Neck Pain

I had someone in Rocket Yoga a few days ago ask about neck pain in headstands. Sometimes, if I’ve practiced lots of unsupported headstands, my neck would be sore too. And when I think about it, with all the computer work and, admittedly, smart phone useage, my neck is often sore.

Neck muscles like any other muscles need to be used and stretched. It is an essential part of our musculature that is greatly overlooked. The human head weighs on average about 10-11 pounds (5 kg). That’s as heavy as a smaller bowling ball. Any deviation from center means you are engaging muscles to hold it up. If you think of whiplash, when your head is thrown to one side unexpectedly like in a car crash, you end up with one of those funny neck braces since the trauma can be quite severe. Little kids can easily succumb to head injuries because they lack the strength in a fall to keep their head out of harm. Protecting the source of most of our human sense, our head, is not as easy to do as you think. Its been studied extensively with concussion protocols in football and other sports.

The neck is actually capable of taking a lot of force, but our brains do not handle the jostling very much. When I wrestled in high school, your neck was as equally important for strength as any other bodypart. I’ve done many months worth of neck bridges over my time. You lift your body off the ground with only head and feet touching. You do it front and back, you roll front to back, you may even have a buddy sit on you while you do it. I was able to tick-tock from front to back kicking over the top. There are pictures of superheavyweight Freestyle Olympic wrestlers doing a back throw landing on their own heads while lifting and throwing someone their same size. You can see pictures of Shaolin monks meditating while standing one their heads with no hands.

So if you think about what is possible, what the human can do, then we can at least do some exercises without worrying a lot about risks of damage. In fact if we do thinks like yoga headstands, it is something we should really strive to do more often.

(Floyd Mayweather doing neck work)​

To be honest, I recently bought one of those head harnesses to do neck work. It didn’t feel comfortable and felt like it would slice off my ears, so I sent it back. There is plenty we can do to strengthen our necks without any contraptions.

1. Neck rotations – if you think about it, if our head weighs 10-11 pounds, then simple neck movement will help strengthen. It can also stretch in the antagonist movement. And it feels good to do so why not do it.
2. Hand assisted pressure – If you reach your right hand over your head and place your palm on the left side of your head, you can both stretch and create side pressure for strength. Do both sides and even push front and back. My wife was prescribed this for migraines and neck pain.
3. Headstands – like any progressive resistance exercise, I would start small and gently increase the time on your head. You could start with knees on the ground and hands to the side rolling on the top of your head. Progress, to supported headstand while pressing into forearms. And eventually you get to tripod headstand or other similar headstands where a lot of weight is on your head.
4. Bridges – In Ashtanga yoga, the bridge pose that is done is actually on top of your head. If you practice this and wrestling style bridges, both front and back, there is no better strength builder.
5. Now if you do have some contraption, just be careful with it. If it works for you, it could be the best strength builder ever.

We know for contact and combat sports, neck strength is crucial. It is very crucial for yoga as well. Don’t underestimate the health benefits of a strong neck. It becomes especially important in longevity. I’ve seen elderly people who have lost complete neck dexterity and just hang their heads to their chest. Its not a great position for a good quality of life. If you think of health early, then hopefully we can stave off those negative effects over time.

New Workouts are Fun!

If you ask any coach, the worst thing athletes can do is not stick to their program. They jump from workout to workout because the grass is always greener, right?

But guess what, a new program always inspires me. It makes me do something new. Its the iterations of growth where one skill builds upon another that makes you reach higher heights.

First off, a workout has to fit your life. You can’t force square pegs into round holes. So here are a few determining factors for me:

1. I’m a morning person. I have a lot of vigor in the morning and I’m at my best.
2. I teach yoga and need to demonstrate poses without cramping or failing.
3. I am mostly a Warrior Diet person. So my biggest (and usually only) meals are late in the day.
4. I am a little hangry by dinner time. So this is the perfect time for fasted cardio.
5. I often work through the entire day. But I’m trying to make myself do some cardio and bodyweight work over lunch.
6. I don’t work Friday afternoons, though I offer Thai Yoga Massage as that time.

So with all of this in mind, here is my workout concept.

a.m. – wake up, walk dogs, drink coffee – then I do a WOD that usually lasts 5-15 mins. Then some bodybuilding movements.

Noon – sprints, lunges, handstands, parallette bar work, and kettlebells – <20 mins

pre-dinner – fasted cardio – 5 x 3 min cardio – I do something different each round with one minute rest between – jump rope, ski erg, rowing, running, pole dancing, recumbent bike, hula hooping, trampoline bouncing.

evening – certain nights are for Olympic lifting and powerlifting.

Then, I try to fit a trail run in on Friday afternoons or even over lunch. When I camp, I will bike or run or kayak or paddleboard. So I always find time to play.

There is a reason for everything in my schedule. It will fit my diet and energy levels. And doesn’t hinder my yoga teaching. I don’t really plan for rest. But rest always happens some how. If I’m beaten down or injured or sick, then I rest.

If I were to recommend a program for someone, I’d say first write down your goals in life. Is it to run a race, play with your kids, or feel better about your body? Do you need more cardio or more strength? I’d always include both. Then, set yourself up for success. Don’t try to be hard headed and make yourself do something that doesn’t fit your lifestyle or who you are. But do challenge yourself. And most of all, have fun!

This week at Amara Yoga 23Apr

Mon Rocket 2 7pm
Thu Candlelight Yoga 7pm
Sat Vinyasa Flow 8am
Sat Rocket 3 “Happy Hour” Noon
Sun Acro Yoga 530pm

I’m not teaching the Acro Yoga class, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed anytime I can go to Jodi’s class. It incorporates yoga in a very fun way. Yoga seems so solitary most times. Its nice to interact with yogis and different bodies in acro. It makes it such a social experiment.

Last night, I realized how the right clothing can help out your Acro practice. We were doing some transitions where your feet had to move around the flyer’s hips. But it was so easy to get toes caught up in loose fabric or the fabric was too slippery. Mostly polyester leggings, slippery nylon shorts, and baggy clothes just don’t work. A cotton or cotton-blend that is more form fitting works better. That will be something I remember for next time.

It was fun to have new faces in my classes last week since the north studio was being remodeled. If you haven’t seen it, it looks huge now! I’m so excited for the new space. Hot yoga has the most numbers, so this will be a nice expanse to include more yogis.

Something I’ve noticed about hot yoga is that it has a lot of beginners who attend. I notice how they struggle a lot in poses and don’t have a firm grasp on basics. It would be nice if hot yoga teachers would either help more with basics or encourage them to a fundamentals or beginner’s class. I fear that they will hurt themselves or not get enough out of poses. Every pose has a purpose and it would be nice if yogis learned what that purpose is. I cringe when I see bent knees in triangle, wide leg forward fold, or intense side stretch. They aren’t getting the point of the pose. It would be better if they kept legs straight and bent their torso just to their end point. Teachers need to teach!!

I almost need to apologize for the hot yoga class I taught on Friday. I got downright cranky about some poses I was seeing. And when I tried to adjust them, either verbally or physically, they seemed to resist my instruction. People could easily do yoga at home. The benefit of coming to a class with a registered yoga teacher (RYT) is that they get personal instruction. It is the greatest value of coming to classes. We don’t come to yoga to be anonymous. We come to grow as yogis and people of the Earth.

Nuff said!

Yoga Drill Sergeant

RIP R. Lee Ermey

​I don’t want to freak any of my yogis out, but I see everything.

When I was an Army Drill Instructor, we learned to pay attention to detail. There was nothing different from when I was in basic training. Or when we had inspections on active duty. You learned to not miss any little thread, grain of dust, or smudge on a shiny surface. I measured the width of my underwear so it was exact to 1/16 of an inch. We used a Bic lighter to burn off even the smallest thread on our uniforms. You had to be precise with everything.

Just as a sidenote, you have to learn to be precise. In my work, if I received a message from a General or the President, I couldn’t be even one letter off in my transmission. If an artillery gunner is off by a digit on a grid coordinate, it could mean the life or death of friendly troops or civilians. You just can’t be wrong in combat.

I know the stakes are not so high in yoga. But the eye that I’ve trained all these years now applies to yoga. I have an imprint in my mind of many shapes. And its not just shapes, it is what Pattabhi Jois called "energy lines". If a drishti or bandhas are not used properly in Ashtanga, you can actually see a disrupted line. I would even go as far to say that you can feel it. Its like being an empath. You can feel when a yogi is perplexed, discombobulated, or frustrated. When you get close, you can sense it in their breath.

Its like a Yoga Teacher Superpower!

I can glance down a line of yogis and immediately see a leg that isn’t straight when it should be. I can see a yogi slightly leaning forward in Warrior 2. I can see toes scrunched up in pyramid pose from across the room. I can swoop right over with the speed of sound and fix the issue.

When I was in the Army, I could change the emotions of my troops in a heartbeat. We sometimes did what was called a Backdraft. In a fire, a re-introduction of a lot of oxygen, like breaking a window or opening a door can cause a blast of fire that can be very dangerous. So in the middle of the night, we would bring mass Drill Instructors raining down fire and brimstone on sleepy troops. We’d have them put their PT gear on and in less than 2 minutes have them outside doing flutter kicks, front leaning rests, and radioactive dying cockroaches. I’m sure it wasn’t a fun time for them. But we could also do the opposite. We could bring them so high that they were smiling and screaming at the top of their lungs. Pride and espirit de corps!! It was a roller coaster that we had total control over.

In yoga, we set the atmosphere. In a chill class, we keep the brain waves at a nice even keel. In Rocket Yoga, I get them cranking pretty fast and include some hard music jams in the mix. In Candlelight yoga last night, I make it very soothing and refreshing. There is a time and place for every energy and emotion.

It is such an honor to provide people what they are looking for. It isn’t just a set of movements. It is an emotional and physical drama that is set in this special scene. Mastery of how it plays out comes with practice. We never arrive. We continue to build our craft. And yogis continually become masters of their minds and bodies.

I love this journey!

Full House

I had a full class for Rocket Yoga last night. I mean, at least full for Rocket. We need a lot of extra space for all the arm balances and inversions. So it was full.

Our North studio is having a big bar removed from when it was an Italian restaurant. So its going to give us considerable extra space. They need to re-do the floors, which might mean tearing up the entire floor. So we can’t have classes over there this week. I ended up with a few Hot Yogis coming to my class.

For the most part, Hot Yoga, is a beginner to intermediate class. Most students don’t really know all the poses. And a large percentage only come to hot yoga and no other classes. Of all classes, I think everyone should take fundamentals and beginners classes where they can learn about yoga and the basics of Asana practice. But students often think they can jump right in because they don’t really know what they don’t know.

So last night we were due for Rocket 3, which I think would be exciting for a new student. Rocket 1 is more like the Ashtanga Primary series, and while a little more basic Ashtanga-wise, I am a bit more strict about the postures. Rocket 3 is just fun time!

I didn’t change anything. I did explain a few things more than I usually do. And I emphasized Drishti and Breath more. The only part of the Tristhana I left out was Bandhas. Those first two are hard enough to learn by themselves. I slow walked them through astavakrasana (8-angle) and workshopped mayurasana (peacock). Otherwise, we did all the things I usually do.

I could sense frustration (and maybe a little terror) in a few eyes. But I think they had fun. I may even keep a couple of them. One lady came up to me and said she’d like to come more often even know she can’t do most of the poses. But I encouraged her like I do everyone, just try. If you keep at it, someday you’ll be able to make the shapes. It takes strength and flexibility, and those things take time. But be patient and always try something.

Rocket is the perfect segue into a whole new world. I often hope it will take them to Ashtanga or Kundalini classes as well. And maybe into more meditative and restorative practices. We do more pranayama than most classes. It may even have them seek fitness outside of class, like aerobics and weight training. I encourage our rock climbers always since its the perfect compliment to yoga. Aerial arts too.

Explore new things. Take what you like. And make yourself try things you don’t think you’ll like. Its where growth happens.

What’s the Soup of the Day?

Doesn’t status quo make you want to jump off a cliff some days?

No, its not that bad, but the rebel in me makes me want to whap people on the head.

I have so many friends who ask the waiter at the restaurant “What’s the Soup of the Day?” But, then they never (ever) get the soup. Its just something they think they should do. Maybe Mary Manners in some magazine they pick up at the doctor’s office tells them to say that. Why ask about soup if you are never going to get it?

And when people feel obligated to say “God Bless You” every time someone sneezes. A friend of mine once told me her cardiologist said that our heart stops for a split second when we sneeze and we are nearly (literally) dead for that short period of time. First of all, I’d find a new cardiologist. The idea is that if you are dead, you have to say “God Bless You” so that evil spirits don’t occupy that dead space. I don’t know what you believe. I do believe strongly that there is a God. But I don’t believe in this mumbo-jumbo one bit. It is complete nonsense. And some of my friends who don’t believe in God…well, they say this too. Does someone say “God Bless You” when you sneeze when you are completely alone? No they don’t. And you are still sane and not demon possessed. Its crazy.

Now this isn’t a status quo thing, but its a what the heck thing! I also have friends who go to a hamburger restaurant and get chicken. They go to a chicken restaurant and get roast beef. Huh?!! If a restaurant specializes in something, doesn’t it seem smart to go with what they do best?

I wish people would learn to think for themselves. Common sense always rules over tradition and superstition. When people mindlessly do things for no good reason, ask them to consider why they expend useless energy for nothing.

Rocket 2 Saturday

Laghu Vajrasana – I love this assist with Philippa Asher.

We’ve been playing with this pose and similar ones when we do Rocket 2. This series is based more on shoulders and backbends. We do a lot of flying too. So its guaranteed to be a lot of fun. I expect we’ll explore more backbends on Sat.

For those who come to my Rocket classes, we will have a potluck this Sat after class. Please bring something to share and we’ll have a party. And if you don’t have something to share, come anyway. You don’t even have to come to class. Just come and party.

Also, I’m sad to say that the Runners Yoga workshop scheduled for the next 3 Sundays has been cancelled. There is a lot going on at the studio along with remodeling in the North Studio.​ And we had to move the time so I lost a few attendants. We’ll try again some other time.

Happy Day my friends!