Tag Archives: yoga

Yoga, flexibility, strength, and endurance

yoga matsLast August my Skype yoga classes went on hiatus for six months while our teacher, Susan Powter, embarked on a traveling and cooking project.

I’ve spent the past half year doing various Vinyasa routines on my own. For whatever reason, I simply could not do 1-hour sessions, and ended up doing 45-minute workouts. I’ve been sick for the past two months with things including a fairly severe sinus infection, followed by a painful bladder infection. So things just haven’t been good.

Susan’s back to teaching (yay!) and today I got to take a 75-minute class and assess what I maintained and what I lost doing a self-directed practice.

Flexibility — To my surprise, I can do most of my poses just as well as I could when doing three 1-hour classes a week last summer.

Strength — To the degree that strength supports balance, I’m still doing fairly well.

Endurance — Here’s where I completely lost it. Moving rapidly from pose to pose is a key element in Vinyasa yoga, and as soon as I had to spend a lot of time in plank, down dog, and other inverted poses in which arms provide support, I was in huge trouble.

Lest anyone think my workout today was torture, I want to assure you that Susan, who works with many students who haven’t exercised in years, urges you to modify whenever a pose is overwhelming. I was able to move at a quick pace through the sequences — it was holding difficult poses for any length of time that got me.

Susan has asked me to keep notes to see how long it will take me to regain my strength.

Meanwhile: Hot bath, then dinner. I will certainly sleep tonight.

3 good reasons to skip today’s workout

1. I’m sick with a fever.

2. I’ve been kidnapped and am bound with rope in the trunk of a car (and I don’t think it’s headed for a yoga studio).

3. I’ve suffered muscle exhaustion from yesterday’s workout and literally can’t move (this happened once, but only once).

Seriously, there are hundreds of reasons to skip today’s workout, and tomorrow’s, and pretty soon it’s the end of the week and I feel like a doughy blob.

Yet funny how I didn’t skip meals, or showers, or feeding the cats twice a day, or doing the dishes, or picking up the mail, or answering email.

I thought about this today when I attended a yoga class via Skype at 8 in the morning, and we ran into all sort of technical difficulties with the call, and the cats were yowling to get out, and because I was using the hallway instead of my usual yoga area I ended up with cat hair and little bits of grit and cat food all over my feet…and the mat.

It was a great workout anyway.

Fitness: Envisioning 2047

Here’s where I’d like to be in 35 years.

New research explains how exercise improves health

Mouse exercisingYou’ve probably read about the effectiveness of restricted-calorie diets for increasing longevity in animals and in humans.

Now those of us who prefer exercise to dieting can take heart: A study described in the January 2012 issue of Nature reveals that exercises uses the same mechanism to increase health and longevity.

The research article itself is limited to magazine subscribers, but Gretchen Reynolds’ New York Times article “Exercise as Housecleaning for the Body,” hits all the main points. Apparently, exercise enhances the natural system the body has for sweeping away damaged proteins, invasive viruses and bacteria, and broken down cellular components. The cleaning system, known as “autophagy” tends to slow down in middle age…but the new animal studies suggest that exercise can speed it up again.

Of course, I’m all over this study because I’ve long hoped that I could focus on exercise while continuing to eat a generally healthy, but varied, diet. For me, it’s just easier (and way more fun) to “go for the burn” three or four times a week in an Ashtanga yoga class or on a neighborhood hike than to silently beat myself up every time I enter a grocery store, go to a coffee shop or restaurant, or sit down to dinner at a friend’s house.

Yoga: Effective — if the cause of the pain in your back is physical

A study conducted at Seattle’s Group Health Cooperative for the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has found yoga to be effective in relieving low back pain. But the study is attributing the effectiveness to the stretching component of yoga, rather than to any stress-relieving components.

You can read more in this Wall Street Journal report.

I’ll confess that, based on my own yoga experience, the study results have me puzzled. I’d have thought that the reason yoga relieved low back pain was because it strengthened muscles in the back, legs, and abdomen, thus providing more support for the body during activities such as bending over, or lifting heavy objects, and reducing the likelihood of injury (throwing your back out or straining muscles).

Sticking with yoga: Practice pays off in decreased stress

A University of Ohio study suggests that women who stick with yoga practice (at least twice a week for two years or more) enjoy biochemically measurable health benefits.

The study compared longtime yoga students with newbies (involved in yoga for only a few weeks). Both groups had their endocrine responses measured before and after yoga practice, treadmill walking, television viewing and known stress events.

The novices’ blood was found to have, on average, 41 percent higher levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 than that of the experts. High interleukin-6 has been associated with heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The novices were also tested for a protein that is a marker for inflammation; some were found to have levels of that protein nearly five times greater than those of the women who had been doing yoga over the long term.

Working out with Susan Powter via Skype

Every time Susan Powter leaves Seattle I go through a new search for a challenging yoga-based workout that I can attend three times a week. I’ve tried several local yoga classes and, for various reasons, they didn’t work out for me. Some studios were too far away to make the commute practical; some were too slow (great for flexibility and strength, no help for fat burning); some were too sanctimonious (no, I don’t suffer from fear, anxiety, insecurity and spiritual emptiness the way one 20-something instructor seemed to think everyone in the room did); and hot yoga made it possible for me to do things that were probably not wise for someone my age.

I ended up taking a fabulous Techno ElectroBelly dance class (“shimmying, isolating, undulating, and generally gettin’ sweaty to electronic, dub, techno, industrial, and rock music”) from Laura Rose at VDP Studio in Fremont, but unfortunately she teaches it only once a week.

Then I found out that Susan is teaching classes via Skype! She provides them for small groups. You gather three or four women and work out a schedule with Susan. At the appointed time, you all show up at the studio of your choice (someone’s livingroom or deck), roll out your mats, open your laptop, and place the video call to Susan at her Taos studio.

It’s just like working out with Susan in a class, except that with small classes she’s able to give a lot more individual attention.

Last week Carrie and I went completely crazy and did five days of classes in a row. It…felt…fabulous!

Interested? Send me email or contact Susan directly.

>It’s not easy being green

>Relax. I’m not about to add my voice to the “we just discovered the environment and act like we invented it” bandwagon.

When I talk about green, I’m talking, like Kermit, about skin color.

My story starts with a fence.

I was on the fence. It was close to midnight. The fence was on the ground. So was I. It had fallen over. And, not seeing it in there the dark when I went out to chase down my recalcitrant cat, I fell over it.

I don’t remember tripping. I was running across my patio and the next thing I knew I was flat on the ground — well, on the fence — sobbing for help.

No one heard me.

Somehow, I got into the house, grabbed a towel in the bathroom, filled the towel with ice cubes, put the towel over my face, and used my other hand to punch numbers on my iPhone (it was flat on the coffee table) to call Tom. When he answered, I was able to say that it wasn’t life threatening, but I’d fallen and it was messy. Fortunately, Tom is used to emergencies (he does safety for large community events) and he said “I’ll be right there.”

I lay face down on the kitchen floor, face in the ice, and waited.

By the time Tom arrived, my teeth were chattering from all the adrenaline. He looked at my face, said I’d be all right, and talked me into looking at myself in the mirror. What I saw wasn’t reassuring, and I opted to go to the emergency room.

The folks at the ER took me in immediately and by the time they sent me off for a CAT scan, I’d relaxed enough to be as puzzled as everyone else was about how I’d managed to smash my nose without injuring any other part of my body. There was a tiny scrape on one hand, but it wasn’t even bleeding. The conclusion was that my body had decided it was doing yoga and had somehow caught itself and lowered itself to the ground. My nose, unfortunately, hit a piece of the fence. And the bone at the tip was broken.

They sent me home with prescriptions for pain killers, which I didn’t fill. I took a bath, iced my nose, swalled my usual Ibuprofen, and went to bed. When I got up in the morning I felt fine.

Until I looked in the mirror. That was pretty horrible; I’ll spare you the description.

I had been very much looking forward to going to a formal event Thursday evening, and it seemed unlikely I’d be able to attend. But on Wednesday — by which time I resembled a dark purple racoon — Tom suggested that I alter one of my Steampunk hats so that there would be a double veil in the front. I took a heavy veil from one hat, doubled it over, and pinned it on to a more subtle hat.

Thus began the adventure of the mysterious veiled woman.

The event we were attending was the opening of the Seattle Erotic Art Festival. The invitation had suggested formal wear and costuming, so I was sure I’d blend right in. But it turned out that most of the other outfits were all about definition or exposure. My veil (worn with a plain black evening top, black chiffon pants, and very high heels) was just the opposite. And turned out to be a real attention-getter; people literally stopped and stared. Particularly when the women hand-feeding guests chocolate-dipped jalapeno peppers had to lift the veil to feed me.

I won’t be able to employ the veil this coming Wednesday, when I am supposed to be filmed for a video on small businesses owners. So it was off to a local salon yesterday to find out what they could do for me in terms of makeup. The makeup artists raised their eyebrows — by this time, the purple smudges looked like football player’s anti-glare makeup — and dove for the concealer. What they came up with was great and allowed me to walk down the street without getting alarmed looks, or having to explain to people that I’d been in an accident.

This morning the purple smudges were smaller, but now the skin around my eyes is turning pond-scum green! (Yes, everyone has given me arnica, and maybe that’s working.)

I continue to be grateful for the luck and the yoga that prevented damage to things like kneecaps, wrists, and cheekbones. The offending fence has been safely sidelined, and the cat seems suitably sorry.

The experience of feeling fine and “just like myself” while looking both hideous and misfortunate — and seeing those readings in other people’s eyes — is certainly food for thought. I’d been working on some mystery fiction with a female protagonist, a detective, who suffered facial disfiguration and has to overcome a fear of going out in public in order to take on an investigation for a dying friend. I think I can bring a great deal more to that story now.

And I may do some writing about — and experimenting with — being veiled.

>Something new: Moo Doe

>As part of my exploration of fitness options, I did some web research on Seattle area martial arts programs. But, somehow, nothing called to me.

Friday, after leaving the car to be detailed on Aurora Avenue, I walked over to the Greenwood & 85th business district. It was cold and rainy and not a very exciting day to be out and about. Not much is open before 11, except for a couple of tiny local coffeehouses. One of the closed businesses I walked by was a martial arts studio, of the very traditional variety: many faded black and white photos of masters, a few stacks of simple brochures by the door. I was staring at the brochures when I realized someone was beside me, opening the door. He asked if he could help me, and we went in and talked about the School of Oom Yung Doe (for that’s what it is).

I was impressed by the explanation that Adam, the master, gave about the relationship of the martial arts to yoga, and by his insistence that each individual’s practice be tailored to her or her own body and capabilities. (I will not be expected to go flying through the air, kicking people! The emphasis is on health and efficient use of energy, not on combat moves.)

Today I stopped by the studio with Zorg, who practiced martial arts some years ago and talked with Adam again. Starting the week after next, I am going to give Moo Doe a try. I remarked to Zorg that my renegade yoga teacher, who had nothing but disdain for paternalistic Eastern programs with people bowing to “masters” and murmuring in foreign languages, would be horrified.

“She left,” he said. “You can study anywhere you want.”

>Which yoga is right for you?

>Whether you run, lift weights, dance, or just laze around on the beach like this guy, chances are someone has suggested that you add a yoga class to your workout schedule.

To avoid disappointment, check out this MSN UK guide that matches you by your workout preferences and fitness level to one of the several styles of yoga.

The guide describes
• Ashtanga (“Power Yoga”)
• Kundalini
• Bikram (“Hot Yoga”)
• Iyengar (which makes use of blocks, straps, and incline devices)
• Anusar

Unfortunately, the guide does not cover the classic Hatha yoga or Vinyasa (“Flow”) yoga, which is very popular in the U.S.

I’ve been going around dabbling in yoga classes since my favorite yoga teacher moved to L.A., and continue to be amazed at the differences between the styles. (And I haven’t even tried Bikram yet!) I feel as though I learn something important from every teacher in terms of improving my yoga.

Thanks to Melanie Crow’s blog for pointing out the MSN article.