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.

Blocks are my yoga best friends

When I first started yoga in the year 2017, yoga blocks are my essential and stepping stones to correct my alignment, support range of motion, and allows me to go progress to challenging poses and inversions.

I remembered walking in to studio and make a beeline to the yoga props whenever I go for my yoga classes. I was that one student in class with inflexible, tight hips, tight shoulders, and weak upper body. A sequence Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) was actually very difficult and challenging for me to perform. Stepping back of the mat to do Ashwa Sanchalansana (Horse Lunge pose) was already challenging to me. I need the blocks to help me stabilise to get into the correct alignment otherwise I would fall.

Fast forward to practicing more than a year and a half, I have improved tremendously in my range of motions, flexibility and strength. I can perform the Surya Namaskar A and B without the blocks. I started to rely less on yoga blocks as I am able to perform the asanas in the correct alignment. Blocks are still my best-friend for Yin Yoga, Restoration Yoga and Vinyasa!

My learning takeaway from my practices is that sometimes a simple tool can have an adverse change to our lives. A simple Yoga blocks are so helpful in many ways! Never underestimate the power of blocks during practice.

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.

Anti-ageing Yoga

How does yoga anti-ageing secret recipe?

Everyone age as time passes. It is part and parcel of life cycle and if we can slow down our body ageing process, isn’t that wonderful? If you are reading this, it means you are still alive! Joke aside, yoga is the best remedy for anti-ageing.

Yoga is an aerobic exercise which reaps many benefits compared to other sports you can think of. Some of the benefits are:

1) Yoga Asanas – It tones the muscles, improve flexibility, posture and spine alignments. Also alleviates numerous health-related problems, overall improving our health. For example Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) strengthens and tones the arms and legs, because the pose is against the gravity. This asana lengthens and straightens the spine. It helps to relieve back pain (upper, middle and lower). Back bends are aslo good to keep the spine healthy.

2) Pranayama (Yoga Breathing) – It is translated as ‘regulation of life force’. There are many types of pranayama which serves for different purposes. The most common one is Kapalbhati aka ‘Skull Shining Breathe’. It is a traditional internal cleansing exercises and best to do in an empty stomach, specially when you just woke up from the bed. It consists of steady repetitions of forceful exhalations from the lower belly followed by passive inhalation. It helps to clear blockages from the nasal airways and supplying the brain with fresh supply of oxygen-rich blood.

3) Mudra – Mudra is a hand gestures that guides prana (energy) to specific areas in the brain. Each mudras are designed to serve different purposes. For example, Chin Mudra. It represents human consciousness. It is practice during meditation and the simply tip of the thumb touches the tip of the index finger while the rest of the fingers are relaxed. It helps to bring more energy to the body, brightening the overall mood.

These three benefits creates a harmony and balances of our mind, body and spiritual. When everything is balanced, the less prone you are to fall sick and therefore live a healthier and longer life.

Yoga is unique compared to other sports due to its the only activity that is boundless and provide holistic mind, body and soul benefits.

I have shared the benefits so when is your next your yoga class? I hope soon! 😀

Runners and Yoga. Yoga as a form of Active Recovery

Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.

I am a runner who has completed numerous marathons and endurance races over the past twenty years. I have found that with regular yoga practice, my range of movements are not limited, I recover faster from my runs and I run better.

Following from my previous post, Runners and Yoga, in this instalment, I will detail why and how yoga asanas benefit runners in recovery process and what asanas runners should perform for their active recovery.

As runners we want to recover from our runs as quickly as possible so that we can carry on with our other activities, become stronger and enjoy our next run session quicker. How then do we that?

Stretching the muscles as you do in yoga poses restore muscle elasticity and remove pooled blood that has accumulated in the muscles back into the blood circulatory system. As we stretch, blood vessels are subjected to peristaltic waves thus flooding the muscles with fresh blood and removing the pooled ones and lactic acid along with it. Fresh blood brings essential nutrients for to muscles recover.

There are two ways in which yoga can help in the active recovery process. Firstly in immediate recovery. This is performed immediate post run, with mobility poses and stretches. The focus in immediate recovery is to restore the body to pre run state, returning the body to full mobility, usually this takes 10-15 minutes. Secondly, the recovery session. The recovery session is usually performed as a separate session with deeper longer stretches. The objective of this deeper stretch session is to relieve tightness in the muscles, especially the hamstrings and to restore muscle elasticity and joint flexibility.

I find that the following primary poses are beneficial in the immediate recovery, performed at the end of a run. The mountain pose, the standing forward fold, the triangle pose, the wide legged standing forward fold, the downward dog, the tree and savasana. These primary poses targets the muscle groups that are used while running. The hamstrings and quadriceps being the largest muscle groups. Performing these poses immediately post run will restore your muscles to its pre run state, giving you full mobility, removes lactic acid out of your muscles and setting you up perfectly for full recovery. A recovery meal should follow.

The recovery session should be performed on a day that you are not running. Hatha yoga sequences are especially beneficial in this respect. Poses are held longer, between 12-15 breaths, so that the muscles are deeply stretched. Heart rate does not go much higher than resting. Breathing is deliberate and through the belly. All of which encourages the muscles to relax, be stretched, improving muscle elasticity and loosening the tightness.

I find a sequence comprising these poses; uttanasana, prasarita padottanasana, padanggustasana, trikonasana, parivrtta pashvakonasana, janursirsasana, eka pada rajakapotasana, baddha konasana, is sufficient to give me a good stretch. And if your ITB is giving you a problem, eka pada rajakapotanasana will relieve it.

As always, attend a class so a teacher can guide you.

Yin yoga stretches are also good but, I would reserve this for after long runs or a race. A passive practice, Yin Yoga involves variations of seated and supine poses typically held for 3 to 5 minutes, accessing deeper layers of fascia. This practice is best done with a teacher or coach to ensure you stretch correctly and achieve deep stretches when the coach adjusts you. Also an aspect of yin yoga is the ambience, which is designed to enhance relaxation, so going to yin yoga studio is what I would recommend.

Yoga poses are beneficial for runners’ recovery. An immediate post run sequence of poses which lasts for 10-15 minutes with shorter hold will restore you to pre run state. While a longer, more relaxed yin yoga class on a non running day will ease out the tight muscles.

Read about how yoga helps to build muscle strength and endurance for runners in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Runners and Yoga

Yoga and running, to most people are two mutually exclusive past times. For me, however, practicing yoga, has helped me, not only in my running pursuits, but also in my general well being.

Running is a unilateral repetitive exercise. While running, your muscles and joints are moving in one direction only, forward. The muscles of the hamstrings are the prime mover in a running action and repetitive overuse of this set of muscles makes it tight and prone to injuries from overuse. Moreover, the hip flexors too become tight as these are also extensively used albeit in only one direction.

I run marathons and ultra marathons and in the past 20 years, I have completed 48 races of 42km or more and countless more of shorter distances. Apart from running marathons, I also participate in endurance events such as Urbanathlon and Spartan races. Training for and running many long distance races and endurance events, over the years would have made me somewhat inflexible with a limited range of movements in the legs and hips if not for yoga.

www.run4life.co
The North Face 100 2013
The Army Half Marathon in 2013
Spartan Super 2015

For the past 10 years, though I have been reaping the benefits of regular yoga practice. I had my first taste of yoga, when I found that my hamstrings had gotten extremely tight after a race, that I had limited range of movement and I was taking much longer to recover from the race. At that time, my active recovery routine would be, swimming, walking and a massage. I did little stretching. I realised that I needed another form of active recovery. My wife, who is a yoga practitioner encouraged me to give yoga a go. I signed up with a personal yoga teacher with whom I practised on a weekly basis for 6 months.

Vrksasana

After six months with my teacher, I did my own practice. Twice per week, one of stretching, after long runs on the weekend and another session of more intense strength and conditioning workout midweek. I do, still, go for sessions with a yoga teacher, periodically. It always help to have a teacher or coach guide you.

During this period, I was running 3 times per week, one tempo run of between 8-15km at moderately fast pace, one very fast short run of between 4-8km and a slower longer run where I would go between 15-20km. The distances become longer as race day approaches.

Even with an average of 35km per week, with yoga sessions, my hamstrings are less tight and I have a far greater range of movement in my hips, and torso. In addition, my recovery period is now much quicker, I breathe easier too and therefore can run faster and longer.

Of course I am not as supple and flexible as someone who practices yoga exclusively. I still do enjoy running. But with yoga, I am more flexible and supple than I ever was before, I am more nimble and I recover faster from my long runs too.

In this series, I will try to detail how yoga can be beneficial to runners. There are three ways in which yoga can benefit runners:

  1. Recovery process. The asanas are an excellent way to stretch overworked muscles.
  2. Alternative muscle strength and endurance training. Astanga and Vinyasa sequences are a good alternative to build strength and endurance in the muscles. It keeps your training program fresh and you avoid going into a dull routine by mixing it up.
  3. Improvement of breathing technique. Pranayama is a big contributor to breath control in running.

Read more in my next instalment.

Deepening my yoga practice beyond the mat

I am typing this as our Yoga Teacher Training is coming to an end and if there’s one main thing I am leaving with; it is with the intention that I am deepening my yoga practice beyond the mat. I shared earlier that I was introduced to yoga through Ayurveda, and I’ve been told that’s pretty unconventional because it never did start with a mat. It started with cleansing. My yoga therapist once joked that I didn’t choose yoga, yoga chose me. But it was during those treatments that I had met many yoga practitioners/therapists who taught me that yoga and mind are a single entity, not separate and yoga is more a lifestyle than just asanas. I was also constantly reminded to not suppress anything in my life because at the end of the day, I’ll be the one suffering – as exhibited through my health. While I am sensitive to the needs of others, I tend to forget to examine my own needs. I am glad I was tasked with Swadhyaya as my individual project because it served as a gentle reminder to check in with myself, my thoughts, and emotions. To train my brain to enter the subconscious mind – checking my habits, emotional reactions, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. Now as I look back in the past month, this was again reiterated by all my Masters – Master Sree, Master Paalu, and Master Weiling. While the joke of yoga choosing me may still stand, I have decided to choose yoga too and to always remind myself that I am a human being, not a human doing 🙂

What to wear for your first yoga class

If you already have an active lifestyle, no doubt you have a closet full of yoga appropriate outfit. So no excuse for you to out there and splurge on the latest Lululemon Summer Collection!

The first piece of clothing on my list (for the ladies) is the sports bra. Besides supporting your girls, it is important to have a good coverage to avoid any unwanted attention. In terms of the support, you do not need crazy tight supports for you runners out there. Something with a medium support is perfect even for inversion.

Next up with have are the bottoms. I prefer wearing leggings to keep me free from loose fabric when I am in my poses. Find bottoms that you feel comfortable in. At the end of the day, it is your practice. One key point to note when buying leggings: the opaque test. Test out your tights and make sure nobody can see your flower printed panties when you are in downward dog!

Socks are optional but definitely go for grippy socks to avoid falling all over the place! If you prefer to wear a top over, just make sure that your movements are not restricted and the fitting is not too loose. It can get distracting trying to pull your shirt down when you are doing downward facing dog.

Ensure that your clothing are breathable! I love my hot yoga classes and the more breathable the fabric, the less likely it is for me to regret my choice of a hot class especially in a climate like Singapore’s.

You do not need to spend a few hundred dollars on a your yoga outfit. Affordable brands like Cotton On, Decathalon, and my go to online platform, Shoppee (check out Moving Peach) are great for fashionable and cute outfits.

One final tip: enjoy and have fun in yoga!

Blog 2: Rediscovering myself with Yoga + Reflections (Day 10/20 of YTT)

Taking up this YTT course was a pure coincidence – my actual work was rescheduled to start in September, and I completed my research work with my University in End-June. Was looking around for something to ground me during this two-month break and chanced upon the studio’s social media ads for the YTT course. Coupled with my friend’s recommendation about the program and the studio – I took a leap of faith and register myself for this YTT.

For a long while, I wasn’t really sure if I was doing the right postures and was very uncertain about my foundation work for Yoga – there was a lot of things I don’t know and probably knew the basic Hatha Sequence and Virabhadrasana A. Despite these fears, i wanted to pursue Yoga proper too. Little did I knew how steep my learning curve would be – it’s like constant information overload for every single day and I felt I stressed that I don’t have time to digest the things I learned – be it the sequence, the poses, the Sanskrit words that we have to memorize, and the yoga philosophy – it felt overwhelming at first but subsequently, I think we managed to keep up with the tempo of the YTT schedule and find that right momentum to keep going. I always thought that Yoga is all about sequences and poses, but I realized there is more to practical work – the philosophy parts are equally important as well, which is something that isn’t taught in most places where I practiced Yoga.

With YTT – there were a few lifestyle habits that I had to force myself to change – for example, I started to eat breakfast (because Ashtanga Yoga is really intense for a morning session), also started to sleep earlier as I’m a night owl – I tend to sleep at 2-3 am, started to appreciate a routine lifestyle as previously my university life was literally all over the place – I don’t have a consistent schedule. As someone who craves stability, having a routine lifestyle was great, and slowly I began to enjoy it. I love that every morning I get to eat, read my news, see the sunrise from my bedroom, and get ready to go to the studio for the practical. It is something I will keep up after the YTT ends, and I like this new discovery of myself.

I also appreciate the morning philosophy sessions + mental exercises with Master Sree, I found that many yoga philosophies are aligned with what I knew from my religion (Buddhism), and there were things I felt I need to hear and remind myself again before I embark on a new journey – at my mid-20s where the world is changing rapidly, I need to keep myself in check and realign my life goals and principles – what truly matters to me and how do I keep myself grounded in this world? What are the values and principles that I should anchor myself with for the upcoming changes in my own personal life; what bad habits should I continue to work on – and what I need to learn to let go of.

It’s been a very tiring 10 days, and I wish I had more time to digest the things I have learned, however, this YTT opened my eyes to new perspectives that I never thought of and forgotten about, and indeed is a journey of rediscovering myself, and really grateful to be working on my spiritual awareness at the same time.

 

 

Yoga and me

The first time I went to a yoga studio, I was mainly in a search of a well-being. Quite quickly, I found out that the more I was doing yoga the more I was becoming aware of my body. Very quickly my mind followed, yoga allowed me to feel better in my body but also in my mind, it was like I was also breathing from my mind.This calm, this piece of mind yoga was giving me at that moment was exactly was I was looking for. I decided to practice yoga more regularly.

When my body was in motion, I was focusing more on the present, forgetting about my stressful life, my stressful job. My mind was completely connected to my body finding a balance as I was breathing and getting into the postures, one after the other, forgetting about the past and the future just to cease and enjoy that moment, my moment on the mat.

The more I was progressing on the mat, the less stressful I was feeling, I could really say that the level of stress I had in me dropped considerably. I was feeling so good, much more calm, more energized, yoga was helping me feel stronger in my positiveness. All the benefits that my body was getting through the physical practices were leading to some benefits on my mind and obviously yoga gave me back a better quality of life. From that moment I knew it will be a long life journey, a continuous learning and an infinite discovery and I am happy to say that I am just at the beginning of it.

Every day I am so excited to learn, to practice, to practice more, to find the beautiful strength I can have in me and to be more confident on the mat. I am not looking for perfection and I don’t want to go over my limits. I just want to take it step by step, at my pace. In my opinion, I don’t think you should force yourself, yoga can become a constraint and not to mention the risk of injury especially for those who do not have regular physical activity. The best way to do yoga for me is to always find peace and happiness when you are on your mat!