Tag Archives: conditioning

Aging carries a surchage

I took my first yoga class in 12 days. It was a simple hatha class at Thrive Yoga with Jane Stelboum. Some would consider it a leisurely paced class; others would walk out because it did not include any major vinyasa sequences. It knocked the bejesus out of me. We held warrior II and lunges for what seemed like ages. I took child’s pose in surrender. As I write this, my hips, groin and back are aching. It is a physical pain that would intimidate a novice because yoga is supposed to be exercise for wimps.

Because I’ve broken through multiple layers of hardened fascia and let the yoga poses and alignment seep into my muscle memory, I find that I sink into the poses deeper. Because I’ve maintained my range of movement with my maintenance routines of stretching and restorative, I dive into a hatha pose without instinctive resistance pushing back. So when I dig that deep, I’m exposing whole bundles of muscles that have rarely been extended like this from a posture of weakness.

For nearly two weeks, I’ve shirked yoga class for what seemed like valid reasons (work, family, writing projects, schedule conflicts, cancelled classes, laziness, and reasons that I don’t want to confess in public), and I never picked up the slack with my home practice. And I was already in a deep deficit of physical conditioning. I am not even talking about recovering my stamina to what it was a year ago, after yoga teacher training, or three years ago when my parents health started going bad.

I swear I will not let this happen to me again (he said for the umpteenth time since taking up yoga!)!  Only 10 minutes, 20 minutes of vinyasa or weight-bearing poses on non-class days would go along way to sustaining performance.

At work, on the yoga mat, in front of a computer screen or with a blank sheet of paper and pen in hand, wherever, I am discovering that aging carries a surcharge. I am going to be 65 years old in seven weeks. My body and mind degrade automatically, noticeably, relentlessly, unless I make a conscious effort to cultivate resilience and hardiness.

Postscript: the pain hurts less the morning after.

Yoga and football players! What about the desk jockeys?

In the wake of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory with the “aid of yoga and meditation,” I unphased by the chatter on blogs and online media about this being a turning point for the acceptance of yoga into mainstream America:

NY Times Title for the Seahawks Is a Triumph for the Profile of Yoga
Men and athletes doing yoga is not new. Basketball’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an early proponent, as was the tennis star John McEnroe. Most recently, Andy Murray credited part of his recent tennis success to Bikram yoga. Stanford’s football team has incorporated yoga into its training program.

Every training season for every major sport has a surge of news articles about coaches, trainers, physical therapists and the players themselves taking to yoga to gain an edge or prevent injury. Even if asanas may not be explicitly part of a training routine, you just have to look at the warm-up  exercises (stretching)  to see that yoga has been assimilated by the modern physical conditioning disciplines.

Photo: yoga class in Warrior 2 pose
Jenny St. Clair leads her sequence of poses, including Warrior 2, a pose that is a lot harder than it looks.

I am far more deeply concerned about grandmas, plumbers and desk jockeys who would have to catch on to the glaring truth that physical exercise—preferably yoga, but even a 30-minute walk—would instigate a dramatic shift in their quality of life. One of the most eye-opening experiences during my yoga teacher training this past summer was the demo class that we put on for “friends and family.”  Bless their souls for venturing into a yoga studio in support of my classmates. Many of those novices had serious difficulty getting down to and up from the floor, much less doing a downward-facing dog or triangle pose. Several of them had to leave the room after 20 minutes.

I am not looking down my nose at them because I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years or am a few hours away from being certified as a teacher. The past six months have been a humbling experience for me because I have seen how easily my “command of yoga”  slipped into a tenuous toe-hold on the mat. For any one, an injury or illness provoke a sharp drop-off in well-being and resilience.  Fortunately for me, I could fall back on meditation, pranayama, self-massage, restorative yoga and other approaches to keep a handle on my mind-body connection. I had an acupuncturist, body worker, chiropractic, ayurvedic healer and physicians to help me.

Who should yoga evangelists be preaching to?

Yoga advocates don’t need to get giddy about which sports team or star athlete is sweating in a Bikram class. They need to convince senior citizens and keyboard (white-collar) workers  that even simple routines can improve their flexibility, balance and body awareness, as well as assist the body in fighting off disease and the brain in holding off cognitive decline.

By the way, yoga may have given some kind of competitive edge to the Seahawks over the Broncos, but it won’t compensate for the fact that the players are bashing each others’ brains out and twisting their limbs in configurations that exceed any asana’s potential to mortify the flesh. Any for my own defense, I did yoga while watching the Super Bowl came until I became so bored with the game that I decided to sort my socks (I was far more focused matching pairs).

Yoga DorkSeattle Seahawks Changing Future of Football with Yoga and Meditation and Official Super Bowl XLVIII Yoga Game! and Super Yoga Bowl XLVIII: Seahawks vs Broncos

Yoga Confluence: Yes, the yoga team won the Super Bowl

10 things I got out of 40-day renewal

I participated in the 40-day renewal program at Thrive Yoga, which ended on February 11. I did not have a chance to comment on my participation but I did want to record some take aways. It was my second time and I was determined to take it mindfully. Indeed, I had to take it slower because it took me the first four weeks to get back into shape.

  1. My blood pressure went down by 15-20 points by the end. In early January, I had been caught by surprise when the nurse at work measured my blood pressure and found it over 135/85. I had never had blood pressure issues before, but stress had started to take a toll.
  2. My weight dropped, ending up closer to 200 pounds, than 210 pounds at the start. I can’t give precise numbers because, as with most people, my weight tends to swing by 2-4 pounds, depending on the time of day, birthday cakes, and health. Since my parents’ deaths two years, I’ve noticed how my weight had gradually increased, until it plateaued just below the 210-pound mark so all I needed was an illness or life style change to push my weight up even more.
  3. By the end, in savasana (corpse pose), I noticed that my thighs and calves rested on the ground. Previously, my hip joints were well off the mat and made it impossible to rest all my legs on the ground. In fact, I can remember having problems with my heels because they were bearing much of the weight of my legs. That change signaled that there had been a shift in the tilt of my hips, along with a major realignment of the muscles descending from my core to my legs.
  4. Since I started in bad physical shape, I was trapped in a dead-end: I couldn’t boost my yoga practice because I did not have the strength or stamina to go full bore in a normal vinyasa class; I frequently sought relief in child’s pose. I didn’t want to force myself because I had injured myself before from over-efforting. I couldn’t fit some aerobic exercise at my fitness club because I did not have the spare time—and the time required for meditation went up each week. I ended up developing a routine in my workplace: every time, I needed to go to the restroom or take a break, I went to the basement and then climbed the nine flights of stairs up to my office cubicle. It only takes five minutes, but done 3-5 times a day, it allowed me to improve my strength. I also tried to do some of my desk work standing up, instead of sitting. These changes probably had a lot to do with my improved blood pressure and weight. But it was the 40-day renewal that made me focus on how fit I was. I couldn’t brush it off as something insignificant or passing.
  5. Because of the conditioning and injury issues, I had to think of myself as a beginner, but with the advantage that I had already learned the poses. I did not have to obsess about getting perfect alignment. I could just focus on being in the asana. I had less preference for which instructor was giving the class or at what level. I was adapting the rigors of the class to my own body’s needs.
  6. I avoided any pose that might injure me because I felt as if I was learning to handle my body all over again. My hips seemed especially problematic, which affect the stability of my spine and my balance. I did not go into binds, which are kind of icing on top of an asana or escalate a pose from its basic form to a more advanced variation.
  7. Coming back from injury or a long layoff gives a fresh perspective on the body and practice. I paid as much attention to where my body felt numb as I did to where I was fully aware. My proprioception has taken a major hit from my peripheral neuropathy. I found that some poses provoked numbness in my feet. It’s hard to single out which ones because I am usually moving through the sequence of a vinyasa when the numbness happens, and it usually dissipates with a little time. Indeed, restorative poses and hip stretches are the best medicine in the evening to relieve symptoms to let me sleep.
  8. I discovered far more flexibility than I had had: deeper forward folds, more space and movement between my shoulder girdle.
  9. The hardest part of the 40-day renewal was maintaining discipline in the meditation practice. It is so hard to be still in my own skin and life. And when I settle down in the evening for my transition routine, it’s so easy to slip into sleep so I doubt the quality of my meditation at that time.
  10. By the end of the renewal program, I was back to where I felt I could participate in a vinyasa class without undue distress. But it will take time and persistence to generate additional shifts in my well being because you can’t flip a switch to change the body or the mind.

Clarification: I did not want to let this post slip beyond the end of February. I’ve found it so hard to find time to write here, and I hate the thought of letting an entire month go by without an entry. Guilt is not the best motivator, but sometimes I just need a kick in the pants.

And I thought I was OK

Every time I get out of my yoga class feeling sore, sweaty and exhausted, I marvel that I used to think I was in good enough shape to keep myself healthy. I used to make it to the gym a couple of times a week, certainly enough to meet the minimum recommended requirements for exercise. Well, after the past six months in which I’ve stepped up my yoga practice to 2-4 times a week and also intensified my home practice, I know that I have barely reversed the physical decline that comes from aging, riding a desk and smoking too many cigarettes for 20 years. I can see little improvements in flexibility and strength in some areas, but I then I realize that I can barely balance myself in one-legged standing positions, not even to dream about doing Warrior III and the like. The core strength is just not there.