How the World Cup improved my yoga

Photo: forward fold at Thrive Yoga
Forward fold

I went to Thrive Yoga for the third day in a row, a vinyasa flow with Jessica Apo. Whenever the stars align and neither whims or circumstances prevent me from taking class, I notice that my practice tends to be better, more flowing, building on the continuity of practice, and even with surprises that make me pay attention to how I am responding to each cue. It always helps when I’ve taken one of Susan Bowen’s 2-3 vinyasa flow classes that pushes me hard, followed by a Hatha yoga class with Marylou McNamara that makes me focus on the fundamentals

But this time, there was something special. When I went into Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), I noticed that I was getting in much deeper than previously. I could place my hands flat on the floor while keeping my knees straight, and that made the jump back to plank or chatarunga much more controlled. I also felt the difference in Intense Side Stretch Pose (Parsvottanasana).

One of my obstacles in yoga could be simplisticaly called “tight hips,” which most men would recognize as a combination of tight hamstrings, hip flexors misaligned by years sitting in chairs, relatively disengaged quads, and a stiff spine. The end result is that when I am seated on the floor and want to move into Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), I would ended up in a fairly upright, L-shaped position. I simply did not seem to have the means to get passed a limited range of flexibility. I would take hip-opener workshops and they did not seem to have any lasting effect.

What happened to allow me to make this breakthrough? The World Cup soccer (football to the rest of the world) matches over the past six weeks, but most notably in the past two weeks. For the games that I watched at home, I sat on the floor and held yoga poses for as long as I could tolerate: Seated Forward Bend, Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana), Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana), and especially Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana), sometimes with my feet up on blocks so that I was not cranking my neck to watch the game.

It took me ages to gradually break through the barriers of these poses. Looking back, I can see that most yoga classes don’t have that much time time to spend in one sequence of poses. They are excruciatingly boring when held for that long — unless you’re watching a soccer match on TV or a movie or whatever entertains you. Even from one sitting to the next, I did not notice any substantial change, just subtle shifts that kept up my nerve to keep going. But this past weekend, I pushed past an edge. The full realization of how far I had come appeared in tonight’s class. In a vigorous vinyasa class in which I was juiced up and sweating, I could feel that something was different in my practice.

I should note that it was not just the soccer-cum-yoga sessions. At bed time, I do a yin yoga sequence, initially spinal twists, but now with forward bends, and that routine helps me release muscular tension. It is a daily reminder to my body of the new edge that I had been creating.