Category Archives: rocket

Yoga Words

If you are a school teacher or remember being students yourselves, think back to writing essays for a class. Sometimes, you pull out a thesaurus and try to find a flowery, pretentious, over-the-top word for something simple. You use alliterations that attempt to make mountains out of molehills. If you say something too simple or direct, then you think people will think less of you.

As a yoga teacher, we try to communicate as best we can so a student can flow through class without confusion. However, there are times when that elementary school essay comes into play. We use imagery and allegory to a fault. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for these things. In meditation, it helps to guide the mind to a happy place. But for most of yoga, keeping simple cues and direct commands are so much more effective.

A pet peeve of mine that I am guilty of myself is the word “don’t”. Don’t turn your toes out; don’t rotate your shoulders inward; don’t look from side to side in shoulder stand. Instead, we should use  more positive, affirmative statements. Like, “Be sure to keep your head stable in shoulder stand”. Instead of “don’t let your arms sag in Warrior II”, say “engage your arms and feel energy through your fingertips”. OK, maybe that last part was a little flowery. But that’s ok, right?

Another key thing is either the student saying they are “tight”, like “I have tight hamstrings”, or, even worse, when a teacher says that about a student. Think of a marathon runner who is most efficient in a shorter range of motion. Think of a powerlifter who squats 800 pounds with thighs parallel to the floor. Yes, they may actually be tight in those muscles. But what they really are is very strong in those positions. So a more correct and positive statement is “you have strong hips”. Or, “if you have very strong hamstrings, it is OK to bend your knees”. We don’t have to denigrate shorter ranges of motion; instead we can celebrate their strength!

There is a time and a place for gushing words and phrases. But for the most part, we can do without them. There may be times and places where your words are totally accepted. But for a general vinyasa yoga class, it may be better to find more neutral words with direct meanings. Imagine you are at Fort Benning, the home of the Infantry, teaching a yoga class. Or maybe you are asked to teach a yoga class to weightlifters at the Olympic Training Center. Think of how your words come across. Do you sound like some fruity nut job or do you sound like a professional yoga teacher? Don’t be the stereotype. Be the teacher.

Lastly, as I just related, always know your audience. Make your words, intensity, and demeanor reflect the goal of the class. Give more energy to a Power class and be more soothing in a Restorative Yin class. If you teach to specialty groups, be aware of where your words may lead. If you are teaching at a women’s help center for those who have experienced trauma, make sure your words don’t exacerbate their feelings. Make it safe for them. Many of our ancient texts are written completely about battle scenes, hence Warrior poses and the like. While it is often appropriate to embrace this spirit in classes, be aware of when it should be refrained.

ADDENDUM: Since we are talking about communication with words, we can relay this to body language. When I was in Army Drill Instructor School, we were taught how to come across as strong leaders. You point with a full arm extension with fingers extended and closed. It looks weaker to point with a bent arm and a single finger. Stand with good posture without slouching. Demonstrate correct form, not modifications or dance interpretations of a pose. I know it looks good to point toes for aesthetics, but a flexed foot is usually the correct anatomical position. And drishti always counts. Always demonstrate and instruct where they should focus. Drishti changes where the energy should be focused and guides the pose. This is all a part of good communication and should be combined with positive, direct, simple verbal commands.

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Ooops, I’m in the Wrong Class

Once upon a time, I was sitting in a University class and the professor walks in. He is known to be a stern teacher and not all that personable. He doesn’t even acknowledge us and starts writing on the board what appears to be very basic chemistry. He is writing about molarity and Avagadro’s number. The problem is, everyone in the class had signed up for something a lot more complex. Someone finally spoke up and asked, “Isn’t this supposed to by Physical Chemistry?” For those in the know, its likely the most difficult class you can take in the sciences. He kind of scoffed and looked angrily at us and began wiping off the board. Next thing you know, up go the differential equations and formulas for understanding the geometrics of a water molecule.

Kind of a different slant on this is when a beginner yogi walks into my Rocket Yoga classes. It happens almost once a week. The information sheet and website describe the classes, but I don’t think people usually read the descriptions. I mean, yoga is yoga right? [Wrong!] The description says that Rocket is a mish-mash of Ashtanga from all 6 series. And to the right column says it is “High Intensity”. So you think people would ask around.

We start out with 5 sun saluation A’s and 4-5 sun B’s. Chair pose and wide leg forward folds. Once we get into splits, they are already fully invested in the class. But then we start into much more difficult poses not to mention throwing in some forearm stands and handstands.

Now is when they say “What have I done?!!!”

But its too late to back out now. I can tell by even the most basic poses that they’ve never had an Ashtanga class. Even more accomplished yogis who are strong and flexible who haven’t been taught the style of Ashtanga show their different experiences. Its not wrong, its just not how we do it in Ashtanga.

And you know what? All of this is OK. They didn’t stumble into the wrong class. I tell everyone, do what you can do. If you need child’s pose, then by all means take it whenever you want. If you want to sit and watch when arm balances come up, go ahead. But please try if you can. I tell them to keep coming back. Maybe take some Ashtanga and other more intense classes to build strength and breath. Anyone can try Rocket and is welcome to come. I try my best to speak to every new face I see after class. Most often they don’t come back, but I’m hopeful they will try again. That’s all we can do is try our best.

Music for Yoga: Part Deux

I was doing CrossFit for a few years before I first went to a local CrossFit Box. We did the warm-up, strength work, and got ready for the WOD (workout of the day). What is interesting is how your adrenaline begins to pump when you see the workout on the white board and you strategize how it will go. You want to do your best and get the best score you can. What really cranks it up is when the coach announces “10 SECONDS!” The timer starts to beep and you step up to the bar. At 3-2-1 GO, the music is turned up loud. Its some hard-charging jam that makes your blood pump out of your chest. Its such an amazing feeling.

The Box where I was going had fairly conservative owners that I had a lot of connections with. While I had harder tastes in music, I still don’t enjoy lyrics that go into unnecessary violence and vulgarity. So this gym (Box) played energetic music, but nothing very hard. At least not as hard as I like.

I decided to get my CrossFit Level I certificate, so I travelled to Atlanta and stayed with my sister-in-law’s family. The training went well and we learned a lot. What I didn’t expect was that the CrossFit trainers always did their own WOD over lunch. We were all sitting down eating our lunches and gathered to watch. It was hot and muggy in Atlanta, so they were unabashed about stripping down to briefs and sports bra. I mean, it was Christmas Abbott and some hugely buff dudes. What was most interesting was their choice in music. And they cranked it up really loud! It was so different from my home Box. It changed my view on what hard really was. And these people went deep into the pain cave. I’ve never seen with my own eyes that kind of intensity. It went right along with their music. Loud and hard!!

Not long after, I volunteered to be a Judge and worker for the CrossFit Games Regional event in Chicago. That intensity I saw in Atlanta was equaled at this event. I mean, they had a professional DJ slamming the jams left and right. It pumped up the crowd as well as the competitors. My own music playlist completely changed after that. I made sure I set myself up with success during my own workouts. I was so amazed by the feeling I had watching those competitors slay their workouts. And the music was about 40% of the excitement. It was huge!

For most of yoga, that kind of intensity isn’t all that congruent with hard music. But for some classes, like Rocket Yoga, it totally fits. It was based on hard, classic rock. In my Hot Yoga classes, I’ve made playlists primarily with techno, EDM, and hard Pop styles.  While its about yoga and not the music, the music can add a lot to what’s going on. In fact, for Rocket Yoga, I have 4 playlists that I choose from to make up a class:

  • Rocket Launch – an intro while first starting up that slowly builds and sets the mood.
  • Rocket Heating – hard driving beats that charge up the energy.
  • Rocket Cooling – milder tunes that fit with seated poses and an introspective mood.
  • Rocket Landing – very calm and mellow sounds that you’d use for meditation or sleep.

For the most part, I don’t even want people to realize the nuances of what the music does for them. I want it to meld into the entire experience of the class. Just like the dimming of lights and calming of my voice toward the end of class. It should be a natural progression toward a peaceful savasana. Its an intense experience of release that rids the chaos from the mind, lengthens and soothes the body, until they arrive at a peaceful existence. Music adds greatly to honing this atmosphere. Feel it and love it.

To Rest or Not To Rest

samsthiti

That is the question.

I still hear the prevailing wisdom that says that you absolutely need to chill out and rest at regular intervals. As in, do nothing, sit, sleep, nada!

OK, I’m on board with that. But let me throw a few nuggets your way that may change your mind.

There is a lot we don’t know about rest, recovery, and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). If you think about it, there are several ways that we gain and grow from exercise. One is the predominant idea that if you get sore, you have broken your body down so much that when you heal, you’ll be stronger than before. Another idea is in creating physiological and mechanical efficiencies in your body. If you repeat a movement, like running, rowing, or lifting, your body builds neural frameworks that enable that to happen better. In addition, if it has a heart pumping element, then the heart is continually laying down new cells and those individual cells become more efficient at pumping blood. I believe this all to be true.

The latter case where you’ve had a neurological or physiological challenge that improves efficiency, its quite possible that less recovery is needed. There isn’t a structural component that needs to be “cleaned out”. But for the former, where it is possible that muscle breakdown has occurred, fibrin and collagen and healing lymphocytes are sent to the site of trauma and a more defined recovery needs to take place. Picture the arms that connect an old choo-choo train’s wheels to make them rotate. Each one of these arms is now clogged up with gunk, whether sludge, mud, or other debris. You can either sit and wait for the rain, wind, or other natural processes to wash the gunk away. Or, you can go in there and clean it up manually.

First of all, I’m a firm believer that sleep is the numero uno (#1) priority in recovery. You don’t get any bragging rights for sleeping less. If somebody tells you they function just fine with 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, they are blowing smoke up your nether-regions. You need those repeated 90 minute cycles that lead to hormone growth producing REM sleep. Each cycle is progressively deeper and more effective. Without this, you’ll not grow or recover and you’ll likely end up sick and injured. Sleep, then nutrition, should be your first priorities. You can’t make hormones if you are not eating healthy fats, proteins, and carbs.

So back to the choo-choo train’s clogged levers. Old school exercisers and mothers around the world would tell you to rest (aka do nothing). In the old days, the doctor would put you in a cast and tell you not to move for weeks if you had broken something. Now, we know that leads to frozen shoulder types of ailments. Today, you can get a major hip replacement and the next day the doctor has you walking laps around the 5th floor of the hospital. Its a totally different mindset from what was previously thought.

ACTIVE RECOVERY should be your mantra today. If you feel sore from doing Murph (run 1 mile, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, run 1 mile for time), the answer is not to lay down for 3 days and let your body recover naturally. You need active recovery. That is, go for a walk, a run, get a massage, take an Epsom salt bath, or, heaven forbid, do a workout.

The massage and bath are passive ways to recover. But they are very effective in that kneading those muscle fibers clears out the junk around the muscles. It also moves the lymph, which doesn’t have its own circulatory pumping mechanism. Lymph is what carries all those T-helper cells and other healing hormones. It also carries the bad stuff away, the toxins and broken bits of tissue. All of this makes sense in old school recovery and shouldn’t be overlooked today.

What is a newer concept is the active recovery. OK, maybe not that new. We know that running, riding your bike, walking your dog, or swimming can all be effective tools to recovery. They are doing the same things as passive recovery. What many haven’t explored, however, is the idea of actually working out again. I mean, you just broke down the muscles, how can you possibly go back and do more? But its true.

When I wrestled as a kid, I was always sore. But somehow, we’d run, do some exercises, and get our bodies warm only to go back on the mat and work at 100% every day. In Ashtanga Yoga, the Primary Series is called the healing series. When someone was tired or sore, the founder Pattabhi Jois would say “You Do!” And somehow, you get on your mat and find yourself all better again. There is something to hopping back on the horse and getting stuff done. Its not a macho or boneheaded kind of thing. It is a matter of physiology and mechanical efficiency. You gotta clean out those levers of the Choo-Choo.

Olympic weightlifters train up to 2 long sessions a day for 6 days a week. And remember, they only have two primary movements, the snatch and clean & jerk. Runners often run every day. And a carpenter swings a hammer every day. Get your sleep, eat well, and try to workout often. Travis Mash, coach and record holding powerlifter, says that youngsters may do better to take a day off now and then. But as you age, he says that we should lower the intensity slightly and workout more often, like every day! This keeps us well-oiled and functioning at full capacity.

Sleep, eat, and keep moving EVERY day!

Yoga: What kind of music is appropriate?

When I took yoga teacher training, we were encouraged to not use music with lyrics in it. We were to use generic music or sounds that fit the tempo and tone of the class. A gentle class would present something different from a power class. And some styles, like Ashtanga and Iyengar, use no music at all. The deep breaths of ujjiya are all that is needed. I’m completely ok with that idea.

Truth be told, when I workout, I listen to the hard stuff. Its all about hard rock and metal, hip hop and rap, grunge and even house music to get my blood pumping. I go fairly extreme with my preferences. And when I practice yoga, which often precedes or follows my workout, it often involves the same music. Sure, I do some relaxing stretches while watching TV. I may do some self massage with rollers and massage sticks with classical or jazz music. But when I have the Rajasic energy that Yangs for energy, its the hard stuff.

I also know, a good number of our population doesn’t favor the hard stuff like I do. So I tone it down a bit when I’m sharing with others. Fortunately for me, Rocket Ashtanga Yoga was developed by Larry Schultz who was the traveling yoga teacher to the Grateful Dead. Classic Rock is the tradition for Rocket and I’m happy about that. Also, it started with the “San Francisco Sound” which refers to live rock music recorded in the mid-60’s and early 1970’s. It started with the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 where the likes of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and others were formed. It melded the Blues with adventurous and improvisational Jazz. It was the core of later Classic Rock.

So, before a general yoga class the other day, I was playing a playlist called the Breakfast Club. It has hits of the 80’s and 90’s. A lady told me “thank you for playing good music.” I’ve been complimented on some of my playlists before. I’ve seen people in child’s pose tapping their fingers on the floor to Smash Mouth and Eminem. While folding forward, I saw a yogi mouthing the words of Prince’s “Kiss”. I had one yogi say they weren’t feeling very energetic and didn’t know how they’d do another 3 sun salutation B’s. But when Led Zeppelin’s “Four Sticks” came on, he knew he could continue on. Music does for them what it does for me.

So maybe I’m a rebel in my choices of music. I know if I stuck to only one genre, then I’m not going to reach everyone. So I try to vary as much as I can. It provides the additional energy I need to make an energetic and powerful class. Sometimes, I’m slightly disheartened. One person said they didn’t like my music and another asked rhetorically what appropriate yoga music should be. But another time, a yogi said “that’s why I come to your classes”. The music plays a big role in my style. I’m a lover of music and it can do amazing things to you when you let it.

Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution

Rocket Yoga 3 “Happy Hour”

larry schultz epk

I love all three of the Rocket Yoga sequences, but I especially like Rocket 3. I was just thinking on Saturday, when I taught Rocket 2, how uniquely designed each sequence is; particularly the first two. But Rocket 3 is really special. When I took Rocket training, we were given relatively strict guidelines for the sequences. And what I took away from it was more the “intent” of the practice than the sequences themselves. Do we meet the guidelines that uses a lot of energy, fun, and freedom in the practice? Yes?! Then we accomplished the goal. Larry Schultz, the founder, liked it that way.

Every once in a while, someone new comes to class. I can see that they have a style of their own. Maybe they’ve practiced yoga for years, but not necessarily Ashtanga yoga. Some poses, like triangle, side angle, and Warrior I, have a lot of variations that are possible. In Ashtanga, you would strictly apply a certain style to the pose. But in Rocket, I allow a lot of leeway. As long as they follow the “intent” of the practice, then I’m happy. Would I be happier if they applied the strict Ashtanga style? Yes. But that’s not so important. After coming to class for a while, they usually start to meet the style guidelines of Ashtanga.

Since Rocket 1 is closely associated with the Primary Series of Ashtanga, it tends to be the strictest in Ashtanga terms. But it is still fun and playful. Where we really play is in Rocket 3. I usually browse through Ashtanga series 2 through 6 and see what I can include in class. And then we jump in and out of the Rocket 1 & 2 sequences. Its a good time for experimentation, work-shopping, falling, and laughing. We even play with things like Zombie-presses, which we’ll probably do tonight.

I’m loving the practice and what it does for you. I’ve gotten so much stronger and proficient in the process. I see people on Instagram doing horse pose (vatayanasana) or some other higher level pose they’ve never done before and I think to myself, we do this every week in Rocket Yoga! People are sometimes amazed when they come to practice. Like “how is this even possible?!”

That’s what I love about Rocket Yogis! They are the cream of the crop!

Rocket Delight!

star pose

I taught a Rocket Yoga class last night and it was big fun! I love teaching the 3rd sequence, Rocket 3, because we can explore and have fun with different poses. I had a few new people in class too, which is also interesting.

Someone asked about one particular pose, chin stand. Like “what’s up with chin stand?” I guess you could ask that about any pose from a rhetorical standpoint. Why do we do this? Or even existentially, why are we here anyway?

You realize that sometimes in your teaching you need to back-up now and then and explain yourself. It’s so easy to assume that everyone feels the same way, enjoys strength and flexibility, and is emotionally in a good place. But you never know when students come to class where they are in life. And for their yoga journey, you can only speculate.

So back to the question: why chin stand? Chin stand, or viparita salabhasana, is an advanced asana from Ashtanga Yoga. Imagine salabhasana A, or locust pose, where you lay on your belly while lifting head, chest, arms, and legs. Now, press your arms flat on the ground with arms straight along your body and lift only your legs off the ground. Then, imagine lifting your legs so high that your legs are above your head. That is the pinnacle of locust post, which is chin stand (actually, you could go further and take your feet toward your head, touch your head, or place your feet alongside your ears). But for most of the normal world of yogis, this would be a great achievement.

Rocket Yoga is considered an advanced level class. It takes you to a different level of fun since it is not only physically challenging, it also challenges your mind, breath, and takes you to advanced poses. Not everyone has to do the advanced poses, but its always an option. I’ve been to Baptiste Power classes that are very challenging, but mostly physically and not from a technical aspect. I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve been to more Iyengar styled classes that are technically, and somewhat physically, challenging. Those are fun too. I teach a hot yoga class that is very physical, but I don’t offer advanced poses or strength options like in Rocket. We also don’t study the breath, bandhas, and drishti. That’s what makes Ashtanga different.

Unfortunately, finding Rocket classes abroad is not always easy. There are very few teachers and its not often accepted among traditional Ashtangis. Many embrace the repetitive nature of traditional Ashtanga and what it does for minds and bodies. I love that aspect too. So its hard to break that mold into a more free-form style like Rocket. It has quite a niche—but fortunately for me, its a niche that many love…a lot!!!