Letting Loose

One of my favorite ways to unwind.
One of my favorite ways to unwind.

Did you know that it’s National Stress Awareness Month? Sometimes I feel like every month is National Stress Awareness Month as I am totally aware of the stress I’ve been feeling lately. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual stressors like paying taxes, thinking about what steps to take in my career, lack of sleep, and over-analyzing all of my life choices. No big deal!

There are countless books, blogs, talk shows, periodicals, and know-it-alls out there that provide a lifetime of information on the best ways to deal with stress. I’m sure your friendly health care professional has some great tips, too. However, when it comes to unwinding, I’m a huge proponent for doing whatever works for you. There’s no one cure-all way to de-stress! 

One of my favorite ways to unwind and alleviate stress is by partaking in water sports. I recently returned to the swimming pool after a long hiatus and it’s been life-changing. I spent 14 years as a competitive swimmer and I’ve missed that kind of intense exercise. You know how I feel about endorphins. I’ve also gotten into aquacycling and it’s quickly become another favorite way to really get those endorphins going. I’m addicted to the unique and intense workout, not to mention being in the water!

Central Park Boat Pond on a recent night. Doesn't even feel like the city!
Central Park Boat Pond on a recent night. Doesn’t even feel like the city!

Strolling through Central Park is another way I love to unwind. It’s so easy to get to and once I’m in the park, I don’t feel like I’m on a crowded island with 8.4 million other people. Instead, I feel like I’m on a solitary hike through the north woods of Wisconsin.

Of course, who can turn down a good giggle with friends? It’s free and it’s a great way to unwind. Laughter is the best medicine, after all. You get me on a good laughing roll and I can skip my abs workout for the day. 

A good dance party is also another one of my favorite ways to unwind. Especially since a dance party can happen anywhere, at any time. Just the other day I had an impromptu dance party while scrubbing my kitchen floors. Never felt better! All you need is music and the moves. 

Then again, what better way to unwind than by taking a vacation? I’ve never felt more relaxed than I did this last summer up north in Wisconsin. I love the vacation life. For my next trip, I’m thinking Europe. Or Vegas. Vegas, baby! I’d love to spend a weekend in my swimsuit laying poolside with a frozen drink at the Venetian working on my tan, then hitting the slots at night and maybe a party at the top of the Palms. You only live once, right? I’ve never been to Vegas and it’s a place everyone should experience at least once. Am I right?!

Tell me, what are your favorite ways to unwind?

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Hello Endorphins, My Old Friends

I used to work out all the time. And compete in races. (And dye my hair blond.)
I used to work out all the time. And compete in races. (And dye my hair blond.)

In keeping with my positive outlook for 2014, I’ve made a concerted effort to work out more. (Read: at all). Last week, I did two kickboxing classes and an aquacycling class. This week, I have big dreams of doing yoga and finding some crazy, cool new cardio class to try out. Though I’ve come up with many excuses, both clever and lame, as to why I can’t get into a good workout routine in the past couple of years, there really is no reason why I shouldn’t be working out at least three times a week. I’m not a lazy person and I used to be an athlete!

College swimming!
College swimming!

Speaking of being an athlete, while home for Christmas, I came across an old college swimming schedule that I had pasted to my dorm room wall (what can I say, I love mementos). In addition to the five two-and-a-half hour evening practices we had, there were three mandatory morning practices at 6am. Missing those AM practices was not an option. In fact, once I slept in just to see what would happen and you better believe my swim coach called me up and yelled into my answering machine until I got out of bed and over to the pool.  You see, I used to be incredibly physically active! Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine what working out 8-9 times a week would feel like.

Getting pumped up to swim at a swim meet in 2005.
Getting pumped up to swim at a swim meet in 2005.

I truly miss the days of swimming all the time and it wasn’t until I got back into the gym the other day for an old-fashioned ass-whooping (thanks Anne and Melissa), that I realize what I truly miss and crave is the release of endorphins. I love that natural high that comes when you push your body to its limits and then out of nowhere, you find the strength for just a couple more reps or to sprint across that finish line. Thanks, endorphins!

There are so many benefits to working out regularly and I was certainly reminded of that last week. It was the release of those endorphins that put me in an overall better mood despite the ridiculously cold temperatures brought on by the polar vortex.

The moral of the story is work out. There’s no excuse. Quit whining. Get off the couch and get that endorphin high. You’ll be glad you did.

Aquacycling, My New Favorite Workout

Aqua Studio NYCI’ve never been one for workout fads. You won’t find me sweating in my living room to a Jane Fonda tape, rollerblading through Central Park accompanied by Sparky, doing whatever it is you do with a Thighmaster, or defending my opinion on Soul Cycle vs. Flywheel. I attribute my lackadaisical attitude toward exercise trends to the fact that I spent 14 years of my life as a swimmer, putting in roughly 7000 yards a day in the pool. I was too busy staring at the bottom of the pool perfecting my butterfly to try to consider any other type of workout. While I focused on setting personal records, I ate whatever I wanted (think Michael Phelps diet), found myself in the best shape and not worrying about burning calories or how toned my shoulders were. To me, that defined “working out.”

Aside from swimming laps, I’ve yet to find another workout regime that rivals my swimming training. Until last Wednesday when I had the pleasure of attending my first aquacycling class at Aqua Studio NY in Tribeca. Yes, that’s cycling in a pool! Called “aquabiking” in Europe, the trend started in Italy as a way to treat knee injuries for athletes. The water helps build endurance and recovery and also provides great cross training opportunities for athletes. Aqua Studio NY founder and Paris-native Esther Gauthier took an aquabiking class while her hometown 3 years ago and fell in love with it. It was then she decided to bring this trend to the United States and open her own studio.

Anne and me in our swim team days!
Anne and me in our swim team days!

I’ve never been a big fan of plain old spinning classes because I get bored easily and I’ve never found the spinning environment to be that welcoming. We all know working out in New York is serious and competitive, but Aqua Studio NY was a nice break from that. The aquacycling class was taught by one of my former swim team mates, Anne, and it was probably the most physically rewarding class I’ve taken to date. From the moment I set foot in the Tribeca studio, I was hooked. The studio itself has a very intimate feel. With its dim lighting, exposed wood floors, and candles offering most of the light in the locker room, I felt like I had walked into a friend’s apartment. According to Esther, that’s exactly the point. The space was designed to give you the feeling that you’re walking into a friend’s house to cycle with some friends. Contributing to this feeling of intimacy is the fact that there are only about 15 stationary bikes in the pool. That meant more personal attention from our teacher and we weren’t biking on top of one another.

Aquacycling with Anne!
Aquacycling with Anne!

As soon as Anne put on the first song and we started our first few cycles, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy workout. Since the water is your only form of resistance, there’s no way to give yourself a break by adjusting your bike to a lower setting. Anne certainly pushed us to our limits and she reminded us to focus on what we can take from the water and also what the water can give to you.

Another one of my favorite aspects of the class was the ability to get a great arm workout while also focusing on legs. Because the water can hold your body weight, we were able to do some cool moves where we leaned off the back of the bike and treaded water while cycling with our feet. I’ve definitely felt that sort of resistance in an arms workout since my swimming days!

This workout was a treat for the whole body. As Esther mentioned when I sat down with her after class, “you don’t have to suffer to get a good work out.” She couldn’t be more spot on. I felt rejuvenated after class, but I also could tell that I’d worked hard. My muscles tingled and I immediately chugged a bottle of water.

As someone who loves the water, I like that aquacycling gives access to the water to a wider audience. For those of you who don’t know how to swim, have no fear! The pool is only 4 feet deep and your head is above the water the entire time. I highly recommend aquacycling to anyone who’s looking for a new challenge or wants to switch up their workout routine.

If you decide to go take a class at Aqua Studio NY, definitely take one of Anne’s! Let me know what you think!