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)

Grateful Hearts

I was raised in childhood in an interesting predicament. I was short and usually below average in size as a boy. I had a few not so nice things happen to me growing up, usually because of being a minority. It would probably be cathartic for me to write those things out, but I’d rather not re-live them again. I was always somewhat naive and gullible. I appeared so even when I went into the Army.

The truth is, I’m honestly a nice guy. I never want to hurt or hate anybody. I was raised as an older brother. We lived in the country and we would get ourselves into some hairy situations out in the woods. My job was to watch out for my brother. And there were times when, if he did something wrong, I would get a spanking right along with him because I was supposed to be watching him. I learned responsibility at a very early age. Culturally as Native Americans, manhood comes early and there are things expected of us. Adulting at that young of an age made it difficult for me.

So while I walked the straight and narrow most times, my brother had all the fun. He could easily schmooze to get whatever he wanted. He went dirt bike riding. He got all the girls. He wasn’t afraid to step out and get what he wanted. While I was the shy, introverted, responsible kid. I’m still shy and introverted. There are times when I have an opportunity for something, I don’t get it. I never embellish in my work output reports since I prefer to be humble. So I probably don’t get the awards and pay raises that others get.

I was a jock and I had the option to hang out with the cool crowd when I wanted. I wrestled and nobody ever touched me. I was accepted by my peers for the athlete that I was. I was stronger than nearly all of the football players. They wouldn’t dare start something with me. But the people I chose to hang out with were the quiet people. The girls who were sitting in the library. The guys who were ostracized. I always knew they would be true to me and not dump me when someone better came along. I really love people who are true to themselves.

All of this makes me realize much about people. I can easily see through people. Self-centered-ness is super obvious. Self-centered people don’t even know they are. But it stands out like a bonfire on a mountain. There are people who never commit to something because they are always watching for something better. They are watching for what will get them a better crowd. They want only the cutest guys or girls and wouldn’t dare hang out with anything less. Younger generations do this more often, but there are people my age who do it too. They only say things to get what they want. Their feet are always pointed away from you. And when they can escape, they will. Then they both figuratively and literally shack up with the next big find they see. There’s always something better around the corner. And they’ll keep going in circles to find that perfect find.

I’ve been to a lot of funerals lately. Often its a person who was quiet and reserved all their lives. They never stood out in a crowd. They were never the chairman of the committee. They chose to serve in other ways. Humble ways. And its only when they’ve passed that you realize the profound effect they had in their lives. They did so much for so many and gave of themselves selflessly. And it was never for material gain. These are the people of honor. Not the people who get motorcades and accolades by the celebrities in attendance. These are the humble people.

The other night after teaching yoga, I had several people come up to me independently to talk about how much my class meant to them. They had nothing to gain by being so gracious to me. They just gave from their heart. They had gratitude. They were thankful for me. They didn’t have to say anything to me. But they did.

I have friends who will tell you everything about themselves in a heartbeat. But they never ask about you. They never ask how you are. They never seem to care. You have to wonder why they are friends. You wonder if they only be-friend you to see what they can get out of you. And then they quickly move on to someone better. I know a lot about other people. But most don’t know anything about me. They never ask. They like your social media posts that are about something else, but not about you. Its like they avoid getting too close because then they are committed to you. And commitment is so shackling to them. It means they actually have to give something away. But that “something” is saved for the beautiful people. Not for you.

Energy is limited. We only have so much available to us. When we invest in people, it drains part of us. But the benefit of investing in people is that they are there for you when you need them. They give back to you two- or -threefold. So its an investment worth investing in. But others are a money pit. They suck out your life and you never get it back. As much as it hurts, you have to ween yourselves away from those people. The party girls who are always watching for something better. The flashy dudes who scam you for all you got. Avoid these people.

Instead, find that quiet person in the corner. You’d be surprised at what they have to offer. Invest heavily in those people. You won’t regret how loyal and giving they are.

Have a grateful heart.


The Purpose of Yoga

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodha”

The cessation of the fluctuations of the mind
From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2

I had another wonderful Candlelight Yoga last night. I have a strong affinity for a more rajasic practice. I do CrossFit and other extreme adventures. Its how my mind is programmed. But I always remind myself about balancing my energies. Each chakra struggles with light and darkness, hard and soft, aggressive and passive, action and ambivalence. If I stay to the right with the sun and its energies, I’ll find myself angry, critical, and forceful. Those are not good qualities in a yoga teacher. I have to consciously embrace peace and softness. And that’s what teaching Candlelight Yoga does for me. ​

I have so many friends who find the same struggles. A fellow teacher said something with regard to the person we are when we are stuck in traffic is the person who we are. Who are you in the quiet of your solitude? Do you think evil thoughts or hatred of another? Unfortunately, you can’t hide in the shadows. That is who you are. And something needs to change. Its hypocritical to perform as a seasoned and respected yoga teacher in front of people, but be a raging lunatic when you step off the stage. You can’t post on social media your hatred for others, of men, of politics, and abide by yogic principles. There isn’t wrong in pointing to what is wrong. But if you are part of the wrong, then you are a facade.

There is so much Vrtti in this world. You can watch the news and see the chaos around us. We spend hours on our phones, watching TV, and chasing the rat race of life. There must be balance or you will always find unrest. Be authentic to yourself first. Find your peace. But when you find it, make it last. And let your joy overflow to others. It is honorable as a yoga teacher to do so; as it is honorable for any person.

Yoga allows us to work through these opposing forces of light and dark. We burn our candles brightly and burn the Vrtti from our bodies. We wring out this toxicity that compels us. And then we find peace. Samadhi awaits you my friends. Seek it in your journey.

I’m Still Here

I had an exhausting week last week trying to get a training slide show finished. Then I had a report due this morning that kept me up to 3am to finish. I actually tried to sleep in my office. But it didn’t take and I got up and grabbed breakfast nearby at 6am. I’m feeling pretty good despite not having any sleep. But I think I’ll think otherwise after an Ashiatsu massage after work and then teaching yoga tonight. At least I’ll sleep well tonight.

A few yoga teachers and myself from our studio went to the Wanderlust Yoga Festival. It was a lot of fun despite the cold weather. It barely got above 50F the whole time. Brrr! The yoga helped a lot. The 15-30 mins of meditation afterward didn’t at all. But Acro was a blast!

And I’m subbing Acro Yoga this Sunday. So it will be a great experience. I’ve taught Partner Yoga workshops, like over Valentine’s Day. But not true Acro. And I’ve dabbled a lot over the years. What I’ve never done is participated in a regular Acro Jam. One of our awesome teachers who specialized in Acro has been teaching us in a regular class. I’ve loved it. I’m gaining more confidence. But I have a long, long, very long way to go.

I had almost a week off of working out over the past week. I ran a 5K at Wanderlust. And despite most of my muscles, heart, and lungs cooperating really well, my left calf went bonkers on me. Its the same strain that stopped my running career. I’ve been running trails and haven’t had a problem. But flat, concrete roads end up killing my calf.

Anywho, I did a workout the other day that really had me reeling. I felt so strong and unstoppable. I did Farmer Carries with 315#. Bench presses to the max. I went non-stop with 120# soft stone shoulder throws. And loads of pullups and other bodyweight work. I’m still sore today, but I’ve kept at it.

Life has been so very good to me. If I croaked tomorrow, I would have lived a fulfilled life. But lets hope to live another day!

Schizophrenic Expectancy

Being a yoga teacher is an exceedingly fulfilling profession. People put their lives in your hands for an hour or so as you guide them somewhere. That somewhere is different for every person. But, hopefully, somewhere is a good place to be.

With the end of the University semester, attendance at the studio can be ethereal. Then you have family vacations and people aching to get away. Summer weekends camping or hanging out at the lake. Kids soccer and baseball. And often life changes. Its almost simpler in the cold of winter when you want to be indoors. Winter is much more stable. And indoor yoga seems like the reasonable choice.

As a yoga teacher, sometimes you wonder who will show. Most times, you are content knowing that even if one person shows up, you’ll get to share what you love with them. Other times, you stand at the window and watch for your friends to come into class, not knowing if anyone wants yoga today.

I used to teach a 6am class at a wellness club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was a tiny, but fun little room with nice floors and great ambient lighting. I had 3 or 4 dedicated yogis who were almost always there. I’d say like 93% of the time I could count on them. Occasionally, we’d have an infrequent visitor come in for class. It was a great time while I was first teaching to create creative classes that met their needs. So as not to bore the heck out of the class, I changed the format often and got as creative as I could with the poses. However, these were seasoned yogis about my age who didn’t take well to overly dance-like or spiritually mumbo-jumbo kinds of things. In some yoga classes, you’ll get somewhat silly Simon Says kinds of things of extra motions that have very little meaning to most people. So I try my best to stay away from fluff. This group of yogis taught me to do what’s important and leave the fluff to others.

The problem was, when one or two of these yogis didn’t show up, it left me with the 1 or 2 remaining. And while I’ve always enjoyed personal yoga sessions, its not quite what I signed up for with a group class. These beautiful souls were always early, usually arriving before I did. So if I walked in and one person was there, my heart skipped a beat. I would sweat with anticipation for another person to come.

I’ve also had workshops where my wife would sign up, a loyal friend would come, and then another close friend. That’s it. I’ve had workshops where I’d ask a fellow teacher to come and bring a piece of equipment and offer their two cents in class. But in the last minute, they didn’t show up. Workshops where you get paid a percentage and not a set rate like group classes can be tricky. You usually invest a lot of time beforehand planning for a workshop. It is usually feast or famine in those situations given the time spent. Truth be told, I’ve been to workshops that weren’t very well done or the teacher wasn’t very present. So you have to be careful where you spend your money. I understand that. People are cautious.

But the joy of having a full class, or filling a workshop, makes up for all the heartache of expectancy. When I taught my debut yoga class, 32 of my friends showed up and filled our studio. I was so very pleased! I’ve sold out workshops and glow yoga events. Its a good feeling when you have a product people want to buy. And to send them away satisfied and wanting more is even better. It’s what makes being a yoga teacher so very gratifying.

Last night was a class like that. I’m loving life.

Once a Runner…

I’m not the runner I once was. Well, its not like I was an elite runner or anything. But my intent was the same as any other world class ultra marathoner. It was routine for me to plan 6 hour runs in the woods. I would do combined 10 hour weekends. Lots of back to back runs. I would start a run at Midnight just to get used to running in the dark. I intentionally sought out tough conditions to test myself. I’ve run sections of the most notorious 100 mile races just to know what everybody is talking about. Here are a few notable ones:

-I paced someone for 40 miles of the Western States 100 mile endurance run in California, hoping someday to get a lottery ticket to run.
-I ran the Umstead course (NC) to see how it would feel for one of my first 100 mile efforts.
-I ran the Hope’s Pass portion of the Leadville (CO) 100 mile race.
-I ran portions of the Appalachian Trail to section hike/run someday.
-I ran from the Lyon Arboretum to Manoa Falls and to the peak to feel the HURT 100 in Hawaii.
-And numerous other sections of trails.

But after some severe back pain, I had to suspend my ultra running goals. And eventually, a calf (soleus) issue sidelined me for years. I keep dabbling, like I’ll get back to mid-range trails again. I’ll never be a road runner again since I gave that up when humanity was out to get me. I’d much rather worry about snakes, mountain lions, feral pigs, and bears than deal with humans.

I’ve been dabbling again. I love that feeling when you can get lost in your environment. And since I run either barefoot or in homemade huaraches, its Earthing to the nth degree. I totally connect with nature. Its something I prefer to do alone because then I can hear everything. I can stop and admire a flower or an animal along my path. I learned to approach deer and look away so they know I’m not a threat to them. All the tracking (human or animal) methods I learned in the Army are in full force. I can tell by a puddle how long ago someone was there. I can see a broken branch or smell the odor of an animal. Its all a wonderful puzzle that’s so magical about nature.

I suppose once a runner, always a runner. But a trail runner is a whole different sort of person. Its not the person who puts on their designer clothes and fancy shoes with headphones and blinders on while treading the well kept path. Its the person who thrives in the mud with spider webs across your face. Its about having a gash of blood somewhere on your body. There isn’t anything dainty about it. These hardened souls are different. Different than a road runner who calls a slight incline a hill. I’ve been in races where you have to do some ascents on your hands grasping at ropes or branches. I’ve had to wade hip deep water through some portions of trails. I’ve had a slog through mud pits in an 8 hour race. Its a whole other breed who faces these trials on the trails.

I’ll get back there again this year. I have lots of camping planned. So there will be lots of time on the trails. Especially in the early morning when nature is just waking up. All I hear are birds singing, locusts buzzing, bluegill snapping at the waters surface, a Great Heron squawking as it launches, bullfrogs bellowing, and the soft pitter patter of my feet.

Imperfect Humans

I am the first to say that I hold certain people to a higher standard than others. As a former Army soldier, I saw first hand how this is true. As a basic trainee and later an Infantry Drill Instructor, we were taught to have a warrior ethic. We defend our country and our way of life. We do things in the military like standing at attention in blazing sun and chilling cold without moving a muscle. You’d expect we would be incapable of ever doing wrong.

But this is the furthest from the truth. Yes, for those who choose to do right and honor the code, this is completely true and should be acknowledged as hero status. But I’ve seen where this wasn’t true. I helped apprehend and escort a fellow basic trainee who went ballistic while in the field until the Military Police could arrive. As a platoon leader’s driver, I had to drive soldiers in handcuffs to Mannheim Disciplinary barracks in Germany for charges of theft, rape, aggravated assault, and drug abuse. I personally had to issue Article 15’s and other charges to soldiers for various offenses. And I’ve seen my share of parties get out of hand and many crazy things to blow off steam. We are far from perfect.

The truth is, even though many positions are held higher, the percentage of crime per population is fairly similar in these fields of occupation to your average citizen population. Police, firemen, clergy, teachers, academia, doctors, lawyers,…all these professions can still have their bad apples. It should still shock us that these honored professions could stoop so low. But it happens and we shouldn’t be surprised.

People are never perfect. We all have something in our lives that darkens us. We strive to be an honorable person who is respected in other’s eyes. But we all fail.

Old School Bodybuilding

When I was a teenager, all we had were the muscle magazines to learn how to lift. No internet, no personal computers, and definitely no smartphones. Muscle mags were not only super inspirational, but also included many techniques for muscle growth.

Fast forward to the beginnings of CrossFit and when my interest was at its peak, we kind of threw away these ideas. Everything had to be "functional". When I took my CrossFit Level I trainer course, movements like Pec Dec Flyes and Barbell Curls were scoffed at. And I totally understand the point. I still feel those are accessory movements and not Prime Movers in everyday life.

However, I think we’ve come full circle since then. Accessory movements in CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, and Powerlifting are becoming the norm. Movements in isolation have a great role in our lives, just as long as they stay as accessories and we don’t overlook prime movers like squats and deadlifts.

Last night, I did my Bench Presses like I usually do on Tuesdays. I tore a pectoralis major a few years ago, so I had backed off the bench press. But today, its a regular part of my routine. I try to do it at least once a week.

I’ve read articles about the Bench Press in Olympic weightlifting where it was once very frowned upon. The idea is that muscle tightness would cause a person to fail putting weight overhead. However, the opposite seems to be true. A bench press is where you can press the most amount of weight comfortably. The same muscles in the lockout in weightlifting hold true in powerlifting.

So I spent some time last night using the Mark Bell Slingshot. It is a heavy elastic strap that lightens the load at the bottom of the lift. So it allows you to work more reps in the press out. It also allows you to use more weight for reps than normal. So that’s a nice ego boost, but also a confidence builder. When you start to gas out in a PR bench, you have that lockout in your toolbox.

I also worked with chains in my drop sets. I used a much lighter weight and worked for quality rather than brute force quantity. It is similar to the Slingshot in that it works heavier in the lockout and lighter at the bottom.

Isolation movements are the best for mass building and sheer strength (not performance strength). And there are so many principles that make them more fun and effective:

Partials – working a smaller range of motion
Negatives – lowering the weight focusing on eccentric contraction; also partner pressing down
Overload – finding ways to go heavier, like with negatives
Isometrics – pausing at the peak of the movement
Failure – often using a lighter weight and going to failure to create the pump

Pick up a bodybuilding book, or even a magazine, and be inspired to grow your workouts. And for performance athletes, there is something here for you too. They’ll make you grow and improve your sport.