Yoga Style vs. Safety

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The style of yoga that I embrace the most is Ashtanga Yoga. It can be very specific, even a bit militant, in the exact shapes you make. My friends in Iyengar probably find this even more true. Each style of yoga comes with a specific flavor unique to their practice. And it is all very well and good. Style is what makes something unique. However, a different style, doesn’t mean in a general context that a shape is right or wrong. What CAN make it wrong is if it becomes unsafe. Here are some top issues of safety that I believe connects all styles.

Inversions: Looking to the side
If there was a top safety issue that was repeated more often in yoga teacher training, it is this. The cervical spine in the neck is very prone to injury should you look to the side. This is especially true in shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasana), but also for the reverse in chin stand (uttana salabasana). The position of the head should remain neutral in all inversions.

Tree Pose: placing foot on knee
I see this all too often. Most of us will agree that the side pressure to the knee is not desirable, especially those susceptible to cruciate ligament or other knee injuries. The foot should be placed on the calf or thigh, or even resting lightly on the floor.

Shoulders caving in
Look at many planks and pushups. Most people are in a good position looking forward with elbows back. I don’t mean elbows hugging in to the sides, but just so the shoulders don’t cave forward. When I was an Army Drill Instructor, new recruits would almost always pushup with head down, elbows out, and shoulders curved in. Its not a good position. This is very common in chaturanga, almost all forward folds, upward dog or cobra; actually this can be expressed in any pose. Just don’t do it. It causes shoulder impingements leading to possible rotator cuff and other injuries.

Lunge: knees going past the toes
This is a point of contention for me. I still teach this in classes as a general rule. But I don’t think this is a real issue. Look at pictures of people squatting while making dinner or doing laundry in most new world countries, their knees are way past their toes. And, if you look at all pictures of Olympic weightlifters deep in the catch position, their knees are also in this condition. It isn’t a real issue for me.

Floppy Feet
This is one I see the most. A common cue in yoga is internal rotation of the thighs, which opens the sacrum and overall pelvis in the back. This is crucial to all forward folds, but can be found in virtually every pose. A key way to know that internal rotation occurs is when yogis engage into the ball of their foot. A flexed or flointed foot is desired. Though you’ll see many dancers point their feet. I think this is stylistic, but most in yoga will teach flexed or flointed. This is most evident in one-leg forward folds and in the Marichyasanas. As far as safety, I list this as a lesser issue since I don’t think it will necessarily lead to injury. But, it greatly reduces the effectiveness of forward folds and is an indicator of a lack of proper training and alignment.

There are so many style issues that are important to a practice, but most are largely irrelevant from a safety standpoint. Fingers spread or together, where you look, sometimes foot placement, hand placement, and the transitions are stylistic. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be emphasized if you are doing a specific style of practice. But for a general vinyasa flow class, these stylistic differences aren’t something of great concern.

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Unrealism in Lives of Comfort

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For most of us, we don’t know what its like to live in discomfort. And for those of us who have, we easily forget.

We rise from a comfortable bed, complaining in our minds how cold the floor is when we step on it. We flick on a light switch, not thinking of what a miracle of science it is. We pull on our pants manufactured in a far off land. We wander in for our daily $5 cup of coffee. And then we have another. Our smart device reads our thumb print and we get lost in this bustling world around us. Yeah, most of us have it pretty well.

We live in this world where the most mundane and inconsequential tasks are no longer tedious. So its easy to complain and worry for things that don’t really affect our lives. They just make us feel better about the guilt we have for having all this around us. So we focus on racism, sexism, intolerance, green things, capitalism, and all the other -isms. All the while you take for granted the pretty flower made in the froth of your $5 coffee.

I hear my many friends talk about this horrendous event in Orlando, and for good reason. I ache in my heart for those lost and their families. But, instead of focusing on the source of the problem, we look at this assault on a lifestyle choice. Our focus is so much on political correctness and fear of offending that we overlook what is real. We live these cushy lives without a worry in the world and not see the real problem.

We focus on how refugees from wars end up on our shores and we hate our governments for not letting them in and sharing with them the same comforts we have. But do you ever think about what you are saying? There is a reason they are refugees. Do you think they really want to pack a few of their belongings, leave their homes, their homelands, their families, their rich cultural history, and move to an unknown foreign land where they may not speak the same language or share the same culture? No! Absolutely not! Most would rather live a comfortable existence that they have lived for generations. Yet no one was there to stop the plague. Nobody was there to protect them. Who stands up for the little guy?

What we overlook while we rest under the security blanket in which we live is that there are people who are meant for evil. Maybe most of you haven’t tried to rationalize with someone who is drunk off their skull; who is drugged beyond reproach; who are starving and would give a brick of gold for bread and water. You can’t rationalize away the core of their existence by explaining your -isms to them. You can’t say choose peace and love and think they’ll change. Their laws don’t allow that. They want you to abide by their laws and believe the way that they do. If you don’t, they want to rid you from existence on Earth. Its that plain and simple. People have bumper stickers that say “CoExist.” There is no room for that in their ideology. They want genocide.

We complain about so many silly things in this country of peace. Yet people are tortured and executed in places when you don’t believe the same way. And these ideals are being spilled onto our own lands. The SOURCE of the problem is where it starts. They first take and kill and displace and spread fear, taking up land and resources as they go along. They need to be stopped at the SOURCE. And often, the true SOURCE isn’t where you think. They are being financed. And their false ideology is being propagated. Their financing and propagation must stop.

Every wildfire has a source. It may have been a bolt of lightning; a spark from a lawn mower; a flick of a cigarette. If you let the inferno grow, it swallows forests and cities. If we could have contained the spark, it would never have grown. But now its a beast.

The Amazon.com Model

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You are welcome to disagree with me, but you will not sway my opinion. Amazon.com is my favorite place to shop.

Don’t get me wrong. I love bookstores. I love to browse. And I can get lost in libraries.

But I’ve also been in an on and off romance with Kindle technology as well. I love having several books right at my fingertips on my phone at all times. So, any down-time can be productive and stimulating. But sometimes, I need a real-life paper book. If there are pictures or illustrations, I love a book. And in general, I like to have books especially if they are something I’ll reference and go back to. But then again, there is that having it at your fingertips (and searchable) any time.

You could teach an entire college course on Amazon. You could study marketing, demographics, gender & race studies, automation, and a whole host of other categories. Sometimes, the efficiency scares me. Its almost like Amazon knows what I want before I buy it and, the next thing you know, I get a text that it was delivered at my doorstep. I compare prices. Sometimes I look at a price and then go locally to see if they can beat it somewhere. I can get a used item. And the best of all: Reviews!! I know these can be falsified, but that’s another study unto itself. I write a lot of reviews myself and I am very honest about my feelings. So I assume at least a few good reviews will help me guide my purchase.

I use wish lists. I buy people stuff from their wedding & birthday lists. I prioritize what I want. And then I let it sit and may change it to a lesser priority. It makes me thrifty.

Now, to the politics of economics. I’m a firm believer in capitalism. The poor sellers, poor products, poor reviews, end up being the places and products we don’t buy. But the Best Sellers and best reviews are what wins. And in turn, volume sells and you get a better price. It is the ultimate economic model for capitalism. The market tells you what to get. Competition wins out. Often, if you find something with only one seller and the price is too high, it usually won’t sell. And I won’t buy it. Monopolies don’t work on Amazon.

The fortunate and unfortunate aspect of efficiency is in product sourcing. I’ll admit that I buy a lot of things that take 1-2 months to arrive on a slow boat from China. But when someone sells something for 99 cents or $4.99, I can’t lose. Most of the time, I don’t know its origin. I just know its probably a long way from home if it takes a long time to ship. But if it is a good product, I’ll quickly buy it again. This is the rule of global competition.

Lastly, I’ll tell you a short story. The big hardware stores near me are all the way across town. I had a hardware store closer that I would go to when I needed something fast. But my experience was always terrible. An old guy with an apron would be wandering the aisles. He was supposed to be helpful, but it seemed more like he was assuming you’d steal something. When he asked if he could help you, you would tell him. Then, he would belittle you and make you feel stupid for not knowing what he knew. A bolt that would cost 49 cents at Lowes ended up being $3.99 at the Mom & Pop. And don’t get me started with the camping store. I haven’t set foot in there for years. They would assume you were a thief before considering you as a patron. And the prices were marked up like 400%. I was at a bike shop once and had a nice conversation with the clerk. I browsed and walked out having not bought anything. The next thing you know, the clerk is knocking on the window of my truck asking me to open my jacket so she could see what I stole!! OMG! I didn’t steal anything. She didn’t even apologize. Yep, haven’t been back, and its closed anyway.

So for me, Amazon is a judgement-free zone. I get to shop on my terms. I shop in my short-shorts with a cup of coffee by my side. And with 2-day free shipping for Amazon Prime, I’m always the happiest camper around.

Are you really THAT hungry?

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[Sorry, but the assumption I’m making is that you are on a computer or mobile device and have the means for at least a little food on a regular basis. I honestly feel for those who are really starving.]

First, you should remember the Rule of 3’s for Survival. In the most extreme situations, you can SURVIVE for more than:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

I highlight the last one because you aren’t going to starve if you miss lunch!!!

As a society, we thrive on tradition, on rituals, on status quo. We are raised to do things a certain way and freak out if we have to think out of the box. I recently saw this when someone didn’t receive a fork to eat something when they could have easily used their fingers. If we always get 3 squares a day, then that’s what we expect.

The truth is, we all carry a decent amount of body fat. I heard on a podcast the other day that Rich Froning, the Fittest Man on the Planet, was at 11.2% bodyfat. I’ve had a goal of getting under 10%, so now I don’t feel so bad about myself. When I wrestled in school, I was at 5% bodyfat, which I think is very unsafe. Even bodybuilders will struggle when they get at their leanest. Its what they do to win, but most would rather have a cheeseburger.

The book I was reading said that most animals perform best when they are hungry. There are physiological reasons for this that you can read about. Elite performance occurs in a hungry state. It is when you are most focused to perform…because you have to. After a Lion feeds to the point of satiation, a.k.a. not hungry anymore, they are fairly docile creatures. Gazelles and Kudus will walk around them without fear knowing they just fed.

When I teach or take a yoga class, I prefer to do it on an empty stomach. I’ve found doing rigorous activity that includes a lot of forward folds and twists works better when you don’t have a full belly. Runners, weightlifters, and other exercisers know this is true as well. My nephews learned the hard way what happens if you eat before going to football practice in the Arizona heat. Bad results!!

So, long story short. Without realizing it, we perform best in sports on an empty stomach. Its possibly true for work and home life as well. When I used to eat a big breakfast or lunch every day, I would be sluggish for a few hours afterward from having FBS (Full Belly Syndrome). I would say my productivity dropped by at least 50%.

Side note: It is idiotic when dieticians and so-called experts say eating food boosts metabolism. What it boosts are enzymes needed for digestion. That’s it. And there is no such thing as thermogenic foods. Eating food doesn’t burn fat. Don’t let anyone tell you differently!

So, as a Warrior Diet advocate, I rarely eat until dinner time. I seem to function better, I’m more efficient since I don’t need a lunch break, and I don’t seem very hungry most of the time. I know I’m not going to die if I miss a meal. And I fuel myself with as many calories as I want later in the day. Its a MYTH that if you eat late at night it will make you fat and you’ll not sleep well. Its the opposite. I’m digesting when I am inactive. And I sleep very well since all the blood is rushing to my stomach and bowels for digestion. Then, the next morning, I’m not hungry. I drink some coffee and enjoy my day. And I don’t eat sugar or carbs, at least until dinner, so I don’t have insulin spikes. Every time insulin rises, you feel even more hungry. Instead, hormones make me feel satiated and I burn fat throughout the day. I use my own body fat instead of using sugar intake for energy. Its a Win-Win situation!

 

 

Its the little things in life

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I taught a Rocket Yoga class last night and left feeling like I’ve found my purpose.

I didn’t realize until afterward that a new person strolled into class. When it dawned on me afterward, I asked. She actually had been to a Rocket class that someone substitute taught for me last week. And she enjoyed it so much that she came back.

Rocket is a lot like CrossFit. I know if I programmed a killer workout that made an obvious change in a person’s life, I’d feel so satisfied that my effort wasn’t in vain. I know that Rocket is different from a regular Vinyasa Flow class, or even an Ashtanga class. It takes something simple and cranks it up a notch…maybe a few notches.

Here are a few staples of the practice:

  • The standing series begins with a 5 breath hold Bakasana
  • A long standing flow on the right side, then the left
  • Pincha mayurasana follows standing flows
  • Prasarita Padottanasana series includes a tripod headstand
  • Rocket Abs integrates Navasana with leg lifts and holds
  • Nearly every Navasana ends with a handstand, and there are quite a few
  • Many forward folds end with an arm balance
  • Ardha matsyendrasana transitions with a handstand or headstand in between
  • We always do chakrasana (and I’m not talking about upward bow) and pigeon pose
  • Pranayama (breath practice) is for advanced Ashtangis, so that’s what we do

Garsh do I love the excitement I feel from this practice.

When Friends Fade Away

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I can still look at pictures from the past. I think of the warmth or cold, the wind, what I was wearing, who I was with. We take a last glance before we leave. We sit on the airplane thinking about what we’ve seen. Will we ever see it again? But when we get back to the comforts of home, we appreciate its safety. We know where everything is. We sleep soundly without odd noises or wondering who’s head was on your pillow before you. We wake the next day with our mental checklist, checking off things of daily life and work. Its back to the mundane task of sitting at the computer, typing out things that you wonder if anyone will ever read.

The beauty you just saw is now a distant memory. It vanishes like the wind. Maybe 5 or 10 years from now, you stumble on an old photo. Facebook pops up a memory of old and you vividly remember that moment once again. But its so distant you wonder if was even you.

Its how life is. We see the face of a friend and wonder how we could have deeply known them like we did. We want to reach out to them and reconnect, but you’d only have to leave again. We value what we can reach out and touch. Those distant sights and people are just that…distant. Memories. One moment you long for them. The next, you’re caught in the present.

Savor the times you’ve had. But like a luxurious dessert, once you’ve tasted the goodness, the goodness is gone. And we move on…

Its a Good Day!

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I always feel so good after teaching yoga. I taught Rocket Yoga last night and it left me feeling like I had practiced myself.

Patthabi Jois said “99% practice, 1% theory”. Yet, he was a Sanskrit scholar, an educator,  well respected for his knowledge of the ancient texts. He taught these other aspects tangentially through the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. What is interesting is that only with his most advanced students who he felt could go deeper, he taught Pranayama. Long after the Asana practice, they would be working on their breathing. It is the next “physical” practice that leads you to higher limbs of yoga.

No, I don’t equate myself with Guruji. But I feel Rocket is an advanced level class. I sometimes forget that and assume a lot about my students. When a beginner or intermediate yogi, or even a non-Ashtangi, attends my class, it all comes to light again how special this practice is. When someone comes in and can’t even do sun salutations on their own. When they don’t even know about Ujjayi breath, a central pillar of the Tristhana method of Ashtanga yoga. I quickly remember how unique we are.

In the closing sequence, following Yoga Mudra, we usually take some time in Padmasana for Pranayama. Last night, we did Kumbhaka Pranayama, or breath-retention practice. I was counting so I wasn’t doing it myself, but I felt the effect of it. It put me deeply into Samadhi. Usually, when I put them to rest into Savasana, I’m not super focused. I’m counting students, thinking of temperature and sounds, I’m watching the time. Last night, I got into Virasana with Dhyana Mudra, which is normal for me, and I zoned out. I lost track of time. My Pratyahara was so strong. I was inwardly focused in a meditative state. It completely changed my evening. I sensed my students were feeling similar effects.

Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah. The Purpose of Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. If you’ve done that, you’ve done Yoga.