Yoga

Everyday Resolutions

The end of each December is a popular time

to turn over a new leaf.

Rather than making New Year’s Resolutions, I resolve to improve my weak links on a daily basis, as the need arises, and believe me the need arises. But New Year’s Day is as good a day as any to get started, however, it is getting started and never stopping that is what’s worth keeping in mind.

Over the years, I have adopted the motto: “If what you are doing isn’t working, doing more of it won’t work any better.” And I practice implementing these words into my everyday actions.

Be it how I communicate with my kids, how I make lifestyle changes to eliminating plastic from my life or how I am constantly making adjustments with my body alignment, which causes me to re-evaluate and reconfigure my daily body maintenance routine. (My week 3 Day 7 progression has evolved greatly in the last three years.)

We must practice accepting that what we are doing may not be right and that through exploration we can continue to make improvements. Unless of course, you desire to live your life like a store display mannequin, frozen in time, not having to think or to adapt or to change; believing that what you are doing is right and that the problems you face must be faults outside your control. Most of us don’t know how to eat properly for optimal health, most of us don’t know how our body works, most of us don’t really know that much about the world we live in and how to take care of it.

When we take pause and consider that in order to survive, all of us must thrive on being right, on having the correct beliefs. In other words, if we don’t believe that what we do is correct would we not be crazy for repeating them over and over again? For even the addict, though often knows what he does isn’t right can find an excuse to justify and comfort his addiction. And so he believes that he is right, even if only for a moment in time. (There are many levels of addiction, from coffee, chocolate, exercise, drugs, pharmaceuticals, supplements, social media etc.)

What makes us do what we do?

Try as you might, to control your life, change is inevitable. As our lives change it is wise to become familiar with change in order to adapt without resistance, which enables a symbiotic synergy with family, community and the environment on a larger scale.

I like change. Similar to a cat, I like to see how I will land, and I have learned that there is no one way to land, (although the ideal is to land on ones feet!) which makes it all that more intriguing. As a result, I find myself constantly fine tuning my behaviours and habits, which puts me in a prime position to say a thing or two about how to initiate change.

Here are some basic suggestions:

Q: I want to change ______, but how do I even get started?

A: Getting started can be as simple as having an idea and making the decision to follow through on that idea. However, within this simple step there are a few sub-steps to climb:

You need discipline to develop skill. But, you need to spend some time developing skill to become disciplined.  You must have the willingness and desire, also known as passion or wanting it badly enough to spend the time developing the skill to become disciplined in the first place. Achieving goals and changing habits is not linear but rather cyclical and overlapping.

How To Cultivate Self-Discipline

So even when a person is committed to making change and making personal improvement, you can see it is not seamless. It is not easy or foolproof. It still requires a lot of work.  To outsiders having self-discipline looks effortless, but for those who practice being consistent there is no compliment in off-hand remarks such as: “oh, well you have self-discipline”, as if it were built-in. As if those who achieve anything remarkable is born with a natural talent.

Anyone can develop self-discipline, but it doesn’t just manifest, it must be cultivated. Anyone can be fit and healthy, but it takes effort, discipline and education. It takes practice to become consistent with self-discipline. Period.

Q: I’ve made many resolutions in the past but have always fallen short. How do I change this behavior?

A: By being consistent. Self-discipline is borne from being consistent. Don’t give up on yourself. There is a lot of self-coaching that goes along with keeping your word to yourself. It’s also helpful to understand that goals change along the way. Just because you initiate change with a certain idea doesn’t mean you will stick to that forever. As you learn more about yourself you will be required to re-evaluate your strategy and fine-tune your approach as you go along. You are a work in progress. The goal itself isn’t the point. The point is to realize your human potential and perpetually raise your own bar.

The goal isn't the goal

Q: I tend to stick to a program when I have someone to answer to, like a personal trainer or when I go to a group class.

A: Learn to become accountable to yourself. Try not even telling anyone what changes you have planned. Learn the necessary skills from someone more skilled than yourself and employ self-discipline to become your own expert.

When I had a studio, many of my clients had more money than discipline. Instead of practicing what I taught them so that we could develop their skills to the next level they would use me as a crutch to put them through their paces. Be a willing student because money cannot buy improved health, fitness or skill.

Q: How do I create lasting change?

A: Setting a new habit requires repetition. Let’s say for example that you want to lose weight and get in better physical condition. I believe it is best achieved by making very small changes so as to not overwhelm oneself, which is the idea behind my 4-minute morning series.

Hopefully, as you go through the progressions, you will learn more about yourself (how your mind works) and your body and discover areas that need further exploration. Note: ALL areas need further exploration 🙂 My 4 minute morning series of progressions is the foundation for developing a consistent practice of self-discipline. It is simple but can you do it? Oftentimes it is the simple things that are the most challenging.

I believe that exercise is meant to establish a balanced musculoskeletal system. When we are in balance, our body works at an optimal level (which is different for everyone).

Important: If you exercise with poor body alignment you will only reinforce an unbalanced musculoskeletal system. Keep in mind that when you practice Yoga, run, walk, swim, cycle or lift heavy weights among many other activities, the point of what you are doing is to build an ideal structure that is trained to move in an optimal way when you engage in life: sitting at your desk, driving a car, sitting on a bus, walking, grocery shopping etc. It is the mundane repetitive activities associated with living that require this steady stream of awareness. 

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

―Archilochus 

~Happy New Year 2014 ~Happy New Year 2014 ~Happy New Year 2014 ~

 

Navasana into Handstand

Navasana

I practice physical (Hatha) Yoga

and mental (Raja) Yoga.

I am not sure it is possible to do one without the other; just as we cannot inhale without exhaling – they go together. However, as we all know, there are different levels of practice to any art or science. Similarly, it is possible to be breathing every waking moment of the day and yet by days end be completely unaware of having experienced the incredible life giving exchange of oxygen.

“When the word Yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical postures for relaxing and limbering up the body. This is one aspect of the Yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga – namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.”

-From the Introduction The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is subjective and in Western culture this is very much the case. No one can define for another what Yoga should be. Once we choose to practice anything, we make it our own.

We can choose to simply go through the motions and be done with our practice, whatever that may be (Yoga, running, swimming, Tai Chi, etc.), and check it off our master list of things to do for the day, or we can choose to practice with intention, focus and purpose. It takes the same amount of time to do either and no more effort. It comes down to choice.

My Yoga practice over the last eighteen years has had its own evolution; years of intense continuous practice to some years with very little to none at all. There were moments when my ego subconsciously struggled with attaining physical goals to moments like right now where I feel deeply satisfied in practicing without a goal. The practice is the practice – just as I am beginning to understand, to really understand that there is only now.

It is definitely an interesting state of mind to observe oneself; like a spectator to my own thoughts and to my own physical practice. With this in mind I am sharing a video that I put together as an example of what practice can do.

I began filming myself as a tool to analyze my alignment. At the same time I realized that there aren’t many videos out there that actually show, through the progression of time, how we can improve with consistent practice. We often see photographs of the final product, or experts demonstrating the final product, which is important, but I think it is equally important for beginners to see that regardless of ability, we all have to start at the very beginning – our own beginning.

This video shows what 12 weeks of practice looks like (bloopers and all).

At this point, I would like to bridge the idea of practice with time. In this video I am demonstrating my attempts at doing Navasana (boat) into Handstand, which is the thirteenth posture in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series. I get to Navasana by the fifty-minute mark and only spend about three to four minutes on this particular sequence. I proved to myself what an impact short duration practice can have. I only spent three to four minutes, two to three times per week on this.

But in the same breath, achieving the physical is actually unimportant. I realize this may come across as a contradiction, and I am fully aware of this, but I think that this is what makes it such an interesting state of mind. An important element of the physical and mental Yoga practice is about confronting one’s ambition and learning to manage it.

“Real yoga is what you can’t see. It’s invisible.”

-David Williams

I filmed this after about a year of an on-again regular home-based Ashtanga Yoga practice, which included Surya Namaskara A & B, the Standing Series, the first twelve seated postures, three backbends followed by the closing sequence, practiced two to three times per week. (A total of forty-five minutes for each practice session).

I did very few jump through or jump back vinyasa because doing them in previous years seemed to cause irritation (in hindsight, I realize now that because I was out of balance I would unknowingly compensate at my shoulders or neck or back etc.), so I made the executive decision to leave those vinyasa out and see what would happen.

July 2012, I felt that it was time to add on. The thirteenth posture in the series is Navasana. From all my years of practice I never attempted the handstand, which is part of that progression. I would always just do a seated lift, and carry on, which was typically taught in classes and I was not told to do the handstand by my teacher in Mysore class. Since I was reviewing and studying from John Scott’s manual, I took it as a sign that I should attempt it. Again, this felt like walking the tight rope of ambition…

Traditionally, in Ashtanga Yoga, the student should not proceed with postures until the preceding postures are attained with adequate proficiency. This makes perfect sense to me. In previous years though, when I would go to classes, students of all levels would be herded through the entire primary series regardless of ability. I decided I wouldn’t do this anymore. There is a reason for practicing the same thing over and over again until the body and mind is ready to add on. Western culture, tends to override theory with the customer is always right and wanting a perceived moneys-worth-of-a-workout. It is OK to proceed at a snail’s pace because being able to contort oneself into a pose doesn’t mean anything without Raja Yoga.

“Real yoga lives in everyday interactions, like being nice.

It’s the unity we can create around us.

If it were just about gymnastics, then Olympic medalists would be swamis and gurus. “

– David Swenson

In the video you will see that at the beginning I couldn’t even do a handstand to gradually understanding the transition from the seated lift attempting to pivot into the handstand. Now, hold on a second. I feel like I should clarify something. Yes, of course I could do a handstand in a gymnastics kind of way. But doing a handstand in a Yogic state of mind is very different. Try it sometime.

But what is important for me to share is that it is the process of practice that is the goal, not the goal of attaining the pose or sequence. I may never be able to move seemlessly from Navasana to Handstand, but that really doesn’t matter to me. If we truly understand what practice means, then we understand that a pose is never attained, no matter how beautiful of an image we see of one, because it continues to grow and transform with each practice.

We age. Life happens. We change. We grow.

And naturally so does everything we do.

Our body shifts and changes so much with every day as does our mind (from thoughts and experiences) that each day when we practice we are completely different from the previous day.

To me, this type of physical Yoga, is an incredibly thorough system of physical therapy, which makes its ancient beginnings so remarkable. As we progress through the system, if we take care and not rush through with ambition, our body will become innately prepared for the next posture. But this takes time and practice.

“Practice, and all is coming.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Practice without ambition. Practice with focus and with a desire to learn with each breath. Practice being in the moment and not thinking about what comes next.

;

You will notice that I have sped up the video in some areas; however, I have not slowed it down at all. Shortening twelve weeks of practice (approximately 144 minutes of total practice time into a 5minute video has its challenges).

As an aside, I just wanted to explain that most of the seated postures in Ashtanga Yoga are only held for five breaths, which amounts to approximately one minute each. In the big picture, this does not seem like a lot of time. But when you practice regularly, then you will know that when we focus our attention on a task, a lot can happen in one minute; this is more profound than spending more time without focus. It makes a difference and it this which contributes to change.

I will talk more about focused practice vs. duration next time.

Modified Sun Salutation

Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana - Person perf...

“If this is how my body feels at twenty-one,

it worries me to think about

how it will feel in ten to twenty years.”

– Travis Nelson

Travis is a swimming coach and lifeguard at the pool where I swim. One day last year (September 2011) he asked me if I could recommend some exercises for his back. He told me that his lower back was sore and he thought that he should do some exercises to strengthen it.

I offered that it might be more complex than that and that focusing on strengthening the back could very possibly make things worse. There could be a whole host of possibilities as to why he feels pain and discomfort in his lower back. Oftentimes, this type of pain stems from imbalance. Meaning that some muscles may be over developed while others are underdeveloped and therefore being overworked. When our muscles are balanced, “not too tight and not too loose” then our joints are better supported and will work better on demand. Anyone can use brute force to blast through a set of an exercise or sprint to the finish line while in pain or not. But as far as exercise and physical movement is concerned, in my mind, exercise is about establishing a bio-mechanical functioning body. Sport on the other hand is about times and points. But as you will see, most professional athletes spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting the accuracy with each micro-phase of each movement.  It is this concept of precision, which is what I hope to relay in this site.

My conversation with Travis lasted no more than 4 minutes. I suggested he start with the 3-Hip Stretches and I showed him very quickly (pool side) how to stretch his psoas. He is the ideal student. He actually followed-up and did these exercises.

For quite some time afterward, in my mind I could not stop hearing him say: “If this is how my body feels at twenty-one…” and I wanted to share these words with you. So, I caught up with Travis and asked him if I could film him saying what he said to me in that first conversation. It was funny, because I wanted to assure him that I could edit the filming in the case he was uncomfortable, to which he assured me that it wasn’t a problem because he is an actor. Fantastic! He surprised me by walking me through what I had taught him in those few minutes from a few months earlier. You will see, I think he did very well.

Below is the long overdue video that I promised Travis that I would put together so that he would be able to see what the sequence looks like in its entirety. This is the modified Sun Salutation that I do each morning.

My Morning Routine (20 minutes):

  1. Bed Stretches (2 – 5 minutes)
  2. Wall and floor stretches with Travel Roller ball & roller (3 – 5 minutes)
  3. Modified Sun Salutation (3 – 4 minutes)
  4. 4 Minute Morning (week 3 – DAY 7) (4 – 5 minutes)
  5. Walk in a figure-8 (30 seconds)

Down the road I will put together a video to break down the finer points of the modified Sun Salutation. The first step for anyone is to learn the sequence by memory; once that is achieved then we can begin to fine tune and deepen our understanding.

Note: These stretches/ exercises are appropriate for my body but may not be for yours. Use caution when trying anything new. I find it works best to err on the side of caution. Begin with one exercise and repeat that one exercise for a week or so, until it is committed to memory, only then consider adding on.

Related Articles:

One One-Hundredth of a Second Faster: Building Better Olympic Athletes 

My Weekly Body Maintenance

Post-Yoga Practice

Seems like once I say it out loud or write it down, IT changes.

The IT I’m referring to in this case, is my Body Maintenance schedule. I have taken to calling it My Body Maintenance because that is how I see it now. It’s not so much my workout anymore. The physical activity that I engage in everyday has more to do with the methodical maintenance of my overall physical health and functional alignment.

I find it interesting that most people I run into assume that I am training for something. Are you a triathlete? You must workout a lot! Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why I am posting this schedule. This entire website is about how to maintain our overall health with a healthy dose of moderate daily body maintenance. SOME focused daily body maintenance, not an extreme amount, EVER. Focus on precision of movement in every waking moment and lead an Active Lifestyle. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? I believe that it is, it just takes a little bit of practice and perhaps a whole lot of belief shifting to make it happen; more on the belief part another day.

Do something everyday.

Learn > Practice > Refine > Repeat.

A year ago my weekly schedule looked very different compared with the current one (below). At the bottom of this post I will write out what last years schedule looked like and what it looked like a year before that. Change is good. I choose to change and move forward towards better health. Doing more was not the answer for me.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

–Will Rogers

Since June 2012 this is what my current weekly Body Maintenance schedule has been:

Monday       Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Rest &Recovery Stairs Warm Up+1-mile Track Run(aim for 7min. Mile)+Max. Push Ups in 1 Minute

+Ashtanga Yoga

(~80 min. Total time)

30 Min.Swim drills Stairs Warm Up+4 Minute Burpees Tabata+400x Skipping+Ashtanga Yoga(~70 min. Total Time)
ACTIVE LIVING

ACTIVE LIVING

 ACTIVE LIVING  ACTIVE LIVING
Friday Saturday Sunday
30 Min.Swim drills Rest &RecoveryOrAshtanga Yoga(30 – 60 min. Total time) 30 Min.Swim drills
ACTIVE LIVING ACTIVE LIVING

ACTIVE LIVING

 

Current Ashtanga Yoga Practice (~60 minutes):

  • 5x Surya Namaskara A
  • 3-5 x Surya Namaskara B
  • Standing Series
  • First 12 seated postures (Lift between each posture with the occasional vinyasa)
  • Working on Navasana up to Handstand (I will post a video of this progression, it is quite amusing)
  • 2 Backbends + counter pose
  • The Finishing Sequence (when not menstruating)
  • Closing Sequence
  • Savasana
  • No practice on full moon days.

25 – 30 minutes Swim Drills (20 meter pool):

  • 4 lengths flutter kick w/board
  • 8 lengths front crawl w/flip turn
  • 2 lengths flutter kick on back with arms overhead
  • 8 lengths back stroke
  • 2 lengths flutter kick on back with arms overhead
  • 8 lengths breast stroke
  • 4 lengths dolphin kick w/board
  • 4 lengths arms only front crawl w/pull buoy
  • 4 lengths flutter kick w/ board
  • 8 lengths front crawl w/flip turn
  • 4 min. Vertical Treading Water Tabata
  • 4 lengths easy front crawl cool down
  • 10 – 15 minute stretch in whirlpool

Pool Lap Lane

Of course Active Living varies from day to day and season to season. My biggest House Maintenance Day tends to be on my Rest & Recovery Days but that is not set in stone – stuff comes up! Some house maintenance is done everyday, regardless. Rest & Recovery days vary too.

It also looks like my Playground Pit-Stops will be dwindling over the winter months, as they usually do – monkey bars and D-Rings need to be dry (and Vancouver is pretty wet), but with cold muscles my hands just can’t hold a grip. There is also the dog walk duty, which is shared between my husband and me; we don’t have a set schedule.

If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions.

If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.

~Chinese Proverb

This is an example of a week schedule from 2011:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Stairs Warm Up+ light stretches+My 12 minute Workout+1×100 skipping+5 Forward GripPull Ups

Ashtanga Yoga

 

Rest& RecoveryDay 30 Min.Swim Drills Rest &Recovery DayOrMy 12 minute Workout+1×100 skipping

+Ashtanga Yoga

 

Active Living Active Living Active Living Active Living
Friday Saturday Sunday
30 Min.Swim Drills Rest &Recovery DayOrMy 12 minute Workout+4 x 100 skipping

+5 Forward Grip

Pull-Ups

+Ashtanga Yoga

 

30 Min.Swim Drills
Active Living Active Living Active Living

2011 – June 2012

Ashtanga Yoga Practice (~40 minutes):

  • 3 – 4x Surya Namaskara A
  • 3x Surya Namaskara B
  • Standing series
  • first 12 seated postures (no vinyasa)
  • 3 backbends
  • Closing Sequence
  • Savasana

Swim Drills (30 minutes):

  • Same as above except only difference
  • Egg Beater Treading Water Tabata

In the years before the examples above, my workouts were much longer, over 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes in duration for BodyRock style workouts. I used to take a Masters Swim Group Class (not “masters” by definition meaning experts, rather all of us gained entry because we were over 35). And I used to go out for an hour of intense soccer with the ladies once or twice a week. When I think back on it now I can’t believe I used to do that!  I was trained to believe that we had to get our heart rate up to a certain number for a certain amount of time to reap any benefits. I used to believe a lot of “facts” backed up by scientific research written in esteemed text books and journals. Now I see that it is much, much more complex than all that. Everything is. For me, this says a lot about our belief systems and what we do because of them.

In a nutshell?

Do less at one time. But do it well; with precision. Be active throughout the day.

Flag Girl

This is Flag Girl Amanda.

Driving home from my 10 minute morning hill sprint with dog Ruby and my 9 year old son, I happened to see Amanda doing some Prisoner Squats at the side of the road.

Amanda is a Flag Girl with the city’s sewers crew. I parked my car and high tailed it over to chat with her about what she was doing. With my son and dog in tow, I told her what I had witnessed. She explained that she had been in a motor-vehicle accident on March 27, 2012 and since has been in a lot of pain. She had gone through all the required active rehabilitation for the soft tissue damage. However, since the physical treatments that were covered by insurance had come to an end she had to become self-sufficient and consistent with doing the prescribed exercises throughout the day on her own. She quickly showed me the list of exercises on her phone.

Yay, Amanda!

Because her job requires for a lot of standing she finds that the immobility is what contributes to her pain. As a result she does whichever exercises she can while on the job.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this. On one other occasion I noticed a Flag girl doing some lunges and now wonder if it was Amanda then also!?

I’ve often wanted to contact the city and offer to give a workshop on how workers can help themselves throughout such long days of mostly stationary work – because standing around (though at least there is movement), can be equally difficult on the body as sitting at a work-station all day. In addition, I think that long hours, like what Amanda does can often leave workers fatigued by days end and the last thing they want to or feel motivated to do is think about doing a ‘workout’. So what if people in this situation could be shown (and convinced) that some, focused exercises done with precision, specific to their needs could do a world of good!

This is why I love the 4 Minute Morning concept as well as Stretch B4 Bed idea too. Each session doesn’t have to be an event, but rather a few minutes of focused attention, a moving meditation, which is what Yoga is; time spent inwardly focusing and becoming aware of our physical being, which subconsciously trains our body to function correctly when we are not able to be focused inwardly…like, most of the time!

Here is a little video of what I saw Amanda doing that morning. She re-created the moment for me so I could post it here. Of course, my preference would have been to catch her spontaneously, but this will give you the gist.

I just wanted to reinforce here, how beneficial and necessary micro-breaks are for all of us, regardless of injury or as daily maintenance. I think our culture has gotten a lot carried away with the more is better philosophy with regards to exercise. We need to step back and focus more on how our body functions and less on doing exercise for the sole purpose of looking a certain way.

Training For What?

Menschenrettung mit der Steckleiter

What does training really mean?

I think the word training has lost a bit of its true meaning, lost it’s identity, so to speak. Similar to how the words ‘body and mind’, ‘balance’ or ‘core-strength’ just roll off the tongue. We get to a point where words become saturated from overuse or their meaning evolves, like ‘Party’.

Training used to mean: to prepare for something.

Nowadays, it seems like “I’m going to see my Trainer” just rolls off the tongue too. It has generally evolved into:

I’m going to workout now, with someone to whom I pay a lot of money to tell me what to do next and who pushes me to do more reps than I would if it were up to me alone.

Where did the preparation for: _____  – go?

English: Army Physical Training School, Brisba...

There is so much more to Physical Training than the obvious physiological benefits, such as maintaining an ideal weight, stress reduction and cardiovascular fitness, to name a few. When I speak of Physical Training I’m not referring to simple, functional exercise like active living or walking the dogs around the block. I’m talking about focused, planned and purposeful physical training; this type of training has many layers, which translates to and shapes the way we live our life and conduct ourselves.

It is THIS training which prepares us for life.

These are just some of the layers (in no particular order) that come to mind when I think about what physical training teaches me. So, in effect, my daily physical training has very little to do with the aesthetic, and has a lot more to do with building character. The aesthetic then, is the unexpected result from doing what should be done regardless.

What Physical Training Teaches Me:

  • discipline to practice daily = learn to not procrastinate = positive example for my children
  • desire to make a difference = forge ahead
  • being consistent = long term commitment = not expect quick fix solutions
  • repeating patterns of movement = teaches habitual patterning
  • repeating patterns of movement = boredom is a state of mind = refining movement cancels out boredom
  • adding-on and refining habitual patterning = being responsible for life’s daily required chores = Endless
  • ambition to be a better version of myself = to not be complacent = always room for improvement
  • sense of purpose = sense of purpose
  • be prepared w/ Food, hydration, digestion etc. = being prepared /planning ahead
  • to not give up when tired = endurance = to not give up when all the cards are stacked against me
  • to push/pull/lift a heavy weight = strength = to be able to carry the challenges that come with life
  • agility = to be able to think and react quickly, both physically and mentally
  • adapt to change = adapt to change
  • ego training = learning to accept limits
  • instinct training = knowing when to rest, recover or step away = knowing what feels right or wrong in any given situation
  • precision of movement = being responsible, careful and present = focus on details
  • balance within my physical structure = balance the duties and relationships in my life for a calm and happy existence
  • timer training = realizing how much can be accomplished in only 20 seconds! = I try to translate this to daily chores – actually everything, to right now.
  • interval training = learning that putting in even a short amount of time towards a task makes a considerable difference
  • Yoga = lifelong practice regardless of accomplishment = always learning, adding-on and refining

Please understand, that I am not blowing my own horn, here. Just because I’m doing the training doesn’t mean that I’m an expert at any of it – it simply means that I’m in training; fully engaged in the process. I love the challenge that each day brings with it a new configuration of possibilities. Each day I have to adapt to a new rhythm.

We all do.

Some days rock while other days are lousy. I love that my new found discipline with Daily Body Maintenance is really working, but in so many more ways than I imagined. These physical training techniques really do have purpose beyond the physiological benefits.

Most of all, each day I realize what a profound responsibility I have in preparing my children to lead a successful life – which, has nothing to do with income or prestige, but rather has everything to do with being prepared to take care of themselves; from learning how to tidy up after themselves (flush the toilet, brush their teeth and make their beds to vacuuming and washing their bedroom floor to gradually becoming more involved in the larger or mundane daily household chores). Once the basic duties associated with living become habitual, then those duties are no longer viewed with resentment, as if those chores are in the way of our having fun. Those chores need to be done regardless – as does our Body Maintenance.

The most valuable gift I can give my children, is to teach them how to take care of themselves. Life is full of repetition. We can choose to view this repetition as boring or uneventful or we can choose to embrace it and have fun with it.

Everyone’s working out like fiends, but for what? To win a race? To clock a better personal best? To look and feel better? Training to look good for summer, for the wedding dress etc.? All perfectly acceptable reasons; except for when the line is crossed over to mindless exercise, overtraining and simply using brute force to execute movements; forgetting to be compassionate to oneself in the process.

Oftentimes, not to have enough juice left for actual living! Causing overuse injuries, which will impact one’s ageing body.  We need to remember that physical exercise training, conditions the body to do something – be it to set an Olympic record, or simply being able to bend down, i.e., to function. It’s disappointing and tragic when our star athletes give up so much of their future wellness for the accolades of the moment. We’re constantly reminded to live in the now, but there is a strategy to living in the moment – a strategy, which includes balance and forward planning.

The good news, is that with enough compassion and care we can use the science of exercise prescription to rebalance our structure for a long and sound life – and still go for Gold!

What If…? Part 3

US Navy 030830-N-9693M-006 U.S. Naval Academy ...

 In this post I will venture to explain some upper body mechanics…

Why too many downward dogs or push ups can give you a headache among other things.


Quick Review

In the previous two posts I touched upon:

  • How complex our body is
  • What a healthy muscle is
  • What fascia is
  • The relationship between muscle and fascia
  • How dysfunctional movement patterning can negatively affect our skeletal structure
  • A personal example of how repetitive overuse of imbalanced muscular patterning caused my legs to bow
  • Examples of similar types of bodywork: Rolfing/ Structural Integration, Kinesis Myofascial Integration (KMI), Wharton Performance Musculoskeletal Therapy (AIS), Active Release Therapy (ART)
  • Self-help methods: Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Pilates, Yoga, Body Rolling…
  • Listen to The Fuzz Speech by Gil Hedley or read the transcript
  • If you haven’t read the two previous posts view Part 1 here and Part 2 here before reading on.

When I was taking my Pilates Instructor Training Course, so many years ago, I was amazed at how much I didn’t know – boy that sounds arrogant! But it’s true – I was young and of course, thought I knew everything (much like my kids do now). My Pilates teacher, taught me to see with x-ray vision; which means, we were taught to analyze the way overused or underused muscles affected skeletal alignment – just by looking at someone. On the first day of this type of analysis, I remember feeling completely out of sorts: “You see what?” and “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” In time it all became so obvious, how was it that I couldn’t see all this before?

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

– Zen proverb

A quick side note: “The teacher” from my interpretation is not always a physical being. The teacher can be a spoken word or a situation, which contributes to an A-Ha! moment. The former scenario could have happened many times before, but it is at the precise moment when the student is really willing to see or is present, as if the planets have aligned like at the eleventh hour in a cinematic climax, the A-Ha! moment occurs. The teacher (or lesson) was always there, I believe all of our lessons are always circling around us, just waiting for that opportune moment. This idea conjures images of Glinda, the good witch from the Wizard of Oz, and those ruby slippers; Dorothy could have gone home at any time. The Lion, Tin-Man and Scarecrow all tell her that they should have thought of it for her…but Glinda reassures them that it was Dorothy, who had to think of it.

We are simultaneously teacher and student.

What does any of this have to do with doing too many push-ups or downward dogs? Bear with me…First:

1.We need to discuss neck and shoulder alignment.

2.What happens when we do too much of one exercise

3.Why being consistent with less, is more effective

1.We need to discuss neck and shoulder alignment.

The shoulder and neck regions are very complex, being made up of an intricate configuration of bones, cartilage, muscles, fascia, nerves, veins and arteries, which support our every move.

Just look at an example of how complex our internal wiring is (below):

The shoulder blades (scapula, singular and scapulae, plural) need to be well balanced upon the back of our ribcage. There are many muscles, which participate in all our daily movements, which we don’t often think about unless we feel pain in our effort to function.

The rotaor cuff muscles, below (there are four: Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Subscapularis),

originate on our scapulae and insert onto our humerus (the upper arm bone). These muscles can work independently from one another and their main function, which is hugely important, is to stabilize the shoulder joint and provide movement of the arm bone, such as lifting and rotation.

But wait there’s more.

The Serratus Anterior, (above centre, seen here in red) also, happens to be one of my favourite muscles – I may quiz you on that later.

The Serratus Anterior (above and seen below left) combined with the Pectoralis Minor (below left)…

Pectoralis Minor originates on ribs 3, 4 and 5. They insert upward onto the Coracoid Process, which is a bony protuberance at the top of the scapula.

If the other muscle groups are not able to do their job or the Pectoralis Minor is over-compensating, the Pectoralis Minor can contribute in pulling the shoulder blade downward and forward.

…And on the back: Rhomboids, Levator Scapula, Teres Major (below left) and Trapezius (below right) all play a very important role in stabilizing the scapulae.

So all these muscles have to work in concert; like a symphony. Some muscles performing a fantastic crescendo when other sections are easing off into the whispers of pianissimo – this performance is happening ALL the time. This is what we mean when we talk about balance, which is why it is imperative to memorize movements in order to analyze them. As we become more proficient we focus less on how to do an exercise and more on how we feel doing the exercise, taking it to the next level of awareness; transformation comes as our awareness evolves. Exercising in this mind-full way is just not possible while watching TV, listening to music or having a conversation (hearing and having awareness of background noise and sound is very different from active listening). We actually must focus on the task at hand. To be mindful is to be focused.

Balance is something that is alive and is always fluctuating, it cannot be cast in bronze and held in place.

For example: if our Rhomboids are over-compensating for a weakness in our Serratus, the effect when attempting to do a push will then cause the shoulder blades to ‘wing’ (poke upward) causing more of an imbalance.

I have used the following quote before, it is so great that it stands repeating:

“Anatomy studies a projection of the static body, but function in the living requires more than static recognition.”

– Ida P. Rolf

 

2. What happens when we do too much of one exercise?

What happens when we do too much of one exercise, i.e., everyday, but in particular when we strain to squeeze out the last few repetitions beyond muscle failure.

The skeleton becomes compromised, the muscles and fascia can lose their functional slide and glide relationship – they can become stuck – nerves, arteries and veins can become impinged causing the next wave of who knows what…

…[Possibly,] “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome,” [which] can occur after trauma, such as with falls or accidents, which injure the neck/shoulder area, but more commonly the cause is a combination of muscle imbalances, and altered posture. These changes are common in those who spend long hours doing deskwork, or with certain sleeping positions, or improper workout routines.”

Dr John-David Kato DC, MSc, ACSM-RCEP, CSEP-CEP

Read more about Thoracic Outlet Syndrome here.

When this happens the end goal (a healthy, fit, functioning and balanced body) is sabotaged.

When we struggle with push-ups: the head drops forward, the neck muscles and shoulders are straining, this repeated practice is only reinforcing poor alignment. However, some will argue that they feel great. By pushing in the extreme they feel as though they ‘got a real workout’ and they can see the definition in their muscles, so in their mind ‘everything is coming along’.  It takes practice to fine tune pushing hard to our limit versus pushing hard beyond it.

The damage from pushing beyond our limit can have lasting effects, which don’t always surface until much later. Luckily, from what I’ve noticed, the body really does want to be healthy and happy. It has this amazing ability to regenerate. It seems to me that it is often the mind, which is more stubborn. To me, the body is like ‘man’s best friend’, it goes with you wherever, whenever, no questions asked. It will push for you beyond its limits, much like the dogs I see running the trails with their owners. Most dog breeds have no business running long distances, however, they carry-on for their owner, happy to do so, but sadly develop hip dysplasia (or something of the sort) requiring surgery. Most dogs are not meant for long runs, but are rather sprinters, who for themselves determine how much and for how long. Notice how those breeds naturally run in a game of tag only to stop and lay down to recover, then to bound up again to repeat the fun?  These breeds are the original Tabata athletes!

Where was I…

Also, there is a group of neck muscles called the Scalenes – Anterior, Medial and Posterior. (Below) You can see how the Scalenes are very deep within our neck.

The image (below) shows the nerves, known here as the Brachial Plexus (yellow), which pass through the Scalenes, including the subclavian artery, meaning it passes below the clavicle (under the collar bone), which pass again below the pectoralis minor muscle.

This image is intended to demonstrate how delicate our neck and shoulder structure is. And how easy it is to compress our nerves, arteries and veins when our skeleton is intentionally (through exercise) or accidentally (from trauma) pulled out of its optimal and balanced alignment.

Over-tightening of the Scalenes can pull on the Cervical Spine (neck vertebrae) pulling the neck bones forward which causes the head (chin) to tilt upward, Pectoralis Minor pulls the shoulder blades forward causing the shoulders to round, which compress the Brachial Plexus – the group of nerves exiting the neck area which can lead to tingling or numbness down the arms, among other possibilities. This is not good.

If your push up form resembles these two pictures (below), please practice modified push ups from your knees until you have developed a better balance within all the supporting groups of muscles that I have been talking about.

Regardless of my urging, if you insist on doing full push ups please analyze your form and before your body starts to go in this direction (see below), consider making a modification by dropping to your knees. From your knees if your form starts to fail, then stop – accept defeat with good form, that’s what we should be going for – or continue to work your way backwards to each modified version all the way back to the Wall Press. Once fatigued like this, it will surprise you how difficult even a wall push up becomes. It’s not how many you do, it’s how you do them.

Under my 4 Minute Morning heading I have the progressions for learning the correct form for push ups, starting with Wall Press then gradually working towards the full push up. When we skip ahead, assuming we are already strong enough for push ups or other exercises, we miss out on the necessary progressions. By spending time with each progression we develop better awareness of the simplicity and complexity within each exercise.

Help Yourself:

The daily Micro Breaks Stretches that you have been practicing (ah-hem), will support your efforts, by encouraging mobility in the muscles that are getting tightened possibly just from existing, doing some or too many push ups. Also here is another link to view at Wharton Performance: an AIS (Active Isolated Stretch) for Pectoralis Major and Minor. If you click on the Wharton Performance link, you will be taken to their main page, click on the second video on this page, the title is: “Active Isolated Flexibility with Phil Wharton” and skip ahead to 7:05 in the video to view the chest stretch. I do this stretch daily and occasionally many times throughout the day when I find myself waiting on the kids to brush their teeth or something of the sort.

3.Why being consistent with less, is more effective.

When was this idea conceived anyway? The idea that we have to beat ourselves up for hours on end to prove our endurance and therefore our worth? Was it Chariot’s of Fire? When did it happen that we were convinced that we all had to train as if we were professional athletes? By the way, most professional athletes are riddled with overuse injuries…more on that another time.

Hopefully, you’ve already listened to Gil Hedley’s, The Fuzz Speech; Well this is my: Less Is More Effective – Speech. By being consistent with shorter workouts, done every day for the rest of our life, we won’t need to go beyond muscle failure – we just need to go TO muscle failure – I repeat, not beyond. With this in mind we can better focus on our technique and devote more useful time to our stretching routine which will support our structure.

This is another shout out for the short duration High Intensity Workouts. Only 4 – 12 minutes, maybe up to 20 minutes from time to time and sure, keep doing your long cardio workouts if you like them – from time to time – balance it out. But generally speaking, when we are consistent – read: daily – I have found that our body responds better with a short High Intensity Workout combined with regular periods of stretching throughout the day. All of it is important, but in particular, finding the balance with:
  • exercise intensity
  • type of exercise/ variety
  • stretching/Yoga
  • being focused/ mindful
  • ability to access the meditative state
  • eating/nutrition/hydration
  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night
  • rest and recovery from exercise
  • relationships/family
  • creativity
  • duty
  • chores
  • work
  • play…

Being the natural chatterbox that I am, I have got a lot more to share on this topic (the downward dog part, etc…) and will post it over the next week; A little at a time so you can digest the information before I add on.

Flexibility Is Relative

The Work

The Progressions

The Achievements

The Cycle Repeats

It all comes down to perspective.

Many years ago, when I was fairly new to Ashtanga Yoga (having about six years of an inconsistent practice under my belt), my Yoga teacher casually mentioned how stiff she was feeling that particular day.  Meanwhile, a very seasoned Yogi in her own rite; in 2000, she was authorized to teach by Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, and in July 2009, she was in the first group of 40 students to receive Level 2 Authorization – to teach the Primary and Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga.

How could she be stiff? Or even know what being inflexible meant anymore – just look at the positions she can put herself into…

It was a wonderful moment of realization for me – that elusive perspective.

All things are relative. Flexibility, strength, power, agility, fitness…it’s all relative to where you are presently. Even if you are a competitive athlete; first you have to relate to your present level of fitness/ability before you can compete against your opponent.

Therefore, when inactive or active people compare themselves to me or to others, I understand – their perspective dial is cloudy; they have forgotten.

Where YOU are right now is all that matters. Where YOU will be tomorrow is insignificant.

______________________________

I think a lot about how I speak to children. I teach my children that if they fail they should try again…anybody need to hear the bicycle analogy? It’s the same for us. Just because we are adult doesn’t mean that we have to excel at our first, second or third attempts. Go back in time for a minute. Stop and explore an internal dialogue, which supports your efforts, with honesty and honest effort, without expectation.  What does that dialogue sound like?

______________________________

I was going to say: If you try, it will happen. But “IT” is an expectation in itself. Yoga is about being – being in the moment. Forget about “IT” and just be in the now.

Without being esoteric, what I’m trying to convey is that “IT” is simply in your daily practice. The daily self-guided practice can be applied to everything we do (your 4 minute morning, your HIIT workout etc.), because when we engage in a self-guided practice, we are teaching ourselves, we are learning about ourself.

“IT” is an endless process.

I think everyone would benefit from learning a self-guided yoga routine, be it short or long. There are variations for everyone at any level, be it modifications to suit lack of flexibility or for physical rehabilitation or for those with time restrictions. Here is a link for David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga Short Forms book, which has 15 minute, 30 minute and 45 minute routines which are well rounded.

Where I am today may seem very far in the future for those who are just beginning to exercise.  It is just as important to not compare with me or others as it is of equal importance to NOT compare with what you were once able to do; remember that everything is relative. In the eyes of the novice, what I do might look advanced, but I can feel equally stiff and inflexible, much like my Yoga teacher from many years ago. An advanced position or posture still has room to grow. It’s only called advanced relative to the beginner.

Yoga is the physical therapy that we can apply to ourselves. Really, no one can help us better than we can help ourselves. Our bodyworkers (Yoga teachers, RMT’s etc.) are our guides. With their guidance and with our daily self-guided practice we become more in tune with how our body is functioning.

Each time I step on my Yoga mat or slip in the pool, I too feel like a beginner (in my own way). For each day is a new beginning, a new configuration of everything. My body alignment, movement patterning and understanding has changed from yesterday’s practice and so standing on my mat today I have to adapt to what feels unlike my old self. Essentially, each new day is a fresh start but with the gift of accumulated knowledge from previous days.

“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.”

-Albert Einstein

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Below is an excerpt from an article written by Kino MacGregor, which I think explains very clearly the importance of the self-guided practice also known as Mysore Style. To view the complete article click here.

“Memorizing the postures allows students to focus internally, which is the real goal of yoga. When you do not know what you will be doing next your attention will always be on your teacher rather than within yourself.

Once you memorize the sequence of postures that your teacher determines is right for you the entire practice transfers deeper into the subconscious level. Practicing in the Mysore Style method allows you to have days where you go deeply into your practice and also days where you go gently into your practice while performing all the same postures. This natural variation prevents injury, trains you to listen to the body and increases internal body awareness.”

Kino MacGregor

Mysore Style does not only have to apply to Ashtanga Yoga. I think it is paramount to view our daily body maintenance in this same way: Self-Guided Practice. A lot of people I know rely on a workout buddy to get their workouts done – but that is another conversation altogether.

“Things I love about Yoga… is that the deeper you scratch, the deeper it goes…”

~ Meghan Currie

Below is an inspiring time lapse video of Meghan Currie showing her daily practice.