Friday, April 15, 2016

Yoga For Public Speaking Anxiety

In addition to kicking butt at night as a fitness instructor, by day, I teach introductory communication and public speaking. Countless studies show that yoga helps with depression, stress, and anxiety. I'd link to all of the research here, but a Google Scholar search will show you hundreds of study results--most supporting the idea that yoga is a beneficial strategy for emotional management.

Given this knowledge, I always wondered: Would yoga and guided meditation help my students manage some of their anxiety before a speech? As a yoga instructor, I had been exposing them to guided meditation as a visualization strategy for their speeches, but I had not demonstrated/practiced yoga with them before. One semester, I decided to find out if yoga might be useful.

I led my students through a discussion of various anxiety reducing techniques, then we engaged in a 25 minute yoga session and ended with 5 minutes of guided meditation. Following our session, I asked student to voluntarily fill out an anonymous survey. Out of 90 students, 52 completed the survey.

None of this was for research--mostly to see if there was a potential for research. The results weren't too surprising. Most enjoyed the change of pace in class, thought it was "fun" and "relaxing," and found it "useful." You can view all of the comments and results here (there's no identifying information).

The some showed an increase in interest following the yoga/meditation class, but it wasn't a significant change. The most compelling survey result thing was that, regardless of indicated interest in yoga or meditation, MOST students agreed with the statement: "Yoga and guided meditation can help alleviate some communication apprehension and anxiety."

So, essentially, whether they liked it or not, they perceived that it could be helpful.

And THAT opens up a whole new area to study!

If you are looking for some poses to help alleviate your public speaking anxiety, or, if you're a teacher looking for some simple poses, I've compiled some easy, accessible ones below to use. Also, below, you'll find some online resources for further reducing anxiety and stress through yoga and guided meditation.

When speaking, we store tension in the neck, hips and back, so these poses will help alleviate those areas.

Click on the name of the exercise under the pic/video to see a further explanation of the specific benefits of the pose.

Legs on the Wall
Here, I offer three options. Start by sitting as close as you can to the wall. Option 1, simply rest your legs agains the wall at approx. a 45 degree angle. Option 2, inching your bottom closer, try to bring the legs to rest all the way up the wall. To exit the position, draw your knees in and roll to the side.


Modified Pigeon
This is a modified version of a more advanced pigeon pose. This one is most accessible for beginners and opens the hips. Sit with one leg back and draw the front leg inward. Feel free to lower to the elbows, or bring your forehead to the ground. You will feel this in the hamstrings of the front leg and back hip flexor area.


Standing Forward Fold (Forward Bend) with Flow
Standing with feet underneath hips, draw a deep breath in, and sweep the arms overhead. As you exhale, swan dive the arms down toward the feet. In forward fold, release the tension in the neck and let the head fall loose. Hold for as long as you like. Ragdoll up slowly, inhaling as you go, to reset your posture.


Flowing Cat - Cow Pose
*Note: My cat, Bowie makes his debut (coincidentally) during this video :)
With knees underneath hips and hands underneath shoulders, inhale and round the back up to the ceiling. Exhale at the top and press the shoulder blades apart into cat pose. Inhale, dropping through the center of the back and dropping the belly button toward the ground and exhale into cow pose.


Seated Butterfly (or Bound Ankle) Pose
This is an excellent pose to start or end with. Sitting on the sits bones, allow the hips to fall open wide, while holding the big toe or ankles. Feel free to close your eyes and proceed to guided meditation or to turn your awareness to your spine. 

This is an excellent pose to focus on posture. With eyes closed, visualize the stacking of each vertebrae, from the tip of your tailbone, through the low back, up through the center of your back, between your shoulder blades and up through the back of your neck. As you exhale, allow your shoulder blades to fall down away from the ears.


Other Resources:
**Guided Meditation--I love these guided meditations on YouTube! These can be done anywhere--at home or at your desk!




**Yoga--YouTuber Adriene offers free classes. I adore her approach to yoga. Most of her videos are approx. 30 minutes and can be done by most populations.




**Other Yoga Website of Note:








The intent behind the phrase "Namaste" that is said at the end of a yoga practice.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

An Open Letter to Parents of Teens with Eating Disorders

I've been recovered from my eating disorder for almost 15 years now.


One of the hardest parts of recovery was dealing with judgement. People have a lot more sympathy and praise for those who are overweight and lose a lot of weight. But there's something intrinsically judgmental going on when you tell people you are struggling with NOT eating. Anorexia is perceived as selfish, vain, or narcissistic. Even my therapist (at the time of my recovery) would make occasionally snide comments like, "It's not like you're sitting all day like me" or "It's not like donuts are going to kill you."

Recently, my aunt had a friend whose daughter is going through eating disorder recovery. My aunt asked me if I would write her some advice. Below is the letter I sent to the mother.

I have utmost sympathy for people struggling with any eating disorder (over or under eating). And it breaks my hearts a millions extra ways when it's a young person.

That's me--age 16, right before I began recovery. I look sickly.




Hi (Insert Name),

I'm sorry to hear that your daughter is going through this :( It's a long, rough road but it's good that the issue was identified and is being treated.

I had my eating disorder from ages 15-17. Like alcoholism, it never really goes away, you just learn how to cope and think healthier. When I went through my divorce two years ago, I almost relapsed, but I caught myself and stopped it before it became a problem.

You can read about my journey on my blog here.

Working in fitness, I've sadly encountered people with eating disorders of various types over the years. A few insights I can share (from someone who's been there and helped others):

1. Understand that your daughter's issue is a complex control issue.
The eating disorder (ED) is a way to control some aspect of your life that you feel you have no control over. And it could be a result of a variety of things--anxiety, depression, a type A personality, controlling parents, peer pressure, traumatic events, low self-esteem, poor body image, etc. Personally, with my ED, it was caused by a combination of things that I felt little control over. Once I realized that I COULD control some things (like going to college) and that other things were completely out of my control (breakups), then I didn't have to use food as a way to control my surroundings.


2. Your daughter has to WANT to get better.
Forcing someone with an ED to get help will be unsuccessful. They have to realize that they have a problem and want to be healthy for themselves. I was in total denial of my problem until my little sister confronted me about it. Then it really hit home that I needed help. Some people with EDs are in/out of treatment, but it's not until they have liver, kidney, organ failure, or other health issues that they finally commit to recovery. Your daughter will have a wake-up moment (if she hasn't already).


3. You are not a bad parent.
I think my mom can speak more about this, but usually parents assume that they did something wrong and that's why their child has an ED. Parenting isn't 100% to blame for ED. You can have a wonderful childhood but still develop an ED. It also doesn't help that ED kids are usually angry and ashamed and lash out at their parents during the recovery process. I said a lot of "I hate you" to my parents during the process of my recovery, but they continued to show me love and support and I'm so grateful for that.


4. Help your daughter find an outlet to focus her attention on.
For me, instead of obsessing over my relationship break up and food, I refocused on going to college. I put a lot of energy into finding a good school and looking forward to college. I wanted to get better so that I could go to college and be successful.


5. THERAPY. 
Therapy has helped me so so so much in my life (with my ED and later, with my divorce). A good therapist that your daughter trusts can make a difference. I also suggest that parents go to talk with the therapist alone so they can understand and cope. Therapy helped me begin to rationalize my behavior and thoughts. It helped me see that they were irrational thoughts.


6. Refocus what it means to be "healthy."
For a long time, I though being "healthy" meant being skinny. I refocused on being "strong." I got into group fitness and set strength goals. Previously, I thought food was just to keep the body running, but through recovery I began to realize that food is necessary to being strong and your body needs it to improve.


7. Your daughter has been praised on her thin looks. 
Many of her peers (and strangers) may have complemented her on her thinness. Refocus compliments that are not based on her looks. Something like, "You're so smart" or "I'm really proud of your (achievement)" or "You have a beautiful soul."


8. Eat dinner together. 
You can't force her to eat (that would do the opposite of what you want), but you can create a happy family dinner environment. I helped prepare the meals and our whole family would sit together at the table for 30 minutes after dinner talking so that I couldn't get up and go throw up my food.


9. Look for signs of other eating disorder behaviors developing. 
It isn't uncommon for someone with and ED to develop a different disorder as they start to recover. I started with bulimia, picked up anorexia, and developed exercise bulimia. Watch for signs that the person is hiding other disorders. People with EDs will LIE LIE LIE because they are ashamed and embarrassed. Do not let them lie to you. Be persistent about making them tell you the truth.


It's a long, rough road to recovery and it breaks my heart to hear about a girl as young as your daughter going through it. However, it does get better! If you have any questions, feel free to ask! Continue to show your daughter love and support and she will get better in time.


Kindest,
Laura Bruns



Monday, February 8, 2016

Les Mills BodyStep Training Review

Kia Ora!

That's the Les Mills way of saying hello. I finished my very first Les Mills training last weekend. Yep, after 10 years of teaching, I finally drank the Les Mills kool-aid. And it's pretty damn good kool-aid.

Before I get into the review, let me provide some context for the post.

I've been teaching 10 years and have done a variety of specialty trainings and workshops (Werq, Zumba, P90x, Insanity, RIPPED, Piyo, Turbokick, YogaFit, etc). I have my AFAA Group Exercise, Personal Training, and Kickboxing certs. I've taken a variety of "skill development" one day workshops for continuing education (Pilates, Step, Strength training, HIIT). Even with all of that experience...BodyStep was still a challenging format to learn to teach.

No, I don't know everything and I'm always open to learn new things. I still maintain that new instructors would benefit from a general certification before specializing--even in Les Mills. A basic cert provides a basic understanding of WHY and HOW fitness companies create choreo, basic anatomy, and what exactly the benefits are of a "3 peak cardio workout" like BodyStep.

Les Mills does not require this basic foundation cert. I'll admit, a LOT was covered in the two day workshop (as I'll discuss below). However, a basic certification will make it easier for new instructors who are struggling with hearing the 32ct. beat, safety, and cuing. I still stand firm in my recommendation to go get a general certification first and I'd recommend that for any training or fitness teaching.

Please don't misunderstand my opinion. I'm NOT saying that Les Mills-only instructors aren't prepared to teach. For sure they are. I'm just recommending to new instructors that a basic cert will give you a foundation to make your Les Mills training easier. *end of opinion*

Okay, let's dig into the training details...

Day 1

I happen to live about 7 minutes from where the training was being held. This NEVER happens with fitness trainings and so I was jazzed that I was going to be able to sleep in my own bed at night! After arriving, I met our presenter, Stephanie. If sunshine was a person, it would be Stephanie. She was a fantastic presenter (and all around human being) and she put us all at ease. We did our introductions (yay public speaking!) and then did the traditional Les Mills "handshake" where you touch foreheads and noses with everyone in the room and say "Kia Ora [insert your name]." Talk about breaking down barriers immediately! (side note: I'm TOTALLY doing this with my Communication students!)

We went over the 5 Key Elements that make up BodyStep. Next was the master class, where we all got to do the choreo from start to finish. Then a break to talk about choreography. Stephanie had this awesome red light/green light system to let us know when to refuel during lecture or break. Green = FOOOOOOOD. RED = MOVING. It was a great reminder to eat and drink water! Please excuse the horrendously out of focus pic. I tried to snap it at the end of the day and my hands were shaky! It was a great idea that all presenters should use! I've been at trainings where you don't know what the break situation is!

Please excuse the blurriness. My phone camera can't handle low light!

After the choreography overview, we worked on our step technique, going over every move that's done in BodyStep. After moving for two hours straight it was nice when our 3pm break rolled around and we discussed coaching. The coaching overview was an excellent reminder for me personally. Les Mills has coaching broken into three layers. I've been teaching so long that it was hard for me to separate the layers out. I'm also going to say right here that Stephanie's notes and visual aids were FABULOUS! They were interactive and fun to follow along with!

Three Layers to Coaching

We practiced coaching and ended our first day! I went home and ate tons of pasta, had a glass of wine and CRASHED.


Day 2

Day 2 Schedule

Day 1 had NOTHING on the physical demands of Day 2. We started the day with a fun "Family Feud" style review game to help us remember the stuff from yesterday. Again, I can't emphasize enough how contagious Stephanie's energy was. Seriously was hard waking up that morning! Then we talked about the requirements of certification. You have to film yourself within 60 days of your training, for example. Speaking of filming...

We jumping into teaching each other our assigned tracks while Stephanie filmed and critiqued us. So basically we went through the whole workout. Afterward, we watched our videos and discussed the feedback as a group. This was helpful for me because listening to the critiques of others gave me perspective on what I can also do to improve. Not gonna lie, my feedback made me super starry eyed. Just gotta learn to space out my cues (and not talk so much).

My eval :)

After critique, we did a little more practice of our moves/cuing and then it was BODY STEP CHALLENGE TIME.

Other Les Mills instructors at training were telling me that the challenges are usually brutal and designed to test your limits. This was just that.

We went through the Athletic Circuit track THREE times. With sprinting up/down straddles in between each track. For those not familiar, the Athletic Circuit is a series of three cardio/strength intervals designed to peak the heart rate. In this season, the track is (MINUTES) long.

By then end of the 2nd time through the track, I wanted to die. cry. pass out. But I didn't. And we made it. It was a good reminder of how our new participants are feeling when they take an intense class. It's been a lonnnnnng time since I've been pushed to that point, so it felt good to find my limits. I definitely feel like I could work harder in my personal HIIT workouts!

After the challenge, we got a chance to eat and change clothes. Then we did a fun "Survivor" style game where we faced challenges (push up, balance, arm wrestle, etc.) to find the greatest "Step Survivor." The game was a much needed mental/physical break.

Our last lecture of the training came next and focused on Performance. After lecture, it was one last practice run-through then time for our final evaluation. You could get a 1/3, 2/3 or 3/3. A 1/3 is "pass pending" meaning, you need more practice. A 2/3 and 3/3 is "Pass." I ended my day with a smile and a 3/3!


OVERALL: This was definitely in the top three trainings that I've ever done in terms of usefulness and fun. Also, it helps that Stephanie was a fantastic presenter, and that's key for really selling the format. I've done trainings where the presenter was just okay, and it didn't get me pumped on the format. Stephanie's positivity was so contagious that after training, I was like, "I WANNA TEACH THIS ASAP!" Never a dull moment in training, it moved quickly, and it was nice to meet so many awesome peeps!


Tips for training:

--Bring lots of snacks as there really isn't time to go get food.
At some trainings you have an hour break to go drive somewhere for food. This isn't that type of training. It's non-stop all day. Snacks help keep you fueled and don't weigh you down. I packed things like fruit, hummus and pita chips, Quest bars, granola, yogurt, sandwiches.

--Eat a good breakfast.
It will power you through the morning sessions.

--Bring a change of clothes for Day 1 and TWO changes for Day 2.
Day 2 is more strenuous. I didn't change on Day 1, but Day 2, you are DEFINITELY going to want to change after the challenge.

--Bring back up pencils/pens.
I made this rookie mistake on Day 1. I forgot my bag with extra pens/pencils AND I forgot my printed out forms. So I had ONE pen and I lost it within the first half hour of training. Don't be like me :)

--Absorb the info.
If this is your first training EVER, take lots of notes. If this is not your first training, take notes on the stuff you find relevant/important. Absorb what you can. For experienced instructors, this training is a great refresher on teaching and cueing.

--PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Absolutely practice your choreo before the training and memorize your track. My best advice is to watch the DVD and listen to the track over and over to hear the changes in music. Having it memorized will save you time and stress during the training.

--A note to those, who like me, are experienced in freestyle step but are taking the BodyStep cert:
The hardest learning curve for freestyle step instructors in getting this cert, will be learning the choreo and how Les Mills wants you to preview/precue 8-16 counts before the move. Also, if you have taught freestyle step, throw out any traditional terms before this training. Les Mills has their own lingo for step moves. They are pretty straightforward (and in some cases, simpler) terms, but it still takes some adjustment in calling a "shuffle turn" a "shuffle cha cha" for example.



Today I'm team teaching 75% of the class for the first time! Wish me luck *fingers crossed* Anyone else done the BodyStep training and have advice to share?