• bite-sized challenge: get naked

    July 22, 2010

    I’ve let an extra week go to give VK time to settle into her new running routine, and I’m going to skip ahead two of her successful outcomes to present the next bite-sized challenge.  But don’t worry, we’ll cover them all.

    Here’s the one I want to target next:

    My body is almost always in great shape.

    Why this now?  Because while I was relaxing at a Turkish bath (Hamam) this morning, it occurred to me that this was a perfect challenge for VK.  My first brush with one of these was in Paris in 2004, and quite a brush it was – beginning with the tub of gomage (body scrub) they planted in my hand as I walked in, completely befuddled.  Not only was I a Hamam virgin, but the little French I spoke completely eluded me as I tried to come to grips with stripping down in front of everyone and finding my way through the labyrinthine layout of the place.  I couldn’t believe all the women were going about completely nude without a care in the world, and my newness was evident by the towel I kept wrapped around my waist.

    Fast forward to this morning at Porchester Spa, the oldest Victorian Turkish baths in London where being stark naked has become routine for me.  Spending a couple of hours at one of these places is enough to develop a newfound love of your body – not just because you’re indulging in nothing but cleansing and relaxation, but because every body in there is different, and none of them is perfect.  And because of that, they are.

    This being London, it was particularly interesting to see a pair of women completely comfortable in their full, naked bodies before covering themselves head-to-toe in burkas and heading outside.

    So VK’s challenge – and yours, if you choose to accept it – is to get completely naked at one of these places.  If you don’t have access to Turkish baths, then spend some time in the steam room and sauna at your gym, or look around for a nearby day spa.

    And here’s the drill: the normal procedure is to spend about 15 minutes in the steam room or as long as comfort allows, then take a quick cold shower or dip in the “plunge pool”, then return to the steam room for another 5-10 minutes.  Finally, bring the body temperature back to normal by relaxing on one of the long beach-type reclining chairs.  Aside from the ahhh factor, the real reason I’ve made this VK’s next challenge is that the Hamam experience will almost instantly make you see that your body is almost always in great shape.

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  • bite-sized challenge: belly blasting

    July 1, 2010

    So V.K. has mastered the green smoothie kick start, fruit-bowl sugar fix, daily body meditation with aplomb…what now?  Here’s the next successful outcome on her wish list:

    My stomach is flat and muscular.

    Ooh.  Wouldn’t we all like that?  Well, as someone who has always had a bit of a belly even when I was the skinniest kid in the class, I definitely know the desire for a smooth midriff.  When I used to take yoga classes in gym studios, 3/4 of my time was spent looking in the mirror marvelling at how other women managed to have such perfectly toned abs while mine were in need of atonement.

    I also know that the only time I’ve ever felt incredibly proud of my abs (aside from when I was fasting in Thailand) was when I was training for the London marathon in 2005.  I remember bending over just for the hell of it so I could see (once again) that no squishy rolls would ensue.  And this despite that I was chowing down entire pizzas from Strada in one sitting!

    So here’s what I learned for free (if you don’t count sweat): when it comes to targeting that mid-section, nothing beats the combination of running and yoga.  For the running part, slow distance runs are the key in order to burn fat.  That’s exactly what happened after those 2-3 hour long runs I was doing in the build-up to race day.  And the yoga?  Core strengthening as a nice bonus to the stretching/relaxation/meditation.

    Here’s the other thing I’ve learned: fat around the middle is very often due to high cortisol levels from too much stress.  That’s where yoga also comes into play.  See where the running/yoga combo kicks butt (and ab flab)?

    So what’s V.K.’s challenge for the next two weeks?  Well, I know she’s already a runner, so her task is to start increasing her weekly long run by 10 minutes each week while lowering her speed slightly.  We’ll focus on yoga in another challenge.

    If you’re following along and have not already discovered the cheap yet incredibly effective and satisfying exercise that running is, you have to take it very, very slow and start off with a walk/run program.  That’s how I went from not being able to run more than three minutes straight in Central Park back in 1999 to sprinting (okay, crying) past Big Ben at mile 25 five years ago.

    And you need a plan.  My favorite is The Complete Book of Running For Women.  Also check out Brendan Brazier’s new Thrive FitnessI’ve written about this professional Ironman triathlete before and how he gets his fuel entirely from plant-based food.

    Oh, and here’s yet another thing I’ve learned: all the iconic women in Renaissance art – including Venus herself – display quite generous bellies as a sign of fertility and are very in your face about them.  Bellies back then were beautiful.

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