A yogi walks up to a hot dog vendor…

Posted: December 5, 2010 in Yoga

…and says, “make me one with everything”

For the two years I have been involved with triathlon I have heard a lot about “developing your core”Core has become the new fitness buzz word it seems.  At first I was like, “Great, something else to worry about”, but I had no real idea what “developing the core” meant exactly.

I quickly learned that when someone talks about the core, they’re referring to the muscles deep within the abs and back, attaching to the spine or pelvis. Some of these muscles include the transversus abdominis (TVA), the muscles of the pelvic floor, the lats and the obliques, just to name a few. These muscles are important because they are where our movement originates and it’s also the source of our stability. Whether you’re running, swimming, cycling, lifting weights or just retrieving your water bong off the coffee table between rounds of Mortal Kombat on your Super Nintendo, these core muscles will help keep your body stable and balanced.  Among the numerous benefits listed for improved core conditioning include an improved performance in sports, a reduction in the risk of injury, as well as a better basic ability to function each day.

Sounds good to me; sign me up.

So to this effect, I learned how to better work this core during my usual strength workouts by incorporating more planks, deeper stretches, using a boscu ball or wobble board, as well as doing more crunches than a hippie in a pretzel factory.  So you can imagine my dismay the other day when my physiotherapist decided to bluntly inform me during one of our rehab sessions: “boy, you sure have weak abdominals eh?”

Pardon?  How could this be?  What was I doing so obviously ineffectually?  Talk about having the wind completely lifted out of your sails.  But nothing would prepare me for the total horror show of a statement that would follow that lead in comment: “have you ever thought about doing yoga?”

Say it isn’t so.

You may think that being a pot-smoking hippie type that I would also be pretty keen on this whole spiritual hocus pocus approach to core fitness but, in fact, I am not.  Those words are still echoing in my brain; “have…you…ever…thought…about…doing…yoga”.

Really?  Yoga?  Isn’t that for old ladies and spandex clad guys of dubious sexual orientation?  The very idea brings to mind images of incense, scented lotions, stretchy pants, and half naked people meditating to Enya albums.  Not exactly the intense manly type of workout that I had originally pictured serious triathletes to be engaged in; after all, you don’t exactly rock out a ‘downward dog’, or ‘pigeon pose’ now do you?

Core strengthening and injury prevention aside, yoga is very different from any of my other workouts. It is also (apparently) designed to help people learn about the meaning of life. Yoga allows you to train your mind to think about positive things, and you are also able to think about how to solve problems and even get along well with others. You are also taught about how certain yoga principles should transfer into your daily life, such as learning how to do everything in the right time, or being patient with others (something I can definitely use some help with). It is also believed the yoga will give you a higher tolerance for pain.  Even celebrities like Meg Ryan, Jennifer Anniston, Ricky Martin, and Madonna have all admitted to using yoga as a means to calm the spirit, tone the muscles of the body, and increase their physical strength.  Great, Ricky Martin?  Yeah, I definitely feel manly now.  But what’s the worse that can happen?  Surely I’m not going to go all faggy and start wearing headbands and collecting coupons for all natural products with ylang-ylang from the local Peanut Mill, am I?

But still, compared to my usual running, swimming and Brick classes, yoga seems more like a total ‘Tickle fest’ by comparison.  But in actuality, it might just improve my ability to sustain any of the above workouts a little more vigorously, as well as recover from them afterwards.  So, shit, “what the hell” I thought; nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But how and where does one begin to get involved with this particular type of core training?  Where do all your flakey bendy-twisty types go anyway?  I know about as much about yoga and New Age fitness as I do about cold fusion, but a quick Google search of my area revealed no fewer than three dozen specialized studios that offered regular adult yoga classes and workshops.  That’s all well and good, but what I didn’t realize is that there are also different types of yoga to consider as well.

Huh?  How many different ways can you twist and pose anyway?

Apparently – a lot.

There are many different styles of yoga being taught and practiced today, and although all of the styles are based on the same physical postures (called poses), each has a particular emphasis. Here is a quick guide to some of the most popular types of yoga that can help you decode the schedule in the mezzanine at your local gym or “Healing Center” and figure out which class is right for you.

1) Hatha – Hatha Yoga is a system of yoga introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a yogic sage in the 15th century in India and is a very general term that can encompass many of the physical types of yoga. If a class is described as Hatha style, it is probably going to be slow-paced and gentle and provide a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.  In other words, it’s a good start for beginners such as myself.  This particular system of yoga is the most popular one, and it is from which several other styles of yoga originated (they had me at “slow-paced and gentle”).

2) Ashtanga – Ashtanga, which means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, is a fast-paced, intense style of yoga (I’m curious then what the Sanskrit word is for “Ouch, my shoulders are ripping from their sockets”?).  In Ashtanga, a set series of poses is performed, always in the same order and practice is very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next. In yoga terminology, this movement is called flow. Ashtanga is also the inspiration for what is often called Power Yoga.   Okay, that also sounds pretty cool.  Anything with the word “Power” in the title should provide that manly workout I’m looking for as well as sounding, well, less gay around the water cooler at work.

3) Kundalini – The emphasis in Kundalini is on the breath in conjunction with physical movement, with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. Huh? Kundalini yoga is also called the yoga of awareness because its practitioners believe that it directly affects ones consciousness, develops intuition, increases self knowledge, and unleashes the unlimited creative potential that exists within every human being.  Yeah, that sounds pretty “hippie” if you ask me and I already spend enough time focusing on my breathing.  To be perfectly honest, I’d rather stare at the sun thanks.

4) Bikram – Pioneered by Bikram Choudhury, this style is more generally referred to as Hot Yoga. It is practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room, which allows for a loosening of tight muscles and profuse sweating, which is thought to be cleansing. The Bikram method is a set series of 26 poses, but not all hot classes make use of this series.  Again, I am skeptical.  Me in a hot, enclosed room with other sweaty bodies?  You know, I do enough spin classes in this type of sweaty environment as it is, so I’m not so sure this style of yoga is what I’m really looking for either.

So armed with this knowledge (and the rumor that yoga practitioners are known as good lovers) I enrolled myself in the Hatha Workshop offered through my local YMCA.  The first obstacle, however, was in simply getting out of my house and to class without any of my neighbors seeing me carrying my bright neon orange yoga mat.  Turns out, though, that it was nothing a sudden cry of “hey look, a chainsaw!” couldn’t fix, in order to distract all the uber-males in the area while I bid a hasty retreat in the opposite direction.  However, a little further experience has also taught me:

a)      NEVER eat an hour or so before yoga class unless you want to blow the people in the back of the class through the back wall with a sudden explosive air éclair erupting from your ass mid cow pose (learned this from experience).  Emptying your bowels before your yoga class is also not a bad idea either considering some of the awkward positions you will be inevitably contorting yourself into later.

b)      Find a teacher that you like and trust, and who gives all their students individual help and attention as needed. Personally, I respond to detailed descriptions of the particular muscles and joints we are working, and less to the whole New Agey meditation aspect. My matt is not intended to “support the perfect creation that is me”, or be “the vessel of my inner peace”, but merely the tool I use to keep my sweaty body from rolling around on the ground.

c)      Wear clothing that is loose and comfortable.

d)      Be wary of the difference between feeling sensations or resistance and feeling pain; you should not feel pain while doing yoga, and if you do it could mean you aren’t doing something right or need to adjust a pose to suit you better. Do not try and turn yourself into a pretzel stick just because the 68 year old grandmother posing beside you can.  That’s a total recipe for disaster, not to mention embarrassment.

e)      Try not and stare directly at the buns on the lycra-clad hottie ahead of you in class while she bends and twists herself through the Kama Sutra catalogue of poses.

Hopefully, if this all goes well, I won’t have to again face my physiotherapist and hear about my “girly abs”.  If that should ever happen, my next blog post could very well be about plyometrics training inside your prison cell after a I’m sentanced to life imprisonment for manslaughter.

  1. […] Yoga. I’m easily more flexible and balanced this year thanks to my weekly yoga sessions.  I believe this has also helped me to train relatively injury free up to this point […]

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