The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More on Yoga

More on Yoga

I thought I’d make a list of the reasons I think so highly of yoga, and a few more observations:

1) It is primarily a “health” activity, not a “fitness” activity. Fitness generally relates to how many times you can do X within Y period of time. That’s nice, and probably necessary.
2) Yoga deals with how your organ systems and skeletal structure work. Tai Chi or Chi Gung do the same, but it’s my opinion that the average yoga teacher is better at producing the desired results. It’s easier to correct a static posture than a dynamic motion. And by the time you get into visualizations and kinesthetic awareness in Chi Gung, well…its easy to slide into fantasy.
3) If you follow the breath, it is possible to adjust any posture to the level safe and effective for you. Just go to the root of the posture, modify, and find a place where YOUR breath is challenged.
4) Forget about that 17-year old gymnast on the next mat. It is a perfect non-competitive activity, good to squelch your ego. But there is competition for those who really, really want it. Subjective measurement, of course, like figure skating or gymnastics or dance.
5) A high level of fitness can be established, although individual muscle groups are not developed in a Body Building sense, and the pulling muscles aren’t worked as hard as the pushing ones.
6) Yoga can provide a safe environment for the exploration of meditation. There are different “tones” that you will “hear” and feel in your body when you master certain positions. They may be represented by sensations, sounds, whatever. Collect these impressions and bring them into your meditations. They will teach you things about yourself. If you follow your breathing, and only your breathing, you have a good chance of finding one of these “tones” in every class. Just one second or so where everything was working unusually well.
7) Yoga is a perfect adjunct to sports and other “fitness” activities. Most are extracted from hunting (track and field), fighting (martial arts), or mating (dance) activities. Their intent is to enhance individual or genetic survival, or to express the deep Self. Hatha Yoga is designed to quiet the mind so that you can se what lies below the surface. It can be combined with religious beliefs, spiritual perspectives, or “merely” used as biofeedback to find tension and release it.
8) Yoga can be practiced by any age or fitness level. A teacher who doesn’t know how to adapt a pose to all you to succeed is a poor teacher. As long as you follow the breathing, it is virtually impossible to hurt yourself. As fitness progresses, the poses become more intense to force you to pay attention.
9) The IDEA concept (Instinctive Designation of Energy and Attention) is perfectly expressed in Yoga. There is a custom-amount of focus and release in any given pose. No two are alike. As you go deeper, you will find that the energy curve of excellence for any given pose will start matching the needs of other life activities: arguments, late-night diaper changes, freeway traffic. You’ll notice that different bits of emotional terrain are easier to navigate.
10) But you MUST follow the breath to get this. That’s your doorway in.
11) On Yoga days, I'm JUST a yogi. No MA, no kettlebells, I try not to even think of those things. I try to see the world through the eyes of one seeking union with the divine. I like alternating between "yin" and "yang" aspects of my personality. The truth of "me" is found in the space between.
12) Yoga seems more suited to increasing a woman's femininity than a man's masculinity. Yes, there are Rodney Yees and the like. But the average woman in a yoga class seems to express her secondary sexual characteristics more than the average man. Not much competition, really. I've often said that if I moved to a new city, and had no female acquaintences, what I'd do is go to yoga classes. Love those yummy yoga bodies! But as a guy...I'd add a bit of weight lifting, if I were you. Male yoga bodies tend to be a little...frail-looking.
13) Yoga puts back what time takes away. And so efficiently and subtly that if you've been doing hatha yoga regularly for, say, a year, and then stop for a couple of months, you'll likely feel all manner of odd aches and pains. You might even conclude that yoga is somehow bad for you, that you never felt this stuff before...the truth is that age inflicts one with Sensory Motor Amnesia, as well as a slight "anesthetic glove" effect where you literally can't feel what's wrong. From time to time your back will give you enough pain to pierce the "glove" and what do we do? Take pain-killers. That's like shutting off the fire alarm rather than putting out the fire. Yoga actually puts you in touch with what's going on.
14) Yoga will seduce you into missing yoga sessions. Since you generally don't feel a "pump" like you do in the gym, once you're feeling kinda froggy, the temptation is to forget the foundational work and leap for the big muscles or blazing energy pathways. The foundation erodes, aches and pains return, range of motion is limited, we throw our backs out in the bath-tub. Yoga is best as a preventative rather than a curative.
15) If you can get to a yoga class a minimum of, say, once a month, you can create your own program, say 30 minutes three times a week. Use the class to deepen your understanding of the methodology, and refine postures. Even fifteen minutes three times a week can bear big benifits. Say...10 reps of sun salutations? You'll feel it, trust me.
16) Working your abs separately would be smart. Flat abs are fun to have, and relatively simple, if not at all easy. The best ab device on the market is that five dollar "roller wheel" thingie. Try doing sets of 10, 25, or 50. If that's easy from your knees, do 'em from your toes. Killer, and a great warm-up
17) Most importantly, remember: it doesn't take a lot of time. It DOES take consistency, and a commitment to being 1% better every week.


Mark Jones said...

Thanks for the information. My goal is to attend enough classes in the beginning to be able to continue on my own once I've learned to do the forms properly. Yoga may not be _about_ flexibility, but that's my initial motive in deciding to pursue it. I'd like to _be_ flexible, and at a minimum not get any less so.

The "roller wheel thingie"--is that something like a rolling pin, and you roll it out until you're stretched out on your stomach and then back up again? I think I may have seen that advertised somewhere but I filed it mentally under "another stupid gimmick on late night tv." So it actually works, eh?

Steven Barnes said...

Yeah, it actually works. More bang per rep than a crunch. Works your back at the same time. If you do them from your knees, a good workout. Do them from your toes? Good luck.

Mike R said...

Hey Steve,

I seem to have caught a nasty bug recently. My wedding is coming up in nine days, so as you can imagine I'm doing everything I can to get well.

It's kind of frustrating though, because I seem to get sick more often than the average person. If there is a bug going around and the average person has a 10% chance of catching it, I'd say I have a 20% or 30% chance of catching it.

I eat right, exercise at the gym multiple times a week (body fat % is borderline fit), get at least seven hours of sleep a night, follow my doctors advice, have had surgery, and for the most part am not a stressed out guy, yet I still get sick more often than most, IMO mainly because of my allergy, asthma, and sinus problems that I was born with.

Second only to my problems with procrastination, I think getting sick and poor health are the factors that most stop me from achieving my goals.

Now, I firmly believe in taking responsibility for my life, so there really isn't any worth in going "Poor me, why do I have to get sick when everyone else is well, woe woe woe is me," but I'm human so I've bitched about that a few times.

I'm rambling here, but I guess my question is, "What do you think the adult thing is to do when you are sick?" Instead of blaming my genetic code, what should a mature person do to avoid or overcome illness?

Steven Barnes said...

Notice the circumstances under which those illnesses strike, and see if there is some similarity. Eating sugar, staying up too late, and so forth. Keep noticing. And the "seven hours of sleep"? Maybe you need eight. That's the average recommended. I would look at stress/strain, and diet, continuing to experiment. Some of the fittest people in the world started as health-challenged. Your challenge? To learn one new thing every week to improve your health.

AlanL said...

A yoga technique that I recommend from personal experience for sinus and allergy issues is neti kriya. I have had very bad hayfever from early childhood, and neti is the most effective treatment I have yet found for it. (Short of a corticosteroid inhaler, which worked spectacularly well the one summer I tried it, but I didn't fancy the idea of pumping steroids into my nose every summer for the rest of my life)

Neti kriya consists of washing out your nasal and sinus cavities with warm salty water, thus cleaning out all the pollen, bacteria and other undesirable guck. The traditional version uses a thing like a small teapot; I tried that for a couple of years, found it helpful, then graduated to a thing called a Hydropulse, which does the same thing more powerfully with a little electric pump and is even better.

(Steven's friend Jerry Pournelle is also a great fan of the Hydropulse, and may iirc even be the be person who alerted me to it)

Steven Barnes said...

Yoga is a deep science. If you can stay clear of the dogma, there's nothing like it.