Food, Fitness, and Body Image- Try Yoga

Celebrity Yoga Instructor Mandy Ingber Discusses What it Means to Feel Fit       

Yoga: It’s good for the mind, body, and soul, right? Numerous studies have been published boasting the profound impact the practice can have on our daily lives, including decreased stress levels, pain management, and toned muscles.

Yoga has started to catch on—not only with the general populace, but also with celebrities who seek to keep their bodies fit and healthy. With nearly two decades of industry experience behind her, Mandy Ingber—the fitness and wellness expert best known for helping clients like Jennifer Aniston and Kate Beckinsale stay in top-notch shape—offers a few words of advice to those of us looking to incorporate yoga and exercise into our everyday routines.

What inspired you to begin teaching healthful practices?

My childhood was primed with health and wellness, as well as progressive education. My father was always questing and questioning, and after some back issues with slipped discs, he heard that his condition could be helped and cured with diet and fitness. He brought yoga and cycling, amongst other physical practices, and meditation into my life in the early ‘70s. We became vegans and strictly macrobiotic; in fact, he hired a macrobiotic expert to teach my mother how to diagnose and create healing meals for each member of the family—teaching that food is your best medicine.

Initially, yoga and diet were ways to connect with my father. I wanted his approval and appreciation.

I never intended for what I learned throughout my childhood to become my practice and my profession, but I gathered a lot of information and experience along the way—the least of which was my own obsession with my body. I developed an eating disorder as a young girl, about age 11. Later, in my early 20s, I allowed myself a lot of slack. I then refocused my obsessive nature toward “being healthy” rather than “being perfect.” I had played with shifting my perspective and positive self-talk over the years and decided to embrace myself in my “imperfect” state.

As I sometimes say, the reasons we begin things may not be healthy, but along the way they may be the antidote for our needs.

How did your career evolve from teaching group spinning classes in 1996 to your present career of teaching yoga to celebrity clientele?

I really never intended to become a yoga instructor. [In 1996,] I was at a body weight that I had formerly felt was unacceptable, and I got up in front of people and I started teaching from a place of positive self-talk—and it was very clear, very quickly, that my motivational and positive self-talk resonated with others, for my [spinning] classes grew to sell-out proportions very quickly. I was teaching to 100 people a morning, many of them celebrities as well as teens, cancer patients, athletes. I was able to find a way of connecting universally.

It was several years later that I decided to get teacher-trained for yoga as well, simply to add another certification to my arsenal. Just after my father’s death, I was getting yoga teaching opportunities from a variety of unrelated places simultaneously; you know you are on the right track when opportunities arise simultaneously from multiple sources.

I will admit that I have a love/hate relationship with yoga, for it is related to my childhood and my relationship with my dad. My original career was an actress. I was in the original company of a Broadway show called “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” then returned to LA to appear as on such popular shows as “Cheers” and “Charles in Charge,” plus multiple short-lived series and the cult classic “Teen Witch.” I did not leave acting to become a teacher, to become well-known.

Perhaps it’s that my journey is real. I’m very regular. I know what it feels like to go through difficulty. I also understand what it feels like to be an actor, and the issues that can arise from that arena. Regarding “getting” a celebrity clientele, I never really tried to have that. It was organic that I was a good teacher, and a popular relatable teacher—word of mouth and timing factors into that.

Basically, a person is a person, and it’s universal what we all go through. I pride myself on being able to connect with and relate to a variety of people. I genuinely care and am here to give what I have.

What benefits have you and your clients experienced from practicing yoga, and how has that influenced how you teach?

I wonder what life would have been like without it, but it’s impossible for me to separate yoga from my upbringing. I have maintained flexibility; I have a good sense of self-observation and detachment that may be related to my practice. I am physically fit and have maintained a nice balance of muscle tone and suppleness. I still feel tension like most people, and I have to remind myself to slow down and breathe!

Regarding my clients, I believe there is a sense of connection between the mind/emotions and the body. There is a grace and a comfort in their own skin, a relaxation and a presence that occurs. I also notice my students making healthier choices.

I now teach primarily private clients. That is evolving into more media-related teaching, like my DVD, ‘Yogalosophy,” or online classes. I am also a spokesperson for Silk, do speaking engagements, and am an author. My book, “Yogalosophy: 28 days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover,” was a New York Times Best Seller, and I am writing my second book now. So, my days are shifting in terms of my actual teaching on the field.

I still do half spin, half yoga with Jennifer [Aniston]. The yogalosophy routine, which is on the DVD and featured in the book, incorporates toning exercises: I pair a yoga pose with a toner for a hybrid total-body workout. For others, like Kate [Beckinsale], she’s a purist and loves a good hatha vinyasa flow class; I also incorporate some of the yogalosophy moves for extra toning power. Each session is roughly an hour and includes lots of fun music, laughter, and a five-minute savasana [corpse pose] or meditation.

Anyone can learn to teach, but teaching from the voice of who I am is the only thing I really have to share that is unique. Each of us has the gift of who we are to share. For myself, I am in a constant state of seeking my current authentic self and sharing that with others. The yoga community was nonexistent and grew as I grew up, so I feel that I am able to relate to the newer yoga student. I am a bridge for the person who may feel like an outsider.

What’s your go-to yoga pose?

Meditation is the go-to yoga pose. Breathing. Detaching. Being. All other poses are designed to unravel the blockages in the body so that we can feel the freedom in simply being. I am also a big pigeon fan!

What advice would you give to those of us trying to incorporate yoga and exercise into our daily routine?

Fitness is not a list of “shoulds.” It is a lifestyle choice! Set aside 15 minutes a day [for yoga]. It’s the simple stretches that will work wonders, but the key is consistency. Be patient—you will notice a change based on your consistency. The thing about yoga is, you begin to notice when you don’t practice.

There is always a reason to not work out. It’s something you must schedule in. Some people respond well to a daily routine, or some like variety. If you make it a habit like brushing your teeth, it becomes something you do without negotiation. My main advice is to make it a daily habit. You don’t have to spend hours. If you need inspiration, find a good class to motivate you, or use the buddy system and have a workout buddy, like my clients do.

How do diet and exercise go hand-in-hand?

The diet is the foundation and the place that you come from and return to. What you put into your body is essential and has a real effect on your shape, how you feel, and your energy. Exercise is the celebration for having a healthy body, which is our greatest gift. Exercise is taking things a step further. It’s setting out to accomplish something. With the proper foundation, you can go out and try anything!

I am up for any physical or healthy activity. My aim is to move my body for one hour daily. Stay open to the universe on a daily basis, and go with it! Since my lifestyle is active, I pretty much just live my life organically and listen to my body for what I need. I do like to eat protein, like egg whites, in the morning. I love my green tea with honey. I generally eat lightly early in the day. Sometimes a green vegetable juice or smoothie with protein. Recovery includes drinking plenty of water. I like to ground with a large healthy salad chock full of vegetables and nuts, and perhaps a piece of salmon. I treat myself daily—chocolate is my not-so-guilty pleasure.

The most important thing is how you feel about what you are eating. Truly enjoying what you are putting into your mouth, and the attitude with which you eat, is top of mind. Beyond that, it is favorable to eat real food. Whole organic foods that are grown locally—and foods that are not in a package—are the best foods. Steering away from processed foods and sugars and sticking with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, you can’t go wrong! But each of us has a different body history, different genetics and mentality that must be considered. There is not a one-size-fits-all [diet], but choosing fresh, real foods is a good rule of thumb. I have definitely seen a trend toward a more plant-based diet, which is a healthy choice for most.

How is yoga a true mind-body experience?

The breath is the bridge from the mind to the body. The life-force energy travels through the vehicle of the breath. More than the mind affecting the body, the emotions affect the body. As you practice detachment and self-observation, you will find more and more that you are not your body; you are not your mind; you are not your emotions. As you cultivate the observer, you find this place of transcendence that has space for all of it. Feeling the feelings becomes a wonderful journey of staying present and detached all at once.

Yoga can be used positively or negatively just like anything else! It’s a person’s choice. Writing a list of positives and focusing on what you love about yourself as a daily habit is a great tool. The thoughts we think and the places we focus our attention will expand. Taking care of yourself physically can definitely translate into self-care. Doing something wonderful for yourself, like practicing yoga, can raise your self-esteem. I always feel better once I have spent a good 60 to 90 minutes connecting with my breath, my senses, and feelings.

What “healthy living” mantra do you live by?

All is well. All is falling into place naturally. All that happens is for me.

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