Learning Yoga Bodies

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Funny story: I was playing on a church softball team. We were up to bat and I was serving as the 3rd base coach. I was fairly new to the team, so I didn’t know the players all that well. We had a man on 2nd base and the batter just hit a long ball out into center field. I was thinking, even if I ran slowly, I could easily make it home on that hit. So here I am waving this guy to home. He was like 6’3″ tall and thin. He looked like a giraffe in a slow motion video. I’m certain he didn’t have a single fast-twitch muscle in his entire body. Needless to say, he was easily tagged out at home and I was berated by him for waving him in. I didn’t have the guts to fight back and say “dude, how can you be SO slow!”

I have a lot more experience with reading bodies now that I’ve taught yoga for a while. I have seen a lot of bodies since then in CrossFit, gymnastics, and other sports. I can see a runner and automatically know that one leg seems longer or if they have an injury or tightness. I can watch an Olympic weightlifter and see a strength or weakness very quickly. I’m nothing special, I just have a lot of experience studying how bodies move.

In yoga class, I can often tell if someone is capable of going deeper. If they are inches from a bind or close to reaching their hand to foot, I’ll often help them in that direction. My intuition is getting pretty good. But I can also see when there is a body like mine. I have a lot of years under my belt, I eat well, I lift a lot, and my body doesn’t move like your average yogi. So when I see someone who is strong or not super pliable, I can often tell that they won’t get a bind or attempt deeper variations. So I help them where they are and don’t push for the full expression of a pose.

Sometimes, people surprise you. The other day, I sort of condescended to someone by talking them into headstand. But they just popped up into it without any trouble. I didn’t read that one correctly since I was just going by facial expression and body language. Sometimes, I see a bigger body and they are very pliable. Or an older person who has amazing strength. I love those pleasant surprises.

If you are a teacher, getting experience by watching bodies is super helpful. Sometimes, I think it is more difficult for a naturally gifted athlete or super-limber yoga teacher to understand the limitations. I was once helping someone do muscle-ups on rings using a flexible band. As I was doing this, the coach walks over and adjusted it differently. And that change was largely ineffective. So when the coach walked away, I had them do it how I was showing her. This coach does muscle ups with ease, so he didn’t understand what I was doing since he never had to use that assistance. But it was something I had studied and practiced myself for years. A yoga teacher who pops into binds easily and twists into complicated poses without a problem sometimes doesn’t understand. Sometimes they do. But its good to feel those limitations. If you don’t know what it feels like to weigh 300 pounds, you can easily load yourself up with weight until you can understand. Try to get in and out of a car, or try a downward-facing dog with that weight. Its not easy.

Learn bodies. Learn empathy. And be of real help to your students.

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The REAL Power Yoga

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To tell you the truth, by the true definition of the word, there isn’t a REAL Power Yoga.

“Power” is the speed at which work is done on an object (Physics). This doesn’t even apply to the sport of PowerLifting. Power is not involved! If you are deadlifting 800 pounds, you are focusing on pulling that weight up, not at doing it quickly. We don’t hold a stopwatch and do a deadlift for time. That would be silly. That’s not the goal. If anything, that is closer to Olympic weightlifting. When you are lifting the bar in a clean and jerk or snatch, you pull it up quickly to get air under the bar as you drop as fast as you can under the bar. Weightlifting would be closer to “Power” lifting because there really is a speed component, though it still isn’t done for time.

The same is true with Yoga. In the classes I teach, we never forcefully move through a pose with speed. That would be both dangerous and ineffective. Yes, we do use “Strength”. You hold chaturanga or warrior 3 with a lot of strength. Arm balances and many inversions involve strength. Mayurasana and Navasana are held with strength. But “Power” is never involved. We aren’t doing any strengthening poses quickly.

If it were my choice, we would never call something Power Yoga. It is a misapplication of its meaning. Call it Strength Yoga. If its Ashtanga, just call it Ashtanga. But Power Yoga makes no sense at all

[meanwhile, I’m substitute teaching Power Yoga tomorrow, so I’ve been thinking about this]

Yoga: Pet Peeves

Haha! Pet Peeves? Dislikes? Yeah, probably too strong of words. Well,…er….some things do bother me a lot or are simply unsafe. But I’ll let you decide if they bother you too.

  1. Going too deep, too early. Safely warming the body temperature is needed before going deep.
  2. If you specifically go to an Ashtanga or Iyengar class (e.g.), you are expected to follow the style pointers. But to insist on specifics in a general flow class is unnecessary. Let people feel and just BE!
  3. If I wanted Body Pump, Zumba, or Pilates, I’d go to those classes. There are some movements that make sense. But most don’t follow what yoga is supposed to be.
  4. Extensive alliterations that make no sense to my body. Sometimes we get mystical and cartoonish when we say silly things that are way overdone. “Give in to the breath”, “Allow the left patella to attract to the right patella”, “Sink your liver into your spine and give weight to the kidneys”….Huh???
  5. Unequal timing to both sides of a pose. I know, sometimes we as teachers lose track. Sometimes we even forget the other side. But we need to try to keep things equal.
  6. Loud music in savasana. I actually prefer silence.
  7. Also over-cueing in savasana. Talk beginners into the position and then clam up! Some teachers talk through the entire savasana.

These are just 7 off the top of my head. I’m sure you can find many more.

 

3 WOD morning!!!

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I’ve started a new work and yoga teaching schedule this week. I think I’m going to love it. I’m so excited to share:

  • Mon – rest day, yoga prep – Teach Rocket Yoga in evening
  • Tue – rest day, yoga prep – Teach Candlelight Yoga in eve
  • Wed – a.m. CrossFit, p.m. Olympic weightlifting complexes
  • Thu – a.m. Bodybuilding, p.m. Olympic weightlifting
  • Fri (week 1) – a.m. MAX lift Friday – p.m. Hot Yoga class
  • Fri (week 2) – a.m. Sunrise Yoga class – trail run, kayak, fish, camp
  • Sat – teach noon Rocket Yoga – p.m. hero, chipper, EMOM*
  • Sun – a.m. short WOD*, Olympic complexes, Tabata – p.m. Restorative Yoga class

*WOD = workout of the day. EMOM = every minute on the minute.

On Monday & Tuesday, I work 10 hour days and 8 hour days the rest. Then I take every other Friday off. Its a “ME” day!!!

After two rest days, I was chomping at the bit to workout. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do today, so I set up a short WOD. Then I did another…then another. Yay for 3 WODs. Here is what I did:

WOD 1: 3 rounds for time (warmup)

  • 10 ring dips
  • 10 wall ball shots 20#

WOD 2: 7 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)

  • 7 deep parallette pushups
  • 4 pullups
  • 11 back extensions on machine

WOD 3: 4 rounds for time

  • 3 strict toes to bar
  • 6 kettlebell swings 1.5 pood
  • 9 double unders

These were fairly easy wods, so I focused on keeping going without much rest and strict form. I felt totally refreshed afterward. The goal wasn’t to get sore, but to get a good heart pump. It was a completely athletic workout. Tomorrow will be for getting sore when I do bodybuilding. It will be all about eccentric contractions and the pump.

Don’t you love a new workout plan? It is so invigorating!!!

 

Be Nice to your Yoga Teacher

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And personal trainer too!

When I was in yoga teacher training, someone said that when you are in a yoga class, the teacher is likely the least wealthy (by money standards) in the room. This is probably true in most cases. Many yoga teachers I know are University students, small-company entrepreneurs, or some other transitional status. This is also likely the case for many personal trainers and other service professionals.

I am probably in the minority in that I have a full-time job as a scientist. But I also know this is all relative. I was teaching a class at a gym with a lot of older members and retirees. I noticed as I was walking to my 2004 Ford F150 truck a lot of BMW’s, Mercedes, and fancy Cadillac’s. So I was probably the poorest person in class that day.

Regardless of our social status, we provide a service to the community. For me, I see this service as a necessity. But in the context of worldly needs, it could be seen more of a pleasure than a need. I still see yoga as a need in that it maintains my health and mental state, of which I’d be a hot mess without it. I’d probably miss days of work from my bad back and I’d probably go a little crazy. So yeah, its a need for sure.

So be nice to your service professional. They care for you and want to see you reap the benefits of a healthy yoga practice.

Namaste!

Baby Steps to the WOD

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Mental barriers to working out are huge for most people. We are full of excuses.

  • I don’t have my clothes with me to workout
  • I’m sore. Maybe I’ll just rest today
  • I don’t have time
  • I’ll be too sore to function if I workout hard
  • I’ll just do this tomorrow instead

And these are only a few that I use myself. As a yoga teacher, I need to be able to demonstrate poses in classes I teach. If I wipe out my chest and can’t do a single chaturanga, that’s not good. So I structure workouts around that. Many of us have something that holds us back. Time seems to be the biggest hurdle.

These excuses are largely invalid. Instead of simply walking down the hall, lunge or hop down the hall. That is, if your colleagues don’t mind. Maybe do 50 squats or 30 pushups in your office or cubicle. That takes all of 1 or 2 minutes. Sit forward on your chair and lift your legs for a 1 minute hold. There really are no excuses.

I’m lucky that I have a very well-equipped CrossFit gym in my basement. I have everything from competition Olympic KG bumper plates, to Concept 2 rower and ski erg, to wall balls. There really aren’t many excuses for me NOT to workout. I could easily stroll down in my jammies or my work clothes and bust out a WOD. But why don’t I do that? Because my mind won’t let me.

So, this morning, I almost called off my workout. I teach Rocket Yoga tomorrow and thought, I really don’t want to be sore tomorrow. But you know what? I can make a WOD (workout of the day) that doesn’t affect my yoga teaching muscles too much. I was short on time, so this is what I did.

WOD 1: 5 rounds for time

  • 5 kettlebell swings 1.5 pood
  • 5 burpees

This was short and sweet and took under 5 minutes – and my heart jumped out of my skin. I rested less than 2 minutes and went to the next WOD.

WOD 2: 5 rounds for time

  • 5 pullups
  • 10 push press with 30 pound dumbbells

Again, this was nothing really. But I worked opposing muscle groups and got my heart pumping. Both of these WODs hurt. If something seems easier, then you go faster and it hurts just as much.

All together this took under 15 minutes. And I was sweating hard and was totally exhausted. But now I feel wonderful. It doesn’t take much at all. You just have to do it. Don’t even think about it. Don’t even pre-plan. Just get it into your mind that you’ll do something. And do it!!

A Model Yoga Teacher

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Actually, there isn’t a model for any teacher.

When I went to Army Drill Sergeant’s Academy at Fort Knox, Kentucky, we studied leadership styles extensively. This was among hundreds of topics that we studied from psychology, to personal development, to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There is a template for teaching that contains the core elements. Leading by example by having the best appearance possible; having the physical ability to do above and beyond what most soldiers are capable of; and having the utmost discipline from what we do with our own litter to always being punctual. We never ask of a soldier something we wouldn’t do ourselves.

Over time, Drill Sergeant’s, elementary school teachers, yoga teachers, adopt characteristics from many mentors to create an amalgamation of style that is all their own. As we go along, we continually refine and find new inspiration. I think of numerous teachers in my path who helped make me who I am today. I never mimic a single person or one particular template.

That being said, there is one yoga teacher who stands out as a model for me. I took his classes religiously and admired his style. This was when I first started into my dedicated yoga journey. At the beginning of class, I could see he was studying his notes and working through postures on his own. Yet, he was still approachable and would talk with us as we entered the studio. He would often mention the peak pose for the day, so we always knew the goal. He challenged us to do our best. He praised us saying “you all did great. That was a hard pose!” He would pat us on the back and encourage us. But he was also stern. He would say “don’t you dare look down in chaturanga!” All his cues still stand out in my mind. You could tell he brought his own practice to the class to share with us. And he always gave assists in savasana that were amazing!

I not only admired his teaching style, but also his commitment to practice. Much of his practice was taking classes from other teachers. Yes, I would see him in the Ashtanga Primary series. But I would also see him in Fundamentals, Restorative, and Hot Yoga classes. Even though he was capable of harder variations of poses, he often took an easier variation. You could tell he was aware of his body and, possibly, the mood he was feeling. Sometimes the Raja isn’t there. Sometimes a more Tamasic practice is what is needed. I learned all of this from him. And I enjoyed practicing along side him. I have a few teachers who still mentor me in this way and I aspire to do the same for others.

Unfortunately, I see many teachers who never take classes from others. I don’t know if it is that they¬† don’t enjoy styles outside of their own. Maybe they only do their own personal practice and choose not to take from others. I’d hate to think that they felt they are above other teachers or have nothing left to learn. That would be a shame. We should all remain students. And I feel everyone has something to offer us. It may be a smile or a word. Or it could be a creative sequence or cue that we’ve never heard before. Just like our yoga practice, we never arrive as teachers.

Keep your minds open. Keep your hearts soft. Always be a student of life.