Category Archives: mindfulness

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

Don’t Fight Angry

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I probably should use angrily since its an adverb, but this is a better title. And, better yet, avoid a fight at all costs. We’ll all be better off with less fighting. But if you’re a fighter, then here ya go!

A top-fuel funny car or dragster can clock a quarter-mile time in 3.278 seconds. I mean, you have to admit that is super fast. The only problem is that a good percentage of the time, these cars blow-up, spin their tires, or crash due to some little wobble that makes it uncontrollable. But when they are on, they are something else.

Now take a Rally Car. It may run several hundred miles in a race on 4-cylinders without much horsepower compared to a top-fuel dragster. But it can go the distance making calculated strikes with gas mileage, speed at taking turns, navigation, and whatever it can to efficiently make it to the end with a win.

When I wrestled in high school, I was the dragster. I may have gotten “real” wrestling fitness toward the very end of the season. Otherwise, I was always gassed if I went the distance. Well, the distance is only 6 minutes, but you really have to be there to understand. Prepping for a match, I would mentally psych myself out. I would imagine my opponent hurting my little adopted brother. I would get foaming at the mouth mad and my adrenaline would crank through the roof. I would say that in about 40% of my matches, I pinned my opponent in the first minute, all with a lot of anger. But if we got past the first round, I was in trouble. I might hang on for dear life holding on to the points I scored in the first minute. Otherwise, I could barely fight at the end.  Sometimes, I had to be helped off the mat since I was so tired.

If you’ve ever gone to a powerlifting meet, the consequences of this psyching is clearly evident. Some of these guys will stomp around and yell, sniffing smelling salts while their coach pounds on their shoulders. They build their adrenaline and lift enormous loads. But you have to time that adrenaline dump if that’s your style. If they lose too much energy in the minutes before a lift, or even hours before, then they gas out and often don’t complete the lift. Elite powerlifter Travis Mash talks about this a lot. He was more even-keeled with his emotions. And he ended up being one of the greatest powerlifters ever. He timed his energy not wasting it on emotion, but on the lift itself.

Here is my advice:

  1. First, develop a good chin. Learn how to take a punch. Learn to resist the emotional first response. If you hear something that is politically or personally offensive, let that first shot glance off your bow away from you. The worst thing you can do is go off on somebody and make poor decisions in the heat of the moment.
  2. Second, make your jabs efficient and effective. Put power behind them, but not with a ton of emotion. Make them calculated hammers to the face & body. Use words that are crisp and calculated. Don’t be the quarterback who runs for first downs head first in the first quarter only to be taken out early. Don’t let emotions draw you into a brawl. Keep your elbows in and your guard up. Breathe and don’t let yourself get winded. Stay in a zone where you can recover and fight the long fight.
  3. Third, take the mindset of Iowa wrestling. Instead of conditioning for 7 minutes on the mat, condition for 30 minutes. Put that beast into 2nd gear and stay there. Keep grinding non-stop and don’t let up. Don’t blow it all on emotion and all out efforts. If you lift 30 reps of clean & jerks with 135 pounds for time, focus on how you’ll do the last 5 reps, not the first 5. Don’t let someone capitalize on your weakness when you’ve lost your endurance. Don’t end a fight not even being able to lift your arms. Finish strong.

 

Why Glowga?

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Why not? 🙂

Actually, it is a good question that was posed to me on social media. Why do we do things that seem opposed to what yoga is meant to be? Doesn’t it take away from our Dharana—our ability to have focused concentration? Doesn’t it distract Pratyahara—our exclusion of the external senses?

Maybe.

I taught a Rocket Yoga class this past New Year’s Eve. I actually embraced these concepts. Usually, when we get on our mat, we live in the now. We forget about the past, our current limitations, our negative feelings, and our expectations for the future. We live on our mat at this time and place without judgment (Ahimsa). But in this class, I asked students to allow the memories of the year to creep into their thoughts. I wanted them to “burn the bad” with their Tapas, or inner flame. Use their sweaty discipline to clear the negative from their lives. But then they were to savor the good, like a salty caramel treat in their mouths. Instead of wishing the New Year to come with haste, embrace all the good with every last fleeting minute of the year. It was the opposite of Pratyahara.

There are times when I’ve done yoga at the edge of the ocean; I’ve meditated amongst towering trees; and practiced my breath while perched inside of a kayak on still waters. These are times when we are not excluding the external. We become one with our surroundings. We are grounded to the Earth’s vibrations of AUM. There is a time to be at peace and time to celebrate.

Glowga, or glow light yoga with neon bracelets and blacklights, is a celebration! Its a time when we can share breath, dance to the music, and burn our inner fires. The 8th limb of yoga is Samadhi. It means we have found our bliss. It is an internal, spiritual renewal that refreshes us to live another day. Some may use other ways to build endorphins and allow serotonin to bathe our senses. But Yoga, or Glowga, is as good as it gets. And maybe it does get a bit chaotic and frantic. In the end, we burn all of that away. Once we settle into savasana, we can find Dhyana, our meditative state. We’ve charred the excess and savor the fragrance of peace.

My answer to why Glowga is many fold. Celebration. Chaos. Fire. Bliss. Peace.

99% Practice, 1% Theory

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Pattabhi Jois “Guruji” often said “Practice and all is coming”. If you keep up your yoga practice, or really any skill you are developing in life, you’ll eventually find mastery and delight in what you do. You will never find accomplishment if you sit on the sidelines and never play.

The same is true when Guruji would say “99% Practice, 1% Theory”. But I’m of the opinion that this is only true as you begin your journey.  When I was a Drill Sergeant in the Army, we don’t often let trainees question why we have them do something. We just have them do things by repetition and eventually they realize why they are doing it. It may not come until years later when they are leaders themselves that they truly understand. In Rocket Yoga, we usually go to handstand after every navasana (boat pose). So I say:

Roll forward and go to handstand…don’t think about it, just do it!

A lot of times, if you are doing something skilled, it needs to flow naturally. If you overthink something difficult, you’ll often fail because your brain gets in the way. You’ve let the vritti, or chaos, enter into your mind clouding what your body should do.

This is what I think about 99% practice, 1% theory. If your body continues to practice something, the movement becomes more natural and instinctual. If you are running 3 miles a day and it is difficult, eventually the 3 miles is not enough. Your mind starts to drift to other things in life. The running becomes natural and your mind is allowed to think. At first, in Ashtanga or Rocket, you struggle just to do the pose. But with practice, you find your breath, your drishti is more focused, you find yourself more grounded in bandhas, and the real practice of yoga begins.

If you read the book “Guruji”, testimonials from students of Pattabhi Jois, you’ll find you are learning less about Ashtanga poses and more about the philosophy of Ashtanga yoga. The book becomes 95% theory and 5% practice. They’ve answered in their minds the “Why?” They’ve found mastery in their practice.

Guruji always said “You Do”. This was many years before Nike’s moniker of “Just Do It”. “You Do” and all will come to you. If you lift weights, run, read philosophy, whatever,…the more you do it, the more light bulbs of revelation go off and you find the deeper meaning in life.

Learning To Fall

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In yoga, we often start doing inversions like headstands and handstands against the wall. Many fear leaving the wall because they are afraid to fall. Some never leave it at all.

When I was wrestling in high school, we weren’t really allowed to throw each other, but it happened a lot. We fell on fairly soft mats so it wasn’t a big deal. It always looks worse than it feels. Later when I was in grad school, I started into Aikido at a dojo near my house. The floors were giving, but definitely not soft. You really had to learn how to fall properly so as to not injure yourself.

In early Aikido and in some traditions today in Japan, you begin with very humble beginnings. Quite often, you swept and cleaned the dojo for years before being allowed to practice. When you are finally allowed to practice, then you may spend a few years as the Uke.

Uke means “the one who receives”, or the one who takes the fall.
Nage is the thrower.

We first begin by doing low rolls from our knees both forward and backward. Then you do more awkward side rolls and what looks like Granby rolls from wrestling. Then you just lean and fall flat on your back, but you use a hard slap on the mat to dissipate your energy. You see this in the WWE Pro Wrestling. I always thought they did that just for show. Eventually, you take leaping rolls forward. Only after this are you prepared to meet a Nage who will throw you.

One lady Aikido Master was physically attacked in a parking lot at an airport. She reacted quickly and threw him into a car badly injuring him. She told the police she didn’t want to press charges because “it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know how to take a fall.”

There is an art to falling. When you are riding a bike on roads or trails, you try to roll through a fall and not put out arms to brace yourself. Regardless, falling at 40 mph is no fun at all. In yoga classes, when teaching forearm stand, I often have yogis go to the back of their mat; put their forearms down; then tuck their chin and roll forward. If you do this several times, your fear of falling is greatly relieved. I once saw a young lady in a class (that I wasn’t teaching) trying forearm stand. She didn’t tuck her chin, landed on her head toward her forehead, and then went flat to her back knocking the wind out of her. She really hurt herself and curled up groaning. Believe me, a fall like that would probably scare a person into not trying ever again.

I would say everyone should practice tumbling rolls forward and back. Also do cartwheels, then turn the cartwheel into a round-off. You can practice this at the wall as well. This will greatly decrease your chance of injury when practicing inversions. In fact, I would always start with this first before ever trying headstands, handstands, or forearm stands.

Metaphor for life: Learn to Fall. When you start a business and it fails, learn how to recover. If you fall off your horse. Learn to get back on it again. When a child is learning to ride a bike, teach them its ok to fall. If your life is just roses and pretty ponies, you’ll never learn how to recover from hardship. A parent needs to know they can’t bubble wrap their kids for life. They need to challenge them to try when they are afraid. Everyone needs their own Basic Training Boot Camp to life. Build your emotional skills. Face challenges. Go into something knowing you’ll likely fail. Learn that its OK to fall now and then. Its what makes you stronger.

[In]tolerance, which shoe do you wear?

When you put the shoe on the other foot The circumstances have reversed, the participants have changed places, as in “I was one of his research assistants, subject to his orders, but now that I’m his department head, the shoe is on the other foot.” This metaphoric term first appeared in the mid-1800s as the boot is on the other leg.

Do you ever have friends who you thought you knew well, only to find they completely cry foul at the core of your beliefs? How can you look them in the face knowing they have such darkness in their hearts? It isn’t easy.

I was once at a party with friends. And I don’t mean JUST friends, I mean soul-mates. We were bantering about, laughing, enjoying each others company. Then all the sudden, one person makes a racist statement that shocks you down to your toes. Then others join in. And it wasn’t something that just affected a 3rd party. It affected me directly being a minority. But they’re friends right? You give them the benefit of the doubt. So you let it slide off your back. You give them grace. But then they push more. They keep talking about it. And as someone who stands up for himself, I finally burst and said something. Well, they didn’t care for what I said because of their equally deep felt beliefs. It took me a couple months before I could love that person again. I don’t think I ever swayed their intolerant thinking. And it makes me sad.

I had a similar thing the other day. A good friend of mine posted something and I saw a comment directly below. Sometimes, curiosity gets the best of you and you take a tangent you should have never taken. I click on this person and I see vile statements against my own beliefs. I know life histories of several friends who have had poor experiences in childhood with their religious upbringing. Unfortunately, this came out very blatantly with this person. And then a couple of other friends “liked” and made statements to the same. I should have never traveled down that path. In fact, I’m trying to forget I ever saw what I saw. I won’t be able to look into their eyes the same again.

I do understand that we live in a mix of religious and secular society. And I strongly believe that anti-religion is a religion unto itself. Its much akin to many other isms (racism, sexism, capitalism, communism, vegetarianism). Many evangelize their disbelief in God or a higher power. They are so blatant in their memes and cartoons. They are SO blinded by their hatred. Yet I see the same people standing up strongly for their -ISM of choice. They protest and post things in support of this or that -ISM. They are strongly affected by the slightest micro-aggression against the little guy. Yet its quite alright to openly bash my beliefs. I am very amazed by their heartless attitudes. But I’m even more amazed by their hypocrisy.

saint – (sānt)noun
Def. – a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death. A pervasive concept in Catholicism and other beliefs.
So many of my non-religious friends push away religion, but still adopt religious traditions. I would think if you were so against something, that you would refrain from celebrating something religious with us. St. Valentine, St. Patrick, St. Nicholas, even Mardi Gras…these all have religious connotations. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, even our calendar reflects religious views.
The terms anno Domini  (AD) and before Christ (BC) are used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The term anno Domini is Medieval Latin, which means in the year of the Lord.
Yet, in my social circles, this anti-religious fervor focuses primarily on Western Culture. Anything Western, whether politics, religion, or other stalwarts of society, are frowned upon. But anything different from us is accepted. Counter-cultural beliefs, often embraced in the halls of academia and founded during the civil rights era and Vietnam War protests, are what is pervasive in my social media feeds. Its like playing “opposite day” when we were kids. Its cool to be rebellious like that. The same anti-Judeo-Christian friends readily post quotes from Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. I appreciate their naivete in accepting the good in those beliefs. But what they don’t know is if they really studied and followed those beliefs, they may find them even more restrictive to Western Culture than what they hate about Judeo-Christian beliefs. And as whacky as they think Christians are, they readily accept what Taro cards, astrology, and the Universe tells them. They are as superstitious and ephemeral in their beliefs as I am. Yet they easily condemn me for what I believe.
Tolerance is a difficult concept to grasp. Does being tolerant only mean “for those who believe the same way as I do?” That isn’t tolerance.
If someone asks, I may share what I believe. If someone goes against my beliefs, I may tell them why I don’t believe that way. And I am definitely going to celebrate my traditions. You can’t take my Christ-mas from me nor its true meaning. I will give thanks during Thanksgiving. I will celebrate the New Year as 2017 A.D., the year of our Lord. My country is founded on “In God We Trust.” And if you are so intolerant that you want to rain on my parade, I suppose its your right to do so. We are all hypocrites in some way. Its because I believe we all have flaws. Nobody is perfect. But I would hope when you are bashing someone, that you would walk in their shoes and see clearly what you are doing.

3 Beginner Tips for Diving into Ashtanga Yoga

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Someone once said “Yoga is for everyone, but Ashtanga might not be for everyone.”

There may be a little truth in that, but I mostly disagree. Ashtanga CAN be for everyone.

We are in a modern age of yoga. There was a time when you had to qualify or apply to study with a yoga teacher. The dynamics are a bit different today. If you want to practice yoga, you can. It is completely up to you. And I’m not just talking about beginner or gentle yoga classes. I’m talking about Iyengar, Ashtanga, or some other seemingly advanced practice. You just have to try and give it a chance. Here are my 3 tips for venturing into Ashtanga Yoga:

  1. It’s YOUR Practice
    For most yoga studios, we want you to practice with us. We aren’t going to push you away. We love that you try your best. Teachers love nothing more than to see progress. YOU make the choice to come to class and allow the teacher to guide you. Yes, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini,… are specific yoga styles with nuances specific to their practice. We are going to show you the style of THIS practice. But it is still YOUR practice. We facilitate and you do what your body says you can do. Eventually, you’ll find WHY we say to do things a certain way. But you should follow your own path to finding what works for you.
  2. Modify Everything!
    I have been practicing yoga for a while now and teaching for several years. But there is still a lot I can’t do and may never do. But I get the same benefits from the practice whether I modify a pose or not. So if you are new to yoga or to Ashtanga, your body will not be used to certain positions. But don’t judge yourself or be discontent about your place in your journey. You do what you do and all is fine. Nobody will judge you. A yoga teacher never judges you if you can’t touch your toes or bind yourself like a pretzel. They’ll help you wherever you are. Modify every single pose if need be. Just do what you can and have fun.
  3. Make It Enjoyable!
    I used to run track in high school and 5K/10K races since I was in the 6th grade. I knew exactly what to do, what to wear, and how to train. But when I began running ultra marathons later in life, everything changed. It seemed what I knew for 20 years was only about 10% similar to ultra marathons. It blew my mind. Ashtanga might blow your mind too. Ashtanga Yoga is different from anything you’ve ever done before. It is a very different culture. The “breath” is the first thing that jumps out at you. But as you delve into it, you realize how important it is. There are so many things that by your 5th or 50th class, a little light goes off and you say “Oh, that’s why!” But you find your way in your own time. Meanwhile, have fun. Be amazed by what your fellow yogis can do and don’t let it bother you if you aren’t there yet. I’m the last person who will get frustrated by not putting my feet behind my head. My body is different and that’s OK. What matters is that I’m growing in both mind and body.

Please don’t be afraid to go to Ashtanga and make it your own practice. You don’t have to do everything. Try out the poses and have fun. Ask the teacher for modifications or find something that works for your body. If you need to take child’s pose or just sit for a few breaths, do that. Soak up the experience and have fun. Its ok to laugh and feel the moment. You came to class and that’s what matters.

Historical Note: In the early days in Mysore, India, ayurvedic doctors would send people with debilitating diseases to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. The Primary Series, or “Yoga Chikitsa”, is called the healing series. If someone had a disease where they could barely move, he would help them into a pose and then have them breathe. That was their practice.If you are sickly, overweight, are weak, have scoliosis or diabetes,..then Ashtanga IS for you. Ashtanga wasn’t made for elite, uber qualified yogis only. It IS for everyone. It often healed them; and it may heal you too.