Don’t Poke the Bear!

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There is an Oklahoma University running back who got in trouble a few years ago for punching a girl. Let me begin by saying, I’m as chivalrous of a man as they come. I would never think of hitting a woman, nor would I want to be hit by one. I don’t condone that (well, unless she’s a tough lady who needs sparring partners in an MMA or boxing gym). But if you weigh like 115 pounds and you start slapping someone who is a very strong 225 pounds, well, that might sting a little.

I used to ride around with a little ball of fire who I worked with in the corn fields during grad school. She was like 5 foot if she was lucky and super petite. Yet, she had a mouth on her and didn’t take any gruff from anyone. She was also a very aggressive driver. She’d honk and yell at people and ride their bumpers. I told her to be careful because she may not know who or what kind of person she is up against. I also didn’t want to be the guy who ends up trying to defend her because I’m not exactly huge myself. I really hope for her sake that she didn’t poke at a big bear somewhere down the road.

One time, I was a kid riding around downtown Kansas City with my family. We were on a big overpass completely stopped in traffic. There was a big semi-truck right in front of us. Well, this portly little guy in a white t-shirt that was too small for him steps out of his little car in front of the big truck and starts yelling at the truck driver. Then his little wife gets out too and starts screaming. They went on for like 5 minutes without any reaction. He must have said some trigger word, because he poked the bear. This huge beast of a man in boots calmly steps out of the truck, lays his black cowboy hat on his seat, and shuts his door. In just a few seconds, that fat little guy with a big mouth had his t-shirt pulled over his head and his white t-shirt is now red from all the blood. His wife is trying to get him back up from the ground. The manly man opens his door, puts his hat back on, and sits down. I don’t think that little guy calculated the consequences of his actions very well.

Maybe you only see bears as these cute, cuddly beasts. I appreciate your naiveté. These people who let their little ones wander into the lions den at the zoo have learned the hard way. Bears can run as fast as a horse for short distances; they can climb trees; they have tendon attachments that make them super strong; they can swim very well; they eat anything from salmon to berries to stupid humans sleeping with a Snickers bar in their pocket; and they can smell blood for miles. You can shoot a .357 full metal jacket directly at its skull and it just might glance off and keep on coming. You can run, but you can’t hide. Take a look at Navy Seal or Army Ranger training some day. Maybe you’ll find out what I’m talking about. Go ahead and poke.

If some little Iranian boats are sputtering around a huge U.S. Navy Destroyer, I’d be careful. The rules of engagement have changed. Red lines drawn in the sand; well, don’t bother stepping across nowadays. We’ve grown some backbone since our paper tiger jabs in Syria. Killing our soldiers and police officers; nope, not a good idea. And quiet guys and gals in the shadows might not sit on their hands anymore. Its time we take our country back. Nobody is threatening anyone. But loud talkers have been stirring this pot about 30 minutes too long. Journalists used to get away with whatever they wanted to say. Now they are being called on it. Little people wearing pink carrying signs are nothing against a wall of grain fed beef. I suppose some will do it anyway if they’ve never felt what its like to be in a street fight. Take this one morsel of advice, don’t go poking at bears if you don’t know what you’re up against. I sure wouldn’t.

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Why Glowga?

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Why not? 🙂

Actually, it is a good question that was posed to me on social media. Why do we do things that seem opposed to what yoga is meant to be? Doesn’t it take away from our Dharana—our ability to have focused concentration? Doesn’t it distract Pratyahara—our exclusion of the external senses?

Maybe.

I taught a Rocket Yoga class this past New Year’s Eve. I actually embraced these concepts. Usually, when we get on our mat, we live in the now. We forget about the past, our current limitations, our negative feelings, and our expectations for the future. We live on our mat at this time and place without judgment (Ahimsa). But in this class, I asked students to allow the memories of the year to creep into their thoughts. I wanted them to “burn the bad” with their Tapas, or inner flame. Use their sweaty discipline to clear the negative from their lives. But then they were to savor the good, like a salty caramel treat in their mouths. Instead of wishing the New Year to come with haste, embrace all the good with every last fleeting minute of the year. It was the opposite of Pratyahara.

There are times when I’ve done yoga at the edge of the ocean; I’ve meditated amongst towering trees; and practiced my breath while perched inside of a kayak on still waters. These are times when we are not excluding the external. We become one with our surroundings. We are grounded to the Earth’s vibrations of AUM. There is a time to be at peace and time to celebrate.

Glowga, or glow light yoga with neon bracelets and blacklights, is a celebration! Its a time when we can share breath, dance to the music, and burn our inner fires. The 8th limb of yoga is Samadhi. It means we have found our bliss. It is an internal, spiritual renewal that refreshes us to live another day. Some may use other ways to build endorphins and allow serotonin to bathe our senses. But Yoga, or Glowga, is as good as it gets. And maybe it does get a bit chaotic and frantic. In the end, we burn all of that away. Once we settle into savasana, we can find Dhyana, our meditative state. We’ve charred the excess and savor the fragrance of peace.

My answer to why Glowga is many fold. Celebration. Chaos. Fire. Bliss. Peace.

99% Practice, 1% Theory

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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.

Sweaty Hot Mess

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So I’m chillin, enjoying my evening watching TV when all the sudden my wife asks “don’t you teach hot yoga tonight?”

OH CRAPPPPP!

It’s 7:07 PM and I teach at 7:30 PM and the studio is all the way across town! Yikes!!

I had some workout shorts on and it was freezin cold out. So I just threw on something over me, grabbed my gear, and ran out the door. It was a smooth drive there and someone set the heat on high for my hot yoga class. So not bad for having to rush around.

Then, I realize I didn’t finish my playlist. I add 3 more songs and put them in order and I’m set.

I have a full class. I mean, its a small room and I had 21 yogis. Wow!

You know, when you give speeches or presentations to a large group, they say you can over prepare. If you write out your thoughts word-for-word, you end up reading it word-for-word and boring the heck out of your audience. Instead, if you know your stuff well, you should be able to let it flow out of you. I usually have a few things prepared in my mind. But I had nothing planned at all…nothing even remotely in my mind.

So, with nothing prepared, I just rolled with my class. I asked yogis if there was anything in particular they’d like to do or bodypart of focus. Hamstrings! OK!

Cue the music…breathe…let’s begin.

It turned out to be one of the funnest classes I’ve ever taught. The energy was electric and the sweat flowed freely. We kept it simple since the room was so packed. We focused a lot on “core” and savoring the heat. And, I demonstrated a lot through the class since I positioned myself right in the middle. So it felt good for me too.

Afterward, I got a lot of questions. And my heart was full of joy!

Sometimes, whirlwinds are best savored when they bathe you with their fury.

High Intensity doesn’t have to Kill You

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I’ve been a Competitive, Type-A person all my life. If I didn’t have a chance of winning, I didn’t bother trying. Its how I approached CrossFit for the first years I did it. I wanted to be the Top Dog; top of the leader board.

My stance has largely moderated mostly due to Yoga. Even when I did yoga, I was striving to achieve. I wanted to conquer all the poses. I would bludgeon myself into getting what I wanted often ending up in injury. But it was Yoga teacher training that changed all of that. I began to explore the more subtle, gentle, mindful aspects of the practice. It didn’t matter as much to me that I “got” a pose or not. Teacher says; teacher does. I also implore this in the students I teach. I always say, “We are all on a journey and where we are in that journey is just fine.” I mean that. This non-harming attitude should prevail in all of life. It leads to satisfaction, contentment, and feelings of self-worth.

As I apply this to CrossFit, I am starting to learn how this non-harming influence applies. You have to ask yourself, what is your intention for your workout (or yoga practice)? Is it to get your heart cranked up; to apply a technical movement with quality while tired; or to lift something heavy with good form in the midst of a good amount of discomfort. These are all qualities that sharpens the spear and makes you better. But, if 50 toes to bar or Heavy DT with 225 pounds only leads to injury and failure, why do it? We have to peel away the ego and meet the intention instead of padding our masculinity.

Here are a 5 tips to feeling successful in CrossFit:

  1. Focus on quality, near non-stop action in a 5 to 10 minute WOD (workout of the day); throw in a 20 minute Cindy now and then and keep moving.
  2. Forget Rx. Scale down as often as you can. Think in 3-6-9 rep ranges and move weight fast and hard. Do some 2 minute blitzes and 30 rep Grace workouts. Use less weight and keep it moving.
  3. Tabata workouts are our friends. If your intention is cardio, then these are perfect. Use “Tabata Songs” on Spotify and other places. You may do pushups, situps, kettlebell swings, double unders, or whatever. Its the perfect (scientific) solution.
  4. Mix up your sequence. Routine kills. Sometimes, do your WOD as a warm-up for an Olympic weightlifting session. Or add a heavy Powerlifting movement into an AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible). And anything Strongman is the ultimate CrossFit.
  5. Plan for success. Instead of feeling terrible after a workout, leave a little in the tank. Then you’ll be straining at the bit for more. Finish with a 1K Row or a run and you’ll feel just fine.

Leaving a little in the tank also means you aren’t hobbling with soreness for a week without working out or risking injury. You might find you can workout nearly every day if you want to. But you still get the benefits of strength and stamina that high-intensity workouts provide. Honestly, you don’t have to kill yourself to see progressively better results.

6 Ideas for Sandbag Hot Yoga

Last night, I was inspired to teach a class that largely used sandbags throughout. I had plans for specific movements, but as I was going along, I was able to create other spaces to play with them as well. I’ve seen pics and video of CorePower yoga and other such styles using weights. Sandbags in a studio with cork floors is much safer. And, you can double or triple sandbags when you desire more effect. Here are a few juicy postures we explored:

  1. Utkatasana – chair with sandbag at the chest
  2. Parsvokonasana/Trikonasana – side angle and triangle pose with the sandbag in one hand with arm extended directly over the shoulder.
  3. Skandasana/Goddess Squats – side lunges and goddess pose holding sandbag at the chest.
  4. Janu Sirsasana – one-legged head to knee stretch while seated. I had them drape the sandbag across the middle of the extended thigh to create extra pressure, much like what is done is restorative classes. You can do this for many seated postures.
  5. Rocket Abs/plow – that’s what I call laying on your back with legs up lowering to a straight legged hover. I had them use the straps of the sandbag into both big toes hanging toward the shins. We lowered to a hover for 5 breaths and then slowly went back to a plow pose.
  6. Viparita Karani – This is the classic legs up with wall with sandbag across the soles of the feet. So scrumptious. We finished practice like this in lieu of savasana.

At home, instead of sandbags, you can use a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a milk jug. Instead of feeling cumbersome, weighted poses create a different sensation and really nice grounding. I also recommend doing the pose without the weight directly afterward for a “contrast” effect.

NOT Setting Goals

Andy Yoga

I was listening to a Barbell Shrugged podcast and they reinforced something I’ve heard elsewhere. Maybe you’ve heard it as well. It is about Goal Setting. They say “Habits before Outcomes”.

Outcomes to Avoid:
“I will lose 10 pounds in January”
“I will bench press 200 pounds”
“I will run a marathon”

Instead, develop better habits that help you achieve your desires.

Habits to Develop:
“Half of my healthy dinner plate will be colorful vegetables”
“Every Saturday, I’ll work up to my best set of 5 reps on the bench press”
“I will run at least one loop around the park after work each day”

It is admirable to set a goal and then tell everyone. You want to be accountable to your goals, right? Wrong! I don’t mean completely wrong. But, psychologically, if you announce that you want to squat 400 pounds, then you’ll get your praise…

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