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When was the last time you got out of your culinary comfort zone? The start of the New Year is a perfect time to look at your habits with fresh eyes and attempt to try something new. Today I ventured out of my food shopping routine and visited Reliable Market, an Asian grocery shop in Union Square, Somerville. I had already gathered necessary ingredients to make this Post-punk Kitchen curry udon recipe, but hadn’t been able to find the udon noodles during my usual trip to Trader Joe’s. At Reliable Market, I found the udon (big, chewy, Japanese noodles) plus a bunch of other fun additions to my kitchen. I brought home a few bags of dried shitake mushrooms ($.99 a piece), teriyaki-flavored seaweed snacks, and some matcha green tea powder—another ingredient that had eluded me during trips to mainstream stores in the past.

Besides the healthy, bargain deals, just the act of wandering around an unfamiliar environment, looking at different types of produce, spices, and sauces, was enough to make me feel refreshed and inspired.

Curry Udon

udon curry stir fry

I made my beautiful curry udon stir fry, with the shitake mushrooms, as well as broccoli, red pepper, and tofu. I always try to add in as many veggies as possible when it comes to stir fries, an easy way to get a big serving of vegetables in one delicious meal.

I’m in love with the teriyaki seaweed snacks, and looking forward to going back to Reliable and picking up more. They had about 30 different kinds of seaweed snacks at this store! There are only 10 calories in 10 flavorful, crunchy strips of seaweed, as well as 50% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A. And, medical journals like Nutritional Reviews have shown sea vegetables to be high in many essential vitamins and minerals like iodine, copper, and zinc. Make sure you read the labels of seaweed snacks, though, as some contain MSG.

I also made a matcha green tea smoothie, blending my new matcha powder 

Matcha green tea smoothie

(1 tbsp.), with 1 cup of hemp milk, 1 tbsp. of honey and a few ice cubes. A refreshing alternative to iced coffee, and high in cancer-preventing polyphenols.


Have you tried any new foods or places to shop lately? If you’re interested in visiting in the Reliable Market, or other interesting ethnic shops in the Somerville area, check out Nibble, a new blog by the Somerville Arts Council, highlighting recipes and ingredients from local shops. Go explore!


A few weeks ago I got an email from one of my former students.  Mary was not one of my group fitness students from the gym, she was one of my wonderful ninth graders when I taught high school in Minnesota.  Of course, Mary is grown up now.  And she was sending me an email to announce that she has just completed her group exercise instructor certification.  I am thrilled!

I was bursting with pride reading that this beautiful, intelligent young woman is well and wants to help others be well, too.  Mary will always live in my teacher memory as a bright and energetic student who could improve my day just by walking through the classroom door.  I was more than happy to oblige her email request for teaching tips.  In fact, I sent her everything I could find in my teaching files about water aerobics routines and technique.

This summer, Mary will teach water aerobics at the community pool in her hometown, the same town where she was once my English student and where I also once taught water aerobics during summer vacation.  Mary will do a fantastic job, I have no doubt.  I’m just so excited for her to begin teaching group fitness, as I’m excited for the lucky gals who will get to take her classes.

If I had one little tiny bit to do with this, I’m absolutely delighted.  But Mary has always believed in leading a healthy lifestyle and, in the end, there is another fit person out there helping others to get fitter.  Plus, I think Mary is really going to have fun sharing her love of exercise with others.  It’s a good day for everyone.

Did you see the skiers and snowboarders at the top of the slopes in the winter Olympics?  Just before their run, they’d close their eyes, tuck their shoulders or spread their arms and weave and lean, watching themselves in their mind’s eye, taking every turn down the mountain.  This practice of intensely visualizing their performance is as much about their mental preparation as the physical. 

Us non-Olympians can use this tool too, in some surprisingly helpful ways.  For everything from the pragmatic to the far-reaching, visualizing can turn the outcome of a business meeting, an exercise plan, or a job interview, from a shot-in-the-dark to a good bet.

You may already use visualization in your everyday life.  For example, you could never pack a suitcase for a week’s vacation unless you thought about what the weather would be and the activities you’ll be doing.  That’s visualization. 

The Pragmatic – five minutes

Think how visualizing might affect this everyday scenario:

You’ve got a full day ahead of you, with many assorted activities. But before your day begins, or better yet, the night before, walk yourself through each part of your upcoming busy day: work — lunch date — back to work — gym — dinner with friends.  And just by seeing yourself in each of these situations, your brain registers small but important details: what you need to wear (suit for work; jeans for after work); how you’re going to get there (I’ll drive to work and take the subway to the lunch date); what you need to bring (workout clothes for the gym; some food to get me through to dinner). That’s when you either make a list (so you don’t have to keep it in your brain) or gather your things for the following day.  This whole procedure takes five minutes.  And if you didn’t do it, the chances of getting to the gym without your sneakers (and most likely skipping the workout entirely) are very high. 

The One-Shot Deal – two minutes

You’re nervous about a business meeting (or a job interview) this afternoon that could determine whether you win or lose a client.  Here’s what you do: Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.  Close your eyes and choose four words that you would like to characterize your upcoming interaction in the meeting.  The words might be confident, intelligent, open, and relaxed. Now take the first word. Inhale deeply; think confident.  Exhale slowly and see yourself shaking hands with poise or listening with confidence to your clients’ wishes. Repeat with the next word. See yourself in your mind’s eye, moving with these attributes, easily and expertly. Inhale – think intelligent – and see yourself talking intelligently.  Go through each of your four chosen words, breathing slowly, at least three times. That’s twelve deep breaths.  You can do that.

The Far-Reaching – 30 seconds each day

To change larger, more ingrained patterns in your life, small thoughtful adjustments can mean the difference between living a life in reaction to people or situations, or one that is mindful and intentional. 

If you are a parent, for example, and your child’s bedtime has become a meltdown screaming session about as conducive to sleep as a can of Red Bull, give yourself a few moments to mentally walk through the situation ahead of time.  What can you do or say differently; how will the child react?  Picture yourself and your child’s responses to find a new approach that has a new outcome. 

How about a fitness and nutrition program?  Picture yourself eating and enjoying lush vegetables (in my little world, broccoli are the street cleaners in my beautiful spotless arteries; French fries are the opposite and clog up the works).  Visualize when you’re walking with strong arms and legs that the oxygen is coming into your lungs and breathing energy into your toes and long flowing hair (ok, my hair is short, but I can picture anything I want). 

Visualizing is mental preparation that has physical benefits too.  Actors and musicians rehearse.   Athletes practice to build muscle memory and strength.   But since it’s difficult to practice a business meeting and the stakes feel quite high, your best strategy is to visualize yourself (practice, rehearse) saying and acting in ways that will help close the deal. 

So, are you ready for your gold medal ski jump? Picture where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.  Feel your muscles lifting you up into the air, holding that elongated ski-jumper’s pose, and landing smoothly, perfectly.  Feel the success and the crowd rushing toward you.  You’ve done it!

© 2010 Kristin Thalheimer
Trained in business development and entrepreneurship, Kristin has a dual role in the fitness industry both as an instructor and business coach. Kristin has been an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor at Healthworks since 1990, and business coach since 2002. Contact Kristin at, by email at or call 617 407-1124.

I had a meltdown in the middle of my class last night.  It was awful.

We were nearly halfway through an hour of step aerobics, and my choreography completely fell apart.  I was trying to lead the class through one of the same combinations we had done the week before – a really tricky combo, but a really fun one many had mastered the first time but which warranted another go-round.  However, no matter how much I tried, I just could not get it to work.  We were off the beat.  We had extra counts left at the end of the combo.  I was getting those confused, frustrated looks … I was ruining their workout!   I wanted to give up.  Right there in the middle of the studio, I just wanted to sit on my bench and cry like a little girl who flops down on the floor in the middle of the grocery store and wails an embarrassing tantrum.

Obviously I can’t quit in the middle of class.  I know that.  If you’re standing in front of a crowd giving a speech and your mind goes blank, you might be able to stand there for a few seconds gathering yourself, but eventually you have to go on.  I couldn’t just stand there in step class trying to get a grip.  I had to keep everyone moving.  The music was still playing and hearts still thumping.  I made them march and do jumping jacks and go back to the warm-up combo to keep them sweating while I mentally regrouped.

I’ve been teaching group fitness for nearly ten years, and it’s been a long time since I had a total brain block like I had last night.  I felt horrible!  Every Monday, I can’t wait for step class.  It is pure step: five 32-count combos built into one 60-minute workout.  I change it every week, and I love it every time.  Maybe I put too much emphasis on fancy moves and not enough on the exercise—back to the drawing board for next class.

I always tell the women in my classes that they can’t give up.  They have to keep coming to the gym.  They have to keep trying.  Last night it was the women in my class who kept me going and who reminded me that, even if I have a meltdown, they still got a great workout.  Whew!  So I might lose a little sleep about it, perfectionist that I am, but I’ll be back next week.  We have to keep going back.

– Sarah

Deb walked into basic step class for the first time one Monday night nearly five years ago when I taught in Minnesota. She had never been to a gym, and she had never taken a group fitness class.  I greeted her when she introduced herself and told me that her doctor had cleared her for exercise.  She explained that she needed to lose 100 pounds, and she would start by taking my class. When I gave Deb a quick overview of class, she nodded and looked around the studio nervously.  I pointed to where the step benches were stacked, and she said, “Well, I don’t think I can use a bench yet, but I can do the moves just with my feet—in the back of the room.  And I don’t know if I’ll make it the whole hour.”

No one had ever taken my step class without actually using the step, so I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew is that Deb’s revelation about not being able to lift her legs onto that bench made me realize the long journey she had ahead of her.  I realized Deb’s incredible bravery and her determination to make a serious change in her life. Deb’s first class was scary for me as an instructor because I worried when her face turned bright pink and when she stopped frequently to wipe her brow with the sweat towel.  But she kept her feet moving the whole time.  She completed the entire class.  I was ever so proud of someone I just met.  All she said was, “I’ll be back!”

When Deb showed up again the next week, I was thrilled.  So often, women take that first step of entering the gym, a place that can feel intimidating or awkward, and they’ve already crossed an enormous hurdle, but then something painful or embarrassing happens which prevents them from returning.  Difficult as it must have been for Deb, she kept coming back.  She kept doing step class without a bench, and she always smiled on her way out the door.  Funny enough, my mom was the instructor who took over teaching my basic step class when I moved to Boston.  Every so often, I would ask her about Deb, waiting for the day my mom would tell me she used that step bench for the very first time.

I’ve lost track of Deb since my mom retired from teaching.  But I will not forget her—how great her goal was and how much heart she put into achieving it.  Sometimes as I open the front door to the gym, I remember her and how inspired I am by the fact that she isn’t afraid to keep opening that door. 

– Sarah

There is another person I always remember when I walk into the gym to teach a class.  Fanie.  She was my childhood ballet teacher. Stephanie Valencia Kierlin might be the most graceful, most eccentric person I have ever known.  She went by the nickname Fanie (pronounced fah-NEE), always wore bright magenta lipstick, and loved dance more than anything in the world—perhaps aside from teaching children to love dance.

When I was just four years old in my pale pink leotard, I began my ten years of study with her.  Still I can picture how, in pre-ballet, we sat in a circle on the studio floor, the smell of rosin tickling our noses while we “made waffles” to stretch.  With the soles of our little ballet slippers together, the space between our opened-up knees held giant imaginary batter bowls, into which we poured the sugar and flour we had reached across our nimble bodies to grab from imaginary shelves.  Then we stirred with pretend wooden spoons as our bodies flattened out, around, and over our tiny legs in baby-pink tights, to stretch us out for class.  I think to myself, if only I can recapture that sense of playfulness in something as simple as a warm-up stretch.

I think of Fanie whenever I ask members in class to challenge their balance, or when I tell them they must point their toes.  In Body Jam, when I extend my arm and attempt a graceful pose for half a second before we hit the next shimmy or hip roll, I remember Fanie and how beautifully she moved.  How she smiled as she did.

As much as I love dancing, at a certain point when I was a teenager, I had to choose between ballet class and all of the other fun activities I wanted to join after school.  Now, at the gym, I realize I haven’t left Fanie or her ballet behind.  She sustains me in the strength and poise she taught even before I could appreciate that her lessons might help me teach others.  

Movement definitely has an emotional connection, and I wonder, what is that emotion for you?  Which movement, anything from a mambo to a bicep curl, makes you smile at yourself in the mirror?

– Sarah

I am thrilled to be writing my first blog for Healthworks, and I want to begin by addressing the issue that always comes up when I find myself in a discussion about health and fitness: yes, I do love to exercise and …. no, I am not crazy for loving it.  I actually enjoy going to the gym.  But I always have, and here’s why.

It’s nearly impossible for me to set foot in a gym without thinking of my mom.  She always made working out look like a great time.  From the time I was a little girl, sitting on the living room floor with my blocks and puzzles, Mom would be jogging, jumping, and twisting in her leotard and headband.  I wanted to have a pair of gray KangaROO sneakers (with the little zippers on the sides!) and to do jumping jacks and leg kicks just like her.

 When I was a teenager, she took me to the YWCA where she taught aerobics, when it was called “aerobics,” and step class in a studio with carpeted floors and pastel walls.  She would bop around the room, yelling over the Pointer Sisters on her mixed tape, and I would try my best to keep up. From the very beginning, working out seemed like a kind of dance party or an excuse for friends to play great music, wear their hair in ponytails, and just boogie to forget about everything else for a little while.  Of course, there are days when I would rather sit on my couch than hike all the way to the gym, but most of the time I look forward to the gym because I know there will be a group of amazing women there with sneakers on and their hair in ponytails, ready to de-stress with fun moves and maybe a few pushups.

I know I’m lucky because working out has always been a good experience for me.  I thank my mom for that.  She made it fun.  And it makes me wonder, can you remember how much fun it was just to hop up and down as a kid?  Or dance with friends? Or just change out of “grown- up” clothes into comfy sneakers and sweats?  It feels great.

 – Sarah

One of my strategies for going to the gym lately has been to find a workout buddy. Recently, I went to Fitness Flashback with my friend, J., and we had a lot of fun dancing to 90s pop songs. This week, another friend, E. and I went to Zumba together – it was great! First of all, I can’t say enough how much I love love love Zumba. But part of what was so fun about going this week was that I had a friend with me. I accidentally stepped on her toe (I am just that coordinated), and we shared a laugh and a high five in the middle of class.

My first ever workout buddy...she inspired me to lose almost 60 pounds.

Sometimes going to workout with a friend gives me a little extra push – in Zumba, I definitely added a little bounce to my step, and kept me going for the entirety of the class. I knew that E. was right there, and that she was pushing herself, too, so I had to just keep going! Over the summer, my friend A. and I used to go to spinning classes together (sadly, she’s since moved away), and that was really helpful to me, and forced me to think about my form and endurance – she’s so athletic and has been spinning for years. In fact, she’s the one who got me to try spinning in the first place.

I think that at sometimes, going by myself is enough of a challenge – especially when I’m feeling really motivated to compete against myself, and really push myself to go the hardest I can. Sometimes, though, I get tired, and think that I’ll just relax for this song, and take it easy. That’s why I like having a friend in the room. You won’t catch me dozing in front of J., E., or A.! I always benefit from a little extra competition, whether its real or imagined.

Do you have a gym buddy? What’s your system?

– Hannah