Iron WorkAs you have decided to take action through your own volition to advance your abilities and transformation potential in human form, it is important to solidify the basic concepts that few elucidate about the basics of the yoga meditation atmosphere. What follows is an explanation of these, as well as further metaphorical description of the arc of the yoga interval as it pertains to metals in elemental form.

The yoga space is a space of mutual respect, no judgment or criticism, and equality amongst all of humanity. Silence is the atmosphere, and inward communication is preferred.

A greater importance is put on the meditation that one is striving for during the interval. With the very first breath and movement, it is the beginning step toward meditation.

You are nothing, thoughts are not welcome; walking into the room, your brain is a blank slate except to compute your biomechanics as an automatic background task; this mental simplicity opens the ability to connect with the stream of information rushing into our minds from the matter around us that is often blocked by thought.

The asana aspect of yoga is purely for overcoming physical challenges. The poses are intentionally designed to pose a challenge that is felt as positive stress with a blank slate mind. Relaxing momentarily from this stress prepares one for meditation. The true strengthening is of the mind, with the added bonus of strengthening the body.

I strongly advise on learning to be independent of the crutch senses and relying less on ordinary physical senses. In developing a higher sense that is outside of the normal five senses, feeling will become a direct information pathway, outside of seeing and hearing primarily, and also of touch, smell, and taste. Seeing is the typical biggest crutch sense, hearing is the second. The five senses are what leads the mind to thought, and intellectual processes, thoughts, are the enemy of meditation.

A yoga interval is simply an accumulation of stresses and releases to move one through the phases, beginning with the hard metals phase, through softer metals, and ending up in the liquid state, where one is ready for the meditation that defines the entire interval. Outside of metals, the ultimate liquid state of being would be Water. Transcending the molecular complexity of metals and entering the simplicity of two hydrogen atoms joined with one oxygen atom, one is free of the weight of all metal states. Yet, consider that hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant element on earth, when under enough pressure becomes a metal.

Now here’s the kicker: when I spoke about the yoga space, and walking into the room, where is the room? Herein lies the problem because there isn’t any room, any space. In yoga, it is not where you are or when you are, it just is—or it isn’t.

 

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Bulletproof Yoga

April 21, 2014

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Have you experienced nirvana? If not, I’m sorry to hear that, but the following short entry may help. If you have not, you may find it consoling to hear that it is only entirely your own fault.
Welcome to Bulletproof Yoga. I’m not referring to making you bulletproof in any way. I am describing a method of delivering yoga to others in a way so that nobody leaves feeling that they missed the point. It begins by my unmistakable delivery of yoga to you, through my words, and continues on indefinitely as you deliver these concepts upon yourself through movement, concentration, effortlessness, stillness, and the absence of thought.
Let me begin by stating (once again) that there is nothing in my solitary practice that ever left me looking for more. This means I have no desire to attend a yoga class anywhere, and although I am constantly being asked to teach yoga, I have no desire to teach in a class or group setting. This may change in the future, but only if a situation would arise where ego cannot be found in my intentions.

I’ve just completed a 65 minute sound file that can be used during your full yoga practice if desired, based on the previous 30 minute Theta wave binaural entrainment file that I created for relaxation at any time. You can stream the file here, or download the file for your personal use. The binaural and audible tones move through the frequencies attributed to the chakra points from root to crown over the length of the program material.

Let’s jump right in with the most difficult, the absence of thought. If with your first figurative step and your first actual inhalation you can stop all thought that comes from you, halt the mind, all else will be easy. Even in difficult physical movements under the banner of yoga, the mind will be your biggest obstacle. This leaving behind of all mind activity is the impossible for some, a great challenge for most, but everyone can do it nonetheless. Your mind is your greatest enemy, it is what will be the root of your undoing, and it is also where your idea of who you are is seated. Who you are is nothing. What you think is so high and mighty and amazing about anything you pin on your chest is just another dark spot on your being; any self-describing character trait that shines like the bright lights of vanity in the mirror of morals and virtues is actually the most disgusting thing about you that you could do well to lose quickly. When you are nothing, you are pure beauty. Only then do you become loving, and with that you can radiate unconditionally for all and everything like you did before your mind learned how to be deceptive, conniving, selfish, guarded and emotionless, conceited, and unable to see without the filters of “my world only” through dead eyes.
With these concepts you can breathe slowly in and out, aiming for 4-7 seconds for each. Eyes closed, or open if you are able to ignore visual distraction, with silent privacy or on a busy street, it won’t matter when your mind is appropriately calibrated to stop all inner thought. Here you will stay for a matter of minutes, up to about ten, breathing and not thinking, hopefully learning to be newly amazed and appalled at who you find you were up until just now, losing all identification with the ridiculousness of descriptions like “retailer”, “manager”, “CEO”, “athlete”, “businessman”, “entrepreneur”, “salesman”, “vegan”, “writer”, “creative”, “doctor”, “teacher”, “pilot”, “mother”, “husband”, or any other foolish word that is attached to who or what you may think you are. From here on out, you are nothing.
If you are familiar with yoga sitting poses and use a mat, do this while attempting to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible in what is called Lotus. The reason this is important is because your goal is to become the “lotus floating in the pond”. If you’ve never heard this before, it is a very powerful concept that cannot be overlooked. By beginning here, you still the mind like a lotus flower gently floating atop the stillest pond you can imagine, with a still air, but not a freeze frame like pausing a movie; you are in the living universe that is extremely calm and still, so much so that it may give the illusion that nothing is moving but you are moving with the movement of living and with your slow breathing only. By sitting with your legs apart like longish and slightly full petals in Lotus Position, you resemble that lotus flower, and seated on a flat surface you are floating on that unmoving water that delicately holds you up with its surface tension. Your spine moves gently into a straighter and more erect and comfortable posture with each breath, until eventually little by little you do finally become that lotus, perfectly still, effortless, in one short moment of extreme joy in being that an eternity has just come across you, not from within but by tapping into the “thoughts” of the cosmos beyond the confines of time and space once you got your horrible, petty, worthless mind-thoughts to stop, vacate, and make room for nirvana, where you can know without question that “the jewel is in the lotus”.
Quick enlightenment checklist:
1. Do you feel an overwhelming love and compassion not only for all living beings that you have encountered in your life with a personality you can perceive, but also for all those you have not met as well as every atom and particle that vibrates to the living frequencies of reality in you, around you, and furthest away from you? If the answer is no, I’m sorry to say you are not ready and have missed something very big in your ten minutes of alone time. Work on that.
2. Do you smile so openly and wide with joy deep from within your being that not only is your face clearly smiling, but so is every cell in your body as it functions in its daily living tasks? If the answer is no, then I’m sorry to say you are not ready and seem to have missed something very critical about what it means to be a human on this planet striving to understand the meaning of life. Once again, work on that.
3. Are you still having thoughts that come from your mind, things relating to you, your memories, your experiences from the past, material ambitions, socio-political goals, etc.? Sorry, try again!
4. Have you quieted your mind to the point that you’ve noticed something different and are amazed at what is happening because your mind is being flooded with experiences that are clearly not your own (that your mind can tell) and the grand truths of unknown intelligence have graced you for either a millisecond or a lifetime or more, and you’ve been disassociated from your physical body in any way? If the answer is no, try harder to work on yourself. Only you are standing in your own way, and anyone can do it without any outside assistance. The key is in your pocket, you just have to get it yourself.
5. Are you able to differentiate from your mind that distracts you by having useless conscious thoughts about yourself, your body that is a biomechanical vessel housing your blood, organs, and flesh, and your emotions that have nothing to do with your mind and body unless you mistakenly entangle all three into a knotted mess that sets you up for unlimited suffering and personal turmoil? If the answer is no, try harder next time, but always be effortless!
6. If you state the six words, “The joyful participation in life’s sorrows”, and feel you can answer all of the above 5 questions correctly, then I no longer need to speak or write on the subject.

Next I will continue by going into asanas that will deliver you to your final pose, savasana. But for now you can go and get into Lotus and reread this post while actually doing it. For help with Lotus, feel free to search it on YouTube, there are plenty of extremely fit women eager to explain it in thorough detail, along with just about any other yoga mat acrobatics. Please remember that I am nothing.

The heat of the summer is finally upon us, and with this we are forced to wear less clothing in public. This is a good opportunity to feel good about your midsection when at the beach or picnicking in your bathing suit. If you’ve been eating properly and exercising regularly week to week as explained in Part I of this entry, your abdominals should look great or be well on their way to looking amazing, a model of health. If this is not the case, you know exactly why and what habits to cut out of your routine. I will begin to introduce some yoga poses and movements that specifically target the abdominals to build strength, stamina, and endurance to the midsection and surrounding areas. I recommend including one or two of these movements into your regular asana practice and putting them in rotation so you can experience all of these movements within a week and start the cycle again. I don’t recommend only doing these movements and no others as you will gain more benefit from engaging the entire body and including these to target the midsection rather than engaging the whole body and excluding these.

I am a big fan of the Side Plank Pose. Others may know this movement as the Iron Cross. The reason this pose is so powerful is that it challenges your balance, your ability to hold up your own weight on one arm at a time, and it targets the external obliques where things like muffin tops can form. It is classified as a basic one arm balance pose, so if you can’t do it, don’t be discouraged and keep trying; each time you revisit the pose, the body will have adapted and it will become easier with subsequent attempts.

Side Plank

Illustrations by Sharon Ellis 

Like most yoga poses that seem difficult at first, holding this position becomes easy when you find the neutral alignment of the spine and legs with the effortless structural support afforded by the arm position against gravity. If you enter this pose without the notion of struggling, you should naturally arrive at a pretty close approximation of how to hold this pose with minimal effort and therefore the least strain on maintaining balance. This exemplifies the simplicity of the pose, yet the difficulty of achieving it. Breathing can be deep in this pose, but this runs the risk of destabilization. Also, the use of abdominal and thoracic musculature in stabilization of this pose makes deep breathing difficult in side plank. By finding the efficiency afforded in neutral alignment from shoulders through spine, hips, and legs, minimum effort can be combined with minimum breathing that is not too shallow in order to provide the muscles with enough oxygen to hold the pose.

Great, but how do you get in and out of the pose? This is a challenge in itself! I recommend starting in a pushup position. Looking at the diagram above, imagine rotating the body so the chest is facing the floor and both arms are now on the ground holding you up. This moment is crucial, because just as the above illustration shows a neutral efficient position with minimal stress in any one specific location, so must the pushup position start in a neutral position where both arms hold up the body and the biomechanics of the skeletal system against gravity essentially hold you up effortlessly. This pushup position is called Plank Pose. So, to get into Side Plank, we momentarily start in Plank.

But what of the feet? This is another crucial point that must be explained or will cause problems. In an ordinary pushup position, your feet are hip-width apart, and this is where we start. Once you are balancing efficiently in Plank Pose with your spine down to your ankles in a straight line, begin to rotate the body to one side while lifting the opposite arm off the ground. Your feet will naturally rotate and your heels will fall to the side while your feet are still apart, and this will help stabilize you as you get fully to one side and lift one arm straight up to the sky. Once you are successfully in Side Plank Pose in an efficiently balancing neutral position, you can place one foot directly over the other as in the illustration. To complete the pose, turn your head in the direction on the lifted arm as shown.

Because I tend to challenge myself further, I like to add motion to the pose by slightly dropping the hips a few inches, carefully stretching the side that faces the floor while slightly contracting the side facing the sky. Then I bring my hips back up to a neutral position and symmetrically lift the hips a few inches, stretching the side that faces the sky, while contracting the side facing the floor. Do this while breathing smoothly and as deeply as balancing will allow. Then, drop into pushup position and balance on the other side, using the arm that was reaching up to hold up your weight, and repeat the hip dropping and lifting movements while breathing smoothly and deeply. You’ll know when you’ve had enough, and when it’s too much you just might fall out of the pose.

Boat Pose

My next favorite pose that sums up much of what yoga asana is all about and is great for targeting the abdominals is called Boat Pose. This one is particularly difficult for me because my legs are quite long in relation to my torso, and those of you with shorter legs and longer torsos may find this pose easier to some degree, so you can push yourself harder and get better results!

To perform Boat Pose, you will have to start by lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides. Breathe in smoothly and deeply for a few breaths while relaxing physically as much as possible and preparing mentally for exerting large amounts of tension for a short time. These two extremes of going from intense relaxation to controlled extreme physical tension is the essence of yoga asana, and swinging back and forth like a pendulum enables you to reach new, previously unexperienced realms of both extremes. Because yoga asana can be so intentionally strenuous and extremely relaxing, done regularly it can restore health and synergy to the human body where it may be lacking through dysfunction, revitalizing and renewing to a state of youthful strength and appearance.

Still lying flat on the ground and ready to exhale, the only place the body should now bend is at the hips. Keeping the spine straight and erect, slowly start to fold in the middle by evenly bringing your torso up off the ground and bringing your legs up at an equivalent angle. In the meantime, keep your arms in front of you and parallel to the ground. Once you are feeling secure in your balance and are aware that you are continuing to breathe without interruption, take this pose to the next level where you will reap all the benefits of abdominal strength and toning: tense up your abdominals as much as you can while making tight fists with your hands, tighten and tense up the muscles in your legs, and keep a steady breath. Become metal, become steel in this pose, and just as you previously relaxed and prepared for extreme tension, breathe and prepare for extreme relaxation as you are putting yourself into the most tense expression of your body in this position. It is not necessary to express any tension in the face, and it is not recommended to create or express extreme tension in the face, so be aware if you do this involuntarily, and learn to separate the two; expressions of extreme tension need not be expressed in the face at any time in any yoga pose, and throughout this focus and concentration you can carry this practice into other aspects of your life. When you’ve had enough, slowly come down evenly and return to the original lying position, and feel the new depths of relaxation you are able to achieve with the next few breaths. Prepare again and repeat, preferably for a total of 3 to 4 repetitions.

Shoulder Stand

Shoulder Stand is another pose that although is not directly targeting your abdominals like these previous poses, it uses the abdominals and back muscles together to stabilize the body in an inverted posture. The reason I am including it in this entry is that it activates the thyroid in the chin lock position and will push your metabolism forward out of a slump so you can burn extra unwanted fat in the body. The illustration below shows an unsupported version of the Shoulder Stand, but to begin doing this pose you will want to support your back with your hands, and therefore your legs can reach higher straight up, lengthening and standing tall while upside-down. Keep in mind that this pose is not called Neck Stand. Because the entire static weight of the body is resting in the muscles that raise, lower, and rotate the scapulae, these muscles need to be strong enough to support that weight, otherwise the cervical spine will be subject to what the shoulders cannot handle. A related pose is Plow Pose, and it has similar chin-lock benefits with added stretching of the spine extensors. Often, I will first attempt Plow Pose before Shoulder Stand, and in that order Shoulder Stand is both a relief and seemingly easier to endure.

To get into this position, you will start by lying flat on the ground on your back, and with an exhale bring your legs up by bending only at the hips. Now that your two halves of your body are at a 90 degree angle, with your arms at your sides slowly lift your pelvis off the floor and begin to bend your arms at your elbows to bring your hands to the small of your back for support. Continue lifting the pelvis until the hips straighten out once more and the only angle now is the one between your neck and torso at the shoulders. Your chin should press firmly against your sternum as you reach high with your feet and support your back tightly by reaching for the thoracic spine in the middle of your back. Breathe smoothly and deeply while pulling in the navel and activating the gluteal muscles. You should begin to feel the heat that this pose generates rather quickly, and before you come down out of the pose you can expect to be covered in sweat.

 There is a very effective isolation exercise called Prone Iso-Ab, in which you are in pushup position but instead of being on your hands, you are on your elbows so you are lower to the ground, creating a lesser angle with the ground and therefore more stress for the abdominals. The yoga asana that resembles this is called Dolphin Plank Pose, and it is essentially the same movement for the same purpose. Above is an illustration showing a similar pose, called Chaturanga Dandasana, creating the lesser angle not by being on the elbows but by remaining on the hands and lowering oneself down to this abdominal stress position. This pose is really just Plank Pose lowered down, and is actually called Four-Limbed Stick Pose, so you are transforming from a plank to a stick. Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 20 breaths at a time, finding first minimal effort to maintain the position without weakness. Then, just as in Boat Pose, attempt to ramp up the tension to become stiffer, most like a stick, and petrify yourself while keeping the abdominals in mind before you relax out of the pose momentarily, lie down, and begin a again.
Belly Twist

Finally, the Belly Twist, or Jathara Parivrtti, is a great way to end your abdominal stressor movements to tighten, shape, and tone that midsection. With the body supported by the floor and the main action provided by gravity, breathing method becomes very important to achieve specific effects. By choosing how to direct the breath, either to the abdomen or the thoracic structures as in mula bandha, extraneous muscle tension can be released from the lumbar region or the costovertebral joints. The twist although is in fact for the belly, the lumbar spine does not twist as it is extremely limited in axial rotation (5 degrees total!) A neutral spine must be maintained, meaning without lumbar flexion for example. Lumbar flexion during the rotation would put pressure on the lumbar vertebrae and discs, particularly loading the T11-T12 disc. Furthermore, spine extension would lift the far shoulder off the floor, compressing the brachial plexus, often resulting in a numbness or tingling sensation in the arm.

Belly Twist  Legs ExtendedWhen doing this Belly Twist with legs extended, there is more adduction of the top leg which can lead to more internal rotation, lengthening the iliotibial band, along with good stretches of the gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus, the piriformis, gemelli, and obturator internus.
Although it is true that this is not a complete and definitive list, it is enough to get one started, particularly at an easy level where most need to begin to sculpt and strengthen the midsection, which includes the spine. With the dietary guidelines from the previous post that tell you how to eat and not what to eat, one to two weeks of regular exercise and invigorating yoga moves like these will greatly surprise you, and quite possibly those around you. Spine health and abdominal strength are very important for sustaining life, and in the next few entries I will focus on specific poses not yet mentioned here that do just that.

As I write this, it is still somewhat cold outside this spring in New York City. If you follow my advice to the letter in this post, and I’m going to try to include as few letters as possible for your benefit, you can have killer abdominals in time for summer. What’s more, this advice will guarantee that you will keep your sexy midline throughout the winter months so that you don’t have to battle your belly fat over and over again. A trim waist is a sign of good health and tells others that you are strong and healthy. Whether you could stand to lose 6 inches off your gut to get into better health or you want to resemble an ancient Greek statue, what I tell you will get you there.

First, I must state that you won’t be able to do it by yoga alone. As a matter of fact, most people who succeed tend to get it done without yoga at all. But, by incorporating specific aspects of yoga that focus on this goal, you will naturally coax your body into a state of constant metabolic health that will be one of the many key angles of attack on your excess body fat to get it done to keep it off permanently.

Diet is the most important element in lowering your body fat percentage which will make or break your efforts here. If you get this wrong, you will have a trim waist, and you will never have six-pack abs no matter how hard you try to do everything else right.  Do yourself a favor and re-learn what you think you know about food if you have a gut right now; what you know is probably completely wrong, or you know what you’re doing wrong and just don’t do anything right. I’m not going to dwell on the subject of diet, because this should be made the simplest part of this multi-faceted confrontation with your fat cells. You know what you’re doing wrong, so stop it. And if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian and you’re fat, I’m sorry but you lose — it will be imperative that you figure out how to get enough protein in your diet so you may want to read my blog entry The Argument for Vegetarianism, Part 2, while focusing on getting all your carbohydrates from vegetables which is what a vegan or vegetarian should be doing; step up to the plate and delete all pastas, breads, grains, cereals, sugars, anything that is a processed simple carbohydrate, or if you gorge on these, start by cutting them down to 1/3 or less of your overall intake. If you’re anything like me, these are the reasons you don’t have abs, so come to terms with that fact and make the change.

The last thing I will say generally about diet is that when the human body has grown fat, many things come together in a sneaky, underhanded way to make it so, and in this entry I will attempt to explain how to unravel those multiple tight bonds that choke the life out of us. A fat, even slightly fat, person is one who can be seen as an otherwise healthy person who is being tied down independently at each limb and is unable to move as freely as possible. As we loosen these reigns and eventually free our tied down wrists and ankles and bound torsos, only then can we create the natural snowballing effect, or exponentially accelerating runaway train of vibrant energy that is a high metabolism that keeps us hungry in true hunger for true foods, those that your subconscious animal mind knows you need, not the foods that your thinking, habitually dependent, corrupted behavioral mind seems to want. This will be accomplished by understanding what your daily caloric intake is, and what percentage of that intake is comprised of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and most importantly what kinds of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. So, as you may be starting to understand, the more complicated you make this, the higher the chances of failure; the simpler you make it, the simpler it will be to eat the right proportions of the right foods and make no mistakes whatsoever. I recommend this, unless you have over a year’s time to make this your goal.

Burn calories. Choose your weapon. Typical failing dieters think that just by eating less, they will start to lose weight. If you stick with it, and basically eat a lot less, a lot healthier, and consume solid, nutritious meals, you will. End of story. This is the Law of Thermodynamics, which in this case states that the only way one will lose weight or body fat is if one consumes less calories (food and drink) than one expends (activity, movement combined with breath). Keep in mind that if you have a slow metabolism and while eating a lot less you consume over 40% of your calories in the form of carbohydrates and don’t burn those calories every day as you eat them, you’ll stay fat. If you didn’t know this, now you know. This is why you see so many skinny-fat vegetarians around. They eat very little, and they eat healthy in general, but they consume too many carbohydrates and don’t burn them off day to day, and that gets stored as fat under the skin. Fat under the skin is exactly what you need to get rid of to have a trim waist, so you must do the opposite of this carb-heavy intake, and you must choose a method of activity that will be ruthless. In choosing your weapon, you have either cardiorespiratory exercise (heart and lungs is what this means), or anaerobic activity that pushes you to a level of constant fat burn, or both. Constant fat burn sounds like the right choice if you ask me, and this means strength training, which is where I come in.

I don’t do cardio. Ever. Here’s why: I don’t need to. I perform strength training movements with a level of intensity (constant elevated heart rate) within a specific amount of time (40-60 min.) to complete a specific range of sets (15-25) in a gym environment three times a week. If I were to perform cardio exercises during that same time frame, my body would begin a cycle of overtraining which leads to exhaustion and injury. This is also how I do yoga, which can be cardio if vinyasa, and as I just stated, I don’t do cardio.

There is a very little known fact called Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC, which can be explained as the elevation of the body’s metabolism after exercise. Your goal will be to maximize this. Built into the variability and your possible maximization of EPOC is the genetic construct that your body has its own objective to expend as little energy as possible. In order to do this, the human body is a highly adaptable organism that readily adapts to the demands placed on it. By maximizing the oxygen consumption needed for the duration of a training session as well as for the recovery from the training session, the body can continue to adapt to greater demands and continue a high metabolic rate during and after exercise to burn more calories at all times, even though the body will adapt to specific demands over time and begin to use minimal energy to perform them. What this translates to is the higher the intensity of the training session, the greater the magnitude of EPOC. Furthermore, splitting the training session into multiple sessions (usually two) of equal time has the greatest effect on EPOC, and therefore the greatest effect on burning calories and body fat reduction.

If you’ve followed me so far, this next paragraph will blow your mind. Fat and glucose are your major sources of fuel for exercise. A fire cannot burn without oxygen, and so for these fuels to be used more efficiently, the body must be able to receive enough oxygen, allowing fat and glucose to be “burned” as fuel. The waste products of this fuel burning are carbon dioxide and water. This is where the importance of your lungs as accessory fat burners comes into play. The amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchanged in the lungs normally equals that used and released by body tissues, allowing us to use these respiratory gasses to estimate caloric expenditure, a method called indirect calorimetry, measured with a metabolic analyzer to detect an individual’s respiratory exchange ratio, or RER. This ratio is the ratio of carbon dioxide produced to the volume of oxygen consumed. It is a known fact that the human body uses the highest percent of its fuel from fat when the body has an RER of 0.71, indicating at first blush that whatever exercises you do, just make sure you’re at an RER of 0.71; this is exactly what I do and therefore suggest for you to do as well. The only problem with all this scientific data analysis is that in the real world the only time the body can be at 0.71 RER is when it is completely at rest.

Mind blown? This means you can’t burn the most fat by doing cardiorespiratory exercise. This means the people that only go to the gym to use cardio equipment to lose fat are doing it wrong. They should say they are just going to the gym to burn a few calories in the hope of burning and losing fat. Getting back to EPOC, you may have already figured it out, but if you haven’t I’ll spell it out for you. If you train three times a week doing weight training at a high intensity for your fitness level, you will maximize the caloric expenditure (oxygen consumption) during your training session by keeping your heart rate elevated for the entire duration of 40-60 minutes, and you will maximize the oxygen consumption (caloric expenditure) needed for the recovery from the training session. This means as you rest throughout the day and during your sleep until you are ready for another 40-60 minutes of exercise, you will attain an RER of 0.71 and therefore burn fat most efficiently. This also means that without lots of rest, you won’t burn as much fat, and with less rest, you will get fatter. Of course, you just have to give yourself a good reason to deserve the rest, and the two aspects of intensity followed by rest neatly sum up yoga in action. Cardiorespiratory training typically stops being effective as soon as you stop performing the cardio exercise, meaning it only works as you are doing it. This is great news for constantly counting your calories burned on the treadmill, but takes greater time management and greater discipline leading to higher possibility of failure, not to mention loss of major muscle tissue (if it’s not in the fat burning RER, it has to burn something) when done for over 20 minutes at a time.

The next entry will focus primarily on yoga poses and related movements that will target your abdominals to strengthen them, shape them, and thereby making your spine happier about not overcompensating for weak abs. Other poses will be suggested solely for metabolic quickening through thyroid activation. Until then, start burning fat, rev up your metabolism, and start feeling healthier and stronger on a cellular level through proper nutrition.

Balance

April 4, 2012

In the celebration of life and movement, let’s go over some of the most beautiful yoga poses that incorporate balance. We will discuss what makes balance so important for health and vitality, and how your balance can and will improve as long as you periodically test your balance and let your body do what it does without having to think about it in your frontal lobe.

Balance training ensures neuromuscular efficiency of what is termed the kinetic chain, or the combination and interrelation of the nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems. In balance training at entry level, very little joint motion is involved, and the goal is to improve reflexive joint stabilization contractions, thereby increasing joint stability. This is achieved by placing the body in unstable environments where it must react by contracting the right muscles at the right time to maintain balance. All entry level balance movements are done standing on one leg, and aside from the rudimentary single-leg balance itself all movements incorporate motion in all three planes: frontal, sagittal, and transverse.

Photograph by Gosia Janik

What this all means is that if you are looking to strengthen your core and are currently working with core stabilization movements that do not require balance, such as the previously described Cobra pose and Two-Legged Table, balance stabilization in conjunction with core stabilization will get you to poses that incorporate both, in combination with breathing to create momentary synergy of these three aspects.

There is much to cover in describing how to properly stay in Natarajasana, or King of the Dancers Pose. It is similar to the poses One-Legged Royal Pigeon and Bow, both of which do not incorporate the balancing aspect but do bind the hands and feet in a backbend. After this is detailed, we will close with beginners Balance Stabilization movements that will build up the neuromuscular efficiency of the entire kinetic chain to make the balance aspects of Natarajasana feel like second nature.

Natajarasana by Sharon Ellis

The King of the Dancers pose is an advanced backbending standing balance posture. You’ll notice immediately that the back is arched upward very much like Cobra pose, and in this pose as well you must find the deeper, more intrinsic back muscles to perform the action of spinal extension. This is because although the movement and mobility is obvious, breathing once you are in the pose is most important, and using the larger superficial muscles like the latissimus will interfere with your breath. Using the deeper spinal muscles also frees up the mobility needed to find the full range of the scapulae. Motion of the spine should be concentrated in the thoracic while the lumbar is stabilized by the eccentric motion of the psoas minor, rectus abdominis, and obliques. The intrinsic extensor muscles of the spine reponsible for creating and maintaining spinal extension are the intertransversarii, interspinalis, rotatores, multifidi, spinalis, semisponalis, splenius capitis and crevicis, longissimus, and iliocostalis.

The arms are lifted overhead, and with the proper scapular motion assisted by the serratus anterior, the humerus or upper arm bone will be just behind the ears with the scapula lifted and coming together to hug the ribcage at the rear. The shoulder joint will be supported by the supraspinatus and subscapularis, so scapula mobility properly gets the arms in position while making sure the glenohumeral joint is not overmobilized and there is enough mobility in the thoracic spine.

Natarajasana Front by Sharon Ellis

In the standing leg, the muscles of the feet and forelegs are active for balance. The hamstrings are lengthened and can work eccentrically to resist tipping forward too far, while the quadriceps extend the knee. The gluteus medius and minimus and the tensor fascia latae work eccentrically keeping the pelvis level.

In the lifted leg, the hamstrings create hip extension and knee flexion, and the vastus lateralis and medialis come into isometric or concentric action to extend the knee, resisting the hand on the foot and increasing hip extension as the pose deepens. The gluteus maximus extends the hip along with the adductor magnus. The legs should be kept adducted and internally rotated to avoid overworking the lumbar spine or overmobilizing the sacroiliac joint.

This pose minimizes the excursion of the diaphragm so it should rarely be held for long durations. With the shallower breathing afforded by the pose, the muscular effort required to maintain the stabilization of anterior and posterior musculature working against each other combined with deep spinal extension soon cannot be met with the demand of sufficient oxygen supply. With the need to breathe deeper, stabilization from the abdominals and diaphragm is lessened, which could lead to a higher risk to the spine and shoulders. For this reason, monitor the breath and the body’s natural requirement for more oxygen as a signal to come out of the pose. Before that moment comes, however, keep in mind what you will be lengthening: the triceps, the latissimus dorsi, the pectoralis major, and the rhomboids in the arms and related muscles. Related to the spine, the rectus abdominis, obliques, and the intercostals (open your chest). The hamstrings and abductors in the standing leg, and in the lifted leg the iliacus, psoas major, and rectus femoris.

To systematically and progressively train your balance, begin with an easy exercise and move on to harder ones. The following exercises are safe and progressive. You can change the parameters on your own to make them progressive in all areas by moving from simple to complex, known to unknown, stable to unstable, static to dynamic, slow to fast, using two arms/legs to single arm/leg, and having eyes open to eyes closed. These exercises can be performed to higher proprioceptive challenges on the floor, a balance beam, a half foam roll, an airex pad, or a dyna disc. By progressing and changing variables like speed of motion, range of motion, duration, frequency, types of resistance (body weight versus dumbbells, tubing, or cable), and body position (Two-leg/single-leg–stable/unstable), you can design a program for your balance training that will keep your kinetic chain reactive to keep you on your feet in any situation.

To prepare for all of the following, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and pointed straight ahead, hips neutral. Lift the chest, retract the shoulders slightly, and tuck the chin. Draw the navel in and activate the gluteals.

1. Single-Leg Balance

Lift one leg directly beside the other with hands on hips, keeping hips and shoulders level. Hold for 5 to 20 seconds. Slowly return to original position and switch legs and repeat.

2. Single-Leg Reach

Lift one leg beside the balance leg, and move lifted leg to the front of the body, hold for 2 seconds. Return to original position and repeat. The leg can be moved to the side of the body and also reaching behind the body as a progression.

3. Single-Leg Hip Internal and External Rotation

Lift one leg beside the other, keeping level hips and shoulders, but this time lift the leg as if you were stepping up to a low stool, so your femur is now parallel with the ground. Rotate the hip of the lifted leg by tracing the arc of a circle with the bent knee to the side of the lifted leg. This is internally and externally rotating the hip of the lifted leg, and hold for 2 seconds. Switch legs and repeat by turning the other knee and hips outward to the other direction and holding for 2 seconds. The spine and hip should move as one so as not to rotate the spine.

4. Single-Leg Lift and Chop

Lift one leg beside the balance leg while holding a medicine ball in your extended arms. If you lift the right leg, hold the medicine ball beside your left thigh. Lift the medicine ball diagonally over the right shoulder, rotating the body so the ball is over the balance leg. Hold for 2 seconds, slowly return to the original position, repeat, and switch legs.

When performing these balance exercises, keeping the hips level will decrease stress to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, or LHC. Make sure to contract the gluteal musculature of the balance leg through all balance exercises to help stabilize the lower extremity. Lastly, make sure the knee of the balance leg always stays in line with the toes. If you struggle with balance, these simple yet challenging exercises will ensure you can handle the intermediate and advanced poses in your yoga practice, as well as every movement you make anywhere you go where your stability suddenly is questioned and needs a reaction.

The Living Corpse

January 20, 2012

“You’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.” -Louis C.K.

When was the last time you asked the question, “Are we not all titans and giants, imprisoned in hell”? If it’s been a while, or maybe never, after reading this entry you may want to ask it every day upon waking. Before I get into discussing more physically demanding musculoskeletal postures that are sure to invigorate your neurofascia, I’d like to take a moment to work backwards from what is the most important part of why you got into this whole yoga business, Corpse Pose. In terms of classification and level, it is all about perspective. As a matter of fact, your perspective will either take you on an amazing journey in Corpse Pose, or it will not move you at all, maybe even have you taking a short nap. In other words, it is you, your perspective, your personal involvement, the things that are internal and in the realm of nonshareability among others that will make or break this experience, leaving you fully responsible for what you get out of it. If it doesn’t work for you, it’s not the yoga that didn’t work, but it was you who didn’t show up to the party; depending on your perspective, therefore, lying there like a corpse after your self-imposed intense physical and mental stresses can be very easy if you understand that you are now uniting your mind, heart, and body in a scared trinity that project spirituality as they are overlaid, or it can be very advanced and difficult as you struggle with wondering, questioning, being lost, missing a connection to yourself, and only being able to view it externally as you lie there on your back and breathe. Perspective is what we have as our secret weapon to change absolutely nothing in the physical world around us, the external, yet by changing the internal, suddenly everything changes and the entire existence of all things from our earliest memories to the most now moment is different, in an instant.

Photo courtesy of BonesBob

What is working on your body in lying there as if you are dead, as you can imagine, is gravity. Ah, the ever mysterious gravity, that scientists still cannot grasp fully as a concept in context of our world from the very large down to the infinitesimally small. But you can lay there and ponder it with your mental focus, because, alas, you are not dead, yet. To reiterate the driving force that is your vehicle through your liberating perspective, whatever “gymnastic” demands your immediately prior asanas make on your body in terms of strength, flexibility, and balance, your new challenge here is to release all of the tension from every part of your body AND your mind; if you get this one wrong, you may fool others from a distance, but you’ll know if you are trying to fool yourself or you have been successful in letting go and thereby coming into the full embrace of not just this or that, but all that is. Atheists beware, this may be the most dangerous pose for you, unless of course you are interested in transformation and change. From my personal experience and perspective, the religion in which I was brought up had its own form of Corpse Pose, except you were expected to do it on your knees with your back unsupported, and with your hands folded in prayer in front of your heart. I don’t know about you, but I found that a lot more difficult.

So, what challenges do you face, with your little mind that is definitely going to be flitting about like a little moth in an almost empty closet, looking for that one forgotten wool scarf on a shelf in a corner way in the back, in the dark? You may have a problem with fully relaxing because you think too much about your body. The first thing you will struggle with is that what looks like you lying there symmetrically with your legs and arms straight, palms up, feet falling outward, may not feel symmetrical as your curvy parts of the backside of your body make contact with the floor. Just surrender to the fact that what you may be feeling proprioceptively (the information being relayed to your central nervous system about your environment) may not initially line up with the fact that your body is indeed positioned just right. This way you are now ready to achieve a deep state of emotional and physical relaxation. If you have body issues, meaning you have difficulty or inability to accept your body as it is, this will be the primary reason stopping your progress. You need to accept your body as it is, and not how you wish it to be.

Savasana

You will be breathing, concentrating on your breath, meditating on your back as you release and forget about your body once each and every part of it has been accounted for and systematically relaxed. You’ll know you are there when you get to that last area of your body and relax it; your mind will search for any remaining areas of the body connected to it that still require relaxation, and in finding none, you will feel both weightless and free, while still being in full participation with gravity as you feel your heavy body sinking into the floor as if it is ever more becoming softer, more accepting of your weight, wanting to get closer to you, one with your body. This deep state of conscious relaxation is different from sleep, so don’t sleep! If you can imagine how you breathe when you sleep, in other words breathing without controlling your breathing, that is your goal. Be fully aware of your breathing while not controlling it. The reason for this is your breath has a natural rhythm, and you have to let it run wild in that rhythm. When you are too aware and control your breathing, you cage it, altering its natural rhythm. Set the breath free and let it run wild, and you yourself will step out of your cage and run wild.

How long should this go on for? I like to generalize it to ten minutes, but I obviously don’t set a timer or look at a clock. You know what ten minutes feels like, so prepare for that. Just like all other asanas, when you know you’ve had enough, you just know. Good indicators that you are ready are experiences of having been fully released from conscious, mundane, egocentric reality for a time frame that naturally makes you want to jump back into life as if you have just been reborn into your body to start new. Your mind will start to nudge you to want to come back into being and have new levels of optimism and enthusiasm for the possibilities offered to you in this life. When the physical relaxation feels complete and complimentary to your physical demands that have come before this time, and the mental and emotional release have peaked and come back to a resting state, all three of these aspects will come to a synergy like three key aspects of yourself resting at the bottom of a deep bowl. Your eyes will naturally want to open; the smile on your face is optional.

Taking Control of Eternity

December 29, 2011

Time meant nothing to me, except that I was stuck in it. The concept of what one second was had to be altered and then forgotten, dissipated into nothingness. I knew civilization was always going to operate on grids of delineated beginnings and endings and these were drawn with hard, merciless lines that spilled onto pages of personal histories like unstoppable disembowelings, until the entrails of every dream ever dreamt by every innocent child that ever lived composed the unimaginable description of time’s arrow flung with immeasurable emotion from time’s dawn for us to keep watching, witnessing in horror, unable to look away while writhing in agony to somehow wrench our flush faces and blood-filled eyes to some scene of immaculate beauty and serenity where we can feel showered with the golden warmth of being smothered with love until our hearts can agree to beat no longer.

I decided to breathe. Breathing helped. A lot. I realized that by not breathing, the heart kept beating and it started to leave like a train that I had just missed at the station. The only way to get on that train was to breathe, but it had to be the right kind of breathing, otherwise it would just be a pathetic uncoordinated and jagged tumbling forward, like tripping with each step and just watching hopelessly as the gap between me and my heartbeat widened. I took a steady and deep breath. This was the answer, the only answer, and it liberated me from the constraints of my memory, my conditioning, my thinking of what time is and was, and it narrowed the gap, synchronizing with my heartbeat, and the extreme pain that I felt in the arc of the breath lessened as soon as it became greater than I ever imagined it would be. Once the relief came I pushed on by straightening my legs more and lengthening them from the hips to the heels and I took another deeper breath and there. It was gone. All of the pain and difficulty and torturous inescapability seemed to have vanished and I had the strength to stay right where I was forever. Forever until the heart would agree to beat no longer. I did it, I found the serenity and immaculate beauty, not to look upon, but to be a component of, experiencing it directly.

This was my private practice today. I didn’t look at any clocks until it was complete, and about an hour had elapsed. There were no sounds, no speaking, no interruptions, no distractions. There were instead the very unavoidable sounds, words, interventions, and adjustments of being fully alive.

Lidless Sight

December 25, 2011

“All things seen by the eyes are void.” — Bodhidharma, “The Blue-Eyed Barbarian”.

What do you do with your eyes? It’s a simple question that can be mind-boggling. How good is your eyesight? Better yet, how good is your vision? Let’s simplify the answers by talking about subjects and objects, two things that have to be present when talking about eyesight, and then let’s turn reality upside-down to get to the core of what vision is, beyond eyesight, beyond matter, beyond the limits and constraints of time and space.

The logical scientific mind is conditioned to think in dualistic terms of subject and object, but for our purposes it is imperative to understand that objects are not determined things, but possibilities for consciousness to choose from, and this unifies subject and object, eliminating duality. This will make more sense later on as we discern what is and is not the consciousness of possibilities. Science must now encompass both the subjective and the objective, whereas the subjective, or private, used to be ignored, exiled from science.

Seeing through previous barriers, something we have all experienced as an A-ha! moment, requires use of your vision, not your eyesight, and it is not constant but rather instantaneous and then fades away. I’d like to talk about learning to maintain that insight for prolonged periods, with the aim of making it last the same way people talk about living mindfully. I refer to this as lidless sight, like an eye that never sleeps and is always watching. If you’ve ever read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or seen the movie adaptations, it is like the Eye of Sauron, which is depicted in an evil light. However, fictional tales aside, a good historical representation based in human civilization is the Eye of Horus. The Left Eye of Horus is the feminine pathway of exploring the human nature of emotions and feeling, both positive and negative, and everything that is not logical. The Right Eye of Horus is the male pathway, the rational and logical. There is a middle eye, the Third Eye of Horus, which is simply life and the source of it all, encompassing all sight across all of time, and this is where we set the stage for what it takes to truly see the world as it is.

Now back to subject and object. Science today is still struggling as a whole to move toward solving all of the paradoxes that have arisen as we ask more questions and have no answers. If you know a little bit about quantum physics or care to learn about the inherent inability we humans have to use quantum physics to explain our reality the way we were able to do with the classical physics of our macroscopic world, you’ll easily stumble upon the brick walls that our materialistic monism has built for us thus far. This means science as we know it is built up on the idea that everything in the universe is made up of matter, and we are now for almost 100 years realizing that this is painting us into a corner, rendering us unable to make sense of questions like why 70% of the universe is made up of something we cannot see or detect, namely dark matter and dark energy, as it is termed. That’s right, I just said that if the universe is made up of matter, which physical science is based on, then matter as we know and perceive it makes up only 30% of what we have seen so far in our observable universe. This is a problem for science.

Forgetting about science’s problem, let’s move on to what you can do as an individual in your own life and with other people’s lives. It turns out that the solution here is the solution to the current big science questions, and may end science as we know it, and maybe even put an end to religion altogether in one fell swoop. If you’ve followed me so far, you’ll really appreciate this: have you been surprised by strange coincidences that seem to point toward communication of some kind between you and another person or a circumstance that brings new possibility and events into your life? I’m sure you have, and instead of discounting this as strange or just possible coincidence, accepting this as the true nature of reality will bring down the barriers of materialist world view that is limiting and based upon memories and ideas of the past. You can actually figure out what it is that you did to create that communication with the constant flow that is not static and brings with it new choices, new possibilities. You can manifest things seemingly out of nothing, which is very easy to do since almost three-quarters of the universe is actually nothing.

If you’ve meditated before, that’s very good because meditation stills the mind. You need to be able to still the mind for just an instant to manifest new possibilities in your life. Think of it like training for months for a boxing match, and after all your intense long conditioning before the match, you always win with a magical left hook or uppercut knockout. Your brain and thinking won’t get you anywhere with this. This is the world of instinct, or intuition. This answers the question of what to do with your eyes as well. Your eyes are for seeing with the aid of your brain, and that is just a small slice of reality; use them for seeing, but by using your vision instead of sight, by shutting down your brain and going inside instead of outside, here is where the answers lie. Behind our eyes is the eye of consciousness, and that is who we really are. We don’t choose in the individuality of our ego. In the cosmic consciousness where there is no personal individual investment, where there is objectivity and no playing favorites, there is the place where decisions are made, and they are limitless.

Remember that every waking moment you are at risk of falling back into your conditioned way of thinking about what reality is, and everything your eyes see with your brain triggers memories that bring up past experiences in that entire filing system that is your brain. This is not the way to lead your life to make choices, except for mundane and limited choices that you have already experienced. This limited ego consciousness is called local consciousness, and it is what you use to interact with the material world that looks normal and comforting to us, which is fine for everything normal and comfortable — and boring and stagnant. Choice happens from non-local consciousness.

You have to be in an altered state of consciousness to manifest intention, and intention is called non-local communication, or quantum non-locality. See, there was a reason why this entry started with a scientific air to it. The non-local consciousness collapses similar events in two brains, two instruments that themselves are only the processors of consciousness, and this happens because through their intention the two brains become correlated, non-locally, and communication is made without any electromagnetic connection, making it cosmic.

Cosmic awareness is being in the present, and this is a phrase many people use and don’t practice or even understand. Beyond our conditioning is creativity. Outside of our ego we have free will. Intentions do work, but not ordinary ego intentions. Make your intentions based on non-local consciousness, and they can come true. If the intention resonates with the intention of the whole, also called the divine, then the intention will manifest. Now go, and manifest your new, creative world of limitless possibility.

Awakening The Serpent Power

December 20, 2011

If you’re going to get involved in Yoga, you’re going to have to do it right. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is altogether waiting before you, here now in the present where you show up entirely (without resistance based on fears), and a redefinition of your past which is shed like the skin of a snake. Today’s entry is a basic movement with breath that is also the foundation of the power within all subsequent movements that build upon that power. This is the energy that lies dormant in many of us, ready to be awoken and identified as a process of vibrational spiritual development. The simple yet profound visualization needed for this movement is a coiling, spiraling energy that moves, or rises, up the spine beginning at its base from both the left and right sides. With your breath, you access prana, the vital life-sustaining force in the body, entering a state of pranic awakening. Kundalini in meaning refers to exactly this coiling like a snake.

To continue with stabilization training, Cobra pose activates the core with the intended purpose of strengthening this system. Keep in mind that core stabilization movements are less about sweeping action and more about sustained contractions of very specific muscles. These core muscles are the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, pelvic floor musculature, transverso spinalis, and multifidis. In stabilization exercises, there are other muscles that need to be activated to prepare for them, and this is done by drawing in the navel and activating the gluteals.

The Floor Prone Cobra, as it is called in ordinary gym-related workout terminology, has variations between exercise and yoga, and we will go over both just as we did with the Two-Leg Floor Bridge, or Two-Legged Table. For this exercise, instead of lying supine, you will lie prone on the floor with arms to the side of the body and palms facing toward the ground. Your arms are straight behind you, not bent in front of you.

Start by drawing in the navel, activating the gluteals, and pinching the shoulder blades together. Pinching the shoulder blades together can be done by lifting the straightened arms off the floor and imagining that the tops of your hands are moving toward each other in an effort to touch behind you. Lift the chest off the floor. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds. Slowly return the chest and arms to the ground. It is also important to note that keeping the chin tucked throughout this movement will help to keep the cervical spine stabilized.

The yoga pose is called Bhujangasana, or Cobra Pose. It is intended to work the spine, arms, and legs. This seemingly simple pose with little movement actually involves many complex actions which we can explain further in detail below for those interested in the muscular anatomy of what is happening. To combine the movement with the breath, lying prone with palms on the floor and under your shoulders, follow the previous instructions to begin while pushing up with the arms, but only in the slightest amount, allowing the muscles of the spine to do most of the work; inhale on the upward movement, filling the ribcage with a further expansion of the chest. Time the inhalation with the arc of the motion upward and release with an exhalation and come down. The intricate spinal movement starts at the cervical (head) and one vertebrae at a time comes up off the floor. The hips remain grounded and the belly can slightly rise off the floor. The exhale begins with the lumbar (base) region relaxing to the floor one vertebrae at a time until the chin or forehead comes to rest and there is no longer tension in the spine. The breathing pattern can be reversed if belly breathing restricts thoracic extension and rib cage expansion. Concentrate on the serpent energy moving up the spine from the top of the hips to the nostrils, and be the present force of your awakening.

The joint actions involved are sacrum counternutation, hip extension, internal rotation, adduction, knee extension, ankle plantarflexion, scapula neutral, glenohumeral joint external rotation, elbow extension, and forearm pronation along with spine extension.

The entire spinal extensor group of muscles work concentrically to create spine extension. There is a synergistic action in the serratus posterior superior which overlays the erectors, assisting chest expansion. The rectus abdominis and obliques work eccentrically, preventing overmobilization of the lumbar spine. The arms are engaged through various muscles: the infraspinatus, teres minor, serratus anterior, posterior deltoids, triceps, pronator teres, and pronator quadratus. The legs are required through numerous actions to keep the joints in alignment: the hamstrings extend the hips and maintain adduction and internal rotation. External rotation of the legs is a movement that must be avoided, along with abduction. The muscles responsible for extending the hips are the adductor magnus and gluteus maximus while the knees are extended by the vastus lateralis, medialis, and intermedius.

To keep breathing uninhibited, focus must be on the deep back muscles, the underlying core, instead of the larger and more superficial muscles that affect the scapulae and rib cage. Shoulders don’t elevate, but the spine is lifted. Elbows should not flare out and forearms should stay parallel with each other with the push of the arms.

Like Krishna dancing on the serpents’ heads to subdue them, so are you using your ego energy and then releasing it. By grasping your ego energy and releasing it you become the powerful enlightened manifestation of yourself that cannot be trapped or defeated. By awakening the serpent power within you, you free yourself from all suffering of this world and can take the first step of your journey in this life.

Stabilization

November 20, 2011

Core stabilization training is the first phase of training anyone should undergo to lay a foundation for further physical training. The reason is that sedentary people in today’s modern societies do not engage their core muscles frequently enough to have endurance and strength for stabilization. This translates to people performing mundane tasks that recruit muscles used for movement, and with a weak underlying core compensations develop which lead to injury. These compensations are a lack of synergy, an absent functional balance that the human body operates in to execute efficient movement. It really is no wonder that yoga is so popular today when people are constantly in physical pain and hurting themselves without knowing why, and it is becoming known that just doing yoga fixes these problems even if it is not clear to everyone why their bodies are becoming healed.

If you hired a physical trainer and you were in need of core stabilization training, one of the exercises you would do is called a Two-Leg Floor Bridge. To prepare, you would lie supine (on your back) on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, with toes shoulder-width apart and pointing straight ahead. Your arms would be placed to the side pointing toward your feet, with your palms down. As with all stabilization exercises, the region just below the navel stays drawn in throughout the duration of the exercise, ensuring the intrinsic core stabilizers are staying activated. The movement starts then with drawing the navel in, and activating the gluteals, or buttock muscles. Lift the pelvis off the floor until the knees, hips, and shoulders are in line. Be sure not to raise the hips too far up off the floor and hyperextend the lower back, as this places excessive stress to the lumbar spine. Slowly lower the pelvis to the floor, and repeat. The timing for this movement is 6-20 seconds under sustained contraction, since these are slow-twitch, type I muscle fibers we are activating in this type of training. Sound like a lot of information? It isn’t actually, because there are a lot of gaps left in full comprehension of this movement that yoga fills in nicely, and I will explain how.

The associated yoga pose is called Two-Legged Table, or Dwi Pada Pitham, and it is classified as a basic supine vinyasa, meaning it is a dynamic movement that is coordinated with the inhalation and exhalation. Notice that in the previous description, there was no talk of breathing, and as it turns out this would be a very substantial omission to gaining the benefits of doing this movement in the most fulfilling way.

Lifting your hips is typically done with an inhalation and lowering with an exhalation. This simple practice can be used to release tension from the spine and breathing structures, while also supporting balance actions for  similar poses that go beyond this movement. Breathing, concentrating on the breath, and being aware of the breath is our connection to all that is beyond and within us, and here in this movement contextualized in yoga we can take a simple gym warm-up exercise and actually live in present harmony with the Cosmic Intelligence. For example, bhaya kumbhaka can be referenced in this movement, also called the negative breath or relaxing breath, and it refers to the time after exhalation and before inhalation, the time when the lungs have little or no air. After the inhalation and lifting of the spine, an exhalation and retention of the fully exhaled lungs on the lowing creates a natural lifting of the pelvic floor and abdominal contents toward the zone of lowered pressure in the thoracic cavity. The three bhandas, or interior body locks, can be very easily activated using this method of lowering on the external breath retention, and the subsequent inhalation can create a dramatic downward release of the pelvic floor and a noticeable sense of relaxation in this often tense region.

By combining knowledge and experience in this and other movements or poses from both perspectives of training in the gym for specific physical goals and training in the yoga class or your home for personal enrichment, fulfillment, and connection with the deepest sense of existence, you are gaining the most benefit from what can otherwise be flat and without purpose. Instead of doing gym warm-ups that can seem insignificant, you are paying close attention to who you are and what you are capable of. Instead of blindly following yoga poses with a notion of faith, while hoping for an understanding of spirituality, you are fully informed to what the point of it all is. That is Metal Yoga.