Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Yoga for Cyclists July 30, 2013

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 12:37 pm
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In honor of Bike to Work Day a few weeks ago (on which day I actually rode my bike to the train station* without even realizing that I ought to!), and in honor of Stacey, who requested info on this subject probably six months ago at this point, I’m pleased to present you with a post on yoga for cyclists!

Much like runners, cyclists are typically very fit, but because of the repetitive motions of pedaling a bike and the need to maintain a certain body position while riding, they can develop problems in specific body areas. These problems can include:

  • Hamstrings and hips: These areas can become overly tight, and the resulting reduced range of motion can lead to injury.
  • Overdeveloped quads: All that uphill pedaling can build great strength, but unless the hips are kept flexible, those strong muscles can pull hips out of alignment!
  • Low back pain: Unless proper form is rigorously maintained, the hours spent flexed forward while cycling can result in muscle pain, or strain in the back and shoulders.
  • Feet: The ankles, toes, and feet can become stiff when they’re held in position on the pedals, so cyclists, like all athletes, would do well to stretch the foot to avoid injury.

Luckily, a yoga practice can provide solutions to these problems! For cyclists, yoga can be beneficial in the following ways:

  • Flexibility: Yogis are obviously known for being flexible. For cyclists, yoga can promote flexibility in the key problem areas of the hips and hamstrings, the legs overall, and the feet, which will help to avert injury.
  • Spine alignment: With a regular yoga practice, you become more aware of your posture and the alignment of the spine. For cyclists, this heightened awareness can improve your form, relieving pain.
  • Core strength: Key to having a healthy spine is the core strength to support it. Many yoga postures emphasize the core,  strengthening the muscles to give you the support you need.
  • Balance: Practicing yoga improves your sense of balance, which is key when riding on rough terrain.
  • Mental clarity: Practicing yoga regularly often leads to feeling calm, alert, and clear-minded, which can help a cyclist power through a tough ride or stay focused during a race.
  • Mind-body connection: As noted above, yogis become more aware of their posture and movements as a result of their yoga practice. With this level of awareness, you’ll be better able to recognize when any part of your body is out of alignment and can take steps to fix it before an injury.

With these points in mind, here’s a sample asana sequence designed for cyclists.

  • begin lying flat on the belly
  • locust pose (opens heart and shoulders, strengthens low back)
  • child’s pose
  • rabbit pose (I’m including the link for the visual only – for this sequence, you get into rabbit from child’s pose by clasping the hands behind the back and then lifting the arms)
  • dolphin pose (mirrors the upper body alignment needed on the bike)
  • cat/cow (healthy spine warmup!)
  • downward dog (bicycle the legs here to stretch out the calves)
  • standing forward bend
  • mountain pose
  • 5 half sun salutes
  • one full sun salutation with low lunges
  • one full sun salutation with high lunges
  • one full sun salutation with heart-opening high lunges (clasping hands behind the back to open the chest)
  • one full sun salutation with twisting high lunges (opening the chest and shoulders)
  • standing sequence:
  • balance pose: dancer (works balance, lengthens quadriceps)
  • toe balance squat (a variation on malasana, stretching toe and foot while working balance)
  • kneeling with toes curled under (gentle stretch for the foot)
  • hero pose
  • cobbler pose
  • seated forward fold
  • reclining pigeon (hip stretch)
  • bridge pose (strengthens the spine – a good counterpose for on-bike positioning)
  • reclining twist
  • legs up the wall (great restorative pose, allowing fluid to drain from the hardworking legs, preventing varicose veins)
  • savasana

For me, this full sequence would probably take about an hour and a half. If you flowed more quickly through the postures, you might be able to do it in an hour, but I recommend moving more slowly and spending time in each pose to really enjoy the stretch. If you have time constraints and can’t do the full routine, you can eliminate a couple of poses from the warmup (locust, child’s, rabbit, dolphin) or the cooldown (do cobbler or seated forward fold, reclining pigeon or reclining twist), or you can cut down to two or three half salutes, or only two sun salutes with lunges instead of four. I wanted to give you a full sequence so you’d have plenty of options and an order for the poses, but this is just a framework that you can modify to meet your needs. Enjoy!

*Note: While I love to ride my bike, I am definitively not a cyclist. I am a bike rider, in the same way that a 12-year-old girl is a bike rider. My bike is shiny and red, with classic-looking fenders, a really big basket, and a bell. However, while I might not experience all the trials and tribulations that actual cyclists experience, I can still offer yoga to help them!
References:
Drop, Tuck, and Hammer
Yoga for Cyclists: Pre-Ride Warm Up
Yoga for Cyclists: Post-Ride Cool Down
Yoga for Cyclists: 3 Poses You Should Practice

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On Cultural Appropriation, Part 2 July 25, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 12:44 pm
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Last week, I posted my initial response to s.e. smith’s article “Like it or Not, Western Yoga is a Textbook Example of Cultural Appropriation“. I limited my initial response to a discussion of my own practice of yoga for physical and spiritual health; in attacking the appropriation of yoga by Western culture, smith’s article felt like a personal attack as well, whether it was intended that way or not, since my yoga practice is such a big part of my life and is woven into many different areas of my life. In processing what smith had to say, I had to think through how it affected me personally first. Today, I’d like to consider the larger issues that smith brings up.

I think smith is largely objecting to the commodification of yoga in Western culture, and there I think smith has a point. However, if you look at the history of yoga in the US, it was brought here not by people who wanted to sell it, but by people who believed in it and wanted to share its message. Religions, and religious practices, have a tendency to grow beyond the people who originate them. When Christianity started spreading to the Greek and Roman population a few decades after Jesus’s death, the original Jewish Christians really had to think about the meaning of their faith, but considering that Jesus said “spread the good news,” the spread of Christianity was unavoidable, and considering how he made an example of himself by having all kinds of people over to dinner, you can assume he would have wanted all those converts to be welcomed. Buddhism spread from its roots in India eastward into China, and while I’m not well informed on the subject, I’m sure Indian Buddhists, Chinese Buddhists, and zen Buddhists in Japan  all have some different religious practices within the same religious tradition. And it’s not as though Hinduism has tried to stay separate and apart. For example, in the late 1800s, Swami Vivekanda traveled the world and preached his message, making a huge impression at the Parliament of Religions in 1893 and really bringing Hinduism onto the scene as a major world religion (which it already was, of course, but his work brought recognition and interest from outside India). After Vivekananda, a number of teachers and yogis strove to promote yoga in the US, most of whom set out to do the work from an altruistic perspective. It could be argued that the spread of yoga as a practice beyond its Hindu roots was perfectly natural given that that’s what religions do, and given that Hindu yogis and swamis either traveled to deliver the message themselves or were happy to participate by preaching to those who wanted to bring it.

Over time, however, yoga has become a product to be sold. The majority of those in the yoga community would agree with smith that that’s not a positive thing. Yoga was never meant to be big business by those who wanted to share it in the first place; there’s a difference between people using the popularity of yoga to make a quick buck and people who’ve made yoga their life’s work. In India, the ancient yogis or wandering sages (sadhus) depended on charity for their livelihood: common people knew that if you didn’t provide for the sages, then they couldn’t live the lives of study and meditation that they were being called to live – they couldn’t search for wisdom, and therefore wouldn’t be able to share and teach that wisdom. It was understood that charity and hospitality towards the holy men was required. In modern times, yoga and spiritual guidance don’t require wandering the countryside barefoot, but they don’t pay for themselves either. People like my teachers N and J at EEY aren’t making tons of money on their business; I’m sure they’re happy to be paying their bills, but they didn’t get into yoga with dollar signs in their eyes. They teach yoga because they feel called to do it.

smith looks at the commercialization of yoga from one large-scale perspective, without taking into account all the individuals that make up the whole. So many books and products and classes exist for the yoga market, so many people wanting to make money, but there are also so many well-meaning people genuinely trying to do good work, who believe in the power of yoga to help others, even if just for the physical benefits. I don’t think you can talk about one without the other. But even recognizing the fact that yoga didn’t originate in the US for commercial gain and isn’t being used that way by many who “sell” it, what we need to address is what should be done about it. smith makes us all feel guilty about buying a new mat or getting a class pass at our favorite studio, but what alternative does smith offer?

I can understand why smith, after some soul searching, decided to abandon a personal yoga practice. But I don’t think it’s viable to give up every good thing that comes from a non-European heritage, or to assume that the presence of those things in Western culture must be classified as “cultural appropriation” in a negative way. After all, the USA is a melting pot: people from many cultures came here in the hopes of building a better life, bringing all their history and traditions with them. If Indian Americans are practicing yoga traditions here, then they are American traditions, and if we say they are not American traditions then I think we’re devaluing those people and their experiences. They, like all other Americans, are part of this country.

In some of the comments on smith’s article, people were making statements to the effect of, “Oh no, yoga is a form of cultural appropriation? Do I have to give up Chinese food too?” Which is ridiculous: sweet ‘n’ sour chicken does not equal a spiritual practice. But those commenters do have a point. Yoga, like Chinese food, is here to stay in Western culture. It’s not everything it could or should be, but it’s here. You can give it up, like smith did, the same way you’d give up wearing fur or eating factory-farmed beef: as a form of protest. Personally, though, I don’t think it’s in the same category. If you attend a yoga class, even a really Westernized aerobic power yoga class, you’re not participating in violence being done to a living creature in the same way you would by eating a steak or wearing a fur coat. The comparison just isn’t the same.

If we try to practice ahimsa, or nonviolence, then we abhor not just physical violence but all violence, so we have to ask whether we are engaging in some sort of violence by appropriating the spiritual practice of another cultural group when we attend that yoga class. Does my practice of yoga represent a form of violence if no member of the injured group knows about it, or would care or feel injured if they did know? Here’s another question: does the act of two men getting married somehow injure my heterosexual marriage? Or, more to the point, does my engaging in heterosexual marriage, or choosing not to do so, have any effect whatsoever on homosexual people who aren’t permitted to marry? smith strikes me as the sort of person who would abstain from a desired legal heterosexual marriage in protest until all gay people can get married too, but in the end, that protest would only help the movement for the 30 seconds it was a headline, or not at all. Ultimately that sort of protest would only hurt the protester.

In my opinion, since yoga is here to stay in the US and isn’t going anywhere, it would make a more powerful statement to practice yoga in the way you would like to see it practiced. Teach yoga in the way it should be taught. Show people what yoga really means by your example, and continue to seek, learn, and expand your knowledge about the history and true meaning of not just the physical asanas but the deeper spiritual practice. Instead of opting out of something wonderful just based on principle, be a part of the community and a voice for change.

 

Yoga Myths Dispelled at HuffPo July 23, 2013

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:28 pm
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Love this post for those new to yoga over at Huffington Post: 5 Things About Yoga That Just Aren’t True (And The Cats To Prove It). Some excellent dispelling of yoga myths (i.e., if you’re not flexible, that means you should take yoga, not that you shouldn’t!). Nice to see this on a site with such a wide audience. (And the cats are pretty cute too.)

 

On Cultural Appropriation, Part 1 July 18, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:32 pm
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So here’s something that’s been bothering me for a while. I read this article by s.e. smith: “Like it or Not, Western Yoga is a Textbook Example of Cultural Appropriation“. Coincidentally, the open letter “Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race” also showed up in my news feed last week. Reading these two pieces in close proximity really got me thinking about something I don’t think about very often (and definitely not as often as I should): my identity as a white person and how it affects my perceptions.

The cultural appropriation article bothered me very much, because I love yoga and genuinely hadn’t considered this issue before. I looked up the term “cultural appropriation” and found that Wikipedia has a very nice and detailed article with lots of examples. My initial sense was that smith’s article is pretty biased and doesn’t tell the whole story; smith’s bio on xojane describes smith as an “agitator” and someone who likes to “rile people up while also informing them about ongoing issues in the world around them”, so I’m going to assume that was intentional. I certainly feel riled – and although it’s not a pleasant feeling, I have to grudgingly agree with smith that getting riled isn’t a bad thing and often is a good and necessary thing. Being riled made me ponder this issue a lot this week, which can only be good for myself and my yoga practice, but I wanted to spend some time thinking over the perspective that smith is putting forth, because I do think smith’s perspective is biased.

The first issue I wanted to investigate with myself was whether my own yoga practice is culturally appropriative (is that a term? it is now). Am I personally offending Hindus everywhere every time I roll out my mat? After thinking about the issue from a variety of angles, I decided for myself that no, my yoga practice in itself isn’t offensive. My asana practice isn’t only a part of my physical fitness routine, it’s a part of my spiritual practice, and I approach that spiritual practice as respectfully as I can. I completed my yoga teacher training at a studio where meditation, spirituality, and the ancient Hindu roots of yoga are emphasized; I’ve read several of the sacred books that discuss yoga and I plan to read more. I may not be as informed or educated about Hinduism as someone born to the faith, but I’m working on it.

Spirituality isn’t (or shouldn’t be) limited by the color of one’s skin or one’s country of origin. The religion I was raised in never really resonated for me, so I needed to reach farther to find the path that did. Should I be limited to only Christian spiritual practices because I have white skin? Are my spiritual practices fake or empty in some way because I wasn’t born to them? That seems unnecessarily restrictive. The Wikipedia article on cultural appropriation notes that elements borrowed from other cultures “can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held”, and cites Native American traditional spiritual practice, among others, as an example. For myself, I do my homework and try to learn what yoga really means. That was part of why I undertook a yoga teacher training in the first place: to learn more about the spirituality underlying the physical practice, and to do so in a structured way. For smith to discount “everybody and their mother” for undertaking yoga teacher training is to discount a lot of honest, and earnest, searching, and a lot of people who genuinely want to learn the history and deeper meaning of their yoga practice.

Ultimately, unlike smith, I’ve decided that my personal use of yoga to improve my physical and emotional health and as a key part of my spiritual practice may be “cultural appropriation”, in the technical sense that I have appropriated these practices from another culture, but it isn’t cultural appropriation in the negative sense that smith means. I have never pretended to have all the answers, or to call myself a Hindu or an expert in Hinduism. When I have to call myself something, I call myself a Unitarian Universalist and I acknowledge my strong interest in Eastern religious practice. I think that’s an honest assessment and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I read, I research, I constantly try to improve my understanding. I learned what karma yoga means and I try to practice it. I’m doing my best.

However, yoga as it’s used and practiced in Western culture is not the same as yoga as it’s used and practiced by me personally, and I do agree with smith on a few points, which I’m going to have to discuss further in a separate post. Check back next week for more.

Side note: I fully recognize that this post itself may reinforce the depth of my cultural appropriation and entitlement to some readers. I read about a cultural issue and immediately looked at it from my own, privileged perspective, not the perspective of the minority; I did not consult with any actual live Hindus in the writing of this post; I am self-centered and I use the word “I” a lot. To which my response is: it’s a blog, it’s supposed to be self-centered; and smith didn’t mention consulting any actual Hindus in that article either. We are two white people writing about how white people feel about other cultures! I can’t go too far down this track or I want to punch myself, but I have to conclude that I am trying in good faith to explore and to understand, and that has to be good enough for now. Actual Hindus reading this, please know your opinion would be welcomed.

 

The Latest Fresh Start: Holidays, “I Should Be Better” Syndrome, and the Power of a Good Routine July 16, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:00 pm
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Last week I was feeling a little down: angry, overwhelmed, the works. In mid-June I had (re)started my daily yoga practice and it had been going great, even when I could only manage 5 or 10 minutes a day. I saw myself become more productive in other areas of my life, too: at work, on the blog, and I even finished a writing project that’d been hanging over me for months. And all of this while YB was having a rough phase of sleep! I was so impressed with myself. But last week things got away from me. The July 4 holiday weekend meant a break in our routine; we had some houseguests, one of whom stayed an extra few days longer than planned, which was wonderful but also outside of our usual routine; and we threw YB’s first birthday party, which was a lot of fun and a lot of work. At first I hung onto my yoga practice and even took time for a good long asana session on July 4, but soon I was only getting in some seated stretches on the floor during YB’s playtime – which isn’t necessarily bad, but isn’t what I want to do every day, either. And then Wednesday and Thursday last week, I missed my yoga practice entirely. After fitting it in every day for 20 days in a row! I felt so angry at myself, even though missing yoga gave me the chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep. I also began feeling a bit overwhelmed at work, particularly in light of my upcoming job transition and all the things I need to accomplish before handing off my projects to other editors. When I feel overwhelmed by my projects, I sometimes cope by procrastinating and doing nothing at all, which is a terrible coping strategy and just makes everything worse. And Thursday night I fell down the emotional rabbit hole: I’ll never have a steady yoga practice again, I’m a bad mother, YB loves F more than she loves me, I can’t even water the garden right. You know how it goes. Another flare-up of “I Should Be Better” Syndrome. And thus did it happen that I neglected my blog all last week.

On Friday morning, I dragged myself to my mat, and after keeping my practice going over the weekend and catching up on some things at home, I’m feeling better now, but as I well know, “I Should Be Better” Syndrome is a chronic condition. It’ll be back at some point. So what have I learned this time around that can help me to deal with the problem next time? First, there’s the value of sticking to a routine, even on holidays and weekends, even when disruptions are occurring, even when I’m tired, because it makes a big difference in my mood. If I can stick to my routine and keep my practice going when things aren’t on a normal schedule, maybe it’ll give me the stamina to get through that non-normal more gracefully. And if I can stick to my routine in the long term, the practice might prepare me to deal better when life gets derailed on a larger scale.

And, as always, it doesn’t do any good to lay blame. There were certainly some events and issues in the past two weeks that I could have done a better job of handling, some behavior I could have improved and some yoga I could have done more of. But the past is in the past. Instead of laying blame on myself and looking backward, better to assess where I am right now and what I need to do to fix the situation and move forward. A friend of mine loves the saying “It is what it is,” but as F mentioned to me last week, “It was what it was” also holds true. No use worrying over what it is or what it was, since that can’t be changed; I may have some input into the future, but “it will be what it will be” is also an accurate thing to say. All I really can change is my attitude.

 

Happy Fourth July 4, 2013

Filed under: Miscellaneous — R. H. Ward @ 5:45 pm
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Happy Independence Day! On this day last year, YB was still in my belly (my due date was July 3). What a difference a year makes! In honor of the holiday, YB is asserting her independence.

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Reorganization July 2, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 12:16 pm
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Last week, my usual posting routine got off-schedule because on Monday I received news of a division-wide reorganization at my company. Now, at my last job I weathered three reorgs (some with more successful results than others), and I saw dozens of colleagues lose their jobs. There are two key differences between those reorgs in the past and this one now. First, in the past I faced each last-minute mandatory meeting with some anticipation and excitement, hoping I might be ones of the ones to be let go; I was so unhappy in my job that the idea of losing it sounded less like a loss and more like an opportunity for a fresh start. Ultimately, I had to find my own opportunity for a fresh start instead having one handed to me with a layoff, and I found myself here, at my new company. I’ve only been here for eight months, but I love my group and enjoy my work, and I’ve been very happy, so the idea of anything changing now is actually intimidating! And, also unlike the reorgs I witnessed before, this one involves a change that directly affects me: my job title, and probably most of my responsibilities, will remain the same, but I’ll be transferring to a different group to work on developing a new line of electronic products.

Once I got past the initial shock of the news, I felt both excited and apprehensive about my new role. The VP of my group hand-picked me for the new team, which speaks well of my work and reputation, especially since I’ve been with the company for so short a time. I feel honored to be chosen for the job and trusted with some high-profile projects (even if I don’t know exactly what those projects will be yet!). And, since the market for electronic products just keeps growing, this change presents a lot of potential for career growth for me. Plus I’m genuinely interested in the practical details of how to go about developing these products! On the other hand, part of me is definitely nervous – I’ve been happy in my job here, for the first time in years! Why do we have to shake things up? Can’t everything just stay the same?

Whenever change comes, whether you expect it or not, it can be scary. Last fall when I accepted this job I was scared too, even though I knew the move was the right thing for me. From a yogic perspective, the thing to do at times like this is to stay calm: keep up with my yoga practice, focus on pranayama and deep breathing, and remind myself to stay in the present moment. I need to “reorganize” my own thoughts: it does me no good to worry, since I don’t know what the future holds. My job here has been great for me, but I can’t get so attached to it that I lose out on an opportunity to move forward. Staying calm and centered, keeping my attitude flexible, and practicing non-attachment will allow me to weather the change and be poised to make the most of it. This particular change provides a great opportunity for career growth, and like all change, it offers a chance of personal and spiritual growth as well. The change is happening whether I like it or not, so I might as well leap aboard!