Friday, April 30, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
I got your email through the blog . . . Keep up the good work, girl.
I’ve got a question about my health: About eight months ago, I had a fall from the swimming pool knocking my spine against the edge, causing a minor slipped disc (affecting 2 vertebrae) – I’m feeling much better now with less pain. However, I’ve put on weight like mad, too, because of lack of physical activity. How good would it be for me to engage in yoga? Just thought I’d ask your opinion. Thanks!
Thank you so much for reading the blog and seeking my thoughts on recovering from your spinal injury along with staving off weight gain. Yoga can support both these endeavors; however, the answer is less obvious than you might think.
Students often seek my input when trying to lose weight, and I happily oblige if there's excess weight to lose. My style of teaching is known for being vigorous and, by extension, an effective means of weight management, muscle toning, and more. An admitted fitness addict and lifelong athlete, I'll be the first to share a killer abdominal sequence around swimsuit season or illustrate how arm balance postures can be a fun substitute for lifting weights. Simply put, the asana practice is a topnotch resource for battling the bulge.
However, yoga is comprised of several other facets beyond asana (the actual yoga poses we practice), and I would argue that many of these endeavors are powerful tools for reshaping both your physical and/or energetic body. They include seven other "limbs" on the yoga path as stated in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: yamas (one's attitude toward the world), niyamas (attitude toward self), pranayama (breathwork), prathayara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment). In other words, poses done blithely for the purpose of a slim waist or nice booty deprive us of yoga's most potent benefits, chief among these, Patanjali claimed, is cultivating the ability to "still the fluctuations of the mind."
While exercise is paramount to weight loss, and many styles of yoga are great forms of exercise, I believe that the psychological resources yoga provides are even more formidable tools for achieving a healthy weight and positive body image. Consider my personal situation, for example (one that I have not mentioned here before). I have been exceedingly active my entire life, beginning with swim teams as a little tadpole tyke through a stint in Division I athletics in college. I have a tall frame (5' 9") and am preternaturally muscular. I was always bigger and weighed more than most of my female peers growing up, so I exercised like a fantatic and was very limiting with my diet for most of my life. Despite this vigilance, I never felt thin. Fit, yes. Thin? No. According to some standards, I was overweight. After college, I started doing more yoga and gradually lost about 20 lbs.- ironically- without realizing it. I don't attribute this purely to the physical practice of yoga. Yoga became my predominant form of exercise, and, yes, it burns calories, but it wasn't more vigorous than the level of activity to which I was accustomed.
From the outside, it appeared that going to yoga class more often reshaped my figure. This isn't altogether false, but it isn't the whole truth either. Downward dog was not slimming my thighs nor garudasana sculpting my arms in some magical new way. Instead, I was gradually seeing and treating my body with greater compassion (characterized by ahimsa, one of the yamas). Yoga helped me to stop focusing on my weight and start making better, more mindful choices about nutrition (my diet actually became more inclusive rather than restrictive), sleep, and lifestyle. And, at the risk of sounding like a total flake, I was "talking" to my body differently. Instead of looking in the mirror and fixating on how my body didn't look, Why don't you fit into these jeans, you big-field-hockey-butt! I started noticing all it could accomplish, Holy crap, I'm strong! I can break up fights [I was a teacher in an inner city school system at the time] or even heave a vending machine off the ground when a snack gets stuck. Non-violence and vending machines: that is to say I was focusing on the important things . . .
While your spine heals, I encourage you to honor your body as it recovers, rather than judge its appearance. Acknowledge how it avoided what could have been a grave injury. Accept that it may have held onto added weight to protect you for a time. And, understand that our bodies are ever-changing. Now that you are better, you're free to experiment with all kinds of fun and liberating styles of movement, including, yes, yoga.
Truthfully, a vigorous vinyasa style of practice will shed weight quickest; however, I would recommend that you start more gently and let the proverbial scales fall where they may. Focus, instead, on the non-physical "limbs" of the practice mentioned here, such as meditation and pranayama, which teach a deep inward listening and the invaluable skill of being present.
I believe that our bodies know what to do when they need to do it: when to eat, how much, when to exercise, when to rest, when to moderate, and when to indulge. The power of yoga allows us to tap into this instinctual knowledge and reveal our best selves to the world, regardless of the size of our jeans.
Love and "light,"
Friday, April 23, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
- I started running longer distances while in college in Virginia and I will never forget this one tree, far off campus, each fall. It was as though its leaves caught fire; the colors were so vibrant. I still recall how this tree could take my breath away as I ran by.
- I stare at the ocean and can just about make peace with all my problems, if only for a moment.
- I flip for farm stands and the completely different taste of food when it's grown locally, responsibly, and without chemicals.
- I love to hike with friends, sometimes without speaking. Instead, we just walk together, in quiet, listening to nature and smelling the intoxicatingly fresh mountain air.
- I would always rather walk than drive.
- I love that Om Mama has been composting at home for decades.
Now, it's your turn! Oh, how we heart the Earth (and its day). Let us count the ways . . .
Photos: (clockwise from right) Kripalu, winter 2009; a beach in Truro, MA; overlooking the Adirondacks, and St. Francis of Assisi in my Mom's garden.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
Today marks the one-week countdown to the 2010 Boston Marathon and the one-year anniversary of the scariest week of my marathon virgin life. I managed to survive the 7 days leading up to my first marathon last year and the grueling 26.2 mile race that followed, thanks in large part to my friends and fellow runners, discovering that Klondike bars make great recovery food, and viparita karani. For runners leading up to the race and following it, this restorative yoga pose is essential.
It's also essential for anyone else who spends a lot of time on his/her feet. Whether it's a long night behind the line for a chef, a jam-packed day at the salon for a hair stylist, a lengthy surgery for a medical staff, or the adventures of chasing and looking after small children, each of us experience our own "marathons" on a day-to-day basis. We run around, without much rest. We stand for hours on end. Our backs hurt; our legs ache; our feet swell. Our minds dart. Our heart rates elevate.
One antidote for real or metaphorical marathons, busy schedules, racing minds, and even high heels is the following pose, often referenced on OmGal.com and demonstrated, here, in video for the first time.
Enjoy. Rest up. Keep running.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
This week marks the annual opening of the most storied golf tournament in the world, the Masters, with yesterday's practice round kicking off the high profile, high stakes festivities. Winners of the Masters immediately join the estimable ranks of golf lore’s finest. It’s the most coveted win in the sport, with the most coveted prize—the green jacket, not to mention a hefty winner's purse.
For one golfer, the stakes are higher than usual this year, as the 2010 tournament marks a return to the game for Tiger Woods, the world's most famous (and now infamous) golfer. In case you missed it, Woods took a break from golf for about 4 seconds, largely during the off season, to tend to the personal and public fallout following his recent sex scandal.
Since breaking the story, my blogging brethren have covered and commented on these events ad infinitum, along with sports analysts, members of the media, and just about anyone with a Twitter account (#TigerWoods was among the top ten trending topics in 2009, and the scandal didn’t even break until late November of last year). I’ll leave the commentary to those who are more qualified, more snarky, and/or more invested.
I don’t want to talk about Tiger Woods.
However, in honor of the Masters this week, I do want to talk about golf—specifically, how yoga can help golfers of any level, from amateur to elite, improve their game. Upon the request of a pro golfer pal, I’ve developed a yoga program to meet the unique needs of golfers. The objectives of the program are captured by a simple acronym that I created called F.O.R.E., as in the command a golfer might yell upon hitting into another group of players. If we ever hit the links together, you will surely hear this one on occasion . . .
F.O.R.E. stands for Focus, Openness, Rotation, and Efficiency, representing the four key elements of a yoga practice that supports and enhances one’s golf game. Below, you’ll find an example of each element of my program and how to master it on your own.
Focus: Any golfer knows that vision is paramount to success on the course. From lining up a putt to aligning your eyes properly before, during, and after your swing, your eyes are a powerful way of gathering information, adjusting biomechanics, and focusing energy. Yoga is no different. The Sanskrit word drishti refers to the focus and power of one’s gaze. To practice this concept, try keeping your eyes open during meditation. Set them on a steady point on the floor; let them be soft and relaxed, and see how your brain responds to having a visual anchor. Add the uninterrupted flow of your breath, and you'll immediately feel your nervous system become steady and energy level sustainable. Next, apply this principle to the ball during play.
Openness: Golfers, like most athletes, seek yoga as a way to improve flexibility. For golfers, key areas of the body to open, stretch, and expand include the hamstrings, hips, lower back, shoulders, neck, chest, and hands. To get you started, here's a great series for the hips, using a foam roller, a helpful and cost effective piece of equipment for athletes.
Rotation: Creating space and strength in the torso is essential for golfers who rely heavily on their ability to rotate through their golf swing seamlessly. Tightness and imbalance in the body translate into a choppy swing, and a choppy swing translates into crappy golf. A seated twist (shown above and explained here) is a very easy movement and an important posture for golfers. For added strength in your core, check out the following abdominal exercise (video).
Efficiency: The most essential element of yoga and golf is the same. Meditation. In its most distilled form, meditation is the skill of being aware in the present moment. When we are present, we are always more effective, as golfers, yogis, and people. Golf is a fickle game—even maddening at times; the best golfers know this and accept it. They train their minds to adapt to obstacles (physical or metaphysical), thereby becoming more aware and efficient in a given moment. It’s widely understood that you cannot excel off the next tee if you are still focused on the frustration of being in a bunker on the previous hole. Here's one of my favorite meditations, geared toward soothing nerves, creating a feeling of trust, and developing a sense of grounding. Yogis and golfers, both, meditate to find greater peace and efficiency on their course.
Whether you're watching the Augusta action on TV this week or hitting the links this season, happy golfing, om guys and gals!