Smoothies for Yoga

It could be before an inversion class, or a morning Ashtanga class, or even before learning Uddiyana Bandha.
There will be a time when we may not want to have a full proper meal because it will weigh us down but we still need that sustenance which will last us through the whole session.
Smoothies could be the perfect solution for that.
Below are few easy steps to start preparing your smoothies:
  • Pick your base
For fruits dominant smoothies – milk and yogurt are great bases. They are tasty and creamy.
But those who prefer non dairy, other alternatives such as oat / almond / soy / coconut milks are just as good.
For green dominant smoothies – coconut water and lemon juice
Coconut water is a natural electrolyte while lemon juice adds that fresh and sour kick to counter the vegetal flavours. This is good especially for those trying green smoothies for the first time.
Coconut water based smoothies  are perfect for hot yoga class as our bodies will need more hydration.
  • Pick your fruits and vegetable
This is easily the best, most fun part of making the smoothies.
Berries and tropical fruits such as papayas, pineapples and mangoes are great. Alternatively, a visit to the local market will tell us what is in season and when in season, these fruits tend to be sweeter.
Put those fruits in the freezer before going into the blender for added textures.
For green smoothies, besides the common green such as spinach, kale and bakchoy, we can also add green apples, pears and kiwi for balance without changing that amazing green theme from the final product.
  • Pick your carbs / protein / seasonal add ons
Apart from the fruits and vegetables, always prepare bananas, avocados, or coconut meat ready – adding them in will make the smoothies even creamier.
If you want a more filling smoothie to prepare you for that never ending sun salutations, you can add more carbs from pumpkins, carrots, beets, dragonfruits and oats.
But if you’re going for a more intense class like power yoga or core yoga, you may want to add protein sources in such as peanut butter, cacao or even protein powder.
If you’re feeling hot, add more cooling ingredients such as cucumber, watermelon and fresh mint.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling cold, add more warming ingredients such as ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and turmeric.
You can also add your usual morning pick me ups such as coffee and mocha into the smoothies for either that sense of familiarity or additional caffeine kick.
  • Pick your superfood and toppings
As the last step, you may want to add those superfood in to boost your nutrients intake.
Black sesame, goji berry, maca powder, green tea powder, chia seed, flaxseed, spirulina and medjool dates are great add ons for any smoothies.
Once blended, you may also add toppings like almond shavings, cacao nibs, honey, vanilla beans or even something similar to bubble teas such as grass jelly and coffee jelly.
Happy experimenting!

Yoga and Climbing Part 3

Pushing vs Pulling
Having explored the physical and mental similarities between Yoga and Climbing, and briefly discussed on how they complement each other, we will discuss more on the complementing aspect of the two disciplines specifically in terms of pushing and pulling movements.
As a form of practice and exercise, many believe that yoga is a completely balanced one because it provides growth opportunity for strength, flexibility and even spirituality.
While there’s a truth in that, on a closer look however, we may realise that yoga focuses a great deal on pushing movements. Majority of the asanas such as Chaturanga, handstand and crow involve pushing our own body weight away from the floor.
With consistent and long term practice, practitioners will definitely develop more strength especially on the shoulder pushing muscles (scapular protraction) but if yoga is the only form of exercise they are doing, functional muscular imbalances in the shoulder will start to develop simply because of the lack in pulling movement (scapular retraction).
As with any other form of exercises, muscular imbalances will translate to higher risk of injuries.
Certain asanas do involve pulling – Utthita Hasta Padanghusthasana pulls the big toe towards the body or Dancer and Mermaid pose pull the foot close to our bodies. However, the force required to do this pulling movement is comparatively small to the pushing movements involved in the other asanas.
Here, we are comparing pushing our own body weight to pulling a toe or feet.
There are other asanas which include scapular retractions such as Purvottanasana, Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Wheel and other backbending poses but again, the intensity of the force involved is different to the ones involved in pushing our own body weight.
This is the main reason climbing is a great balancing exercise for yoga. Climbing mainly involves pulling our own body weight up the wall / rock. Although some may point out that climbers work their way up by pushing their foot / legs against the foothold, there is still significant shoulder pulling movements involved.
Alternatively, yoga practitioners may also include other exercises such pull up and seated / barbell rows or even make use of resistance bands to perform simple shoulder pulling movements.
With more balanced healthy shoulder strength, we may be able to access poses or climbing problems which seemed impossible previously.

Yoga and Climbing Part 2

Mental/ Spiritual Similarities between Yoga and Climbing
More importantly, both yoga and climbing share similarities that transcend beyond the physical body.
Focus and Calm
Through the practice of pranayama, yoga practitioners are invited to focus on breathing in order to calm the mind and be in the present. And we need to keep coming back to this breathing techniques throughout our asana practice for good reasons.
Imagine doing balancing poses such as Warrior III (Virabhadrasana C) or Ardha Badha Padmottanasana while thinking about lunch? Or forgetting to breathe while holding Navasana?
During climbing, the same focused and calm mindset is imperative to continue progressing upwards, one step at a time while trying not to fall and getting injured.
Thinking about lunch while up on the wall/rock few meters above the ground will definitely be worse than losing balance from Warrior III!
Therefore, yoga and climbing share Dharana (or concentration) both as a mean to an end and an end itself.
Courage and Confidence
I still remember the fear and doubt I had before my first inversion – Fear of falling down, breaking my neck and back.
And the fear during bouldering, when there is not any safety rope and I need to jump down after reaching the last hold. Or when I reach halfway during wall climbing and accidentally look down at how far the ground is.
But it doesn’t just stop there – once we conquer inversions or solve that V6.
In Ashtanga, once we complete the Primary series, there will be 5 other series of complex poses. Climbers would often feel stuck making the progress to the higher problem. For me now, V8 seems very daunting and just simply beyond my reach.
Both disciplines bring us out of our comfort zone, constantly require us to have courage to confront and grapple with our fears. Over time, the practice becomes mind over matter. We develop confidence and trust on our body and capability – and above all, on ourselves.
Looking back at some videos of me attempting inversion or V3 made me realise how far I have come.
There would be no progress without courage and confidence.
Humility and Perseverance
 
Falling down in climbing and failing to execute the asanas are common, shared by all practitioners.
Yet we keep trying again. And again.
We may not have developed enough grip strength or our hips are not open enough.
Whatever the reasons are, as long as we can identify them, both yoga and climbing teach us humility and perseverance – to keep trying and learning while honouring our bodies and other limitations.
Acknowledging that everyone is work in progress. There are people who are better than us and there are others who can learn from us.
Humble enough to receive adjustments for certain poses or to listen to beta (tips) from the crowd watching below.
As well as humble enough not to judge anyone but to encourage fellow practitioners.
Meditation
With those aspects above, both yoga and climbing have become forms of moving meditation for me.
While they may not be as profound as Dhyana described in Yoga Sutra, but these exercises have provided me with glimpses of peace and calm, interrupting my otherwise hectic days with endless fluctuations of external stimulus.
These exercises invite me to look inward and know who I actually am.
These mental (some would even tag this as spiritual) aspects of these disciplines may not be as easily observable as the physical ones, but over time, practitioners would slowly notice their applicability and integration into the daily life.

Yoga and Climbing

Physical Similarities between Yoga and Climbing

These two disciplines can be seemingly very different but based on years of personal practices, I realised that not only there are many similarities, they actually complement each other as well.
 
  • Strength and Endurance 
Vinyasa and Ashtanga classes with sun salutations and multiple jumps back and through are particularly effective in building arms and legs strength, necessary for climbing.
Done at a slightly faster pace than usual, this set of poses will get the sweats flowing in no time akin to HIIT, improving the overall cardiorespiratory endurance.
For climbing, we always need to keep our hips close to the wall in order to shift the body weight to the core instead of arms. This principle sounds familiar because it is applicable to many yoga poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Crow and Crane.
Up on the wall, we also need to support our own weight via strange movements and numerous muscle contractions, which inadvertently help increase the blood flow to areas we may not use often in our daily life.
This means local endurance surrounding those areas will improve and in yoga, this translates to ability to hold longer in certain poses.
  • Flexibility
This may sound obvious but yoga practice does improve flexibility over time. Consistent practice will enable climbers to move the feet higher, wider and farther easily with less risk of injuries.
  • Body Intelligence and Awareness
Both yoga and climbing are exercises that only make use of our own body weight. As a result, through the practice, we have the opportunity to gain a deeper better understanding and awareness of our body, from how to shift the body weight, engage and isolate muscles as well as how to balance and recognise sensations including pain.
With this heightened awareness, practitioners could then start breaking bad postural habits and being more mindful of alignment when standing, sitting and even lying down.