Me Gusta Espanol

Each post tends to start the same way.  How can we manage our time with incorporating necessary duties AND learning into our schedules.  Well, learning a foreign language for many is a daunting task.  We have work, exercise, and social activities on our agendas.  How the heck do you find time to learn a new language?  Because I love the language of Espanol, we will use it as an example.

To begin, you need a base of knowledge of that language including knowing 1-3 verb tenses (past, present, and commanding – you begin to pick up others the more you learn and study).  If  starting from scratch the best way to get that base knowledge is by taking a community college class for 1-2 semesters.  It keeps you on track with your progression and forced to study for tests.  Once the verb tenses and basic vocabulary is ingrained, maintenance is key for continuing to advance your fluency.  Just like any skill, if you don’t practice, you will lose it.  I am not fluent in Spanish by any means but I love the ongoing effort to continue learning in a way that does not require a lot of extra time.

Below are the most helpful ways that I continue working on my Spanish vocabulary:

1)  Podcasts

I went from having a beginners knowledge of Spanish Vocab to intermediate just by listening to Spanish Pod every morning while I was walking the dog.  The key to finding a good podcast is length.  If you want to integrate it into a day that has no minutes to spare, It must be short.  I began with SpanishPod – a daily podcast I found on I Tunes that has multiple levels of difficulty and incorporates real daily conversations into your learning.  It was funny, so I was hooked.  That went well, until they started charging for intermediate and advanced lessons.  There are many other podcasts available on I Tunes to help you get going.

2)  Listen to Latin Music

This has been most successful for improving my listening skills.  I listen to Salsa, Bachata, Reggaeton, Merengue, and Pop latin music.  The sound is very similar to English hip/hop and Reggae (two of my favorites styles) meshing to give a nice Caribbean beat.  Of course, the vocabulary of most Latin music is about love, fighting, and dancing so it is not the broadest of vocabulary to study.   Reggaeton is very similar to English hip hop – fighting, gangs, and derogatory to women but it has a great beat and you can usually pick up the verses after listening a few times.  One of my favorite podcasts that plays this style of music is  The website also has videos, music, and information on entertainment.

For a complete run down of Latin styles and artists visit

3)  Travel to Spanish-speaking countries on your vacation

Immersion is the easiest way to be forced into speaking Spanish for a long period.  Mexico, Central America and South America all have affordable options for vacations.  Some places I really enjoyed were Cabo San Lucas  (Mexico) and Ecuador.   I am leaving for a two-week trip to Costa Rica soon so should come back with improved Spanish!

4)  Practice with your friends and co-workers as much as possible

In California 1/3 people knows more than beginners level Spanish.  I work with people from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.  Practicing daily will help maintain your vocabulary.  Have a “Palabra del dia” (word of the day)  to incorporate into your daily conversations with co-workers.  Before you know it you will have 365 more Spanish words and phrases to your vocabulary.

5)  Community College classes

As I said above, taking Spanish I and II are essential stepping-stones to getting a base knowledge.  The other option is listening to Rosetta Stone or other learning series.  In my experience, it is easy to fall off the wagon with the listening CDs and they are minimally interactive.  They are also more expensive ($200-600) than taking a 70$ community college class.

6)  Get our of your comfort zone and just use it

Use it when you are talking to people in your community, your spouse, and friends.  They may appreciate the review as well and it will allow you to review your vocabulary daily as I said above.  Even if you have a horrible accent, Spanish-speaking people usually like to help you out and appreciate that you are trying.  Talk to the clerks at stores, ordering food, and anyone you come into contact with that speaks Spanish.

7)  Work in a department where you are forced to use it

I love what I do for work and have found that the best way to incorporate studying Spanish is to use it while at work.  I don’t have many Spanish-speaking patients in the outpatient clinic I work at, but I float into the inpatient hospital in the Mission district, where there are many Spanish-speaking patients.  If necessary I use an interpreter, but I usually do well enough.  A lot of my Spanish vocabulary consists of body parts, pain, direction giving so I am fairly good in the medical realm, but I couldn’t last a minute in a conversation about politics.  If you don’t and opportunity to work in a place like this, find a place to volunteer (Good Will, soup kitchen or a church).

8)  Medical Missions or other missionary work

This is the fastest way at improving Spanish vocabulary because you are thrown into an environment where you are communicating constantly with patients and community that you are attempting to improve in a short period of time.  Missions are a lot of work but are very rewarding.  I have the privilege of traveling to Ecuador with Operation Rainbow for 3 years and look forward to it every time.  It is unpaid and I donate a whole week of paid time off for the chance to help Ecuadorians improve their health care systems and quality of life.  While there I am essentially giving Physical Therapy as I do every day in the US, however I am speaking Spanish the entire time.  We have interpreters present if I get stuck but by the end of the week can usually hold a clean conversation in Spanish.

Operation Rainbow mainly goes to Central and South America (Latin America countries) with teams of Doctors, Nurses, Physical Therapists and interpreters but NOW they have a team in Haiti.  In the earthquake relief effort, Operation Rainbow would be an excellent organization to give to.

Thanks for following my Blog!  I will be in Central America for several weeks then at Combined Sections Meeting so I will not have a post in February.  Topics in the works for March are:

Climbers Shoulder

Exercise and Depression

Social Media Time Management

The Evolution of the Golf Belt Buckle



Yoga or Pilates? Part II

If you are attempting to decide between Yoga or Pilates, this and my previous blog will give you a rundown of each and how to decide which might best suit your needs.

Part II – Pilates

Part one included a full description of the various styles of Yoga and how to choose the best one for you.    The Pilates Method was founded on and continues to be based on the visions of its founder Joseph Pilates.  He was a an athlete interested in Eastern AND Western medicine who developed a practice that would give you the tone and strength of a boxer or dancer.  Similar to Yoga, it follows the principles of balancing the body.  Also like Yoga it is a practice of poses and postures however it incorporates a repetition / fine tuning of a secondary movement while sustaining that posture.  The exercises are focused more on precise and concentrated control in small to large ranges of movement for improving flexibility and developing the core or “Powerhouse”.   The last two principles similar to Yoga are coordination of breath and Flow of movement during engagement of the postures.

One of the main reasons that Physical Therapists are such advocates of The Pilates Method is that it focuses on the main stabilizing structures of the trunk that tend to contributing or directly linked with the spinal and peripheral injuries we see every day.  The Serratus Anterior, Longus Coli, Transverse Abdominis, Multifidis, pelvic floor, diaphragm, deep hip rotators, and rotator cuff are the key contributors for local stabilization the spine, hips, and shoulders.  Many of these muscle groups segmentally attach to the spine / ribcage  which enhance the positioning and precise movements necessary for rehabilitating or preventing an injured spine.  The big “mover” muscles on the surface of the body (pecs, lats, traps, gluteals, and rectus abdominis) are responsible for large, powerful movements required for daily movements and enhancing athletic performance.   However if they get weak / shortened due to postural changes or over training they become problematic.  While Pilates strengthens the deep stabilizers as mentioned above, it also works at elongating these superficial “movers” that might be problematic.

Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates

The Pilates Method founder was a boxer, diver, skier, gymnast, and war hero (as a Nurse) from Germany.  He served in WWI and invented his first apparatus (a version similar to today’s Reformer and Cadillac) in which he attached springs to hospital beds so that wounded soldiers could continue to strengthen their bodies while healing from their injuries.  In a lot of ways, Joseph Pilates was a Physical Therapist, although Physical Therapy was not invented in the US until the Polio Epidemic.  These were the first indications that Nurses could not care for the sick/wounded patients in addition provide rehabilitation.  They needed another practitioner to emphasize the relearning of fine and gross motor skills necessary for them to return to prior level of function.  We will save that for another Blog.

Well, the Pilates idea was a hit.  He was asked to train military personnel, famous athletes, and eventually emigrated to NYC to open his first studio in 1926.  He went on to develop 500+ exercises on the principles still used today:  concentration, control, centering, flow, precision, and breathing.  He turned Pilates into an art and developed many instructors to continue advancing and spreading the benefits of it.  This video demonstrates how beautiful the movements are when performed by advanced students.  The movements came to assist in the physical training of advanced technical dancing and continues to be one of the training methods of choice for them.

The Practice

1)  Mat Classes – as in Yoga Classes, mat classes follow a logical sequence of postures/exercises.  Similar to Yoga, classes are in group setting and do not allow for individual instruction.  Classes are usually offered in gyms (as part of the membership) or Pilates studios for 15-20$.

2)  Apparatus or Machine work – Using the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel and Magic Circle (to name a few) these sessions are usually one on one or very small groups.  This allows for more individual manual and verbal cues from the instructor on proper breathing and form.  One of the downfalls of the individual lesson is that it costs a lot more.  It is comparable to having a personal trainer (50-120$/ hour).    Of course, some the the best success stories come from those who hire individualized training. 

In my opinion, there are good, bad, and mediocre instructors.  Most people only need mediocre instructors to actually see a change.  Once you learn the form, the instructor becomes a coach more than anything.  If your goals are to become advanced at Pilates, then get a good instructor, pay the bucks, and watch your body dramatically change.  If you are motivated and have the opportunity to take a few individual classes to get going and maintain your practice with a Mat class, you will see good results.  It just depends on your ultimate goal.  If you have an injury and want to continue your Pilates practice after a rehabilitation course, I would recommend individualized Pilates.  This will allow you to communicate better with your instructor on proper modifications and any symptoms you  may be having.

Like Yoga Studios, Pilates studios can be found in every City in the world and in many private locations (homes) as well.  A good list of resources are listed below to help you find a reputable location.

To answer the original question…

Depending on your ultimate goals, the factors described above will help you make a decision on which is best for you.  I tell my clients who have never experienced either to begin with Yoga.  Especially if you have limited flexibility.  Many of the Pilates poses (even the beginners ones) require at least a moderate amount of hip flexibility and if attempted might leave you feeling frustrated.  For those who have natural flexibility or hypermobility in the joints, Pilates would better meet your deficits safely as it would focus on supporting your spine.  Now, does that mean that Yoga doesn’t improve core stability and Pilates doesn’t improve flexibility?  No.  Quite the opposite.  Both practices will improve these deficits, they just focus on them in a slightly different manner.  Many people will choose Yoga for the spiritual component alone.  Myself included.  To solve this problem of choosing, gyms have come up with classes that work on Yoga and Pilates principles (eg. PiYo at 24 hour fitness).

In the end, it might be better to do a little of both.  Find your preference by trying a few classes of each and finding your FLOW.


Ellie Herman – advanced Pilates instructor and advocate

Descriptions of Pilates equipment

Balanced Body Pilates – a comprehensive Pilates resource

Stott Pilates – another comprehensive Pilates resource


Cyclists – fit, function, or lifestyle

I have commuted by bike for three years now. I love it! It is by far the quickest mode of transportation in the city, I am enjoying the outdoors, burning energy, creating energy and saving the environment.   I have come to realize that there are three distinct categories of cyclists in San Francisco.

  1. “Fitness” – those that wear bike leggings and triathlon jerseys, have the lightest and most efficient/expensive multi-speed bikes.  These cyclists count every calorie they burn and will spend a lot of money to improve their cycling efficiency as they are training for the AIDS ride.
  2. “Function” – those that typically have a rack of some sort on the back of their bike to carry workout gear or food from Rainbow Grocery.  These cyclists always wear reflective gear and have lights on the front/back of their bike.  Many of them do not own a car and will promote this on their bike with stickers.  They usually ride a variety of “hybrids“:  less expensive, more comfortable (flat handlebars), more durable, and less likely to get stolen off the bike rack while at work.
  3. “Lifestyle” – those that basically look cool.  They are hipsters; they wear fashionable clothing while maintaining less than 2% body fat.  Many of them are messengers on bike.  They ride fixies (one speed bikes), wear their U locks in their belt loops and skull crusher caps without a helmet.  These cyclists are less likely to follow the law of the road and like to hang out at common bars in the Mission District.

I am a “Lifestyle” cyclist “wannabe” but truly am a “Functional” cyclist.  I ride by bike to work for convenience in my PT attire, clogs, and sometimes scrubs.  I also count my calories, but I wear a cool Timbuk2 bag.  I am a hybrid (fitness, function and lifestyle) cyclist.  Here is a great link to a video of a hybrid city cyclist.  The most important thing to me and most San Franciscans is that I am helping the environment, reducing car congestion, leading a healthy lifestyle,  and contributing to the cycling way of life in San Francisco.  With the recent trial of closing Market Street for cyclists and public transportation in San Francisco, I hope the cycling community in this city explodes.  Enjoy the ride and share the road!

Links to learn more about cycling in the city:

San Francisco Bike Coalition - advocacy, education to create safe biking environment in the city

Map My Ride - post your rides to track mileage, pace, calories; interactive cycling community

Lifestyle Blog – courtesy of Box Dog Bikes!

Market Street Closure – article highlighting the benefits of the closure – latest cycling news on equipment, blogs, fitness for all styles of cycling

Bike Commuting Tips – Blog by Paul Dorn with many more links



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