Tag Archives: fitness

Yoga Challenge Day 3!

Just a quick update:

I was a bit sore today around the shoulders, and even more so in the hamstrings. So, instead of my usual Yin Yoga routine this morning, I opted for some foam rolling for the legs and some rehab exercises for the shoulders (my right one was injured last spring, but I am finally close to reestablishing painless range of motion).

My afternoon routine was just over half an hour long and was a bit of a mash-up to help release the hamstrings. I started out in Caterpillar, then spent almost ten minutes in Dragonfly (aka Straddle), staying for time in the right, left, and middle positions. After that, I settled in Baby Dragon for a minute, then spent another minute flowing with the breath between low lunge and runner’s lunge, before finally sinking into Dragon Splits (I use blocks under my pelvis, but that’s deep enough for me). I ended the “work” portion of the session with some reclined strap stretches for the outer hamstrings. I didn’t really feel like doing Shavasana and sitting in meditation, but I did it anyway – I’m OCD like that 😉

Paleo and Yoga: How do they connect?

What do you think of when you hear the word “Paleo”? If you’re a stranger to the lifestyle, a stereotype or two might come to mind: hunter, violent, eating raw meat… What about “Yoga”? Perhaps something along the lines of Lululemon’s Shit Yogis Say ad pops to your head? How representative of your attitude and lifestyle is any of that? Not much, I’d wager. So, let’s take a deeper look.

Why go Paleo at all? Maybe you have an autoimmune condition that you’ve heard Paleo can help with. Maybe you haven’t been diagnosed with anything in particular and don’t experience any striking symptoms (after all, you’re supposed to feel like crap half the time, right?), but decide to give it a go because you’ve heard it can help you feel and perform better. Anybody out there on Paleo to lose weight? 😉 Or maybe you’ve a locavore using Paleo to take your nutrition to the next level.

Whatever your reason for going Paleo may be, I think the common denominator is balance. I’m not talking only about balance within our bodies – although health and body comp are all good – but about balance with our environment as well. There’s a lot of talk in Paleo circles about sustainability and I think this kind of awareness is crucial to ensuring a future worth living. In addition, Paleo promotes psychological balance through the concept of play. When was the last time you played?

Balance is also what Paleo has in common with Yoga. Yoga emphasizes balance in the body and mind, and to some extent balance with your environment. If you’re thinking of yogi-pretzels and wondering how contorting yourself like that can promote balance, bear with me: you adapt your Yoga practice to your specific needs and goals, just as you would tweak Paleo – it’s never cookie-cutter.

I’d like to make one thing clear at this point, though: Yoga is not a workout system. It can be used as such, but it’s incomplete. Yoga can help you build cardiovascular and muscular endurance (through flow sequences), flexibility in your muscles and joints (the average chair-bound individual has no reason to worry about becoming overflexible), some muscular strength (how many people do you know that can do arm balances off the bat?), and even hone your sense of balance, coordination and proprioception, It will not help you build explosive strength or other anaerobic skills – although it will probably help your body deal better with the stress of building said skills. So, what is Yoga really about?

Well, the whole point of Yoga is to prepare you physically, energetically (I’ll come back to that), and mentally for meditation. Depending on your approach, you might start your session with a flow, such as Sun Salutations, move on to standing poses, slow down with floor poses, and settle down in Shavasana before sitting in meditation. Notice that you start by moving the body and then progressively slow down to the point of stillness. All the while, your breath follows the activity of the body, and since you need to keep your breathing under control, your mind (ideally) is engaged with that task instead of your to-do list. Ultimately, this helps us deal with stress, but also serves as a kind of self-therapy session (I’ve briefly touched upon it in this post), thus promoting psychological and emotional balance. In short, Yoga helps us connect with ourselves and become more aware, which is then reflected in our relationship with our environment, including our social circle.

I mentioned how Yoga prepares us energetically for meditation. This is the physical kind of balance that Yoga provides by stretching, compressing, and twisting the body in order to activate specific pressure points. It’s the same principle used in acupuncture: our life force (qi or prana) runs along pathways in our bodies (meridians or nadi) and is controlled by energy centers along the spine (dantian or chakra), but sometimes it becomes stuck and we need to intervene to help it flow smoothly again. If you’ve never done acupuncture, I know this may sound woo-woo, but thankfully, you don’t have to believe it to benefit from it. Just go ahead with your practice, making sure you focus on the breath, and spend a few minutes just sitting quietly after you’re done (it’s a great way to reduce stress after all :)).

So, far from being mutually exclusive, Paleo and Yoga actually share similar goals and, I believe, complement each other nicely. If you’re into one or the other, how about doing a Paleo-Yoga combo 30-day challenge?

Yoga for Health vs. Spirituality

When I first started to practice Yoga, I used it to retain flexibility. Then, I discovered Yoga could also help me rehab injuries and rebuild strength. My practice was exclusively physical – no chanting, no meditation, not even pranayama (except for Ujjayi) – and that didn’t really feel wrong for me. But then, I started doing Yin Yoga to work on my ligaments, and the most remarkable thing happened.

In Yin Yoga, you need to hold each pose for 3′-5′, a completely new experience for me as I was used to much shorter holds (30″-1′). You’re also instructed to “breathe into” the area you’re stretching. So, I started to relax into the poses and focus on my breath. I was aware of thoughts bouncing around in my head, but if you were to ask me afterwards what I’d been thinking about, I would have no clue – I realize now that I was actually in a meditative state. And when the timer would go off to signal a pose switch, I would wonder whether I’d set it up wrong – it felt too soon to get out of the pose! This was truly amazing, but was it a spiritual experience?

Well, the day after my very first Yin Yoga class, I had an incredible outburst of anger. Everything seemed fine, but for no reason I just suddenly snapped. After calming down, I took a step back and tried to analyze what had happened. The only way I can explain it is that the practice had forced my mind to quiet to such a degree that long-suppressed feelings of disappointment, hopelessness, and bitterness were brought to the surface. My defenses (i.e. the constant verbal chatter in my head) were down and I was forced to face issues I thought I’d dealt with – apparently not. What followed was an emotional release the likes of which I’d rarely experienced before. This prompted me to start incorporating meditation into my practice.

Whether that was a spiritual experience (a communion with one’s higher self?) is a matter of perspective, I guess. In the end, I’m a creature of cold, hard logic and prefer to think of it as an intense therapy session :p

Does that mean that doing Yoga for (physical/emotional/psychological) health is the same as doing Yoga for spirituality? Well, they overlap at times, but I believe the intention set at the beginning of a session is what truly sets them apart. When I approach a class intending to connect with my body and quiet my mind, I’m experiencing it in a completely different way than someone who sees it as a spiritual practice. On the surface, we may be doing the same poses, moving our bodies the same way, but what happens deep down is another story.

Although I doubt I’ll be chanting in Sanskrit (or any other language for that matter) or honoring Indian elephant-gods anytime soon, I truly believe people who approach Yoga as a physical practice would benefit greatly from incorporating a few of its less physical aspects into their lives.

Whatever path you choose, though, Yoga remains a transformational experience. Among other things, it can help you change your body in a subtle but profound manner, alter the way you deal with emotions, and restructure your self-image. Ultimately, the You that steps onto the mat is never the same as You one stepping off it.