacts and strains that are associated with many of the sports we love. Strengthening and stretching are important to prepare us for such impacts to help prevent injuries. Most importantly, however, we need to stay connected to what our body is saying and listen to it instead of aggravating or creating injuries. Remember that you won’t be able to contribute as much from the sidelines!

Similarly, many popular fitness programs like Crossfit thrive on emphasizing competition. Exercising with others on a team is motivating and can distract you so it helps pass the time, however they can also lead you to be careless with movements or push yourself too far. And those scores and rankings will not matter if you can’t come in to compete!

Also, it’s important to realize that you will have bad days and good days, so keep that in mind when you aim for your personal best.  Accepting that you will not always be exceeding your prior achievements can help you to slow down and focus on your form, which can help you exceed your personal best when you are feeling great!

Maybe and No: Avoiding social pressures

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I am a loyal, caring person and want to help out whenever I can. But this has hurt me in the past because I wasn’t willing to put my own needs and wants ahead of others’.  I also got roped into doing things that I didn’t enjoy a lot more often. Social pressures ended up taking away time that would have been better-spent achieving my own hopes and dreams, like consistently working out.

Overdose

People who rely on others’ help to extremes are often charismatic, but many are also often the people that will not be willing or able to help you out when you need it later on. They also are likely to abuse your helpfulness by throwing it back in your face, insisting that you help them more once you’ve lent a helping hand. Don’t let someone manipulate you into doing things that you will not be proud of down the line – you can’t always be doing things for others!

Declining to do things politely will free up your schedule to make room for things that are priorities in your own life, as opposed to others’ concerns. Indeed, you could be hurting others by trying to help them. For example, you can give money to a beggar with a baby yet this act could support an increase in child exploitation.[1] On a smaller scale, you could be preventing someone from learning a valuable lesson by doing something for them.

Fortunately, there aren’t any requirements if somebody asks for a favor or wants to hang out. Be polite and hear out the request, but make time to think it over before making a time commitment. I am much more consistent with my eating and exercise since I learned to say maybe and let things that I care less about happen without me. Since I honestly evaluate the efforts I make for others, I feel happier with the work that I do put into relationships and helping others, and I also have made more time to achieve my own goals like being healthy and happy.

Stay Independent

Im-thankful-to-all-those-who-said-no-its-because-of-them-I-did-it-myself.-Albert-Einstein-quoteMany people need a workout buddy or someone to encourage them to exercise. But what happens when they don’t show up? Don’t let them prevent you from achieving your goals… stay independent!

It’s essential to realize that while others may benefit somewhat from your health, it’s you that benefits most. When you skip out on yourself by not showing up for a workout or abusing your body through eating junk food, you’re the one who will lose the most. Being healthy is about staying committed to a positive lifestyle that will minimize stresses that your body is not designed to handle.

Don’t follow the mainstream lifestyle, because more than 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese! I know I’ve cited this statistic before, but it really is key to remembering that what our society shows us is “normal” for our bodies is actually really bad for them. So bad indeed, that 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are directly connected to obesity.  Furthermore, obesity has been at the top of the most common preventable diseases list since 2010.

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If you need to work out with people then sign up for fitness classes or a boot camp that you will enjoy. If a friend doesn’t go to a planned workout just go to class instead. Paying for working out is worth it if it will keep you on track and motivated. I love the energy of a roomful of focused people exercising and go to a class two or three times a week. Meanwhile, my husband dislikes the idea of so many people sweating together and chooses to work out by himself those days. Likewise, if going to the grocery store and picking out produce is daunting, then sign up for a weekly produce delivery service to your house.

It’s all about figuring out how to stay on track and motivated for you without relying on others to help you make good decisions.

Treat yourself but don’t cheat yourself

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Nobody is perfect, especially when it comes to consistently sticking to healthy food and a vigorous exercise schedule. But your overall health depends on how often and how much you stray from your ideal. As a result, treating yourself should be an occasional indulgence, not something to do every day.

There are many delicious ways to treat yourself yet remain committed to your diet or exercise plan. For example, I dipped strawberries in dark chocolate and refrigerated them before dinner… and they made for an amazing yet not too unhealthy dessert.  They were my fruit that day and I made sure not to eat chocolate throughout the week so I didn’t get used to its sweet taste. Other yummy treats I love include:

  • frozen yogurt (unsweetened)
  • dark chocolate
  • peanut butter oatmeal cookies
  • plantain sautéed in olive oil and lightly salted
  • gourmet tea or coffee

I always balance out my treats within my diet that day and week so as to avoid a sugar (or caffeine) rush and stay within my eating plan.

Treating yourself is not limited to food. Sometimes I treat myself by taking a walk or simply stretching instead of doing a rigorous workout. I’ll do this if I feel especially sore or sick, or if the thought of exercise is overly daunting. Often a brisk walk for the hour or so that I had scheduled to exercise clears my head and I end up working out later that day or early the next morning. Other indulgences, for example in terms of finances, include going out for a movie or live entertainment.

The right treat allows you to enjoy something that you generally don’t have planned, without letting yourself down. It won’t hurt your stomach or head, and it will help you relax and focus on your needs. Often I will treat myself when I’m frustrated because my husband is eating a ton of things I can’t, or if I simply have the urge to do something indulgent. This keeps me motivated and committed to staying healthy and happy.