Category Archives: mindfulness

[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

dsc_0020

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.

Update: My current yoga practice

First, I’ll take you back to post-Rocket yoga training this past Spring when I was asked (er, required) to commit to a daily practice. It lasted through July when I was officially certified for Rocket Yoga teaching. I consider this a huge leap for me on top of my 200 hour teacher training. It was an awesome time of practicing my craft and setting an example (in my mind) for my students. When I would teach Rocket I could say to myself (and my class), “this is what I felt this morning when I did this practice.”

But now, I feel partially like a hypocrite. Its not that I’m not satisfied with my current practice, but I’m not setting a traditional example for my classes.

Since August, my practice has been a weight-loss journey. In the CrossFit world, where my life as a Venn Diagram overlaps, they would say weight means nothing. Its your body composition that matters. And for the most part, I believe this too. I would be perfectly happy carrying 200 pounds at 7% bodyfat on my short frame. But I’ve proven to myself, after losing 12 pounds, that I can do things now that I couldn’t do ever before. I’ve done transitions and binds that I’ve never done in yoga. I feel better about myself. And isn’t the feeling the most important part?

One main reason I bring this up is that I was 2 pounds from my goal. And instead of pushing for that 2 pounds, I let off and tried to let the last part happen naturally. Guess what? It didn’t work. I went 2 pounds the other way. So, like most men (military men especially), I sought to fix what’s broken. Here’s my plan:

5am – wake up – barefoot walk with dogs – run outside or on treadmill – heartbreaker cardio WOD (21-15-9 reps of couplet or triplet with row/ski for cals, double unders, box jumps, burpees, …)
6am – shower or Epsom salt bath, coffee, watch the news
7am – go to work
Noon – keep working, or go for a run if its nice, or maybe do some yoga
430pm – CrossFit WOD 5-15 mins, Olympic weightlifting, maybe bodybuilding and yoga
Evening – yoga wheel, restorative, or other prop; teach or go to yoga class

So, you notice that I don’t list “yoga practice” anywhere. I honestly don’t have a personal yoga practice. That’s not to say I don’t do things that are yoga related or contribute to my practice. Doing a load of dips or bench presses is like chaturanga, plank, or up dog. Toes to bar and sit-ups relate to navasana. And I feel strong in my yoga poses from all that I do. Handstands are nothing when I do numerous handstand pushups or clean & jerk well over 200 pounds. But some things suffer. Flexibility suffers. So I continue to work on that. I listen to my teachers when I take classes. And I try to demonstrate as much as I can in classes.

But I do need to commit more to my practice. It will start with dedicating at least one day a week to a full practice. Or at least going to an Ashtanga class. That’s what I’ll do. I promise.

 

People I Like

I was kind of a jock as a kid. A quiet one. If I wanted to be popular, I could have been. If I wanted to beat my chest and say how good I was, I probably had at least a little right to do so. But I am inherently shy. Even an introvert by choice.

So when it came to making friends, I was the one who stood next to the kid who was by himself at the wall during recess. I was the one who sat with the lonely kid at lunchtime. I am still the one who walks over and shakes the hands of the elderly couple who are sitting alone during greeting time at church.

In turn, I’m also the guy who waves back at someone when they were waving at someone behind me. I am the guy who says “Good Morning” to someone on the street and they ignore me. I am the guy who attends all my friends workshops and they don’t go to mine.

But its ok. I’m the kind of guy who lives a simple life. If I lived in a cabin among the aspen trees, far removed from the posh environs of Breckenridge or Vail, I’d be a happy man. If I was mowing my lawn and a Tour Bus stops across the street with some [insert celebrity] sign on the side, I’d just mow my lawn.

My friends are real. They don’t have a weak handshake and give a fake smile. They have electricity in their grasp. And their eyes warm your heart. I am drawn to the unpopular. They have the best stories to tell.

Last Class

candlelight-yoga

I taught my last “Candlelight Yoga” class on Tuesday night. I shouldn’t say last, like forever. But it was my last class for now. I am moving to another night to teach Hot Rocket and gave Candlelight to a new teacher in our studio.

I don’t know what it is about the last class, but I always savor it. I want to make yogis know how much I care for them and will miss them in that space. Maybe I want them to miss me too.

Anyway, my perception of Tuesday night’s class was that we connected on another level. I had a full class and the atmosphere was electric. There were new yogis and some of my experienced Rocket Yogis. Its an all-levels class, but I really made it challenging. We did a progression for both 8-Angle pose and baby grasshopper. I even threw in a flying lizard for good measure. We workshopped, laughed, and even fell a few times. We experienced both success and humility. It was a class I’ll surely remember.

We closed with a twist and kumbhaka pranayama. And then I blew out the candles…

On The Edge

merman pose

This morning, I did a hard CrossFit workout. People who dislike CrossFit always point out how form breaks down as you get tired. That seems to be the biggest detraction from this form of high-intensity exercise. Truth is, they always show a video of a beginner who is still in the process of learning proper movement patterns. Yeah, you could say maybe they shouldn’t be doing an Olympic clean & jerk in the first place. But the same could be said for a simple pushup or air squat. All of it is interconnected. What I have found is that mid-way through a workout (WOD), I find a few form glitches just because I’m trying to move faster. But as I get really tired, my form actually improves. A single 135# clean & jerk starts to look like an attempt at 245#. I get set, focus on my pulls, and focus on form. Its the only way you’ll get the weight up. So form degradation is really not happening.

This leads me to yoga. The other day, I taught a Rocket Yoga class. At the end of 5 sun salutation A’s (surya namaskar A) and 4 sun B’s, I had them jump right into a forearm stand (Pincha Mayurasana) for 10 breaths. Usually, when I have yogis do harder inversions and arm balances, I have them rest in child’s pose first. Then they can focus on form and putting strength where it needs it. But we jumped right into it.

This could be done for any technical movement. It might be a difficult yoga pose, a heavy weightlifting movement, walking a slackline, or posing on a Stand Up Paddleboard. It makes you reign in the chaos of your mind, forget the lactic acid in your muscles, and makes you focus hard on the task at hand. So, after my hard CrossFit WOD this morning, instead of laying on the floor and bragging about the sweat angel I made, maybe I should do a handstand or forearm stand. Maybe I should do a set of slow, deep squats. Or balance in Chair Pose on a Bosu Ball. Then, I’m not only training my body, I’m training my mind. It is a true test of focus.

(pictured: me in Merman pose, a man’s version of mermaid. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Save to Give

Feel free to use this image, just link to www.SeniorLiving.Org

I save for a lot of things. My wife is actually the better saver because she has a lot of self-discipline. I helped set up our budget, but she is the one who makes it work. And, since I’ve been teaching yoga for several years, all of that has been going to savings too.

Although, I don’t know how to compare our savings to the norm. Dave Ramsey has percentages of your income that you should save for emergency funds and such. So we are probably on par with general recommendations. But maybe its better to not compare.

The key to saving for me is not being in debt. Any time you pay interest on a credit card, car payment, or store cards, you are losing money to someone else. The old idea of using credit to build a better credit rating is a crock. Its just an excuse to hold debt. I’ve heard of a guy who couldn’t get a loan because he didn’t have a credit rating. He paid for everything with cash and had no debt. Believe me, that’s a better way to live.

So, we have a vacation savings fund. And since we are relatively cheap about how we travel, we have a large excess there. We have a Christmas savings and that usually carries over. We just bought a new roof for $11,000 out of savings, and there is plenty left. If we need to buy a car, we could do it with cash, which is what we’ve done for past purchases. Now, you probably think we’re rich. By world’s standards, we probably are rich. But we have a median income by U.S. standards. Its just that we have become a lot wiser with age.

You need to have discipline to save. I was raised since childhood to give 10% to charity and pay yourself 10% (I’ll leave “charity” to your interpretation, but those in the know probably know what I mean). Currently, we have a lot of excess in “charity”. We are just waiting for the right cause. Its really nice to know that when there is a need, you can do something substantial for someone.

Don’t pay lip service to doing things for others. You need to actually do it. Measure in your own heart what that means. Do you really need that $5 cup of coffee or new pair of leggings? Or could you give that to someone who has real needs? Save to give. Save to live.

Be Nice to your Yoga Teacher

yoga teacher

And personal trainer too!

When I was in yoga teacher training, someone said that when you are in a yoga class, the teacher is likely the least wealthy (by money standards) in the room. This is probably true in most cases. Many yoga teachers I know are University students, small-company entrepreneurs, or some other transitional status. This is also likely the case for many personal trainers and other service professionals.

I am probably in the minority in that I have a full-time job as a scientist. But I also know this is all relative. I was teaching a class at a gym with a lot of older members and retirees. I noticed as I was walking to my 2004 Ford F150 truck a lot of BMW’s, Mercedes, and fancy Cadillac’s. So I was probably the poorest person in class that day.

Regardless of our social status, we provide a service to the community. For me, I see this service as a necessity. But in the context of worldly needs, it could be seen more of a pleasure than a need. I still see yoga as a need in that it maintains my health and mental state, of which I’d be a hot mess without it. I’d probably miss days of work from my bad back and I’d probably go a little crazy. So yeah, its a need for sure.

So be nice to your service professional. They care for you and want to see you reap the benefits of a healthy yoga practice.

Namaste!

A Model Yoga Teacher

PAT2_062207_CFW

Actually, there isn’t a model for any teacher.

When I went to Army Drill Sergeant’s Academy at Fort Knox, Kentucky, we studied leadership styles extensively. This was among hundreds of topics that we studied from psychology, to personal development, to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There is a template for teaching that contains the core elements. Leading by example by having the best appearance possible; having the physical ability to do above and beyond what most soldiers are capable of; and having the utmost discipline from what we do with our own litter to always being punctual. We never ask of a soldier something we wouldn’t do ourselves.

Over time, Drill Sergeant’s, elementary school teachers, yoga teachers, adopt characteristics from many mentors to create an amalgamation of style that is all their own. As we go along, we continually refine and find new inspiration. I think of numerous teachers in my path who helped make me who I am today. I never mimic a single person or one particular template.

That being said, there is one yoga teacher who stands out as a model for me. I took his classes religiously and admired his style. This was when I first started into my dedicated yoga journey. At the beginning of class, I could see he was studying his notes and working through postures on his own. Yet, he was still approachable and would talk with us as we entered the studio. He would often mention the peak pose for the day, so we always knew the goal. He challenged us to do our best. He praised us saying “you all did great. That was a hard pose!” He would pat us on the back and encourage us. But he was also stern. He would say “don’t you dare look down in chaturanga!” All his cues still stand out in my mind. You could tell he brought his own practice to the class to share with us. And he always gave assists in savasana that were amazing!

I not only admired his teaching style, but also his commitment to practice. Much of his practice was taking classes from other teachers. Yes, I would see him in the Ashtanga Primary series. But I would also see him in Fundamentals, Restorative, and Hot Yoga classes. Even though he was capable of harder variations of poses, he often took an easier variation. You could tell he was aware of his body and, possibly, the mood he was feeling. Sometimes the Raja isn’t there. Sometimes a more Tamasic practice is what is needed. I learned all of this from him. And I enjoyed practicing along side him. I have a few teachers who still mentor me in this way and I aspire to do the same for others.

Unfortunately, I see many teachers who never take classes from others. I don’t know if it is that they  don’t enjoy styles outside of their own. Maybe they only do their own personal practice and choose not to take from others. I’d hate to think that they felt they are above other teachers or have nothing left to learn. That would be a shame. We should all remain students. And I feel everyone has something to offer us. It may be a smile or a word. Or it could be a creative sequence or cue that we’ve never heard before. Just like our yoga practice, we never arrive as teachers.

Keep your minds open. Keep your hearts soft. Always be a student of life.

 

What’s with all this Sanskrit jibberish?

vandegurunam

Prior to taking yoga teacher training, one of my favorite teachers would start to quiz me on Sanskrit names of poses. I would laugh and say, there will be time to learn that later. In my own mind, I was saying “why does all that matter anyway?” How can an ancient language be important in Modern Yoga?

In fact, some try to get rid of it completely. There are yoga teachings that try to make yoga available to the masses without all the history, philosophy, and Sanskrit nonsense. Who needs it anyway?

Today, we have mixed martial arts (MMA). In the old days, they pitted a karate master against a Sumo wrestler. Or a boxer against an Aikido practitioner. Today, students begin learning all aspects from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to kick boxing to wrestling. It can be done without any of the history of those original fighting arts being made know.

But I feel we lose so much when we lose our roots. It becomes superficial. When I began with Hawaiian Kenpo Karate as a kid, to Aikido in grad school, we learned the history of what the founding fathers brought to us. We learned about the meanings and the history behind why they studied these arts. We learned reverence and respect. It is a part that is missing from everything in life today. When we live without philosophy, without religion, without a strong parental upbringing, we lose our sense of who we are.

That is what Sanskrit does for yoga. Paschimottanasana is called intense forward stretch. Paschima means West. Traditional yoga is practiced at sunrise. The sun rises in the East and we face that direction when we salute the sun. So what we are stretching is our Western side, our back, glutes, and hamstrings.  Uttana means intense. Earliest yoga was about sitting in meditation. So asana means “seat”. We do yoga to prepare for meditation and find a more comfortable seat. Warming and opening our bodies does this for us. Knowing Sanskrit is the essence of yoga practice. It is the link we have to our roots. Its like your name is “Bill”, but we decide to call you “horse” instead. Our names are important to us. We can’t just disregard them.

Any teenage gym rat can teach you how to do a pushup. Doing knees to elbow in plank has no meaning other than to work toward what you see in the mirror. But to know deeper meanings through understanding Sanskrit and the history of yoga makes for a deeper practice. It also tells you that a teacher has studied and understands these deeper meanings.

Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, would say:

99% practice, 1% theory

But the practice is what opens the door to all those other wonders. If you read of students who studied with Jois “Guruji”, they rarely talk about the practice. They talk about what the practice does for you. Their self-study goes way beyond the practice. And that is where we find true yoga.