What's It Like To Do Six Months Of Yoga Tune Up ?

I don't have a lot of pictures of my gross hairy chest, but my son happened to snap the one on the left while we were on vacation before starting Yoga Tune Up®, so I took another today. It's not the greatest before/after, but still. . .turns out I have ribs.

I don't have a lot of pictures of my gross hairy chest, but my son happened to snap the one on the left while we were on vacation before starting Yoga Tune Up®, so I took another today. It's not the greatest before/after, but still. . .turns out I have ribs.

It's been six months since Connect Yoga opened it's doors. Being married to the studio owner, I get to take as many classes as I want, so I take a lot of them. Almost every day. So what are the results? There are plenty of obvious yoga benefits that I've felt and I will list them in a minute, but the single most important thing I've gained from all that Yoga Tune Up® is something I didn't even know I needed or wanted: body awareness. It certainly doesn't sound sexy, not something you'd normally see in a yoga studio's marketing. But having a better understanding of how my body is supposed to work has changed my life in more substantial ways than any other gains I've had from the 20+ years of yoga that I've done prior to YTU.

Connect Yoga classes focus on functional movement. I haven't done very many traditional bendy yoga poses in the last six months. In a typical YTU class you're forced to move your body like it's supposed to, not to get into some weird twist because of yoga tradition and it's supposed benefits.  YTU forced me to realize that despite decades of traditional yoga practice, including a good six year run of Bikram Yoga, my body was very weak in important areas, particular the core and hips. It's helped me to think about how I walk, sit, stand and breathe.

The lessons I learned in YTU have spilled over into my daily life. One day recently I became aware that I no longer sit while on public transit. It wasn't advice from a teacher, it was my body telling me not to. Instead I was grabbing a hand railing and practicing tightening my core, tucking my pelvis, maintaining good posture and focusing on my balance and core strength while the subway stopped and started. I take breaks at work, stretching out my shoulders with some of the simple exercises that I've learned. I practice diaphragm breathing every day. Whenever I feel an ache or pain coming, I know how to quickly get rid of it with the YTU balls that I keep laying around my home and work. Most importantly, I know what muscles like quadratus lumborum and tensor fascia latae are, what they're supposed to do, and how not to injure them. (I certainly can't spell them, but I can show you where they are.) Before YTU I never even knew I had a thing called a psoas, but now I'm aware of it every day. When you get to know your body parts, you start listening to them and they start talking back, constantly giving you feedback about what they need and how you're using them wrong.  

The other unique YTU benefit I have been surprised by is emotional release. Not since working long, hard and deeply with YTU balls in hidden parts of my stressed out muscles did I understand the full depth of the of the mind body connection. Working out that muscular stress releases emotional stress as well.

As with other yoga, pilates, or movement courses there are more typical benefits that a regular practice will offer. Greater strength, flexibility, increased range of motion, calmness, etc.  But because of the focus on functional movement at Connect Yoga instead of yoga tradition, the greatest strength and flexibility gains have been in the parts of the body that matter most, like my core and glutes, areas that I know from experience are greatly underused or used incorrectly in many other yoga practices. While my past experience with yoga was preparing me to do fancy yoga postures better, YTU has been preparing me for everyday life.

A final confession. I am aware that many people who have done a lot of yoga are resistant to YTU because much of it seems too easy and that rolling around on balls is no big deal. I felt the same way. We live in a fast paced world with busy lives and I believe we start thinking that we have to max out our limited exercise time and push to the max. At first I resisted trying the new stuff that my wife was learning because I felt that I was already a pretty darn good yogi and what I needed was to work harder on perfecting those yoga poses.

But I kept with it and pretty sure I'm never going back.

Keep Up The Good Work

 
Image Courtesy Fit Approach via Flickr Creative Commons

Image Courtesy Fit Approach via Flickr Creative Commons

 

An interesting study recently showed that it wasn't just physical activity that helps to fight the negative effects of sitting, but also cardiorespiratory fitness. According to the researchers, "meeting physical activity guidelines alone does not eliminate the cardiovascular risks of sedentary behaviour if individuals do not have a certain level of cardiorespiratory fitness."

Cardiorespiratory fitness is defined as the ability of the body's circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel and oxygen during physical activity. Running, cycling, swimming and even brisk walking are all examples of exercises that will increase your cardiorespiratory fitness.

Along with incorporating these activities into your daily life, don't shy away from the vigorous exercises you'll find in our Yoga Tune Up classes. Monk walks, squats and yoga push ups are great for improving the overall function of your body while also pushing your cardio limits. They're also great to do on a rainy day when you don't feel like getting out for a bike ride.

Maybe TMI is NFG

 
Image Courtesy Vernon Chan via Flickr Creative Commons

Image Courtesy Vernon Chan via Flickr Creative Commons

 

A new study showed that fitness monitoring devices did not help subjects lose weight, in fact they had the opposite effect on research participants.  Another study found trackers didn't increase activity levels enough to improve health.

They are surprising results. It would seem like more information should help with fitness goals, but in fact the opposite turns out to be true. There is only speculation about why this may be true, and of course manufacturers of trackers are defending the usefulness of the devices. But it may be that what we need to listen to is feedback from our own bodies instead of output from a computer. 

One goal we are always striving for in Yoga Tune Up classes at Connect Yoga is body awareness. By moving our bodies in different ways and using rolling to connect to our tissues, we become more adept at understanding what our body needs. Maybe that's all the tracking we need.

Getting Less Done

The takeaway information from some recent studies on multitasking is that by trying to do more at once, you actually end up doing less. Turns out we're not as good at multitasking as we tought we were. Also, as one of the researchers in this article points out, "almost any experience is improved by paying full attention to it." 

Participating in our Yoga Tune Up classes helps you develop the mindset you need to practice mono-tasking in your everyday life. If you can be fully present in our yoga classes, concentrating awareness on your body and breath, you'll be better adapted to extend this focus into other activities. It's also probably a good idea meditate, something we do together on Sunday afternoons at 12:00. Please join us if you can.

Improve, Don't Extend

 
Image courtesy Candida.Performa via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy Candida.Performa via Flickr Creative Commons

 

Humans have long been obsessed with extending our lifespan.  And indeed, thanks to modern medicine and healthier lifestyles, our average lifespan has increased well beyond what our ancestors would have imagined possible. Currently, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are interested in pushing our longevity even farther. But a recent study casts some doubt over just how far we can go. The study suggests that we may have already reached the upper limits of human longevity which they peg at about 115 years.

Whether or not further advancements can cheat nature, in a recent article about the study, one of the researchers points out what may be the more important area to focus on, improving our life rather than extending it.

"The best hope for our species is not to extend our life spans, but to lengthen our years of healthy living — with healthy habits and perhaps drugs that can repair some of the cellular damage that comes with time. There’s a good chance to improve health span — that’s the most important thing.”

At Connect Yoga, we're not in the business of creating drugs to repair cellular damage (at least not yet), but we are here to help with the healthy habits part. Our Yoga Tune Up classes are designed with one goal in mind, to help you keep your body strong, balanced and healthy. 

You Only Need a Little

 
Photo by Peter Blanchard via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Peter Blanchard via Flickr Creative Commons

 

A new study from Yale University helps to prove what may seem obvious; that with only moderate physical activity, older adults can recover from disabilities more quickly and  maintain independence. Canada's physical activity guidelines for older adults recommends only 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. That's about 20 minutes a day of activities like walking, cycling or swimming. Both the Yale study and the Canada guidelines point out that more activity is better.  

We live in a fast paced world, where sometimes even exercise can be taken to the extreme. Sometimes we feel like we need to jam in a vigorous workout into our lives, but a better approach is making physical fitness part of our everyday lives, incorporating activities we enjoy into our daily routine.

In addition to the minimal amount of moderate exercise for older adults, Canada's guidelines also recommend muscle and bone strengthening activities as well as activities to enhance balance and prevent falls. Those goals can be achieved in our Yoga Tune Up classes at Connect Yoga. Our classes are carefully crafted to offer those benefits in a safe environment. Through regular attendance at our studio, you'll also gain body awareness that will help you move better in your everyday life, particularly as you get older.  

But you don't need to wait until you're 65 to start taking care of your body. Start good habits and set your body up to enter your senior years by getting started early!

Stoic Yoga

 
Was Zeno a Yogi?

Was Zeno a Yogi?

 

Since a guy with a very cool name started Stoicism 3000 years ago, the word “stoic” has morphed into something very different than it’s original intent.  Zeno’s idea wasn’t that we should purge all emotions like Spock, but learn to cope with them better. Not much original information has survived and there is no central Stoic doctrine, but Stoics like Marcus Aurelius left us guides to a highly practical philosophy that can help navigate life, maintain control over emotions and feel more content in everyday life. A central idea of Stoicism is that we should only focus on that which is under our control; mostly our thoughts and actions. Like Zen Buddhism and Yogic Mindfulness, the stoics offer advice on “letting go”. Stoicism then encourages us to live a life of virtue, guided by wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.

We’re fortunate today that modern philosophers have taken a closer look at Stoicism and how it can be applied to modern life. For the past few years, a group of philosophers, academics and psychologists has organized a weekly course in stoicism. This week is Stoic Week .

The course is an easy to follow introduction to Stoicism. According to last years 2500 participants, spending an average of 36 minutes a day on the stoic practices “led to a significant increase in flourishing, life satisfaction and a balance of positive over negative emotions."  

Using a Stoic approach to yoga (or any exercise) has it's benefits. At this year's Stoicon in New York, author William Irvine talked about applying Stoicism to the sport of rowing. He described the ongoing "battle of self" and how he used Stoicism to control the part of his mind that is negative and destructive. With yoga practice, we can use Stoicism in the same way. And the tools of Stoicism are especially useful with a practice like Yoga Tune Up where much of the focus is on body awareness and the connection between the mind and body. Learning self mastery of the mind helps to concentrate your focus and let go of the physical tension in your body that is intertwined with emotional stress. 

 

Wheel of Fortune

Are you Lucky? Unlucky? Little bit of both sometimes?  Mankind figured out the fickle nature of luck a long time ago. Take a look at this painting from the 15th century that depicts Lady Fortuna turning the wheel of fate. In one moment we can be a king, the next a pauper.

 
Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?) (French, active about 1450 - 1485) Philosophy Consoling Boethius and Fortune Turning the Wheel, about 1460 - 1470, Tempera colors, gold leaf, and gold paint on parchment Leaf: 7.3 x 17 cm (2 7/8 x 6 11/16 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?) (French, active about 1450 - 1485)
Philosophy Consoling Boethius and Fortune Turning the Wheel, about 1460 - 1470, Tempera colors, gold leaf, and gold paint on parchment
Leaf: 7.3 x 17 cm (2 7/8 x 6 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Here's what the Getty Museum says about the painting:  

"According to medieval philosophy, Fortuna is a force to be reckoned with: she is inconsistent, fickle, unstable, the opposite of reason. She buffets you like a rock in the middle of the sea. If you look closely at the figure spinning the wheel, you’ll notice that she has two faces: one beautiful, the other dark and vile. These are the two sides of Fortune."

Sound like a bit of a bummer, but it's actually pragmatic and something we all know to be true. The universe is constantly changing around us and we cannot control which way Fortuna will turn the wheel. So why do we spend so much time fixated on good fortune and clinging to hope that things turn out well for us? We should be spending our energy on what is under our control by making the most of every situation we're in. We should only concern ourselves with how we're handling the present moment, not hoping that the future will be better or ruminating about the past.

Easier said than done, of course. We're wired to worry and be afraid. But we can train our minds to be more awake in the present moment and more willing to let go of the past and future.  A great starting point is meditation.  We hope you'll join us at Connect Yoga on Sundays for Zen meditation.  It's a great starting point to start practicing letting go and allowing the wheel to turn as it may.

Butting Out

If sitting is the new smoking, then at home we are trying our best to butt out. That is, trying to get our butts out of chairs. It's hard to avoid them, but at home we've brought our office space down to the floor. 

It looks (and feels) a little weird at first, but after a very short time, we've started to notice unexpected benefits. Part of the scourge of sitting isn't just being in chair-sitting position; it's more problematic that you're not moving for long periods of time.  Chairs make it comfortable for us to not move. We've noticed that sitting on the floor in any one position without a chair for support gets very uncomfortable. So we are forced to move around and switch leg positions frequently. You're also forced to use your own muscles to support your spine. And again, it gets uncomfortable very fast if you aren't in a good sitting position. Chairs will keep you going no matter how lousy your posture is.  

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

I recently had the opportunity to do something completely uncharacteristic and take a NIA class. It's a form of movement that incorporates dance, healing and martial arts. I have to say, I did feel like a spazz on two left feet, but it was incredibly liberating and fun. 

For many years I used to only do yoga (the static pose kind, not Yoga Tune Up®) and thought it was enough. At least it was something, but what I've learned is that my body (and most bodies) needs variety because unfortunately, life doesn't always take place in a yoga pose. However, the idea of a gym, spinning or a jogging does not appeal to my sensibilities. Of course there's nothing wrong with those activities, but.. I. Just. Can't. 

When I discovered Yoga Tune Up® in late 2014, my world was turned upside down for the better. As many of you know, there's so much variety in these classes, but it's also good to have other outlets in your movement diet. I do a lot of walking, Yoga Tune Up (of course) and now another thing I can add is dance. I like NIA, and the teacher Martha Randall just radiates so much infectious positivity that I know I'd like to do it more. 

The idea of expanding my movement vocabulary has evolved from all the learning and reading I've been doing. Yoga Tune Up® has without a doubt been the biggest influence and I always feel like I've had a nice well-rounded practice when I go to class. At the same time, Katy Bowman's books and blog posts have also encouraged and inspired me. The big takeaway for me is to remember to move frequently. This can include walking to work or the grocery store, gardening, playing with your kids, walking your dog, or even cleaning the house. Just be mindful about how you are moving (we definitely empower you to understand functional movement in our classes at Connect Yoga).

A variety of activity is really all you need to stay healthy. Of course, if you want to get "ripped" you've got your work cut out for you. But if your goal is to maintain your health, remember that it doesn't have to hurt to work (credit to Jill Miller for saying that). So please join me in my little fitness revolution by doing things we enjoy so we can live happier, healthier lives. 

 

 

Meditation is Practice

The benefits of meditation are beginning to be recognized by science. For example, Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation had some good news recently about the effects of meditation on a small study of patients. But even without studies, it makes sense that sitting still and calming the mind is good for you. Once you've decided to sit still, there are many different approaches to what to do next. ARPF gives you an excellent guide to the 12-minute Kundalini yoga meditation they used in their study.  

At Connect Yoga, we believe it's important to practice some kind of exercise for your mind as well as your body. We are setting aside some time once a week (Sunday 12:00-12:45pm) where we can practice group meditation. If you're a beginner, we'll provide an easy starting point from Zen techniques. If you want to learn to swim, you'd look to Olympic athletes for tips, so why not learn from the Olympians of meditation? We're not hoping to make the Olympic team, but we can learn a few good beginning strokes.

If you haven't done any formal meditation before, it might help to know one practical way it can help in our everyday lives; control of emotions:

The ideas in this illustration are based on themes that reoccur in a wide variety of sources of wisdom including Buddhism, Ancient Stoic Philosophy, and modern Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There is a moment in time before we react to our thoughts and emotions that is crucial to our well being and can help make the world a better place. A lot is at stake. We need to open up space there in order to calmly and patiently figure out what to do next. Some thoughts we should allow to pass and flourish, others we should let go of. Meditation can be looked at as your brain muscle's practice at being mindful, concentrating and letting go. Zazen is a beautifully simple technique that you can learn in no time and practice anytime you want. But, the most important thing to remember is that it's practice. You can't learn to swim by standing there looking at the pool, you have to jump in and start doing laps.

Regardless of your level of experience, we hope you'll join us as part of your regular meditation practice. There aren't many opportunities in our busy world to sit in silence together and focus on making the world a better place.

 

Start Where You Are

There are a couple of times a year where I feel like hitting the reset button. The start of a new calendar year and the beginning of the school year. So here we are in September 2016. This time I am approaching my reset a bit differently with an approach that I know is achievable for me, which is to always do my best. It's not that I didn't do that before. I just never gave myself the permission to fail, at least not without feeling bad if I did, or never even attempting to finish something for fear of failure. From now on, whatever it is, whatever the outcome, if I've done my best, I've done enough. I am enough. Failure happens when you don't try. And if you don't get the outcome you desire, pick yourself up and begin again. No need to wait for a new year, new month, or new day. Just start where you are.

Image Courtesy Matt Long via Flickr Creative Commons

Image Courtesy Matt Long via Flickr Creative Commons

Dear First Time Student

I don't want you to ever worry because our classes aren't about whether or not you can touch your toes, turn your body upside down or morph into a pretzel. I know the mainstream imagery that constantly gets shoved in our faces may lead you to believe that that's what yoga is all about. Far from it. It's not about what a pose is supposed to look like. It's about how you get there. By moving intelligently.

Whatever your idea of a yoga class is, just toss it aside. The classes at Connect Yoga are so much more than just yoga postures. Human movement is the priority. In each class, there's a combination of self-massage, movement, strengthening, stretching and relaxation. You are empowered to tune up the awareness of your anatomy, understand how you move and where your body blind spots are so you can make better choices outside of the yoga room.

Please, do not be afraid or intimidated. Our classes are a safe and welcoming space for everyone where there are no judgements. Whether you are flexible or not, every student in class will leave with a better understanding of the biomechanics of their bodies so they can create lasting change. 

Speaking My Truth

Like most people, I came to yoga not knowing very much about it. I wasn't looking for enlightenment or becoming a pretzel, I was seeking relief from pain. And it was bad. Really, really bad. I developed debilitating sciatica about two years after giving birth to my son. At the time, I didn't have the knowledge or body awareness to understand what was going on, but I became desperate. On pain killers every day for about four years, I had done everything, spending thousands and thousands of dollars trying to get someone else to fix me. In the end, yoga worked. Specifically Bikram Yoga.

I think it was the combination of the heat and stretching that did it. Or maybe it was just changing my body's movement patterns. Perhaps I was just ready to heal. Whatever the reason, I became a huge believer in that style of yoga. I practiced regularly for about four years before I decided to take the plunge and deepen my knowledge in all things Bikram Yoga at the youthful age of 42. 

I left my career as a Television News Producer a couple of years after my son was born to stay at home full-time, and really had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life in terms of a job or career. In 2012 (ten years after my son was born), with the support of my loving husband, the timing seemed right to dive deeper into this mysterious world of Bikram Yoga. I was ready to learn because the same practice that healed me was stagnating and starting to cause me a bit of new pain. I wasn't getting the answers at home, so I figured I needed to go to the source.

I went to Teacher Training in Los Angeles and it was an expensive, gruelling, and tortuous nine weeks away from my family. If you are curious, you could read Benjamin Lorr's book "Hell Bent" to get an inside view of what the training is like. He quite accurately sums up my feelings and experience. I was eager to feel a huge shift in my understanding, knowledge and practice. But deep down, even though I didn't want to admit it, I left training feeling severely disappointed.

Shortly after I returned, my belief was beginning to waiver but I was still holding on to some faith. After all, the yoga healed me and countless others. I can't tell you how many stories I heard from other students at training, some with debilitating conditions that were somehow, like me, miraculously cured. The unfortunate thing about the training is that you don't leave having a full understanding of the WHY. Just a lot of talking in platitudes that you are supposed to accept as gospel. I understand that this practice works for many people, but for others it does not. It is precisely this issue I have a problem with. I was not trained well enough to know this.

I was desperate to learn and sought out new teachers when I found Tony Sanchez. He teaches the same lineage of Hatha Yoga but from a completely different approach. He expanded my knowledge of anatomy and alignment, allowed me to break out of the monotony of the 26 postures, and most importantly gave me permission to be curious and be willing to question and learn. It was because of him that I was able to move forward as a student. Unfortunately, my practice was still causing me some pain, and I didn't have a good enough understanding of anatomy to know why. 

Still on the path of trying to educate myself, I continued to gain greater body awareness after taking various anatomy courses with Ray Long, Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews, but the person who was able to pull it all together for me was Jill Miller and Yoga Tune Up®. I started taking classes and instantly knew that this was exactly what my aging body needed. I took workshops, immersions and eventually the Level 1 Teacher Training where my knowledge of the human body and movement swelled. Not saying I know everything (not by a long shot), but I have so much more confidence now and I have never felt better. I am so grateful to Jill and the entire YTU community.

I understand that anyone in the Bikram community who might happen to read this will want to come after me with pitchforks, but I say to them: this is not a criticism of you or the yoga you so deeply love. This is my experience and I am only speaking my truth.

I have no regrets or feelings of taking the wrong path. I never thought I would even own a studio, but a series of events that were beyond my control led me here (that might be a story for another day). My journey has been filled with many road bumps and detours along the way, but I believe that this was the path I needed to take. Today, I am exactly where I need to be. I'm at a place of compassion, understanding and connectedness. I feel grounded and filled with gratitude. 

 

The Place I Now Stand

The Ojibway understanding of truth is "as much as I know from the place I now stand." I've always liked this definition because it implies a willingness to change, something we should constantly be open to. This also reflects how I feel about my yoga practice and teaching.

The very first time I started practicing yoga (in the early 2000's) I had to drive across town to get to a yoga studio. Now, it seems like there's one on every corner. To say it's a growth industry is a huge understatement. Yoga is estimated to be worth $27 billion US. 

There are about 50 different major types of yoga, and more are being invented every day. So, which should you choose? I'm sure you're aware that they're not all the same and you may have even found out that the differences can be so vast that teachers from different types of yoga will contradict each other on seemingly important details. How do you know who to trust?

You may not know that there is no reliable resource to help figure it out. There is no governing professional body to help regulate standards and practices. There's no way of knowing whether the teachers that's trying to turn you into a pretzel has any idea what they are talking about. 

The good news is that with the growth of yoga comes an increased interest in the scientific community. Money and time is finally being spent on research that is showing that yoga is in fact good for us, and hopefully this will eventually lead to answers to more esoteric questions like which yoga is better, how often should you practice, etc. Currently, there are no honest answers to these questions.

In the meantime, what I can tell you is that in my yoga classes, I am telling you as much as I know from the place I now stand. I am constantly reading and researching yoga, taking in new training, and trying to put it all into place to give you the best, safest yoga that I can. But the thing I am trying to focus on the most is the part of that definition of truth. "..the place I now stand." This requires that a willingness to change and adapt with new information.

I will avoid jumping on fads that aren't grounded in practices that seem consistent with my education and research. I think all yoga teachers need to avoid being stuck in what's known in science as an "appeal to tradition." That is, having faith in something just because it has a long and established history.

There is a very strong bias to be faithful to tradition in the yoga community. While the drive to hold a yoga practice sacred is well intended, it's important to also bear in mind that as new information comes in we may learn that there are better or safer ways of doing things. If the new information seems reasonable, we should incorporate it into our instruction rather than rejecting it because it conflicts with ancient yoga beliefs. Knowing this and being unwilling to adapt our practice would be doing our students a disservice. 

The best advice for picking a yoga class might just be to keep all this in mind and find teachers that you think you can trust who are continuing their education and aren't trying to convince you that their way is the one "true" yoga method. Ask a lot of questions and in the end, listen to your body and trust your own instincts. And do a lot of yoga.