Running from the Road

Most runners have had incidents of wild beasts or, even worse, untamed people during their running journeys. I’ve had people yell expletives at me and throw things like beer bottles and cans in my direction. But two incidents put me over the edge.

One early morning at dusk, I was not even a half-mile from home when I approached an intersection. I was just moving off the sidewalk on the right side of the road. I saw a car approaching from my left turning right but didn’t quite make the turn. He jumped over the rumbled median and came directly toward me in my lane. I had to race to the curb to get out of the way. I looked directly into the driver’s face and he was completely stone drunk. I watched as he nearly bounced from curb to curb as he drove away. I lived in my first starter home in a fairly nice neighborhood of working class people. I was in grad school at the time and I wanted to build equity instead of losing money on rent. My street led back to a not so nice “projects” that always concerned me. People would stop in their car right in front of my house with the subwoofers booming. They would eat their fast food and then politely dropped their trash into my yard. But I still cherished my home. So I ran home from my near collision to make sure my home and my wife and dog were OK. He could have swerved into something or someone special to me.

Another early morning with only the streetlights illuminating my path, I was running away from home again. This home is my current home in a very nice neighborhood with very nice neighbors. I call it Pleasantville since nothing can possibly go wrong. People are polite, they pick up dog poop, and wave hello to relative strangers. We are mostly University folk or other professionals in our community. But, as I cross the tracks into an older section of town, I pass through a thoroughfare of sorts. It is a two-way street that is double wide for parking along the side, only nobody really parks on the street. So, I am on the right side of the road again, even though I’m usually on the left. But when I feel most safe, I run on the right. It was a wide road. A car was approaching with lights on from the opposite direction. It stayed in its lane the entire way, that is, until it got to me. There wasn’t another car anywhere to be seen, yet he swerved all the way over forcing me to race off the road and roll into a fence. I could see what looked like two older males. They must have had something against runners or society in general. It was obvious that they were hell bent on being mean that morning since there was no reason for them to turn into me.

Those two incidents were the icing on the cake. It forced me to swear off of roads completely. I’ve run in all of the lower 48 U.S. States and Hawaii and abroad. And these bozos ended my road journeys. I already preferred trail running, so I hung up my road shoes for good. That’s not to say that I haven’t had experiences on the trails. But animal encounters, stinging nettles, and cactus are not out to get me. Evil people are just evil. In backpacking, they say the most dangerous parts of the trail are trailheads. Miscreants are too lazy to go far down a trail. Its only the idiots who sit at trailheads who are out for no good.

I love the trails. I enjoy sharing with friends, but I prefer to go alone. All I hear is the wind in the trees, babbling brooks, birds singing, and the pitter-patter of my running huaraches or bare feet. I have this connection with the trail that I love. Its led me to ultramarathons and experiences that nobody gets to see but me. I’m obnoxious that way. I know others have seen it, but I imagine in my dreams that I am the only one.

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Yoga Is Good Enough

For people who practice yoga, and for those who don’t, I’ll say “Yoga IS good enough.” If you want to get better at yoga, do yoga. There are no tricks or shortcuts. And for general health, there is something in yoga for everyone. Its not just stretching. It is strength, flexibility, cardio, balance, mindfulness, and spirituality, all wrapped up in one practice. BUT, with that being said…

I come from a multi-athlete, CrossFit kinda background. I am very into all things fitness and sports. A little variety is just the spice that some of us need. So if you want to add to your traditional classes, here are some options:

Yoga wheel – there are several wheels out on the market. My first intent with using a wheel was for greater back flexibility. But I’m finding so many ways to use it. You can do it in front of the TV, or I will even sequence it into a workout.

Aerial yoga – Talk about reversing gravity. It almost places yoga in an opposing force. Think of doing a suspended backbend. It is a totally chest opening experience. Hammocks, slings, silks, trapeze bars, rings, oh my! Lots of options.

Hot yoga – You can do your own hot yoga. If it is hot outside, spend some times in the sun on the beach or at a park with yoga. Find your muscles lengthening with this wonderful assist. Be careful though because you can find yourself in much deeper positions than normal putting your connective tissues in a predicament. You can practice forward folds in a hot bath. I’ve even gone into a hot attic in the Summer (if safe for you) and did entire flows.

Hand weights – Kettlebells, dumbbells, wrist & ankle weights – these can add resistance and more balance in any posture. You can do sun salutations, warriors, side planks, almost anything with weights in hands. It can be mentally stimulating too. If I’ve done a side plank while holding 54 pounds, I feel invincible when I do it in class without weight. For people with wrist issues, dumbbells may be a good way to get away from some of your issues. See how it feels for you.

Office yoga – I get creative. I put my lower leg up on a desk and do a wide variety of pigeon poses, twists, and folds. In an arm chair, I’ll press into tolasana, lolasana, or an L-sit. You can hold books for chair pose or warriors.

Weight vest – Put on a weight vest for sun salutations and standing poses. Seated balances like boat pose can be a neat challenge. Planks and arm balances will really get cranked up.

Self-massage – I’m a huge advocate of massage. Going to a professional for deep tissue or Ashiatsu is invaluable in opening fascia and removing scar tissue. Search “Mobility WOD” and find Kelly Starrett. He is the CrossFit guru who take physical therapy to a whole new and personal level. Foam rollers, therapy balls (lacrosse ball is my fav), roller sticks, thera-canes, and many other possibilities. You can have these tools alongside your mat at home. Try rolling your hamstrings and glutes prior to doing a seated forward fold. Or rolling a stick on your hip flexors and inner thighs while seated in lotus. It will open you up in new and different ways.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your home practice. It won’t substitute your regular practice at the studio or home. But it may add the spice that makes your practice creative and enjoyable.

NOT Setting Goals

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 from others before ever accomplishing the goal. You may never reach that goal. Instead, keep it to yourself and set your daily habits. You can celebrate after you accomplish your mission.

Take baby steps. Don’t do something completely out of reach. Sure, maybe your next habits will be bigger. But if you’ve never run a mile, maybe don’t think about a marathon just yet. Instead, say that you will run a mile every other day. Once that becomes easy, you’ll be straining at the bit for more. Then you are ready to take the next baby step. Make it easier on yourself and accomplish small things first. In yoga, they say, don’t worry about doing a long practice each day. Just get on your mat and meditate for 5 minutes. That may be your practice. Or maybe its doing a sun salutation. You may do one and stop. Or you may do one and end up adding 4 more. Make your habits achievable.

“Habits before Outcomes”

 

Yoga Strong

In fitness, they talk about adaptation and specificity. Our bodies are remarkable in that they respond to stimulus in order to survive. If we walk or run longer, lift or stretch more, we begin to adapt to those body movements. And this adaptation takes place in very specific ways. If we change the stimulus, even slightly, then our bodies must then again respond to that change. If we always do 5 sets of 5 reps of a bench press, and we switch to 3 sets of 20, our bodies will likely be sore and will eventually adapt to that new rep scheme.

“Outlift a runner; Outrun a lifter”

That is what my t-shirt says that I bought while working at a CrossFit Games Regional event. It follows the CrossFit definition of fitness “Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements performed at broad time and modal domains”. It means that maybe we’ll not be the Master’s of any sport or fitness activity, but we can adapt pretty well to anything that pops up. If you say run 10 miles and then lift a 200 pound generator into the back of a truck, we could probably do that at the drop of a hat. We are generalists who can do almost anything.

I’m attending Rocket Yoga training at the end of February. So the goal I have is to be Yoga Strong! Using the specificity model, I could focus only on yoga and get there without doing anything else. But then I sacrifice other areas of my life. There are yogis out there who do amazing things. Their strength-to-weight ratio is remarkable. But that is only one kind of strength. Their specificity is yoga. If you asked them to run 2 miles for time or lift a refrigerator, their specific strength may not lend to those activities. They are Yoga Strong. And that’s what I need to be too. But I am a different kind of athlete. I need the quality of life that allows me to do other things as well.

So I am on a program. I love Olympic weightlifting and I think that lends to so many areas of life. I am doing a lot of rowing and skiing on my new Ski Erg by Concept 2. So strength and cardio are there. I am using gymnastics tools like paralletes, rings, and high bar. And I am certainly doing plenty of yoga. This is not a lot different from what I normally do, but my mind is focused on Rocket Yoga. I am also running. I think my waistline impedes my ability to do twists and folds comfortably and, for me, running is the fastest way to reducing body fat. But at the top of the list are bandhas, which I will describe more later. The fitness world would call it “core”, but Ashtangis would refrain from saying that. It plays a huge role in yoga strength.

I wish you well in your goals and pursuits for 2016. Remember, it is good to have specific goals, but your primary goal should be quality of life. Enhance your well-being, both body and soul.

 

7 Basics Yogis Must Know

I’ve had a lot more private yoga lessons lately, mostly with people who have never tried yoga before. It really makes you think deeply about what yoga is and the fundamentals that they need to know. Here are a few things that I find myself reinforcing over and over:

Bone stacking – head balanced over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over feet. It sounds obvious, but you don’t know how many times this needs to be corrected. In downward facing dog, you see deviations from a straight line from wrists to shoulders to hips. In Warrior II, people always lean forward.

External rotation of shoulders and arms – Elbows back or eyes of the elbows forward. It happens everywhere in yoga. In Tadasana, forward folds, chaturanga, and planks. Everywhere.

Internal rotation of thighs – Again, everywhere! It is the key to forward folds. It is the key to everything. I have the student place a block between their thighs and then rotate thighs so the block moves backward. It is crucial in so much of yoga.

Engage the balls of your feet – I’m trying to think of when this is not true. It is actually a part of the internal thigh rotation. You especially see this in Marichyasanas. Shoulder stands, standing poses, all forward folds …everywhere. No floppy feet!

Drishti – Every pose has a drishti, or focal point. You usually see beginners looking around during classes. Drishti is so important in finding focus and the direction of energy.

Breathe!!! – It sounds obvious, right? Not so obvious. I come from a powerlifting/Olympic weightlifting background. We hold our breath when we lock in a heavy lift. Not so with yoga. And when we are stressed, we inhale and then breathe shallowly. It is a good way to stay stressed. Instead, breathe deeply and evenly into your belly…always!! Learn to breathe better. Pranayama is a practice unto itself.

Tadasana in every pose – Yes, mountain pose. All that I’ve said so far are expressed in tadasana. Learning tadasana and thinking about it happens in every pose. It may be the simplest and most important pose in yoga. We must have talked about it for hours in teacher training and then hours after in all the other poses. It sounds so simple. I can talk people into the position but they take it for granted. After the first sun salutation, they go back to just standing there. What happened to Tadasana? Learn it; live it!

Glass Half Full

I really enjoy teaching a large yoga class, especially advanced classes that are thick with the sound of Ujjayi breath. You can feel the tapas radiating off their bodies and their drishtis bore into the walls like lasers. I honestly get this feeling in those classes. I walk around matching their breath as I adjust postures. I had a similar feeling when I was a Drill Sergeant in the Army. But instead of a sense of fear, yogis feel a sense of accountability. They are focusing hard on their entire experience. And I’m there to see what they cannot see. I am their mirror.

Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, had a very bold way of making adjustments. I just watched a video last night of him adjusting in Second Series Ashtanga. It was apparent how forceful he was. What is so interesting is that our teacher trainings in the U.S. are focused on our knowledge of human anatomy. We break down muscles, bone impingements, and a host of other body functions. In India, they didn’t have this awareness since their knowledge is based more on energy lines. The shushumna, id, pingala, seven chakras, and other nadis. Patthabi Jois would adjust on these energy lines. Bodies are different and he could clearly see when energy was broken. He had a very intuitive and experienced awareness of his students. I have teachers who often see this brokenness in me.

Since the holidays are upon us, I know that class attendance will be less than usual. I know that the energy I feel in larger classes won’t be there. This morning was one of those days. I had two people in class. So we gathered and talked about what we’d like to accomplish. You can negotiate with a smaller class and give them exactly what they want. We did a harder class and I had my hands on them the entire time. We were able to work on binds and body placement individually. It turned out to be an amazing class. They said the time flew by as if it were only a few minutes. And they likely grew more in one class than weeks or months before. It is the value of a Mysore-style Ashtanga class; when the teacher can adjust and modify to help you grow individually. Some days, your glass is half full; or even brimming over the edges.

Winter Solstice: A new beginning

imageMy season is Summer. I enjoy the changes the other seasons bring, but Summer is my favorite. I enjoy being in the Sun with its life giving energy. I love being active outside and enjoying long sunlit days.

This is why I like the Winter Solstice. The reality is that Winter has only just begun. Cold, snowy, windy weather will be upon us. I’ll be shoveling the snow and wishing for warmth. But what the Winter Solstice means is that the days grow longer. Every day will welcome another minute of sunlight.

Summer is my favorite, but the Summer Solstice is not. It means the days will grow shorter. It means that there will soon be darkness when I go to work and when I leave. My office is without windows, so I could easily go an entire day without sunlight. And that makes me sad. Literally, S.A.D. Maybe its a concocted condition. Sometimes, I think if you can name a disorder, we will gravitate toward what that means. And because there is a S.A.D. (seasonal affect disorder), I think I have it.

A new day has dawned. Six months of days growing longer. And I am happy about that. Bring on the light!