Scaling CrossFit: Leave your ego at the door

I was just talking with a friend about the Yin and Yang of Yoga & CrossFit. One comforts your body, the other rakes it over the coals. I used to have a real muscle head mind set about most things. I wouldn’t allow softness to creep into my life. Yeah, I did Tai-Chi and other things to keep me centered. But most of me wanted to sweat. I always sought a challenge.

This was my wod last night:
4 rounds for time
Trap bar jumping squats 135# 10x
Pushups on the low rings 10x
Cable close grip rows 10x
Sit ups 10x

I initially had this programmed at 15 reps per exercise. Then I thought, 10 should be fine. And it was more than fine for me. My goal in a wod is not to focus on strength. A metcon is made to make your heart beat. Don’t get me wrong, I love cardio. But cardio doesn’t do it like CrossFit does. There is that undeniable strength component along with the skill and quality of moving well. There are times when I was a road runner, even stepping up on a curb was a huge obstacle. Instead, add real obstacles like pullups and a heavy barbell clean and now you’ve got a CrossFit workout. Its what makes it so different.

Always have a goal. Have an intention for what you are doing. If you intention for a yoga session is to find peace, then do that. If it is to build specific strength, do that too. For CrossFit, I’m not out to set any records. I still set a timer so that I’m always held accountable to myself. But I’m not comparing my time to others. I don’t need that anymore. I just need to compete with myself. If my muscles burn for 8 minutes and I collapse into a sweaty heap on the floor, I know I’ve done good for myself. And that’s the goal.

Don’t let ego be your goal. Accomplish small victories. Pat yourself on the back. And move to the next.

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Organic Yoga

I would say about 2% of the time, I have a plan for my yoga class. And about 1% of the time, the class turns out to be much better than most. Not long ago, I taught a class that wholly focused on Ajna or 3rd eye chakra. I wore purple, I played 3rd eye songs (Purple Haze), and all my poses were focused on expressing that chakra. But a few times, when I have a script to follow, I totally go off script for whatever reason. Often I plan something and I get mostly beginners where the poses wouldn’t have worked. Or maybe I have such a small class that the energy wouldn’t be there to “feel” what I had planned. A class often needs lots of energy and this is sometimes helped by a large class. You have to force it more with a smaller class.

There are other times when I don’t really have a plan but develop a focus in the last minute. I may focus on a prop, like blocks or a strap. I may even focus on developing to a peak pose, like an arm balance or inversion. I may pre-plan a bit of it with a few notes, but usually its from experience. On a whim, I just start into a well-developed progression that I’ve learned over the years.

Other times, I come in without a plan and just go with the feeling of the class. I see who’s there and I know what they like so I do that. Its organic in a sense that they decide the class, not me. And quite often this works really well. It works great for a smaller class where I can design the class just for them. And they leave very happy.

Sometimes, I go into a class without a plan, but either my mind or my body or both are a complete wreck. Maybe I’ve just traveled for many hours. Maybe I did a hard CrossFit workout and my body is fried. In this case, I’ll totally project onto my class. If my hammies ache, I do a lot of hammies. If my back is sore, then it turns into a back workshop. Its kind of selfish because the class is all about me and not about them. But because my body and/or emotions are totally into it, its completely from the heart. And people can sense vulnerability and authenticity. So in the end, that style works too.

But the best classes are like the one I taught last night. It was Candlelight Yoga and I try to set the mood to some romantic candlelit setting. I imagine we’re on a floating dock on the Riviera in Montecarlo or some such exotic place. The music is soothing and makes you want to feel good. It is much more than a yoga class. It turns into an experience. Its like we are actors in a play. We play off each other and synergize our energies. I can really sense when they are grooving to what I’m giving. There are crescendos, andante and allegro, and a musical score that moves as we move. But mostly, they practice how I would practice in a private place with my eyes closed and nobody is looking. Its not as much of a performance as soul-soothing self-exploration. Some of the moves don’t make sense on paper. You’d never write out a sequence that expresses what I do. But it is all natural to my body. It is as organic as it gets. There is nothing false or pretentious about it. And when its all over, our lives are all in a better place. You can’t leave a class like that frustrated or worried about the world. Its like you are swaddled in a warm blanket with a butterscotch candy in our mouth. There’s nothing like it.

Counter-Poses in Yoga

I’ve been exploring counter poses more in my own yoga practice. In Thai Yoga Massage, we’ve studied how effective release can be with stretching and compression of antagonistic muscles. It is a great way to inhibit the stretch-reflex response.

One example:
I’m a yoga teacher, but I also do Crossfit and other things. So its a 2 steps forward, one step back kind of battle for me. But its another reason how counter poses are effective. Lizard pose (Uttana Pristhasana) feels good to me when I am very warmed up. But when I’m cold or sore, its not something very accessible. I try to enter with lower expectations the first time. I may hold for 2 or 3 breaths. Then I straighten my leg into a half-split. This isn’t a direct antagonist, but it feels like one. Then, after a few breaths, I ease back into Lizard. This time, I can go much deeper. I hold for only 2 or 3 breaths and transition back to half-splits. Each time, I feel myself going deeper.

For all the old-school bodybuilding fans who did supersets, you know what I mean. The best combos were:
leg extension – leg curl
biceps barbell curl – triceps extensions
barbell rows – bench press

These are classic push – pull and flexion – extension exercises. But you can do the same with yoga. Inherently, Ashtanga Yoga uses some of these principles. A sun salutation and other vinyasa poses do an inhale opening and exhale closing. But instead of holding for the full 5 breaths right away, I may deliberately transition to and from the counter pose. To me, its the most effect use of time and energy.

Try flowing into counter poses and see how it works for you.

The Miracle of Thai Bodywork

The power of Thai yoga massage is beyond my comprehension. I do the movements and try to reflect a person’s energy when I give. It is so very yin and yang. I find very young people who haven’t had the challenges of life who have very soft, pliable bodies. I can put very firm pressure into poses without even a slight grimace. Whereas, those of us who have a few years of heartache in our bodies nearly scream at the slightest touch. You give hard to the soft, but give soft to the hard. Its the essence of Thai loving kindness.

It surprises even me the difference it makes in bodies. Many of us have gone years with a pain or tightness that we assumed would never go away. So we just live with it. It becomes a part of who we are. Its a heavy baggage to carry.

I’ve told this story before. When I was in Thai yoga training, I offered to be the demo person for a shoulder sequence. I knew my shoulders were bad, which caused me to tear a pectoral muscle a few years ago. My shoulders still have a lot of limits in mobility with lots of pain. As my teacher was discussing how to evaluate shoulder movement, he noticed how bad my shoulder was. He just couldn’t leave it be and asked the class for leniency as he diverted into treatment mode. It was so amazing how he could feel every knot of resistance and knew proper movement so well. He used this jack hammer looking device all along my subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres major and minor. In not even 5 minutes time, he turned what looked like frozen shoulder into something I haven’t felt in a decade. That moment had me sold on the possibilities of Thai yoga massage.

Quite often, when I finish a Thai session with someone, they give the same reaction like I did. The years of pain simply vanish. Its like I put a new hip or knee or shoulder in like magic. Suddenly they feel more open than they have in a long time. Its such an amazing feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I love many modalities of bodywork. But its the intuitive nature of Thai yoga that makes the difference. There are times when I’ll cycle contract-relax, compression, pin & stretch, and stretching 3 to 5 times over. With each iteration I can feel softness in taut fibers and greater range of motion.

Honestly, I can’t believe how well it works myself. And trigger points are real. I’m amazed its not taught more in the medical community. Often pain that you feel is not localized. It is caused by something else. I’ve had two cases recently where neck and head pain were caused in trigger points in the trapezius muscles. Those are fairly distant from the pain. But without that knowledge, I would have been rubbing a neck and head without success. It takes that kind of training to make real changes. People always think they need a hip or knee replacement when the problem is usually with the muscles. The muscles refer the pain to those locations.

Always explore other options before someone wants to slice you open for exploratory surgery. Much of what is done is pure speculation. But when I palpate a muscle, I can find very obvious knots of trigger points in very unlikely places. These referral patterns are well documented. The problem with the scientific community is they think what we do is mystical or magical. Hehe, I’d have to agree. Its amazing how well it works.

What I say about everything is educate yourself. There is a YouTube video for everything these days. You can DIY and self help your way through life. But sometimes it takes someone with knowledge and experience to help you along.

Try out Thai yoga massage by a certified therapist. If you weigh the money for costly surgery versus a session on the mat, you may be surprised at the results.