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Food for Thought

One of my “day jobs” is working “background” on various films and TV shows filming in New York. To give an example of a typical today on a set, I’d like to use the phrase “hurry up and wait”. Sometimes we have to get there by a certain time, which is usually very early in the morning on very little sleep. We check in, then we have to get dressed, have make-up and hair done, have photos taken of us on phones which will be sent to various departments for “approval”, and then we literally just sit around and wait.

Sometimes, when I’m working with my car, it means that I’m going to either be sitting in my car for long periods of time by myself, or possibly sitting around inside a basement, church, etc.

During this time where asked to stay in something called “holding” as described above, where there’s very little to do if you did not bring something to read, or there is no WiFi to work on your computer. We do end up talking, or checking messages on our phones, but mostly, we are confined to our small space except for being allowed to go to something called “crafty”, as we may be called at any moment to work on set.

“Crafty” is basically a table under a tent filled with plenty of food. Some are healthy, and some are not. You’ll see lots of coffee pods in various flavors that work in a Keurig or similar machine. There will be lots of candy, cookies, and other sweet treats that will satisfy a sweet tooth, and then lead to a sugar crash.  But if you look carefully, there are many healthy options to choose from under the tent.

Typically, many people will go for the carbs, and simple sugars, but if you are conscious, one will also see that there many delicious foods that are easy to grab such as, cut bell peppers, fresh mango slices, celery, carrot sticks, pita bread, hummus for dipping, small sandwiches, oranges and bananas… One can make peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches, and although I like my coffee, having more than one would not be a good idea, so I switch to herbal tea and water for the rest of the day.

The trick to eating on set, vacation, or even a party, is training yourself to decide what is healthy and what is not. Training yourself to decide what is satisfying in the long run that will give you true energy, as well as nutritionally. If you need such a sweet fix, having a piece of watermelon or cut mango is way more satisfying then say, a cookie or a big piece of cake — that doesn’t give long-lasting energy, has less nutritional value, and doesn’t fill you up the same way as fruit. And adding a small protein will also satiate you longer than simple sugars.

I derive enjoyment from mangoes, watermelon, veggies that are cut for me, vs. candy and cookies, knowing this type of sweetness is more satisfying, nourishing, and will fuel my workouts when I finish, even when I am sitting around in holding in the rain.

Also, there is a beauty in eating from a color palette. Having red, such as red peppers and watermelon; orange — baby carrots; yellow — pre-cut peppers and mangoes; green — celery, spinach, lettuce, honeydew; blue — blueberries; purple — beet juice (which is made for us in a juice press or machine). It’s so much more satisfying than having your typical beige and brown food (unless you include hummus and almond butter!).

On the second day of last week’s project, I knew that basically they were just using my car and not me. So I took the liberty of walking up and down the block many times, which had a nice incline, but staying close to set in case I was suddenly called.

Granted, I did do my yoga workout that morning, and lifted my weights similar to the weight workouts found in Healthy Things You Can Do In Front of the TV for Chest, Rows, Biceps, Triceps, and a few abdominals, as well as Rear Flies and Chest Flies. But I did want to supplement my workout with a little bit of cardio, so I had been walking up and down the hill attempting to get a little bit of my cardio in that day while the sun was out, and the air was fresh.

It also inspired me to write this article.

Although there is “crafty”, there will also be a fully catered lunch. Like “crafty”, there are also many healthy and unhealthy to choose from. Many folks will go for the meat, and many will go for the sweet cakes at the dessert table, as they do look pretty.  However, if you look at my plate, you will see: brown rice, spinach, swordfish, and grilled vegetables. I opted out of dessert, because I know that there will be “crafty” later on, where the be plenty of cut fruit and other treats for me to partake from.

Speaking with the crew on set that day, as well as other actors in holding, many of them want to work out, and don’t have the time. Hence why the exercises in Healthy Things You Can Do In Front of the TV are so important. Even just choosing a few of them while you’re on a break or in holding can be done while you’re sitting down, such as the leg lifts while you’re in a chair, or standing leg lifts holding the chair back, simple or 1 legged squats, or even lunges. These are all things you can do when you’re cramped up in a small space or in between takes. The crew, who need to lift a heavy equipment could do things like “roll downs”,  Warrior 1 and 2, forward bending stretches with one leg forward, using the equipment as a props to help them stretch the tight hamstrings. It is very important to keep your hamstrings in check so that your lower back does not give way when lifting heavy equipment, or wearing a camera on a shoulder harness.

In closing, when presented with many options, and perhaps even too many options to eat, try to choose the options that provide the most color to your plate, as well as choose the options that will fuel and nourish your body, versus just fill your stomach!


Kama Linden has been teaching fitness for over 2 decades. She has taught strength, step, pilates, vinyasa yoga, senior fitness, and has worked with clients and students of all ages and fitness levels. She is certified by AFAA Group Exercise and NASM CPT, as well as 200 hour Yoga. She has a BFA in Dance from University of the ARTS.  Her new book, “Healthy Things You Can Do In Front of the TV” is available on Amazon.com, and will soon be available on BN.com, and Kindle. Visit her website, bodyfriendlyoga.com

plank 2 elbows 2

The Power of Plank

Many people will go to the gym in hopes of “looking” better. Although we all want to be our best selves, working out for a “look” vs. overall strength and well-being can lead to imbalanced muscles, as well as other injuries. This can be especially true for those looking for a “flat stomach” or “washboard abs”. However, the true importance of abdominals is to strengthen and contain the organs in our central region, as well as support the spine, especially the lumbar region.

In Pilates, as well as in Yoga, our main focus is the Transverse Abdominus. A way to think of this: the saran wrap, or casing of a vegan sausage, that wraps all the way around, and holds everything together.

For this reason, many exercises are done in neutral spine, vs. merely moving one’s head up and down. In fact, many people injure their necks because they “pull on their heads”, and don’t even come up high enough to achieve enough forward flexion to have the desired result of abdominal contraction.

I have also encountered students who have had neck and spinal injuries that prevent them from curling up. Does that mean that abdominal strengthening is off the table? The answer is quite the opposite.

Plank is such a wonderful and functional exercise. Learning how to maintain one’s body in neutral spine plays into everything that a person does in daily life activities: from simple sitting and walking, to running and spinning. And you would NEVER want to lift a box in a rounded spine, so it is important to learn to TRAIN the body for real life.

When working with beginners, I will often use a raised box or platform to take the edge off, as having the chest inclined upward will help a new person ease into the idea of eventually having a horizontal line. However, remember that this is not a FLAT line by any means! The spine has 3 curves: the cervical spine (at the neck) has a concave curve, the thoracic spine (back of the rib cage) has a convex curve, and the lumbar spine (lower back) has a concave curve. And if you want to add a 4th, the pelvis/sacrum has a convex curve as well. Together, this “S” shape is what keeps a body “straight”.

To get started: Find and all fours position where you can feel “the suspender” action: when the base of your ribs and your pelvic bone will feel like they are aligned in the front. All your curves in your spine will be present. Your arms will be directly under the line of your shoulders.

At this point I will cue, “Elbow, elbow, leg, leg”. Place one elbow on the mat or on the bench (if modifying), then the other, then walk one leg back straight, followed by the second. The elbows will still be right under the line of the shoulders. The Head will remain elongated (never hung, and DEFINITELY not hanging into one’s hands, hoping for it to be over). The chest is expanded, not rounded, as if you have a great necklace or t-shirt you want everyone to see. The feet are parallel, not spread apart. And although a strong plank will lead to a strong downdog, the BUTT is NOT above the chest. The opposite can be true, especially for a beginner on a box, or when doing the plank on straight arms, but sticking the butt up in the air takes away from the abdominals, and will eventually hurt one’s back and shoulders. Same is true for pelvic tucking/back rounding. The trick is to find and enjoy the neutral spine alignment.

As you progress, some fun variations on plank are:

  1. Gently lifting one foot off the floor a few inches, and placing back down. Doing 8-16 reps alternating legs.
  2. On straight arms (if on the mat), or on bent elbows (on a platform that is 2-4 risers high), gently bend one knee to 90 degrees, hold for a second, place back to parallel on the floor, and switch sides. Doing 8-16 reps alternating legs. This is NOT to be done as a run, as many people will lift their butt/hang their head/round their back. This is meant to be done in a slow and controlled manner for the most pain, I mean FUN!
  3. More advanced, you will see me do a plant on straight arms with my feet on a foam roller. Without changing out of neutral spine, I will gently roll the roller with my feet toward my midline, (about a 90 degree angle), and then extend back to the original plank, without letting my center sag. I do not do this on a ball as that would lift my butt. Again, it is better to have the chest higher than the hips, rather than the reverse.

Of course, plank does involve a bit of strength. Therefore, new students could simply go to an all fours and practice finding neutral spine. Or, to modify further, sit at the edge of a hard backed chair, and practice aligning one’s ribs and hips, and then containing the abdominals. Hold for a count of 5, and release.

In closing, abdominal strength is so much more than flat stomachs and washboard abs. Using the power of the plank, one can achieve true abdominal strength that will help with all sports and daily life activities.


Kama Linden has been teaching fitness for over 2 decades. She has taught strength, step, pilates, vinyasa yoga, senior fitness, and has worked with clients and students of all ages and fitness levels. She is certified by AFAA Group Exercise and NASM CPT, as well as 200 hour Yoga. She has a BFA in Dance from University of the ARTS.  Her newest book is titled, “Healthy Things You Can Do In Front of the TV”.  Visit her website, bodyfriendlyoga.com

Male doctor explaining the spine to a senior patient in medical office

3 Curves = Straight: The Importance of Neutral Spine in Exercise

I have been teaching strength training, as well as Pilates based mat and Vinyasa Yoga for over 2 decades. As a former dancer, I know that I was always struggling with having a “flat stomach” or having a “flat back”. Dancers, in trying to achieve that “perfect turnout” and “flatness”, were often taught to “elongate the spine” by “tucking the pelvis” under, which basically leads to a posterior tilt. Unfortunately, this idea is often taught in fitness to the general population. Trainers and teachers alike, some coming from the dance world, will tell students to “protect their back” by tucking the pelvis such as during standing exercises, even bicep curls, or worse, curl their knees into their chest while lying on the ground or bench, and attempting to do a chest press. Students will be so conditioned to this ROUND SPINE and TUCKED PELVIS, that eventually when they stand, this is their posture. Over time, the discs can bulge, and the forward pelvis will eventually lead to lower back pain they were trying to avoid, as well as knee pain and other issues.

I am a reformed pelvic tucker. I advocate neutral spine when teaching, whether it be standing work such as bicep curls, pronated work such as plank and push-ups, or supine work such as leg lowers and overhead triceps.

The spine has 3 curves: the cervical spine (at the neck) has a concave curve, the thoracic spine (back of the rib cage) has a convex curve, and the lumbar spine (lower back) has a concave curve. And if you want to add a 4th, the pelvis/sacrum has a convex curve as well.

Together, this “S” shape is what keeps a body “straight”. Constantly flattening one’s back or pushing one’s vertebra into this position will eventually damage them. Plus you have to learn to CONTAIN YOUR MUSCLES, not force your vertebrae. There is a moment when the base of your ribs and your pelvic bone will feel like they are aligned in the front, like suspenders. Whatever curves are left over should remain.

Sometimes I do my supine abdominal work as well as strength training on a foam roller (pictured at right). This way there is no avoiding working in neutral spine. Plus, the foam roller will target the transverse abdominus as you are struggling to keep the foam roller still while performing exercises such as chest press, chest flies, overhead triceps, single and double leg lowers, etc.

Another bad habit that trainers and teachers tell their clients and students is to “sit on their hands” while performing exercises such as leg lowers. This is BAD for every reason. Your hands have small bones and veins which are easily damaged by sitting on them. Say you are 200+lbs, and you are putting all of your body weight on your hands! This is not good! I often joke and tell my students “I am a guitar player! I am not going to sit on my money makers!” Also, sitting on your hands again causes the pelvis to tuck, and the shoulders to protrude forward. By teaching this, you are telling your clients and students to “slouch”. You have not taught them how to gain strength by maintaining neutral spine. Third, more often than not, the reason the clients are feeling “pain” in their lower back is they are attempting to lower their legs beyond the range where the abdominals are effective. For me, about a 45 degree angle from the top is plenty of work. Attempting to lower one’s legs all the way to the floor and back will usually be out of the range of someone’s abdominal strength. Find a range of motion where the abdominal muscles fell the work, and the lower back is not effected. You can also put your client on the foam roller, or if you do not have a foam roller, place a thin towel under the sacrum to alleviate any pain the floor may be causing, as well as teach neutral spine.

For “plank”, I often joke (as I am a realtor as well) that “if the plank is not straight, I am returning it to aisle 4 in Home Depot”. People tend to hang their heads when something is difficult. I advocate looking a few floor boards ahead while performing plank, as well as push-ups, and to use a side mirror to check that the line of the head, shoulders, ribs and hips are aligned, while keeping the natural lumbar curve. Again, the ribs and hips should feel like suspenders. Push-ups are basically a “plank with an arm bend and straighten”. So it is important not to hang one’s head, especially when the floor is getting close :). (Planks pictured at right)

In closing, remember that you want to teach your students functional exercises that will help them out in the real world. Teaching neutral spine alignment is one of the most important ideas. You would never want to lift a box with a rounded, tucked spine, so why teach clients to “tuck their knees into their chest” while performing chest press? Sometimes it will take some time for a client to undo these bad habits, but in the end, clients will be stronger, and use the transverse abdomens vs poor alignment to perform daily tasks.

Photos courtesy of ANDREW MARK PHOTO.


Kama Linden has been teaching fitness for over 2 decades. She has taught strength, step, Pilates, Vinyasa Yoga, senior fitness, and has worked with clients and students of all ages and fitness levels. She is certified by AFAA Group Exercise and NASM CPT, as well as 200 hour Yoga. She has a BFA in Dance from University of the ARTS.   You can order her new book, “Healthy Things You Can Do In Front of the TV”  on pre-sale on amazon.com, and it will soon be available on BN.com, and Kindle. Visit her website at bodyfriendlyoga.com