Mike Kueber's Blog

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.

LOL!

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.