Tag Archives: gear

Taking care of the tools of yoga practice

Sometimes you have to use drastic measures to keep a mat functional.
Sometimes you have to use drastic measures to keep a mat functional.

I almost ruined my main yoga mat.

I’ve been using the Manduka eKO line of yoga mats since mid-2007. Heavy and bulky, I take it to class at Thrive Yoga when I can dump it in the backseat of my car. It’s not something that you want to carry around to and from class. It supposed to “last forever” and be eco-friendly.

A few summers ago, I left it in the car while parked at the Metro station several days. Bad idea. The exposure to heat and sun light started degrading the rubber (Manduka instructs you not to expose the mat to the sun for extended time). I also made the mistake of rolling it up with the top surface exposed, rather than the tougher base facing out. The result was that the mat lost its stickiness and grip, as if the rubber began to oxidize and harden, becoming discolored and slick. In class, my feet and hands began to slip in downward-facing dog, especially once I had worked up a sweat, and I knew I had to do something about it.

The solution was similar to removing rust from metal: I used a fine-grained sand paper to remove the crusty surface to expose a fresh layer of rubber. When I finished sanding the surface area that had gotten exposed (about a quarter of the mat), I realized that the rest of the surface had also started to degrade, though not as badly as the sun-damaged part. I applied the sandpaper to the whole mat. I then washed down the mat to remove the loose powdery substance resulting from the sanding. Once again, I had a good grip on the surface.

I suspect there is a limit to this method because I will eventually work my way through the top surface. Manduka has made design changes and introduced new technology to their yoga mat lines, including imprinting patterns in the top surface so this sanding technique would remove that feature.

Back massage and other tales of balls

I wanted to provide some additional information about how I was using balls for therapeutic massage.

The two Yoga Tune Up® Balls come in pairs for a reason: you apply them to each side of the spline, starting at the neck and gradually working down the spin. They are usually close enough to touch, but they still it into the two grooves along the spinal column. At a seven locations, you apply different techniques to press into the tissues. The most common movement is to raise up the hips and “chug” up and down or “shimmy” back and forth  on the balls. The balls have a lot of give in them so they never really cause pain — unless you happen to hit a knot or trigger point in the muscles. You also incorporate arm movements that extend and contract the rhomboid and trapezius muscles, which in turn press against the balls in different ways.

This self-massage is a valuable learning experience because I am guiding the application of the balls according to the feedback from my muscles and spinal column. I don’t think I could really assess those muscles between my shoulder blades until about 18 months ago. They were frozen in a single block from years of hunching over a keyboard. It’s where I still accumulate tension so regular self massage is both curative and proactive.

Jill Miller has developed a whole set of routines with the Yoga Tune Up® Balls and types of applications, and that can make it fairly straightforward in applying them.

Other balls

I have also incorporated other balls into my self-massage routines, mainly because my feet were a primary area of concern.  I carry a Foot Rubz Foot Massage Ball around in my shoulder bag so that I can use it while working at my desk. I also acquired Rhino Ballsfor a more extreme kind of foot massage because they are covered with rubber spikes that bite into the flesh more deeply (some would consider it a form of torture). The difference is the Foot Rubz has flat spikes while the Rhino Balls have spikes. I’ve also purchased STX Six Pack of Assorted Color Lacrosse Balls
because I had heard that they were less flexible. I am still trying to figure out when and how I can incorporate them into my practice.

It ain’t heavy — it’s my mat

I love my Manduka Eko mat because it’s big (71″ x 26″ ), thick (almost a quarter inch) and resilient. It cushions my knees and other pointed edges. It’s like a solid foundation that does not budge when I sink into pigeon pose. But it must weigh seven pounds, but that’s dead weight. I decided that I wanted to take it to the Buddha and the Body meditation retreat, along with my zafu and a blanket. I obviously wanted my yoga equivalent of a “security blanket.” I slung it over the shoulder in a bag that my daughter loaned me for the day.

Large Horizontal #1

What a mistake! Talk about taking my personal baggage to meditation!

Carrying it around on the Metro, to and from the venue, then back home, it turned into an unwieldy anchor hung around my neck. By the end of the day, I staggered to the pickup site at Rockville Metro station so that I could just unload it.

I’ve hauled it to my classes at Thrive for four years and never thought about it twice. But I was throwing it in the back seat of the car, not lugging it around. I will definitely need to find an alternative to it if I no longer have the benefit of driving to my class, workshop or retreat.

Just so you know, I am a Manduka affiliate and would get a small commission if you follow the Manduka link and buy something. Consider it a symbolic effort to recover some of the costs of this site.

It’s just money but who’s counting

Photo: a hand mudra during meditation
A classic hand mudra during meditation closes the energy circuits

Whenever the New York Times starts publishing multiple articles on yoga (two articles in less than a week; see the previous two blog entries), it usually portends a major existential crisis for the U.S. yoga community. The attention from major media is another indication that yoga is dipping into the American mainstream and losing its authenticity.

One of the central bugaboos for many commentators is that yoga  now means big bucks. Just look at some of  recent articles: The Future of YogaHow Yoga Sold Out (WSJ’s Speakeasy blog, written by  Stephanie Syman) and YogaDork’s Who Will Save Yoga?. Somewhere in these articles you’ll find a statement like “…yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers.”

These figures comes out of Yoga Journal‘s 2008 Yoga in America study. Journalists love the YJ figures because they come from a reputable source, confirm that yoga has moved beyond niche status, and impute the value of their own reporting on the topic (“My editor did not send me out to write a human interest feature about an ex-hippie.”). Continue reading It’s just money but who’s counting

Are men’s need for yoga duds meet by the market?

New York Times Dress Code — What’s a Guy to Wear for Yoga?: I used to fall for this question when I started out in yoga.

While the market in yoga-centric clothing for women is bursting at its fashionable seams, the choices for men are laughably sparse. They range from absurdly large, overly modest basketball shorts that bag downward in inversion poses to alarmingly tiny shorts that provide freedom of movement but give your classmates a far-too-clear view of your, uh, chakras.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why yoga-specific men’s clothing is so scarce is because the demand is adequately met by the existing market, despite what the article says. The abundance of sweat-dispersing, quick drying athletic wear, from Under Armour to Prana, means that there’s no problem to put find something to wear on the upper half of the torso. The issue of shorts requires a fabric with lots of give, but even swim suites will do. Besides, trying to find bargains at Lululemon is a lot harder than at Sports Authority or TJ Maxx.

Exceptions: where I will concede the point, is when a yogi has gone well beyond the intermediate phase, and gets into balances that require legs to get placed on arms. Sweat is a superb lubricant on skins so it requires inordinate amounts of strength to hold something like One-Legged Arm Balance (Eka Pada Koundinyasana), and having long pant’s leg to provide some friction is a welcome aid. But this is a small percentage of the men who do yoga. Of course, if you want to require environmentally correct fabric choices (hemp, for instance), then all bets are off.

The real issue for men is that going to a yoga studio is intimidating because of all the women, usually much better at the discipline, in attendance. So the “what-to-wear” question is really an excuse for not going. I think women have a much tougher challenge for appropriate yoga clothing, which is why there’s an abundance of options.

Blister on my shin

I went to my second Level II class in a row in two days and realized what it feels like after slacking off on my yoga practice (taxes, family priorities, web work, etc.). Plus, I had gone to a couple of weekend classes that were more restorative than vinyasa. So I can tell that I have lost core strength, flexibility and stamina in just a couple of weeks. Not enough to make me collapse on the floor in exhaustion, but I will probably be sore tomorrow. On top of it all, I developed a blister on my shin! I normally have callouses on my shin (actually a protruding tibia bone just below the right knee) from the kneeling poses, but tonight we did a breath of fire routine that required us to kneel in hero’s pose and then twist rhythmically as we breathed. The movement probably torqued my legs, rubbing my shin against the mat.

Photo: House troupe, La Nouba at Disney World
Yoga shorts for a real man — Drishti bought the 72K line of yoga wear

To motivate myself I have made a couple of purchases at Drishti Yoga: a pair of yoga shorts and a microfiber mat (no longer carried by the store). I got the shorts because I am tired of gyms shorts that just are not made for being worn upside down and that bind in all the wrong places. If this pair works out, I’ll buy some more. I got the mat because I was intrigued by the design — a microfabric top surface that deals well with sweat while still gripping well and a sticky mat bottom surface. I’ve been using the same mat for more than two years and it starting to deteriorate. My wife’s mat is more than four years old (and it was cheap when I bought it), and has lost all its stickiness. Of course, the politically correct thing is to buy a mat that is ecologically friendly. I have a Jade Harmony mat that I store at Flow Yoga so that I don’t have to carry a mat to work. My daughter bought it for me for my birthday last September. The mat is made of natural rubber (and smells like it) and is supposed to last forever. It takes some getting used to because I found that it does not allow me to slide on its surface.