Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's Official - I've Been Yogafied!

When I went back to work in Speech Pathology, it's no surprise that I brought my yoga teacher training techniques with me.  I treat voice disorders and since voice production starts with the breath and yoga is all about the breath, it's truly been a marriage made in heaven. In fact, when you major in communication disorders, you should be required to minor in yoga as they are that interconnected.  

The only difference between the two environments is that at my speech job I use furniture and shoes are not only required but so is hosiery.  Trust me, finding knee highs to wear with your cropped pants in the summer is much harder than any yoga poses I'm currently working to master.

But I digress.  It's no surprise that I teach yoga when I'm not actually teaching yoga.  And it's also no surprise that I want yogic experiences pretty much every time I am outside the yoga studio.  However, it is a surprise to me when other athletic endeavors don't utilize the same techniques that are offered fully and openly in any yoga class that you attend.  Let me explain.

In my quest to find more cardio options for myself, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I like to spin.  This is a big deal for me.  My motto always has been and always will be to...Work smart not hard.  I don't work hard if I don't have to, meaning, if there's a shortcut that's legal and ethical that makes my life easier - I'm in.  Like Flynn.  Which is probably why I like spinning.
  • I'm seated.  
  • I'm inside an air conditioned building with fans blowing on me.  
  • They provide the music.
  • There's a nifty water bottle holder for my use. 
  • I can bring an extra gel-seat cover to cushion my ass.
  • I can attend class on a 97 degree day or a 27 degree day.  Doesn't matter if it's snowing, raining or windy the weather is just right inside the spinning room.
  • I can strap my feet into the peddles so that on days when my left foot isn't working at 100% capacity I can still do the work properly.
  • I can work out hard without losing my balance and/or risking injury.
But alas, as perfect as spinning is for me, it's not yoga.  Sure there's a warm up and a working phase, but there's no centering to speak off, the cool down phase is about 60 seconds if I'm lucky, and savasana on a bike?  Don't bet on it.

That's the bad news.  The good news is that attending a gym is making me more understanding and empathic to the Type A people that work hard no matter what.  I'm talking about the people that take yoga but truly don't understand or appreciate the "finishing" part of the practice. The people that do savasana with their eyes open or will start to fold up their blankets, roll up their straps and pack up their belongings silently from a supine position rather than just lay flat for 5 minutes. 

Come to enough yoga classes and you'll hear that the most important pose is Savasana, or corpse pose. 

The body wants to be balanced by default and it will naturally attempt to find equilibrium.  A yoga class is specifically structured to create balance.  You pose/counter pose.  You expand/contract.  You work/rest.  The entire class is basically a circle.  You start by silently getting centered and thus must finish that way.  Your body needs to return to it's baseline before you rush back out into your hectic day.

The easiest way to explain savasana is by thinking of your body like a piece of meat that you've cooked on the grill (my apologies to all the vegetarians reading this).
When you cook a piece of meat, the muscle fibres that are in closest contact with the heat contract. As the fibres contract, all the juices that nestled between them get squeezed away from the source of the heat. It's just like squeezing a sponge. ~ Martin Sutherland
If you take this meat and immediately cut into it and serve it, your dinner guests will get a dry piece of meat sitting in a puddle of it's own blood and juices.  Gross, right?
Instead, take the meat out of the pan, place it on a warm (but not hot) plate, and leave it to stand for a while. As the meat slowly cools down (don't stick it in the fridge for rapid cooling), the muscle fibres that were so tense before start to relax. It's the reverse of the sponge effect. As the fibres relax, they reabsorb the juices from the centre of the meat, and draw it back towards the edges. ~ Martin Sutherland
Serving meat like this results in an evenly pink, juicy (but not bloody) dinner.  Allowing the energy that was created by the cooking process to pull back from the exterior of the meat and settle into the center results in a delicious diner.

Your body is the same way.  After 60-75 minutes of creating heat and contracting muscle fibres, you want the energy that was being expanded outward to redistribute itself back to center.   Leaving class in this balanced manner means you're less likely to wind up in a puddle of your own bloody, juices when life throws you an obstacle to overcome, later that day.

I agree it's a dramatic analogy, but trust me when I tell you, it's accurate.  You need to finish where you started - in a calm, balanced space.  Because the majority of my workouts for the past ten years have ended in savasana, I can feel the difference in my body when they don't.  Busting my ass and then running out the door feels odd.  It makes me jittery and scattered instead of energized and calmly fueled.

There's also a mental aspect to giving yourself permission to lay motionless in a neutral, relaxed position and rest.  By forcing students to take this time, yoga teachers find that you're more likely to do it.  I guarantee you if savasana was an "optional" pose, many folks would be out the door faster than a Catholic leaving after communion (I know this because I used to be that Catholic - on the freeway before the candles were extinguished on the altar.)

A few weeks ago I was teaching the Sunday Gentle Good Cause class at Sol.  We started on our backs and when I got people moving during the warm up, I noticed a gal in the back corner that stayed on her back.  I thought she needed a few extra minutes of centering.  It turned out that she needed an entire 75 minutes of savasana and so she rocked corpse pose for the entire class. 

I was so impressed by her commitment to the pose.  She didn't snore.  She didn't roll onto her side and use the pose as an excuse to catch a few Zs.  She simply lay supine in a neutral position, changing her legs occasionally and allowed her body to rest, relax and rejuvenate. 

After class I saw her rolling up her mat and she didn't look groggy or tired.  She looked fortified and renewed.  I wanted to congratulate her but she slipped out before I could pull her aside.  Hopefully she'll read this post and understand my admiration.  It takes a lot of guts to stay in savasana or balasana for that matter, for an extended period of time.  I wish more students would try it.

Understand that you can yogafy anything by taking the principles from class and applying them to your activities of daily living.  You can yogafy your marriage, friendships, work environment, diet or daily commute.  It just takes some time, trial and error and voila - you can yogically make over any aspect of your life.

Just make sure to fully yogafy your yoga class experiences as well, by listening to your body, modifying the asana and most importantly using savasana to your advantage each and every time you practice with us.



Anonymous said...

I met an old friend this past weekend how told me her daughter's 18 year old body was "spent" many years of soccer, lacrosse and constant conditioning had taken its toll on her young body. I was shocked and asked if she had tried yoga and my question was dismissed with a look that said yoga not really exercise. I wish yoga was used in high school sports for all the reasons you just wrote about...Thanks for another wonderful insight

clg said...

During off season conditioning for my son's high school football team, they did yoga once a week with a female instructor. The boys loved it. They rested their bodies from heavy lifting and became more flexible. Quite a few of them complained when school ended because the yoga did too!

Sol Yoga said...

Cindy - Tell Sam I'd happily have a class for him and his friends at Annette's Clinic - there's a space upstairs.