Contrary to what you might think, yogis don't contort themselves just to impress people. The poses—or asanas—we twist into keep us healthy because they massage and stretch the organs and help build lean muscle.
That said, it's National Yoga Month, so Beachbody® has asked me to celebrate with a little aspirational eye candy. I encourage you to try these 10 outlandish asanas, but you might want to do them with your favorite yoga master's help.
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Stretch out and open up 14 of your largest joints, strengthen your quadriceps, calf muscles, and improve your balance all with this one pose. You also increase your ability to balance and supply a fresh flow of blood to your kidneys and reproductive organs, making you one hot, sexy, balanced pretzel.
In this pose, you're not pushing the plow, you are the plow. But imitating a piece of farm machinery has its advantages. This asana can help reset your organs, activate your thyroid gland, and stretch out the spine, shoulders, and neck. Inverted (upside-down) poses also help keep your insides young and vital, so use this pose to turn more than your frown upside down.
The ideal way to do this jaw-dropper is with the hips aligned, as you can see in the photo on the left. It really stretches out the thighs, hamstrings, and groin area. Athletes and those who suffer from sciatica greatly benefit from this stretch that doubles as a fun party trick.
You may be able to sit with your feet on top of your knees, but can you do it upside down? This inversion offers a great stretch for the shoulders and neck and stimulates the thyroid gland. And as an added bonus, it tones the abs, as you'll have to keep your core tight to hold yourself steady.
Need to get away from it all? This bizarre-looking asana stretches the shoulders and the muscles that support the spine and neck, and offers a welcome respite from the noise of the outside world. Ah, silence.
Though you balance on your arms and wrap your legs around them in this pose, it's your core and pelvis that do most of the work in this asana that opens the hips, tones the abs, and helps you not take yourself quite so seriously.
This heart-opening asana stretches out the neck, chest, lungs, and quads and strengthens the spine, legs, glutes, abs, and arms. It also wakes up your thyroid and pituitary glands. Think of it as a yogic espresso shot!
This pose is great for stretching the groin, arms, and legs. It also provides a wonderful grounding effect to your heart when you're bendy enough for your chest to touch the earth.
On those days when you just can't concentrate, help get more blood to your head with this asana that calms the brain, relieves stress, stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands, and improves digestion.
Like most of us, your posture could use some help. This asana can help by drawing your shoulders back and keeping your spine in the proper position. It also strengthens your lungs by opening up the rib cage, allowing you to take fuller, deeper breaths.
It could take a little work, but keep at it and you'll be reaping the bendy benefits before you know it.
Got a favorite bendy position? Snap a photo and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org! If we love it, we'll feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
"Saucy Sun Salutations: Why Yoga Is a Natural Aphrodisiac"
"Namaste A-Okay: 3 Surprising Ways Yoga Benefits You (Including Weight Loss!)"
"6 Reasons Why Yoga Is a Great Way to Start the Day!"
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And if you'd like to know more about Beachbody Director of Results Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration. You can also read a more scientific (not to mention snarky) take on many of the topics we discuss here at The Real Fitness Nerd blog.
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True story: I was a fat kid, peaking at about 225 pounds by age 18. In my more socially awkward moments—and there were many—junk food was my best friend. Or so I thought. When my algebra class crush would gave me the "just friends" speech or a so-called buddy would jokingly call me "Fatso," nothing said acceptance like a pint of Rocky Road and half a package of Nutter Butters.
Today, I weigh about 160 and I'd love to tell you those urges are behind me. Sadly, they're not. On bad days, it takes a concerted effort not to pig out. My name is Denis Faye and I am a junk food junkie.
Given our nation's exploding obesity and diabetes rates, you very well could be too. The good news is that with a few tricks and a little hard work, together we can keep those sugar monkeys on our backs under control.
It's safe to say that junk food addiction is a very real thing. The first place to look for proof is the ever-mounting pile of scientific evidence, including a recent study out of Sweden showing that the hormone ghrelin, which activates the brain's reward system and increases appetite, reacts similarly to sugar and alcohol.
Then there are the increasingly decadent foods we have 24-hour access to. In his book The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler theorizes that manufacturers have, over the years, engineered the balance of fat, sugar, and salt in junk food to the point of making it irresistible. He refers to our gluttonous response to this crackified food as "conditioned hypereating."
Most of this current thinking revolves around physiological factors, such as the fact our brains are hardwired to seek out highly caloric foods as a "feast or famine" instinct left over from caveman days. Unfortunately, human beings are slightly more complex than our primitive ancestors. By adulthood, most of us are a hodgepodge of neuroses and psychoses for whom a Twinkie has become a security blanket, so this urge to splurge will never completely vanish. Sure, you can retrain your body to crave healthy food, but your psyche may never stop seeking validation, Hostess® style.
Luckily, a well-trained body goes a long way towards helping a slightly off-kilter mind. For example, if I were to force down that aforementioned slice of Sara Lee® heaven, I'd get physically sick. After years of clean eating, my digestive system has lost its ability to handle the toxic effects of a sugar hit like that, not to mention the preservatives and additives. Thanks in part to these newfound "limitations," today I can walk away from the cake or limit myself to one or two bites—but that's taken years of training.
But it wasn't easy. If you're going to break a sugar habit, it's going to take time, patience, and willpower. But take it from a guy who used to work his way through an entire box of Cap'n Crunch® for breakfast: If I can do it, so can you. Here's where to start.
"Sugar Addiction Detox 101"
"10 Tips for Controlling Your Inner Cookie Monster®"
"Spring Cleansing: 5 Great Reasons to Do a Detox"
Maybe you're trying to reduce or eliminate animal products from your diet. Maybe you're just looking to add additional protein sources to your dinner plate. Or perhaps you're simply interested in culinarily mixing it up a little. Whatever the reason, it'd probably benefit you to look into protein alternatives given, according to the USDA, the average adult American male ate 293 pounds of meat last year. The average woman ate 183 pounds. No one needs to eat that much of anything.
But before we begin, to call these ingredients "meat substitutes" isn't really fair. It sets all these yummy foods up for failure. If you're looking for something that tastes like steak, well, only steak tastes like steak. The same goes for fish. I'd say the same goes for chicken, but everything tastes like chicken. The mistake is in thinking that you can prepare tempeh or seitan or any other nonanimal protein and it will taste like meat. Instead, learn how to prepare these four great alternative protein sources, and enjoy the flavors and textures for their own sake.
As far back as 100 BC, the Chinese pressed soymilk curds into soft, white slabs of tofu. These days tofu is available in almost any grocery store, in consistencies ranging from soft to extra firm. Straight out of the package, it is squishy and pretty much tasteless. Its beauty lies in its ability to absorb flavors. It can be cubed and thrown into your stir-fry. It can be whirled into your smoothie to make it creamier. It can be sliced in slabs, marinated, and grilled. You can use it to make mock cheesecake, "creamy" sauces and dressings, cheese-like pasta fillings, and much more.
Tofu is the most ubiquitous and versatile of the meat analogues, and in addition to being a low-calorie, complete protein (raw tofu is approximately 20 calories per ounce), it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, iron, and copper (which helps red blood cells use that iron). Most tofu is also enriched with calcium during processing. It can help lower total cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, and its phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogens) have been shown to ease menopausal symptoms.
But be careful—tofu becomes a problem in processed foods. Almost every "healthy" vegetarian frozen food or faux meat contains tofu or some other highly processed soy product. And that's not good. Eating a healthy, balanced diet means not relying too heavily on any one specific food—and that includes tofu.
What's the problem with eating soy all the time? 90% of the U.S. soybean crop is genetically modified. No studies have yet shown that genetically modified foods pose any health risks, but no genetically engineered food crops grew in this country before the 1980s. We join a large chorus of skeptics who question the wisdom of genetically modifying our food supply until more is understood about the human response to this kind of tinkering. Avoid this by only buying soy products that have been certified organic.
Another grey area surrounding soy is its relation with cancer. On one hand, researchers have found that eating lots of soy might help prevent breast and endometrial cancers in women and prostate cancer in men. However, some studies using animal subjects suggest that high amounts of phytoestrogens might actually promote breast cancer. While the scientific community works to find answers, we feel it's OK to enjoy soy in your kitchen in moderation. Just not at every meal.
Tempeh is another soy product, but it is made from fermented, whole soybeans and is less processed than tofu. So you get all the benefits of soy—the protein, the trace minerals, the phytoestrogens—plus the probiotic boost that fermented foods offer.
After the beans are fermented, they are pressed into a firm, textured cake. Like tofu, tempeh is a versatile ingredient that absorbs other flavors like a sponge. But unlike tofu, tempeh has an earthy, nutty flavor that makes it delicious to eat on its own.
To enjoy, slice the cake into slabs and stir-fry it, marinate and grill it, use it in chili or jambalaya, or even use it to make burgers.
Also known as mock duck, this vegetarian protein is made from wheat gluten, so if you're not on a gluten-free diet, it's perfect if you are allergic or are trying to cut down on soy products.
Like soy, seitan is high in protein and low in fat. It also resembles meat in both color and texture when it's cooked. Like soy products, seitan takes on whatever flavor you add to it, so it's perfect for marinating. In fact, you can buy seitan already marinated in barbecue or teriyaki sauce. Use it as a substitute in recipes that call for firm tofu or tempeh.
Quinoa, which is grain-like (and can be cooked like other grains), is actually a seed. It's also gluten free. Eat it in the morning as a hot cereal, use it as the base for a tabbouleh or pilaf, enjoy it in your salad, or include ground quinoa as one of the grains in a homemade loaf of multigrain bread. You may even find pasta made from quinoa in your grocery store.
Quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It's particularly well-stocked with the amino acid lysine, which helps with tissue growth and repair. Maybe that's why quinoa was called "the gold of the Incas." It is also a good source of folate, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium. And it's delicious!
"The Big Cheat: 5 Reasons to Say NO to Steroids"
"Can You Build Muscle as a Vegan? (And 9 Other Questions About Going Meatless)"
"Muscles in a Tub: A Beachbody® Creatine FAQ"
Get to know this super-fit New Zealand native and mother of three.
(Makes 1 serving)
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P90X/P90X2 Nutritional Information: (per 2 servings)
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