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 Need Yoga, not just “Mobility”

I was watching a video yesterday of some of the most elite CrossFit athletes taking a Power Yoga class. It made me so happy to see it. They were focusing on breath and I could tell they were feeling the poses. These athletes are super strong and have amazing abilities. And their movement positions are faultless. The amazing thing about CrossFit is that is encompasses any fitness modality that you can think of. And while they do become extremely proficient in some sports, they cannot possibly be proficient in all.

CrossFit athletes do "mobility", which is a functional form of stretching. This includes warming exercises, soft tissue manipulation (foam rolling, lacrosse ball,…), stretching, and often assisted stretching with bands and other props. I think its an amazing set of tools to have. But I sense that most don’t do actual "yoga".

Mobility includes yoga poses done in specific ways for their benefit. But they are not really doing yoga. I think CrossFit’rs and other athletes would benefit greatly from yoga. As a yoga teacher and CrossFit’r, I could easily tell when their positions were out of yoga alignment. I work with bodies all the time and can see issues quickly. I can picture the muscles that were causing them problems and was identifying in my own mind how I could help.

Believe me, I admire these athletes so much. I’m their biggest fans. They do things that I can’t even fathom. They can do a workout in 2 minutes that takes me 10 minutes. Their aerobic capacity and strength is through the roof. I have no doubt in my mind that a regular yoga practice would help them immensely. When I watched these athletes, I saw limitations in their flexibility. Tight hamstrings and glues are among the most obvious, but shoulders, thoracic spine, and other areas are issues too. If they could open these areas, they would feel better about themselves and likely improve performance.

But its not just flexibility. Yoga requires a huge amount of specific strength. When I watched the Fittest Man on Earth struggle with crow pose (bakasana) and an L-sit lift (Brahmacharyasana), I was shocked. When I saw Sara Sigmundsdottir with a fairly flaccid Warrior 3, it made me wonder. I could see not only tightness in hamstrings and glutes, but I saw weakness. What if they could be stronger in those poses? What would it do for them?

For me, it does a lot. I am a much more capable, well-rounded athlete because of yoga. Yoga is super amazing for overall well-being. But it also helps with sleep, hormonal regulation, and the breath. All of these are supremely important to athletes. Then add on recovery, rehabilitation, and injury prevention and you have a winner!

Give yoga a try! Not just one try, but several before you decide if you like it or not. And be sure to visit several teachers. Every teacher has a bias and their own style. So its important to visit different ones.

Come in Peace

When I started deep into this yoga journey, I had a yoga teacher who was someone I really enjoyed taking classes with. She had this free spirit but was also grounded with a good foundation of yoga knowledge. She always interacted with her students and was very gracious with them. Her happiness was contagious and I learned so much from her.

One particular day, this teacher was clearly not herself. She taught this candlelight yoga class that exuded peace and serenity. It was still vigorous enough to build heat, but it was mostly chill. But this day, she didn’t interact with her students like she normally did. She was more to herself and closed off. And this normally chill class turned into Power Yoga to the nth degree. She never smiled. She didn’t interact with us. It was like a one way street. Her fireball of emotions landed on us and she felt nothing back.

As time went by, I mentioned my feelings about that class to her. She totally acquiesced to my observation. She said that it was a really bad day for her with personal things happening in her life. She said she should have stayed home and cried instead of coming to class like that. I wouldn’t say she was angry or hateful to us. But she was surely hurting.

I wrote a recent blog post about this, likely spurred on by an Ashtanga Podcast with guest Mary Taylor. I will surely write more about that once I process it more in my mind. Yoga can have a profound effect on our personal lives. But as a teacher, we can’t take our students down a path that they don’t deserve. If you struggle with pain in your life as a teacher, you need to take some time away to resolve those issues. And you certainly don’t want to take it out on your students.

If need be, make sure you allot time before class to do a personal practice. Then take some time to meditate. During this time, your intention should be forgiveness, releasing darkness, and finding peace. If you can’t come to class with a clear mind, then maybe its not your time to teach. Find someone else to take your place.

Spread joy and peace. It happens through your words, your body language, and your touch. That darkness in your heart doesn’t stay there. It goes to everyone you meet. And you can’t hide it. It has to be released. If you don’t, those around you will pay a price. And like this podcast expressed, releasing those feelings can result in physical opening in your body as well as a spiritual awakening. But repressing those feelings can result in unfathomable pain in your body and mind. It can result in sickness and pain in your body. And it can totally take away your peace and joy.

Find peace my friends. Talk with me about it some day. I’d be happy to help you find your path.

Energy Transference Through Touch

When I go and touch my dogs, they always react. If I approach softly and gently, their skin quivers as my hand lightly touches only the hair first. When I start long gliding strokes, they yawn and wiggle their tails. When I scratch along the backbone, my one dog taps her back foot on that side like she’s doing the scratching. If I’m a little rougher and playful, they roll on their backs and kick and squirm. They are very in tune with the touch.

I get a multitude of reactions from people with Thai Yoga Massage. I make sure my first touch is gentle but always firm. I want to know that I’m there with confidence, but it is a safe place to be. When I adjust yogis in class, its the same thing. I am not going to hurt them or push them beyond their abilities. If anything, my hand is there for awareness. It lets them know I’m there, I care, and to encourage movement. The touch works miracles in people.

In Thai Yoga Massage, they call the touch giving Metta, or "loving kindness". It has roots in Buddhism but is not solely a Buddhist concept. The belief is that the giver can transfer kindness into a person through the touch. Before a session, I am going through a mindful meditation while I’m preparing the space. After communicating with a client, I do a short Wai, or Wai Kru, to breathe and cleanse my mind. Some traditional therapists actually have a more elaborate Wai Kru with singing or music and will quote an invocation or poem. Its a special time in a Thai session.

On the other hand, I also feel if a therapist has a lot of negativity, then that can also be transferred to a client. Its really a tough time all over the world with political unrest. People let politics take over their lives. They yell and scream and get down right nasty about their hatred of someone. But not only politics. They get angry at philosophies, like capitalism or socialism. They are very vocally against religious ideologies and outspoken people. It an unbridled hatred that can’t be contained in some people.

As a Christian, I have to be careful with how I react to this hatred. I can turn the other cheek and just let it go. I’ll mindfully pray for that person and hope that their hatred can find peace. I rarely go into re-training a person, though that is often what I should do. I should show love and grace. But I’m not perfect either. None of us are. Sometimes I am hurt by these things. I see someone post anti-Christian rhetoric on social media, and then I’m shocked when I see other friends jump on the hating bandwagon too. Would they say these same things to my face? How do they really feel about me? I’ve always been kind to them. I even consider them as friends. Do they say these things about Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, Catholic, Mormon, Hindu, or other faiths? Do they even realize what they are saying?

I should try to help people understand my viewpoint. Its just scary when they are foaming at the mouth about their hatred of a religion or a President or some ideology. All I want to do in those cases is get away. I want to diffuse the situation so that I don’t escalate the hatred. So I do the chicken way out and unfollow them on social media. Sometimes its the safest way.

The unfortunate part of this is, what if that person is a yoga teacher, or an elementary school teacher? What if they say outrageous statements and then appear to emulate peace and harmony in a yoga class? Are they hypocrites or maybe just good actors? What if they are bodywork healers? Will they transfer their negative hatred onto their clients? I worry about that. When I entrust myself to a professional, I’m assuming I won’t be hurt and face negativity. But I’m wary about going to any business owner who doesn’t have my best interests in mind.

Its a difficult situation in business. Do you remain outspoken and stand by your values? Or do you temper what you say in polite society so as not to push away your clients. Hopefully, even if you feel strongly about something, you can do it in a positive way without slander and crawling in the mud. But when you fling mud, you really don’t know the innocent people it will hit. Its not an innocent thing. Some of us have strong views too, though we’re not as outspoken. There is often a silent majority out there. But we just walk away and wish you peace.

Growing a Thick Skin

In this day and age, every word matters a lot to people. A lot has been said of the “cancel culture” of this generation. You do something decades ago and people reduce you to nothingness. Its happening on college campuses today. They are ready to get rid of holidays, statues, flags, and traditions in our common culture. Its a one strike and you’re out kind of situation.

I try my best not to fall into this trap. I try to give people grace and let them grow and find who they are as people. Maybe some day they’ll come around to reason and acceptance. But sometimes, its so very difficult to give grace. I think something you said or did in your past is quite different from what you are currently saying and doing in real life today.

I say this often, but people are very accepting of mystical ideas from a distant land. They get tattoos of deities, of religious symbols, and words in Sanskrit or simplified Chinese. They do this without knowing their real meaning or what it means to abide by that faith. In fact, the faith they are honoring is often more restrictive and intolerant than the faith of their parents, grandparents, and colleagues. It is strange to me how they are so accepting of something so foreign. It is this counter culture idea. Its like opposite day…every day! You’d think people would grow up. When they were 18 year olds and they wanted to do whatever their parents told them not to do, but they still act like that today. It makes no sense.

So, I truly believe that its different what you’ve done in the past versus what is happening today. I try to grow a thick skin, but its very difficult. Especially when you are constantly bombarded by the same person. Sometimes, its better to live in bliss than to really get to know a person, like on Facebook or other social media. We get to peer into peoples lives and learn something that is not so nice about them. And I’m not talking about years ago; I mean today!

I’ve interacted positively with someone for years. In fact, I’d like to think we were good friends. I knew they had alternative views about the world, so I just unfollowed them on Facebook. Sometimes its better to not know a person’s inner thoughts. Since then, I’ve had a happy friendship with this person. They are always professional, giving, and kind in person. However, its difficult to hide the facts of who they really are. You see them comment on someone else’s page and it all boils to the surface again.

I’m OK with someone not liking something materially about me. If they don’t like my car, root for a different football team, have a different diet from mine, or maybe don’t agree with my politics, then I’m super OK with our differences. But when they openly criticize your beliefs with memes or blatantly abusive words, its hard to look the other way. People say we need to “tolerate” other cultures and beliefs. They accept snippets of ideologies from distant places, but completely trash the church down the street from them. They say “be accepting of people who are different” in one breath, then they totally trash what you believe in the next. It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t tolerate open abuse of other people. So those people don’t get to interact with me anymore. And they don’t get my business. My skin is only SO thick.

Icarus Flew Too Close

  • Play golf during a lightning storm.
  • Swim in shark infested waters
  • Play cards in a rattlesnake den
  • Ride your bike at sunset in mountain lion country

Yes, you think I’m crazy. But people do this all the time. There are other ways we do the same thing.

  • Drive around town at 2 am when the bars close
  • Eat fast food and sugary treats all the time
  • Walk down Bourbon street showing a lot of skin
  • Go out for drinks in an unfamiliar town by yourself

You never blame the victim, but you will surely get burned some day for your choices. Meanwhile, if I never dip a foot in the ocean, only golf on sunny days, and don’t go anywhere near a trail at sunset in mountain lion country, I’ll probably never die due to one of those situations.

People do stupid stuff all the time without thinking about it. Not far down the line is running up credit card debt, living beyond your means, and not saving for retirement. Its just stupid. So don’t do it.

The Practicality of Doing What You Love

I’m the last one to shoot down anyone’s dreams. I often do things in life that don’t lead to any financial benefit whatsoever. But sometimes I just do things because I enjoy them.

Case-in-point. I’ve spent a lot of money on hobbies in the past. Fly-fishing is one of them. I really love fly fishing and it turns out to be a somewhat expensive hobby. Even when I was once carrying a (cheaper) $200 fly rod and felt it snap while bushwhacking through a thicket of alders; I knew money just dropped out of my pocket never to be recovered. The same when I was casting into an ocean surf and it caught on something behind me; that snap ended my fishing for that weekend since I didn’t have money to pay for another heavy rod. No, fly fishing is not more costly than racing cars, competitive cycling, or wakeboarding. But its still expensive in a relative sense. But its something I love. Being on the water and in tune with nature is a priceless bonus.

Of course, there are other things I do that I love as well and costs a lot for training, but has paid for itself in the long run. I started doing Thai Yoga Massage after an expensive training. And if all goes well, I’ll continue to do it throughout my lifetime. Still, starting such a hobby at a late age makes you wonder if you’ll make all the money back in training to help your finances. Its a huge win to do something and actually get paid for it. You calculate how much you paid versus how much you get back over the years. You can calculate a break-even point where you start to actually make money. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to grow your income from your hobby.

I did this break-even calculation with yoga. I don’t make a heck of a lot of money from yoga, but its the consistency of classes over time that makes a difference. The biggest thing is that I really love to do it. Even if I only broke-even, it was worth the journey. And I think I have quite a few years left in me to teach.

So, I just read this story of a 60-something year old woman who went to Mexico to take yoga teacher training. I’m all on-board with that. If its something you love, then do it. But to be honest, she would never hit the break-even point even if she taught into her 80’s. The price of the training was $16,700 equivalent US dollars. If you are getting paid $25 to 50 for every yoga class, you’d have to teach a lot of classes to break even. Tragically, she died doing what she loved while still in training.

I did CrossFit level I training years ago hoping to maybe start my own gym (box) some day. I thought, at least I’d coach at a box somewhere. But that never happened for me. And its all OK. I am happy that I was able to learn what I learned through the process. I’m still passionate about CrossFit. But I have my own ideas of how it should be done. The tough as nails approach I used when I started is very far from where I am today. Its money I’ve made back in other ways. Just not through CrossFit itself. The same could be said of Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and other courses I’ve taken.

I think with any decision in life, we should put things down on paper. Ask yourself about your goals in life and what you want to do. If you are doing something that you are passionate about to make money, then make it profitable. Does paying for an airplane flight to a far off country to some exotic training meet the profit margin? Maybe you study at a place like the Ashtanga Mysore Shala in India. Maybe you go to some other venue that enables you to market that relationship. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes people have some fantasy in their mind that is not very realistic. Sometimes they shop at Nieman Marcus in NYC when they could find the same product at their local Walmart. We do a lot of things for reasons other than practicality. We do them for street cred, for bragging rights, and other reasons not far from selfishness. Are you a better business person, accountant, or doctor if you go away for training? Or can you get the same or better training locally? Its a question every pre-college kid asks themselves. But adults looking to better their lives should ask the same questions.

We can’t operate in a bubble. Its usually better to do your research and ask the advice of friends and mentors. Think about what you are doing in life. And if you wonder why you are in deep debt, don’t have a savings, and no hope for retirement income, then maybe you need a better path. If you live to 50 years old and have nothing to say for yourself, then maybe some advice early on would have been useful. Ask these questions early in life. And if you are an old person like me, then you should know better by now.

I keep looking at things laying around my house. Will they mean anything when I’m gone? Probably not. So why do we cherish things that have no real value? Make good choices in life. Its not bad to be a planner or befriend someone who can help. Good choices early in life make for long-term differences.

Givers and Takers

Are you a Giver?Or are you a Taker?
Maybe you do both.

I think back to when one of our teachers at the Yoga Studio where I teach had a birthday. I felt a little strange because I was the only one from our studio to go to her birthday party. I really feel strongly about supporting my friends.

Another time, yoga students of mine were graduating and moving out of town. They weren’t even coming to my classes anymore, but I still considered them friends. Again, I went to their going away party and didn’t know anyone else there. Fellow teachers and classmates didn’t show.

I get put in these situations a lot. I guess my problem is that I really care about people. I’m not waiting for the last minute for a better party to come along. I mark my calendar and commit. My loyalty runs deep.

There are times when I’ve given so much to people. And I don’t really expect anything back. But its nice when it happens. You really notice when people show you compassion. I have a friend in my studio who had major surgery. She remembered my kindness toward her and gave it back. It really meant a lot to me. Another friend dealt with cancer. I prayed for her and think about her often. And I keep thinking about her. I’ve had a heavy heart for a few weeks for a yoga student of mine who died recently due to a terminal illness. I remember her fondly and how she always supported me. She will be missed.

I have other fellow teachers who have experienced pains of a different sort. Maybe its a sort that I don’t know how to cope with yet. But when I figure out how to do it, I will. I just say sorry for now that I don’t know how.

I know of other times where I give a lot to people. But it is never reciprocated. And I just let it be. I now there are people like that in this world. They can’t change their character. Its just who they are. So I don’t expect much. In fact, my expectations are usually low. I love to be surprised by compassion, a share of joy, and even heartache.

Sometimes people ask for friendship. They want it, but they don’t want to give it back.

I’m painfully going to miss a student of mine who is leaving soon. This student has meant so much to me. The growth that I’ve seen both physically and mentally is amazing. Its only been a few years, but it inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ll miss this student just like I missed others. These friends are spread all over the world. Its good to know you have friends even so far away.

But I can’t change me. I want to put my heart out there. I’ve been super surprised when I hear that, upon leaving town or the studio, that what I did meant a lot to them. Maybe I didn’t hear it at the time. But it was later; after the fact. You never know what effect you’ll have on people unless you try. I love learning about my students and colleagues. They often never ask about you. But I still ask about them.

So keep on showing kindness. Keep on loving. Put your heart out there. Shine your light. Sometimes that light will get reflected back to you.