Yes, I want more people to check out yoga classes. But for yogis to promote yoga as a cure-all and as a way to prevent injuries is irresponsible. Of course I believe the benefits outweigh the risks, but new practitioners should be mindful going into it.
I liked an article (posted below) from the Washington Post that was reprinted in the Dec. 23 edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune. I thought it had a lot of good tips.
Yoga injuries are likely going to come from overuse and overstretching. But I believe that listening to your body is going to be the most important way to prevent injuries. I think a lot of yoga injuries result from people looking at others in a class and trying to do what they’re doing. They forget that the person on the mat next to them may have been practicing yoga for many years. Letting go of ego and letting go of competition will go a long way in keeping yourself healthy on the mat.
I’m only a few days into eating a primarily plant-based diet, but I’m already feeling better and seeing results.
I generally have eaten pretty healthy in the past few years. I like fruits and vegetables and make it a point to eat those every day. I like to eat well because I like to be active, and I can’t fuel my body on garbage. But my main challenges have been:
Simply eating too much, especially now that I’m not logging lots of miles like I was prior to the marathon in October.
Still lacking willpower to walk away from the sweet treats — totally my weakness! I would never eat chips or fries again in my life if it meant I could still eat cookies.
Drinking too much alcohol.
These have been my challenges for about three years. In 2014, I wasn’t happy with my eating habits or my body and made some major changes. I was able to keep this up mostly through 2016. But since then, I’ve struggled.
I’ve made half-hearted attempts to rediscover that good place I was in a few years ago. But nothing ever stuck and I’d quickly be back to my old habits (or more accurately, not even wanting to change).
But a couple of weeks ago, something happened. It was definitely an internal/mind change. I kind of just lost my taste for junk. I craved freshness. That’s what I wanted to put into my body. Whereas I hadn’t cut back on alcohol because I simply liked it, in the past couple of weeks the thought of drinking kind of turned my stomach.
I credit the change to a few things:
Making yoga and meditation a daily routine. I wake up and immediately begin my practice. Sometimes it’s only 15 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. I’ve been sustaining this for about a month.
Disliking how my body feels when I’m not kind toward it. A morning practice is difficult and challenging when if the night before I drank and ate garbage. I got tired of feeling that way.
Letting go of psychic baggage.
Just in the past few days, I’ve noticed that I’m sleeping better and have lost weight. And the new diet is highly satisfying and filling! This is a HUGE change for me. As a pitta, I’m often ravenous and counting the hours until the next meal. I have never missed and meal and have never forgotten to eat! But something like the six-taste bowl pictured above sustains me for hours. This has been the biggest surprise of this new routine.
This is not a diet or a miracle fix. This is a way of life. I have never participated in any fad diet, because I know the key is being able to sustain the way you eat. I don’t anticipate a problem incorporating more vegetables and less meat and dairy into my diet.
At this moment, I’m not saying that I won’t ever eat meat or dairy or sugar again, or that I’ll never have another sip of alcohol. I resist strict rules. Even if the rules are good for me, my instinct is to break them just because they’re rules! I’m also a slow learner and like to dip my toe in the water before going all in. For example, I did several 5Ks and 10Ks before doing a marathon. I did sprint triathlons before moving on to Olympic-distance triathlons. Unlike someone I know, who signed up for a full Ironman triathlon without knowing how to swim!
So I’m considering this a primarily plant-based diet, with some exceptions. I think the key to making something work for you is to tailor it to your needs and lifestyle. Make it individual for you. What works for someone else may not work for you.
“My mind wanders too much when I try to meditate.”
Those were all things I’ve said at different points in my life. I knew people who meditated, I knew people got a lot out of meditation, I have had meditation “assignments.” But finally, finally, in taking my own journey and my own path to meditation, I’m settling into a practice.
For me, it’s like anything — it takes practice. I practice the piano to get better. If I write every day, writing is going to get easier and flow better. If I run most days a week, I’m going to be a better runner.
I’ve been meditating most mornings. I started short, just 2-3 minutes. But after a while, that became easier — those minutes went by quickly instead of plodding along like they did when I started. This morning for the first time I meditated for 5 minutes.
Yes, my mind wanders. My mind wanders on my mat, too. But instead of giving up, I bring myself back to the moment. Some days I have to do this countless times. Other days, I’m more present. Whatever is going on that day is “right.”
Another cool thing is happening: I’m viewing my Ashtanga practice as meditation rather than physical. I had always viewed it as physical — it’s a challenging and demanding practice, which takes a lot of physicality. I used to measure my progress by my strength and ability to get into poses. But lately, I am experiencing how the physical is a path to the meditation, not an end unto itself. This is bringing a new level of meaning and excitement to my practice.
“Many people assume that because they cannot easily bend their bodies into the pretzel-like positions of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that this method is not for them. The sole qualification for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga is to love your practice and to ‘show up’ on your mat as much as possible. It does not matter what level of asana you perform, because the inner work of yoga is fueled by the authentic search for inner peace.”
Since June 8, I’ve showed up to my mat much more than I ever have in the past 16 years since I was first introduced to Ashtanga. I show up on my mat most mornings. Do I spent a ton of time on the mat? No. Most mornings at least 20 minutes. Only about one morning a week am I showing up for 30-45 minutes. But this is a vast improvement over other years when I didn’t even have a home practice and was doing Ashtanga only when I showed up to a led class 3-4 times a month.
Moving forward, I’d like to increase the time of my home practice to at least 30 minutes most mornings and to get back into doing the full series at least once a week.
My major challenge right now is motivation. I’ve hit the low point of the semester — long days at the office with lots of meetings and advisee appointments. This means that prep work and grading is happening in the evening when I get home and the weekends. It’s been hard to get up in the mornings knowing I have such a full day ahead. But that is exactly the time to bump up my practice.
I have the excuse of teaching yoga two mornings a week, which forces me out of bed. When class is over, I spend 20-30 minutes on the primary series finishing poses plus some cardio work. If I didn’t have to get up to teach, I think I’d probably opt for staying in bed as long as possible. I hope once I get past this busy time at work, I will feel more motivated.
How do you stay motivated for working out or for your yoga practice?
At the end of the Ashtanga prep class I’ve been teaching at SunMoon Yoga Studios, I like to read a short passage while students are in savasana. I usually read from Kino MacGregor’sThe Power of Ashtanga Yoga.
Last Thursday I read this:
“The asanas work first on a practice level to burn through the toxins in the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies The poses also work to change the basic hardwiring of the mind. Normally, when we confront difficult situations, we want to run away. If we encounter a scary memory, we often want to bury it. The pattern, while totally natural, is not effective at creating a truly happy, healthy life. Yoga trains the mind to stay in places of difficulty instead of running away and developing protective measures. In yoga, there is no room for defense mechanisms. In fact, the yoga poses are designed to strip away every protective layer you may have developed to reveal the inner purity at the heart of your being.”
Ashtanga, like most physical endeavors, is a challenging practice. I have never been on a run or a bike ride or done an Ashtanga practice and said, “Wow, that was easy today!” Part of the reward upon completing physical exertion is the satisfaction in knowing that you pushed yourself in a difficult situation.
What do we find challenging on an emotional or mental level? There’s a tendency to push it away and not want to go there, just like there’s a tendency to stay on the couch or stay in bed rather than move your body.
Because Ashtanga yoga is done in silence, with the focus on the audible breath, it creates a meditative state as you challenge your body in the asanas. Running and cycling for me also have a mind-clearing quality, but not as much as Ashtanga does.
We often turn toward more destructive habits when we don’t want to confront difficult thoughts and emotions. I have been guilty of this, but I find that since I’ve been practicing Ashtanga regularly I’m not running away from myself and I’m treating myself better. It’s a slow process — I’ve only been practicing regularly for about four months — but I am hopeful for continued growth and strength. For me, and for all of you, be patient and kind to yourselves and trust the process, whatever that may be.
Inner story and outer story is usually the first thing I talk about when I give memoir workshops. A memoir that just stays at the surface — this happened, then this happened, here’s what I looked like, here’s what our house looked like, etc. — doesn’t have any substance. Writers have to dive deep within themselves to discover what all those things meant. How did it change the writer? What transformation took place because of those events?
Writing the inner story is difficult because it takes time and contemplation. We may know we have an outer story, but perhaps we haven’t spent a lot of time articulating on the page what it meant or how it changed our lives. At least that was my case when I wrote my memoir. I knew I had a unique story in that my dad was a gravedigger, but until I started to write I didn’t realize exactly how that upbringing impacted my life. The thinking-to-writing ratio while I was working on the memoir was definitely skewed toward the thinking!
This is why I’m so excited to do this yoga/memoir workshop. Yoga lends itself to looking inward and contemplation. There’s the physical practice of yoga, what we see. If we practice regularly we may see changes to our body — more defined muscles, increased strength, new flexibility. If we let our practice sit there on the outside, like a memoir, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it can be so much more.
It’s when your mind and body are strong when the real transformation occurs. As Kino MacGregor writes in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: “Strength in yoga is an integration of the sum of the body, mind, and soul in a way that gives access to something much larger than any individual part.”
For memoir, the strength is in the combination of outer story and inner story. To borrow Kino’s words, that is going to give access to something much larger than the individual parts.