Yoga Methods...Tsk Tsk Mister Terry Laughlin!
Okay . . . the thread title is meant to be facetious, but though I am half joking with it, I am also addressing what I believe to be a legitimate query.
I was reading Terry's New Year's Resolution as it pertained to doing Yoga on a regular basis. I am also doing something similar. I am marking my calendar in an attempt to do Yoga on a regular basis.
What has been a bother to me is that I believe that I am pursuing Yoga in the same way that I pursued swimming for many years. In a robotic, mindless fashion with very vague goals. I believe that perhaps Terry might be doing the same thing with Yoga as well. I say this because I bet Terry never once had to mark his Calendar with an S to remind himself to do swimming on a regular basis, but yet needs to do so with Yoga.
What I wish for is a more thoughtful, TI approach to Yoga and there isn't. There are various opinions on the value and purpose of Yoga, as well as the best methods. Some people believe in doing Yoga 2 hours a day, some believe in 10 minutes a day. Some people believe in holding a pose for 20 seconds, some believe in 2 minutes or longer. Also . . . some people believe that flexibility is the main goal, some people believe that spiritual elevation is the main goal. The question should also be asked if there is such a thing as too much flexibility!
I am going to add various ideas to this thread over time as I focus on Yoga, but I would like to encourage others, as well as Terry, to contribute their thoughts.
This reminds me of the fact that Bill Boomer, who never had even seen a Swim Meet when he began Coaching, was the one to come up with so many revolutionary ideas as it pertained to swimming. Yoga is steeped in tradition, but maybe that's part of the problem. Perhaps an outsider is needed to examine it and look at it from a different position....Pun intended!
I want to finish for now by saying that even though this is a Swimming Forum, there is a strong associating between Swimming & Yoga. Both have a Fountain of Youth aspect to them and I believe that many of the swimmers on this Forum pursue it as a secondary activity.
I want to encourage Terry to think about his Yoga practice in a deeper way. If you're at the level now where you can touch your toes, what value will it be if at the end of the year you still can only reach to your toes? .....Perhaps the same as the Robotic Lap Swimmer who swims 20 minutes a day, feels good about it, but is no faster or efficient at year's end...In my opinion, the robotic lap swimmer does gain benefit, but they are limiting what they can get from swimming unless they had a more thoughtful approach...
Perhaps the same thing can be said with Yoga....Terry, I bet if you could see consistent Kaizan-type of improvement in your Yoga practice, then you wouldn't need to remind yourself to do it....You'd be motivated and excited enough by the consistent improvement where it would become natural to do everyday. I'm sure this thread is causing you to pause and wonder. If one of the great values of the TI approach is to be able to apply it to other aspects of life, then Yoga is the most obvious pursuit in which it is needed!
The aim of Yoga is spiritual liberation, and things like physical health, emotional stability, etc, are by-products. So, in a way, anyone can use yoga in any way they want.
I don't know much about Terry's yoga practice, but I was a bit surprised once when I read a blog post about it, saying that he used to practice Iyengar yoga (a methodology that puts great emphasis on alignment, awaress, sequence, timing, etc) but he decided to start practicing a more fast paced method of yoga (can't remember if he mentioned a specific methodology) because he saw it as more advanced and more similar do swimming. What surprised me wasn't him chosing to practice another yoga methodology but the explanation for it. did. To me it seemed like Terry was approaching yoga in the complete opposite way he approached swimming - considering alignment, detail, etc, more basic then "movement" or "action", without taking into account the concept which I believe separates TI from other methods of swimming: awareness (either in "stillness" or in "action").
But then I remembered that Terry lives for swimming :) He seems to consider swimming his main source of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy, so a less polished approach to yoga seems pretty normal.
Actually, it would be pretty normal for any person anyway. I's say the first couple of years of personal yoga practice are like "donkey's work" - you just work hard (this is considering you have some sort of orientation, like a good teacher) And then awareness, orientation, intelligence, start to come. Or they may not come. It may come earlier or later. Yoga is a subjective science.
Believing that, I'd say the most important thing to start a personal practice is having a good teacher, and have perserverance and discipline in personal practice. And from there, it will happen what has to happen :)
Caronis and Luisa
Thanks for your thought-provoking comments and questions. WRT Iyengar as compared to vinyasa-style yoga. I don't believe my early experience in yoga was with pure Iyengar classes -- i.e. led by an Iyengar-certified instructor. Rather they were Iyengar inspired or influenced -- at least as far as my imperfect understanding of Iyengar goes. By that I mean we held many poses for 5 to 10 breaths.
I didn't understand the distinction at the time, but as I gained experience and was exposed to other styles of yoga I came to appreciate my good fortune in starting there. The main benefit as I saw it was that this style allowed my to patiently familiarize myself with each pose, understand its challenges and learn that refinement opportunities are almost limitless.
I started TI in 1989 and began practicing yoga around 1992 or 1993. Before long my experiences with yoga began to have a transforming influence on how I taught and practiced swimming:
1) As I understood that the three main elements in yoga practice were (i) the poses, (ii) breathing and (iii) mindfulness, I saw that the same three elements could become central to swimming practice. And when those are the central elements, swimming is transformed from exercise to a movement art.
2) I also understood that it was possible to 'break apart' the freestyle stroke (or any other stroke for that matter) into a series of consequential moments -- the Skating position for instance. And that we could examine, understand and refine each of those moments by creating a drill dedicated to doing so. In other words an Iyengar approach to swimming skill development. Swimming whole stroke would then become a vinyasa approach to swimming skill practice.
How am I practicing now? I do 90% or more like Iyengar, holding poses for 10 to 20 or more breaths. About 10% I move on the breath, mostly variations on Sun Salutation.
I still record on my calendar how many minutes of practice I do. This doesn't render those minutes any less mindful or meaningful. I do it because it lets me see in a glimpse by looking at a calendar page how many consecutive days I've practiced and to calculate at the end of the month how many days and average minutes per day I've done. I do the same with swimming.
In Feb, for instance, I swam on 17 days for an avg of 50 min. I practiced yoga for 27 days (missed only one!) for an average of 31 minutes. If you follow my swimming practice, you know I like to measure and document things. It's an extrinsic reward that has helped stoke my intrinsic motivation.
It's also because I'm a goal-oriented person and know that goals work best when they are SMART
My goal for Feb was to practice yoga at least 5 days of 7 and to average 30 minutes. Goal Met.
My goal for Mar is to practice at least 5 days of 7 (I practiced 9 days of the first 10, missing only Mar 3, the day my father died) and to raise my average to 35 minutes.
The important thing is that, after 70-odd days, yoga has become a habit. Which was the main goal.
Iyengar also teaches sun salutations ;)
No, Iyengar is not staying in the poses for 5 or 10 breaths... but I guess this is not the place for it :)
But I do feel that when beginning a yoga practice, you should have that approach - SMART.
It takes a few years of personal practice - how many its impossible to say, its subjective - to move past the "gross" dimension of yoga. Now, moving past it is a "jump" that should happen at some point, but at the beginning I believe the most effective approach is one like yours. It creates discipline, educates the body and the mind.
Hey Caronis, I also wish for a more thoughtful approach to yoga by everyone, but you can't jump steps :) If Terry is now only starting a regular personal practice, then he is where he is. He can't know more than what his experience allows him to know. If in, let's say, 3 or 4 years of regular personal practice, NO transformation has taken place, then maybe he should change the approach.
Now what really is sad is that the word "yoga" as became so "relative" that people think they know what it is, even without any experience on it. Anyone can call himself a yoga teacher, and students don't seem to be to interested in really inform themselves, or study, to see if the "idea" of yoga they're being "sold" is legit.
I cannot but help take the TI mindset into anything I want to learn now.
I wanted to get just a first taste of some yoga in order to create a portable form of mindful training while landlocked (if I am ill or in a hotel room, for instance). Upon talking with TI Coach Tomas from Czech Rep who practices ashtanga I picked up a video so I could observe the ideas and experiment in on my own time. I have had the video for a year now and since I only occasionally make time to do it I have not watched past the first 5 minutes because I don't want to get overwhelmed with more until I have the first concept down well! Crazy, huh? I could explore Sun Salutation for a few years I think!
And I have also acquired an appreciation for aikido and have attended a couple classes. My practicing friend teaches me little things when we are together and then I chew on them for a while. In the first class I visited the sensei (he seems to be a stellar guy and is reported to be excellent 2nd degree BB sensei) led us through a range of stretches and simple moves that I was overwhelmed like any student in our workshops! I could have taken the entire class just to practice the kneeling walk or the tumble without stumbling each time! And that is what I wanted to do- I wanted to stop him after 5 minutes and take 15 to work on just that one concept. But that is not how the class worked.
I find myself wanting to approach both of these with slow, methodical examination. I found that I was a bit overwhelmed with the way the aikido class was taught, but my friend explained the reasoning of this and I see the possible sense of it. I wanted to break it down the TI way. It makes me want to experiment further to grasp the advantages of that approach - perhaps it makes sense to practice a 'martial' art in this way.
But the main thing that I recognized in myself was that I am reluctant to do either of these until I know I can and will devote some decent level of regular attention to train for these basic skills. They deserve it, just like our swimming does. If I climbed, or did aikido or yoga like I work on my TI skills I'd have something to show for it there too. Swimming takes the best (just about all) of my available training time. So these land-based interests are waiting for any excuse that keeps me out of the water long enough so I can devote myself to one of them with appropriate amount of frequency and consistency.
PS- there is no doubt that learning from a skilled instructor is the way to go in these practices. I would need a yoga instructor to explain the WHYs for me on a lot of things. From that aikido class I know now what our wet students must feel like. I am even more compassionate now for their newby situation.
Thanks for the response, Terry....I was hoping you would chime in on this thread. It took awhile for your response and I thought you had said sometime in January that you had a goal of 10 minutes of yoga a day. I'd like to think that this thread caused you to think more deeply about your yoga practice and that it caused you to up the amount of time to 30 minutes a day because of it.
I was getting into Yoga more deeply, but I fizzled out in the last few weeks. I had a couple of minor health conditions (swimmer's ear, poison oak) that kept me out of the pool for a while, and I ended up getting demoralized and eventually stopped even doing just the Yoga.
I'm now getting back into the pool and feeling reinvigorated. Swimming does more for my spiritual well-being than Yoga does. That may be an ironic statement considering that Yoga places great emphasis on the spiritual aspect, but I'm sure many of you probably feel the same way.
I am going to get back into Yoga, but I have to de-emphasize it's priority and importance and I'll try to explain why....With swimming, I can jump back into the pool after a layoff, feel good, and not feel that I've lost too much ground (so to speak)....With Yoga, after a layoff, I feel like I'm starting all over from scratch and that I'm stiff as a board....I find that very frustrating on a spiritual level! I find myself, nowadays, to not be a fan of any activity that requires a high level of maintenance.
I will do Yoga again, but I think what I want to do is treat it almost the way that I have treated weightlifting. Instead of everyday for 5 minutes, perhaps 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes. This way I give myself a break from doing it everyday, but I still put in enough time to make an impact....To tell you the truth, I am not sure what actual difference it would make for me if I did it everyday, or every other day. This is a big part of the frustration I have expressed in my previous post. There is no consensus whatsoever. Generally, Yogis have a philosophy of the more the better and this is unacceptable to me. I would be willing to put in 2 hours a day if the benefits and results were much greater, but there is no evidence of this. In fact, there is no evidence of the great benefits derived from great flexibility. If I pushed myself to do the splits, what is the relevance of this?? There is just a brain-dead assumption that the more flexibility, the better.
There is this Russian Guy by the name of Pavel Tsatsouline who has written books on stretching and flexibility. Now granted, this is not exactly the same as Yoga, but I appreciate that his emphasis is on the physical aspect rather than the puzzling spiritual aspects of yoga. He has some interesting opinions that I'd like to share. He says that research suggests that the amount of flexibility necessary is only slightly beyond what your sport requires. In fact, too much flexibility can be a negative factor. He mentions a famous martial artist that went beyond the 180 degrees of a regular split and found that when he kicked, his legs did not retract back quickly the way they had done before.
Pavel also says that over-stretching is dangerous because you can damage your ligaments and tendons.
He also says that it's a myth that when you increase your flexibility that you lengthen the muscle. He claims that what keeps us inflexible is within the brain, not within the muscle. I wish I could find the scientific term he uses, but that essentially your brain has to feel confident that it can get into a flexible position without injury.
Oh...and also, he doesn't believe that static stretching is the best way to get flexible. He believes in the contract-relax method. Essentially tensing the muscles, then relaxing, as being way more effective in developing flexibility.
I'm not saying I necessarily agree with his viewpoints, but what he does is espouse a different opinion and make you think more deeply about flexibility (or yoga).
I suppose that where I"m at lately, is that I want to get back to the Less is More philosophy with yoga, rather than the More is Better philosophy. I just don't like Yoga enough to want to do it 5-10 hours a week, and I am not seeing the value of it clearly enough in a couple of ways. Firstly, if I do Yoga 10 hours a week, will I become more flexible than if I did it 20 minutes a day, and secondly, what value does this increased flexibility really have??
It is very frustrating because Yoga suffers from its mystique. It's been around for thousands of years, yet it is so poorly researched and truly understood. I appreciate what Terry said about the acronym S.M.A.R.T....I am also one who wants to see actual, measurable, relevant progress, but it is a bit of a conundrum. You can have a goal of doing the splits, but it may be very tricky defining the relevance of this....and it may also be that your own body wasn't designed to be as flexible as someone else's based on bone structure, ligaments, etc.
The last thing I want to say regarding Yoga as a vehicle for greater flexibility is this. I am motivated to develop my flexibility, but feel very strongly that once I've gotten to a flexible point that seems right for me, I want it to be easily maintained. I don't want to feel that I have to do Yoga everyday for 30 minutes for the rest of my life. I would rather feel that I can choose from a very few poses and do Yoga like 5 minutes, 3x a week, and maintain nearly all that I have gained.
My true goals for yoga were (i) to learn to enjoy practicing solo, overcoming my feeling that I needed a teacher and class to have the discipline to practice, and (ii) to feel better as a result of practice.
Having achieved the first and feeling on the way to the second, I don't presently have any 'performance' goals in yoga. E.G. To put my nose to my knee in the 1-legged forward bend (don't know the sanskrit name for this). I did make this a goal for my 50th birthday and achieved it. But now I'm happy to accept whatever comes.
And what seems to be coming is small but satisfying progress. The most noteworthy is that my one-legged balance has become far steadier, as a result of doing 5 poses nearly every day that involve this. I often do them facing the rising sun in the morning, or the setting sun in the evening.
This is a highly valuable health-oriented goal since gerontologists say that working to maintain balance after age 60 is critical to healthy aging. Many people lose their sense of balance and falls - leading to broken hips - are one of the leading threats to well-being in the aged. Not that I'm anywhere near that, but I do intend to continue with this practice for the rest of my life.
I tend to think that your approach is probably for the better. What I think happens in Yoga when there are 'performance' goals is that the emphasis tends to be more on touching your nose to the knee, rather than feeling that deep stretch in the muscle. Feeling the stretch is really where the benefits are. I think when people are trying to hit benchmarks, they tend to lose good form in order to achieve a concrete result...It is hard because many of us like the sense of achievement that comes from reaching a concrete goal.
I think I have to accept a certain level of vagueness within Yoga.
I'm also with you on incorporating balance poses. It's hard to know how much is enough, but I'm guessing that 5 minutes of balancing with full concentration is better than 30 minutes of balancing with a wandering mind.
I think with balancing, other than the prevention of falls, there must be other benefits that are difficult to know and hard to measure. Perhaps the brain functions differently when a person's balance is well-developed, but it's hard to know. It reminds me of a saying I once heard a person say; that in essence they don't know how electricity works, but they know how to use it.
I think well-developed balance does something very positive to muscular and athletic development. It's like the difference between a bodybuilder and a gymnast. The bodybuilder may have larger and stronger muscles, but the gymnast has not only strength, but incredible control and athleticism. It's as though muscles develop in a very efficient, symmetrical manner.
One thing that I have found very inspiring in swimming is the feedback the water gives. I may be a little out on left field on this, but I think that when we become more efficient and hydrodynamical as swimmers, we are positioning our bodies in the most healthy postures and movement. Something that is much harder to get as feedback while doing Yoga.
I have this other theory regarding swimming that may also be out there, but I tend to believe that when we learn to be hydrodynamical in the water, the muscles develop in a very aesthetic manner. Swimmers tend to have shapely physiques. More so than runners and cyclists in my opinion.
My main reason for doing balance poses nearly every day is the great calm I feel when breathing deeply and holding stable on one leg in a variety of positions which make that challenging. The balance portion of my practice usually lasts 10 minutes or so. I try to hold for 12 to 15 breaths on each leg in each pose.
I also like it because of where I put my gaze. Yoga teachers advise us to focus on something that isn't moving. I gaze out my front window at either Bonticou Crag or Skytops -- two well known features on the Shawangunk Ridge.
Geologists say neither has moved in 270 million years.
That is I believe our dilemma as 'Westerners': we know everything on an outer, physical level but our knowledge, experience and insight in spirituality is very limited, if not to say equals Zero. Kind of baby like. This is even more surprising when you consider that spirituality has to do with our mind, and our mind is always with us. But still we don't have a clue about it. At the most we think that our mind is our thoughts and emotions, although it doesn't take too much analysis to find out that this cannot be the case.
I don't know much about Yoga, just started it a while ago, and also agree with Luisa that the 'success' with it highly depends on the quality of the teacher - at least I understood her in this way. I find it quite amusing that there are people who offer 'improved' versions of Yoga. I don't think that any of us has the insight, knowledge and wisdom to improve Yoga, but some of us surely have the ability to improve physical exercises to better fit them for a specific purpose. But at that point it is not Yoga anymore.
I don't see any spirituality in swimming. Swimming means moving your body in the water in such a way that you don't drown but move forward. That's it.
Yes, you can approach it in a very mindful way, and any activity where we are not distracted and are aware what we are doing is a spiritual practice, indeed. This approach we could apply to virtually anything, driving our car, cleaning the house, etc.
Nevertheless, swimming here has a big advantage: since it puts us in a potentially dangerous situation in the water, we need a certain amount of awareness to start with. When we want to improve, we need all our attention and focus to keep all those various body parts moving in the way we want. So in a way swimming is ideal to practice awareness and mindfulness, and if that is the only 'spiritual practice' we engage in it still is far better then doing none. And then we might find ourselves in a 'flow state'.
I googled 'flow state' a while ago and found explanations from this Hungarian psychologist who's name you can only pronounce when you forget how it is written. It find it interesting that the description of a flow state deals to a large extend with it's outer circumstances and how it comes about, but there is no description of the real interesting part: what exactly happens in the mind in a flow state?
From a spiritual point of view flow states are by-products, like Luisa said about the physical health in Yoga. In both cases focusing on the by-product means missing the point.
Anyway, just my personal opinion, so everybody is free to have another one, of course ;-)
hang on in there and keep swimming mindfully ...
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