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)

Vacation [Body] Weight

Ya know, if I’m on vacation, I’m going to live it up. We all should. Whatever we do that messes up an otherwise disciplined life, its really ok. We can fix it later.

Its kind of weird for me. I follow mostly a Warrior/Paleo/Flexible dieting kind of life. Don’t think it sounds dictatorial or anything. Its the easiest way for me to live. I’m really not at all hungry in the morning, which is greatly assisted by my love for coffee. By lunch-time, my mind is working on all cylinders and I’m in a flow. If I took a break, it would disrupt that robotic state of gettin things done! I stop the coffee and start drinking water after Noon. That keeps my belly full and detoxes the coffee. Admittedly, I get slightly hangry by 4 or 5pm, but that’s quite alright. I’ve been in ketosis all day up to that point, burning fat for energy. And when I finally eat, my stomach has shrunken to the point that it doesn’t take much to feel satiated. Then I may eat a snack before bed, like a yogurt or something.

Its easy for me to get back on track once I’m in my normal routine. Once my body gets rid of all that junk I ate, the weight falls off again. I feel light and very good about myself. And in the Summer, it is even easier since I can go for a couple runs in the heat and I’m quickly back down to weight. That’s what I’m working on now.

Its all good!

Bunch of Cheaters!

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There are a lot of anti-“insert name” people out there who don’t like anything the other side does. When you come from a place where you don’t know how the other half lives, you end up with a very narrow perspective in life.

Many of us were raised in an era where there wasn’t internet or YouTube. All we had were books and magazines. They were called “Muscle & Fitness”, “Flex”, and other descriptive names. They were our Bibles for learning our sports. In bodybuilding, we learned how to do everything strictly. You didn’t cheat your muscles by swinging a dumbbell up with your curls. You wanted continuous tension on the muscle.

Then you had powerlifting, which was often a big part of the bodybuilding discussion. You lowered the bar strictly to your chest in a bench press. You don’t bounce it off your chest or do partial reps. You needed full extension for it to count.

But these know-it-alls who spent all this time with their noses buried in the magazines often weren’t proficient in other sports. And if they didn’t know what they were talking about, they mocked and ridiculed other sports. They still do.

Take Olympic weightlifting for example. It is in compete juxtaposition to powerlifting and bodybuilding (neither of which are Olympic sports). The goal is not to get big muscles or to do an isolated movement in a single range of motion. Actually, there aren’t a lot of rules at all, even though most know that they are technically much more difficult movements. In both the snatch and clean & jerk, the goal is to take the bar from ground to overhead in full extension without pressing it out. That’s about it. Yeah, you can’t touch your knees to elbows or touch a body part to the ground other than your feet. But that’s it. Simple eh?

The truth is, most of these know-it-alls would say that it is a sport for Cheaters! And yes, it is 100% cheating. You use a hook grip, which is a cheat where you wrap your thumb along the bar and wrap your other fingers around. You pull the bar up only as high as it needs to be before pulling your body under. And guess what, they bounce (or oscillate) out of the squat to get to standing. Cheating? Absolutely! But that’s not the end of it. Then you bounce the weight on your shoulders before split squatting under it to get to full extension (the Dip & Drive). Its completely cheating. And this is what the average muscle head thinks when they write comments on YouTube. Yeah, they’re all the experts, haha!!

In other circles, we call it performance. The controversy when the Fosbury Flop first happened in the high jump. Total cheating. When you find ways to reach new heights, sometimes you have to cheat (aka, find better ways to move your body in space).

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In gymnastics, you soon learn how to kip to get above the bar. Its a skill little girls learn early on in their careers. Is it cheating? Yes, it is. But it gets you to where you need to be. Kipping is actually a thang. No, some crazy CrossFit’r didn’t invent it to make the masses of Planet Fitness gurus angry at them. But its the first thing you see in the comments. “That’s not a pull-up”. “They only do that because they are too weak to do a real pull-up”. “You’re turning off the activation in your lats. You’d get much more out of a strict pull-up”. Haha, so they say in the comments.

Yeah, you could do an Olympic clean & jerk strictly. It would look like this:

  1. Slowly deadlift the bar off the ground.
  2. Strictly curl the weight to your shoulders without any excess movement.
  3. Military press to full extension locking it out overhead with no knee bend.

But I guarantee they wouldn’t be lifting 233 kg like Ilya does (512 pounds for the know-it-alls). Instead of a brute force event, it turns into an art of speed and power. It becomes a study in kinesiology (body physics). It adds elastic and kinetic energy instead of just raw strength.

People who bash things like butterfly kipping pullups really aren’t aware of the goal. The goal is performance. If someone says, without any other assistance, hang at full extension and take your chin over the bar as many times as you can in two minutes, does it matter how you do it? The goal is to do it. So you do it as intellectually efficient as you possibly can. Its not done to make the YouTube know-it-all commenter happy. Performance is different from other aspects of sport and fitness.

Yes, you could keep your feet still and throw a discus. But you’re not going to throw it far. If your goal is to be stupid, then do that. I’d rather see Al Oerter spin his way to win an Olympic gold instead.

There is a place for momentum, speed, kinetics, and other cheating to get performance! And cheating is life. A strongman lifts an Atlas stone exactly how a mom would heave a bag of potatoes to a shelf. You’re not looking at strict movement in life. You do what is necessary to get the job done.

Calling the Ashtanga police: Just who are all these horrible Ashtanga teachers?

I love this portrayal of teachers. Lots of good things to think about.

The Confluence Countdown

Every now and then, a person comments here about what I’d broadly call an Ashtanga myth. It’ll be about how the practice is totally regimented; how Ashtanga is a cult; or how it will invariable hurt you (OK, maybe that last one is true).

And there’s this repeated theme: Ashtanga teachers (and maybe the practice) are mean, judgmental and unbending in their approach to the practice. Perhaps we also can call this the “Ashtanga police” phenomena.

I wonder where this last myth comes from because, quite frankly, my experience has been anything but that. No surprise given I’m still practicing Ashtanga. If I’d encountered such a teacher, I’d probably be running and lifting weights and thinking Ashtanga was some horrible torture (OK, we all know I do think that).

Maybe I’ve just been lucky in my teacher experience. But it isn’t for lack of experience. I have studied with and…

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The Eyes of an Artist: Yoga Teaching

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You can read books on yoga, study pictures, read articles, and go to the ancient texts as much as you want, but hands-on instruction of students is where I learn the most.

I had a few ideas going into subbing Yoga for Beginners class last night, but I was mostly an open book. I started with gentle warming and I began to talk the class through Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A). We explored every pose and talked about modifications for each. But mostly, I was emphasizing external rotation of the shoulders and internal rotation of the thighs. In every pose, I showed them how this was important.

To be honest, they started out like beginners. But they are SO smart! I would show them how a pose should look, and I’d also show them what happens when it falls apart. I’m sure they could see how awkward it looks when a body in not aligned properly. I wasn’t absolutely sure my ideas were sinking in since its a lot to remember. But then something amazing happened.

Once we got to seated poses, like one- and two-legged forward folds, I could see them applying the concepts without me even telling them. Well, I still told them. But they used the basic body alignments to find their own paths. Once we know how to walk, then we can learn how to run.

In anything you teach, you try to find the most effective ways to get your points across. I’m finding my way and it gets so much easier. Its a never ending journey, not just as a yogi myself, but as a teacher. There isn’t enough psychology, physiology, anatomy, history, spirituality, ….. and other know how that you can ever fully grasp.

I saw some work with acrylic paint that was layered in beautiful colors in a shallow tray. It was beautiful and complicated just how it was. Then, they started drawing through with tool making the colors change and shape into something even more marvelous. You can’t explain how that picture develops, but it continues to evolve into a spectacular amalgamation of color. That is how yoga teaching is. You can’t hardly define what will come next. Every person that you touch is different. They are all so unique. You can’t predict their reactions. You don’t know their heartaches and injuries. The colors of your interaction meld together and are beautiful regardless of the outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t say “Don’t”

In yoga teaching, it is more positive to not use negative words. I often see in writing and sometimes hear the word “Don’t” being used. It is more affirming to use and instruct with positive words and phrases.

I was listening to a Barbell Shrugged podcast, which is what incites many of my thoughts lately. They were talking about more effective coaching. Olympic weightlifting can be very complex to teach. The human brain can only handle so many cues and make them effectively express in the body. So instead of saying 5 or 10 things at once, they encouraged coaches to focus on 1 or 2 cues and let the athlete work on those things specifically. What was also encouraged was to be direct with what you say. Instead of saying “don’t straighten your hips in the second position and don’t allow the weight to pull straight under you or away from your hips”, say “knees back, sweep the bar back”. I tend to use these kinds of cues for coaching a lot. Say what you want to say directly without all the extra fluff.

When I was an Army Drill Instructor, we were told to always start with the position of “attention”. This is where we find the most military bearing and sets the example for our soldiers that we train. But we also refrain from weak gestures, like pointing your finger with a bent elbow. Instead, extend your arm and point with fingers extended and joined like a knife. This shows more strength in leadership than a weaker posture. We refrain from having our hands in our pockets, slumping against a wall, or lazily slogging in a chair. But that is only physical. We learn that what you say in direct ways are important too. You say things directly and to the point. “Halt, get down, Incoming, 50 meters left!!!” That is what commands authority.

When I teach yoga, I’ve seen all variations of Rabbit Pose (sasangasana). So instead of cueing and correcting after the pose, I’ve found a better way to teach it. This usually follows a deep backbend, so I have them sit up on their knees and look at me. I say “feet flat, arms straight, grab your heels, top of your head (not) your forehead, lift your hips”. Oops, I said “not”. There’s a time and place I suppose. I demonstrate as I do this. Then, as they get into the pose, I say all of that again. Invariably, someone still loses their way. But its a good example of using direct cues when they have their heads down and can’t see you demonstrate.

I would recommend that yoga teachers, and other coaches and parents, learn to use positive, affirming words. People get numb to the word “don’t” if that’s all you say. Like “Billy, don’t hit your sister, don’t jump on the bed, don’t run with scissors”. Instead, we say (when teaching shoulder stand), “keep your head centered, walk your hands toward your shoulder blades, and extend your feet toward the ceiling”. You can easily positively affirm “keep your head stable looking up” instead of saying “don’t look side to side”.

In simplest terms, tell people what to DO. Use direct verbs like “extend, reach, fold, bind”. BE positive with the words you use.

Rajasic Yoga: prelude to Metal Yoga, yeah!

There are 3 Gunas that describe in Hindu philosophy the essential nature of energy, personality, foods, Ayurveda, and other elements of nature. These 3 Gunas permeate our understanding of yoga as well. I will associate the Gunas in terms of the energies that are presented in yoga classes in particular.

Tamasic Yoga – For me, tamasic reflects a lower energy. It is calm, thoughtful, less physical, and more balanced with mindful, peaceful thoughts. Some relate Tamas to things like sour foods, negative energy, and chaos. But I am opting for the former in describing a yoga practice. In essence, nearly all forms of yoga have a tamasic element. Seated meditation and savasana would probably best depict the far end of the spectrum. Restorative yoga, Yin yoga, and maybe even Bhakti forms of devotion could present a more tamasic energy.

Rajasic Yoga – Again, my definition, would associate rajasic energy with more physicality. In yoga practice, this action-oriented energy is present in Ashtanga, Power, Hot, and other intense forms of physical yoga. And the physical could relate to a required focus that is indomitable, exhibits perseverance, and resolves to find mental sharpness. Warrior poses and other strongly energetic arm balances and inversions would find the far end of the spectrum.

Sattva – I would maintain that most forms of yoga seek to find sattva. This is when the body is in balance both physically and mentally. It balances the center between rajasic and tamasic energies. It represents balance, peace, contentment, and centeredness.

I was talking with yogi friends before I taught class about something called Metal Yoga. I’ve seen this in several settings. There ARE people who live fairly calm lives, relatively speaking. They are probably not listening to EDM, Hip-Hop, or hard rock types of music. They are not doing CrossFit or Strongman competitions. They most likely don’t raise their voices or have violent tendencies. I’d say for the most part, they are Tamasic but have found their balance in that realm. Whereas, if you go to any school playground, 99% of the kids are going to be running, climbing, and screaming at the top of their lungs. There are adventure junkies who are slack-lining a tightrope a 100 feet off the ground, mountain biking steep switchbacks, and, yes, probably listening to the likes of Metallica and Korn. In this case, their peace if found in the calm spaces between the storms. They have energy that is excessive and needs to be expended to find peace.

There is a time and place for these types of energy. Those who seek to practice Ashtanga or Power Yoga enjoy detoxing through sweat and expending energy. While others are completely at peace with a gentler form of yoga. Based on personality, people will strive to whatever form that helps them find balance, or Sattva.

So to answer the question, why Metal Yoga, is it in line with Yogic philosophy, and is it appropriate? That is debatable. Yes, maybe some words and imagery are war-like and harsh. But if you read ancient yoga texts, like the Bhagavad Gita, it is written in the context of war. In the mythological setting with Shiva, Daksha, and Sati, Shiva creates a hero warrior, Virabhadra, to avenge the death of Sati. This is the origin of the poses of Warrior I, II, and III. So while we seek Ahimsa, non-harming and non-judgment and non-violence, Rajasic energies are still present. So these more forceful, intense energies ARE a part of yogic philosophy. As long as Metal Yoga participants don’t harm others or harm themselves, it is a way that they are working out their Rajasic energies. For me, it is a very appropriate way to rid themselves of the chaos in their minds and bodies. It is not necessary for everyone. But for a few who have more Rajasic tendencies, it is the perfect solution to finding Sattva, or peace.

When Yoga Class is Hoppin!

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Hot Yoga class last night was totally full. Yogis just kept streaming in and we kept squeezing for more space. I was so excited to teach.

This happened before with another class I taught. My last class was full and SO exciting, and then I left. It made me so sad. Its easy as a teacher to regret leaving and moving to other things. I’m feeling the same about a Saturday yoga class. I keep being tempted to say “nevermind” and keeping my same ole schedule.

But for me, hot yoga doesn’t make a lot of sense when its 100F degrees outside. Yeah, I could do it, but I don’t understand it. When it gets cool again in the Fall, I’ll try to pick it back up again. But I’ll leave the hot yoga for other teachers for now.

The energy I felt in class last night was amazing. Usually, in hot yoga, I don’t do a lot of adjustments just because I know some people are very aware of how sweaty they are and don’t like to be touched. But I went ahead and did it and received good feedback. Sometimes as a teacher, I’m hyper-aware of the class energy. When I was an Army Drill Instructor, I felt like I could see everything. If someone had a thread out of place, I could see it from across the bay. Last night was similar. I was able to spot if toes were slightly turned the wrong way. I had x-ray vision into spines that weren’t twisting properly. I saw the slightest lack of engagement in a thigh. I really love when I have that feeling as a teacher.

I think sometimes yogis want to just hide in a class. They don’t want to be seen and will drift to a far off corner. Maybe they are tired or simply unmotivated. Maybe they can do full expressions of poses, but are simply not feeling it. But what I want to do is bring up their energy and to make most of the time we have together. I want them to be changed people when they leave class. I want moods to go from dreary and lethargic to bright and energized. The truth is, the people closest to me are less obvious than those who are in the corner. I flock to the edges because I know those are who need the most help.

Yoga goes beyond poses. It goes beyond what we’re wearing and how we look. It delves into the mind. It eliminates comparison and judgment. We live on our yoga mats in the now. What happened before in the day doesn’t matter. And we aren’t commiserating about the future even one little bit. It is about being present in mind and body. Our Kundalini rises and we look down at our physical self as if we aren’t even there. That’s the essence of yoga.

Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind