My Adho Mukha Svanasana Sucks

So apparently my Adho Mukha Svanasana sucks.  That’s Downward Facing Dog for all you non-Sanskrit speaking folks.  No one actually told me that my Downward Dog is terrible; I just kind of came to that conclusion on my own this past weekend.  It was weekend #2 of Yoga Teacher Training, and we focused on Sun Salutations, which obviously include a lot of Downward Dog.  It’s a common pose – perhaps one of the more famous ones for those not very familiar with yoga.

This is what Adho Mukha Svanasana looks like:
I was just about to draw your attention to this model’s flat back and straight hands (which I definitely need to work on!), but upon further investigation, she actually appears to have some of the same difficulties as I do.  Hmm…curious!  I need to turn my hands outward a few degrees in order to get the desired flat back and wide shoulders.  Turning my hands out is the easy part, though; the real work here for me is rotating my shoulders outward in their sockets and spinning my upper arm muscles outward in the same way.  My biceps need to spin out while my triceps turn in toward each other, all while I place more weight emphasis on my inner palms – this is WAY more difficult than you might imagine.  I am failing this task miserably, but I’m working toward success – and really, isn’t “working toward success” a success all on its own?
For those of your who know me outside of the blogging world, you will know that I like to be good at what I do.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist, if you will.  For precisely this reason, it sucks that I suck at Downward Dog.  BUT I don’t suck at everything in my yoga course…in fact, on Saturday, Yoga Teacher Catherine said to me:  “Chrissy – that is an awesome Chaturanga!”
This is Chaturanga…
It is VERY hard.  It takes a lot of core strength and people complain about doing this pose all the time.  Having Catherine tell me that my Chaturanga is “awesome” makes me feel like a Yoga Rock Star – even if my Adho Mukha Svanasana does suck!
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Confession Time

I’m a quitter.  Well maybe not a quitter, exactly; more like a pauser.  Yes – we will go with that – I’m a pauser.  What am I talking about, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

Remember back a few weeks when I told you all about the 17 Day Diet, and how I had started it back up?  Yeah…about that.  I made it as far as Day 7 into Cycle 1 and then hit pause.  I know, I know – I’m a terrible person and an even worse role model.  My bad.  But at least let me explain!

I have been out-of-town for ten out of the last fourteen days with medical appointments, yoga teacher training, and Diploma exam marking.  Of the four days that I was at home, I spent three evenings at school past 10pm doing work to try to catch up and/or prepare for being away.  The one remaining night was my massage followed by a yoga class, so I didn’t get home until after 7:30pm.  On top of that, my husband has also been working out-of-town, so he isn’t around to help with meals, AND I started teaching my new fitness class, which takes me time to plan.  Crazy, right?  I tried so hard to make time for meal planning and cooking, but that just didn’t really pan out.  I still ate relatively healthy food, I just included pasta and pizza in there a few times.  At least it was whole grain pizza with lots of veggies!  Oh, and I always ate a garden salad – not a Caesar salad, either; that crap doesn’t even count as salad it’s so bad for you.  Part of me feels a little guilty, but at the same time I also realize that I am human and need to do what is best for all of me, which includes prioritizing my time once in a while in order to maintain my sanity.  Sometimes that means microwaving something I’ve got in the freezer, or ordering the healthiest options on the take out menu* so that I don’t have to spend time cooking.  It just kinda sucks that “sometimes” has encompassed almost all of the past two weeks.

Oh, well – c’est la vie!  I will get back on track very soon – I’m out-of-town again Friday morning for the whole weekend, and I have realized that it just doesn’t work to start a new eating plan when you can’t actually cook for yourself, so Monday it is!

* I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about The 17 Day Diet; you can stay on the diet and still eat out once in a while, even during Cycle 1.  For me in these crazy last two weeks, though, it was almost every day.  Generally speaking, though, it is actually pretty doable to fit the diet into your lifestyle, so long as you plan your weekly meals and can make some time for cooking.  When we did Cycles 1-3 before, we found that the keys were planning and routine; two things I just haven’t been able to manage in the last two weeks.

Holy Ashtanga, Batman!

I am in Edmonton this week marking Diploma exams, and I’m staying downtown near the yoga studio where I am doing my training, so I decided to take a class last night.  My choices were Ashtanga Level 1 or Pre-natal Yoga.  As much as I would LOVE to be a mommy soon, there is no bun in the proverbial oven, so I went with Ashtanga.

Now you might think that since I am training to be a yoga teacher that I would know all about Ashtanga yoga, but if you thought that, you would be wrong.  I am a beginner.  A beginner who wants to learn much, much more, and then share that learning with others.  I have only ever taken gentle “flow yoga” type classes, and done some very basic videos.  I know that there are different types of yoga classes, and I know that Bikram is “hot yoga” and that it’s actually pretty dangerous.  In terms of Ashtanga, though, all I really know knew before last night is that it requires strength and follows a set sequence of poses.  But it is so much more than that.

Ashtanga yoga is incredible.  I really don’t know how else to describe it.  Let me clarify by saying that I do not mean that I was incredible doing Ashtanga yoga – in fact the opposite is entirely true.  I had very little idea what I was doing, and I am entirely confident that I looked like a bumbling fool, but I followed along as best I could, and tried everything I was allowed to (there was one pose that Rene – the instructor – advised I watch instead of try because I am a beginner).

This is what Ashtanga yoga can look like:

I tried this pose, and succeeded at it for about 1/10th of a second before crashing into my yoga mat and nearly smashing my nose into my face!

I didn’t see anyone attempt the pose on the right;
I’m betting it’s one of the higher levels!
I challenge anyone who says you can’t get a real workout from yoga to try Ashtanga.  I was sweating up a storm, and I can’t believe the strength it took just to attempt some of the beginner poses.  Actually being able to get into and hold some of the poses must take an amazing amount of strength and flexibility.  I am quite sore today, particularly in my triceps.
I will definitely try Ashtanga again, and I wish that there was a class in my community so I could attend regularly.  A really nice guy from my teacher training course, who also happened to be at the class last night, and who also happens to be REALLY adept at Ashtanga, offered to email me some info about videos – thanks Terry!  Maybe I can find a good one to buy so I can practice at home.  I’d love to get strong enough to actually do some of the poses I tried last night!
I’ll leave you with one last picture:
This man is obviously very strong from practicing, PLUS he’s pretty hot.  Maybe if you take an Ashtanga yoga class somewhere you will get to meet him! 🙂

Do What I Say…Not What I (STUPIDLY) Do

I mean that literally.  So literally that I have evidence for why this cliché is actually good advice – and I will get to that in this post, but you must be patient.

Yesterday was my “Early Rise Circuit” class number two, and it was great.  At least I think it was great, mind you, I wasn’t the one being forced to run, skip, and complete a bunch of strength stations at 6:15am.  Anyway…I designed a cycle this week where I split the participants into three different groups, and set up three different activities:  running, skipping, and strength training.  Each group completed their activity for one minute, while the other two groups worked on the other two activities, and then we switched so they moved on to the next activity.  Within the “strength training” activity were six “stations” including things like stability ball push ups, hamstring pull ins with the stability ball, and side lunges off the BOSU.  The idea was for the ladies to complete one strength station, move on to the running and skipping, and then come back to a different strength station the next time around.  It worked pretty well, encouraged the ladies to work hard, and kept their heart rates up, so I would say my circuit design did its job.  Near the end of the workout, one of my participants said, “I knew you were going to kick my ass today!”  Score one for me!  I don’t want to be a total hard-ass, but hearing that I kicked hers tells me that I did my job – and that feels pretty good.

What does not feel nearly as good is not actually getting to work out.  Turns out that when you are leading other people through a workout that you have to pay attention to what they are doing, and then give feedback and provide corrections when participants need them.  This means that for each “one minute” station, you will get to do the activity for approximately twelve seconds – not exactly conducive to working up a big sweat.  Oh well, these ladies are paying me to help them workout; I owe them my undivided attention, and will find some space somewhere else in my life to fit in some sweat time for myself.

The other thing that does not feel so great is my neck.  At the end of yesterday’s workout we spent a few minutes on some ab work.  We did a few yoga planks, followed by basic crunches, oblique crunches and then bicycle crunches – great moves that I do all the time.  I gave some pretty darn good instruction…you know – belly button to spine, eyes and chin to ceiling, shoulder blades raise slightly off the floor – that sort of thing.  All of the instructions necessary to keep my participants (and their necks) safe.  So what is the problem, you ask?  Because I care about making sure my participants stay safe, I wanted to make sure they were doing the moves correctly.  So while I was doing my own crunches I twisted, lifted, and turned my head to watch how they were doing with theirs.  BAM!  Sore neck and grind-y, pinch-y vertebrae goin’ on.  Stupid fitness instructor.  Do what I say, not what I do.

To Om or Not to Om?

Yesterday I wrote about my first “Early Rise Circuit” class being a success (at least I hope it was!). I told you that I would tell you about two things, and the other experience I want to write about is the first weekend in my yoga teacher training.  It was Heaven and Hell all wrapped into one.  Okay, “Hell” is a tad harsh, but it was REALLY TOUGH!  We practiced for hours each day, then learned a bunch of really intense information, and finally did posture labs, where we got to break down the ins and outs of a few specific poses.  I am sore all over from all that practicing, but it is a wonderful sore.  My arms, legs, chest, back, abs, and every other tiny muscle in between are alive with a combination between feeling fatigued and excitedIf you don’t know what I am talking about, then take up yoga, and I’m sure you will get it soon enough.

The course is not just physically demanding, though; I need to learn a bunch of stuff too.  Maybe it’s my karma for making students learn about stories and symbolism in my day job.  In addition to a bunch of anatomy (which I thankfully have a pretty good handle on from my AFLCA group fitness leader training), I have to learn the names of all the poses.  Not the English names either.  I don’t get to wuss out by saying “Triangle pose” or “Downward Dog.”  Oh no.  I have to pronounce Parivrtta Trikonasana and Adho Mukha SvanasanaYa – that’s what I thought too.  I learned so much over the course of the weekend that I cannot even begin to put it into words.  Only 7 more intense weekend sessions left to go – but I’m not sure my brain actually has room for 7 more sessions worth of information!
 
 
The YogaWorks course is being offered through Shanti Yoga Studio in Edmonton, and our instructor is Catherine Munro.  She is fantastic.  Well except for the part where she makes us hold Downward Dog for-EVER.  She clearly knows her stuff, she is an excellent teacher, and she has an amazing sense of how the human body works and moves.  If I can glean just a fraction of her knowledge and expertise I will be golden.
 
 
One thing I considered when choosing which teacher training to do was the spiritual aspect of each program.  I’m sure you have all been to/heard about/watched a movie with one of those yoga classes where they sit and meditate and chant.  You know, the “Om-ing” and the chakras and that sort of thing.  I fully realize that “that sort of thing” is an integral part of yoga, but I also know that I am far more interested in the stretching and the strengthening than in any sort of chanting*.  That is exactly why I chose the YogaWorks course over some of the other options being offered in Edmonton; there seems to be a much greater focus on the physical aspect of practicing yoga, which I like.  So I was a bit surprised to come face to face with my very first Om.  That’s right – we “omed.”  We chanted too.  At the end of each day, Catherine led a call and response chant that was about 4 or 5 lines long.  The most surprising part about this (especially if you have already read the footnote at the bottom of this post), is that I kinda liked it.  I was a little nervous the first time because I didn’t have the foggiest clue what the heck we were doing, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal.  I suppose that I was already really relaxed from a wonderful and extended period of savasana, but I found the oming to be a lovely experience.  It was peaceful, and empowering, and wonderful.  Perhaps there is more to this yoga business than simply building physical strength by moving through and holding poses.  I guess I’m on board to learn all about it!
 
 
* I honour religion, and I love the idea of community – which can readily be found in a church/spiritual community – but religious and spiritual rituals freak me out a bit.  I was once asked to participate in a sweet grass smudging ceremony with some First Nations People, and it made me so nervous that I started shaking uncontrollably.  I also dated a Catholic boy from a fairly religious family for a little while, and attended a few weddings with him; the “Peace be with you” stuff made me squirm.  For real.  Not kidding even a little bit.  I think it’s awesome when people are in tune with their religion and/or spirituality, but rituals typically scare the crap out of me.

Early Rise Circuit Class #1 – A Success?

I’m back!  Sorry for the long absence, folks – this past week was a doozie.  I have a lot that I could tell you about, but I’m going to stick with two experiences in particular:  my first fitness class and the first weekend of yoga teacher training…both super exciting for me!

My fitness class is a team teaching effort with another new instructor named Sheila.  She is amazing.  Like legs of steel, jumps higher than I can climb a ladder, and runs faster than I ride my bike.  Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but not that much.  Seriously.  She is REALLY fast and REALLY strong, so I find it a little disconcerting to be team teaching the same group of ladies with her.  All that being said, though, I think my very first class went well!  We are calling the class “Early Rise Circuit” and it runs from 6:15-7:15am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Sheila teaches Tuesday, and that leaves Thursdays for me.  We have 9 ladies signed up so far, and I’m hoping they all keep coming back – it would even be pretty cool if they brought their friends.

Last week I designed a 12 station circuit with alternating cardio and strength stations; the participants stayed at each station for 1 minute, and then switched to the next one.  I put in exercises like skipping rope, running up and down on a step, doing squats with an overhead dumbbell press, and doing hamstring kickbacks with a resistance band.  I had hoped to get through all 12 stations twice, but we didn’t quite get there.  I also had them do some ab work before we did a nice cool down and stretch.  There were a lot of red, sweaty faces, but I also saw a bunch of smiles, and I did get a few compliments too, so I’m pretty confident it was a success!  Now I just need to design five more circuits for each week remaining in the six-week session.  Here’s hoping I can come up with more station ideas so that it doesn’t get boring for anyone!
I thought I would also be able to write about my yoga teacher training in this post, but I’m running out of time.  It’s 8:15pm and I still have about 5 hours of homework left to do, so I’m closing up the laptop for now.  Yoga info tomorrow – I promise!