Mike Kueber's Blog

October 26, 2016

Jonny Kest – master yogi

Filed under: Fitness,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 12:24 am
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Yesterday, I traveled north to Austin to participate in a yoga practice being presented by Lifetime Fitness’s master yogi, Jonny Kest.  Kest runs a yoga studio in Birmingham, Michigan called Center for Yoga, but has vastly expanded his influence by guiding the yoga programs at Lifetime Fitness clubs, with 129 locations nationwide.

I have been practicing yoga at Lifetime Fitness since 2009, and I was interested in seeing how a Kest practice differed from the practices I have been receiving from Kest-trained/guided teachers.  Even though the Kest practice was 90 minutes instead of the Lifetime 60, there was surprisingly  little difference –

  • After getting our focus, Kest led us though three Sun Salutations – A, B, and C – followed by some logs and yin and savasana.

A couple of friends were especially interested if knowing if Kest’s Sun C sequence had any particularly interesting sequences.  Not really –

  • Started with a chaturanga and right lunge and then quickly turned to the left side of our mat, deep squats to the left/right/left, dragonfly to the front, side angle to the left, fingers locked behind our heads and then three elbow crunches to right knee, archer’s pose, triangle, turn to the back of the mat into pyramid, three balancing poses (Tree, Dancer’s, Warrior 3?), and finally some hopping handstands.

The entire Sun C consisted of standard stuff at Lifetime San Antonio.  So, what was different about this practice?

  1. Due to Kest’s popularity and fame, the practice was conducted in a gymnasium instead of a studio.   Inexplicably, Kest conducted the practice without a microphone, so his cues and side-bar joking were often lost on half the class, especially until we became acclimated to his soft voice.
  2. Although the practice was in a large, sterile gymnasium, the mood leading up to the practice was actually better than a studio because of the dimmed lights, sideline candles, and auspicious music.  Plus the excitement in waiting for the star’s performance.
  3. Speaking of the music, Kest seemed to prefer power ballads instead of the hip hop that my San Antonio’s Lifetime yogis favor.  Advantage Kest 😉
  4. Before practice started, Kest asked everyone to squeeze toward the front and center to make room for others.  Later we realized that there was still empty space in the back, but Kest wanted us close together so that we better connected (physically and spiritually) with our neighbors.
  5. Kest had an extra 30 minutes for his practice, and he seemed to devote them to getting our focus at the beginning and taking us down at the end.  The Sun A, B, and C seemed to have the same duration as the 60-minute practices at Lifetime San Antonio.
  6. Kest started the practice with a long, simple inversion of standing and bending at our hips.  That was interesting.  And nice.
  7. I was lost during the lead-up to Sun A because I couldn’t hear the cues and couldn’t copy my neighbors because they couldn’t hear either.
  8. Probably the most unique aspect of the practice was the number of times that we did a group pose, gaining support by holding our neighbors’ hands.  Probably five or six times between sequences.  Warrior Three, Chair, Boat, etc.  We do this occasionally in San Antonio, but probably once a month, not six times in one practice.  I’ve always hated holding hands with Boat/Canoe because your neighbor’s hand usually hurts more than helps.  Kest took it one step further and had us go from Boat to Canoe to Plow before coming forward to Standing.  Imagine doing that while holding the hands of two different neighbors.  Yeah, right.
  9. I don’t have much recollection of the logs (holding a series of challenging poses for a minute or two each) or the closing yin poses on our mats.  Suffice to say that the logs were not nearly as challenging as I am used to in San Antonio.  Guess Kest wanted us to leave with good thoughts of him instead of the stink eye that our San Antonio yogis sometimes get.
  10. And finally, a Kest idiosyncrasy – whenever he cued us into a chaturanga, he reminded us to cleanly lift our trailing foot so that it didn’t scrap our mat.  He said this technique strengthened our calves.

I have noticed that the best yogis have gained control of their egos.  Despite Kest’s fame, he came across as someone without huge ego problems.  Because of this ego control, I suspect he would be happy to know that his yoga teachers in San Antonio can teach a practice alongside him any day.


June 11, 2015

Bicyclists and stop signs

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 5:36 pm

A popular poster circulating on Facebook reports, “Cops pull over and ticket 26 bicyclists at once for running a stop sign.”  Readers are encouraged to share if they agree with the cops.  I responded:

  • “I think we should all put bicyclists on a pedestal and appreciate them. We should treat them just like a deer because they are a pleasant and enjoyable sight that we want to encourage more of.”

Doing some additional research, I learned the following from the Prairie Village (KS) post:

  • “Police pulled over a total of 26 bicyclists Thursday around 7:30 p.m. after the group rode through the intersection of 69th Street and Oxford Road without stopping at a stop sign.  Thursdays are a popular evening for group bike rides in northeast Johnson County, with the ‘Prairie Village Yacht Club’ having met each week in the parking lot outside the Blue Moose Bar & Grill for years. Police Captain Wes Lovett said the department had received a prior complaint about riders’ behavior in the area, which appears to be the motivation behind last night’s intervention.”

I suspect the police in Prairie Village have nothing better to do.

March 28, 2015

The Leon Creek Trail turns into the Wild West

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 10:02 pm
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For the past few months, I have eschewed biking on the Scenic Loop in favor of riding the Leon Creek Trail. The Trail is not only flatter, but also safer because motor vehicles are not allowed. This week, though, the Trail seemed less safe and more like the Wild West, and I’m not referring to the snakes, deer, and roadrunners that are continually crossing in front of me.

As I previously blogged, I almost had an accident a few days ago when a fellow rider laid his bike down in front of me. Then yesterday, I had an altercation with a jogger who yelled at me as I went by because I failed to alert him that I was passing. I might have let the yell go except the guy was running on the left side of the Trail, so who was he to complain. As his words sunk in (“Hey, next time, tell me you’re passing on the right.), I decided to stop my bike and ask him if he was talking to me. He assured me that I hadn’t misheard his comment, but kept running past me, so other than a few exchanged comments, nothing more serious happened. Funny how the brain quickly decides whether to flee or fight.

Later in the same ride, I twice encountered skateboards rolling unmanned in front of me on the trail. Although I’ve never hit a skateboard with my bike, I shudder to think what would happen.

And then today, I happened upon several riders who seemed to be taking blind corners at about 25 mph. I’ve never heard of these speedsters running into anyone on the trail, but I would be shocked if they haven’t. If I were in control of the trail, I would impose a 20 mph speed limit, which happens to be as fast as I comfortably ride.

Btw – I checked with a good friend who regularly runs on the trail, and she confirmed that it would be good manners to alert runners who I am passing, even though 80% of them have music earphones that prevent them from hearing anything. I tried to employ those manners today, and eventually it got to be second-nature.  Plus, it gave me an excuse for a brief encounter.  A win-win.

March 25, 2015

Nature vs. nurture

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:07 am
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Today, while taking my daily bike ride on the Leon Creek Trail, I came upon a middle-aged, slow-moving couple riding single file in front of me, with the woman up front and the man a few yards back. As I was preparing to pass on their left, the man slowly veered to the left until his tires went off the edge of the trail and when he overcorrected his bike came back onto the trail and then went down. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze by on the left side of the trail, and as I went by him, three thoughts went through my mind:

  • First – “Whew, I missed him! That was close.”
  • Second – “What was that guy thinking? Idiot!”
  • Third – “I’d better stop and see if the guy is hurt.”

After stopping and turning around, the guy quickly called out that he was OK and I resume my ride. But as I proceeded down the trail, I wondered why my immediate reaction had been so self-centered. Yes, human instinct has a dominant concern for self-preservation, but the accident scene wasn’t very dangerous because I wasn’t traveling that fast, and even after I evaded the downed bike, my next reaction was to be peeved at the fallen rider instead of being concerned about him.

Ever since studying psychology in college, I’ve been familiar with the nature vs. nurture argument (coined by Francis Galton). I’m guessing my first reaction was mostly caused by nature, but my second reflects a disposition that my best friend describes as Ayn Randian.

December 22, 2014

Sucking the joy out of yoga

Filed under: Fitness,Philosophy,Self-improvement,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 11:41 pm
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This past Sunday one of my favorite yoga teachers was conducting a special practice called “108 Sun Salutations.” This practice is traditionally done on the Winter Solstice and consists of 108 Sun A’s.

At the same time as the practice, one of my fellow yoga students was doing a marathon-training run. This morning he told me that he thought about the 108 Sun Salutations just as he finished Mile 17 of his run, and decided that he was fortunate to be running instead of saluting. What’s that say about 108 Sun A’s?

After sharing that bit of wisdom, my friend and I embarked on a Hot Vinyasa practice. Consistent with the Lifetime Fitness format, the practice primarily consists of three Sun Salutation series (A, B an C) before throwing on a few “logs” – i.e., holding a series of strenuous poses for several minutes. They are called logs because the three Sun series are supposed to generate a blazing fire in our bodies while the finishing strenuous poses are supposed to be “logs” to keep the fire blazing a bit longer. Although today’s logs weren’t particularly sadistic, the logs this past Sunday were. They caused me to wonder, is that really yoga?

So I asked Google – “Is yoga supposed to be hard?” The first result came from a Fitness blog, with an entry titled, “Is yoga supposed to kick your butt?”  The author seemed eminently qualified because she taught both yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In a nutshell, her answer is “no”:

  • “I don’t look at my students before a yoga class and think, ‘This class is going to kick everyone’s butt today.’ (Full disclosure: I do have those thoughts before teaching my HIIT classes!) With yoga, the intention is different. We are there to shift our energy and find inner peace. That doesn’t mean the class is just gentle stretching. We build power and heat doing Down-Dog flows. We discover our strength in Warrior and Plank. We challenge ourselves with balancing and other advanced poses. But all that’s done with a mindfulness toward inner peace, a sense of stability and a deeper connection with oneself. No one feels ‘beat up’ after class.”

Other blogs talk about yoga expanding its boundaries in recent years to include strength and cardio fitness, and that is what has happened at Lifetime Fitness. Its website describes a Hot Vinyasa practice as follows:

  • “Enjoy an energetic yoga class that uses a flowing series of postures to create heat within the body as you increase strength, flexibility, endurance and balance. The teacher first guides the class through the flow together before freeing each student to move at his or her own pace. Hot Vinyasa is good for new students who are physically active, those interested in the fitness benefits of yoga, and anyone who wants to dive in to a strong, multi-faceted practice. This practice is typically accompanied by more upbeat music.”

The concern with an energetic yoga class is analogous to the concern with vitamins and medicine – i.e., if a certain dosage is good for you, is a double dose twice as good for you. Some yoga teachers inevitably start thinking that more energy is a better class, so they push their students to use more energy, which can leave them feeling “beat up.”

The solution, of course, is for each student to modify their practice to suit themselves. The problem is that many teachers, either explicitly or implicitly, discourage modifications. In fact, after practice one day last week, a yogi came up to me and gravely asked if I were injured. When I said I was fine, she said she had noticed so many modifications that she assumed I was injured.


December 8, 2014

Yoga doesn’t care….

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 9:56 pm
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This morning, as I was sitting with a good friend at the back of the yoga studio waiting for practice to begin, I started talking about some of our classmates. Although the term “catty” may be associated with the fairer sex, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to being catty.  The targets of my cattiness today were people who seemed to be excessively proud of their appearance. I mentioned to my friend that back in high school we used to call these people “stuck up.”

My reference to life in high school reminded me of how much yoga practice resembles high school, one of the most egalitarian places in America. In high school, at least at my high school, you were judged mostly on your personality and your character (the way you treated other people). It didn’t matter how much money your parents had or whether you were a great intellect or possessed a strong work ethic or had some special skill (music, athletics).

After high school and college, however, things change. Socio-economic status becomes more pervasive and invasive. Relationships often involve either networking or deferring to those with higher socio-economic status.

But yoga is different. It harkens back to the egalitarian days of high school. Students dress mostly the same and people aren’t treated better just because they are more skillful with the various asanas. Your relationships with your classmates depend on your personality and character, not on whether you are “successful” in a socio-economic way.

Coincidentally, at today’s yoga practice, my yogi read a poem (from Elephant Journal) that relates exactly to what I was already thinking. The following are some excerpts:

  • Yoga isn’t about our lifestyle, our beliefs, our weight, our diet, our flexibility, how spiritual or enlightened we are—yoga is just about showing up and doing our dance on our mats.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you wear Lululemon or Spiritual Gangster.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you are vegetarian, if you eat meat or know what Kombucha is.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what kind of mat you have, brand new or eating away at itself.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what religion you believe in.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what color your skin is or what gender you choose to love.
  • Yoga doesn’t care how much money you have, what house you live in, what car you drive.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you fall over in Trikonasana.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you ever make it into head stand.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you smoke cigarettes and drink whisky.
  • Yoga doesn’t care what political party you vote for.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you are single or divorced.
  • Yoga doesn’t care if you shop at whole foods.

Yoga is just happy you show up.

October 10, 2014

Happy Drugs and yoga

Filed under: Fitness,Medical — Mike Kueber @ 11:57 pm
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I recently blogged about the possibility that yoga, like good sex, causes the human body to produce drugs that cause immense happiness. The science behind this hypothesis is explored in a popular book and an interesting scientific article in Psychology Today, both published in 2012:

  • Book – Meet Your Happy Chemicals by Loretta Graziano Breuning
  • Article – The Neurochemicals of Happiness by Christopher Bergland

Breuning’s book focuses on four chemicals:

  1. Dopamine – the joy of finding what you want, which motivates you to keep seeking rewards.
  2. Endorphin – the oblivion that masks pain, which motivates you to ignore physical pain.
  3. Oxytocin – the safety of social bonds, which motivates you to build social alliances.
  4. Serotonin – the security of social dominance, which motivates you to get respect from others.

Bergland’s article addresses seven neurochemicals, including Breuning’s four:

  1. Endocannabinoids – “the Bliss Molecule”
  2. Dopamine – “the Reward Molecule”
  3. Oxytocin – “the Bonding Molecule”
  4. Endorphin – “the Pain-Killing Molecule”
  5. GABA – “the Anti-Anxiety Molecule”
  6. Serotonin – “the Confidence Molecule”
  7. Adrenaline – “the Energy Molecule”

Both Breuning and Bergland approach this subject from the perspective that humans (and other mammals) are programmed so that they feel happy when engaging in activities that are conducive to their survival. To create this feeling of happiness (and encourage this behavior), the body produces various chemicals during those physical activities.

Unfortunately, as life has become more sedentary, the chemicals aren’t being produced as much, with a deleterious effect on happiness. The authors suggest that certain physical activities can reverse this trend. Because Bergland’s background is as a self-described world-class endurance athlete, his focus is primarily on how these neurochemicals can be produced by athletics:

Endocannabinoid: sustained running produces a runner’s high.

Dopamine: the high resulting from setting a goal and achieving it.

Oxytocin: skin-to-skin contact, lovemaking, affection and intimacy.

Endorphin: strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse, and orgasm.

GABA: yoga is much better than reading a book.

Serotonin: actions that increase self-esteem and reduce insecurity.

Adrenalin: distress and fearful situations.

Based on these findings, yoga could easily be helpful in producing endocannabinoid, dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, and especially GABA. And there is a subsequent study in Psychology Today reporting that yoga helps produce oxytocin.  That leaves only adrenalin unaffected by yoga, and, personally, I am willing to avoid the high produced by escaping a fearful situation.  No parachuting for me.

The connection between yoga and oxytocin is the most interesting to me.  Breuning describes the function of oxytocin as follows:

  • When you have a good feeling about someone, oxytocin causes it. When you feel you can trust a person, or you enjoy their trust in you, oxytocin is flowing. The feeling of belonging, and of safety in numbers, is oxytocin too.  Social trust improves survival prospects, and it feels good. The brain motivates you to build social bonds by rewarding them with a good feeling, and thus promotes survival.

The social component of yoga is undeniable.  I have commented to several friends that I select classes to attend primarily on knowing which of my classmates are attending which classes.  We visit some before class and often afterwards.  And during class, there is a ubiquitous reference to sharing your energy with those around you, especially when the practice gets physically demanding.

Breuning says, “Touch triggers oxytocin,” and although our Lifetime Fitness classes don’t often involve touching, earlier this year I attended a special practice conducted by a master teacher from Minnesota, and preached lots of touching.  First he placed our mats only a couple of inches apart and then twice had us introduce ourselves to our mat mates (the second time was to demonstrate how often an introduction is forgotten within minutes).  Later in the practice, we held our mates arms and feet to help with balancing poses.  And finally, after we were all sweated up, he had us give our mat mates a big hug.  That is touching, big time.

I suspect the master teacher’s routine hasn’t been adopted in SA because many of my classmates aren’t ready for that level of familiarity.  In lieu of that, for the past few weeks I have been taking baby steps in that direction by shaking hands with those on adjoining mats immediately after practice and thanking them for a great practice and sharing their energy.  I believe that is oxytocin talking.

And after one especially demanding practice a couple of months ago, I mentioned to my two mat mates that the practice felt like a religious experience.  That, too, was the oxytocin talking.  And that’s a good thing.

October 9, 2014

Yoga sequencing revisited

Filed under: Fitness,Self-improvement,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 6:31 pm
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About a year ago I blogged about yoga sequencing based on reading a book on that subject and on my experience with the “signature” practices at Lifetime Fitness.

Essentially, the best sequence consists of some introductory sitting poses and perhaps breathing exercises to get your mind right, followed by three sun salutations (each performed about five times), with Sun A easy, Sun B hardened by including chair and a warrior pose, and Sun C hardest by including a panoply of poses that challenge the entire body. By the end of Sun B, you realize that your body is totally warmed and primed to take on the challenge of Sun C. By the end of Sun C, your body is totally engaged and clicking on all eight cylinders.

But everyone knows that it is preferable to gradually cool down a motor, so instead of abruptly relaxing after Sun C, proper yoga sequencing shifts from the vinyasa flows of sun salutations to a few stationary, but challenging asanas that keep your engine running for a few minutes. Finally, the practice ends with some stretching/flexibility asanas and the savasana.

Although this sequencing sounds pretty simple, it is difficult to execute. Because of varying abilities of the students and because some yogis are more lenient while others are more sadistic, the pace of the class often doesn’t meet the needs of the particular student. To avoid this result, our yogis regularly remind us that our practice is our own and that we should modify the practice as necessary to meet our needs. That is hard to do because of indirect pressure from yogis and peers to keep up.

Personally, I rarely find a class to be too easy. Much more often, the class is too difficult. Instead of yoga being like good sex (right down to the post-coital cigarette), it is like the Bataan Death March. A couple of days ago, I experienced that type of class, and another metaphor came to mind – i.e., in the last few minutes of practice, instead of my engine running on empty, it was running on fumes.  That is not a good feeling.

Speaking of good sex, I’ve read before about how good sex generates four “happy drugs” in your body – oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine – and I suspect yoga does the same thing. Sounds like something I need to research further.


September 30, 2014

Women in the Secret Service

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:00 pm
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Washington, D.C. is abuzz about the most recent Secret Service lapse. How could a man with a knife jump the White House fence, run 70 yards to the North Portico entrance, barge over a Secret Service agent guarding the front door, and finally run past the staircase and into the East Room before being tackled by an off-duty agent on his way home? Director Julia Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the agency and the first female director, spent the day being grilled by a House committee for this debacle.

According to an article in the NY Times:

  • In response to repeated questions about the recent intrusion, Ms. Pierson offered new details about the moments before Mr. Gonzalez was finally captured. She said he made his way through the unlocked front doors, “knocked back” an agent inside the building, and then fought with the agent as he continued through the Entrance Hall, turned left into the Cross Hall, got a few steps inside the East Room, and was finally tackled back in the Cross Hall, just outside the Green Room.

Although the incident is replete with obvious security lapses, including the unimpeded 70-yard dash and the unlocked front door, the one that no one has discussed is the fact that the agent at the front door who was “knocked back” and shoved aside was a women. The unexamined question – is it appropriate for a woman to serve in that role?

Women have been a part of the Secret Service as agents and uniformed personnel for over 40 years. More recently, women have been allowed to compete for positions in military combat units. (Read about Sage Santangelo’s unsuccessful attempt to become a Marine Corps infantry officer.)

But service by a woman in the President’s protective detail seems even more problematic, and this White House incident illuminates the problem. The man who breached the White House while brandishing a knife was eventually tackled by a man. At the Congressional hearing, according to the Times article, a congressman suggested that the intruder should have been shot before getting to the East Room:

  • Chaffetz angrily questioned Ms. Pierson about why the Secret Service had put out a statement that said its officers had exhibited “tremendous” restraint of force when the intruder breached the fence. He said that he wanted it to be “crystal clear if you dash at the White House we are going to take you down.” Mr. Chaffetz said that the Secret Service should take lethal action because even if intruders do not appear to be armed, they could be strapped with an explosive device or dirty bomb. Ms. Pierson responded that officers can only use lethal force if a person poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. She said that based on what had occurred, she believed that the officers had used proper restraint.

How the hell can Ms. Pierson say that the female agent at the front door of the White House, after being knocked aside by a knife-wielding intruder, showed proper restraint in not blasting the intruder?

More importantly, wouldn’t America and President Obama be better served by having a bulky guy guarding the front door, sort of like a barroom bouncer, or even better, like the offensive linemen that guard Peyton Manning? Those guys would be excused for tackling the intruder instead of plugging him.

July 1, 2014

Brutal comments

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Philosophy,Self-improvement — Mike Kueber @ 5:55 pm

Jennifer Coffey is a media personality, currently a host on QVC. She is a Facebook friend who recently posted the following on her wall:

  • In two days I’ve suffered two brutal online comments about my weight, suggesting I “put on a few.” 25 years ago I suffered relentless insults in school about my weight, suggesting I “drop a few.” What have I learned in those 25 years?
  • You are not your weight. You are not your age. You are not your job. You are not your income. You are not your past. And you are certainly not other people’s opinions.  You are your spirit. You are the love you give. You are the joy you feel.  And I feel so much joy.

As you can imagine, Jennifer received an avalanche of support suggesting that (a) she is beautiful, and (b) the commenters were jerks.

My immediate reaction was different. Instead of seeing her obvious call for support, I was hung up on her use of the term “brutal.” In checking with a dictionary, I found confirmed that the term meant savagely violent or cruel.

Since when does suggesting that someone has put on a few pounds amount to savage cruelty?

All of this reminds me of ND hockey star, T.J. Oshie, who responded as follows to being called a hero in an Olympic game – “No. The real heroes wear camo. I’m not one of them.”

Jennifer, I suggest that we save the term brutal for real victims of brutality.

p.s., subsequent to posting this note, a friend pointed out that Jennifer has been criticized, not for being overweight, but for being underweight.  I simply misread her comment, and I was not the only one.  On reader commented as follows – “Are you kidding me? You are so thin in person that I can’t believe anyone said that! Just ignore it!”  So the situation actually involves a woman who in her youth was criticized for being too heavy and now is being criticized for being too thin.  Although many women would be quietly pleased with such a comment (akin to being too disciplined or a perfectionist), Jennifer was “brutally” offended.

It’s sad that society has created such anguish for women over a few pounds, either way.

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