Tag Archives: exercise

Small victories, distant defeats

Today—I mean, yesterday—I made myself go to the fitness center on the first floor of my workplace and put in an hour on the stationary bike and the elliptical trainer. I had already put in a full day of work, plus an hour of online training, so I told myself I could not let myself slide another day without getting some exercise.

Or I could keep going down to the basement garage  and drive off to restorative yoga class and chill out. But I would probably talk myself out of restorative because I should really get my prana flowing.

So getting out of the elevator, I turned left, walked down a long corridor and ended up in the fitness room., watching the depressing news on CNN about Isreal/Palestina and Ukraine and…  I worked up a sweat and did not attempt to read or listen to music.

Then, I got home, had dinner and found myself sitting in front of the TV, sucked into watching Frontline: Endgame about our wrongheaded adventures in Iraq over the past decade. I wanted to go upstairs to do something productive, or meditate, or do some restorative yoga, or my pranayama, or my bedtime sequence of tension releasing stretches.

But I sat there paralyzed by the sheer gravity of America’s involvement in Iraq and the scars that it’s left on our men, this country and the Middle East. And in my small way, I had survived that tragedy.

I finally climbed the stairs, sat in my study, and started office busy-work. Midnight and I started writing this blog. What can I write about?

I did not go to my yoga class today. I did put in an hour of aerobic training. I made appointments to get new glasses and check my teeth. I did put in a productive day at the office, turning another professional’s tortured technical prose into something that made sense. I did not discover any shining truth in my journey. I did not fuck up the world in any traumatic way. For most humans, that daily entry in life’s ledger would yield a profit.

Amen. Shalom. As-salamu alaykum. Namaste. Hallelujah!

Yoga as medicine gets a bad review

Brian Palmer is Slate‘s chief explainer and tackles the claims that yoga is medicine for many medical conditions.

Slate Does therapeutic yoga work? The best studies say no, but they don’t get much press..
Doctors eventually realized—most of them, at least—that prayer didn’t fit well into a clinical trial. Yoga doesn’t, either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do yoga. By all means, do yoga, pray, and eat lemons, if those things bring you contentment. Do yoga especially if it’s your preferred form of exercise—exercise is a health intervention supported by thousands of clinical trials. But recognize the “yoga as medicine” craze for what it is: an indicator of the zeitgeist, not a scientific discovery.

I’ve commented on the trend towards prescribing yoga for all kinds of ills and flaws. Much of it goes back to the inception of modern yoga in India when its early advocates wanted to validate yoga within a Western, medicalized framework. In the States, the application of yoga as a therapeutic tool has also help it makes inroads into mainstream culture. There’s been a lot of bad science done around yoga therapy, which has compounded the problem. It’s hard to run standardized, double-blind studies on a massive scale on a practice that should be tailored to individual bodies.

But I also think that all this talk about yoga addressing medical conditions is wrongheaded. The practice of yoga is aimed at wellness, the holistic utilization regulation and balancing of bodily systemic functions (myofascial, neurological, circulatory, lymphatic, and others). You could focus a session exclusively on lower back pain, but the asanas and vinyasas would not affect just the lower back, but the whole body. The effects would be accumulative over time, not something like a round of antibiotics. In addition, yoga addresses mental states that Western-style exercise ignores and have a huge impact on well-being.

This article is the latest wave of skepticism about yoga, mindfulness and other things vaguely New Agish. You should also check out The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda by Evgeny Morozov, a senior editor at The New Republic. He’s actually talking about another trend, the recommendation that people should unplug from their stress-inducing devices because Western society is too hyper-wired and needs to stop multitasking. The mindfulness thing gets lumped in because unplug advocates frequently cite that mind state as the counterweight to multitasking.

Slipping into the American life style

It’s the last day of February. I’ve made four entries into this blog and probably gone to four yoga classes too. I’ve gained five pounds, setting off personal health alarms, which contributes to not getting to the yoga studio or the gym. The weather has been chilly, if not frigid for most of this month, with a few balmy breaks, so I have not been lured outside. My wife is away visiting her family in Peru, and I am home taking care of the dogs.

And of course, there’s the job. Things have been going great  at DMI. I feel privileged to be clearing a new career path at this stage of my life. My work as a technical proposal writer strikes the tricky balance between exploiting my skill set and experience and making me stretch to complete the assignment with the quality needed. If I run into difficult, I don’t get down on myself because I know I have a team backing me up. I’ve also noticed that I am more resilient — when I run into a problem, I usually  bounce back with a solution the next day, after sleeping on it.

Writing responses to Federal requests for proposals (RFPs) and similar documents is not going to win me a Pulitzer Prize, but it is disciplined writing. Lessons can be applied in other formats. The assignments require sprints of one or two weeks to finish. I am being given more independence, not having to check in with my boss. I’ve even been asked to teach a young copy editor how to write, mentoring him for the day when he can take on proposals himself. It’s harder to find solutions architects (the professional who pulls together the parts of a proposal) that can write than it is to find writers who can handle IT subject matter, according to one of my supervisors.

Now the bad news

Becoming so absorbed into my work has meant that it is hard to get myself to a yoga class or to the fitness club. I put in longer hours to meet deadlines. I even work on weekends. I find it hard to go to the fitness room on the first floor of my work place. At the end of the day, I am emotionally and physically squeezed dry. If I go home after work, I can’t get myself out again.  The convenient location of my job, only a 15-minute drive from home, means I don’t have a long commute, but I don’t get the benefit of walks to and from the Metro. The more out of shape I become, the harder it gets to get back in shape, the slower the recovery.

The personal habits and patterns that served me well over the past 10 years or so are broken, and the end result is good, but I’ve got to find a way of readjusting my life so that it’s physically and emotionally sustainable. Otherwise, I will fall into the mold of the American office worker — drives to work, sits in front of a keyboard, eats more than his body needs, develops a paunch and fails to get enough exercises. After three months on my new job, I realize that I could end up that way.

Breaking the silence

I’ve been silent too long on these pages so I am going to force myself to sit in front of my computer and explain what’s been happening. Over the summer, the demands on my time and energy have pushed aside blogging. Something had to give. I’ve also felt that I really did not have a lot of insight to inject into the blogosphere, especially about my own yoga practice or yoga as a part of US mainstream culture or the DC yoga scene. I had a couple of drafts in the hopper and could never focus enough to get them done.

Honestly, I was battling through some injuries that kept me from going to yoga class. I developed a problem with my iliopsoas and SI joint, this time on the right side. I stopped going to yoga class and kept up treatment with my chiropractor. But I also developed a problem with my left knee about the same time (early September), which has gradually gotten worse. I first felt a twinge of pain in the knee, but did not think that it was anything serious [“Must have twisted my knee in my yoga classes”]. I started  taking Aleve in the morning and evening to get by. I saw my orthopedic surgeon as soon as I could get an appointment. He examined it and found some inflammation, but nothing showed up on the x-rays. He injected cortisone. I was supposed to wait 2-3 weeks and if there was no improvement, I should get an MRI and go back to see him. The idea being that I may have some cartilage floating around in there, and would need do another arthroscopic surgery to clean up my knee, as with my right knee.  My doctor told me to stick with doing stationary bike for exercise and keep my yoga simple so that I do not stress my knee joint.

I found myself in a kind of  downward spiral: I didn’t go to yoga class to avoid worsening my core (iliopsoas) issues, so my neuropathy worsened; my neuropathy led to bad body mechanics (walking), which causes pain in my knee; I didn’t exercise to avoid hurting my knee, which reduced my stamina and resilience; my general fatigue reduced my ability to manage and tolerate pain; my pain kept me from sleeping early and soundly and led to sleep deprivation, which turned me into a zombie during the day. That sounds like a familiar formula — I went through something like it last year.

I think I have things under control now, thanks to working with my chiropractor and my body worker, and monitoring my symptoms. I have never stopped doing my evening routine of self-massage, hip openers, stretches and restorative poses so I have not stopped doing yoga. If anything, it’s what keeps me going physically, emotionally, intellectually, psychologically.

And in August, my desktop’s hard disk went out, which required installing the Windows operating system, my applications, working files and music. I am still trying to get the computer back to where I feel that it meets all my needs. Fortunately, having a laptop kept me going with e-mails and other essentials.

In any case, I did not feel much like blogging during these past six weeks. I’ve wanted to make some changes in the layout and features, which have had only minor tweaks from the original WordPress template, but that’s going to have to wait for a while. Just maintaining my websites takes a lot of time.

Work up a sweat, work out your problems

Washington Post Working Out Your Issues: “John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in mood disorders, said as little as 10 minutes of exercise at 60 percent of one’s maximum heart rate — that is, walking briskly enough to just begin sweating — ‘has an effect. [But] the more intense the exercise, the better, especially if you’re only going to do short bursts.’ (Of course, it’s not safe to work out intensely until one has achieved a basic level of fitness. And no one should exercise intensely without a doctor’s approval.)” Rather than repeat the mantra that I often fall into — “yoga is the answer to all mood disorders,” the Washington Post cites research about the psychological benefits of exercise in general. The extensive article appeared in the June 14 Health section, and struck me as valid.