Mis-Reading Yoga Energy

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As a yoga teacher, some days are better than others. Most of the time, we are able to read, and feel, the energy given from the students in our classes. Honestly, I think the overall mood of the class depends a lot on the weather. One day, there was a big weather front coming in and the air was thick with humidity. I think the low atmospheric pressure was affecting moods and energy. I was personally not ready to practice yoga that day. So I started out very slowly for a class that is supposed to be high intensity. We eased into the high intensity part just so it wouldn’t be as uncomfortable.

The moon also affects our energy. It is one reason why Ashtanga yoga prescribes “Moon Days”, which occur during full and new moons. You don’t practice those days since its when we can feel the greatest gravitational pull. Mula Bandha can only do so much for us (haha!). Maybe its more psychological, but I definitely feel it on those days.

So last week, I taught a moderate intensity class meant for beginner-intermediate yogis. I felt a little off and didn’t think I was connecting very well with my class. I try my best to be playful and offer easier and harder modifications for many poses. I also play upbeat music that helps energize students. I do all I can to create an atmosphere that helps yogis find their flow. As we went along, I saw a lot of blank stares in their eyes. I heard groans and sensed lethargy as they transitioned into poses. When I offered advanced poses, I saw frustration and many not even attempting the harder variations. I was ready to write that class off as lost.

To my amazement, I got a huge response after the class. Several asked me about other classes I teach, like Rocket Yoga, and asked if they should try them. Others said they like my style and my yoga teaching voice. I heard some go on and on about my music playlist saying that it lifted them up when they were struggling. Others asked me more specifically about getting into a certain pose or how to overcome obstacles. I was so pleasantly surprised.

You can’t always judge a yoga class by the feel during class. I know when I was running a trail ultramarathon or in the midst of a hard CrossFit workout, I looked like death warmed over. But afterward, I was often ecstatic for having accomplished what I just did. I was proud of the hardships and wallowed in bliss. But you couldn’t tell that during the event. Ahimsa applies to yoga teachers too! The quality of non-judgement should be applied at all times. And I’m not looking for praise. But when it comes and we can celebrate together, then everyone is happy.

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Oh Those Bodybuilders…

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Without stereotyping myself, I’ve been into something called functional fitness for about a decade now. Actually, if you do sports, strongman, or anything that looks like training we did in the military, then you are doing functional fitness. You can pick apart the definition for functional all you want, but I’ve recently opened my mind to this more.

I love the performance based training that I do, but that kind of all-out training can be difficult to maintain without wearing yourself out both mentally and physically. In past months, I’ve adopted some of the old-school bodybuilding techniques that I was raised with. I’m really noticing tendencies and weaknesses from the training I’ve done. For instance, an incline dumbbell fly looks nothing like anything I’ve done for 10 years. You don’t have the benefit of leverage or momentum. Its just you and this crazy movement. I can feel tweaks in my shoulders where injury and weakness lie. And, I’m starting to feel that “pump” again that Arnold talked about in Pumping Iron. I’m not huge per bodybuilder standards, but I can feel that flush of blood into the muscles. It feels good…real good!

To tell you the truth, when I came to CrossFit, I was already pretty strong from bodybuilding and powerlifting. When they said to squat or deadlift, I was right there with everybody. When they said do pullups or heavy kettlebell work, I’m all over it. But when they said to do something for reps or something dynamic like box jumps or jump ropes, I wasn’t there at all. I was a top-fuel dragster that flamed out quickly. I wasn’t the stock car that was strong to a long-finish.

But what I’ve lost in finding a longer-lasting performance is the ability to strictly apply strength. I’ve lost what it meant to “feel” the muscle as it contracts. I mean, you really have to get your mind into the muscle itself. It feels really good to be in that space. And a great side effect is that my muscles are growing again.

Life is about balance. We try things, we learn, and we adapt. Find your place in life.

Don’t talk about Religion

leave it to beaver

They say in polite conversation, like in social settings or at a fancy dinner, you don’t bring up religion or politics. I think this is a good general rule of thumb.

But…

I’ll say something about it because I can.

I’m not ashamed of my beliefs. I celebrate Christmas and Easter; and I celebrate for reasons other than getting presents or eating the ears off of chocolate bunnies. So maybe that narrows it down.

I see a lot of social media posts where people say their religion is the outdoors. Or its something about themselves. Or whatever is under the sun. They hold it personally and say that others shouldn’t proselytize their beliefs.

Yet, they openly talk about Karma (Hindu), Zen (Buddhist), or some kind of Universalism. You know what? You are free to do those things. Just like its OK for me to talk about my beliefs. You can talk about what the Universe is telling you. You can talk about what your Tarot card reads today. You can say what the Zodiac signs are telling you. Its what you believe, and that’s what you should do.

But for me and my house, we know what we believe. I don’t adopt other faiths because of what I believe. I don’t allow astrology or cosmology to slip into my conscious thoughts. I don’t buy a Buddha just for fun and make an altar in my living room. I don’t have a big poster of Ganesha just because I think it is cool. I don’t sprinkle Holy Water because it is not something I do. I don’t even say “God Bless You” when someone sneezes because I would be abiding by a superstitious ritual. I don’t believe in superstition or karma or any of those things. I don’t adopt something just because Jennifer Aniston or some other celebrity does it. Its not what I do.

But you can do whatever you want. You believe whatever you want. I would just ask that if you are tolerant of all of those other beliefs, you should tolerate mine as well.

 

Throw Books

books in air

This may sound flippant, but throw the book at a perceived threat.

In the Army, we trained repetitively. We use the crawl-walk-run method of training. We go through every detail working up to a full fledged assault. The same is true when I wrestled. I’ve probably done every single move you can think of hundreds if not thousands of times. You do this to create muscle memory. Instead of thinking about it, you do it instinctively.

We did Immediate Action drills when on Infantry patrols. If there was a far-ambush, where you face Indirect Fire by artillery or mortars or sniper attack, you seek cover and evade. But in a near-ambush, you have no choice but to go directly into the fight as fast and as hard as you can. I won’t give details, but when you set up a near-ambush, you don’t give options for escape. So the only option is to go to the enemy.

When I’m sitting in church, I have located 2 or 3 thick hymnals, which are big, hard song books. Someone meant to do harm will focus on the speaker up front or maybe someone in particular who they are after. They aren’t expecting me to fling heavy books at full speed at their head. If you scoff at this, have someone throw a 2 pound book at your face and see how it feels. Now, imagine the whole congregation throwing books, shoes, or whatever they could find at the offender. Believe me, that person is going down. And then people need to rush that person and neutralize the threat.

book to head

Wherever you are, think of a few heavy objects you can grab quickly should something happen. If you are a person of action, make sure you are always in a place where you can be proactive. If you need to lunge at someone, be where you can be effective.

Most importantly, we have to be aware of our surroundings. Know the exits. Know places of cover. And know what weapons you can use to protect yourself and your loved ones. If every single person thought this way, we’d be much safer. Rehearse in your mind what you might do. Rehearse how to do CPR. Rehearse rolling out of bed to the side and preparing to fight. Rehearse crawling into the shelter during a tornado.

The worst thing you can think is that it will never happen to you. Most incidents happen in seconds. And help is usually at least 5 minutes away. So YOU need to be the one who protects those you love. An attacker expects an easy target. He is expecting sheep and not lions. Be the lion! Be a whole pride of lions! Don’t cower in the corner or under the desk. That is what they are expecting. Stand up for yourself and be brave.

When Loved Ones Hurt

I have a good friend in the hospital. At least, I think I still have a friend.

A long, long time ago, when I moved out after getting married, my little brother went off the deep end. He was adopted by my parents and we loved him dearly. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, so he was prone to just about anything addictive. This time it was huffing paint. My parents found him in the living room with paint all over and him stoned out of his mind. He proceeded to jump out of a large plate glass window and run away. My parents had to call the police because he was so uncontrollable. It took a half a dozen grown policeman to apprehend him, and he wasn’t that big. Its amazing what drugs will do to you.

Meanwhile, I didn’t know any of this had happened. My other brother moved to Phoenix and I don’t have other family in the area. All I knew was that my parents weren’t anywhere to be found for days. I started searching and wondering. I never thought to look at the living room window. All I knew was the house was dark and nobody ever answered the door.

I don’t blame my parents one bit. They went through the worst of the worst. They were in a hospital with my brother and he was strapped to the bed. They were worried sick. I don’t blame them that they never called me. They didn’t leave a note or anything. Maybe if they knew I was worried for them, they would have called or something. It wasn’t fair to me. But my brother was the priority, and I completely understood.

Mind you, I was raised in a loving but respectful household. I knew not to talk back to my parents. We were always mindful of our position in the family. One time when I was an older teenager, I talked back to my Mom and basically stopped her from trying to give me a spanking. I was too old for that and I was a wrestler in high school. Well, that news got to my Dad and he wasn’t too happy about it. It was the one and only time he threatened to throw down with me. I sorely regretted that and I never stepped over the line again. Well, maybe until this incident with my brother.

I mean, I was somewhat hysterical. I didn’t yell, but I had some stern words for my parents. I was training to be an Army Drill Instructor at the time, so I knew how to yell. I didn’t have a clue what had happened to them. Then, my Dad being my Dad; he put me in my place. He told me I was in the wrong, which in a way I was. I was showing I cared, but what they went through was worse. My anger quickly melted into empathy and compassion. He was completely right. I had no right to be angry at them for leaving me in the dark.

My friend left me in the dark too. She is in the ICU and in a really bad state. I’ve been so worried. There isn’t anyone there to contact me since I live some distance away. And she is really not in a situation to send and receive messages. The not knowing is the worst for me, but nothing compares to what she is going through. Then I open my big mouth and lash out looking for information. I’m hopeful for her return to full health. But I’m doubtful I have a friend anymore. I think it is possible to care so much that you freak out. I freaked out. I’ve done it before with my parents and brother.

My brother died some years back. He was found at the bottom of a tall bridge in Washington State. We don’t know if it was suicide or something else. I’m hopeful for my friend. I really wish her well. But I’ll be quiet now and try not to worry anymore. She’s in God’s hands now.

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.