Reforming Yoga

I’m speaking at the Frazier Park Health Fair on June 27th, 2015 at 11:30am at the Frazier Park School in Frazier Park, CA. Now that I’m committed to speaking, I’m devoting this month’s blogs to what is yoga. Plenty of people who don’t do yoga have an idea of yoga quite off the mark. Let’s reform ’em. If you have a friend who doesn’t do yoga and you’d love for them to try please pass on these blogs. Better yet, get ’em to subscribe to my site with the simple subscribe button on my home page.

Why do yoga?

You’d be at a health fair because you want to be healthy. Right? Yoga is healthy. As a professional yoga instructor, I get lots of questions like, “Will yoga help ease my anxiety? My depression? Strengthen my knee or hip?” Or, “Can yoga relieve my low lumbar pain?”  Consumers would love to know if there were five or six five-minute strategies. And I say, “Well, eventually you could boil yoga down to the most productive poses for yourself.” Or I would say, “Doing five minutes is mos def better than doing no minutes.” But try not to think of yoga as list of bullet points.

Yoga is something you have to do kind of every day for the rest of your life. Just like brushing your teeth or eating food.

Think of yoga as a lifelong project, like if you want to raise moral children or if you want to control your blood pressure. You could watch me do yoga and say “That’s pretty good, sure. I get what yoga is.” But that’s not the whole picture. You’d only be seeing where I’m at right now in my yoga practice, it’s not like I’m done. Six years from now my practice might look very different and that is the nature of yoga. It will mould and adapt to what ever is going on with you. It is a form of exercise and meditation that you can do the rest of your life. You never have to stop, and you wouldn’t want to, because the longer you do it the better it feels.

So how do I demonstrate a yoga lifestyle?

Strike a pose? An easy pose? You wouldn’t be very impressed. You’d be all, ho hum – “I’d rather be doing Zumba.” Complex pose?  The average person will say, “I couldn’t do that. I can’t even touch my toes.” Yoga should not be not performance art. Complex poses can be very discouraging to the average viewer. Please don’t think that because you go to your first yoga class you ought to look like the teacher when you do yoga. It’s not like Jane Fonda aerobics where the movements were very simple to imitate and the dance steps were easy to learn. Yoga poses are simple to imitate and challenging to master. Yoga is not a superficial sport.

So in the beginning you do what you think you’re supposed to do and then one day you have the “aha” moment.

How long does that take? Not so long if you’re practicing regularly. For me it took longer because for many years I wasn’t consistent. I only became a full-fledged yoga dork after a traumatic injury. In December of 2008 I fractured my hip. My pelvis healed crookedly and a bit of arthritis set into the joint. Initially, sitting was very painful. I can remember stopping the car several times in-between Frazier Park and Pine Mountain Club because I couldn’t manage sitting in a car for 15 minutes straight. ouch.

You can imagine why going to Bakersfield or Santa Clarita for physical therapy was out of the question.

Because I already knew some yoga I did the best I could on my own, but I really felt kind of overwhelmed. A little frightened. I needed guidance. Also encouragement. I was lucky to find a small yoga class with a helpful teacher. A helpful teacher is key. The real meat to yoga lies in the subtle. That is why two people may look like they are doing the same thing but one of them is going “I get it! I so get it!” and the other person is like, “say what???” Yoga is a fabulous tool for the self-directed. It’s inexpensive, requires little gear and hardly any space. And yoga is (sadly) not as helpful to passive individuals. I’ve seen for myself people who hang out for decades at the “gentle” yoga level, telling themselves they can’t do this or they can’t do that because they were never able to do such things as children.

If a person has a goal to prove to themselves they “can’t” do something, they will strive to find a way to prove themselves right.

Strive I tell ya! I get it, because I need another injury like I need a hole in the head, lol. I’m cautious. There was an arc to gaining the necessary body awareness, strength and flexibility. But once I get there? Wow. For a person who couldn’t sit in a car for longer than 15 minutes it’s very intoxicating to feel strong. Strength and competence are exhilarating. Give yourself a chance. I mean try yoga for 40 days, 40 in a row. The more out of shape you are the quicker you’ll feel the difference. What difference? Lighter in your step. Sleeping more soundly. Increased patience with difficult people. Increased range of motion. The list goes on and on, but what if you are in pretty good shape? I mean not everyone is a broke down pony like me, right? If you’re fairly fit you may see results in just a couple of sessions. People who actually get inside of themselves and create proprioception do very, very well. And others? While their feet and their arms seem to be in the right places their practice has no structural integrity.

Yoga is an inside job!

Recently I’ve been teaching with the word “tensegrity.” Tensegrity refers to stability in a three-dimensional structure created by isolated components in compression floating within a net of continuous tension. Specifically I mean your bones float within the net of tension created by engaging connective tissue. This may be different from how you envisioned your body. If you imagined your bones stacking up with your bones supporting the muscles it’s a mind flip to consider fascial tissue as holding bones. If the bones “float” then tension in a muscle or ligament is going to pull the bone in a direction and soft tissue is going to have more influence on your posture than you expected. There’s some good news and bad news to this. The good news is muscle is soft, pliable and willing to be toned. The bad news is everything is more interconnected than casually appears.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “referred” pain?

It means if you bump one thing out of line, like break your hip, your spine or legs will be thrown off kilter. A broken ankle can present as knee pain, even a swollen knee. Remember the bones are floating in connective tissue, but the connective tissue is, well, connected. Imagine pulling your pant leg up from the hip. You’re pulling your pants close to the top, but the hemline lifts off the ground. Everything’s connected. If you can’t open your hip-joint due to stiffness or injury, your knees or feet may compensate. Use yoga to learn where the body’s natural lines of engagement are to maximize your energy efficiency. I could tell you where they are briefly, but telling you is not powerful, not useful. You must feel it for yourself in order to implement the information. Once you intuit where the anatomy trains lie, advancing in yoga is something you can do through practice but until you intuit where they are you’re kinda stuck, you’re the one asking the teacher “Where should I feel it?” 

A better question would be “Where DO you feel it?” If you don’t feel anything anywhere, pay more attention.

One last thing for now. Don’t count yourself out because you’re stiff and you’ve always been stiff. Actually, rigidity is good because it creates form. Naturally stiff people have the advantage in yoga because they already hold their muscles in tension, they only have to learn how to release in the right measure. Flexible people by contrast seem to have a very difficult time learning how to engage their muscles around bone. But that’s not to say they can’t learn.

Now Y’all play nice!

Sat Nam