Category Archives: rocket

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!!!

99% Practice, 1% Theory

guruji-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning To Fall

aikido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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