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RYT: Registered Yoga Teacher?

Why even bother with registering? Too many people ask this without knowing.

I know there are conspiracy theorists out there who wonder about yoga teacher registration. You have to admit, there are a lot of organizations that are out to get our money with little or no benefit. And yes, it is right to question why we would do something that seemingly has very little importance. But the bottom line is this. Its how our system works right now. If a better one comes along, then we’ll change.

The criteria for honoring a registration certificate for a teacher is, for the most part, based on an honor code. As yogis, we are supposed to have honor since it is rudimentary to the first two branches of Ashtanga yoga (as in 8-limbs, not as in the Mysore-centered practice of Pattabhi Jois). One of the yamas is Satya, which means truthfulness. To become a RYS (Registered Yoga School), the curriculum and overall mission is to honor core elements in teacher training. There must also be an E-RYT to provide for direction and leadership in the Education process. An E-RYT is someone who has the teaching hours and core training needed to direct the program. There are programs that do not have any adherence to common guidelines and you have to beware of their motivations. They could be pure and wholesome or they could just be out to get your money. And believe me, teacher training isn’t cheap. It can range from $2,500 to $15-20K. First, you want to know that you are being taught what you need to know. Second, you want to know that the piece of paper (your certificate) means something.

Yoga is really special in that it is steeped in a very rich history that dates back 5,000 years. There are ancient texts that provide insights into the intentions and history of the practice. But, in the modern world of Instagram and brightly colored leggings, which is a multi-million dollar industry, much of that history mumbo jumbo is seen as unnecessary  baggage. There are even training programs that brag about not including Sanskrit, history, or philosophy of yoga in their curriculum. These are the training programs you have to watch out for. They are out to get your money. They are as shallow as a rootless tree. They want you to see the pretty forest without talking about the roots and what feeds the forest.

Whether you believe in yoga registration with an organization like Yoga Alliance or not, its is smart to play the game. I am fairly amazed at the number of teachers who don’t. When I plug in the name of the town where our studio resides, only 3 teachers from my studio come up. It means that most are not RYT’s. I’m not sure why that is. Is it laziness or just not believing in the system? I’m not sure.

Gaining credentials as an RYT does not begin until the day you register. Even if you’ve already taught yoga for 10 years, that time is not supposed to count toward your hours. Then you log your hours as often as you can to keep the log up to date. This is where Satya (truthfulness) comes into play. When I tabulate my hours, I realize how easy it could be to fudge them a little. Just estimating hours off the top of your head or rounding up for classes could easily happen. Getting your 1,000 hours to get your E-RYT could be easy if you just lied. But that’s not very yogic is it? Only you can see the darkness of your heart.

Once you have hours toward your E-RYT, then you can start giving continuing education credits to other teachers as well as teaching in RYS teacher training programs. But, again, you can’t get your 1,000 hours without first registering. And, it does new yoga teacher trainees no good at all if an E-RYT lies their way into getting their credentials. They will not have the hours of experience and, more importantly, they have a stained character. You want your teacher to talk the talk and walk the walk. The Yamas and Niyamas are needed if you want to fulfill the higher limbs of yoga. And if you’ve never been taught these essential concepts, then it would be hard to call yourself a yoga teacher. Yeah, you can be a body pump or zumba teacher or something else, but it wouldn’t be yoga.

Honor the system. Be truthful with your students. But most importantly, be true to yourself. Satya. Namaste!

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Find ways to not Overthink!

When I teach rocket yoga, there is a part where you do boat pose, Navasana, and then I say “cross your legs and roll up to a handstand….don’t think about it; just do it!”

Think of yourself standing at the edge of a tall cliff that overlooks a deep pool of water. You stand there watching others for hours as they gleefully jump into the water. Then you finally muster the courage to try it yourself. You stand on the edge and look down. You are afraid, but you aren’t even sure what you are afraid of. Multiple times you toe the line only to talk yourself out of it. You see some kids walking up the path and one guy just tears off his shirt and jumps in. He didn’t even think about it, he just did it.

I’m a type-A planner type of person. In fact, I love the act of planning. I love to overthink things a lot. Its my job as a scientist to overthink things. I analyze and evaluate efficiencies. I consider the work flow that creates the most productivity in a short amount of time. Its how my brain is wired to think. So creating a workout plan is something that I love to do. I’m thinking about body parts and energy systems. I’m thinking about progressions to a peak maneuver or building strength to a one-rep max! Its what I do. But every once in a while, I want to turn that part of me off. I just want to hear someone say, do this, and then I do it. Instead of doing my own personal yoga practice, sometimes I just want to go to a class and do what they tell me to do. Maybe it doesn’t always feel good in my body, but it makes me experience something different. It allows me to “feel” and just “be”.

I had a back injury recently and was doing bodybuilding to recover without putting powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting loads on my back. I actually heard a podcast this morning of the strongest pound per pound powerlifter in the world. She spoke about how years of bodybuilding, building muscle mass and tendons, and doing antagonistic work of push-pull muscles. She mentioned how bodybuilding creates balance and doesn’t have weaknesses. So when she turned to the strength performance realm of powerlifting, she had the mass and the machinery to do the job. So I was doing bodybuilding for several weeks until my back could handle a load again. But instead of transitioning into my same old workouts, I turned back to CrossFit. Not just CrossFit, but the Main Site daily workouts.

What is so nice about doing the CrossFit.com WOD (workout of the day) is that you don’t get to choose the workout, it chooses you. I absolutely scale it as much as I need for that day. Sometimes, I may only do 60% of the prescribed workout. But I still do the workout every day! It is 3 days on and 1 day off. And I do it around my yoga teaching. It looks like:

  • Mon – Teach yoga (rest day or active rest with light cardio)
  • Tue – CrossFit day 1 (I pick the last day one of the 3-day sequence)
  • Wed – CrossFit day 2
  • Thu – CrossFit day 3
  • Fri – active rest or go to a yoga class
  • Sat – Teach yoga at Noon – Then do CrossFit day 1 (the last one published)
  • Sun – a.m. CrossFit Day 2; p.m. CrossFit Day 3

It has really worked out nicely. And since I scale as needed, I haven’t been wiped out. I am only mildly sore most days. On my Day 3, I have been doing calf raises (from research I read on eccentric contraction improving mobility). I also do any other bodyparts that I feel I missed in the past 3 days. If I feel super motivated, I may do Olympic weightlifting along with the workout of the day.

Its fun to plan and deload and cycle through a progression that you’ve designed. But its also nice to take a break and let someone else decide the workouts too. Then you just get down to it and get work done. You don’t think about it, you just do it!

Sculpting Your Body

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A calorie is a measure in thermodynamics of the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, equal to one thousand small calories (kilocalorie) and often used to measure the energy value of foods. We burn these units of energy in our body by breaking the chemical bonds between molecules and converting them into usable forms. The resulting energy expenditure often produces heat as a by-product.

I’ve been dieting for a little while to get my weight down. I’m not really out of shape, but I know that a lower weight will allow me to function better in yoga teaching and other endeavors. And, I also know I’ll be in a better place to stave off diabetes and heart disease if I am at a lower weight.

I was just thinking the other day as I was watching the show Naked and Afraid. The couple that was on the show was in very good shape. I would have to commend their preparation for the show. However, for a survival challenge, it doesn’t help one bit to be anywhere below 10-15% bodyfat for a man or 20-25% for a woman. The “reserve” energy that is in fat is useful when surviving on very little food, hot day-time temperatures, and cold (for naked) night-time temperatures. If anything, I’d be cramming down the calories in preparation to give myself some reserve energy.

In the reverse situation, if a person who is very fit and active happens to have an injury or long-term illness, the transition to a sedentary life could result in unwanted weight gain. So the better starting point for this situation would be to have a lot of muscle and very low bodyfat. Then they have the potential to recover more quickly and get back to their functional body composition.

The problem I see is when we age. What should our body composition be as we get into our later years? And it may not even be as old as you think. Many active men can eat what they want into their 20’s, but by their 30’s, their metabolism slows down and they tend to gain weight. Women follow the same pattern, but it is accelerated if they go through pregnancy. Regardless, you want to set yourself up for success as you go into the next age.

Where a car’s engine is what burns the fuel that we put into the gas tank, so are the muscles to the human body. The more muscles we have, the faster we burn. On average, men have more muscle mass than women and tend to lose weight faster. However, a man who is without much muscle mass will suffer the same inability to lose weight. So the first step is to build muscle. And I’m not only talking about skeletal muscle. Your heart is a muscle too and it needs to get stronger as well. A stronger pump and stronger engine leads to a better ability to burn fuel. And this is entirely true for women too. Muscle-to-weight ratio is a relative game.

The uphill climb is testosterone and other growth factors. Both men and women have them, and they decline in both as we age. So as we get older, weaker, and vigor declines, reacting to conditions becomes much more difficult. That’s why we have to set ourselves up for success earlier in life. The earlier the better. It is much easier to maintain a functional weight than to try to fix the problem at a later date.

Here are a few steps to success:

  1. Build muscle first. Eat to perform. You can’t work out and build muscle if you are restricting your diet. Work on getting stronger first. And work your heart as well. Make the strongest engine you can before proceeding. Make strength goals for yourself.
  2. Burn your engine. Once you reach your strength goals and heart stamina, then start to burn more fuel than you take in. When you are in calorie deficit, you’ll start to lose weight (if the goal is weight loss). But don’t go so much into deficit that you can’t perform.
  3. Maintain your ideal weight. At first, this may mean tracking calorie intake and expenditure (I use the Fat Secret app). If you learn to hold your weight, then you’ll be in a better position to react to changes. This is key to longevity. It gets more difficult every year of life. So get there now and stay there.

Note: I am very against BMI (body mass index). For sedentary people, the BMI may be useful. But for anybody who lives an active life, the BMI goes out the window. This is especially true if you carry any appreciable amount of muscle mass. Muscle is much more dense and heavy than fat. So for a given height, the weight classification is erroneous. Most bodybuilders and strength athletes are considered obese or morbidly obese by BMI standards. Likewise, endurance athletes would be considered underweight by BMI standards. Whereas both groups are very healthy. A better measure is bodyfat percentage. You can get tested hydrostatically (most accurate) or there are fancy bioimpedance weight scales that gives you a rough estimate. Generally, men are considered very athletic if they fall somewhere at or below 10% bodyfat and women about 18%. To survive in most scenarios, it is best to not go too far below these standards for best health.

 

 

We Experience what we Know

Have you ever seen a toddler hurt himself? He looks up at you not knowing what his real feelings should be. It takes the response of a parent or those around him to realize what he should feel. They train him at that moment to be weak or to be strong.

When I would fall down or get injured, my Dad was the type who would say, “you’re ok, get up and rub it out.” He wasn’t being callous or cruel. It was just his way of making me think of something in a different way. If I didn’t have a broken arm, then why cry about it?

Throughout society today, I see intense coddling that leads to a lot of perpetuation of a lack of mental toughness. Your mind is extremely powerful at handling pain and emotions. What I see today is, when the child falls down, the Mom runs over and coos and panders. Even if it wasn’t anything serious at all, the child ends up crying hysterically like he was mortally wounded. Instead of thinking, “no big deal”, he is conditioned to think “everything is a big deal”.

Mountain out of a molehill

I completely admire the realm of psychology. I’m a scientist and I like aspects of human emotion and pain responses. But I also believe that, once we define something, we tend to self-diagnose what we have as that definition. For instance, someone is starting to have a feeling of indigestion, acid reflux, and pain in specific parts of the abdomen. So he jumps on WebMD and self diagnoses himself as having kidney failure. In reality, he goes to the doctor and it turns out it was the acid in the orange he just ate that makes his tummy upset. Next time, he diagnoses himself with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disease. You wonder if he had never heard of these things, he wouldn’t even think to consider such maladies.

If you ever watch the movie Platoon, a soldier is badly injured in an enemy ambush. He is screaming and writhing in pain when the Platoon Sergeant walks over and presses on his mouth telling him to “eat the pain”. While the terror in the soldier’s eyes remain the same, a calm comes over him and he is quiet. There are stories where a person is amputated in a car accident and they don’t even realize what happened. Sure, shock does terrible things to us. But it all happens to relate to how our brain responds to pain.

I’m certain that none of us wants to see a loved one hurt, especially a child. But maybe our first response is to not make a huge deal out of minor boo-boo’s. Maybe I need to feel sub-zero temperatures while waiting for the school bus. Maybe I need to know how it feels to not eat for a day. Maybe I need to run a half-marathon in the heat and learn to overcome what I’m feeling. When I wrestled in high school, I wore a t-shirt that said “mat burns builds character”. I didn’t let an opponent know that I was ever in pain. I had to be strong in mind and body to battle someone who is my equal. You can’t go into battle showing weakness. When I was an Army Drill Instructor, I had soldiers standing at the position of attention for an hour without flinching when 100F heat bore down on them or blinding rain swept across their face. Soldiers learn to embrace the suck. CrossFit athletes learn to keep going when the average person would collapse. Its all about how we face adversity.

Coddling leads to “triggering” responses. Now colleges have therapy dogs, quiet rooms, and other consolation for even the most minor offenses. These are 18 & 19 year olds who are supposed to be learning how to face society. Yet, other men and women of the same age are out on the front lines in battle. Its all about how we are conditioned to rise above oppression. Do we cower and cry, or do we fight and prevail?

Condition yourself and those around you to have pride for yourself. Learn that life isn’t always perfect. Learn that we don’t have to respond to every attack. Learn to have a tougher shell so you can just keep walking when the dust storm kicks up to full force.

Physical toughness leads to mental strength. Mental strength means you can’t be defeated.

My Love/Hate with Ashtanga

“Hate” is not very Ahimsa, so maybe I’ll say I have problems with the system.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ashtanga. I’m the guy with his nose buried in the books trying to figure this thing out. I’m studying testimonials of students of Pattabhi Jois. I have the documentary video “Ashtanga NY” that I watch numerous times just to get a glimpse of Guruji. I’m watching Advanced A & B practice on YouTube with Guruji in his blue polyester shorts calling out the counts. I had a 6-day a week practice knowing that if I work hard, all will come to me. I’m fascinated by it all.

When I walk into a Rocket Yoga class, I know its going to be difficult. I know I’m going to be drenched in sweat. But I also know I’ll laugh, listen to jams, and celebrate tiny victories with my fellow yogis. It isn’t so seriously cultish that people either submit or are ushered away with their tails between their legs. In Rocket, I know there will always be something I can do better. But I always feel like that some day will come. And maybe that pose never clicks, but at least there are hundreds of other poses I still can call my own. There is always hope and positive vibes.

When I first started yoga, I was a CrossFit guy, ultra-marathoner, powerlifter. I never did things halfway. I jumped in head first. So if I went to a yoga class, I wanted the hardest it could give (at least that’s how I thought). I see this in beginners today. The Body Pump Gym Class has invaded our yoga studios with the mentality of go hard or go home! When my teacher first came in, she was stern and very disciplined. The Army DI in me understood this well. So that’s what I gravitated toward. Funny thing, this teacher also learned Rocket early on. When I finally took Rocket with her, I was like “oh, Ashtanga in a fun way!” Yeah that’s what I want!

I haven’t done the Primary series, whether Led or Mysore style, in more than a year. The last time I went, as a yoga teacher and regular practitioner of yoga, I felt belittled in class. My first teacher told me, when you go to Mysore with a new teacher, you have to turn the other cheek and take whatever that teacher is teaching. I guess I wasn’t willing to turn my cheek this time. The assumption was that I was clueless about yoga, that I didn’t practice enough on my own, and that I didn’t understand anatomy. Heck, I’ve done cadaver dissections in human gross anatomy, along with all the prerequisite classes I had to take to get there. I studied human movement in Kinesiology classes. I worked out with weights for 40 years. I know something about the human body. I didn’t have the time or where-with-all to explain all this to the teacher. Even worse, when some of my young Rocket yogis go to Ashtanga, they are treated the same way. Its no fun when your exploration of a pose is laughed at. No fun at all!

The go hard or go home mentality left me years ago since I learned what yoga really is. As my practice is honed, I realize the need for ahimsa and santosha, non-judgment and contentment. I realize Asana practice is only the 3rd limb of 8 limbs. And if we only focus on Asana and not develop a yogi’s full character, then it isn’t embracing ALL of yoga. This is where I depart from Mysore Ashtanga. I no longer feel freedom and enjoyment in an Ashtanga practice. It takes me back to a beginner’s mentality where the only thing important is forcing yourself into a mold in the most intense way possible.

As we market yoga to generations of students, I believe that we stay true to our roots and try our best to teach yoga that holds to the tradition and practice that has held for thousands of years. However, we can do this in a way that is also accommodating to where they are right now. We need to make it accessible and “fun”. It needs to produce results in minds and bodies. Words that should never enter into yoga are “prohibitive”, “restrictive”, “unattainable”. When we teach a general vinyasa class, when we get to Downward Facing Dog and you can’t put your heels down with a flat back, we don’t say “go sit in a corner and wait until the end when you can join us again”. That isn’t helpful to any student of yoga.

People don’t know yoga. People don’t know CrossFit. They think people are just showing off and out to hurt themselves. This is far from the truth. Both yoga and CrossFit are infinitely scale-able. If we prescribe a workout, we make sure everybody can do it no matter their limitations. And we make sure everyone is fully satisfied and encouraged in the end. That is what CrossFit is to me. And that is what Rocket Yoga is. Everyone is welcome to play. We laugh, we play music, we have fun…and we grow!

 

Dabbling Hobbies

I’ve started and stopped doing so many things in my life. I have numerous hobbies, some that I was extremely passionate about, that now sit on the sidelines. I still call myself a fly fisher, oil painter, pole dance artist, hula hooper, and Olympic weightlifter. But weeks & months go by where I don’t do those things. It shames me to say that, but if I’m honest, its true!

We all have things we’ve wanted to become better at, maybe even experts. We’ve had career paths that we put all our chips into, then something along the way makes us change course completely. Its a part of life, even though its hard to admit our misgivings.

I think of many people who come to yoga classes. I see them discipline themselves to come to my classes and we talk about our shared love for the practice. Then one day, poof, they’re gone. Yeah, they are still in town. They are still friends on social media. But its just one of those hobbies that goes away. I say in my mind that I’m shocked, but really I do it too. Somehow, I always imagine people are practicing for years when they come to me. But really, it may be only a few weeks or months; not even a year. There may be a real reason for them stopping. But for many, its something that ran its course and is now over.

Tides continue to come in and out. But the water meets a different land each time it arrives.

If You Only Had Time for One Thing

Its amazing how you can think about doing something that you really want to do, but you never get around to doing it. Some of the exercises that I think to myself “I should do that more” never results me in actually doing it.

One example is the pushup. I could sit here and think, hmmm, I should do a few pushups now and then. Then I don’t do it. What is the obstacle in our minds? I usually think we are so overwhelmed with all that we need to do, we feel burdened and never do anything.

I made a new workout plan a few weeks ago that has worked very well. Maybe it will help you too. I can call it “If you only had time for One Thing”. I have a rough plan of what I need to do every day in my workouts. It revolves around my yoga teaching schedule and my responsibilities at work and home. Here is how it goes.

I prioritize every day 5 or 6 major movements I’d like to accomplish. But the priority means that if I only had time for one thing, what would it be? Its usually squats or deadlifts. I figure those are the most important movements for life. Other days, it is a cardiovascular movement. So if I only have time for one, I am sure to get that done.

However, if I have time for my whole routine, its varied enough that if I have time all week to do all the things, it turns out to be a very well-rounded program that includes a variety of important tasks. And if I have more time than that, I can add other electives.

In your daily lives, find what is most important to you. It may be hugging your loved one, walking your dog, working out, or going to a yoga class. Even in your work schedule, name one thing (or up to 3 things) that you would like to accomplish for that day. It should be something that makes a significant difference in your life without being unattainable.

[I just did 10 pushups; its not on my list, but how hard is it to do something so simple?]