What’s with all this Sanskrit jibberish?

vandegurunam

Prior to taking yoga teacher training, one of my favorite teachers would start to quiz me on Sanskrit names of poses. I would laugh and say, there will be time to learn that later. In my own mind, I was saying “why does all that matter anyway?” How can an ancient language be important in Modern Yoga?

In fact, some try to get rid of it completely. There are yoga teachings that try to make yoga available to the masses without all the history, philosophy, and Sanskrit nonsense. Who needs it anyway?

Today, we have mixed martial arts (MMA). In the old days, they pitted a karate master against a Sumo wrestler. Or a boxer against an Aikido practitioner. Today, students begin learning all aspects from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to kick boxing to wrestling. It can be done without any of the history of those original fighting arts being made know.

But I feel we lose so much when we lose our roots. It becomes superficial. When I began with Hawaiian Kenpo Karate as a kid, to Aikido in grad school, we learned the history of what the founding fathers brought to us. We learned about the meanings and the history behind why they studied these arts. We learned reverence and respect. It is a part that is missing from everything in life today. When we live without philosophy, without religion, without a strong parental upbringing, we lose our sense of who we are.

That is what Sanskrit does for yoga. Paschimottanasana is called intense forward stretch. Paschima means West. Traditional yoga is practiced at sunrise. The sun rises in the East and we face that direction when we salute the sun. So what we are stretching is our Western side, our back, glutes, and hamstrings.¬† Uttana means intense. Earliest yoga was about sitting in meditation. So asana means “seat”. We do yoga to prepare for meditation and find a more comfortable seat. Warming and opening our bodies does this for us. Knowing Sanskrit is the essence of yoga practice. It is the link we have to our roots. Its like your name is “Bill”, but we decide to call you “horse” instead. Our names are important to us. We can’t just disregard them.

Any teenage gym rat can teach you how to do a pushup. Doing knees to elbow in plank has no meaning other than to work toward what you see in the mirror. But to know deeper meanings through understanding Sanskrit and the history of yoga makes for a deeper practice. It also tells you that a teacher has studied and understands these deeper meanings.

Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, would say:

99% practice, 1% theory

But the practice is what opens the door to all those other wonders. If you read of students who studied with Jois “Guruji”, they rarely talk about the practice. They talk about what the practice does for you. Their self-study goes way beyond the practice. And that is where we find true yoga.

Mental Plasticity

frog brain

The primary emphasis of my yoga teaching is in Rocket Yoga, which is a free-flowing variation of Ashtanga Yoga. It requires me to stay on my toes a lot because variation is the key for this practice to grow. However, there are still core sequences involved with the practice making the variation not as great. Also, it is always intense and has the same basic tempo.

Where I really find myself being challenged is when I substitute teach for other classes. If I teach Fundamentals/Beginners yoga, I am first making sure I meet needs where they are. I don’t want a student to take their first class with me and have them turned off of yoga for life. I trim back heavily on using Sanskrit, deeper alliterations to describe poses, and a lot less of the spiritual/mental aspects.

Yesterday, I taught Gentle Yoga at a health facility that caters mostly to senior adults. Again, I need to meet people where they are and for their current needs. It is actually my favorite class to teach. I end up talking with students long after class and they ask for specific ways to help them through life. It is so fulfilling as a teacher to actually help people who need it most.

The most difficult class I’ve ever taught is Restorative Yoga. The teacher who I substituted for is full of wisdom in her teaching. It wasn’t until after I became a teacher that I realized the nuances and timing of her teaching. I told myself to slow down and be patient with my timing. And yet, I still ran out of poses with 15 minutes still left in class. I need to add this to at least a weekly practice on my own to make my teaching more effective.

Sometimes, we teach a class that is somewhat unknown. It is open to interpretation. Classes like “hot yoga” or “vinyasa flow” usually means an all-levels class of moderate intensity. Then you go completely by feel and intuition. Even by breath and the look in yogis’ eyes. You want them to be engaged and breathing. Maybe even laughing when appropriate. These are fun classes to teach, but you never know where its going to go.

Overall, with anything we do in life, its best to not always be comfortable. Its nice to be challenged with different circumstances. I enjoy experimenting and trying something that just feels good. I did this yesterday in class. I had them do something that I have never done myself, yet it felt really good. Be creative and enjoy what you do. Whether it is at work, taking a different path while running, or taking time to sit in the park and soak up all the goodness that’s around you.

Be aware, be present, and live life to the full.

Side Butt

bodybuilder

Wait! Before you run away. Listen to what I have to say.

Writers are inspired by what they are feeling in the “now”. And right now, I’m feeling very sore in my gluteus medius region a.k.a. the “side butt”.

One way we can divide human movement is in unilateral and multilateral movement. These aren’t exclusive of one another, but they are generalities useful for discussion.

Unilateral Movements (mostly)

  • road or track running
  • bicycling
  • most resistance lifting (Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, …)
  • other cardio (elliptical exerciser, rowing, …)

Multilateral movements

  • most sports (basketball, soccer, baseball, racquet sports, …)
  • trail running
  • yoga

I point these out because, for one, we may be deficient in our side butt muscles. Any time we have a deficiency, we compensate in other areas and this can lead to long-term problems and injuries. Secondly, if we do movements or sports that use side glutes, then it makes sense to strengthen them more.

There are numerous exercises that are commonly used to target the side glutes. Side leg raises either free or with cables/bands and side-wards running or bounding. These are great dynamic movements, but isometric and isotonic contraction that focuses on weight bearing may be more effective (which we do in yoga).

Yesterday, I spent a considerable amount of time in Warrior 3, dancer, side angle, and triangle poses. These are all incredible side butt poses, but the most incredible may be half moon (ardha chandrasana). Warrior 1 & 2 and many other poses target side glutes as well. I may be biased, but there is no better builder of side glute muscles than yoga.

glutes

Pictured 1) gluteus maximus (posterior view), 2) gluteus medius, 3) gluteus minimus.

Muscles 2 & 3 help abduct the femur (leg opening) from your central axis. This helps stabilize the hip joint and adds considerable stability in movement. If you do squats and your knees turn inward, these are the muscles that help keep you knees in line with your feet. Its a major weakness in many novice and women lifters. Outer hip strength helps prevent injuries like hip dislocations and even knee and ankle trauma. It can also add fullness to your appearance in jeans or even a bikini (oh my!)

I never recommend that you do one pose for a bodypart or for a specific sport. There are no quick fixes. So I always say:

All yoga is good yoga

Our bodies are interconnected. And when you do yoga, it encompasses every little muscle of your body plus breath, balance, and mind. When you do Warrior poses, think about strength as you press into your feet. This engages those side glute muscles. And spend plenty of time in half moon pose as well.

image

(yours truly doing a half-moon in the urban jungle)

Type that Body!

body shape

We are all genetically prone to inherit traits from our parents. Our body shape is one of these characteristics. What type of shape are you?

  • Pear, hourglass, bowling pin, triangle, …
  • Endomorph, ectomorph, mesomorph
  • Tall, short, thin, round

And can we break from these shapes? Its not easy to do. In sports, work, and life, I always say “rely on your strengths.” If we focus only on what we perceive or people tell us are our weaknesses, we’ll only live a bleak life of inadequacy.

As a Native American, I was born to have a big barrel chest. Unfortunately, this goes along with visceral belly fat and thin limbs (aka skinny legs). If I were a bodybuilder, this means¬† I don’t have to do a lot to stimulate my pecs and upper back. But the core of my work should focus on heavy squats, lots of abdominal work, and I can’t neglect things like biceps curls & triceps extensions.

In my 20’s, I always had six-pack abs. But its a battle of the bulge now. All I can do is stay persistent. I can’t get disheartened by lack of progress. Embrace who you are. If you have something special that your parents gave you, then why not flaunt it. But don’t worry about things that you can’t easily change.