6 Ideas for Sandbag Hot Yoga

Last night, I was inspired to teach a class that largely used sandbags throughout. I had plans for specific movements, but as I was going along, I was able to create other spaces to play with them as well. I’ve seen pics and video of CorePower yoga and other such styles using weights. Sandbags in a studio with cork floors is much safer. And, you can double or triple sandbags when you desire more effect. Here are a few juicy postures we explored:

  1. Utkatasana – chair with sandbag at the chest
  2. Parsvokonasana/Trikonasana – side angle and triangle pose with the sandbag in one hand with arm extended directly over the shoulder.
  3. Skandasana/Goddess Squats – side lunges and goddess pose holding sandbag at the chest.
  4. Janu Sirsasana – one-legged head to knee stretch while seated. I had them drape the sandbag across the middle of the extended thigh to create extra pressure, much like what is done is restorative classes. You can do this for many seated postures.
  5. Rocket Abs/plow – that’s what I call laying on your back with legs up lowering to a straight legged hover. I had them use the straps of the sandbag into both big toes hanging toward the shins. We lowered to a hover for 5 breaths and then slowly went back to a plow pose.
  6. Viparita Karani – This is the classic legs up with wall with sandbag across the soles of the feet. So scrumptious. We finished practice like this in lieu of savasana.

At home, instead of sandbags, you can use a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a milk jug. Instead of feeling cumbersome, weighted poses create a different sensation and really nice grounding. I also recommend doing the pose without the weight directly afterward for a “contrast” effect.

NOT Setting Goals

Andy Yoga

I was listening to a Barbell Shrugged podcast and they reinforced something I’ve heard elsewhere. Maybe you’ve heard it as well. It is about Goal Setting. They say “Habits before Outcomes”.

Outcomes to Avoid:
“I will lose 10 pounds in January”
“I will bench press 200 pounds”
“I will run a marathon”

Instead, develop better habits that help you achieve your desires.

Habits to Develop:
“Half of my healthy dinner plate will be colorful vegetables”
“Every Saturday, I’ll work up to my best set of 5 reps on the bench press”
“I will run at least one loop around the park after work each day”

It is admirable to set a goal and then tell everyone. You want to be accountable to your goals, right? Wrong! I don’t mean completely wrong. But, psychologically, if you announce that you want to squat 400 pounds, then you’ll get your praise…

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It may be YOUR practice, but…

…it’s still their class!

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Here was the progression for me:

  1. Starting yoga, I would try out a bunch of classes with the idea that more is better.
  2. Whittle down to a style I’m drawn to…notably Ashtanga yoga.
  3. Feel pressured into taking teacher training, so I do so somewhat reluctantly.
  4. Do teacher training, keep taking classes, and practice teaching for free.
  5. Become a teacher and sign up to teach anywhere and everywhere. Still take classes.
  6. Get burned out. Cut back on classes I teach. No more volunteering. Stop taking classes.

So, eventually I got away from taking classes and mostly did my own personal practice when I could. I wanted to hone my craft and was working on MY style of yoga. I wanted my own unique brand. And, for the most part, I feel I’ve done that. But…

Unless you seek some outside influence, you stop experiencing what others feel. You stop finding intriguing ways to do what you do. You no longer integrate new words, feelings, and postures. And you grow stagnant and close minded as a teacher.

In the past few months, I’ve found a resurgence of energy. I’ve found a (non-yoga) workout routine that doesn’t completely drain my energy. And I’ve started taking yoga classes again. I went back to Yoga Fundamentals last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. The teacher is so knowledgeable and creative. And since she is adjusting such a large class, you stay in poses forever. In Ashtanga, we stay in poses for 5 breaths, which seems kind of long. But in Fundamentals, it seems like you hold for 5 minutes!!

I’ve also taken classes from newer teachers. I love hearing their perspectives and how they flow. Maybe its not always what I prefer for my body. But its THEIR CLASS. Yeah, I may be a rebel and stop early or go into the next pose too early. But I am still experiencing their breath. Honestly, when you take a yoga class, you are experiencing what yoga teachers prefer for their own bodies. So you are actually doing what they do for themselves. We don’t teach something that doesn’t feel good for our bodies. Although, sometimes I include poses that I am terrible at doing. But I usually only teach what I enjoy.

As teachers, it is good to be open-minded. It’s good to express humility and follow others. No matter who they are, we can learn from other teachers. I go to traditional Iyengar or Ashtanga trained teachers. I go to CorePower or YogaFit teachers. In the end, I learn something and challenge my body. I eliminate my own biases and strengths. And I often find inspiration for my own classes. I see what students enjoy and I can emulate that for them in my classes. Its really about them and not me anyway.

Free your Mind and your Heart will Follow!

Learning To Fall

aikido

In yoga, we often start doing inversions like headstands and handstands against the wall. Many fear leaving the wall because they are afraid to fall. Some never leave it at all.

When I was wrestling in high school, we weren’t really allowed to throw each other, but it happened a lot. We fell on fairly soft mats so it wasn’t a big deal. It always looks worse than it feels. Later when I was in grad school, I started into Aikido at a dojo near my house. The floors were giving, but definitely not soft. You really had to learn how to fall properly so as to not injure yourself.

In early Aikido and in some traditions today in Japan, you begin with very humble beginnings. Quite often, you swept and cleaned the dojo for years before being allowed to practice. When you are finally allowed to practice, then you may spend a few years as the Uke.

Uke means “the one who receives”, or the one who takes the fall.
Nage is the thrower.

We first begin by doing low rolls from our knees both forward and backward. Then you do more awkward side rolls and what looks like Granby rolls from wrestling. Then you just lean and fall flat on your back, but you use a hard slap on the mat to dissipate your energy. You see this in the WWE Pro Wrestling. I always thought they did that just for show. Eventually, you take leaping rolls forward. Only after this are you prepared to meet a Nage who will throw you.

One lady Aikido Master was physically attacked in a parking lot at an airport. She reacted quickly and threw him into a car badly injuring him. She told the police she didn’t want to press charges because “it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know how to take a fall.”

There is an art to falling. When you are riding a bike on roads or trails, you try to roll through a fall and not put out arms to brace yourself. Regardless, falling at 40 mph is no fun at all. In yoga classes, when teaching forearm stand, I often have yogis go to the back of their mat; put their forearms down; then tuck their chin and roll forward. If you do this several times, your fear of falling is greatly relieved. I once saw a young lady in a class (that I wasn’t teaching) trying forearm stand. She didn’t tuck her chin, landed on her head toward her forehead, and then went flat to her back knocking the wind out of her. She really hurt herself and curled up groaning. Believe me, a fall like that would probably scare a person into not trying ever again.

I would say everyone should practice tumbling rolls forward and back. Also do cartwheels, then turn the cartwheel into a round-off. You can practice this at the wall as well. This will greatly decrease your chance of injury when practicing inversions. In fact, I would always start with this first before ever trying headstands, handstands, or forearm stands.

Metaphor for life: Learn to Fall. When you start a business and it fails, learn how to recover. If you fall off your horse. Learn to get back on it again. When a child is learning to ride a bike, teach them its ok to fall. If your life is just roses and pretty ponies, you’ll never learn how to recover from hardship. A parent needs to know they can’t bubble wrap their kids for life. They need to challenge them to try when they are afraid. Everyone needs their own Basic Training Boot Camp to life. Build your emotional skills. Face challenges. Go into something knowing you’ll likely fail. Learn that its OK to fall now and then. Its what makes you stronger.

5 Keys to Longevity

As you roll out of bed, you engage your abs and hip flexors to rise to standing. You walk to the toilet, and if you sit down, you use your strong quads and glutes to get back up. You reach down to pet your dog or pick up the newspaper, which uses your lower back and hamstrings. You open the cupboard and reach for a coffee mug on the shelf. These are all the basic movements in life. When you can no longer do these things, its a downhill progression to your existence. As healthy people, we take this for granted. But as people who know what this feels like to have these simple things taken away, it is devastating.

Now let’s crank up the quality of life part of our world. Now you pick up your 40 pound toddler and play. You grab the groceries from the floor and take them to the counter. You twist under the sink to check a leak. Maybe you help someone move that refrigerator or sofa down the stairs. You don’t really want to fail or get injured doing any of these things.

So here are the functional movements to life. If you don’t do anything else, at least do these.

  1. Sit-ups – Most movements in real life involve engagement of hip flexors too. The fitness community went away from sit-ups long ago because they didn’t think it isolates your six-pack abs as much. But realistically, hip flexors play a huge role in life and your core abdominals assist in the process. Maybe you also do leg raises of some sort as well. But we shouldn’t neglect sit-ups anymore. Hernias and lots of back issues arise from having weak abdominals.
  2. Squats – Simplistically, this may mean sitting on a chair and then standing up. We all should be able to do this. Honestly, if you can no longer get off the toilet on your own, life won’t be very good for you. Better yet, put some weight on your shoulders. When men and women can squat 1 to 3 times their bodyweight, there is nothing in life that can get in their way. Keep the flexibility there too. Old school “Starting Strength” people live off of flawed science that’s all been debunked. The “don’t let your knees go past your toes” idea is long gone. If you look at pictures of people from developing countries, they do everything in a deep squat from cooking, cleaning, to going to the bathroom. Today, Olympic weightlifters lift huge weights after first dropping to Ass-To-Ground squats with knees far past their toes. Keep your ability to move by including deeper variations of squats. So, either keep it simple and use the chair. Or find more information on variations. You can’t ever get bored with squats.
  3. Deadlifts – Again, there are many varieties of this lift. My latest infatuation has been doing trap bar deadlifts. It is a huge mass builder and you can vary your knee bend and back tilt to the nth degree. But you can do forward folds and rises (good mornings) just as easily with wonderful results. You can grab jugs of water or maybe a sandbag. There is no excuse for not doing deadlifts. Learn good form. Gain some grip strength. It will pay off greatly in your quality of life.
  4. Overhead Press – Ever seen a baby laugh when Daddy lifts them overhead. They smile and squeal with joy. Lifting overhead has so many benefits. Think if you were pushing a lawnmower or a friend’s car down the driveway. Think of putting that 5 pound bag of sugar on a shelf. Again, this can be as simple as pressing a jar of peanut butter overhead. Or it can be doing handstand pushups. The varieties of this movement are endless. They work not only shoulder strength, but torso, core, hip, and leg strength. There is also the element of balance.
  5. Ambulation – There is so much written about walking and running. When I was into ultra-marathon running, I didn’t even think twice about being able to run to work, or even from one city to another. If you read in historical texts and even the Bible, people walked all over the place. Research says that the speed at which you walk has a direct correlation with longevity of life. The slower you walk means your end is near. Stride length also has a relationship with life. If you can imagine someone stricken with Parkinson’s Disease, you can see how unhealthy it is to be restricted in balance and muscle lengthening with shortened steps. This is something that I’ve come back to myself. An injury 3 years ago took running away from me. But now that I feel healed, I will be back on the trails enjoying runs through nature again. We should all find more time to exercise our heart, balance, muscles, and enjoyment of the outdoors.

Like I said, if you don’t do anything else in life, at least do these 5 things. Find time to explore this and grow. If you lose any one of these functional movements, you’ll start to lose your ability to live.

I’m Not As Sore

As a yoga teacher, I continually have to consider my activities outside of teaching in order to demonstrate poses effectively. I have certain days and times plotted out to workout really hard. This usually involves heavy lifting and a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) or two. Then I would have a few days to recover and allow the soreness to subside. I am no use to my students if my triceps cramp when I’m doing upward facing dog or my hammies seize during a forward fold.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and it makes me think about what I’m doing. Lately, I’ve felt the strength in my lifts has fallen. It all comes down to the squat for me. People like Travis Mash and Cory Gregory talk about squatting every day, and I’ve done that effectively in the past. So I’m back at it again. But its not only squats, its other exercises too.

Travis talks about younger athletes full of vigor and testosterone. They are able to get after it day in and day out. They still need a lot of rest and nutrition, but its easier for them to recover. For older athletes like myself, he actually says we should rest less, which is counter to current thinking. Instead, we need to do something every day. Maybe we don’t push the same intensity in a single workout, but we do heavy work every day. Its more about maintenance than actual growth.

My routine has really been working for me. I start with a warm-up, usually rowing, ski erging, or running. Then I go to squats. They may be back squats, front, overhead, Zercher, with chains, or any other variation. I don’t kill myself. I may do singles up to a max lift and stop. Or it may be a lighter weight for a set of 30. It may be a 5×5 of pause squats. The variations are endless. In between sets, I work on handstands and muscle ups on the rings. Then, I may do Olympic weightlifting or bodybuilding and try to finish with pulls, mostly with a trap bar.

The next day, I’m nicely toned but not really sore at all. I can jump right into it everyday. And I’m adapting to more volume each time. I’m learning I don’t have to kill myself and get sore all the time. Realistically, life gets busy at times and I take a mandatory rest day. But I don’t plan for rest days anymore. I just live instinctively. Try out this plan. But don’t sandbag your workouts. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to grow. You have to do the hard work.

Hmmm Mysore Ashtanga?

I’ve been teaching Rocket Yoga for a while. It includes playful sequences incorporating many poses from all 6 Ashtanga series. Most Ashtangis never leave the first (primary) series for whatever reason and if that is something that fulfills their life, then they should continue doing the practice.

With recent schedule changes at the studio, I’ve been thinking about getting back into Ashtanga myself. I’ve thought a lot about going to Mysore style classes again. But the thought of someone saying, “you can’t do this pose, so you stop here and go to the finishing sequence” doesn’t appeal to me one bit. Maybe its my ego or hard head that can’t take that kind of criticism anymore. In every yoga class I teach, I don’t tell people to stop or to not modify a pose. So its difficult for me to think of stopping because I can’t do one particular pose and never having the opportunity to go on unless that’s accomplished. What if I had disfunction in a joint or a rod in my back? Then, by those criteria, I wouldn’t be able to practice Ashtanga.

The Primary Series is called the healing series. Everyone should be able to do it and enjoy its benefits. I think that’s where Rocket Yoga makes Ashtanga more accessible. It provides an atmosphere where you can play and enjoy and not be as strict. That is where I like to be. There was a time when I enjoyed a stricter form of practice. I did traditional martial arts for years where you were strongly chastised for straying from what was right. There is a time and place for that kind of body movement. But I suppose I’m not in that time or place anymore.

For me, my yoga practice gives a feeling of wanting to strengthen my mind and body. As I get older, I know I’m not going to get much more pliable. And as I’m building strength outside of yoga, I know that breaking down muscle and building it stronger than before is going to interfere with the depth of my yoga. But its something I’ve come to accept in my life because I choose to enjoy building strength by other means. Having that strength is different from yoga strength. And it is all good. Its just that I find fulfillment in other endeavors as well.

So maybe Ashtanga Mysore classes will have to continue to wait for me. I respect those who want to follow the system. I think it is good for your bodies. But its not good for mine. At least not for now.