Category Archives: fitness

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.

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!

ilya

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).

kip4

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.

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.

When Yoga Class is Hoppin!

pincha

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

Workout Update: My plan is working!

I told someone the other day, as you get older, you always have something going wrong with your body. One day its a shoulder, the next its a knee. You just never know. But I know some young folks who are the same way, so its not exclusive to aging.

Today, I have zero issues. I am so happy for that. Yeah, maybe I’m not admitting to a lingering thing here or there, but nothing comes to mind as far as injuries.

I attribute much to my current lifestyle. I am working out intuitively and “playing” a lot more. Here is what a common workout looks like for me:

CARDIO
I often start (sometimes finish) my workout with a Heartbreaker WOD (workout of the day). For me, its always 21-15-9 repetitions of a couplet or triplet. They usually have a bodyweight movement or cardio aspect included. Here is a list of common exercises:

Strictly cardio: run, row, ski-erg (all for calories)
Bodyweight stuff: box jump, jumprope double unders, burpees, pullups, pushups, situps
Other ideas: med ball slams, wall balls, thrusters, Romanian deadlifts

Example: 21 calorie ski-erg, 21 kettlebell swings, 15 ski, 15 swings, 9 ski, 9 swings

OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING
I listened to a podcast the other day and it rocked my world. Instead of following the common template of snatch work then clean & jerk work in the same day, you split the movements alternating every day (or session). So every other day I do one or the other type of movement. Here are some examples:

Snatch day: snatch (singles, doubles, …), pauses, hangs, presses, pulls, angel drops, Sots press, snatch balance, snatch from blocks, overhead squat, muscle snatch,…

Clean & Jerk day: c&j (1x, 2x, 3x,…), pauses, hangs, jerks, complexes, blocks,…

This has helped me spend more time on a movement and lets me do other things too.

ACCESSORY
This could include a CrossFit WOD. Or it could be a CrossFit skill to work on, like muscle ups, handstand pushups, pistols, etc… I may do Strongman, like yoke squats, farmer carries, or Atlas stone shoulders. Or it could be straight up BodyBuilding, which is becoming a favorite. The interesting thing about Bodybuilding is that it is done strictly with quality. It is opening up tightness and weakness that my other work doesn’t cover. And lastly, I may do powerlifting. I bench press at least once a week. Trap bar deadlifts is a staple of mine and I do this nearly daily. And squats are central to Olympic lifting.

PLAYING
Its good to live life outside of work and “working-out”. One of the central points in CrossFit is to play sports. It is what makes all the hard work functional. I often Hula Hoop as a warmup or just for fun. Belly hooping gets the heart going and makes you move in ways that opens your body. But also playing and dancing with the hoop in many ways is fun. I have a Pole, so I do some pole work often, which is fun and adds lots of strength and flexibility to the routine. Stand-up Paddle Boarding, running, biking, kayaking, slack-lining, yoga aerial swings and silks, and many other activities. And actually working outside, like trimming trees, mowing the lawn, building something, all uses muscles in different ways. And of course, I play yoga all the time. I teach yoga, I participate in online challenges, and I take as many classes that I can. It is central to all that I do. Self care with self massage or getting massages from a professional rounds it all out.

Be healthy and find what works for you. Maybe you don’t devote an hour or two every day, but maybe its 15 minutes of something that makes you feel good. Take the time to enjoy life.

You are Wrong to Think Eating Healthy is More Costly

People are crazy who claim that it costs more to eat healthy than to eat unhealthy. This is wholly untrue. Now, if you’re buying hipster food from some yuppie health food store, you may be right. But if you’re buying basic needs of the common person from a bulk food store, it is a whole lot cheaper to eat healthy. Please note what I listed below is probably far below what an unhealthy person eats. In fact, they probably eat more like 3,000-4,000 calories on any given day spending a lot more money. And the healthy person diet below is probably way more than they usually eat (see chart at bottom).

Keys to eating Cheap & Healthy:

  • Buy in bulk
  • Buy generic
  • Invest in a deep freezer
  • Go for calories and nutrition, not flashy labeling or name brands
  • Beware of ends of shopping aisles and front of store gimmicks
  • Compare price per ounce or per-serving, not overall cost
  • Pre-plan & pre-make meals
  • Go big on left-overs – make in bulk and save
  • Drink lots of water
  • Never shop hungry
  • Beware of high markup places – convenience stores, street vendors, fast food
  • Beware of yuppy stuff – “Organic”, “Non-GMO”, … (not regulated–long story)
  • Plant your own home garden
Unhealthy Diet per person
calories cost
burger king cinnamon roll 300 $1.59
Starbucks Iced Caffe Mocha Grande 230  $          3.65
big mac meal 1350  $          5.99
small bag of Doritos 150  $          3.00
2 slices Little Caesars pepperoni pizza 248 $1.25
16 oz Coke 190  $          1.89
1 package Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup 87 $1.99
 Total 2025  $        19.36
One month $580.80
One year  $  7,066.40
Healthy Diet per person
2 cups of white rice 412  $          0.10
1 cup of sweet peas 70  $          0.61
chicken breast 8 oz 220  $          0.99
1 sweet potato 162  $          0.49
8 oz 2% milk 122  $          0.09
tilapia fish fillet 100  $          0.78
Quaker oats cereal 200  $          0.27
Ham 203  $          0.99
banana 105  $          0.13
peanuts one serving 180  $          0.13
one white potato 283  $          0.07
 Total 2057  $          4.65
One month  $     139.50
One year  $  1,697.25