fitness · gear · traveling · yoga

Yoga mats are purple in India, too

It’s my last full day in India and it’s been a dream trip in so many ways. But if I had to identify one thing that hasn’t been great it’s been my activity level. Now, I’m not one to get down on myself when I don’t stick with routine. Regular readers of the blog will know that I am endlessly forgiving in that area, a committed advocate of doing less.

But I’ve been  completely absorbed with the adventure of exploring India, and one aspect of that adventure is that unless you’re in a high end hotel with a fitness centre, you can pretty much forget running. Apart from it being too hot, the roads are not navigable for runners (at least not anywhere I’ve been). The traffic is chaotic and there aren’t really long stretches of good sidewalk. Dangerous potholes mean you need to pay close attention even when walking.

I’ve spent part of my time in high end hotels when in Chennai (four nights at the Hyatt at the beginning of my trip and now two nights at the Taj Clubhouse at the end of my trip). At the beginning, I was too wiped out to think about spending time in the gym. But this morning, after many hours of sitting in the conference Thursday to Sunday then on a road trip on Sunday after lunch (sitting on a bus for hours and then on a boat before spending two hours on our feet exploring an ancient temple) my body was screaming for some of my regular activity. This hotel has a roof top fitness centre and I noticed last night when we were at the roof top restaurant beside the rooftop pool (it’s extremely luxurious and we got a deal on expedia) that they have a bank of treadmills.

The lovely concierge here, Rajeswari, said I could ask her anything.

Image description: Head shot of Rageswari, a young Indian woman with dark hair, a red bindi between her eyebrows, a large beaded read necklace, and a red and beige sari, and a gold name plate that says Rajeswari. Blurred background of a green plant on the left and chairs on the right.
Image description: Head shot of Rajeswari, a young Indian woman with dark hair, a red bindi between her eyebrows, a large beaded read necklace, and a red and beige sari, and a gold name plate that says Rajeswari. Blurred background of a green plant on the left and chairs on the right.

So I messaged her this morning at 6 a.m. to find out if the fitness centre has gear kits. Some hotels, like the Westin, will provide you with a kit that contains shoes and workout clothes. I didn’t expect to hear back from her quite so quickly, but she let me know that they don’t do that here. What about yoga classes, I asked. No yoga classes either. But, she said, I can have a mat delivered to your room.

Within ten minutes a purple foam yoga mat, just like the very first yoga mat I ever owned, was delivered to my door. There is something comforting about familiar equipment. Anyone who has ever worked out somewhere new will know that initial feeling of disorientation. But encountering something you already know makes you feel right at home. That’s how I felt when I was handed the purple yoga mat.

Image descrription: purple yoga mat on the floor in Tracy's hotel room, with wood shelving and desk in the background.
Image descrription: purple yoga mat on the floor in Tracy’s hotel room, with wood shelving and desk in the background.

It’s been many years since I’ve been this inactive, with only walking and sitting, for this long (over two weeks). My feet have swollen with the heat and inactivity. As I said to Sam this morning when I was messaging her: “I want my ankles back!”

When the mat came I couldn’t get going fast enough. I spent the next hour working my way through the moksha series of standing poses then floor poses. It felt incredible to stretch it out and put in some effort. I held each pose for at least 30 seconds, some longer, and did my best not to rush through anything. By the end, my aching bones and muscles and joints felt alive again.

At breakfast, Rajeswari came by to assure me that the mat would stay in my room until I check out tomorrow.

Image description: Rolled up purple yoga mat propped against built-in wood shelving with black desk chair and part of desk visible in the background.
Image description: Rolled up purple yoga mat propped against built-in wood shelving with black desk chair and part of desk visible in the background.

And I’ve already done my research: I have a four hour stop over in Toronto on the way home. Pearson International Airport has a Good Life gym where you can rent a workout clothing kit for $10, store your luggage, and have a workout and a shower. After 24 hours enroute, I’m sure this will be a most welcome way to hit the Canadian ground running.

What workout gear makes you feel at home when you’re working out in a new or unfamiliar place?

fitness · yoga

Working on my base– a foot yoga workshop

What’s your weak spot? Mine is my feet and ankles. They are almost never perfectly happy. I am constantly searching for that magical, elusive shoe that will 1) cushion my flat feet; 2) be gentle enough to avoid giving me blisters, and 3) be sturdy and supportive enough so I don’t twist, turn or sprain an ankle.

So imagine my surprise and pleasure to see that my local studio, Artemis in Watertown, MA, was holding an event called Functional Body Workshop: The Feet! Sign me up now!

The workshop was part information session and part foot/leg workout. We started with a cool exercise that added an arts-and-crafts element: we were supposed to pair up and draw an outline of our partner’s feet on a piece of paper. Here’s mine:

a drawn outline of my two feet, on a piece of white paper.
a drawn outline of my two feet, on a piece of white paper.

Then, we were asked to stand on our yoga mats for a bit, eyes closed, attending to what our bodies felt like, focusing on the feet. We were asked to annotate our foot drawing with that information. I noted the following on mine:

  • both feet pronate inward
  • some pressure on left heel
  • more stability on right foot
  • more pressure on left foot
  • some leg and lower back stiffness

Then we went to work: The teacher, Carly Vernon, who does integrative muscular therapy, handed us each a woolen ball (squishier than a tennis ball), and we proceeded to use it for various forms of deep massage. We used our body weight and moved the ball around to work areas of our legs, ankles and feet. We massaged and rubbed our toes.

Here a person is pushing toes against the wool ball, which is against a wall.
Here a person is pushing toes against the wool ball, which is against a wall.
Here a person is in a lunge, with the front knee bent, and a wool ball is under the foot, being rotated, and then at rest.
Here a person is in a lunge, with the front knee bent, and a wool ball is under the foot, being rotated, and then at rest.

Some of these exercises, well, uh, they hurt. A good bit. When asked about pain, Carly said, “when you experience pain during these exercises, double down on it. Let yourself get inside it. Don’t back off.” Uh, okay. It was pretty interesting to play around with intensity while doing these exercises. We worked all the way from our IT bands above the knee to the knee area, down the calf (front and back) and focusing a lot on the foot and ankle.

After about 75 minutes of intermittent exercises (with breaks), I tried a couple of yoga poses. I often have trouble with balance in some of the warrior poses, like this one:

A woman in a warrior lunge pose, front knee bent, back leg straight, with torso upright and arms straight and overhead.
A woman in a warrior lunge pose, front knee bent, back leg straight, with torso upright and arms straight and overhead. Me

What happens sometimes is that my feet will start to cramp, as I’m holding them tightly for balance. Well, I tried several warrior variations, and they felt great. It was a totally different experience. Wow.

Before we ended, we were asked to stand on our yoga mats again, eyes closed, paying attention to our bodies in general (and feet in particular). Were there any differences?

You betcha. Here’s my feet picture showing in green my before-exercise comments and in red my after-exercise comments:

The same picture of my feet with comments in green and red ink indicating before and after exercises.
The same picture of my feet with comments in green and red ink indicating before and after exercises.

So what changed?

  • less inward pronation
  • a shift in the areas and degree of tenderness in my left foot
  • overall more even distribution of weight on both feet
  • no more feeling of pressure on left foot
  • no more leg or lower back stiffness

Wow! Yay!

Of course, none of this is a miracle (although I’m very grateful for Carly’s expertise and help at the workshop). It’s the result of concerted attention to my feet. If I want my feet to feel great, I will have to attend more to them. Sigh. One wishes that feeling great in parts of one’s body required less work. But knowledge is power, and I now have some easy-to-do exercises (and a nice orange woolen ball as a takeaway gift) that I can (and should) do anytime. They do a lot for me– it’s the least I can do for them.

A pair of feet with a french pedicure and lotion in the shape of a smiley face.
A pair of feet with a french pedicure and lotion in the shape of a smiley face.
yoga

London’s Calling Anita to Hot Yoga (Guest Post)

Running park in London, UK. The photo is of a bridge with metal rails, water on the right, grey skies.

By Anita Kothari

Back at home one of my weekly joys was meeting up with friends Tracy and Julie for our long and slow Sunday runs. It was a chance to chat about work, family and life with lots of time for cross-interrogation during our hour, or more, together. Often, we followed up with brunch.

It never felt like exercise (ok sometimes it was grueling but the camaraderie was infectious). If convenient we met during the week for shorter runs but often we did those on our own. Last year I’d also started taking a weights-based exercise class at my gym to get in some muscle toning. And that was my weekly exercise regime.

I’ve had to adjust here in London, England where I am spending my sabbatical year. I’ve joined a gym that isn’t a perfect match for my middle-aged self but it’s within walking distance from my home. The toning classes are different…the instructors are obviously trained differently here, and they emphasize different things in their routines. Hey – it’s better than nothing, I thought to myself, and I slowly began to see the advantages to their technique.

What’s different at this gym is that one must sign up online for a class ahead of time. This means that many times my class of choice is at capacity, which in turn means I can’t establish a Mon/Wed kind of pattern like I had before. #firstworldproblem

In terms of running, there’s a terrific little park across the street for short weekday runs. I found parks nearby for long Sunday runs. The sad thing is I haven’t found a running club. I’ve heard rumours of Saturday Park runs across the country where groups of people do 5K together. I can’t figure out how it works. And I’m spoiled for SUNDAYS not Saturdays (Saturday seems to be the long run day here). I’ve been trying oh so hard to keep up my solo Sunday 10Ks. Correction: along with Tracy’s Spotify playlists (thanks Tracy!). I really miss the company of my pals.

Going to the gym this month has been difficult because everyone is going to the gym this month. Experience has taught me that I just need to wait it out – wait till those who aren’t able to keep their New Year’s resolutions for whatever reason stop signing up for MY CLASSES.

I tried a different tactic this Saturday. I saw an early-morning yoga class that requires an extra fee. That, combined with the rain, ought to keep people away, I thought, so I signed up. I haven’t done any yoga in over a year, and although I never got to the point of calling yoga a “practice”, I was excited about doing the class. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear the instructor’s soft-spoken instructions over the loud personal trainer on the other side of the wall. But the magic happened. I grew accustomed to her voice.

Her timing and instructions were excellent, she offered different levels or ways of doing the poses, she demonstrated the poses, and she gently corrected those who needed adjustments. To really enjoy the class I positioned myself away from the mirrors. My middle-aged confidence kicked in so that soon enough my mind was focused on the moves. The hour flew by.

My body ached all over as I walked home. Good aches, in places that don’t normally ache. And how much fun was it to twist and move in different ways than my regular running and toning class motions! The afterglow was exhilarating, really. I hope this experience inspires me (and others) to move out of my comfort zone from time to time. I will remind myself: try something new! Your body can do it!

Anita is a life-loving academic who wants more experiences and fewer things

Sat with Nat · yoga

Revisiting Hot Yoga

It’s been a long time since I first tried hot yoga. My friend and neighbour Kim had scored a free pass to try hot yoga and asked me if I would like to join her. I agreed to go but wasn’t sure which studio we were heading for.

I’m very lucky that I live within walking distance of many yoga studios. As we walked down in the squeaky snow I realized it was a studio my oldest son goes to as well as a few other friends.

I knew to bring a towel and water. We did an evening community class. It was not too crowded and the instructor was lovely.

I enjoyed chatting and walking to and from with Kim. We both decided to get 5 class passes and have been going to a noon flow class for 3 weeks.

Since I now manage cold hands and feet from Raynaud’s the heat feels especially good.

I’ve had the chance to have a different instructor each class which keeps it interesting. The timing worked out that we were in class both on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

It felt great to move with intention and take time to support my wellbeing during potentially hectic days.

One surprise has been the muscle fatigue, especially in my gluteus medius. It’s the crescent shape spot on my upper glute that joins to the bone and fans outward towards my hip.

I’m taking that as a sign that the other muscles are doing enough work that new muscles are engaging. I’m delighted that my piriformis is not aching.

Natalie stares at the camera wearing a brown and orange toque, a mustard yellow cowl and an army green parka. The background is a narrow lane with apple trees covered in snow

I keep forgetting to snap a photo after yoga but here’s one of my outside, walking to meet Kim.

fitness · yoga

Aimée is over it, so over it, #yoga

Aimée Morrison writes: “I am officially 100% over ever seeing another skinny, pretty, blonde, expensively dressed yoga teacher doing incredibly difficult poses in airy and sunlit minimalist rooms, unsweaty and smiling beatifically. Honest to god, I think these kinds of braggy photos are the reverse of yoga. Of course, my feed is full of yoga ads with nothing but these kinds of images. OVER IT.”

I was glad I found  a yoga photo without skinny blondes for this post.

Photo by Jonathan Fink on Unsplash

 

Aimée Morrison has been practicing yoga for 11 years, training in a 200 hour YTT in 2014, and Yoga for Round Bodies 2016. Erstwhile yoga teacher introductory to advanced at Queen Street Yoga in Kitchener. In her spare time, associate prof at UWaterloo, specializing in social media.

fitness · yoga

31 days of yoga– I’ve just gotten started

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for 25 years (mostly off) until January 2016, when I joined the newly opened Artemis yoga studio that’s in Watertown, MA,  a 10-minute walk from my house.  Man, was that a good idea!  Since then I’ve been going off and on (mostly on) with friends or on my own.  And I love love love it.  Below, a partial list:

  • the friendly folks, from owner to desk staff to teachers;
  • the welcoming and dedicated attitude of the place– no judgment, all encouragement, and serious commitment to yoga practice;
  • the gorgeous interiors– the whole place is newly renovated and the studios are light, airy and serene;
  • the other yoga students– again, I’ve detected no attitude, no yoga hierarchy, no fashion competition, just general friendliness;
  • the convenience of it– I can walk there in 10 minutes!  I guess I said that already.  But it’s important to me.

However, even with all these fabulous features, I haven’t been able to get there as often as I would like.  And, I’ve been having some shoulder/neck pain lately that’s been making me unhappy.  So, I thought, maybe I should ramp up my yoga stretching and do more of it more often.

Enter the 30-day yoga challenge idea.

Now, I’m no fan of activity (or any other) challenges.  I’ve blogged about it here.  The thing is, I fear them.  I fear I won’t complete them and then will feel like a failure.  Why do I fear that I won’t complete them?  Because, honestly, I just don’t feel in control of my life and activities all the time.  Yeah, I know–  welcome to the human race, Catherine.  Still, there’s something daunting about the multi-day challenge that gets to me.  I become resentful and want to rebel against it, even though it was entirely my idea.

But I read Laura Dragon’s blog post here about 366 days of yoga and was entranced.  It stuck in my head and I kept thinking, maybe I can do this too.  Maybe I want to do this.  So I started 30 days ago.  And I did it– I did some yoga for 31 days in a row.

Important clarification:  there are loads of 30-day yoga challenges.  I signed up for one of them and was immediately put off when the person on the video sat down in a pose that will always be impossible for me.  On day one.  That does not seem very encouraging.   Looking around, I found the so-called beginner yoga challenge series heavy on the challenge, and light on the beginner parts.  As someone who teaches logic, which many people find daunting, I can say that setting people up with goals they can’t reasonably meet is terrible pedagogy.  Here is an example of a pose the beginners are supposed to do in their challenges:

Boat pose, super-advanced version. The person is sitting with her legs up at 70-degree angle, and arms outstretched. I don't think my yoga teacher can get her legs up that high and hold that pose for long.
Boat pose, super-advanced version. The person is sitting with her legs up at 70-degree angle, and arms outstretched. I don’t think my yoga teacher can get her legs up that high and hold that pose for long.

 

This is just silly.  Boat pose is cool, and there are so many modifications this pose, but the one shown is the hardest.  If it’s really day 13 of yoga for you, this is likely not the your modification.  Spare me the yoga fitspo please.

Instead of trying to follow some prescribed and canned 30-day yoga challenge program, I did a hodge-podge of things.  I went to classes at my local studio.  Sometimes I would do my own routine of poses on my mat at home.  Also, I have some yoga DVDs for morning and evening and stress-relief yoga which I use.  They last 20 minutes, which I can do most of the time, even if I’m tired.

Last week was particularly work-intensive, and a few nights I didn’t think I could even drag myself onto the mat to do 20 minutes.  Enter youtube.  There are 5–10 minute yoga-in-bed videos (of course there are).  I used them a few times.  On/in my bed, I would do some light stretching, cat/cow, child’s pose, some twists, legs up the wall, and be done with it.  I decided that this counted as doing yoga, because in fact I was doing some yoga.

As of today, I’m at 31 days.  I want to keep going.  I’m so happy that I’ve had enough oomph and self-understanding and self-accommodation and good physical feedback (it seems like I’m less creaky overall) to get into this and see how much I

  • often love doing yoga while in the moment,
  • never really mind doing yoga even in a tired moment,
  • love and admire myself for having done yoga.

Keeping my expectations low made this possible.  On a few days, all I wanted to do was legs up the wall.  So I did, and that counted as yoga for the day.  But I found I generally wanted more than that, so I did more most of the time.  But the deal between me and me was “some yoga each day”.  Which I did.  I’m doing it still.

text that says Yoga. Because punching people is frowned upon.

Unless you’re doing a boxing every day challenge, in which case, go for it!

 

 

fitness · yoga

Life upside down: enjoying yoga inversions

Since I posted a week ago about doing yoga 10 days in a row, I’ve been feeling psyched (and yes, sometimes pressured, but it’s also a form of motivation) about doing some yoga every day.  It’s starting to become a routine before I go to bed.

What I love the most about this routine (in addition to how it helps me feel less creaky) is that I get to choose what yoga I do.  When I take classes, I go through a practice that is systematic, or comprehensive, or otherwise well-grounded in views about what a yoga workout looks like.  But when it’s up to me, I feel like (at this point in my everyday-yoga practice) that I can do exactly what I want.  It’s kind of like choosing my favorite dessert each night.  Yes, we should balance our exercise diets, but for now, my only goal is consistency.  So I’m going for the good stuff.

So what’s the good yoga stuff, according to me?

One word:  Inversions.  

What are inversions?  Here is what Yoga Journal has to say about it:

Considering most of our lives are spent with our heads held high, legs below, reversing this arrangement feels like a refreshing change of pace. Plus, it’s got lots of benefits. For starters, inversions build upper-body strength, balance, and confidence, and they prompt you to see the world from a new perspective (literally!). Moving into postures where your head is lower than your heart also helps to prevent lymphatic fluid from pooling in your legs (a result of our upright lives), while increasing circulation to your brain—a combo that instantly boosts energy. Then, there’s the fact that inversions can be just plain fun. They give us an opportunity to get a little playful with our practice and not take ourselves so seriously.

Some inverted postures are considered advanced, as they require some strength and care to prevent injury to neck, back and shoulders.  So don’t try these on your own before you’ve had some instruction.  That said, here are some of my favorites:

In Laura’s post about 100 days of yoga, she talks about doing legs-up-the-wall when she couldn’t do any other pose.  I do this every day, as it’s one of the most restful and pleasurable positions for me.  Here it is:

A woman lying on the floor, face up, with arms spread out in a T, and legs up and against a wall. Her butt is on a cushion against the wall.
A woman lying on the floor, face up, with arms spread out in a T, and legs up and against a wall. Her butt is on a cushion against the wall.

One of my favorite variants on this pose is the waterfall pose, in which your legs are in the air, and your butt is resting on a yoga block or cushion.  It is incredibly restful and also energizing for your legs.  Here’s what it looks like:

A woman lying on the floor, a yoga block under her sacrum (lower spine, near buttocks), with legs in the air and arms spread apart.
A woman lying on the floor, a yoga block under her sacrum (lower spine, near buttocks), with legs in the air and arms spread apart.

This pose may look like it takes some effort, but it is super relaxing.  You adjust the block (or cushion) so that your legs can hang in the air with no effort at all.  I could stay in this pose for hours (well, sort of).

Most of the rest of the inverted postures are pretty active ones.  I love downward facing dog, which is this one:

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley in downward dog, with legs on a mat, hips in the air, head down, and arms on the mat, in an inverted V.
Yogi Jessamyn Stanley in downward dog, with legs on a mat, hips in the air, head down, and arms on the mat, in an inverted V.

It took a while to figure out how to hang out in this pose without lots of pressure on my wrists and shoulders.  The key is lifting the hips up and back, imagining making length in your vertebra.  This process somehow (at least for me) sends the hips and legs back, and the strength of those muscles (which are meant to carry us and hold us up) takes care of everything.  You just hang out and breathe.

Another inverted pose that makes me very happy is forward fold.  Here’s Jessamyn Stanley again, showing it with soft knees (which is protective of our tender joints).

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 1.58.31 PM
Yogi Jessamyn Stanley, in forward fold. She is standing on a mat, bent over forward, knees slightly bent, hands down, with arms hanging down by her sides.

 

There are also a bunch of advanced yoga inversions– headstands, handstands, shoulder stands, the plow and wheel poses– I could go on.  I hope to do some of these sometime.  But not tonight or tomorrow.  Which is okay, because I get to go upside down in whatever ways I want.