Category: yoga

8 lessons I learned in self-defense class

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Friday night is usually kick-back-at-Nanny’s night. I get home from work, change into comfy clothes and relax for a while before Bruce and I head to my mom’s for a couple of hours of TV.

After a long week at the office, I’m ready to be brainless and lounge on Mom’s sofa while we watch cop shows. (I talk about that in Family, faith & Friday nights.)

But on a recent Friday night, I had to skip the vegging time in favor of a women’s self-defense class, organized by the women’s ministry leaders at my church. (Thanks, Maggie and Jody.)

By the time Friday evening rolled around, I was looking for an excuse to blow it off, not because I didn’t think it was important, but because I was so. stinking. tired. But I couldn’t shake the thought that someday, God forbid, I might have to employ the skills taught in the class. So … my pragmatic side won out, and I showed up.

What I didn’t expect – at all – was how much fun I would have! Who knew those punching bags could handle all my pent-up aggressions? Who knew those church ladies could put a choke-hold on our instructors in the blink of an eye?

It’s great when you can have fun while getting life-saving instruction from a knowledgeable teacher. The two-hour class was over before we knew it.

I couldn’t take notes (too busy kicking butt), but I remember a few key pieces of advice from our teacher, Matt, plus some things that weren’t in the curriculum but came to mind as I walked away from class.

Of course, I make everything I learn into a “life lesson” that bleeds into other areas. These tips will keep you safe from an attacker and help you navigate relationships, business and much of life.

8 self-defense tips for staying safe and strong

  1. Be confident. In my opinion, this is the No. 1 thing you can do. (Notice I didn’t say cockiness; that backfires. CONFIDENCE.) When coming face to face with people – alone on the street, in a crowd, during a business meeting, whatever – look them in the eye. If you don’t feel particularly confident, project it anyway. Eventually you’ll get there. People respect that, and an attacker will think twice about approaching you.
  2. Expect the unexpected. Sure, in class we knew (most times) that Matt was going to “attack” us from behind. Even when he had us close our eyes, we still felt safe, mostly. But in a real-life scenario, you never know what someone is going to do. You have to keep your wits about you, stay calm, remember your training. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. 🙂 (Yoga is good for learning the habit of mindfulness and staying calm. Click here to read the lessons I learned from yoga.)
  3. Learn how to adapt. In the class, we asked Matt a lot of “what-if” questions. What if the attacker is a lot taller/shorter, has a knife/a gun, tries this/that? What if X, Y or Z maneuver doesn’t work? Bottom line: When you’re in real-life danger, there are no rules. Use whatever tactic will get you out of the dangerous situation (including running away). In the rest of life, there are times to stand up for your rights (fight), and other times you should recognize a no-win situation (flight). Know the difference.
  4. Practice. Just as practicing the moves taught in class builds muscle memory and mental agility, practicing these principles in other areas of life helps prepare us to handle whatever punches life throws at us.
  5. Stay healthy. This includes your body and your mind. A healthy mind means you’re alert to danger, including approaching bad guys, your own ego, and that plate of glazed doughnuts your office-mate plops down in front of you. A healthy body means you’re strong and capable of taking on life’s challenges – even big-fat-hairy-scary ones.
  6. Embrace community. There’s safety in numbers. A would-be attacker is less likely to approach a group. Don’t live life as a lone wolf; it’s safer and a lot more fun with others. It’s also a great place to learn all sorts of life skills.
  7. Don’t worry so much about being nice. A few of the ladies in class were hesitant to put the instructor in a choke-hold for fear of hurting him – or making him pass out! I admit, I was afraid of that, too, at first. But Matt has taught self-defense for a long time, and he knows his limits, so I believed him when he said he would tap me on the leg when it was time to let up. Thing is, you can’t learn it unless you practice it. In other areas of life, we (especially women) worry about what others think of us. My dad taught me not to worry about that. There will always be people who misunderstand and judge (“haters gonna hate”). As long as you know you’re doing what’s right, let go of others’ opinions of you. (I’m still practicing that one.)
  8. Trust your teachers. This starts with knowing which teachers you can trust, of course. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s time to learn from their wisdom. Just as we had to believe Matt when he showed us how to do the choke-hold – because he has years of experience – we have to trust others’ wisdom when we seek advice. If you’re looking to quality teachers, trust their advice.

I learned more from self-defense class, but I’m saving some of the tips for later. (Stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, I want to thank our instructor, Matt Sellers, and Joe Valadez, the workout guy he pulled in to act as another “attacker” so that we could learn to defend ourselves. Thanks for letting us punch on you, kick you and choke you!

And a shout-out to Without Limits MMA, where our class was held. Matt and his wife, Lisa, are the owners, and they offer a variety of classes. Your first week is free, and I took advantage of the offer and spent this past week in a ladies kickboxing class, which was – oh, my goodness – AWESOME! For more info, visit the Facebook page or call Matt at (870) 307-4515.

If you’re local to my area (Batesville, Ark.), stay tuned for updates; our church ladies plan to do this again in a few months. You’ll definitely want to sign up. I’ll keep you posted.





Have you ever taken a self-defense class? If so, what’s the No. 1 thing you learned? If not, what’s holding you back from signing up?

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Tips for better sleep, Part 1

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Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half,

When we last met up here, I tried to express, without making the post a statistical snoozefest, that sleep is important. (I wanted you to get to the end of the post before you zzzzzz…..)

As we all know, lack of adequate rest can cause all sorts of problems, from brain fog to accidents to dumb decisions to chronic stress and disease.


Today it’s time to talk about how we can make sleep happen. I asked for a few ideas in the comments here and on the Facebook page, and I think most of you must have been taking a siesta, because I didn’t get a lot of response. Or … you’re like me and have so freaking much going on in your life and on your computerized devices that you didn’t notice I was asking. 🙂  Actually, I posted the question twice and got a little feedback on the other one, but no actual tips. So the feedback comes from my personal experience and that of a couple of people I talked to.

We could learn a lot about rest from dogs. When they’re tired, they sleep. Pepper really knows how to get her zzzzz’s.

As for my own advice, with all the talking I do about my love of naps, you might think I consider that the No. 1 way to get rest.


Naps are a stopgap. They’re secondary to getting a good night’s rest in the first place. So how do we do that?

Let’s count the ways:

1. Take it seriously. The first step to fixing the problem is to admit you have one. Admit that it’s not cool to burn the candle at both ends. Talking about how busy you are and how little sleep you “need” – and thinking it makes you more important than those who try to get the recommended seven to eight hours a night – is crazy talk. It’s popular in our culture, but it’s still crazy.

2. Maintain overall good health. This one’s tricky. You become healthy by getting adequate rest by eating healthy foods, exercising and keeping bad stress to a minimum by getting adequate rest. Yep, I said that. It’s circular.

3. Have an evening routine. I told my hairdresser, Natalie, that I was looking for sleep tips, and she shared hers:

She starts getting ready for bed at 8:30 p.m. It’s nonnegotiable (just like my Sunday nap). She takes a relaxing bath with a “lavender scented bath soak,” dims the lights to “create a complete relaxation zone,” then she “lubes up” with a soothing lotion. And she goes to bed right after, so as not to re-stimulate her brain and body with other concerns. Natalie understands the importance of good sleep, so she makes her nightly ritual a priority. Smart woman. (I may have to remind her of this nighttime routine after the baby arrives in a few months! Yep, she’s expecting her first.)

4. Do a few minutes of yoga or deep breathing. A while back, I found a gentle, 26-minute evening relaxation sequence from Yoga Journal that makes me feel soooo relaxed at bedtime. Try it! If you don’t want to do yoga, sit in your chair (sit up straight, like your mom told you to) and spend 10 minutes breathing deeply while clearing your mind of its stressors – heck, clear it of everything except the reminder to breathe in … and out … deeply. And you don’t have to wait until bedtime to lower stress with deep breathing; practice it throughout the day. Here’s how:

Sit up straight and tall. Breathe in through your nose for about 4 seconds. Then breathe out through your mouth for about 8 seconds (a 1:2 ratio). Do this half a dozen times, and try to incorporate the practice into your day as you recognize that you’re tense. You can even do it at your desk or in your car (parked, please).

Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half,

5. Count sheep. Or 5’s. Candy, via the Facebook page, said she uses various mantras but recently has seen “counting by 5’s” to be effective. Count backward from 1,000 and see how far you get. Count your blessings (that could be a post in itself!). Count anything that will help you relax. Just don’t count your worries.

6. Practice biofeedback. My hubby isn’t really the person to ask for sleep tips … except this one. I asked him to share:

“I learned the essentials from a theater-type who taught it to acting classes to help students marshal energy for diving into their roles.

“To begin, stretch out on your back on the floor or comfortable surface, close your eyes and be still for perhaps 30 seconds. Quiet room, perhaps gentle background music. … Then consider the outer reaches – think of each toe in turn for a few seconds, imagine a wave of tension flowing out of it or, inversely, a wave of rest/comfort flowing in. Tension being released, jitters being damped down, calm settling in; if you can feel the pulse in a toe, think of slowing it. After toes, fingers. Ankles, wrists – work your way to the middle.

“The middle is your heart rate and your breathing; as the outer reaches settle, you’ll be needing less work from heart and lungs and you can send them the same soothing wave signal and should be able to slow the rates. … Let go and sleep easy.”

7. Keep the same bedtime. Try to hit the pillow at approximately the same time each night (or morning, if you work the night shift), even on your weekend. Resist the temptation to stay up late when you don’t have to work the next day.

Homework assignment: 1) If you have a great sleep tip, share it in the comments or on the Facebook page. I already have 10 more tips written and waiting for the next post, but I can always add more. 2) In the coming week, try one of the seven tips mentioned above, then return here next report back here. 3) Share this post.

Up next: More sleep tips.

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8 life lessons (for everyone) from yoga

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SageRountreeQuote060815The first time Sage Rountree tried yoga, she was underwhelmed.

Or maybe devastated and humbled would be a more apt description.

As a runner, Rountree – who has since become a respected yogi and a popular speaker, the author of six books on yoga, and an endurance-sports coach – assumed that the yoga class she’d observed through the gym door would be easy.

The first class she attended, though, was “devastatingly hard” and “so humbling,” she said on a recent Runner Academy podcast. After three classes, she gave up and didn’t try again for a few years. But that time, it clicked. Here’s one thing she learned:

“There is such a range of yoga practices available that I really want listeners to know that if they have a negative experience, as I did, in the first class or two, keep looking, because it’s just like running shoes – there’s so many different styles out there. … You have to keep trying until you find a teacher and a style that works for you.”

In other words: Keep an open mind, and don’t give up.

RGY_72dpi_400x500p_strokeThat is great advice for all areas of life, not just for finding the right yoga class. After all, Rountree is a published author, sells DVDs of her classes and gets invited to speak expertly about yoga on runner podcasts. Maybe she would have become a prominent and respected figure without yoga (after all, she has a PhD in English lit), but perseverance was, no doubt, a key ingredient in her success.

Many times I’ve looked back at situations where I’ve given up before seeing success, and I feel regret. This is especially true when the stakes are high – when success might have meant a change in my life for the better. Or maybe it simply would have been an opportunity to build confidence or endurance, or to set a positive example for someone else. Maybe it would have made the difference between kicking a bad habit or establishing a new one.

Interestingly, when Rountree tried yoga again a few years after the initial frustrating attempts, she encountered the same teacher she’d had when she called it quits. But this time she was in a different stage of life, and this was a different type of class. This time she was pregnant and tried a prenatal class, which she loved for its gentleness and camaraderie with the other moms-to-be. She persevered, and she discovered something wonderful.

As a fairly new practitioner, I’ve learned that key concepts in yoga are strength, balance and alignment. Many people associate yoga with flexibility, and that definitely is a component, but my local teacher gives the concept of strength a slight edge over flexibility. (In the podcast, Rountree addresses flexibility in relation to runners, specifically.)

Yoga can be a great complement to running and other endurance sports – not only physically but mentally – as well as living our best lives. Open-mindedness and perseverance are just a couple of the benefits we can gain from yoga. Here are six other ideas I took from the podcast:

It helps develop mental toughness (stepping outside our comfort zone).

Runner Academy’s host, Matt Johnson, asked Rountree how to help men get over the perception that yoga is for women.

As we know, men’s and women’s physiology is different, Rountree said.

“You just have to accept that your body is gonna work really differently … so male bodies are going to look pretty different going into the shapes [poses]. If you can accept that and be open, well, that’s one step toward good mental skill for your racing: accepting the things that you can’t change and instead coping with what’s happening right now in the moment.”

Real husbands try yoga. (Bruce tries some of the poses Marnie Davis showed us at a recent Roadrunners club meeting.)
Real husbands try yoga. (Bruce works on some of the poses Marnie Davis showed us at a recent White River Roadrunners club meeting.)

It underscores the importance of making changes when necessary.

In the interview, Rountree talks about incorporating yoga into a training routine with running. As a coach, she integrates different types of yoga with different stages of a running program, depending on the type of race and the length of the training cycle. (For instance, for a 16-week marathon-training program, the first few weeks might be fairly challenging, the middle moderately so, and the final two to four weeks will be gentle as the runner tapers in preparation for race day.)

In the 21st century, one thing that’s constant is change. Being able to adapt will serve us in many areas.

It reminds us to be gentle with ourselves when we need to.

The second time Rountree tried yoga (when it finally “clicked”) was when she was pregnant and took a prenatal class. It was a totally different experience (except for a part that had previously grossed her out: massaging one another’s feet – this time she loved it!), and the gentle class was what she needed at that time in her life.

We all go through phases, through cycles of life. We all have times when it’s OK (sometimes even necessary) to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and treat ourselves gently.

(And Rountree makes restorative yoga sound amazing and wonderful – “because it’s pretty much a guided nap!”)

It helps us embrace and appreciate our uniqueness.

Runners won’t necessarily need the same type of yoga poses (Rountree calls them shapes) that others do. Most runners will be less flexible on the mat, and that’s a good thing. We want our running muscles to power us through a race or a workout, not to become relaxed noodles. Too much flexibility can actually lead to injury.

Appreciate the ways God made you different. He did it for a reason!

It urges us not to neglect rest/sleep.

Rountree talked about these two ideas separately: rest as it relates to recovery from physical exercise, and sleep as the No. 1 ingredient in restoring all sorts of physical and mental functions.

Studies have been performed for years on the benefits of mental restoration and sleep. Do I really need to say more? 🙂

It encourages us to be mindful.

Mindfulness complements the idea of mental toughness.

Rountree offered “eight steps toward yoga, or union, or connection,” and I won’t list them all here. Listen to the podcast and appreciate the practical wisdom in them, whether you’re a runner or simply someone who’d like to develop a few mental and physical practices to make life better.


(Here’s the link to Runner Academy Episode 69, or you can listen to it in iTunes. It’s 53 minutes long and worth every minute.)

At the end of the podcast, Rountree mentions Yoga Vibes and provides a coupon code for a discount on her workouts there, and she refers to other resources that runners and others may be interested in. Give it a listen.


If you live in or near Batesville, Ark., I would love to introduce you to my yoga teacher, Marnie Davis. She’s awesome in so many ways, and you have no need to be embarrassed or intimidated in one of her classes. She welcomes men and women, young and old, of all shapes, sizes and ability levels. (Don’t worry; she will be gentle with you.)

This summer, Marnie is teaching a class at 6 p.m. on Mondays in the Pocket Park on Main Street (unless it rains). If you want more info from Marnie, leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch.

What are some of the benefits you see from yoga?

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