I am learning that yoga is something that you get better at with time, age and experience, so dropping into a class at a senior’s center because you don’t want to stand out like a complete noob may not be the brightest idea. Any one of those old buzzards (and I use that term affectionately, of course) will snap themselves into a pretzel-like pose that would snap your spin like kindling I shit you not.
Yes, don’t make the same mistake I did and assume that the average age in any yoga class is a good indication of the intensity level, or degree of difficulty for that matter. What you also need to remember is that these old timers may have up to 20 or 30, or maybe more, year’s worth of experience tucked into the waistband of their purple K-Mart stretchy pants. Quicker than you can say “Liberty Medical”, a dozen or so old ladies will instantly snap themselves into a Tittibhasana pose leaving you fumbling around like a blind person at an orgy. Let’s put it this way, if yoga were an Olympic sport, it would be the 100 year old swami’s winning all the goal medals. So when it comes to experience and therefore skill, I am but a mere tadpole in this great pool of Spiritual Enlightenment; a minor pimple on the ass of Self Awareness if you will.
Having said all that, I am still enjoying my nearly daily yoga workouts out in my patio garden in the evenings and I genuinely believe that they are a prime factor in my conditioning and successes so far this year. I credit yoga to the fact that I am efficiently (and consistently) losing weight and, consequently, getting faster, as well as making my running relatively pain free. I have learned that although I do enjoy a little bit of relaxation and mediation, I typically appreciate the fitness conditioning and the required mental focus more. I can only lie in corpse pose for so long before I’m sawing logs…particularly if the sun is shining.
So with all that in mind, I planted my garden this spring to encourage myself to continue on with my yoga ‘practice’ after all my long workouts, particularly my Sunday brick sessions. I know I hate going to the gym on nice days so having a nice, secluded, fragrant hideaway to practice all on my lonesome while listening to my Ella Fitzgerald records (I’m secure enough in my sexuality to admit it) seemed to be ideal. Somewhere I could go to be quiet and read, or sip tea, or have my morning cereal, as well as somewhere that I can strip down to my compression shorts and workout in all my fleshy splendor and not fear anyone passing out or screaming in terror.
I understand enough about yoga now, or at least enough about to know what feels good and what doesn’t feel so good, so that I am trying to string together my own “flows”, or sequence of poses. I know, I know, I can flop around on my rubber matt all I want and that doesn’t constitute itself as ‘yoga’, but I’m really putting some thought into it with a little help from my current yoga Bible, ‘The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga’ by Sage Roundtree. I still don’t feel like Sting or anything just yet; well, maybe a little bit like Ralph Macchio from the Karate Kid. But like Daniel-san, I’m itching to get better. It’s a beginner’s book for sure, but it’s helpful in suggesting particular routines and poses for certain muscle groups depending on what I’ve been working that day; the rest I can take from there.
So over the past few months doing this, the last month alone being extremely focused and productive, I’ve picked up a few certain poses that instantly provide me that ‘Holy shit! Is that amazing or what?!” factor.
One of my favorite flows revolves around the Salamba Kapotasana, or the Supported Pigeon Pose. I absolutely love this pose and all its subtle variations and I could spend all day in them if I could. This is primarily a hip stretch but can also stretch the muscles of the knee in the leading leg. The lower back is also stretched, but the major muscles that are stretched here are the glutues maximus, the glutues minimus, the piriformis, the orbturator internus, the superior gemellus, the inferior gemellus, the gluteus minimus, and the quadratus femoris. I have no idea what or where these muscles exactly, although I suspect there are located somewhere in and around the area of my ass, but I do know how it makes me feel after a long bike ride and if that kind of awesome is bad then I don’t want to be right. I will spend up to 3-4 minutes in this pose on each side, and will alternate going back into Downward Dog or Child Pose before switching sides or when I need a break.
Another favorite pose of mine is the Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, or rather a flow from kneeling while balancing on the balls of my feet and then standing upright into the regular Tadasana while maintaining my balance. Transitioning a few times between the kneeling and standing pose while focusing on my balance and my breathing sure feels fantastic after a long run let me tell you; just what the doctor ordered actually. Besides aiding in the development of my overall balance, Tadasana aids in strengthening and toning the muscles of my legs, feet, and knees as well as lengthening and increasing the flexibility of my spine.
Remember way back when I was beginning to develop cramping issues in the pool? One of the possible root causes I determined back then was a lack of flexibility in my ankles, so I have been spending a lot of time in a basic kneeling pose called Vajrasana (or, the Thunder Bold Pose – I have no idea why) in order to improve this issue. It’s not a flow, per se, and while not being very complex or seemingly difficult, it sure is uncomfortable at first, but, it is getting easier which I’m taking as a good sign. To date, I have not had many other cramping issues so something is definitely working there. Besides just conditioning my ankles, it’s also the absolute best stretch for my quads which absorb a shitload of punishment over the week. If I’m wearing my runners, I can spend a good deal of time in this position now which makes it a nice centering pose after any long workout, particularly when my garden is in bloom as it is now.
I’m also a big fan of the Navasana, or the Boat Pose. I really struggled with this in the beginning but now it’s my favorite pose, like, ever. Navasana is used in strengthening the ‘Big Four’: abdominal muscles, hips, lower back and the legs. In a nutshell, it’s used to increase the strength of the entire body. To note, it’s also one of the best ways to carve out those washboard abs, and Lord knows I still have a long way to go for those. So lots of Navasana simply isn’t a bad thing.
Now, I can’t take credit for this last flow, of course, but I have adopted it as a regular part of my own routine. On its own, the Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutations is a series of 12 postures performed in a single, graceful flow. Each movement is coordinated with the breath. Inhale as you extend or stretch, and exhale as you fold or contract. The Sun Salutations builds strength and increases flexibility. Different styles of yoga perform the Sun Salutations with their own variations. However, I tweaked the normal flow to be a bit more, well, ‘me’ I guess.
Whatever it is I’ve done that day, be it swimming, running or cycling, I’m also looking forward to getting home and laying out my mat in my garden so I can practice these flows. I’m no swami, that’s for sure, but I am improving quickly and I’m definitely stronger and infinitely in better condition than I was at this time last year. Not only has yoga become an integral part of my recovery strategy this year, but is has become a highly anticipated treat after all my hard workouts; my daily moments of Zen to look forward to.