Tag Archives: fitness

Yoga Did Miracles for my Back

Medical Article on Back Relief Through Yoga

When I had a mid-life crisis (joking) and turned to ultra-marathon running, the result was a lot of back pain. I don’t mean just pain as in, take a pain pill and go to sleep. It meant I couldn’t lean over to tie my own shoes. If I laid on the couch, it took about 10 minutes to figure out how to get back up. Sitting and standing from the toilet was quite a chore. Being afraid of walking my 20 pound little dog since spotting a squirrel and tugging would result in intense pain, me letting go of the leash, and not being able to chase her down. I had to operate my vehicle with my left foot instead of my right because of intense sciatic pain. It was the most terrible kind of pain you can imagine.

I went to the back clinic and they gave me cortisone shots directed by x-ray to put the needle in the right place. The right place was my L4-L5 disk that was degenerating. The doctor showed me the CT-Scan and said, “see how your disk looks? This is how we’ll all look when we are 70 years old, but yours is happening now.” I also had slight stenosis and considerable pinching to my nerves.

The first physical therapist was no help at all. He prescribed bed rest, laying forward on a pillow as long as I could, and ice. Well, I had already been doing that. Then I went to a real PT who helped me. She did Manual Release Therapy (MRT), lots of nice adjustments, but mostly her prescription were exercises. And this is KEY!!!

Our skeletal system, even with dense connective tissue, would fall into a clump without muscles. You can have fairly major deficiencies in joints and back, but overcome it largely with strong muscles.

So she had me doing exercises to work the little finger muscles that go along the spine. Let me tell you, being “strong” is not enough. I was powerlifting with deadlifts and squats over 400 pounds. But then I’d twist under the dashboard to change a fuse and my back would go out. I couldn’t do anything for weeks and it took months to recover. And this happened yearly. What I didn’t have was asymmetrical strength. Like the strength you have for wrestling and gymnastics. Or strength like doing one handed lifts and strongman movements. But the best strength of all is YOGA!

There are old texts, Sutras and such, that say that there are 80,000 to 80 million poses in yoga. So when people think they invent new ones, they are kidding themselves. Every movement of the body has been done. All these twists, balances, and holds in odd positions strengthens every possible movement in your body. It is good for any sport and any body. It is clearly what solved my back problems. And yes, I still have an episode every couple of years, but nothing like I had before.

Think of the vertebrae in your spine like any other joint in the body. It needs strong support with muscles in all directions. If it is allowed to shift side to side or pinch in one direction, your nerves will not be happy. Yoga helps prevent drastic shifting of your spine.

Yoga is the best solution. But it also helps to lift weights, do your Zumba or other fitness, and do sports. Doing deadlifts and squats are not enough since they are too symmetrical and are not done with breath (you hold your breath in competitive lifting). You need to add single sided exercises with breathing; like one-armed lifts and presses with a dumbbell. You need to do side-to-side work, like side planks, oblique raises, and leg ab/adduction. You need lunges and pistols. Asymmetrical sports are good too: golf, softball, basketball, tennis. Anything where you are throwing, kicking, and twisting.

People rag on CrossFit all the time, so forget I even said that (or embrace the idea). Variety is key. You can’t do the same thing over and over and expect yourself to grow. And it is absolutely necessary for back health. You need to do different things. Yes, you can specialize in a sport, but add a ton of assistance work. If you are a Powerlifter, its OK to try a clean & jerk or pull a heavy sled now and then. You might even try a pull-up or, heaven forbid, try yoga! It won’t kill you. Add routine deep tissue massage or other bodywork and some cardio and you have health!

Yoga just might save your life.

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Sweaty Hot Mess

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So I’m chillin, enjoying my evening watching TV when all the sudden my wife asks “don’t you teach hot yoga tonight?”

OH CRAPPPPP!

It’s 7:07 PM and I teach at 7:30 PM and the studio is all the way across town! Yikes!!

I had some workout shorts on and it was freezin cold out. So I just threw on something over me, grabbed my gear, and ran out the door. It was a smooth drive there and someone set the heat on high for my hot yoga class. So not bad for having to rush around.

Then, I realize I didn’t finish my playlist. I add 3 more songs and put them in order and I’m set.

I have a full class. I mean, its a small room and I had 21 yogis. Wow!

You know, when you give speeches or presentations to a large group, they say you can over prepare. If you write out your thoughts word-for-word, you end up reading it word-for-word and boring the heck out of your audience. Instead, if you know your stuff well, you should be able to let it flow out of you. I usually have a few things prepared in my mind. But I had nothing planned at all…nothing even remotely in my mind.

So, with nothing prepared, I just rolled with my class. I asked yogis if there was anything in particular they’d like to do or bodypart of focus. Hamstrings! OK!

Cue the music…breathe…let’s begin.

It turned out to be one of the funnest classes I’ve ever taught. The energy was electric and the sweat flowed freely. We kept it simple since the room was so packed. We focused a lot on “core” and savoring the heat. And, I demonstrated a lot through the class since I positioned myself right in the middle. So it felt good for me too.

Afterward, I got a lot of questions. And my heart was full of joy!

Sometimes, whirlwinds are best savored when they bathe you with their fury.

High Intensity doesn’t have to Kill You

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I’ve been a Competitive, Type-A person all my life. If I didn’t have a chance of winning, I didn’t bother trying. Its how I approached CrossFit for the first years I did it. I wanted to be the Top Dog; top of the leader board.

My stance has largely moderated mostly due to Yoga. Even when I did yoga, I was striving to achieve. I wanted to conquer all the poses. I would bludgeon myself into getting what I wanted often ending up in injury. But it was Yoga teacher training that changed all of that. I began to explore the more subtle, gentle, mindful aspects of the practice. It didn’t matter as much to me that I “got” a pose or not. Teacher says; teacher does. I also implore this in the students I teach. I always say, “We are all on a journey and where we are in that journey is just fine.” I mean that. This non-harming attitude should prevail in all of life. It leads to satisfaction, contentment, and feelings of self-worth.

As I apply this to CrossFit, I am starting to learn how this non-harming influence applies. You have to ask yourself, what is your intention for your workout (or yoga practice)? Is it to get your heart cranked up; to apply a technical movement with quality while tired; or to lift something heavy with good form in the midst of a good amount of discomfort. These are all qualities that sharpens the spear and makes you better. But, if 50 toes to bar or Heavy DT with 225 pounds only leads to injury and failure, why do it? We have to peel away the ego and meet the intention instead of padding our masculinity.

Here are a 5 tips to feeling successful in CrossFit:

  1. Focus on quality, near non-stop action in a 5 to 10 minute WOD (workout of the day); throw in a 20 minute Cindy now and then and keep moving.
  2. Forget Rx. Scale down as often as you can. Think in 3-6-9 rep ranges and move weight fast and hard. Do some 2 minute blitzes and 30 rep Grace workouts. Use less weight and keep it moving.
  3. Tabata workouts are our friends. If your intention is cardio, then these are perfect. Use “Tabata Songs” on Spotify and other places. You may do pushups, situps, kettlebell swings, double unders, or whatever. Its the perfect (scientific) solution.
  4. Mix up your sequence. Routine kills. Sometimes, do your WOD as a warm-up for an Olympic weightlifting session. Or add a heavy Powerlifting movement into an AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible). And anything Strongman is the ultimate CrossFit.
  5. Plan for success. Instead of feeling terrible after a workout, leave a little in the tank. Then you’ll be straining at the bit for more. Finish with a 1K Row or a run and you’ll feel just fine.

Leaving a little in the tank also means you aren’t hobbling with soreness for a week without working out or risking injury. You might find you can workout nearly every day if you want to. But you still get the benefits of strength and stamina that high-intensity workouts provide. Honestly, you don’t have to kill yourself to see progressively better results.

6 Ideas for Sandbag Hot Yoga

Last night, I was inspired to teach a class that largely used sandbags throughout. I had plans for specific movements, but as I was going along, I was able to create other spaces to play with them as well. I’ve seen pics and video of CorePower yoga and other such styles using weights. Sandbags in a studio with cork floors is much safer. And, you can double or triple sandbags when you desire more effect. Here are a few juicy postures we explored:

  1. Utkatasana – chair with sandbag at the chest
  2. Parsvokonasana/Trikonasana – side angle and triangle pose with the sandbag in one hand with arm extended directly over the shoulder.
  3. Skandasana/Goddess Squats – side lunges and goddess pose holding sandbag at the chest.
  4. Janu Sirsasana – one-legged head to knee stretch while seated. I had them drape the sandbag across the middle of the extended thigh to create extra pressure, much like what is done is restorative classes. You can do this for many seated postures.
  5. Rocket Abs/plow – that’s what I call laying on your back with legs up lowering to a straight legged hover. I had them use the straps of the sandbag into both big toes hanging toward the shins. We lowered to a hover for 5 breaths and then slowly went back to a plow pose.
  6. Viparita Karani – This is the classic legs up with wall with sandbag across the soles of the feet. So scrumptious. We finished practice like this in lieu of savasana.

At home, instead of sandbags, you can use a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a milk jug. Instead of feeling cumbersome, weighted poses create a different sensation and really nice grounding. I also recommend doing the pose without the weight directly afterward for a “contrast” effect.

5 Keys to Longevity

As you roll out of bed, you engage your abs and hip flexors to rise to standing. You walk to the toilet, and if you sit down, you use your strong quads and glutes to get back up. You reach down to pet your dog or pick up the newspaper, which uses your lower back and hamstrings. You open the cupboard and reach for a coffee mug on the shelf. These are all the basic movements in life. When you can no longer do these things, its a downhill progression to your existence. As healthy people, we take this for granted. But as people who know what this feels like to have these simple things taken away, it is devastating.

Now let’s crank up the quality of life part of our world. Now you pick up your 40 pound toddler and play. You grab the groceries from the floor and take them to the counter. You twist under the sink to check a leak. Maybe you help someone move that refrigerator or sofa down the stairs. You don’t really want to fail or get injured doing any of these things.

So here are the functional movements to life. If you don’t do anything else, at least do these.

  1. Sit-ups – Most movements in real life involve engagement of hip flexors too. The fitness community went away from sit-ups long ago because they didn’t think it isolates your six-pack abs as much. But realistically, hip flexors play a huge role in life and your core abdominals assist in the process. Maybe you also do leg raises of some sort as well. But we shouldn’t neglect sit-ups anymore. Hernias and lots of back issues arise from having weak abdominals.
  2. Squats – Simplistically, this may mean sitting on a chair and then standing up. We all should be able to do this. Honestly, if you can no longer get off the toilet on your own, life won’t be very good for you. Better yet, put some weight on your shoulders. When men and women can squat 1 to 3 times their bodyweight, there is nothing in life that can get in their way. Keep the flexibility there too. Old school “Starting Strength” people live off of flawed science that’s all been debunked. The “don’t let your knees go past your toes” idea is long gone. If you look at pictures of people from developing countries, they do everything in a deep squat from cooking, cleaning, to going to the bathroom. Today, Olympic weightlifters lift huge weights after first dropping to Ass-To-Ground squats with knees far past their toes. Keep your ability to move by including deeper variations of squats. So, either keep it simple and use the chair. Or find more information on variations. You can’t ever get bored with squats.
  3. Deadlifts – Again, there are many varieties of this lift. My latest infatuation has been doing trap bar deadlifts. It is a huge mass builder and you can vary your knee bend and back tilt to the nth degree. But you can do forward folds and rises (good mornings) just as easily with wonderful results. You can grab jugs of water or maybe a sandbag. There is no excuse for not doing deadlifts. Learn good form. Gain some grip strength. It will pay off greatly in your quality of life.
  4. Overhead Press – Ever seen a baby laugh when Daddy lifts them overhead. They smile and squeal with joy. Lifting overhead has so many benefits. Think if you were pushing a lawnmower or a friend’s car down the driveway. Think of putting that 5 pound bag of sugar on a shelf. Again, this can be as simple as pressing a jar of peanut butter overhead. Or it can be doing handstand pushups. The varieties of this movement are endless. They work not only shoulder strength, but torso, core, hip, and leg strength. There is also the element of balance.
  5. Ambulation – There is so much written about walking and running. When I was into ultra-marathon running, I didn’t even think twice about being able to run to work, or even from one city to another. If you read in historical texts and even the Bible, people walked all over the place. Research says that the speed at which you walk has a direct correlation with longevity of life. The slower you walk means your end is near. Stride length also has a relationship with life. If you can imagine someone stricken with Parkinson’s Disease, you can see how unhealthy it is to be restricted in balance and muscle lengthening with shortened steps. This is something that I’ve come back to myself. An injury 3 years ago took running away from me. But now that I feel healed, I will be back on the trails enjoying runs through nature again. We should all find more time to exercise our heart, balance, muscles, and enjoyment of the outdoors.

Like I said, if you don’t do anything else in life, at least do these 5 things. Find time to explore this and grow. If you lose any one of these functional movements, you’ll start to lose your ability to live.

I’m Not As Sore

As a yoga teacher, I continually have to consider my activities outside of teaching in order to demonstrate poses effectively. I have certain days and times plotted out to workout really hard. This usually involves heavy lifting and a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) or two. Then I would have a few days to recover and allow the soreness to subside. I am no use to my students if my triceps cramp when I’m doing upward facing dog or my hammies seize during a forward fold.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and it makes me think about what I’m doing. Lately, I’ve felt the strength in my lifts has fallen. It all comes down to the squat for me. People like Travis Mash and Cory Gregory talk about squatting every day, and I’ve done that effectively in the past. So I’m back at it again. But its not only squats, its other exercises too.

Travis talks about younger athletes full of vigor and testosterone. They are able to get after it day in and day out. They still need a lot of rest and nutrition, but its easier for them to recover. For older athletes like myself, he actually says we should rest less, which is counter to current thinking. Instead, we need to do something every day. Maybe we don’t push the same intensity in a single workout, but we do heavy work every day. Its more about maintenance than actual growth.

My routine has really been working for me. I start with a warm-up, usually rowing, ski erging, or running. Then I go to squats. They may be back squats, front, overhead, Zercher, with chains, or any other variation. I don’t kill myself. I may do singles up to a max lift and stop. Or it may be a lighter weight for a set of 30. It may be a 5×5 of pause squats. The variations are endless. In between sets, I work on handstands and muscle ups on the rings. Then, I may do Olympic weightlifting or bodybuilding and try to finish with pulls, mostly with a trap bar.

The next day, I’m nicely toned but not really sore at all. I can jump right into it everyday. And I’m adapting to more volume each time. I’m learning I don’t have to kill myself and get sore all the time. Realistically, life gets busy at times and I take a mandatory rest day. But I don’t plan for rest days anymore. I just live instinctively. Try out this plan. But don’t sandbag your workouts. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to grow. You have to do the hard work.

Cindy

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She got me feeling all bent out of shape.

Cindy is a benchmark CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) that I haven’t done in a very long time. I don’t know why because its so simple and easy to set up. But it can also be just plain scary. Cindy is:

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
5 pullups
10 pushups
15 air squats

I am planning to do a long Hero WOD before Thanksgiving, so I wanted to do something that gets my mind in the right place. But now I’m totally sore from Cindy. I am teaching a yoga class tonight where I end up demonstrating a lot, so hopefully everything will be OK.

Also: I cooked two medium sized turkeys yesterday and froze the meat. I made two pie crusts too so my wife will finish those up today. But, my parents are not well right now so I don’t know if we’ll travel or not. We’ll see.

Enjoy your pre-Holiday my friends. Happy Thanksgiving!