Tag Archives: Yoga

Yoga Challenge Week 4 Wrap-Up

This particular journey is almost over, and I must admit I’ve learned a lot during the past four weeks.

Firstly, it gave me the chance to explore what I want (and what I don’t want) to do with this blog. Reporting my progress in this challenge on a daily basis kept me motivated and accountable, but that wasn’t always what I wanted to write about. Now that the challenge is almost over, I hope I’ll be able to focus more on specific issues that catch my fancy. It may lead to posting less often, but I believe the content will ultimately be more meaningful.

Secondly, I managed to get a feel for how my body responds to muscular stimuli. So far, I’ve figured out that two strength workouts per week are all my body can handle at this point; that my muscles are practically begging for a combination of foam-rolling, trigger point therapy, and restorative yoga after hard workouts; that I can cut back my Yin Yoga practice to a couple of times per week and still reap all the benefits; that I enjoy conventional/Yang Yoga just as much as I do Yin Yoga.

Where do I go from here? Well, one thing I’d like to incorporate to my fitness routine – and I’m pretty liberal with that label – is cardio. I don’t really care about burning calories or increasing my VO2max (even though my cardiovascular conditioning is abysmal), but I do feel the need to move my body more often through walking, cycling, dancing, even more vigorous flow Yoga practices – not to mention that with Spring right around the corner, I think I’ll enjoy getting outside and basking in the sunshine.

PS. For my practice today I followed Ken Nelson’s Yin Yoga CD. I’d go as far as to call it “hardcore” Yin since this 75-minute practice goes through only four poses and still manages to target all the body parts I’m used to dealing with in Yin Yoga. A nice feature is that in each of the four pose tracks instructions for alternative poses are given – e.g. you may choose to do Butterfly, Dragonfly (Straddle) or Frog – so that, ultimately, the practitioner has nine poses to choose from and can vary the sequence based on ability or needs. Nine poses may seem too few, but remember that, variations notwithstanding, Yin Yoga revolves around a mere two dozen poses.

Compared to Erin Fleming’s Yin Yoga CD, I can’t say I like one more that the other. Erin’s class goes through more poses, and puts more emphasis on forward folds, while Ken’s class is more balanced and involves longer holds. Both teachers are pleasant to listen to and the background music in both CDs is mild. Each class is taught in a distinct way, but both are equally good. In the end, if I want to do a led Yin Yoga class, I’ll pick between the two based on the mood of the moment.

108-Breath Mandala Yoga Sequence

This is a sequence I’ve created on my own, though I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s thought about it – after all, there’s no such thing as an original idea 😉
It’s a short sequence, rather meditative in nature, inspired by the malas used in meditation, made of 108 beads (109 if you want to be finicky).
Here’s how I practice it: I string together 12 poses, and stay in each pose for 9 breaths (12*9=108). I use the first inhale to move into each pose and the last (ninth) exhale to move out of it. Once the mandala is finished, I repeat on the other side if I’ve used any unilateral poses.
The sequence is highly customizable. You can pick any poses you like, provided you can comfortably stay in each pose for the allotted time (struggling with a pose is not very conducive towards staying in a meditative state), and it takes you no more than one full breath to flow from one pose to the next.
The reason I came up with this sequence is that I wanted to combine yoga and meditation in a seamless package, instead of practicing one after the other. I usually meditate at the end of my asana practice, but don’t always have the time to do so, even though I consider meditation one of the more important aspects of yoga. In addition, I’ve long gravitated towards the more “physical” styles of meditation (ecstatic dance, t’ai chi), so I thought to try something similar with yoga.
Of course, asana practice is already meditative, or at least it should be. However, we often lose focus when practicing. If the pose is easy, the mind may wander; if it’s challenging, the mind may ramble as the body struggles. I find that counting the breath keeps the mental chatter to a minimum, and helps me stay in the moment. This is, in essence, a moving meditation.
One thing I really like about this technique is that one mandala takes about 5 minutes to complete, or 10′ if I need to do two mandalas to cover both sides, and I could probably keep repeating for half an hour, while it would have been near impossible to sit in meditation for that long.
Here’s an example sequence (focus on feeling grounded while still reaching up and out – a feeling of spreading your wings, if you will):
– Mountain
– Chair
– Tree
– Warrior I
– Pyramid
– Triangle
– Side Angle
– Warrior II
– Exalted Warrior
– Down Dog
– Cobra
– Child’s Pose
(Repeat on the other side.)
As you can see, I picked some of the most basic poses, opting for simplicity. Still, don’t hesitate to use advanced poses if they’re within your abilities and you believe they’d enhance your meditation.
Some variations to consider:
1) You can make the mandala even more meditative by staying longer in fewer poses, or turn it into a sweatier flow practice by staying in more poses for fewer breaths. Just make sure you spend an equal number of breaths in every pose and that the mandala lasts 108 breaths.
2) The primary focus is always on the breath, but you could create a mantra to repeat (either in your head or out loud) each time you enter a pose or even focus on a feeling you wish to explore. This could set a theme for your meditation, and you might choose specific poses that support that theme or seek out elements in poses that could provide a different point of view (exploring stability in balance poses, for instance, or compassion through the protectiveness of forward bends).
Would appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

Yoga Challenge Days 26-27

I spent yesterday doing housework, and although I count that as a workout, I don’t find it an exciting enough subject to blog about.
As for today, after several days of rain (we don’t really get a lot of those), the sun finally decided to put in an appearance, so a walk around the neighborhood for some much-needed vitamin D was in order.
I was still a bit sore from my strength training earlier in the week, especially in the glutes and adductors, but a few minutes spent foam rolling helped. I also put together a quick Yin Yoga sequence to loosen up those same areas:
– 15′ in Straddle (left, right, middle, 5 minutes each)
– 5′ per side in Square, followed by Windshield Wipers
– 5′ in Caterpillar
Finish with a few minutes in Reclined Twists and then Shavasana.

Yoga Challenge Day 25

Today’s workout was purely restorative. I felt pretty whipped and had to take out the big guns (hint: tennis balls!) to get my muscles to loosen up.

I started out with a few rounds of Moon Salutations to get the blood pumping but still keep things relaxed. It’s a really great practice that focuses on side-to-side movement, complementing nicely the back-and-forth movement of Sun Salutations.

I continued with foam rolling, focusing particularly on the adductors – I did side lunges for the first time yesterday, and, believe me, I felt it.

Finally, I had to resort to trigger point therapy, aka tennis ball massage! I was first introduced to this technique in Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance for Women, and was surprised at how effective it is. However, the sensations it produces are so intense as to be near intolerable. So, it’s not a tool I use all that often. When I do, I follow a track from Shiva Rea’s Drops of Nectar CD that offers massage instructions for the glutes and T-spine; I find her soothing voice helps me bear the ordeal long enough to achieve tension release. For those of you interested in the technique, I managed to locate a video describing the process for those exact points:

Yoga Challenge Day 24

It’s been quite a couple of days. I had a strength workout planned for yesterday, but didn’t get to it until late in the evening. Big mistake. Afterwards, I was too exhausted to even bother posting about it, but more importantly, I was too hyped to fall asleep easily. It was the most intense workout I’ve done so far, not to mention the longest, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it left me floored.

So far, my strength workouts have been manageable. Even when the exercises were too much, the workouts were short, and that balanced things out. Now that I’ve advanced past the introductory phase of the Body By You program, though, the duration of the workout is doubled: warm-up sets are added, and more main sets are performed. In addition, new exercises are introduced, and my muscles have to work in ways they’re not used to. I used to take breaks only after completing a full circuit of exercises, but now I need to pause after each and every set to catch my breath. In a way, this is great, because I get to do strength and cardio training in a single workout. I’m not sure if this is the “proper” way to go about it, but for the moment, it works for me.

Anyway, after that grueling workout, I really needed Yoga. I like to use Sage Rountree’s podcast for post-workout recovery, and generally appreciate her Yoga for Athletes approach when it comes to complementing my strength training. Although each podcast is self-contained, some are focused on specific areas of the body, which makes them great for working kinks out. Also, I love the fact that each podcast is on average 10 minutes long, so I can string several segments together for a well-rounded practice. Here’s what I chose:

  • Wall Stretches – This was a great little segment to start my cool-down and loosen up both upper and lower body before moving into deeper stretches.
  • Shoulder Stretches – With my right shoulder still not up to par (I’ve noticed it tends to buckle slightly under pressure compared to the left one), this routine is as essential to me as my physio.
  • IT Band Express – Despite the title, this podcast stretches the entire lower body.

Gomukhasana is featured in the last two podcasts, but I approach it differently in each, doing only the arms in the first, then doing only the legs (Square instead of Shoelace for me) in the second.

After finishing the strength part of the workout, I ached everywhere. The above Yoga routine helped deal with all that, but I still felt hyped – that exhausted-but-can’t-seem-to-relax feeling that kept me up half the night. In retrospect, I think spending a few minutes in restorative poses might have helped.

Yoga Challenge Day 23

Since yesterday’s practice, I knew I needed to fit in some recovery and mobility work to “fix” my hips and shoulders before moving on. Luckily, Kelly Starrett had two shoulder mobility WODs in line (this and this) that helped immensely. I didn’t have a bar and had to get creative, but with a little help managed to give my shoulders a really nice stretch. Finished that session off with a few minutes’ worth of Garudasana arms.

I dealt with the hips in the afternoon. I used the following Yin sequence to work mostly on external hip rotation, going progressively deeper:

  • Start out in Easy Square (simple cross-legged position) for 3 minutes, then go into Full Square (aka Firelog) for another 3 minutes. Make sure the calves are stacked, the feet flexed, and use a block and/or blanket to support the knees as needed.
  • Do some Windshield Wipers to loosen up, then repeat on the other side.
  • Switch focus for a bit to the hip flexor by going into Baby Dragon for 2 minutes.
  • “Flap” the bent leg a few times before settling into Winged Dragon for another 2 minutes.
  • Bring the knee back to a Baby Dragon position before sliding the foot of the front leg towards the opposite hip to come into Swan. Keep the foot flexed, get comfortable, and drape the upper body over the bent leg in Sleeping Swan for 3 minutes.
  • I like to come into Crocodile (plank on elbows) as a counterpose. Repeat Dragons and Swan on the other side.
  • To finish up, do some Reclining Twists for a couple of minutes per side, and then relax in Shavasana for 5 minutes or so.

A short sequence (didn’t take more than 40 minutes), but enough to put a smile on my face 🙂

Yoga Challenge Day 22

Some days, you really don’t know what you’re going to come up against until it’s right in your face.

I didn’t feel any soreness from yesterday’s strength workout, so I decided to be bold and do a 60-minute slow flow class instead of a restorative or Yin practice. Halfway in, my IT band was screaming. A few minutes after that, my shoulder was freezing up and my head felt like it was ready to burst. I felt so frustrated I was ready to throw down the towel. All sorts of aches and pains came up during the class, but it felt as if it was my mind I was fighting the most.

Part of me (a really big part) wanted to yell “f* this”, and call it a night. But some tiny part I didn’t even know I had in me was assuring me that it’s okay if I’m out of breath and can’t do the vinyasa – “just go into Child” – and that it’s okay if I can’t do Boat – “just close your eyes and breathe”. When I practice alone, I do that anyway (it’s a conscious decision), but it’s not the same in led classes where someone else is calling the shots. That voice didn’t feel like it was coming from inside me (I was the one who wanted to quit, after all), and getting to the end of the class felt unconscious. By the time we went into Shavasana, my headache was gone and my body felt “settled”.

It’s not as if I had a religious experience or anything. But, in retrospect, I understand that this was a piece of me that I simply haven’t really bothered to get to know. Food for thought…

Yoga Challenge Week 3 Wrap-Up

This day has been quite a personal landmark. First of all. I’ve now been consistent in a fitness regime for 3 weeks without getting bored, which is a really big deal for me. Secondly, with today’s bodyweight training session, I’ve completed the introductory part of Cycle 1 in Mark Laurens’ Body By You program, i.e. playtime’s over. And thirdly, I came upon my first obstacle as far as strength is concerned.

I really like how BBY is structured: you only do 5 exercises at a time, one per category, each of which contain 25 progressively harder exercises. It’s not that there are 25 different exercises, but rather variations of maybe 10 exercises in each category, adding difficulty either by holding the “hard” part of the exercise, or modifying the center of gravity. It’s set up in a really clever and systematic way.

In Cycle 1, if you get stuck in an exercise, you repeat that exercise in the next workout until you can complete all the reps and sets required. Today, I couldn’t complete the pulling exercise (a one-arm let me in, with legs bent at a 45-degree angle and added pauses at the end) and had to catch my breath for a few seconds to finish the sets. Even so, I did notice an improvement compared to my last workout (same exercise, without the pauses) as my wrists didn’t complain this time. So, there’s definite, though subtle, progress going on.

This may seem like a minor thing, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for me to see my body getting stronger in this way. I’ve only ever worked out with dumbbells and gym machines in the past, working with very low weights and getting injured and disappointed in the process, so being able to “handle my body” like this feels incredibly empowering. I’d only got an inkling of this feeling in Yoga (e.g. being able to hold Down Dog or Low Chaturanga), but when I do this kind of training, where the very purpose of the session is to build muscular strength, it’s even more intense.

At the moment, I’m experiencing the so-called newbie-effect, where my body is making progress in some, if not all, areas in every single workout. I’m sure this is bound to peter out eventually, especially considering the size of my body, but for now I’m willing to allow myself to bask in hard-earned endorphins 🙂

Yoga Challenge Day 20

Although I felt significantly better, I still decided to postpone my bodyweight workout. The day was pretty hectic, so I opted for a Kripalu Yoga (recorded) class late in the evening to help me unwind. The class was 60 minutes asana practice, with a 15-minute Shavasana at the end. The problem was that I fell asleep… Let me tell you, sleeping on the floor is not comfortable. I woke up after half an hour, and my entire body felt frozen in place, especially my lower back. I spent a few minutes in a squat position to release the tension, then shut everything down and eventually went to bed. I really wanted to give a decent account of the class, and wouldn’t have done it justice if I wrote about it yesterday. So, only slightly delayed, here’s my account on Day 20 🙂

The class put emphasis on forward bends mostly, with only one backbending counterpose. Although I appreciate the inward direction both the body and the mind are guided to in forward bends, when I chose to focus on the latter in my personal sequences, I always intersperse light backbends here and there (say, instead of going through a block of backbending poses as I would in a balanced practice). In the end, all that forward bending loosened me up enough to rest my forehead to my knee in seated, single-leg forward folds with just a soft knee – it’s been a while since I could do that. In addition, I thought it might have been too much for my hamstrings, but I feel no discomfort there today.

We also went through several muscularly demanding poses, such as Warriors, that had me breaking a sweat despite the class being very slow, almost static but not quite. I was happy to notice that my Down Dog has been getting progressively stronger – my breath is not fluttery as it used to be and I can stay in the pose longer. Also, Three-legged Dog doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.

Balance poses, however, seemed more challenging than usual last night. I think it was more the fact that there were not poses I’d practiced before, namely forward bend while balancing on one leg, so I felt out of kilter – tracing new neural pathways and all that jive.

Overall, the class was well sequenced and well taught. The instructor was actually doing the sequence along with the students, giving queues and modification tips but not actually moving around to offer adjustments – there was no time, really, since we never stayed in a pose long enough. I enjoyed the class in general, but even more so thanks to this less chatty style of instruction that I appreciate the most.

Yoga Challenge Day 19

Went under completely today 😦

Although I had to take some ibuprofen last night to be able to sleep, I didn’t want to load my body unnecessarily with NSAIDs, and decided to be a hero and go drug-free for the first time. Ugh, needless to say, I feel terrible and am barely able to move out of bed.

I did manage to pick myself up long enough to do some shoulder rehab exercises and upper body pawanmuktasana. I must admit that the slight discomfort caused by these exercises was enough to take my mind off my aching tummy and lower back for a while, but they also left me exhausted. It’s not as if I’d gone running, but my energy reserves seem non-existent.

I’ll need to research and experiment on this. I hate having to rely on drugs to feel well enough to simply function, even if it’s only for 2-3 days a month.