Thursday, February 26, 2015

Yoga For 2015

In the challenge I posted a couple days ago I talked a little bit about how I use yoga at the beginning and end of my workouts, and I wanted to take some time to elaborate a bit about that. I also incorporate yoga into my physical fitness routine and I have been meaning to share how I do that as well. 

I think there's this perception of yoga as this sacred practice you have to do in a studio in front of other sweaty people in order to benefit from it. Or another view might be yoga in itself is a workout (especially hot yoga). I hate to break the news to ya, but just because you sweat, it does not mean you're increasing your level of fitness. In fact, if you're not drinking water constantly you're doing bad things to yourself by becoming very dehydrated. Being dehydrated whether that be your blood, your skin, your mouth.... is always a bad thing. Anyway, my point is there is not a prescribed manner in which someone can reap the benefits of the body movements of yoga. For that matter, there is nothing prescribed about fitness in the first place. As usual, please note the views expressed above and below are based, for the most part, on my own experience and are not research based in the true sense of the word, "research".

Warm Up. Like I mentioned a few days ago, I often begin my workout warm ups with a simple yoga flow. If you aren't familiar with that terminology the way I've come to understand it, is as an almost rhythmic movement between yoga poses. I begin in mountain pose, standing up with arms outstretched toward the sky (or ceiling if you're less of a hippie). 

Mountain Pose
Then, I swan dive and fold the top half of my body forward, allowing my head to hang heavy. This is exactly what my body needs first thing in the morning, as my back is often super tight. I let gravity pull my head down, stretching out my spine. Sometimes it is a little uncomfortable, however, and it that case I swoop my arms back up and reach outward then upward, and then repeat the same movement again. I stretch side to side, and then reach back, arching my spine. All the while focusing on how i'm breathing. Breath. Breath is huge in yoga. Always with the breathing... from the belly (diaphragm).

Workout. Right. I said it is not a workout. I know. However, I do sometimes attend a yoga class or follow along with a yoga YouTube video for an hour or so... on my off days. Meaning rather than actually take a full day off from being active, I just let myself go to yoga. It's mild, so you're not overdoing it, but you're still stimulating blood flow, and engaging muscles. Also, two of the most prominent benefits of yoga are improvement of balance and flexibility. Both are infinitely important and helpful in attaining other fitness goals. I think of it like a fine tuning process for the body. Just making sure everything is in prime condition for the real pump.

Cool Down. I also said this in the challenge, but yoga can be used to bridge the gap between going full force and resting. Rather than going for a run and then abruptly coming to a stop (you should never do that!) you could finish with a walking lap around the block and then a calming chaturanga. Start in downward facing dog, then high to low push up, then upward facing dog. 

Downward Facing Dog
Upward Facing Dog
Warrior II
Extended Side Angle
Reverse Warrior
Then I really just let whatever happens, happen. Especially after a run, I find myself in a pose called half-pigeon designed to stretch the hips and knees out, giving them respite from the hell the run has just put them through (I don't care what Christopher McDougall says, running breaks your joints down... unless it doesn't, and in that case you're a freak of nature and I'm jealous of you). From downward facing dog I lift one leg up behind me, extending it toward the ceiling. Then swoop the leg underneath my body into low lunge and turning it sideways so both ankle and knee rest inline with one another and bring my chest down to meet them. This one takes some practice, so begin with low lunge and slowly work your way down, further each time you attempt this. 
Half Pigeon
Meditation. Meditation is my favorite use of yoga. Hands down. Like yoga, I think a lot of people have an image embedded in their minds about meditation. I literally never sit with my ankles resting on top of my knees to meditate (ouch!) Instead, I work to center my mind, focus on my breathing and dismiss outside thoughts while running through my favorite poses. I find a calming Spotify station and begin to clear my head by paying acute attention to the detail in the music. Sometimes I work on picking out the instruments I hear. As I feel myself relax I concentrate on the present moment. Something that is sooo much easier said than done, as I write this I know my head isn't totally appreciating the moment that surrounds me (although I'm kind of okay with not being "in the moment" right now: I'm on an airplane... it's stuffy, and hot, and the tray table is too small, so I have to just hold my computer on my lap. #firstworldproblems anyone?) Presence is a difficult concept in my world. I am always one step ahead of myself, always thinking about what's next. What I'm eating next, the next thing on my to do list, and the next step in my life. 

This trick works for me (sometimes): identify 3 thoughts in your head, then 3 sounds you can hear, then 3 bodily sensations. Repeat this until the three thoughts are only to do with the present. I do this all the while moving from position to position. Thoughts about what I have to do next, or money, or school, or work, or whatever else is on my mind are always going to be floating around in my brain, I accept this and try to envision them coming up, and then like closing apps on my iphone, I swipe them out of view.

Music. Okay, I'm going to take a step up to my soapbox about music now. Music is a part of every facet of my life. I can't think of something I do everyday that isn't improved when music is incorporated. All kinds of music too. Not too long ago, I believe it was a Saturday night. I had invited my uncle to my apartment to watch the Notre Dame football game, but I didn't know what time he would be there. In the meantime I decided to get a workout in and naturally, had my music blasting. I was near the end of my workout, and finishing with some yoga when he showed up. He kind of laughed at me and said, "That's some pretty funky music for yoga!" He was definitely right... who does yoga to hip hop?! I do, it's me! And really, why not? Especially when it's meant as part of a high intensity workout. Do it, you'll have more fun and who says yoga can't be face paced?

Tapas. TAPAS! I am so obsessed with this concept right now. A couple weeks ago, in anticipation of this post actually, I decided to take myself to a yoga class. I don't pay for a gym membership so I recently decided I am allowed to drop in on yoga classes, or pay any other "day rate" related to fitness if the moment and motivation strikes. Anyway, about halfway through the class (which was only okay overall, if you ask me), the instructor mentioned "tapas." This is a yogi concept she said, which means basically, "a sense of fierce determination". Ahh!!! I have been searching for so long for a term to describe how I feel about fitness goals, and life goals really. If you want something out of life, then go get it for yourself! Find the tapas within you, and stop at nothing! The word "fierce". Just say it to yourself, "fierce", it's so powerful, so gritty. Did you ever watch John Elway play football? When the game was on the line, he would get this look in his eye like, "I am going to put this football in that end zone", and then he would. He just would. Disclaimer: I have little to no recollection of this look, but my dad tells me stories.
When I think about what I want to do with my life I have this feeling like if I were to reach a brick wall I would use force to go through it rather than take the long way around. I'm like, "Oh, it's happening, mark my words."

So, like I said, right now I'm on a plane. I am headed to Denver to see family, friends, and specifically this "Patrick" I've now mentioned a couple times. He is so great, and I really couldn't be more excited but listen to this: On Thursday I asked if there was a yoga studio near him (and then promptly googled it myself). But as I was looking at the schedule I get a response with the nearest studio to his house. So I'm like, "You wanna go with me Sunday morning?" I had to laugh out loud at my own little joke, assuming there was no way he was going to get up a 7am to try yoga for the first time. He writes back, to my surprise, "I might embarrass myself but yeah, I'm willing to give it a shot!” Ugh, what a doll!

AFTERWORD: I meant to post when I got to Denver, but alas it is now five days later and I have not. It's okay though, because I have thought of a few more things I want to include. First of all, the aforementioned yoga class was a huge success. Patrick got a free week of yoga, for one. Also, the instructor at the Bel-Mar Corepower was so awesome. I left feeling like she must have somehow read my words above. Throughout the class she joked around, I laughed a lot, probably more than appropriate. She played current, upbeat music, and even talked about the music with me a bit after class. During the 60 minutes she spoke several times about the irony of the term "human being". Rarely, as humans are we ever just "being" in this day and age. We are constantly doing something and yoga is more than exercise, it is an opportunity to just be. Especially on a week like this one in which it has snowed a record total of 22 inches (so far).

Finally, I wrote above about balance and flexibility. My dad is 55 years old and has always been one of the most active people I know, but is incredibly inflexible. I am sitting in my room right now and just heard him pull up. My plan is to go bombard and make him let me teach him a simple sun salutation. My hope is he will use it as a tool to keep his body, "in tune" and active for the next 55 years. It is maintenance, and it is necessary. Okay, I'm done. Go turn on some J. Cole and give me your best down dog.

Photo Cred: The one and only, Stephen Martinez (aka my papa). Thanks Dad!

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