Monday, February 25, 2013

Better Life on a Bike: Spinning @ SoulCycle

Hello there! I’m Julie, author of A Better Life with Burgers. I’m thrilled to be guest posting on Jenn’s amazing new blog.

Our main hobbies are eating, drinking, and working out together.
Last weekend, our mutual friend Fay came into town for a quick visit and invited us to join her at SoulCycle, an innovative spin class only available in LA and New York. I hadn’t heard of it until Fay’s invitation, but the website’s description is:
Each SoulCycle ride delivers an intense FULL-BODY workout with a fun and energizing atmosphere. Not only do riders burn calories and get their hearts pumping, but using the SoulCycle® Method, riders also work their core and use hand weights to tone their upper bodies. In all of our studios, we ensure that SoulCyclists are treated to the country's best instructors and staff, trained to deliver unique services and personal attention to all levels of riders.
We called ahead to reserve our spots (we had to create an online account first) and to ensure that we got the beginner discount. Normally, the classes are around $30, but first-timers can try for $15. We were even able to choose our bike location (the woman I spoke with on the phone suggested either the third or fourth row for a newbie, and I chose the back). Luckily, on the phone, we could even request to be next to each other.

The best part about signing up ahead of time was that we didn’t have to stress about fighting for a seat. A lot of the time when I take yoga or dance classes, I find it awkward to figure out where to put my mat or where to stand. Perhaps this isn’t a problem for you, but I may or may not be the world’s most insecure person at new fitness classes. But this way, I walked in and found my bike number with no problem.

Okay, so upon arrival we checked in at the desk and the incredibly friendly ladies behind the counter helped us out with shoes (you have to wear the clip-in kind, which feel like cleats but are actually nothing like cleats—first-timers get shoes for free; otherwise the shoes are $3 or you can bring your own) and offered us water. (You get free Smartwater if you don’t bring your own—although if they notice you have your own they won’t give you a bottle. Perhaps that justifies the $30 per class price tag?) The studio also provided lockers, showers, towels during class, and gum.


Yeah, I thought that was so strange. But a TON of other people were chewing gum, so I thought I’d give it a try. Honestly, it had absolutely no impact on my workout, so I still don’t get it, but hey, free gum.

Before class, we chatted with one of the regulars and asked him what to expect. He just said we would have a lot of fun. Okay! We were still nervous as the previous class poured out of the room dripping sweat.

The room was tiny, hot, and still humid from the last group of riders. The bikes filled almost every corner of the room, and the back row, raised on a platform, didn’t really allow us to hide our newness too successfully. Thank goodness the girl next to me was experienced and told me how to clip my shoes in and how to lower the seat. Jenn, however, could NOT get her shoes clipped in for the first few minutes! We were definitely a little frustrated about the quick turnover time between classes, because we didn’t have a chance to ask the instructor for help. Once Jenn’s feet were secure, though, we were off!

The class was 45 minutes of loud, energetic music (oh! SoulCycle also provides ear plugs to tone down the volume), sprints, hills, and what I call butt-off-the-bike riding (I’m sure there’s a technical term, like standing, but I’ll claim ignorance here). Our instructor, who actually teaches in New York regularly, was gorgeous, entertaining, and super into it—what more can I ask of an instructor? At first, she was head-banging to the music, and we were nervous that she expected us to follow; thankfully, no.

Class ended with some light arm work with one- or two-pound weights while still moving our legs. It was perfect for a little fatigue and to make me feel like I got a full-body workout. And I sweat A LOT, but I feel as though a significant portion of the sweat was sauna-induced. Like hot yoga, but for biking.

In general, I really liked the high-energy atmosphere and the instructor’s pacing; I felt the class moved quickly and kept me engaged. But I wish that the workout had been a little more intense. Next time, I would know that I can push myself a little harder to get my heart rate up more and feel more of a burn in my legs. Then again, at $30 per class, I’m not sure there will be a next time. It was good, but perhaps not $30 good.

The guy we spoke to who said it was his sixth class in a week would beg to differ, however, so you should at least check it out. There are studios in West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Brentwood (the one we went to), and New York. Also, SoulCycle has several new studios opening soon, including two in the Bay Area!

Look at how adventurous she is...riding a spinning bike with out her feet clipped into the pedals!
I plan to continue joining Jenn on her fitness adventures, so I like to think that you might be hearing from me again soon. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll stop by my little blog sometime for healthy recipes, fun workouts, and stories about Jenn. Have a great week!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Heaven on Earth: Stretching on the Shore

I was all geared up to write about the barre classes I've been taking for the past week, but then I had an incredible experience working out with my mom yesterday. After a full week of barre workouts and dance classes, my body was aching! I really didn't feel like waking up early and driving down South to my mom's neck of the woods for a yoga class on the beach, but I'm so glad I made the extra effort. We stepped out of the car and onto the sandy beach...
"This is heaven on earth!" the yoga teacher exclaimed.
Um, hello natural beauty. To make matters even better, within the first five minutes of sitting on the beach, we saw multiple dolphins leaping out of the water and several sea birds diving into the ocean looking for their morning meal. And day was already made as I absolutely adore dolphins.* 

Natural beauty meets me, another natural beauty...
especially in the early morning hours with dark glowing circles under my eyes.
Stretch Factor
Yoga on the Beach with Sue started much like other yoga classes with focusing on our breathing. I had flashbacks to my primal yoga class where Liz always begins class telling us to breathe deeply in and out through the nose making that ocean sound; it has never felt so natural to make that ocean sound with the waves crashing into the shore right in front of me. We began class sitting cross-legged, which felt effortless to sit up straight as the wind was blowing on my back almost supporting my posture. The class had a slow pace at the beginning as we moved through several stretches, but anyone who lives in a beach town can just moves slower on the beach. With my achy muscles and my affinity for the glorious sunshine, I just reveled in the deep stretching. 

Shavanasa Factor
As you can already tell by my flowery description, I clearly was feeling relaxed and at peace during this entire yoga class. At one point, I remember arching back into Reverse Warrior 2 and just feeling the sun beating down on my closed eyelids. Along these same lines, it was absolutely stunning to do a sun salutation with the rising sun. When you open your chest and offer your heart up to the universe (I don't usually talk like that, but this is what yoga teachers always seem to be saying), there was just an undeniable spiritual connection with nature underneath the gorgeous blue sky with perfectly placed clouds. These are sensations that can never be fully experienced within the walls of a yoga studio.
I wish I could bring my aspiring and talented photographer mother 
with me to all of my workout adventures!
Support Factor
During one of the spinal twists, I gazed behind us noticing that we were practically on a private beach. Even though it was a gorgeous morning, the only other people out and about were those choosing their own beach workouts. There were volleyball players on a sand court; there were people walking and biking down the strand; there were runners dashing along the shore. What an inspiring ambience between the natural beauty and the invisible support felt from the others who chose to start their day in a similar way. 

Satisfaction Factor
Clearly, I was super satisfied, but you may ask, "Was there anything you didn't like about this experience?!" Not really, but there were some challenging aspects about practicing yoga on the beach. While the wind was helpful in making me sit up straight at times, it definitely provided an element of challenge during any of the poses that require balancing such as Tree Pose or Warrior 3. Thankfully, the sand where we were practicing had just been driven over by a ginormous truck, but again certain balancing poses were difficult with sand underneath your feet rather than a hardwood floor.

What's the deal?
Sue teaches her fantastic beach yoga almost every Saturday in Hermosa Beach (you can sign up on her e-mail listing for exact dates: The class lasts between 1 hour and 15 minutes up to 1 hour and a half for only $10! 

A penny for your thoughts...
As you have probably noticed, I'm all about spicing up my yoga routine. Perhaps you don't live in a warm climate and can't take advantage of beautiful sunny days for yoga on the beach in the middle of the winter. Keep your eyes and ears open, though, for other unique places to try out yoga. Maybe you have to wait until the summer, but I've heard of people trying yoga in local parks, in yoga clothing stores, or on the roofs of hotels! 
  • What are other cool places you've tried yoga?
  • What are other active workouts you can try on the beach?
  • What are other workouts that make you one with nature?

*My Aunt Michele still loves to tell this story about my obsession with dolphins...I am blessed with an aunt who loves to travel (and better yet, take us with her on her travels), and she promised each of her nieces and nephews a 16-year-old birthday trip anywhere in the world. Most of them chose to go to some far-off place in Europe, but I was all about the tropical getaway. I chose to go on a Caribbean cruise. When picking out our excursions, I immediately selected "Swimming with Dolphins" in Curacao, which coincidentally was the most expensive excursion. My aunt wasn't so thrilled about the price tag, but I begged, "Aunt Michele, this is a lifelong dream of mine to swim with the dolphins" (ever since I saw the Stefanie and Michelle doing it on Full House). To which she responded, "Jennifer, I've talked with you multiple times a week since you could talk, and I've never heard you mention this so-called 'lifelong dream.'" But Aunt Michele, always wanting to make her nieces and nephews happy, obviously splurged, and we did it! She also learned that when you swim with the dolphins, you don't ride them like a horse :)

The priceless face of a teenage girl living out one of her lifelong dreams circa 2004. Thanks, Aunt Michele! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Flow at Yoga Co

I'm winding down with my month of unlimited yoga at The Yoga Collective, and I thought I'd share some reflections about visiting yoga studios as a new client and then talk about my experiences of flow classes at this studio. From living in West LA where everyone and their mom seems to take yoga (yes, guilty as charged, my mom practices yoga too!), I find it a little scary to go to a new yoga studio. On one end of the spectrum, some places are super hospitable towards new clients. On the other end of the spectrum, some studios seem to expect you to know everything before you even walk in the door...where/when to remove your shoes, what equipment in the back of the room to pick up before class, etc. It can be intimidating, especially when you see the other students walking in who each look like a yoga teacher themselves! 

So, if you are feeling nervous about trying a new place, just know that you're not alone. Everyone who is there already was once there for the first time themselves. There are probably some other newbies in the crowd as well. Yoga studios tend to attract a variety of people from diverse backgrounds; you surely will look around and wonder about some of the other people in there. So who cares if they are looking at you wondering why you have no clue what's going on? I expressed these things to my good friend, Debbie, who was new to yoga and ventured with me to The Yoga Collective to redeem our AmazonLocalDeal. She made it through her first anxiety-provoking class like a champ, and she came back for more each week! 

The stars were not aligned when I brought my camera to the yoga studio to take a more fitting photo of was a 7 am class, need I say more? So, here's just a cute picture of us! 

What Would Buff Girl Do...When going to a yoga studio for the 1st time?
  • Bring a friend. Sharing the new and intimidating experience with a friend definitely lessens the stress of going to a new place. You'll also have someone to laugh about whatever embarrassing thing happens to you in class!
  • Call ahead to find out what is a good class for your level. If you are a beginner, give the studio a call and ask what they recommend for first-time yoga students. The schedules and class descriptions can be vague or confusing...just ask! Then, at least if you end up in the wrong place, you can blame someone else :)
  • Introduce yourself to the teacher before class begins. If possible, just go up to the teacher, introduce yourself, and say that it's your first time doing yoga. Once you let that cat out of the bag, you can practice your yoga assured that she won't be judging you if it's your first time. 
  • Pick a strategic place for your mat. And by "strategic," I mean back corner. In the back corner, you have as much privacy as you can get in a communal class. You are free to fall out of poses and resort to my final bullet point below...child's pose!
  • Don't be afraid to child's pose any where, any time! Ok, maybe not any where. It'd be totally weird to just child's pose when you're signing in for class in the lobby, but in the middle of class when you're core is shaking and your knees are buckling, just take the small gift of child's pose, catch your breath, and start back up when you're ready.
The Yoga Collective

As the name implies, The Yoga Collective is truly a collection of yoga practitioners from the teachers to the clientele. I've taken three different flow classes here each with different teachers. For those of you who live in the Venice area, this studio offers a wide range of classes offered throughout the entire day, and there seems to be a strong community of yogis who practice here. Before diving into how I would rate these classes, let's dive into my mind on a typical day when I went to yoga flow classes here [crafted so cleverly into a "flow" chart].

Stretch Factor
Stretching represents one of my main goals when I set out to take a yoga class. Each of the flow classes I took at The Yoga Collective surely had its fair share of stretching from the warrior poses to body twists to full-on doing the splits. I didn't necessarily feel as Gumby-esque as I would have liked, but I was able to get my stretch on in these flow classes for the most part.

Shavanasa Factor
Relaxation represents my secondary goal when I venture off to a yoga class. By no means do I want the class to just be easy, but I do look forward to focusing my mind on breathing, stretching deeply, and releasing all of the tension I accumulate throughout the week. At the Yoga Collective, there were several things that helped me reach this goal. The instructor's choice of soft chanting or other calming music initially sets the backdrop. To further create a calming ambience, there always seemed to be a scent of candles recently being burned in the studio. Lastly, one teacher did my absolute favorite thing to end a yoga class...she sprinkled the magical, lavender fairy dust over my face during Shavanasa [in actuality, she puts lavender on her hands and rubs them over your face]. 

Sweat Factor
In the mixed level classes, my heart rate did not go up, and the minimal sweating that I did do seemed due to the warm temperature in the room rather than my warm body. In the Level 2/3 flow class, however, I was definitely glistening a bit more from the workout.

Strength Factor
In general, I did not feel like these flow classes focused significantly on building strength. There were some arm balances, planks, and the occasional push-ups or crunches to build muscles, but I definitely wasn't waking up sore the next day.

What's the deal?
Check out my post entitled Embrace Your Inner Warrior: Primal Yoga that featured this studio to see their promotions for first time clients!

A penny for your thoughts?

  • What are your tips when you go to a new workout studio?
  • What do you like about yoga flow classes?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Motivation: Key to Elation

Let me be honest with you: this was a rough week. Things were less than ideal at both work and school. My friend and I had been planning all week to go to an early morning yoga workout on Thursday, which I was hoping would rescue me from my misery. But, alas, something came up, and she couldn’t make it. Before going to bed Wednesday night, I was talking to my boyfriend, Justin, about what I was going to do the next day. For those of you who do not know Justin, he rarely says anything serious. The conversation went something like this…

Me: Well, I’ll still go to yoga by myself. I really need to workout tomorrow.
Justin: Ok, muffin.* Yeah, you should go.
Me: Ugh, who am I kidding? I’m not going to wake up super early to go; then I will be stuck in traffic on the way back. By the time I shower and get ready, I won’t be able to start schoolwork until 10. I have so much to do.
Justin: I really admire your commitment to working out.
Me: Ugh, this is NOT a time for your sarcasm. I’m having a rough week!
Justin: No, I’m being serious. Whether or not you go tomorrow, you are really committed to finding time to do the kinds of workouts you like. I want to be able to do that too, but I just can never find the motivation to make time to workout.**

My main muffin man, Justin.

This conversation along with my pathetic week of working out got me thinking about motivation. I think about motivation for working out on 2 different levels. What are the greater, big-picture reasons why I value working out? What are the more trivial, day-to-day things that actually get my butt exercising?

When I was in high school, I remember my aunt (a registered dietician) and my mom telling me that I should start exercising when I was young, so that I would have good habits when I was older. Aside from my brief stints in softball and gymnastics in elementary school, I never played competitive sports in high school (or danced, etc.), which is where I think a lot of people first get into a routine of “exercising.” However, when I moved to California from Buffalo, NY during my junior year of high school, I needed a hobby…and fast. I made friends slowly in school, but I needed something else to keep me busy and not focused on missing all of my friends back home in Buffalo. Are you all noticing a theme here? I often turn to working out at key transition times in my life when I lack friends. In my unrealistic and naïve mind, I always thought working out in social places might lead me to making friends. While that usually has not ever panned out, workout classes have always given me something to do that makes me feel really good about myself. Getting back to my story, when I first moved here, I signed up for tae kwon do classes. So, at the ripe old age of 16, I finally started to get in shape. On and off since this time in my life, I have always aspired to be in shape.

So why do I work out? On the higher level, I work out because I like to be healthy, fit, and strong. I know in the long-term, working out (along with my love of vegetables) will contribute to a long, healthy life. I want to establish healthy routines now, so that when I have kids, I can not only teach them to be healthy but show them through my actions. I also strive to be fit because I like looking good. I feel more confident when I look good. Even though that sounds superficial, it’s just true. My best friends know that when they’re having a bad day, when they are hating life, when someone hurts their feelings, I often respond, “Hey! Chin up…just because that happened, it doesn’t mean you’re not pretty!” Usually, that sounds absolutely ridiculous and inappropriate, which makes the other person laugh. Last but not least, I like to feel strong. I’m small, but I definitely pack some heat.

Even with my lofty goals of being healthy and looking good, I still need something to actually get me motivated each day….er I mean, each week (I won’t put up a front, I don’t work out daily)…to put on my workout clothes and get out the door doing something. What are some of those daily motivators? For starters, I’m a much happier (and nicer) person to be around once I’ve gotten a daily dose of endorphins coursing through my body. As frustrated as I can become doing statistics, working out makes me completely forget about whatever struggles I’ve faced during the day. This is usually a result of the fact that I choose to do workouts that are like jigsaw puzzles for my mind…i.e., dancing, tying myself in knots on the silks of aerial arts, balancing in weird positions in yoga, etc. Liz, my primal yoga teacher, said to me after class this week, “I feel like if I get my martial arts out in the studio, I’m a much nicer person on the streets.” My sentiments exactly!

Sure, working out makes me feel good, but sometimes I’m just too darn tired or lazy or busy or (you fill in the blank). What gets me to my workout destination in those despairing moments?

Having a workout date with a friend!
Julie, my own certified personal trainer, holds me accountable for our 7:30 am workout dates! Paula, my neighbor, carpools with me to all of our fun dance classes. Debbie, my compañera de life, accompanies me to yoga classes or even the dreadful gym at times. Michele and Cristal, my classmates, like to shake our school stress away together. These people, who at times may be annoyed by my incessant texts to workout with me, hold me accountable.

Wearing workout clothes all day! Yes, folks, I have the privilege of wearing whatever I want to work. When I was a preschool teacher, I always wanted to work somewhere that I could look professional. Now I work in a tall office building where that would be quite appropriate, but, yes, I stroll in wearing yoga pants and sneakers. If I wear it all day, I feel pressured to workout in the evening. I should not walk around all day in neon yellow sneakers if I am not going to workout. It’d be like I was lying to everyone who saw me that day. I know when they see me they probably feel bad about themselves for not working out…so if I just go home without working out, I’d feel like I was lying to everyone I encountered that day.

Not washing my hair! This may be TMI, but I wash my hair every other day. There’s an occasional third day, however, that I sometimes feel like I can get away with an extra day without washing hair if I’m absolutely sure I am going to work out. [Side note: I really dislike hair washing days because I don’t like blow-drying my hair. If I don’t blow dry my hair, I look like a grease ball by slicking my hair back into a wet ponytail. Some people can pull that look off, I just look like a grease ball or a boy. Anyhow, that’s an unnecessary slippery slope.] On that third day, though, if I can conceivably make a good case for not washing my hair because I’m going to work out later, then by golly I don’t have to blow-dry! BUT, if I don’t wash my hair, and I don’t workout, that’s just gross. So, there you have it, not washing my hair encourages me to workout.

Signing up in advance for classes! At most aerial classes, you have to sign up in advance due to limited class sizes. You lose your money if you don’t cancel your class 24 hours in advance. Therefore, I never miss a class that I’ve already paid for.

Expiration dates on Groupons, Living Socials, and AmazonLocalDeals! Um, duh. I’m on too much of a budget to not use my work out deals! Those expiration dates have quite a way with me in getting me out the door to use them up.

A Penny for Your Thoughts?
  • What are the big-picture reasons why you value working out?
  • What are the everyday motivators that actually get you working out?

*Yes, he really calls me muffin at times. Some people have “pet” names; we have food names.

**He wants you all to know that even though he isn’t motivated to workout like I am, he is a motivator in life. He teaches high school history and coaches basketball. Through those positions, he motivates others for a living.