Tag Archives: life

3 Beginner Tips for Diving into Ashtanga Yoga

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Someone once said “Yoga is for everyone, but Ashtanga might not be for everyone.”

There may be a little truth in that, but I mostly disagree. Ashtanga CAN be for everyone.

We are in a modern age of yoga. There was a time when you had to qualify or apply to study with a yoga teacher. The dynamics are a bit different today. If you want to practice yoga, you can. It is completely up to you. And I’m not just talking about beginner or gentle yoga classes. I’m talking about Iyengar, Ashtanga, or some other seemingly advanced practice. You just have to try and give it a chance. Here are my 3 tips for venturing into Ashtanga Yoga:

  1. It’s YOUR Practice
    For most yoga studios, we want you to practice with us. We aren’t going to push you away. We love that you try your best. Teachers love nothing more than to see progress. YOU make the choice to come to class and allow the teacher to guide you. Yes, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini,… are specific yoga styles with nuances specific to their practice. We are going to show you the style of THIS practice. But it is still YOUR practice. We facilitate and you do what your body says you can do. Eventually, you’ll find WHY we say to do things a certain way. But you should follow your own path to finding what works for you.
  2. Modify Everything!
    I have been practicing yoga for a while now and teaching for several years. But there is still a lot I can’t do and may never do. But I get the same benefits from the practice whether I modify a pose or not. So if you are new to yoga or to Ashtanga, your body will not be used to certain positions. But don’t judge yourself or be discontent about your place in your journey. You do what you do and all is fine. Nobody will judge you. A yoga teacher never judges you if you can’t touch your toes or bind yourself like a pretzel. They’ll help you wherever you are. Modify every single pose if need be. Just do what you can and have fun.
  3. Make It Enjoyable!
    I used to run track in high school and 5K/10K races since I was in the 6th grade. I knew exactly what to do, what to wear, and how to train. But when I began running ultra marathons later in life, everything changed. It seemed what I knew for 20 years was only about 10% similar to ultra marathons. It blew my mind. Ashtanga might blow your mind too. Ashtanga Yoga is different from anything you’ve ever done before. It is a very different culture. The “breath” is the first thing that jumps out at you. But as you delve into it, you realize how important it is. There are so many things that by your 5th or 50th class, a little light goes off and you say “Oh, that’s why!” But you find your way in your own time. Meanwhile, have fun. Be amazed by what your fellow yogis can do and don’t let it bother you if you aren’t there yet. I’m the last person who will get frustrated by not putting my feet behind my head. My body is different and that’s OK. What matters is that I’m growing in both mind and body.

Please don’t be afraid to go to Ashtanga and make it your own practice. You don’t have to do everything. Try out the poses and have fun. Ask the teacher for modifications or find something that works for your body. If you need to take child’s pose or just sit for a few breaths, do that. Soak up the experience and have fun. Its ok to laugh and feel the moment. You came to class and that’s what matters.

Historical Note: In the early days in Mysore, India, ayurvedic doctors would send people with debilitating diseases to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. The Primary Series, or “Yoga Chikitsa”, is called the healing series. If someone had a disease where they could barely move, he would help them into a pose and then have them breathe. That was their practice.If you are sickly, overweight, are weak, have scoliosis or diabetes,..then Ashtanga IS for you. Ashtanga wasn’t made for elite, uber qualified yogis only. It IS for everyone. It often healed them; and it may heal you too.

People I Like

I was kind of a jock as a kid. A quiet one. If I wanted to be popular, I could have been. If I wanted to beat my chest and say how good I was, I probably had at least a little right to do so. But I am inherently shy. Even an introvert by choice.

So when it came to making friends, I was the one who stood next to the kid who was by himself at the wall during recess. I was the one who sat with the lonely kid at lunchtime. I am still the one who walks over and shakes the hands of the elderly couple who are sitting alone during greeting time at church.

In turn, I’m also the guy who waves back at someone when they were waving at someone behind me. I am the guy who says “Good Morning” to someone on the street and they ignore me. I am the guy who attends all my friends workshops and they don’t go to mine.

But its ok. I’m the kind of guy who lives a simple life. If I lived in a cabin among the aspen trees, far removed from the posh environs of Breckenridge or Vail, I’d be a happy man. If I was mowing my lawn and a Tour Bus stops across the street with some [insert celebrity] sign on the side, I’d just mow my lawn.

My friends are real. They don’t have a weak handshake and give a fake smile. They have electricity in their grasp. And their eyes warm your heart. I am drawn to the unpopular. They have the best stories to tell.

When Yoga Gets in the Way

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I say this tongue-in-cheek. Yoga is not really in my way.

Summer-time means lots of vacations for everybody, including yoga teachers. So we end up substitute teaching for each other very often. I had 2 extra classes each of the past 2 weeks. Yet, I still got 5 really good days of working out on the weights. But I was toast by Monday. Everything was fried and banged up.

My goal is to take Mon & Tues as rest days since I teach and demonstrate fairly rigorous yoga classes those days. I needed it this time. My most brutal workout is Weds since I don’t teach again until Saturday. I focus on my chest that day and, besides heavy bench presses, I focus on yoga-related movements like dips, muscle ups, and deep pushups. But I get dumbbell and pec-deck flyes in there too. I don’t dare work my chest before teaching yoga. There were times when I was demonstrating chaturanga or upward facing dog and my triceps went into a full cramp. That is kind of embarrassing as a yoga teacher to suddenly drop out of a pose writhing in pain.

The problem is, when I teach yoga, I’m not really practicing yoga myself. I demonstrate some poses when I teach, but I’m mostly walking around, adjusting bodies, and observing safe alignment. I get just enough lengthening to feel good about myself. So I consider those active rest days.

The point I’m making is that we wander through busy lives seeking healthy minds and bodies and we shouldn’t make excuses to not do anything. Doing yoga doesn’t mean going hard all the time. It can be lengthening in front of the TV or even seated in your car in meditation. It doesn’t have to be a sweaty, all-out endeavor with yoga mats and tights. But the same is true with resistance and cardio exercise. You can always find a place to do some lunges or pushups. If you have access to weights, you may do a 5×5 of back squats and that’s it. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long workout. Maybe jog around the block when you walk the dogs. Anything that gets your heart rate up is good. No excuses.

Don’t let life get in the way of living life

The Amazon.com Model

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You are welcome to disagree with me, but you will not sway my opinion. Amazon.com is my favorite place to shop.

Don’t get me wrong. I love bookstores. I love to browse. And I can get lost in libraries.

But I’ve also been in an on and off romance with Kindle technology as well. I love having several books right at my fingertips on my phone at all times. So, any down-time can be productive and stimulating. But sometimes, I need a real-life paper book. If there are pictures or illustrations, I love a book. And in general, I like to have books especially if they are something I’ll reference and go back to. But then again, there is that having it at your fingertips (and searchable) any time.

You could teach an entire college course on Amazon. You could study marketing, demographics, gender & race studies, automation, and a whole host of other categories. Sometimes, the efficiency scares me. Its almost like Amazon knows what I want before I buy it and, the next thing you know, I get a text that it was delivered at my doorstep. I compare prices. Sometimes I look at a price and then go locally to see if they can beat it somewhere. I can get a used item. And the best of all: Reviews!! I know these can be falsified, but that’s another study unto itself. I write a lot of reviews myself and I am very honest about my feelings. So I assume at least a few good reviews will help me guide my purchase.

I use wish lists. I buy people stuff from their wedding & birthday lists. I prioritize what I want. And then I let it sit and may change it to a lesser priority. It makes me thrifty.

Now, to the politics of economics. I’m a firm believer in capitalism. The poor sellers, poor products, poor reviews, end up being the places and products we don’t buy. But the Best Sellers and best reviews are what wins. And in turn, volume sells and you get a better price. It is the ultimate economic model for capitalism. The market tells you what to get. Competition wins out. Often, if you find something with only one seller and the price is too high, it usually won’t sell. And I won’t buy it. Monopolies don’t work on Amazon.

The fortunate and unfortunate aspect of efficiency is in product sourcing. I’ll admit that I buy a lot of things that take 1-2 months to arrive on a slow boat from China. But when someone sells something for 99 cents or $4.99, I can’t lose. Most of the time, I don’t know its origin. I just know its probably a long way from home if it takes a long time to ship. But if it is a good product, I’ll quickly buy it again. This is the rule of global competition.

Lastly, I’ll tell you a short story. The big hardware stores near me are all the way across town. I had a hardware store closer that I would go to when I needed something fast. But my experience was always terrible. An old guy with an apron would be wandering the aisles. He was supposed to be helpful, but it seemed more like he was assuming you’d steal something. When he asked if he could help you, you would tell him. Then, he would belittle you and make you feel stupid for not knowing what he knew. A bolt that would cost 49 cents at Lowes ended up being $3.99 at the Mom & Pop. And don’t get me started with the camping store. I haven’t set foot in there for years. They would assume you were a thief before considering you as a patron. And the prices were marked up like 400%. I was at a bike shop once and had a nice conversation with the clerk. I browsed and walked out having not bought anything. The next thing you know, the clerk is knocking on the window of my truck asking me to open my jacket so she could see what I stole!! OMG! I didn’t steal anything. She didn’t even apologize. Yep, haven’t been back, and its closed anyway.

So for me, Amazon is a judgement-free zone. I get to shop on my terms. I shop in my short-shorts with a cup of coffee by my side. And with 2-day free shipping for Amazon Prime, I’m always the happiest camper around.

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!!!

 

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.