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.