Joseph’s Tip #2: Building Strength

So Joseph’s second tip might be a bit more specific to competitors or people who are interested in doing strength-based postures. Here it is:

Practice push-ups and pull ups daily to improve your arm balancing postures.

I could definitely benfit from this advice. I love push-ups and pull-ups about as much as I love backbending (the love is low), but I know it’s on the list of things that are good for me to do. I know that my attempts to do crow (which have stalled a bit) would benfit from having more upper body strength.

The second tip raised an issue for me that I have been grappling with for awhile. There’s so much to do. So many ways I could improve, and yet, there is always so much time in the day. I have a job and other responsibilties (ok – not much besides walk the pugs, give the pugs tummy rubs, feed the pugs, do laundry, eat). Lots of people have given me great advice about things I can do outside of class that would help with one or more postures. I have found myself overwhelmed with advice. I can do a lot of things and spread myself thin (and really, how much is that going to help?) or I can focus in a bit and then expand out to other areas later.

This is why I took my massage therapist’s advice to see a sports physical therapist. Side note: Getting my second myfacial massage Saturday (yeah!!!). I knew I needed to be doing additional exercises outside of class to strengthen my postures for competition or otherwise. But I needed help with focusing and getting my priorities straight. My PT said there were indeed many things I could work on but agreed that tackling my tight hips would be a good way to get the party going.

So, where does this leave me with Joseph’s second tip? Here’s my take:

(a) It’s a great and important tip, and it’s one I will eventually start to work into my practice outside of class

(b) While I do want to do arm balancing postures eventually, I don’t need to worry about it today. I have a focus, on my hips, right now. It’s good to work on that.

(c) Point C applies to us all and not me specifically. Have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish in your practice. Take in advice that will nurture that goal. Don’t shut out advice that doesn’t help you get where you want to be at that moment, but don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once. That’s not possible. I’ve only been practicing for three years, and I would say I have had a regular, focused practice for a year now. I’ve got a journey.

Ultimately, I see this tip as being mindful about what you are working on and mindful in your thinking about how you can move forward in your practice. For me, it’s all about my hips right now. But eventually, it will be about those arm balances. And you can bet I will be doing push-ups and pull-ups at some point in the future!

Leaving the Bikram Box

I write a lot about how my yoga practice shapes and changes my life. Today, I want to turn that around a bit and share how my life has shaped my yoga practice.

To understand this, we have to go in the wayback machine to when I was fourteen.

What historical period do you want to visit?

What historical period do you want to visit?

By the age of 14 I knew how to play three instruments: (a) piano, (b) clarinet, and (c) guitar. That’s the order I learned them in. I ultimately landed on the guitar, and I had made the decision to be a professional heavy metal guitarist. Actually, if you think about it, heavy metal and Bikram yoga are not that far removed. In fact, I would argue that participating in Bikram yoga ia very metal thing to do.

You might be thinking you don’t like metal, but trust me on this one. If you regularly practice Bikram you got a little bit of the metalhead in you. One day I will blog about why I believe that to be true.Now, back to my guitar playing. I wanted to be a great guitar player. I took myself seriously. Being a great musician (or a lot of other things), isn’t just about who you study with (though that is important), it’s also about who you study.Get that?

Basically, I need a great guitar teacher, but I also need to be exposed to a lot of great players and not just guitar players. I found to truly learn and expand my musical understandings, this meant I had to go outside the metal and rock genre. What I learned is that the great guitar players within my genre listened to all kinds of music – classical, jazz, blues, and then sub-generes within those larger genres. So I would find someone in my area that I admired and read up on who they admired. That would often put me in a different genre. Then I would read up on who that guy (usually it was a dude – so goes the music scene) admired and go listen to that person and keep tracing it back as far as I could go.

If you’re an academic, it’s funny to note that I was honing my literature review skills at an early age. I find that amusing, but also it turned out to be seriously helpful when I was getting my doctorate.

Which brings me to my point: The skills I learned as a musician, the ways I learned how to think, examine, and explore my little box, served me in many ways outside the field of music. They have served me a thousand times over as an academic, and they have served me in my yoga practice. Here’s how:

When I started training for competition last year, I (of course) increased the number of times I went to class. As I went to class more, my postures got better. But at some point I hit a wall. I started to notice major flaws in my postures – particularly the ones required for competition.  Of course lots of people in the Bikram community offered me advice. There advice was generally good and helped, but I found myself becoming overwhelmed. I needed to find a way to filter it, to determine what mattered most, what I should focus on now and set aside for later. I can’t do it all at once. What to do?

Well, maybe I needed to go outside my Bikram box just like I went out of my metal box to become a better musician.

It started with a myofacial massage. I thought the massage might provide some assistance, but the therapist listened to what I wanted and immediately suggested I see a sports physical therapist. So, yesterday I did just that.

It was a brilliant idea. I told my PT how I wanted to improve. I demonstrated standing and floor bow along with head to knee. I thought I had hip issues. I thought right.

He asked me what I was doing on my own, what advice people had given me. He added to it and taught me how to prioritize it for the next month. He gave me strength and flexibility exercises specifically for my hips (and one for my left ankle only which I sprained about 10 years ago). He told me if I followed the plan I should see a difference in 4-6 weeks. Then he sent me off. And now it’s up to me to follow through. Of course I will follow through. In February I’ll go back and we’ll re-evaluate my postures and hips and go on to whatever I need to go on to next.

He doesn’t understand the postures totally. He doesn’t know a lot about yoga, and in some ways that’s good. He asks me questions about how the posture is supposed to be – more of this or less of that? And if I don’t know I have to go find out which just helps me know the postures better.  He’s far enough removed from the Bikram world that he brings a set of fresh eyes to the situation. It’s fantastic.

Also, I totally rocked a standing bow on my left side when he asked me to demonstrate it. Other people came over to watch. I held it and came out with control. It was super awesome! Then I demonstrated my right side which sucks. 🙂

Heavy metal, is there anything it can’t do?

The Cost of Competition

I literally mean the cost of it all. I am not talking about the physical, spiritual, or mental costs. Those could all be discussed. I am talking about actuall dollar costs $$$. I’m starting to notice them. Let’s take a look at it.

First, I don’t consider the amount I pay to practice at the studio part of my competition costs. I have a good racket going on over there. I got into the all-you-can-come for one low rate package before it got raised (not a lot, but a bit as will happen over time). Let me put it to you like this, when I did my 66 day challenge, each class cost me $2.69. That’s a good deal. I would go to class this much even if I were not competing. So I don’t count it.

I also don’t count the gabillion dollars a year I spend on yoga clothes because I don’t need all those clothes. I just like to buy them.

What drew my attention to the costs was when I scampered off for a massage today. I like a massage as much as everyone else, but I was thinking recently that being regular on the massages might help me in the yoga room – and specifically with my competition postures.

I’ve noticed for awhile now that I have an imbalance. My left side is way stronger and better aligned than my right. This is what brought me in see a massage therapist on Friday. This time though I didn’t run off to the spa for a deep tissue massage or a massage with hot bamboo sticks (so amazing! Just do it). My acupuncturist had merged with a group of massage therapists, and they offered myofacial massage.

So on Friday, I went and had myself a myofacial massage. I cannot even begin to explain it. It’s not anything like going to a spa and getting a massage. It’s different, but in a very, very good way.

I explained to my therapist why I was there and demonstrated a few postures. He agreed that there seemed to be an imblance from my right to my left side, particularly how my hips were aligned. He also claimed to know why I am having a hard time getting my arms down below my calves in standing head to knee. I think he said it had something to do with my hips, but I got so much information yesterday it’s hard to remember. It doesn’t matter for now anyways.

I will say that after the massage I had better hip alignment in standing bow on my right side (my left isn’t that bad). I also bought a package of three massages (the 4th is free!). And, I also got some good news from the therapist which was: (a) my muscles are in very good condition. He ranked them a 9 on a scale of 10 and (b) while continued massage will help with my posture concerns, once a month is probably plenty. He also pointed out that now that I’m pushing the limits of my body it’s normal to start to notice alignment issues.

That’s how I just added about 100.00 a month bill to my life. but it’s not over yet.

In our initial discussion about my postures, my therapist asked me if I thought I had a strength issue or a range of motion issue. I said range of motion only because my postures don’t always hit the way I want them to. He said my range of motion was fine, but that I needed to build strength, To do this, he recommended going to see a sports physical therapist. Look at where this yoga has brought me! A sports physical therapist. Good grief. He recommended one session with someone to learn specific exercises that will help me build strength in ways that should have a positive effect that addresses my alignment concerns. Ok – I can do one session. That’s 75.00.  Did I say good grief yet?

All in all, I feel great today and am happy with the decision to get the massage. I will try one physical therapy session, and yes, I will do the homework and see if it helps. I’m on my way to take class, and I wonder what it will be like after this massage. My therapist tells me that Sunday I will feel amazing (he says it takes two days to really kick in the benefits). We’ll see.