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 like  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.

Parampara: A Legacy in Practice

A legacy is a gift left behind for you. It may be a family tradition. Maybe it is a religious or spiritual faith. It could be a past-time of farming and living the seasons. Maybe your father was a cobbler, a fireman, a soldier, and you want to live that tradition. Maybe it is the gift of baking pies or sewing clothes. It can be a skilled craft that can only be learned by doing or by reciting stories to children and relatives.

In Native America, much of our history and tradition is given through oral communication. It is not written down or recorded. There is a real fear today that this will be lost, so many are archiving information so it isn’t lost. Today, with information available at your fingertips at any moment, oral and skilled traditions are going by the wayside. History is not appreciated as much. I’m a history buff. I live in the past a lot. An ecclesiastical scripture says there is nothing new under the sun. We repeat things in history over and over. So there is much to be learned from history. And there is much to be cherished by honoring those whose experiences led to where you are today.

In yoga, we express this as Parampara. It is a lineage of thoughts and practices passed down from generation to generation, or teacher to student. I have embraced the style of Ashtanga yoga and admire what has been passed down regarding the traditions and practices it encompasses. There is much written about it now, but without an oral tradition and manual adjustments, it could have been lost without the passing on of the practice. Much of the origin was found in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient text that was not preserved. Some question its authenticity since there isn’t a written record. Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, said it did exist and lives on in Ashtangis today. His wife, Amma, continually told her grandson, Sharath, you must go, learn this, and continue the tradition. She knew of the importance of passing it on. Sharath now teaches at the shala in Mysore, India where Ashtanga originated.

Here is what I claim as my yoga Parampara:

Krishnamachurya (father of modern yoga)
→Patthabi Jois (founder of Ashtanga)
→→Tim Miller
→→→Kelsey Bourgeois
→→→→Andy

I hope over time I have influence over others that will continue as a lineage to be passed down to the next generation. Appreciate your past, your teachers, and how they have shaped your life. Don’t forget your past. Learn about it and embrace it.

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.

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”