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.


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.


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.


February 16, 2012

Dealing with celebrities

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Media,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 6:50 pm
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America has become obsessed with celebrity, and this obsession has resulted in a media that focuses more on hounding celebrities than on developing thoughtful communication. 

Ordinary people who try to avoid this culture of celebrity sometimes are placed in an awkward position when they encounter a celebrity.  The awkwardness comes from not wanting to be too hot or too cold.  Celebrities are entitled to their privacy, but their privacy does not take priority over the rest of us doing our thing.  For example:

  • Give them their privacy.  I often see NBA All-Star Michael Finley at Lifetime Fitness, and he is apparently keeping his game sharp in the event an NBA team needs him.  If you look at my Facebook page, you will see that I have a photo album of my “glory days – high school basketball.”  Because I played in the relative obscurity of North Dakota, you might think that I would want to challenge Finley to a game of one-on-one, and you would be right.  But that would not be the right thing to do.  Even if I beat him, what would that prove?  And it wouldn’t be fair to Finley to spend his time letting every Tom, Dick, and Harry compare their games to his.
  • Celebrities need to get in line with the rest of us.  Today at Lifetime Fitness I was doing some work on one of their four flat bench presses, starting at 135 lbs.  (That’s also the weight I finish at.)  After doing one set, I moved away for a few minutes to do some bicep curls.  While I was gone, NBA David Robinson and another guy (looked like a player, too) started using my bench and my weights (135 lbs.)  I gave them a few minutes, but when they started on their second set, I decided to move in.  David may be the Admiral, but that was my bench.  I walked right up to David and said I was using that bench, and furthermore I thought that 135 lbs. was a little too light for them.  He said he was sorry (everyone knows David is one of the nicest guys in the world), and I said don’t worry about it because I will use one of the other benches.

        It’s all about balance and perspective.

July 28, 2011

America – love it or leave it

As I was driving along Loop 1604 a few days ago, I was passed by one of the ubiquitous vehicles in San Antonio with Mexican license plates.  I have also noticed that, during my morning workouts at Lifetime Fitness, most of the women working out communicate in Spanish.  These observations suggest to me that news reports of well-to-do Mexicans deserting their country en masse for America are true.

America must be doing something right because it has been, and still is, the destination of choice throughout the world.  But there are signs of trouble in paradise.

Back when I was a kid, the phrase, “America – love it or leave it,” was thrown by conservatives at people who were protesting in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War.  In fact, many draft-age kids did leave America for Canada to dodge the draft.

It’s ironic that today it is the conservatives who talk about leaving America.  Texas governor Rick Perry has famously suggested, mostly in jest, that Texas may rely on some illusory treaty power to secede from the union if America continues its leftward tilt.  And I have a well-connected conservative friend who says the same thing – i.e., when the people looking for government handouts attain majority status in this democracy, it will be time to begin looking for another country that is less of a welfare state.  When I ask him to name that country, he says he’s not sure – maybe Australia.

My friend is no more serious than Governor Perry (or Alec Baldwin, who threatened to leave if Bush-43 were elected), but I wish people would be more willing to accept the democratic notion that we have elections to determine the will of the majority and that losing an election is not just cause for wanting America to fail (as Rush Limbaugh comes close to doing).

January 8, 2011

My first foray into the stock market

Filed under: Business,Investing — Mike Kueber @ 2:43 am
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A few days ago, I blogged about retirement investing and the stock market.  But I neglected to provide any war stories about my successes and failures.  I will remedy that defect now. 

When I considered which stocks to invest in, I followed the advice of the world’s greatest investor, Warren Buffett, who suggested investing in companies with products that you like, even admire. 

With that advice in mind, my first stock purchase was Warren’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, which is essentially a diversified mutual fund controlled by Buffett.  For the last 30 years, Berkshire has routinely significantly outperformed the S&P market and returned about 20% per year.  Because of its past performance, I placed almost 30% of my stock portfolio in Berkshire.  Unfortunately, since I bought my Berkshire stock, it has underperformed the market.  Although it has gone up 30%, the S&P 500 has gone up almost 70% during the same period.  I am refusing to give up on Warren and am stubbornly holding on to the stock.

Among the other stocks that I bought were Ford (because my dad was entirely loyal to Ford), AIG and GM (because I thought they were too big too fail), Lifetime Fitness (because I loved my fitness club), Wal-Mart and Southwest Airlines (because they were the most admirable companies in America), and Argonaut and Valero (because friends and relatives worked there).    

When the market rebounded in April and early May of 2009 and then sank like a rock in late May and June, I found out that AIG and GM were not too big to fail.  Although the federal government saved the companies, it correctly allowed the stockholders to take a huge hit – the GM stock turned out to be essentially worthless and the AIG stock became worth a fraction of what I paid for it.  I also sold Valero because its price dropped precipitously under its new management and my Wal-Mart, SW Airlines, and Argonaut stock because they lagged the market.

Fortunately, I had two stocks that balanced out those losses.  The best was Ford, which I bought at $4 and a few weeks later at $6.  Currently, it is selling for over $18.  My other winner has been Lifetime Fitness, purchased at $16 and $19, and currently selling for nearly $40.  I am lucky that I decided to double down on two stocks that have continued to excel.

In hindsight, my results have been average – with some big winners and big losers – except for my outsized bet on Berkshire, which has not come through.  But if I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate to bet on Warren Buffett.

August 10, 2010

Swim thoughts for a neophyte

In the golfing world, a “swing thought” is a short catch-phrase that golfers think about during their swing to focus on a particular area that needs improvement.  I believe this concept is even more useful when applied to neophyte swimmers. 

The problem with swing thoughts in golfing is that, for most of us, there are too many things that can go wrong, so we end up having too many swing thoughts – e.g., keep your elbow straight, lighten your grip, slow your tempo, your head steady, hit down on the ball.  Because of this, many golf pros who swear by swing thoughts also advise (a) limiting swing thoughts to one or two, and (b) using swing thoughts at practice, not in competition.

A few days ago I realized that I was practicing the same concept in swimming.  As I was swimming laps at Lifetime Fitness, I found myself thinking about three swim thoughts from a book that I had read many years earlier.  The book is titled, “Total Immersion” by Terry Laughlin.  Obviously, there is a lot of information in the book, but after all these years I still remember three fundamental swim thoughts:

  1. Swim on your side.  When I was first struggling to learn how to swim distances, I remember a helpful lifeguard noting that I looked too stiff in the water.  Although I appreciated her helpfulness, I didn’t know what she meant.  Subsequently, I learned from Total Immersion that swimmers move through the water more efficiently on their side, like a sleek boat, instead of on their belly, like a slow flat-bottom boat.  Therefore, with each stroke, a swimmer should rock from one side to the other.
  2. Swim long.  By swimming long, Terry Laughlin means stretching each arm forward as much as you can before beginning the stroke.  While fully extended, your arm slices the water so that the remainder of the body can efficiently flow behind.  (The motions of swimming long and on your side also enable muscles other than your arm and shoulder muscles to be involved in the stroke.  Sharing the load with other muscles improves your endurance.)
  3. Swim downhill.  This is the most important swim thought.  By swimming downhill, Laughlin means keeping your head and chest down in the water and your hips and legs near the top of the water.  By far, the most common problem for neophyte swimmers is the tendency to keep their head and shoulders high, which in turn causes the hips and legs to sink and become quasi-anchors.  It is impossible to swim efficiently when your hips and legs have become an anchor.  The correct swim posture doesn’t come naturally; you have to think about it.   

Just as swing thoughts can make you more effective on the golf course, these three swim thoughts can make you more efficient in the pool.