Yoga for Beginners

Make sure your yoga teacher can be empathetic and perceptive to your abilities.

I injured a shoulder 2 weeks ago and was going to follow a beginner yoga class on YouTube. I don’t usually do online classes, but I thought I’d open my mind a bit.

Mind Open—-Quick, close it, close it!!!

The teacher was this beautiful blonde lady doing yoga on a beach. I thought, yeah, how relaxing! As we started along, maybe the 3rd pose turned out to be a hamstring tear waiting to happen. I wouldn’t do that pose until fully warmed up or in a hot yoga class. As we went along, there were other poses that clearly were not beginner friendly. Be careful with an uber flexible and monsterly strong yoga teacher. Sometimes they underestimate their abilities. Something simple for them can be very difficult for others.

When I was cutting my teeth on yoga teaching, I used to teach at a fitness center. They had this Silver Sneaker program that subsidizes senior citizens who want to do fitness. I really loved the people in my classes. To be honest, some yoga teachers condescend to seniors. But if you think about it, they’ve seen it all. Some of my yogis attend yoga retreats on cruise ships and at extravagant resorts abroad with notable yoga teachers. I can’t imagine what they’ve seen and the expertise they’ve been exposed to. So when I taught classes with them, they were gentler and more aware of our bodies. Something about getting older, we often tend to speak our minds. We don’t have to beat around the bush anymore. And that’s what happened. When I would teach a pose that was too difficult, you could hear people exasperated and disgusted. One lady even said [LOUDLY], "THIS ISN’T GENTLE YOGA!!!" Before class, one lady who I really grew to love would list poses she wasn’t going to do that day (meaning, the harder poses I sometimes throw in). I learned very quickly what was possible and not so possible.

Many years ago, I took a power yoga class at the studio where I currently teach. The teacher did the same thing. It was 2nd pose we did that was supremely difficult when not warmed up. I thought "somebody is definitely going to get injured today". You just can’t do that to a class.

Here are some tips for your practice when in a yoga class:
-Warm-up your body on your own before you begin. Do a few slow sun salutations on your own or whatever else your body needs. Do this especially if you are sore or injured.
-In a cooler room, start out wearing some clothing layers. Then shed as you warm up.
-Its your practice. You don’t have to do everything.
-Always modify for your own body. Use straps frequently.
-Never create pain in your body. You shouldn’t feel pain in yoga.
-If you have an injury or health problem, mention this privately to your teacher before class.
-If a teacher is adjusting a problem area for you, kindly remind them of your issue before being adjusted.
-I always say try. Try your best. But don’t hurt yourself.

In the end, you are responsible for your own body. You usually sign a waiver in a yoga studio that confirms this fact. If a teacher tells you to do something crazy, or something that is not good for cold muscles, then modify or ask for a modification from your teacher. Sometimes, we forget to give you a modification for a pose or we just assume everybody can do it. For the most part, I don’t enjoy when students just sit there and do nothing. We can always do "something" that looks like the pose. Part of yoga is not only physical things, but mental resiliency as well. Don’t give up and get frustrated. And by all means, don’t be angry with yourself or someone else. I see people cursing at themselves sometimes because they can’t do something. That’s not a very yogic attitude to have.

Yoga should be challenging, but not defeating.
Yoga should make you feel better, not worse.
Yoga should give you peace, not more chaos.

Timing Workouts Are Useful

For most things in my life, I don’t want to stress about time. I don’t want to know I only have an hour left to finish a proposal. I don’t want to think about getting stuck in traffic for an extra 45 minutes. In life, time is usually not our friend.

But there is something about doing a workout for time. Sometimes we do it for running. It drives us to work harder to get a new PR (personal record) for a 5K. But for your average gym person, you wonder "is timing workouts really for me?"

So this is where the anti-HIIT/anti-CrossFit crowd starts to scream bloody mercy! Go ahead, get it out of your system. And then sit down and have a rational conversation.

Let’s say you want to see how many burpees you can do in a minute. Maybe you start out with 20. Over time, you find yourself doing 40 or 50. Regardless of what you think about that, progress has been made. You find yourself with a greater work capacity. It is clear evidence of progress, just like a blood test would test cholesterol or glucose levels.

Now, you might say that you don’t go to a Box or Gym that is conducive to timed workouts. I think you should figure it out for yourself because you’d be surprised. And you don’t need a fancy timer, though a fancy one is nice. You can use a stopwatch. I use the 4Time app on my iphone, but there are many on the market. It can act like a regular timer, a countdown timer, or an interval timer. It even has a countdown time to your start. I set mine at 12 seconds, but you can set it for whatever length.

I workout on my own. I used to go to a CrossFit Box years ago, but I have all the equipment at home. So my investment is in that and not on a membership somewhere. Plus, I can play my own music, which is HUGE for me. And I can wear what I want, which is usually not much (haha!).

What is amazing is that I’m not competing with anyone but myself. If you are competitive and you workout alone, you can still be competitive. There are online groups that prescribe workouts, so you do the workout and compare it with the group. And for free, you can go on and do the workout of the day (WOD) and then post your time. You can look at what others did as well.

But the crux of it all is getting a better workout. Yes, I may pace myself early in a WOD. But no matter what, I start picking up the pace toward the last round or the last minute. When I might normally take a breath or chalk up in between exercises, I just crank right through non-stop at the end.

When I was doing my Ph.D. research, my colleague once said something super profound to me. He said "you never know when one small batch of data elucidates all we know about something". That always stuck with me. What if one clairvoyant thought changes the whole scheme of something? That’s what I feel about workouts. The 9 sets you did before were the grunt work. But what counts most is that last set, that last lap, that last climb to the summit. That’s when the real champion comes out. Its what defines not only our physical ability, but our mental fortitude.

Timing your workouts can do miracles for you. And if you keep a good logbook, you can look back and see your progress. It keeps you in the game and makes you a winner.

Yoga Teaching: Perceptiveness

Empathy as a yoga teacher is a tremendously important quality. Have you heard about the youngest yoga teacher? I think she was either a pre-teen or young teenager. There is no possible way that such a young, while admirable, yogi has the wisdom and experience to teach yoga to the masses.

When a teacher has been through hardship, they can relate to a class better. When a teacher has had serious injuries or illness, they can feel with a student who is going through some struggle. When a teacher has been so sore from a run that they can’t walk for days, they know what the runner has been through. Empathy is different in that it is an understanding of the feelings of another, usually from experience.

I was looking for inspiration since I don’t attend enough yoga classes myself. So I went to YouTube. There was this young lady teacher who has lots of likes who’s class I decided to follow. I would say not 3 poses in, she did a pose that was so deep, it would certainly injure the average person. I see this all too often. Something easy for the teacher may be extremely difficult for the class. This is where a super flexible teacher who isn’t perceptive to those who struggle doesn’t do anybody any favors. And if you put a huge ego on top of that, its a recipe for disaster.

One of my learning grounds as a teacher was a gentle yoga class full of senior yogis. If you did something too crazy, they would certainly let you know about it. It was like playing the game Operation. You slide your tools in to remove an organ, but if you touch the sides, it buzzes and lights up. That’s how this class was. I learned quickly of poses that I shouldn’t go near in those classes.

Yoga teachers need to be able to put a governor on our abilities so that we teach appropriately to the level of class being taught. Its where a little age and experience go a long way. Everyone can be "aware" in their class. You just have to watch and listen to the subtle cues. Like the physician’s creed "Do no harm". That goes for yoga teachers too! #ahimsa

Rectus Abdominus Is Not That Important To Me

But the six-pack sure does look good. Haha!

Functionally, I rarely focus on rectus abdominus. In every day life, pulling our ribs to our pelvis isn’t a natural thing. In fact, flexion of the spine is often seen as a bad thing. More often, it comes into play in an isometric sense (non-shortening fibers). When we lift heavy things, we focus more on transverse abdominus. Of all the muscles of the abdomen and back, I’d say rectus abdominus is the least of our concern. It is the outer, superficial layer and is kind of a last resort muscle.

That being said, R. abdominus is really sore on me right now. I did crunches (with one of those funky crunch things you buy on late night TV for $19.99). As much as CrossFit’rs, powerlifters, and any other serious lifter laughs at crunches (except bodybuilders), they do work. Even though R. abd is the primary focus and not as important, you can’t help but enjoy working them.

I actually worked to fatigue several times last night and even had to rest to complete my reps. They are surely aching today.

Go ahead and work them now and then. I give you permission.

Sometimes, Boys Will Be Idiots

I’ve always been a huge fan of BJ Penn. I’ve always respected him even though I had questions about him. There were always reports that Dana White was calling him up or asking about him to make sure he was training for an upcoming fight; that he wasn’t drinking or just surfing all the time.

I remember the old fights with all the biggest names: Matt Hughes, George St. Pierre, Takanori Gomi, Frankie Edgar. He’s fought them all. He always looked like the smaller fighter. And I most often root for the smaller guy. I always loved his fighting spirit.

But like I always say, play with fire or you’re gonna get burned.

I think a recent YouTube with Chael Sonnen put it best. If you fight for a dollar, then you are worth a dollar. That’s it. Its all so cheap.

So he has litigation against him for domestic abuse. That one is hard for me to ever overlook. A man who beats on a woman is worthless. So maybe he’s worth less than a dollar in my eyes.

Then he get caught beating up a bouncer at a strip club. OK, so he’s what, 40 years old? I think if you’re older than being a man-child, like mid-20’s, and you’re still going to strip clubs, then something’s wrong with you. Yeah I said it. Come at me bro! Haha! Worthless.

When I was in the Army, I would stay up at the club until the doors closed. Well, sometimes. I got really sleepy. I was in Germany and would party to all hours. Then again, I was like 19 years old. Definitely not a real man yet. I was still working my way into being a man. Those times were probably my last for burning the midnight oil. I never had a reason to stay up later until I started working as a loader for United Parcel Service. I worked from Midnight until 5am while I was in college. It was super hard work and I never liked being up all night. But that was the price I paid. I never wanted to do anything like that again. A year before that, I was a security guard for these big companies and I’d stay up all night then too. That was definitely not fun. Before that, I had this old Tandy computer, one of the first personal computers to come out. I was on this fantasy game that you loaded in DOS or I was flying somewhere in the flight navigator. I wouldn’t even realize but I’d end up staying up most of the night playing it.

When I look back, it was all so stupid. If you stay up to those hours, you are definitely going to get burned sooner or later. You are going to get attacked, beaten up, robbed, and just plain violated. I’m not saying anyone asks for it or deserves it. But when you are welding and wearing flammable clothes, sometimes that spark is going to ignite and its definitely not going to be good.

All I can say is Grow Up BJ. Actually, grow up everybody. Maybe you’re someone who’s getting high and needs a fix, then you probably aren’t reading this blog anyway. But Grow Up! Tell your kids to Grow Up. That fire is going to catch up with you sooner or later. I always say "never blame the victim". But if I hear you are a victim at 2am out in the city streets, I’m not going to be surprised. And if you turn out OK and you can learn from it, I may just slap you and ask you why you were so stupid. I mean, Grow Up!

Parenting Gone Awry

There is a report in the news of a teenager who is going deaf and blind and a host of other physical problems because of eating only junk food. The human body needs a host of nutrients that come from various foods. Junk food doesn’t meet those requirements.

Apparently, his parents tried to get him on a better diet regimen only to fall back into the junk food.

My question for this situation: Is this child independently wealthy outside of his parents room and board?

I was raised in the country in Kansas. We were in small farm communities where people worked for a living. None of us were raised with a silver spoon in our mouths. We always had food on the table and had a roof over our heads. I personally baled hay, unloaded derailed train cars, and worked as a janitor in a large commercial building. We didn’t have a lot of extras. And, living out in the country meant a trip to town was a big deal. We drove 10 miles to the nearest metropolis for movies, shopping, and restaurants. When we got to go to Burger King or Pizza Hut, it was a huge treat for us.

But for us, a daily trip to McDonald’s wouldn’t even be physically possible. For one thing, I wasn’t of driving age. My Dad worked in a town 10 miles away and most of the time, he wasn’t making another 20 mile jaunt after he got home. We went to church in town, so that was our main opportunity to go out to eat. But, for my parents, it meant being able to get a nice sit-down-meal. That means, no fast food. So even if we went to town, it wasn’t always junk food for our treat.

For people who had real parents, parents who weren’t just our friends, but parents who actually parented; they knew what was right for us and made us abide by their rules. We did chores like mowing the lawn, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning up after whatever pets we had. We also had to keep our rooms neat and beds made. And if we didn’t abide by the rules, there were consequences. We didn’t get any of the treats, even though we rarely had dessert anyway. And for more egregious offenses like throwing a rock and breaking out the living room window, we got spanked. I know people these days frown on those things. But as I look back, I always knew there were consequences for our actions. When you don’t have parents who set rules and actually have rewards and punishments, then you never learn about those things.

Today, they have what are called "helicopter parents". These are parents that hover around their children at a safe distance, but let them make all their own decisions. They are only there for safety. There aren’t real rules. They do everything for them and answer to every beckoned call. I see parents on the phone in the freezer section at the grocery store arguing with a child about what brand they want them to get. I see kids throwing fits because they are not getting what they want. In my house, fits didn’t happen. We got what we got and were appreciative.

Well, not always appreciative. I had a real hate of broccoli when I was a kid. Actually, almost anything green food-wise wasn’t something I enjoyed. But we had rules. I had to clean my plate for every meal because we weren’t wealthy enough to let anything go to waste. And my parents knew what was good for me even if I didn’t agree. So I sat there as I saw kids in the yard playing football. Sometimes I was stubborn because I thought after a few hours, my Mom would say, "OK, you can go play now". She never did. I ended up eating cold, hours-old broccoli.

But now, as I look back, I really appreciate how I was raised. It made it easy for me when I went into the Army. In the Army, you can’t really be a vegetarian, or have gluten allergies, or peanut allergies, or any other food preference issues. They put food on your plate and you eat it. And because you were always starving, you ate everything. And you ate it really fast. You get handed C-rations for the field. Yes, you may trade with someone for something else, but mostly you ate what you got. And because of how I was raised, it was easy. And I ate tons of broccoli and green beans too. I grew to love those things. It reminded me of home.

In some ways, I wish we had mandatory military service for everyone. We’d be a much better country if we did. Then, as parents who went through that process and knew what was going to be expected of them, they would prepare their children for their service. They would have rules and ask everyone to be polite. In the military, yes sir and yes ma’am are commonplace. You learn chivalry there. You learn about honor and country. You wouldn’t have groups like Antifa or Skinheads or gangs. We would all be on the same playing field working for the same team.

Don’t feed your kids whatever they want. Instead, be a parent and give them what they need. Give them nutritious meals and don’t cave to their every desire. Its up to you to grow a child with good character, values, and beliefs. Don’t put perverted ideas in their minds just so they are genderless and seemingly accepting of anything. Be a parent! Teach them what is right and wrong. Don’t put crazy ideas in their minds and wonder later why they are so messed up. I mean, kids don’t even know which bathroom to go to anymore. They don’t even know how to dress. And they certainly don’t know how to eat. Its up to parents to do these things. And if you are going to be a parent, be a parent. An honorable man (or man-child) will accept their role as parent if they parent a child. Marry the girl. And raise kids right. Society falls apart when we no longer have family. Even homosexual relationships have a man-woman modeled partnership. There is always a man and woman no matter what. You need that for the development of a child. The number of single parent homes, especially in inner city and poor communities, is astounding. The number of young people who shack up and never get married is remarkable. Actually, its catastrophic! People don’t want to commit anymore. They always want an easy way out. And if you don’t get married, then bonds are easily dissolved. There is no more belief in a higher power that honors a relationship. It is a different feeling from when I was raised.

Kids should never end up deaf and blind because of poor parenting. Be a parent! If you make a child, be responsible to that beautiful creation. Both man and woman. It takes a man and woman to make a child. So own up to that.