2015 was a big year. The prior year I had done some major soul searching related to my career. On the surface everything was great. I owned two successful studios where I got to positively impact lives every day. However, deep down I wanted to offer my clients, employees and community something more.
Alkalign was born in April 2015. Our mission is to educate, empower and inspire people to be the best version of themselves that they want to be. “The best” is relative and is different for everyone. It is different depending on the day. The moment. It’s not about walking a tightrope to perfection. It’s about living in those moments. Learning a little bit each day. Stumbling. Getting back up. Acknowledging. Appreciating. Accepting. Life is a journey, not a destination. We want to help make your journey as enjoyable as possible.
This year it’s not about resolutions. Resolutions feel absolute. The only thing in life I know for sure is that nothing is absolute. Set an intention. Set a goal. Start small. Write it down. Share it with someone else who can support you in your goals.
I have a lot of goals this year. To open five studios. To sleep seven hours a night. To complete my health coaching certification. To continue to evolve Alkalign into something that will enhance as many lives as possible. Big stuff. Yet, it’s the leaping that comes easier for me. It’s the ability to live present that is the challenge. To spend quality time with my kids. To put down the phone or shut the laptop so I can chase them around the house or play hide and seek. To skip a morning workout so I can lay in bed and snuggle with my family. To find a moment to tell my husband how much I appreciate him. It’s finding that dynamic balance between today and tomorrow that challenges me. I’m setting the goal to get better at it. To find a balance that works for me and for my family and to forgive myself when one side of the see-saw is a little heavier than the other.
I hope you also find ways to Live Present and Leap Forward this year. We’d love for you to share them with us in the studio or on social media and we will commit to supporting you in your goals. #Alkalign366 #AlkalignLeap
Help us spread our mission and support Alkalign’s movement of progress, not perfection. Know someone who wants to LEAP with us and open a studio? Send them our way.
10 things you may not know about Alkalign Instructor Lizzie Hammerman
+ Lizzie played horse polo in college. She can wrap a horse’s legs ninja-fast. That is how she met her (now) husband.
+ She is an avid outdoor cyclist. She has completed numerous metric and standard centuries. She is also our team captain for Cycle for Survival!
+ She has an extensive collection of exotic stuffed animals that includes an okapi, a wombat, a ring-tailed lemur, a giant anteater and a tapir.
+ She spent a summer in college as an intern for Gallo winery in their research winemaking group.
+ She also spent a summer in college as a horseback riding instructor. She drove a little yellow bus full of children from San Francisco to Danville every day. She got a commercial driver’s license to do this.
+ She is a San Francisco native. Her parents still live in the same house that she grew up in.
+ She took her first group exercise class (it was step aerobics) at the age of 10. She has been hooked on the power of group exercise ever since. She can still do a mean “Around the World” into a “Combo Repeater”.
+ She has a weak spot for teen dramas. Dawson’s Creek, Buffy, One Tree Hill… you name it. In case you were wondering, she’s on Team Jacob.
+ She has never lived outside of Northern California.
+ She is a self-proclaimed foodie and loves to talk about restaurants.
This being my first attempt to write a blog, I realized (with help of course from the blog gurus) that I had written more of a research paper. I had researched a topic that had impacted me over the past few months. RUMINATION. I had no idea what rumination was nor its impacts. As a fitness instructor, I am constantly putting myself out there to receive feedback from clients, peers and bosses. Feedback is delivered in many forms such as; non-verbal, body language, facial expression and verbal. After I delivered a class that I felt was less than stellar, I received feedback loud and clear in all the ways I listed above and it was spot on.
We are also our own worst critics and I was in this case. I wasn’t sure how to implement the feedback I had received nor how to deal with my inner critic that was beating me down. I began to dwell on all the things I could’ve, would’ve and should’ve done, which is when I believe “negative thinking became a hazard to my health”.
While researching ways to digest and integrate feedback, I found out that I was ruminating. This is when we stew about a negative experience. This tends to send us into a spiral of negativity, and reaffirming thoughts of things we think we could’ve done to change the outcome. I was struggling to find the “notice, learn and move on” skillset that I normally use. The same area of the brain that controls our emotions can’t discern reality versus the hypothetical experiences taking us back to the negative thought over and over again.
Our brains react to negative stimuli much faster than positive. An example of this is that people can identify an angry face faster than happy one. This is due to the fight or flight response mechanism within each of us.
There is also a chemical released in the brain that contributed to the negativity I was feeling. While we go through the process of digesting these negative thoughts, our brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol. The more cortisol that is released to deal with our stress and negative thoughts, the harder it is to rebuild new positive memories. After all the research and reading, I realized I didn’t want to live in the past trying to figure out how to undo what happened. Instead, I decided to “notice, learn and move on” or better yet, “live present, be forward”.
The good news is, you can control your tendency to get stuck in the negativity junk or spin your wheels in the mud. I used a number of the following tools to assist with changing my attitude and turning negative thinking to positive.
Ways to Deal with Negative Thinking:
+ Notice if you’re stuck in the mud.
+ Set aside time to ruminate. Don’t allow rumination to take over your time. Allot time to ruminate and decide if the situation deserves any more of your time.
+ Ask yourself is there a problem to solve. If yes, set a goal to fix it, if not, move on, it’s not worth any more of your time.
+ Ensure you set goals you can achieve. If your rumination is built on something that has happened in the past, change your thoughts to something that is positive in the moment. Redirect your attention. Setgoals you can achieve.
+ You may not always agree or have to accept the current reality. However, you can accept the experience, learn from it, and move on.
+ Work out on a regular basis to send happy endorphins through your body to counteract negativity.
+ Recharge class or a massage will allow you to control your breath and tap into your parasympathetic nervous system allowing you to reduce stress.
+ Meditation is useful for taking control of your breath, awareness and subsequent redirect.
+ Sleep! Get your 7-8 hours every night.
+ Redirect your attention. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, and adult coloring books can quiet your mind.
Take the time to notice how the experience/issue is affecting you, be aware if you are ruminating, then take steps to ensure you don’t get stuck. If you’d like to know more about rumination and/or it’s relationship to cortisol there are numerous studies to be Googled! “Don’t bring negative to my door”— Maya Angelou
In last week’s Recharge class, I taught a simple breathing technique and exploration to help prioritize and recognize what’s important in your own life. It came from a discussion that I had with my meditation teacher, Harshada Wagner, a few years ago and feels even more relevant than usual around the holidays.
Basically, you can break down categories of questions and things in your life like this:
Emergent+Urgent—These are tasks with deadlines. These are every day fires and robotic chores. Have the bills been paid? Did we send a Christmas card to that person? Go to the grocery store. Pack the kids lunches for school. Your child just threw up on you (ahem, Erin) and you need to clean everyone up. Important—Why do you have a job? Do you enjoy spending the money you earn?
Precious—These are things that if you lost, your life would be diminished.
Sacred—What would you care about if you had an hour to live? A year? What matters?
On bad days when we are embedded in emergent and urgent tasks those things that are precious and sacred have to scream for attention. However, you can learn to recognize when you’re stuck in the first two layers and how to break through them. It’s about perspective when things are on fire. Take about 5-15 minutes and do the following:
+Lay on your back in bridge prep pose. (Knees bent, feet flat on the floor.)
+Place one hand on your belly, one hand on your chest.
+Close your eyes. Find stillness.
+Feel your breath move in the body. Just bring the awareness to the feeling of breathing.
+While you remain focused on the breath, notice any thoughts that bubble up (without judgement, without needing to change them, without needing to hide from them). Just acknowledge those things regardless of how significant or insignificant you think they are. Many of these things likely fall into the emergent and urgent categories—those tasks the brain thinks need doing to protect or provide for what is precious and sacred.
+Visualize something sacred. Notice how that makes you feel. Let it fill you up.
As you come out, and bring movement back into the body just notice any shifts in your awareness or approach to those things you face in your every day life. Sometimes just a few minutes of allowing yourself to bare witness to what’s happening and put that into perspective of what’s truly sacred is enough to greatly shift our overall outlook and well-being. And that’s what Recharging is ultimately all about.
Or getting on the wagon for the first time, whichever situation you find yourself in, can be challenging. Starting a new exercise program, or re-committing yourself after a break, is something that can feel intimidating. I am going to speak from my own personal experience in this blog and assure you, no one has ever felt more intimidated than me, coming back to Alkalign after a hiatus.
I have always been an avid exerciser, a lover of fitness and especially a lover of butter+sugar+flour (hence the exercise). I found our local barre studio after a tough period in my life, punishing myself on the treadmill every single day, checking off my five miles. Walking into the studio five years ago, my eyes opened up to a bright, friendly studio full of happy people and pop music. And the exercises worked! Within weeks I could see the results of the workouts, everything was tighter and smaller. I quietly tiptoed away from the treadmill dungeon in my garage and never looked back. I was a devoted barre student for two years when I went through the training to be an instructor and taught regularly for about six months. I was just starting to hit my stride and get really comfortable with that silly mic, when one of my kids had a little hiccup and needed some extra attention. I resigned as an instructor and with my tail between my legs, commenced taking classes as a regular student. There were awkward moments, when clients would assume I was still an instructor and ask for help and I couldn’t offer any adjustments. I powered through those first couple of months and found a nice regular stride. About a year later, it seemed like every single instructor was pregnant and I decided to come out of retirement, put my grippy socks on and grab a hold of that mic again. Another six good months as an instructor and another kid with another challenge to manage. I couldn’t figure out a way to stay on the schedule as an instructor and still have the flexibility I needed to manage my family and their never-ending stream of problems. So again, for the 2nd time, I had to quit. You don’t think that sucks?
I was beside myself. I felt like I had disappointed people and I couldn’t bring myself to show my face near the studio. I took a year, a whole calendar year, and tried every group exercise on the peninsula, trying to find a replacement for the exercise, the results, but mostly, the community I was missing at Alkalign. And one day I just said to myself, “This is bananas. Get yourself in there and take a class.” I literally sat in the parking lot, hands shaking for five minutes before I walked in. I have never been so intimidated in my life. Here was my place, my people, but I had failed them and was too embarrassed to try again. But damn it, I did. I tried again. And I am so glad I did.
So if you are on a little exercise break, get back on the wagon. I promise you will be happy you did. If you are curious about Alkalign and have been wanting to try it, get on the wagon for the first time. There are friendly people there who want you to succeed. It’s not some secret society of Lululemon wear-ers. Don’t be scared away by the perception that everyone knows what they are doing but you. It takes time to figure out the positions and refine them and get the most out of your workout. And I have news—no one was born doing Low C curve! We all had to learn too.
I’m going to wrap this up with a quotation that’s been rolling around in my head for a while now. I had to look it up to get it right and found that it was spoken by Robin Williams. My training partner in crime, Cathy Purnell, and I saw Robin Williams in Marin at a coffee shop during a break from an instructor training day. When I realized it was his words that continue to inspire me, it all came full circle. “There’s no shame in failing. The only shame is not giving things your best shot.”
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward
Gratitude is personal and comes in many forms. In our thoughts, words, hearts and actions. Being grateful is good for us. If you’re a data geek like me, there are an infinite number of studies and articles that spell out the benefits. But the proof is really in the practice.
We invite you to nourish yourself with gratitude. Pick up any notebook or stop by the studio and we will gift you one! (warning, despite our quote above, this gift will be unwrapped.)
Each day write down one thing you are grateful for. Start simple. Just one thing. One word even. Family. Friends. Coffee. Chocolate. Whatever comes to mind first. Notice the connection between the thought or feeling and the expression (pen to paper in this case) and how it impacts you in that moment. What if you return to that word, thought or feeling again throughout the day?
As you get into a rhythm and and make it a regular part of your day (like brushing your teeth or checking email), you can begin to elaborate. Perhaps reflecting a little deeper some days will enhance the benefits of your gratitude practice. Don’t overdo it. A little gratitude goes a long way!
Acknowledge that life is busy and stressful. There are so many challenges and sometimes that distracts us from all that we have to be grateful for. It’s ok. We are all Real, Raw and Human. This is not a chore. This is not an exercise of perfection. It’s an opportunity to reflect upon the good, the bad and the ugly. Without challenges we wouldn’t be able to appreciate triumphs.
The beauty of the Gratitude Journal is that it is for you and for you only. This is your gratitude adventure. You choose how long you want to do it. There are no start or end dates. There are no challenge boards. No stickers. No social media posts or public proclamations. This is between you and your journal. One day at a time. One word at a time. Try it for a week or a month and see how it goes. I hope you find it as nourishing as I do!
Side note: My first gratitude journal was going to be for a month and I wrote in it every single day for two years! Life got busy with a new baby and a new business. I have recently re-started my journal and it has given me a place to reflect on all that I have to be grateful for, including my amazing team at Alkalign and my supportive family of friends who have made this whole adventure possible. You know who you are and more importantly, I know who you are and am forever grateful.
For those of you out there that are talking yourselves out of getting back into a workout regime, Alkalign is the perfect place for you. My name is Maribeth and I am a working mother with four young children between the ages of 3 and 8 years old. Why am I so passionate about Alkalign you ask? The best way to explain is to break it down like this:
Physical Health—Alkalign offers classes that are inviting instead of intimidating. Alkalign not only gets you into incredible shape, but it also gives you the opportunity to stretch and stay nimble. Changes in life such as physical injuries, having babies and getting older can be extremely hard on the body and make you want to throw in the towel. After having my third baby, Erin and the Alkalign team welcomed me in and helped me to ease back into a consistent workout. More importantly, these individuals that make Alkalign so special knew the right time to start encouraging me to challenge myself to get stronger and healthier. And this is what makes the studio so appealing to all ages and levels of athletic capabilities. There have been times when I wake up and feel like I am going to crack in half and can’t even touch my toes. Alkalign not only helps with core-strengthening, it makes you focus on breathing, posture and being able to age with a strong physical foundation.
Mental Health—Alkalign is a place where I can go and just “be” without judgment. If I am having a good day, am preoccupied, worried, mad, sad, whatever, it’s where I can take one hour to stop thinking about the 100 things racing through my head and just let my mind go. Alkalign is where I go to breathe and try to release everything that is bottled up throughout my body. We are all constantly “busy” running here and there, not being able to keep up with life. Well, Alkalign is a daily one-hour chance to regroup and get focused. It is a place for me that has been critical to my sanity. Yes, that sounds dramatic, but to have one hour to decompress and let go, makes me somewhat sane.
Community—Alkalign is made up of an incredibly friendly, down-to-earth group of people. Although from the outside it may seem like a group of fit and intimidating people that have it all together, it’s actually a “free to be you and me” kind of safe haven. Whether it’s dealing with my father’s passing, going through an emotional job change or embracing the constant stressful challenges of work/life balance, I know that Alkalign is a place where I can show up and feel safe. I can cry, be quiet, be goofy, push myself to the limit and breathe like a crazy woman—I can do all those things and the Alkalign community accepts me for me. Erin is responsible for creating this amazing sense of community and trust. She is open, honest and caring and she has surrounded herself with a team that is the exact same way. This is why it’s a joy to be a part of the Alkalign family.
NBC was onto something when they came up with their educational PSA campaign back in the late 80s/early 90s. Knowledge is power and the more we know about ourselves, our bodies and our environment, the better equipped we are to make educated decisions about how to live our lives.
Education and Evolution are at the forefront of what we stand for at Alkalign. We are committed to always evolving and sharing our learnings with you along the way. Whether it entails researching the benefits of a particular exercise or evaluating a safe and effective skincare line, we want to ensure we are providing the best information possible so that you can Nourish, Recharge and Alkalign your way through life.
I have an authentic passion and dedication to healthful living. I know the world is full of icky stuff. Sickness, disease, violence, pollution. And while there are some things we can’t control, there are others that we can. We plan for the future. We purchase the extended warranty on the new washer/dryer. We save for retirement. Why not plan to be in a healthy body as long as possible?
Standing in line at Starbucks the other day I noticed the lovely posture of the women in front of me. It reminded me I should stand up straighter! The line was long so I decided instead of looking down at my phone, I would look out. I took a deep breath, lifted my ribs off my hips, and stretched my spine as tall as I could. On my exhale, I allowed my shoulders to just relax back and down my back. Wow, what a good feeling! I felt longer and leaner, I had less pressure on my lower back, and my chest opened up letting my shoulders and neck relax. This got me thinking about posture so I decided to do a little research.
First a definition: Webster’s defines Neutral Posture, or as you hear often at Alkalign, Neutral Spine, as “the stance that is attained when the joints are not bent and the spine is aligned and not twisted.” It goes on to address the benefits of Neutral Posture saying, “The benefit of achieving this ideal position would be that the least amount of stress is placed on the body’s tissues. In this position, a person is able to completely and optimally attain balance and proportion of his or her body mass and framework, based on his or her physical limitations. Good posture optimizes breathing and affects the circulation of bodily fluids.”
Now, I needed to know more about how to maintain and strengthen my Neutral Posture. More research on Neutral Spine, led to a great article on understanding Neutral Spine by the Olympic Team USA. It said the areas one would need to strengthen to enhance the position of Neutral Spine are pelvic range of motion, understanding the pelvic tilt, and the core.
If you take a class at Alkalign Studios; Barre, 101, Cardio, or Recharge, you will learn those exact concepts and more importantly you will learn how it translates to your body through movement and static holds. The majority of class time is spent in Neutral Spine. We also take time during class to understand and practice the pelvic positions of flexion, neutral, and extension.
All the core work done at Alkalign strengthens the muscles involved in balancing the back and the abdominals. Core refers to the muscles that connect your lower body to your upper body. It is made up of four major muscles: Transversus Abdominis (TA), Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm, Multifidus.
The Transverse abdominals assist with spinal stability, which is essential for good posture. The pelvic floor stabilizes the hips in association with the core and helps with balance. The Diaphragm is defined as “ a sheet of muscle that works with the muscles of the ribs to expand and contract the ribcage during breathing.” The stronger the diaphragm, the more controlled our breathing will be. Finally the Multiﬁdus, which runs the length of the spine, provides support as well as keeps us upright by providing scaffolding for the vertebral column. “Unlike most muscles, when the multiﬁdus is on stretch, when we bend forward or go into flexion it gets stronger.”
At your next Alkalign class be conscious of your posture. Stand up straighter and taller as you walk out the door. And when you find yourself in line at Starbucks, exemplify good posture and inspire others to stand taller! Here’s a Spotify playlist to inspire you to keep walking tall!
Another cycle of instructor training has begun and I couldn’t be more excited about the new women who are joining our team! Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about my own experience as I made the transition from client to instructor. There were moments when I fantasized about what it would be like to be a part of such a cool team. A few times I actually had to restrain myself from adjusting the client next to me who needed help with their form. But me? An Instructor? Noooo…
I remember exactly when Erin asked me to become an instructor and I was totally flattered! I was thrilled, but was secretly thinking “hmmm… thanks but no thanks,” I thought there was absolutely no way I could be an instructor. First, I couldn’t even tell you the names of the exercises… you know the one where you lay on your back with your legs up in the air—what body part does that work again? Second, I had never talked for an hour straight in my life. I mean, do you hear how much our instructors talk during class? I was pretty sure there was no way I could retain that knowledge and be able to string words together into coherent sentences. Third, I am a mom of two young kids, I had a job, and a home to run. I could barely fit in time to take class. So I told Erin I would think about it.
In an effort to keep an even longer story short, I won’t bore you with the mundane details of how long and hard I thought about this. The suspense is killing you right?! Obviously I said YES, and then I wanted to pass out or throw up or run away never to be seen again. I said yes. To this day I am so proud of myself for saying yes. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to be that hard! I had auditions, workshops, teachbacks, class observations and mock classes. At one point I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my reflection—I looked beyond drained and in all honesty, I was.
Training to become an Alkalign Instructor is a lot of work, as it should be. There is so much to learn, and on top of that you have to know how to properly communicate that info to clients. We learn anatomy, adjustments, modifications for pregnant women and people with injuries. All this info is packed into eight weeks of intensive training. After I taught my final mock class, I drove home, sat in the car, and cried. I was excited, overwhelmed and nervous that now I had to teach real paying clients. The Alkalign Certification Program is not only mentally challenging, it is physically and emotionally demanding as well. I cannot forget to mention how amazing and inspiring all the instructors are. There is an immense amount of self-induced pressure for a trainee to live up to those high standards!
So, here I am three years later writing this blog as the Director of New Instructor Recruitment and Training. It’s my job to make sure each trainee learns everything they need to know to give our clients a polished, challenging, inspiring class every time. Each trainee or “apprentice” as we call them, chose to take this opportunity for their own individual reasons, but ultimately they are learning Alkalign to better your practice—to help you achieve your goals in a compassionate, supportive way with the expertise to back it up. After the training period, and for the first year, we continue to call our new instructors apprentices. They are learning with every class they teach, collecting experiences and retaining so much knowledge. It takes a year to really find the rhythm.
This training session is even more special to me as I will be training alongside my group. I have once again said yes and accepted the challenge to go beyond my comfort zone and teach something new. I will soon be teaching the Cardio Align class. I am excited and a little nervous. There is so much info that I need to learn, but I am committed and up for the challenge. The training process is a very humbling experience. It has also given me so much confidence in my life outside the studio.
Team Alkalign is working hard to give you an hour of strength, flexibility, and inspiration each day you come to class. We always welcome your feedback and love seeing the smiles that show us you liked the class. It truly means so much for all of us to know you enjoy your time at Alkalign.
Let’s talk about my favorite muscle! It’s one of the gluteal muscles, aka the buttock, the seat muscles, or my nickname for it, the “back pocket”. My favorite of this muscle group is the gluteus medius, or the side of that back pocket. Often overshadowed by its larger counterpart, the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius (glut med), in my opinion as well as many other medical professionals, is functionally more important. As a physical therapist, if I could give every patient one exercise to better their overall body it would be to strengthen the gluteus medius. What’s also awesome is that Alkalign hits this muscle with specific exercises in every single class!
The gluteus medius sits on the side of your buttock, starting from the pelvic crest and outer side of pelvis, behind the gluteus maximus, and ending on the greater trochanter of the hip as well as the IT band that runs down the outside of the upper leg. To put it simply, it goes from our butt to our hip. The reason it is so important is that it works to help stabilize our pelvis while walking and helps to lift the leg to the side and turn out, called hip abduction and hip external rotation. So why does this matter? Without this muscle, not only would we not have a nice round look to our backside, we would have some serious problems. Research shows that with weakness in the glut med our knees would buckle inward and our pelvis would have excessive motion. Thus, the whole alignment of our lower legs from the hips to the feet would be out of place. Then in turn, we would have knee, hip, and foot pain. So, you have probably deduced that if we are stronger here, as research has shown, then we can negate all these issues. One muscle can make such a difference in the body!
My favorite exercise for the glut med is a side-lying leg raise with the leg slightly behind the plane of the body, slowly being lifted up and down a few inches. Look for this in the Barre Align class. Another good exercise is a standing side step with a back pocket muscle squeeze which can be found in the Cardio Align class. Also, working on single leg balance, like in the hinge position, engages the standing leg while the lifted leg reaches back and sideways, thus strengthening the glut meds of both legs at the same time! These can cause that great, but sometimes not well liked, “burn” in the “seat”.
But, a word of caution, please know that this muscle is often under-developed and although it needs attention, it needs to be built up slowly. Mix in the exercises with your everyday workouts (as Alkalign does) to get that good burn in the side of the back pocket. A warning; if you overwork it, you might be walking funny for a while. So keep challenging your body and working out in a safe and effective way at Alkalign!
Tricia Clark completed her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology and has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and works as a physical therapist at Westcott Physical Therapy in Los Altos. She grew up as a competitive athlete and has a specialty in athletics and orthopedics. Her background helped to develop her passion for mentoring young athletes in both rehabilitation following an injury and in injury prevention. She is thankful to have found Alkalign and hopes her professional expertise will help the team continually evolve their methodology and offerings.