Category Archives: yoga

Let The Games Begin!

Part 1 of 3
I’m not signing up for the actual CrossFit Games Open this year like I’ve done in years past, but I do plan to do all the workouts on my own. What makes CrossFit different from many other fitness endeavors is that its a community. We all are doing the exact same workout. Its why I love Ashtanga Yoga too. Somewhere, someone is doing the exact same sequence I’m doing. So when I’m doing the CrossFit WOD and I’m struggling with something, I know there are thousands of others feeling the same struggle. I know I don’t have to feel pity on myself even though I’m doing this by myself. And, since years of teaching yoga, I’m not fraught with comparisons anymore. But I’d still like to know that my effort is comparable and that I’m on track with my fitness.

Part 2 of 3
Since I am a Master’s athlete, I am strongly considering doing the Festivus Games (for real). I honestly struggle with some CrossFit movements, so actual competitions would be difficult. But this is made for the novice-intermediate athlete. And I’m sure I could work with the Rx weights and movements of the intermediate athlete, I’ll probably do the Master’s options. Yes, I can do lot of pullups, but I’m not going to be shy with only doing ring rows. Being a yogi means that I’m OK with whatever I do. No judgement, no self harm.

Part 3 of 3
I am signed up for the Wanderlust event in Chicago this May. I used to be an ultramarathoner. Going out for a 6 hour training run wasn’t a big deal at all. And a 50K race was my jam! But injuries started to creep in to where it was difficult to run a half mile without my calf going haywire. In the old days, a 5K was a warm-up for something bigger. Now, that’s going to be my race. But you know what? Even in the little things, we should strive to do well. So I’m using the Festivus Games training as my training for this race. I can shift to more specific running in the few weeks prior. My muscles and heart will be strong already.

So that’s my plan and should keep me occupied until Summer. Then I’ll be ready for swimsuit season — haha!!!


Thai Yoga Anatomy

thai-yoga-massage (1)

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t super excited to take my required Thai Yoga Anatomy course. I had two-semesters of human anatomy, comparative anatomy, gross human anatomy (yes, dissections), and kinesiology (I think it relates in this context). I had numerous courses in biology that covered aspects of anatomy. I studied cell biology where we went into detail of muscles, fibers, sarcomeres, blah-blah-blah. I knew I’d learn something, but I didn’t know how much.

Boy was I wrong!!

It started out with 12 hours of online instruction. The videos were well done and involved not only the rudimentary topics of names, origins, insertions, etc…. It also had sections on palpation, range of motion, and other tests of muscle function. When I arrived for the on-site training, we built heavily upon the online portion. Most of our time was spent feeling the muscles and doing various tests. It makes a huge difference from seeing something with your eyes or looking at inanimate models of bones and muscles, to actually evaluating muscles on different bodies.

So instead of poo-pooing the idea of learning more anatomy, its all I think about now. Mind you that in early Thailand, and maybe today, human dissections are not considered. In the West, we always seek a scientific reason for why things have worked so well for thousands of years. Yoga is 5,000+ years old and Thai Yoga Massage has roots to more than 2,500 years. They worked fine without human anatomy. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t raised as a child being around Thai healing and having decades of innate knowledge at our fingertips. We have to catch up with less intuitive studies and more scientific reasoning. But its all good, right? In a sense, we greater legitimize the practice by bringing it into mainstream science.

We had similar training when I did yoga teacher training. The focus was different in that it was solely about human movement. I think there is great value in taking this in depth course. It is actually listed as training for Yoga as well as Thai Yoga massage. There is a lot that was missing in my initial yoga training, not to mention the years of college anatomy. Not only has my Thai Yoga massage cranked up many notches, but also my yoga teaching. I had a yogi come up to me last week asking about pain in the back of her knee during wide leg forward folds. Before this training, I wouldn’t have been able to tell her confidently that it was her gracilis muscle. Now I know! And I gave her tools to work on to heal it herself.

If you’re interested, look up Thai Bodyworks in Evanston, Illinois. They have a lot to offer!



Oh Not That Again!

crossfit hspu

I had a back injury (non-CrossFit) that kept me from working out late last Summer. Then I did my own rehab for about a month. When I felt I could start taking a load again, I went back to CrossFit. I started with the daily WODs and eventually shifted to my own programming. Then the holidays kind of derailed all my good intentions. I ate a lot and sat in a car for hours to and from family visits across the country. Good habits can be broken.

So at the New Year, like most people, I vowed to make some changes. I don’t do resolutions because I think resolutions are made to be broken. I wanted to get back to a strong deadlift. And I wanted to make some body changes. So I start programming for those things. Lots of powerlifting and bodybuilding were thrown into the mix. And just because I know I need to control my bodyweight, I did some cardio as well. I was rowing, ski erging, and running. But all of that gets very boring. I started skipping workouts. I didn’t have time to get through all I wanted to get through and then would just not do it. It just wasn’t working.

So last night, I look at my sheet that has all my tasks for the day; the same things I’ve been doing since the New Year. I glared at my sheet and threw it in the trash. I programmed a triplet of trap bar deadlifts, dips, and wallballs. Nothing crazy, just something simple. Three rounds only took me 4:50, but it gave me that air sucking, nerves tingling into my fingers and toes, wanna lay down and die kinda feeling. But when the waves of pain goes away, you know you’ve done something. It combined all the things I had been doing for an hour into 5 minutes. Did you hear that? 5 minutes!!! That’s not all I did, but that’s all I had to do. I’m lightly sore this morning and its all good.

The key is: do a little warmup (something fun: I do hula hooping, pole dancing, trampoline hopping, BOSU ball balances). Then set up a wod. Make it something DO-able. Don’t make it crazy. Maybe add a moderately heavy movement and a bodyweight movement. Optionally add a cardio component like box jumps, burpees, or double unders. Then that’s all you have to do!! If you feel you have more energy, do some heavy work or bodybuilding. Olympic weightlifting is my Go-To since its mostly concentric (i.e., it doesn’t make you so sore). But the Oly’s also test mobility, balance, speed, and power. That’s it. Just do the WOD if you don’t have time. Then you’ve already done a lot!

I’m back baby!!




Thai Yoga Massage Jan2018

cheri neal yoga thai massage
{picture from Cheri Neal Yoga}

I’ve only just begun this journey, but it seems like a lifetime already. I took the level I Thai Yoga Massage course last November. I started practicing on my fellow yoga teachers and eventually students and friends. The response I’ve gotten is what pushed me to take the leap into getting certification. With my first course, I learned a basic sequence that is grounded in the original sequence that everyone learns in Thailand. I was starting to feel so good about it. I watched videos to learn the nuances of flow and intensity. It is a poetic dance that is graceful and purposeful. I started to add new poses that I saw and started integrating them into sessions. Despite being so new to this, I was feeling like a Pro.

Then, the rude awakening is when I went back for more training. The format for the school at Thai Bodyworks in Evanston, IL is going through a slight transition. And I benefited greatly from these changes. So what I learned the next weekend was additional poses for the original sequence. It helped so much to already have practiced that sequence a lot. But it was still a steep learning curve. We had two instructors as well as very experienced students who critiqued my work. I rushed my pace at times. My thumb pressure was all wrong. I use too much muscle in my technique. And I realized I have so much more to learn about trigger points, assessment, and clinical techniques. I love to be humbled that way. You train what you know, develop mastery— then you erase the whiteboard and start building all over again.

I’m working on the new techniques and poses with my student practice. And I had my first semi-clinical session. Although everyone comes to me with different needs and pains. My first goal has been to do no harm. So it is complete icing on the cake when I hear that I’ve actually made a dramatic improvement in someone’s life. And the proof in the pudding is what my instructor did to me:

When I was in training, we were doing shoulder and pectoral work. It was the last segment of the training. I tore a pectoral muscle pretty badly a few years back and it has been painful and tight ever since. But in one 5 minute demo followed by an intense session of focused work on it, my instructor opened me up like I haven’t been in years. I was able to bench press and press overhead with a barbell without any pain at all. My yoga has improved too. I am more open in upward bow and other poses. I’m hoping I can do more binds now that my chest is open. This stuff really works.

I have a clinical assessment checkout with one of the instructors this Friday. And then more training. I love when my fellow Thai students ask if I am a trained bodyworker already because it feels so natural. It is becoming more instinctive for me with every practice. But not only for my Thai Yoga practice, but in my yoga teaching as well. My adjustments are becoming much more refined. I’m not afraid to get exactly where I need to be to effect a change in a student. It feels like I’m winning at life.




Yoga Class Sequencing

A good friend of mine just finished teacher training and she got me thinking about sequencing. We learned different ways in teacher training and they were different from what I read in books. I don’t know that I’ve seen a lot of hard and fast guidelines about this. I think much depends on the kind of class you are teaching. But the structure usually finds commonalities across disciplines.

The yoga teacher who I emulate most taught a Sunrise class on Saturday mornings. He was an incredibly introspective and kind person. He was also very capable to not only teach but to demonstrate technical postures. I loved his tone and his demeanor. He was very stern about certain things. When going into chaturanga he would insist “don’t you dare look down”. When we brought our leg forward and back in Surya Namaskar B, he would push us to not make a sound on the mat thereby engaging hip flexors and lower abdomen. Occasionally, he would look at his sheet to see where we were. I admired how much he thought about his classes. You could see him practicing his sequence before class. While I was in training, he showed me his process and what he wrote. It was all in Sanskrit.

I once mentioned this in teacher training and my teacher humbly acknowledged that his procedure was a good one. But she confidently said that what she does in a vinyasa class just comes from experience. Her sequences are creative and largely fall onto her Ashtanga base. As I look at what I do today, it combines both approaches. Sure, a general vinyasa class takes no preparation at all for the most part. You just go in and teach. You may ask students what body part or pose they would like to focus on, but otherwise its up to you. In specialty classes, you need to develop a more thought out plan. Slow flow, gentle, restorative, beginners,… all require some level of focus if you don’t teach that all the time. So you may scribble out some ideas. So what I do is usually off the cuff, but I write down a few peak poses now and then that I’d like to cover.

The general rule my teacher gave us was 2/3 standing and 1/3 seated. I follow this pretty well:
Warming – I once went to a class where the teacher’s first pose involved a deep hamstring stretch. I cringed with worry that someone would hurt something. Sun Salutations are the go to for Ashtanga Yoga. It covers the most ground while building heat. However, most beginner/intermediate classes require more warming than that. Child’s pose, tiger, cat/cow, seated twists. These are good starting points. I also like standing sun flows.
Heating – Once we are warm, I go into stronger poses. Planks, chaturanga, arm balances, warriors, triangles, side angles. These fit along with my Ashtanga bias as well. If I feel we are getting tired, I mix some balance poses along the way.
Forward Folds – Now that we are nicely opened, we can do wide leg forward folds, goddess, and hand to foot type poses.
Seated poses – The last third of class I do one and two legged forward folds; reverse plank and boat pose; then maybe marichyasanas and baddha konasana.
Backbends – Bridge pose and upward bow are stalwarts of any class. They are good completion to seated poses.
Inversions – Even if it is a beginner class, we do some form of inversion (meaning heart higher than the head). It may be hand stand prep, supported shoulder stand, or legs up the wall. Or we may go for headstand, forearm stand, shoulder stand, and handstand.
Twists – We always try to finish with twists and maybe crunched positions like knees to chest. This is what makes our bodies feel accomplished and ready for what life has for us.
Savasana – I come from a traditional and Ashtanga based practice. Since Samadhi is the highest of the 8 limbs, I feel it is the most important. We feel our greatest peace and bliss in corpse pose. The general rule is 1 minute of savasana for each 15 mins of practice. When I’ve taught in fitness gyms, they don’t acknowledge its importance. To some its just a waste of time. Its one reason why I prefer to teach in a yoga studio. Students there have been trained to understand the why.

I’ve been to a lot more classes lately where many of the rules I follow are different. I really love Baptise style yoga, but it seems we miss out on most of the seated postures. A lot of Vinyasa classes do very few seated postures, if at all. I think its how people are trained these days or maybe they don’t come from an Ashtanga background. We also see a lot of repeated sequences and postures. I can understand the reasoning, but it bores me a bit because I know there are so many other poses that we can experience. And I get a little tired of just standing for an hour. But people embrace these classes and it makes me happy for those students. I personally prefer the variety of a complete practice.

My best advice to a new teacher is to find a basic sequence that includes all the required elements. Then you can add and subtract from that sequence. We are taught in speech classes that you don’t want to read a text word for word. You bore the heck out of your audience that way. Instead, speak extemporaneously and maybe have a few key points listed. Write out a few peak poses or area of emphasis. But you don’t need to memorize a sequence or write out an entire list. You have to interact intuitively with a class to know what they need and want. If beginners wander in, you need to meet their needs while also making it challenging for the most advanced student. Give options and make it possible for everyone to practice.


Thai Yoga

thai yoga script

I bought a new book on Thai Yoga and I totally ate it up last night. I’ll give more details later, but I just want to say how excited I am to learn something new. Thai healing goes back 2,500 years and involves several disciplines. Many are somewhat familiar with Thai Yoga Massage, or “Lazy Man’s Yoga”. There is also an Ayurvedic medicine component. But what most aren’t familiar with is actual “Thai Yoga“. It is a self-healing practice based on yoga poses. The level of detail in symptomology is very amazing. In many schools of healing in Asia, human dissections was something that wasn’t done, so familiarity with actual anatomy is not present. However, they have a very intuitive knowledge of energy. There are 10 major sens lines that travel through the body that are key to Thai healing. Actually, there are thousands, but we consolidate for practice. So I’ve begun to learn about this energy and how it is useful to healing.

I am going to start a Thai Yoga practice for myself and to see if it fits with me. As I was reading last night, I was visualizing and mimicking what I could as I sat in my recliner. I don’t know if it is just the power of thought or if I was actually feeling what I was feeling. I actually felt an amazing difference just walking through poses. I am so excited to develop this practice.

I will share more when I know more. Right now, I’m just at the tip of the iceberg. I’m hopeful this will bring healing in my own body. Then I hope to share with others. Maybe it will begin as a class in Thai Yoga. We’ll see!!


Spread Happiness

Have you ever smiled at someone who is not smiling and suddenly their face brightens to return your smile? It really happens. I saw a nice older lady at the grocery store yesterday and when I smiled at her, she just beamed from ear to ear back at me. Happiness is truly contagious.

We talked about the dynamics of a yoga class in teacher training. I had a day in Rocket Yoga not too long ago. I was very tired and sore from my workouts, but I tried to put on my best “teacher face”. But it wasn’t enough to overcome my lack of energy. I don’t know if it was me, the weather, the moon, or whatever, but everyone seemed to feel like I did. I offered a few challenging poses but nobody went for it. They all took a gentler version. We were all in an energy slump.

Then just a few days ago, I taught a Rocket class that was completely the other way. Even before class, I couldn’t get people to quiet down when I read the announcements. Everybody was talking together and giddy with excitement. And to top it off, one of our Ashtanga teachers who just glows with goodness came to class. I think everyone was feeling good, but especially my yoga teacher friend. Her energy and the effort she put into each pose brought everyone else’s levels up too. It got super hot in there with all the energy. It was one of the best classes ever. Again, happiness is contagious.

Unfortunately, you can’t fake happiness. There are people who are truly having hard times. There are people who’s demeanors are naturally depressed and tamasic. Biting words, sarcasm, dark thoughts, and frowing faces are the norm for them. Teacher training talked about these kinds of people. It only takes one person who can spread negativity to an entire class. While yoga teachers aren’t usually therapists, it is helpful to talk with them to make sure they are OK first. But you also have to set an expectation of living in the now. Forget your troubles of the past or agonizing about the future and live for now. Make it a happy now. You can always choose to be happy.

Recent generations have been burdened with feelings of unworthiness, self-loathing, and negativity in their view of the world. They are not comfortable with the color of their skin or the gender to which they were born. They’ve complicated all of life with lots of clutter and chaos. Most of it is completely unnecessary. Most of it is selfishness. When you think of someone truly in need, where water and warm clothes are lacking, they are only focused on what is real. The unecessary frivolities we worry about are obstacles to happiness. When we live in comfort and excess, we have the opportunity for burdensome worries.

My recommendation to them is this, come backpacking with me for a weekend. We’ll hike back a few miles into what is real. All you can have is what you can carry in your pack. You can’t burden it down with unncecessary things or it will drag you down, both physically and metaphorically. If you’ve ever carried a 100 pound pack, you know what I mean. You only take the essentials. You make your own fire to stay warm and cook food. You use a filter to clean your own water. You consider weather and wildlife when setting up your sleeping area. You don’t get cellphones, headphones, or anything that distracts you. All you get to think about are the leaves at your feet and the stars in the sky. You listen to the coyotes in the distance and squirrels rustling in the brush. All that clutter in your mind goes away when you are down to only a few ounces of water. When you are needy, you prioritize what is important to you. Believe me, all this social nonsense goes away. It really isn’t very important in the grand scheme of life.

Simplify life. Seek nature and the little things. Find love. Believe in something greater than you. You don’t always have to be in control. Find a beautiful animal that will always love you back. Go to the park and watch the kids run barefoot. You can choose to be happy. You don’t have to wallow in negativity and despair. And if you don’t know how, I’m always here to help you. Someone can help. Its not hard to do.