Photo credit: Adam Zyto
How a shadowboxing/yoga fusion class re-ignited my passion for intentional fitness
It all began with a rumor about a new instructor teaching a kickboxing class at the Life Time Fitness location where I also teach. The rumor turned into a raving testimonial from my best friend who happened to take the class and she was convinced that I would also love it. Normally on Wednesdays her and I would meet at the gym by noon, work out and then go to lunch. In all honesty, I wasn’t too happy with this new class interfering in our routine; until I tried it.
My first experience with Box and Flow was in the heated yoga studio. I thought “this dude must be crazy” but I had taken hot yoga classes before and I’m in awesome shape, so surely I could handle teaching my own class and then taking this one just for fun! Well, I was about to have a humbling experience.
Martesse is what many have called a beautiful specimen of a man. Not me. I’m married. I’m just telling you what I’ve heard! I later learned that he is a former police officer, trained martial artist and 1,000 hour certified yoga instructor. I’m not sure about the 1,000 hour certification but he sure makes it seem like he has centuries of training.
Now, if you will, please quiet your mind and picture this. You walk into a dimly lit yoga studio, after waiting patiently in line and hear some dope hip hop beats playing in the background. If you’re lucky enough to see an open spot, you grab a yoga mat and set it down –quickly– before someone else sees it and takes it. You don’t know whether to stand or sit because it’s your first time. You look around and see people talking to each other. Some are taking pre-class selfies and others are buzzing with excitement because maybe Martesse took his shirt off. Focus now because he’s about to speak.
“Hi, thank you for being here, my name is Martesse. Welcome to Box and Flow. The class IS heated so if this is your first time, please pace yourself. Take a break, but don’t leave. Make sure you have plenty of water. Now let’s go over our punches.”
He then proceeds to demonstrate how to stand in guard position and breaks down the jabs, cross punch, hook, upper cuts, kicks and evasive moves. He has us repeat the moves a few times to get that muscle memory going. And now it’s time for the warm up. The music starts and we hit the floor for burpees. Yeah, that’s right. I’m thinking (ok, burpees and I get along very well) then we move on to push ups and then mountain climbers and then maybe you hear someone crying in the back row but you can’t look because you’re also a fitness professional and you have to represent!
Are you out of breath yet? Because at this point in the class, I was already sweating profusely and my shoulders were on fire! Yeah, they were cooking! Now it’s time to get up and get ready for the first round. I’m pretty sure my form was off and I didn’t get the combos but I tried my best. The song is over and now it’s time for “how many push ups can do you?” He then counts down from 10 and has us hold the plank as he walks around. He comes over to me and corrects me. ME! I immediately thought “wow, thank you for making me better.” I want you to put this in the back burner because we will come back to it.
After roughly 30-35 minutes of punching and kicking to some great music we stop to regulate our breath and to get ready for 30 minutes of yoga flow. The first half of the class is all about letting out our aggression, pushing our limits and making our brains work hard to nurture that mind-body connection. To put it another way, it’s quite chaotic but exhilarating at the same time.
We begin our yoga flow in a seated position followed by table top and then downward dog. So far so good? Great! We proceed to a one-legged downward dog with the right leg up then we bring that knee to the nose, opposite elbow, opposite wrist, right wrist, right elbow. Repeat 3 more times. Finally it’s time for our first warrior one. My goodness! Somehow, I was able to get through it. As we continue with our flow I realize how badly I need yoga back in my life and how important it is to have good upper body strength and flexibility.
Before you know it, it’s time for savasana, which is the practice of laying in corpse pose at the end of yoga class. This time is usually meant for quiet relaxation to rejuvenate the body and feel a deep sense of appreciation for what it does for you. Martesse uses this time to infuse positive affirmations. Phrases such as “I am strong”, “I am healthy” “What I think I become”, “I am on my path”, etc.
The class is now over and I’m not quite sure of what I feel. I introduce myself and thank him. This was several months ago.
Thinking back to that first experience I believe that I didn’t know what to think because this class became a pattern interruption in my life. I am not the only one who feels a deep connection to this class and I may not be the only one writing about it. But I know that we have experienced different sensations in our own, unique way.
Martesse is not just an instructor who leads a kick boxing class. He’s not just an instructor who leads a yoga class. The reason this class has become so popular in such a short amount of time is because he brings us from chaos to serenity in one hour. We let go of our aggression and whatever may be holding us back in order to reconnect with our deep self and that comes from first focusing on our prana, our breath; our life source. Our breath will either tell us if we are calm or if we are in distress. Once we’ve connected with our breath we reconnect with our body through the practice of yoga. That unity between the mind, breath and body is calming, rejuvenating, cleansing and beautiful. Being able to stretch and hold certain shapes trains our minds to focus and our bodies to let go.
As a fitness professional and life coach, I feel my soul was searching to be challenged. I teach fitness classes and I train and coach people. I love what I do and I expend so much of my energy focusing on others and I needed something to help me focus on myself. Finding that mindset component that I so often share in my own classes be a part of someone else’s class offers me to opportunity to also be nurtured and allows my soul to refuel.
This class has made me better in so many ways. My focus has improved. The words I speak to myself have improved. My flexibility has improved. My strength has improved and my body has once again changed for the better. I have so much gratitude for Martesse and how he shares his passion for deeper connection through a fitness class. I tell the instructors that I mentor that when you nurture an emotional connection with class participants, they are yours forever.
It’s not about leading a class because quite frankly, anyone can teach this class. But it takes someone with undeniable passion, heart, humility and a quiet confidence to deliver an experience worth standing in line and coming back for over and over again.
Follow Martesse on Social Media and be sure to take a live class with him soon as I’m sure he’ll be touring the world!
Often times, the problem is our mind.
Can you relate? I’m extremely guilty of conjuring up problems that don’t exist. This is mainly because when we allow a single negative thought to enter our mind, it can spiral out of control. And if you suffer from compulsive thinking, it can seem like the problem is never ending.
The impact a negative mindset can have on our health should not be easily dismissed.
How often have you started and ended a diet? Or perhaps you’ve tried to stick to a workout plan but quit before seeing results.
This is something that happens time and time again. I see it often and recognize the patterns right away.
But you know what? If you are one of the many who have started and stopped and started and stopped again, don’t worry. The issue is not the desire to change because in order for you to start, you must have had the desire to change something about yourself. The problem that I see with most is that they try to run before they can walk.
Let me share a quick story with you about a conversation I had with someone and how I was able to help Sue.
Sue used to attend one of my Zumba classes and since she knew I also helped people with their nutrition and mindset, she asked how she could lose weight. First, I asked her what her daily eating habits consisted of. Because she had a corporate job, there were always donuts in the break room so every day, she had 3. That’s right. THREE. I kept listening without judgement. I needed to know exactly what she was doing, how active she was and what she was eating throughout the day. Then I asked if she was willing to make some small changes and she looked worried. She didn’t think she’d be able to give up the donuts.
I told her I understood how important it was for her to not feel deprived. Her issue was that she didn’t want to deal with being uncomfortable or having to make drastic changes. This is a very common issue that many deal with. Some are capable of going cold turkey and giving up everything that made them smile because food had become a source of comfort. Others are not quite ready for this change because the mental commitment is not there. That’s what it all comes down to. The psychological commitment must be there in order to change.
For some, it’s a higher level of commitment and these type of people are super easy to work with. For others, we have to take baby steps so they can learn to crawl, then walk, then run.
For my friend Sue, we cut back from 3 donuts on week 1 to 1.5 donuts on week 2 and to one donut a day on week 3. On week 4, I had her cut back to half of a donut and I had her enjoy every bite. I also had her commit to walking up and down the stairs a couple times and to increase that over time. I had her water down her juice and drink half the soda. I had her increase her water intake and make sure she eats a small salad every day.
All these small changes compounded into a new lifestyle that was easier for her to manage. Once she began to notice how much better she felt and how her energy began to increase, she felt more determined to keep going and eventually added some weight training. She was able to lose 15lbs and grab control of her life.
I hope this helps you to understand how a progressive approach and how making one simple change at a time can lead to a lifestyle you can be proud of. Telling yourself that you can make these changes AND believe that you WILL is a sure way to help you get there.
If you need help with mindset and being able to finally stick to something will work in the long term, just reach out to me. I’d love to help!
You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol, right?
Before we jump into some myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. Yes, opposite!
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
They’re grouped into two main categories:
- HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
- LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, it’s even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.
Talk about an important molecule!
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat. Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)? ‘Cause that’s where it’s made!
What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance
Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise, baby!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day. Every day. And if you’re like me you’ll opt for over 26 different fruits, vegetables and berries in a convenient capsule form!
But don’t worry because the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.
You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats. My favorite way of ensuring consumption of healthy omegas is with this vegan omega blend.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day. You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.
Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Makes about ¾ cup
- ½ cup hemp seeds
- ½ cup orange juice
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
- dash salt and/or pepper
- Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
- Serve on top of your favorite salad and Enjoy!
- Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.
You totally want to ditch your scale, don’t you? You may have this weird kind of relationship with your “weight”. I mean, it doesn’t define you (obviously).
What you weigh can matter but only to a certain extent. Let’s look at your waist circumference (well…you look at yours and I’ll look at mine).
Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):
Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”? The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.
THAT is what we’re talking about here.
Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).
Yup – that apple!
And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”. The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.
This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is. It’s this “un-pinchable” fat.
The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.
And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.
So as you can see where your fat is stored is more important that how much you weigh.
Am I an apple or a pear?
It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape. You can do it right now.
Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.
For men the number is 40”. Of course this isn’t a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases. Waist circumference is just one of them. If you have concerns definitely see your doctor.
Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:
- Eat more fiber. Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways. First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food. Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
- Add more protein to your day. Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer. It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
- Nix added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks (even 100% pure juice).
- Move more. Get some aerobic exercise. Lift some weights. Walk and take the stairs. Dance. It all adds up.
- Stress less. Seriously! Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
- Get more sleep. Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).
Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- dash salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice. Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for about 15 minutes. Toss.
Bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K. You may want to eat them more often.
You may feel tired, cold or that you’ve gained weight. Maybe your digestion seems a bit more “sluggish”.
You may be convinced that your metabolism is slow. Why does this happen? Why do metabolic rates slow down? What can slow my metabolism?
Metabolism includes all of the biochemical reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy. And there are lots of factors that affect how quickly (or slowly) it works, i.e. your “metabolic rate” (which is measured in calories).
But don’t worry – we know that metabolic rate is much more complicated than the old adage “calories in calories out”! In fact it’s so complicated I’m only going to list a few of the common things that can slow it down.
Examples of common reasons why metabolic rates can slow down:
- low thyroid hormone
- your history of dieting
- your size and body composition
- your activity level
- lack of sleep
We’ll briefly touch on each one below and I promise to give you better advice than just to “eat less and exercise more”.
Low thyroid hormones
Your thyroid is the master controller of your metabolism. When it produces fewer hormones your metabolism slows down. The thyroid hormones (T3 & T4) tell the cells in your body when to use more energy and become more metabolically active. Ideally it should work to keep your metabolism just right. But there are several things that can affect it and throw it off course. Things like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies (e.g. iodine or selenium) for example.
Tip: Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested.
Your history of dieting
When people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down. This is because the body senses that food may be scarce and adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food.
While dieting can lead to a reduction in amount of fat it unfortunately can also lead to a reduction in the amount of muscle you have. As you know more muscle means faster resting metabolic rate.
Tip: Make sure you’re eating enough food to fuel your body without overdoing it. Adding concentrated fruits and vegetables helps as well as a high quality protein source.
Your size and body composition
In general, larger people have faster metabolic rates. This is because it takes more energy to fuel a larger body than a smaller one.
However, you already know that gaining weight is rarely the best strategy for increasing your metabolism.
Muscles that actively move and do work need energy. Even muscles at rest burn more calories than fat. This means that the amount of energy your body uses depends partly on the amount of lean muscle mass you have.
Tip: Do some weight training to help increase your muscle mass.
Which leads us to…
Your activity level
Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move and do “work” and you can tell because you’re also getting hotter.
Even little things can add up. Walking a bit farther than you usually do, using a standing desk instead of sitting all day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all contribute to more activity in your day.
Tip: Incorporate movement into your day. Also, exercise regularly.
Lack of sleep
There is plenty of research that shows the influence that sleep has on your metabolic rate. The general consensus is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Recipe (Selenium-rich): Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
- ½ cup Brazil nuts
- 2 cups water
- nut bag or several layers of cheesecloth (optional)
- ½ cup chia seeds
- ¼ cup unsweetened cacao powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
Blend Brazil nuts in water in a high-speed blender until you get smooth, creamy milk. If desired, strain it with a nut bag or several layers of cheesecloth. If you wish to bypass this step use a high quality almond milk or rice milk.
Add Brazil nut milk and other ingredients into a bowl and whisk until combined. Let sit several minutes (or overnight) until desired thickness is reached.
Serve & Enjoy!
Tip: Makes a simple delicious breakfast or dessert topped with berries.
Oh my gosh – nutrition and diet info is everywhere!
And each expert and association tries to lead you in their direction because they know best and their advice is going to help you. Right?
Everyone has heard (and maybe lived through) the intense focus on how much you eat. This has gotten way too much attention because while this does affect your weight and energy level, it’s certainly not the “holy grail” of health.
Let’s focus a bit more on the often overlooked (and proven) benefits of what you eat and drink and how you eat and drink it.
What you eat and drink
The “calories in, calories out” philosophy (i.e. how much you eat) is being drowned out with research on other factors that may be just as important. Don’t get me wrong limiting calories, carbs or fat can certainly help you lose weight but that’s simply not the only factor for long-term weight loss and maximum energy for everyone.
When the intense focus on how much we ate didn’t work in the long-run it wasn’t really a surprise. We kinda knew that already, didn’t we?
You can certainly still continue to count your calories, carbs, and fat but don’t forget to also pay attention to what you eat.
Ideally, you need a varied diet full of minimally-processed foods (i.e. fewer “packaged” “ready-to-eat” foods). This simple concept is paramount for weight loss, energy, and overall health and wellness.
Every day this is what you should aim for:
- A colorful array of fruits and veggies at almost every meal and snack. You need the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Here’s my go-to cheat for better nutrition: Concentrated fruits and veggies!
- Enough protein. Making sure you get all of those essential amino acids (bonus: eating protein can increase your metabolism).
- Healthy fats and oils (never “hydrogenated” ones). There is a reason some fatty acids are called “essential” – you need them as building blocks for your hormones and brain as well as to be able to absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins from your uber-healthy salads. Use extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, eat your organic egg yolks, and get grass-fed meats when possible. You don’t need to overdo it here. Just make sure you’re getting some high-quality fats.
How you eat and drink
Also pay attention to how you eat and drink.
Studies are definitely showing that this has more of an impact than we previously thought.
Are you rushed, not properly chewing your food, and possibly suffering from gastrointestinal issues? Do you drink your food?
When it comes to how you eat let’s first look at “mindful eating”.
Mindful eating means to take smaller bites, eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and savor every bite. Notice and appreciate the smell, taste and texture. Breathe.
This gives your digestive system the hint to prepare for digestion and to secrete necessary enzymes.
This can also help with weight loss because eating slower often means eating less. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full?
What do you think about that?
We also know that more thoroughly chewed food is easier to digest and it makes it easier to absorb all of those essential nutrients.
And don’t forget about drinking your food.
Yes, smoothies can be healthy and a fabulously easy and tasty way to get in some fruits and veggies (hello leafy greens!) but drinking too much food can contribute to a weight problem and feelings of sluggishness.
Don’t get me wrong a green smoothie can make an amazingly nutrient-dense meal and is way better than stopping for convenient junk food – just consider a large smoothie to be a full meal not a snack. And don’t gulp it down too fast.
If your smoothies don’t fill you up like a full meal does try adding in a spoon of fiber like ground flax, protein powder or chia seeds. Here’s my favorite protein powder for smoothies.
Consider not only how much you eat but also what and how you eat it.
Recipe (Smoothie meal): Chia Peach Green Smoothie
handful spinach or mixed dark greens (kale, spinach, chard)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 chopped peach
10 ounces water or coconut water
1 teaspoon almond butter
Add ingredients to blender in order listed (you want your greens on the bottom by the blade so they blend better and have the chia on the bottom to absorb some liquid before you blend).
Wait a couple of minutes for the chia seeds to start soaking up the water.
Blend, Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: Smoothies are the ultimate recipe for substitutions. Try swapping different greens, fruit or seeds to match your preference.
Bonus: Chia seeds not only have fiber and essential omega-3 fatty acids but they contain all of the essential amino acids from protein.