All posts by Andy Yoga

Yoga Teacher & Photographer serving East-Central Illinois RYT-200 Yoga Alliance Ashtanga Immersion 50 hr CrossFit Level I trainer CF Olympic Weightlifting Gymnastics Movement Former Army Drill Instructor Microbiology, mycology, plant pathology, Ph.D. Fly fisher, kayaker, backpacker, musician Husband, friend, dog lover Runner, Olympic weightlifter, CrossFit (Rocket Yoga 100 hour, Feb 2016)

We Experience what we Know

Have you ever seen a toddler hurt himself? He looks up at you not knowing what his real feelings should be. It takes the response of a parent or those around him to realize what he should feel. They train him at that moment to be weak or to be strong.

When I would fall down or get injured, my Dad was the type who would say, “you’re ok, get up and rub it out.” He wasn’t being callous or cruel. It was just his way of making me think of something in a different way. If I didn’t have a broken arm, then why cry about it?

Throughout society today, I see intense coddling that leads to a lot of perpetuation of a lack of mental toughness. Your mind is extremely powerful at handling pain and emotions. What I see today is, when the child falls down, the Mom runs over and coos and panders. Even if it wasn’t anything serious at all, the child ends up crying hysterically like he was mortally wounded. Instead of thinking, “no big deal”, he is conditioned to think “everything is a big deal”.

Mountain out of a molehill

I completely admire the realm of psychology. I’m a scientist and I like aspects of human emotion and pain responses. But I also believe that, once we define something, we tend to self-diagnose what we have as that definition. For instance, someone is starting to have a feeling of indigestion, acid reflux, and pain in specific parts of the abdomen. So he jumps on WebMD and self diagnoses himself as having kidney failure. In reality, he goes to the doctor and it turns out it was the acid in the orange he just ate that makes his tummy upset. Next time, he diagnoses himself with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disease. You wonder if he had never heard of these things, he wouldn’t even think to consider such maladies.

If you ever watch the movie Platoon, a soldier is badly injured in an enemy ambush. He is screaming and writhing in pain when the Platoon Sergeant walks over and presses on his mouth telling him to “eat the pain”. While the terror in the soldier’s eyes remain the same, a calm comes over him and he is quiet. There are stories where a person is amputated in a car accident and they don’t even realize what happened. Sure, shock does terrible things to us. But it all happens to relate to how our brain responds to pain.

I’m certain that none of us wants to see a loved one hurt, especially a child. But maybe our first response is to not make a huge deal out of minor boo-boo’s. Maybe I need to feel sub-zero temperatures while waiting for the school bus. Maybe I need to know how it feels to not eat for a day. Maybe I need to run a half-marathon in the heat and learn to overcome what I’m feeling. When I wrestled in high school, I wore a t-shirt that said “mat burns builds character”. I didn’t let an opponent know that I was ever in pain. I had to be strong in mind and body to battle someone who is my equal. You can’t go into battle showing weakness. When I was an Army Drill Instructor, I had soldiers standing at the position of attention for an hour without flinching when 100F heat bore down on them or blinding rain swept across their face. Soldiers learn to embrace the suck. CrossFit athletes learn to keep going when the average person would collapse. Its all about how we face adversity.

Coddling leads to “triggering” responses. Now colleges have therapy dogs, quiet rooms, and other consolation for even the most minor offenses. These are 18 & 19 year olds who are supposed to be learning how to face society. Yet, other men and women of the same age are out on the front lines in battle. Its all about how we are conditioned to rise above oppression. Do we cower and cry, or do we fight and prevail?

Condition yourself and those around you to have pride for yourself. Learn that life isn’t always perfect. Learn that we don’t have to respond to every attack. Learn to have a tougher shell so you can just keep walking when the dust storm kicks up to full force.

Physical toughness leads to mental strength. Mental strength means you can’t be defeated.

My Love/Hate with Ashtanga

“Hate” is not very Ahimsa, so maybe I’ll say I have problems with the system.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ashtanga. I’m the guy with his nose buried in the books trying to figure this thing out. I’m studying testimonials of students of Pattabhi Jois. I have the documentary video “Ashtanga NY” that I watch numerous times just to get a glimpse of Guruji. I’m watching Advanced A & B practice on YouTube with Guruji in his polyester shorts calling out the counts. I had a 6-day a week practice knowing that if I work hard, all will come to me. I’m fascinated by it all.

When I walk into a Rocket Yoga class and I know its going to be difficult. I know I’m going to be drenched in sweat. But I also know I’ll laugh, listen to jams, and celebrate tiny victories with my fellow yogis. It isn’t so seriously cultish that people either submit or are ushered away with their tails between their legs. In Rocket, I know there will always be something I can do better. But I always feel like that some day will come. And maybe that pose never clicks, but at least there are hundreds of other poses I still can call my own. There is always hope and positive vibes.

When I first started yoga, I was a CrossFit guy, ultra-marathoner, powerlifter. I never did things halfway. I jumped in head first. So if I’m going to a yoga class, I want the hardest it can give (at least that’s how I thought). I see this in beginners today. The Body Pump Gym Class has invaded our yoga studios with the mentality of go hard or go home! When my teacher first came in, she was stern and very disciplined. The Army DI in me understood this well. So that’s what I gravitated toward. Funny thing, this teacher also learned Rocket early on. When I finally took Rocket with her, I was like “oh, Ashtanga in a fun way!” Yeah that’s what I want!

I haven’t done the Primary series, whether Led or Mysore style, in more than a year. The last time I went, as a yoga teacher and regular practitioner of yoga, I felt belittled in class. My first teacher told me, when you go to Mysore with a new teacher, you have to turn the other cheek and take whatever that teacher is teaching. I guess I wasn’t willing to turn my cheek this time. The assumption was that I was clueless about yoga, that I didn’t practice enough on my own, and that I didn’t understand anatomy. Heck, I’ve done cadaver dissections in human gross anatomy, along with all the prerequisite classes I had to take to get there. I studied human movement in Kinesiology classes. I worked out with weights for 40 years. I know something about the human body. I didn’t have the time or where-with-all to explain all this to this teacher. Even worse, when some of my young Rocket yogis go to Ashtanga, they are treated the same way. Its no fun when your exploration of a pose is laughed at. No fun at all!

The go hard or go home mentality left me years ago since I learned what yoga really is. As my practice is honed, I realize the need for ahimsa and santosha, non-judgment and contentment. I realize Asana practice is only the 3rd limb of 8 limbs. And if we only focus on Asana and not develop a yogi’s full character, then it isn’t embracing ALL of yoga. This is where I depart from Mysore Ashtanga. I no longer feel freedom and enjoyment in an Ashtanga practice. It takes me back to a beginner’s mentality where the only thing important is forcing yourself into a mold in the most intense way possible.

As we market yoga to generations of students, I believe that we stay true to our roots and try our best to teach yoga that holds to the tradition and practice that has held for thousands of years. However, we can do this in a way that is also accommodating to where they are right now. We need to make it accessible and “fun”. It needs to produce results in minds and bodies. Words that should never enter into yoga are “prohibitive”, “restrictive”, “unattainable”. When we teach a general vinyasa class, when we get to Downward Facing Dog and you can’t put your heels down with a flat back, we don’t say “go sit in a corner and wait until the end when you can join us again”. That isn’t helpful to any student of yoga.

People don’t know yoga. People don’t know CrossFit. They think people are just showing off and out to hurt themselves. This is far from the truth. Both yoga and CrossFit are infinitely scale-able. If we prescribe a workout, we make sure everybody can do it no matter their limitations. And we make sure everyone is fully satisfied and encouraged in the end. That is what CrossFit is to me. And that is what Rocket Yoga is. Everyone is welcome to play. We laugh, we play music, we have fun…and we grow!

 

Dabbling Hobbies

I’ve started and stopped doing so many things in my life. I have numerous hobbies, some that I was extremely passionate about, that now sit on the sidelines. I still call myself a fly fisher, oil painter, pole dance artist, hula hooper, and Olympic weightlifter. But weeks & months go by where I don’t do those things. It shames me to say that, but if I’m honest, its true!

We all have things we’ve wanted to become better at, maybe even experts. We’ve had career paths that we put all our chips into, then something along the way makes us change course completely. Its a part of life, even though its hard to admit our misgivings.

I think of many people who come to yoga classes. I see them discipline themselves to come to my classes and we talk about our shared love for the practice. Then one day, poof, they’re gone. Yeah, they are still in town. They are still friends on social media. But its just one of those hobbies that goes away. I say in my mind that I’m shocked, but really I do it too. Somehow, I always imagine people are practicing for years when they come to me. But really, it may be only a few weeks or months; not even a year. There may be a real reason for them stopping. But for many, its something that ran its course and is now over.

Tides continue to come in and out. But the water meets a different land each time it arrives.

If You Only Had Time for One Thing

Its amazing how you can think about doing something that you really want to do, but you never get around to doing it. Some of the exercises that I think to myself “I should do that more” never results me in actually doing it.

One example is the pushup. I could sit here and think, hmmm, I should do a few pushups now and then. Then I don’t do it. What is the obstacle in our minds? I usually think we are so overwhelmed with all that we need to do, we feel burdened and never do anything.

I made a new workout plan a few weeks ago that has worked very well. Maybe it will help you too. I can call it “If you only had time for One Thing”. I have a rough plan of what I need to do every day in my workouts. It revolves around my yoga teaching schedule and my responsibilities at work and home. Here is how it goes.

I prioritize every day 5 or 6 major movements I’d like to accomplish. But the priority means that if I only had time for one thing, what would it be? Its usually squats or deadlifts. I figure those are the most important movements for life. Other days, it is a cardiovascular movement. So if I only have time for one, I am sure to get that done.

However, if I have time for my whole routine, its varied enough that if I have time all week to do all the things, it turns out to be a very well-rounded program that includes a variety of important tasks. And if I have more time than that, I can add other electives.

In your daily lives, find what is most important to you. It may be hugging your loved one, walking your dog, working out, or going to a yoga class. Even in your work schedule, name one thing (or up to 3 things) that you would like to accomplish for that day. It should be something that makes a significant difference in your life without being unattainable.

[I just did 10 pushups; its not on my list, but how hard is it to do something so simple?]

The Yoga Teacher’s Touch

yogaadjustment

There are many people who are fine with doing yoga at home. Maybe its the schedule, price, or location of a local yoga studio that makes yoga inaccessible. But for those who can, having a registered teacher trained to adjust postures with a critical eye toward safety and improving your practice makes it invaluable in a class setting. When I take pictures of myself doing yoga, I can see where my shoulders are internally rotated or my alignment is off. A teacher can do things for you that you can’t see yourself. But there is so much more beyond that touch. It separates a yoga teacher in a studio from a mere fitness class or online instruction.

I’ve said this many times, but in old school India back in the beginnings of modern yoga, there weren’t dissections of anatomy, no skeletons as models; diagrams of muscles, tendons, and ligaments weren’t a part of the training. The founder of Ashtanga yoga, Pattabhi Jois, and other teachers would adjust yogis based on energy. They could see the flow of the body and have a feeling for adjustments based on each individual’s body. It takes years of experience to know exactly what touch is needed to make a beneficial adjustment. Improper adjustments or not being aware of limitations can lead to injury. I’ve been injured myself by yoga adjustments. It can be a thin line between being helpful and pushing too far.

But beyond alignment and posture itself, there is much more to a teacher’s touch. Sure, a good teacher can use verbal cues and not touch at all. In hot yoga, I’m the sweatiest person in class, and it made me self-conscious to make adjustments. I know I’ve even dripped on people and their mats. But we’re all hot & sweaty so most aren’t bothered at all by mutual grossness. Yoga  touch goes beyond moving bodies. Sometimes, it is assurance. It is comfort. I can go and touch a person doing  a seated forward fold and I immediately notice a change in their breath. They might tense for a second, then with an exhale fully lengthen into the pose. Sometimes I touch a knee in a warrior pose and it immediately moves and responds. I have very qualified teachers in my classes who I touch because they don’t get touched often in classes. It feels good that a teacher is aware of you and is there for you. It isn’t always a correction. Sometimes it is love and respect. Usually it is both.

Yoga is often viewed as self-therapy. But the interaction with a teacher and even fellow yogis makes it more of an experience. Savor the times when you get to touch and breathe with your teacher. It makes for a much deeper experience.

Women should Lift

For the women who won’t lift weights because they think they will get bulky. In the highly unlikely case that this happens, stop lifting if you feel too bulky! Meanwhile, lift your heart out. If I were these people (who are looking for an excuse not to do hard work), I’d be more worried about osteoporosis and getting a hump back later in life.