Yoga Variability

I used to teach a morning class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was my proving ground for everything creative and unique. I think it is where I developed the most as a teacher. It was a small class of 4 or 5 yogis, all about my age and equal ability. They were game for anything. But they also had the maturity to know what they wanted and you could tell if something wasn’t right. So I had to be meticulous about how I taught that class.

My style has gravitated most closely toward Ashtanga yoga. And if you know the Primary Series, it involves a lot of forward folding. I teach Rocket yoga now, a mish-mash of the primary and higher series. There is a lot of variability in my teaching, but still not what I had from my morning classes.

I just saw a picture on social media of someone doing Wild Thing (Camatkarasana). I thought to myself “how long has it been since I’ve done that?” There are a host of poses that aren’t done in Ashtanga that I don’t do regularly. I need to be open to subbing other classes and taking classes from different teachers. That is the way to keep me in the groove of creativity. And maybe staying involved with crazy yoga challenges on social media. They think up some outrageous things on there.

We always explore and learn new skills. But if we are caught in the ditch, we need to claw our way out and breathe the fresh air. Its what keeps us alive.

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The Cost of Education Today

All is not pleasant in the Land of Lincoln. I have friends who teach at the University of Illinois where I used to work on the faculty. Even when I was there, they continually sought cost cutting measures to survive. They consolidated departments and either cut or did not renew administrative positions. Administrative support staff went to a third or quarter of what it was in just a few years. They kept talking about salary freezes and shut-downs due to budget impasses at the State Government. They are currently without a budget and threats of the same remain.

Another friend works in the Admissions office. There are record numbers of students coming in despite talking about putting a cap on enrollment. Buildings are still going up and diversification of revenue is ongoing. They are trying to attract large companies to enter in the Research Park for collaboration and student mentorship. Yet despite all of this, there is so much fiscal unrest.

The community college in town has frozen employment. I keep tabs on this since I would like to teach a few classes if I can. Yet they keep expanding and student numbers rise. Tuition rises and academic incentives decrease. The effects of the State budget impasse and possibly poor management internally at the colleges is causing havoc in the system of higher education.

Yet, politicians talk about free tuition, absolving student debt, and other freebies that make no sense at all at a fiscal level. These politicians have no clue what it takes to run education, let alone a country. I’m not sure how you pay professors who put so much into their own education. I was lucky in that my doctoral education only took 12 years of study. Some in liberal arts take much longer. That is 12 years when I am not contributing dollars to society or making money toward retirement. If I became a carpenter or plumber out of high school, I would have much more toward retirement from the git go. It makes you wonder what education is worth if you don’t reap benefits from all that work. We raise tuition, we try to raise salaries of professors to get the best and brightest in the world, and we try to make living on campus attractive as possible. Yet, somehow politicians think all of this comes out of thin air. I really don’t get it.

Feb: Lunge Every Day

Before you think I’m crazy, hear me out.

I listened to Cory Gregory for about the 5th time this morning on The Barbell Life podcast. He espouses the Squat Every Day axiom along with several others. I think he went 600 days squatting every day, hard and heavy! Now, Travis Mash, an elite powerlifter, and others follow similar guidelines. The book by Matt Perryman “Squat Every Day” is an excellent reference for these ideas. But many are talking about it.

But before you think this is a fad, hear me out!

A story is told of Milo of Croton who, when he was young, saw a calf in the field and hoisted it onto his shoulders. Every day he would go out and lift the calf. Only over time, the calf grew larger and eventually was a full-grown bull. Regardless of the story’s truth, there are people who actually work hard every day. They swing a 10 pound sledge hammer every day in rain and cold and heat. Nobody says “you need a rest day”. Nobody says “you need to swing your sledge on alternate days”. Roofers roof; miners haul; mothers pick up toddlers; and some kids may walk a mile to school every day. Nobody will tell you to take a break from your duties. Weider and Atlas developed ideas for lifting since the 1950’s and we claim their ideas as fact. When they are not really based on science. But people still take rest days, which is fine, but they aren’t always necessary. Olympic weightlifters lift 6 days a week for hours twice a day. And they only see steady progress. We adapt. We survive.

Perryman, in his book, talks a lot about soreness, fatigue, overtraining, and all these other things that we’ve concocted in our minds to avoid doing the hard work. I hate to sound like some muscle-headed Neanderthal, but most of our excuses are fluff. There is a French speaking man (sorry to forget his name) who says “Burn the questions”. Don’t ask, should I do this today? Am I too sore to workout? Why do I have to do that? Just do it. My softer side will say, keep moving. It rushes synovial fluid to your joints, it lengthens muscles thereby releasing scar tissue, and it moves lymph to usher healing hormones and growth factors to speed the process of healing, recovery, and strength building.

Over the years, I have dedicated a month, usually in July and November, to Squat Every Day. I always gain so much from doing that, not only physically, but mentally as well. Cory not only talks about squats, but he also Lunges Every Day. He started doing lunges for a quarter of a mile. And sometimes, he’d work up to a mile of lunges. If you have ever done lunges, it doesn’t take too many to make your buns so sore that its hard to sit down or stand up. That’s how good they are. Cory and Travis also talk about if you have a hole in your fitness, if you want to get your heart beating without running, if you have back or sciatic pain, then lunges are for you. And if you want to build buns for Spring Break that are shapely and strong, there is nothing better.

So lunges it is. I have an Advanced Rocket Yoga training coming up in the end of February and a CrossFit competition in April. The timing is perfect for Lunge Every Day!

Where are my yogis?

There are many reasons why yogis don’t come to class:

 

  1. the time slot is not opportune (like 6am or during work hours)
  2. class description is not attractive, maybe too hard, too easy, or just plain weird (cold-nude yoga anyone?)
  3. reputation as a teacher is not known (or poor)
  4. too costly or in a package where you can’t attend all sessions
  5. location isn’t attractive or difficult media to connect with (website difficulties)
  6. and to point #1, holidays, SuperBowl, kids out of school, Valentine’s Day,…
  7. there is a sickness going around

I was recently involved with a 6am class that I really loved. I had a group of about 5 yogis who were faithful to coming and game for anything. We really pushed each other and I often demonstrated and practiced along with them. We were all the same age and connected on many levels. But you never knew who would show up. I’ve often had only 2 people in class. A few times, one person showed up. And while it can be fun to have a personal yoga session with someone, its not cost-effective nor a wise use of your time.

Tonight, I am supposed to teach a fee-based hot yoga class at a “member’s only” gym. I really love this place and the people involved. They do physical therapy, massage, and lots of gym-style classes. The yoga is more gym-style too, which I find counter to my traditional ways at times. I’m not one to see yoga as fitness, but that’s basically all most of them want from it. I just found out that the timing wasn’t good for this class, the marketing got out late, and I am likely to have few in attendance. And this saddens me.

If I had my druthers, I’d have 25 yogis in a class with all the breath and energy they can muster. It is the most exciting time as a yoga teacher. We feed off of each other and it is amazing. But you don’t know what you’ll get out of a class with 2 or 3 people. I will make the most of it. I can always be hopeful. However, I still can’t overcome this sense of dread.

 

Ashtanga for Beginners: 5 key points

I taught the inaugural Ashtanga for Beginners class last night at Amara Yoga. Oh goodness was that fun! The yogis who participated were so responsive to everything. There were even a few seasoned Ashtangis in there, and I think they got something out of it too. But for the true beginners, it was likely the first time they heard many of the concepts I shared. My years of Yoga Fundamentals class with Linda, Ashtanga Immersion training with Kelsey, and everything I’ve learned from all my teachers came through. Several students even stayed after class to work through specific questions. It was so fulfilling as a teacher.

Here were 5 key points:

  1. Ashtanga is strict. But its your practice. We do what we do and that is perfectly fine! Don’t be afraid to join in on a class. If you are able, there is a right way to do the poses. But if you are still working on a pose, modifications are quite acceptable. Just do what you can do.
  2. Everything starts with the breath. Even though they were beginners, the Ujjayi or fierce breath was deafening. I mean, they really got into it. It goes away when their minds shift to the asanas, but they still need to keep their breath.
  3. Bandhas are not far behind. These root locks are held for the entire class until savasana. Mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jandalara bandha. The last is used less, but the other two are always engaged. They are the pelvic floor and transverse abdominus.
  4. Drishti is SO important for mental focus. Every pose has a drishti, your visual gaze, and this is emphasized in Ashtanga. It directs your energy and places your spine in the proper orientation. Concentration and inward focus are very real benefits of drishti.
  5. Props? Yeah, there was a rift way back when between yoga lineages. The Iyengar folks are masters of using props. They can be SO helpful in feeling what a pose is supposed to feel like. And it can make it safer for your body. Ashtanga insists on using your body as a prop and modifying as needed without external props. But I still say that if a block or a strap helps you to learn a pose, by all means, use them. Personally, I don’t use “props” in a class, but I do use a small hand towel to help with binds and such (since I get really sweaty even though wiping sweat is a no-no too). Ashtanga teachers may grin at your use of props, but don’t be afraid to bring what you need. A water bottle is considered a prop too since you don’t want to quench your inner fire, your Tapas, but do what you have to do. And if you find yourself trying to go prop-less, its fine to ask your teacher how to modify a pose. They will gladly help you.

The Tristhana method is key to Ashtanga: breath, bandhas, and drishti. If you focus on these 3 elements, everything else will fall into place. Never be afraid to try. Challenging yourself and trying shows your confidence and resolve to do better. Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga, always said “You Do!” And I would echo those words. You Do!

Practice and all is coming

 

Rocket Training

Whew, this 50 hour Rocket Yoga certification is coming up at the end of February. Basically, I still do Olympic weightlifting every morning since that is what makes me happy. I play with my Concept 2 Rower and Ski Erg a lot too. In the afternoons, I have been doing more specific Rocket training.

I have paralletes where I’ll jump to handstand and slowly lower to a forward fold. Then I slowly jump back to chaturanga and vinyasa. I have higher parallel bars where I’ll practice jump throughs to L-sits and then back again to chaturanga. And I do a lot of work on the gymnastic rings since I think that shoulder engagement is useful for strength and flexibility.

With dumbbells, kettlebells, and plates, I do a lot of front raises. Frontal deltoids take quite a load in Ashtanga. I do pressdowns on a cable machine, but I do them more likeĀ  a bar muscle up. Imagine doing a pull-up and then transitioning into a press-down with arms extended. It works the whole body for stronger bakasana, lolasana, and other rounding postures. Back extensions & deadlifts, sit-ups & leg raises, and loads of pushups and bench presses.

So far, I’ve noticed the difference when I am demonstrating asanas in classes and when I take classes. I have more strength and endurance than before. And because of this, I have much more focus and awareness of what I’m doing. It is a great yoga experience.