Raise your hand if you think yoga is about stretching and you need to be super flexible to participate. Raise your other one if you think yoga does not qualify as “real” exercise because you do not use weights or get your heart rate up to racing speed. Okay, now leave your hands up and pretend you are holding a big beach ball (a common image used during yoga) while you read the rest of this post and see how they feel at the end. Just kidding, but my point is you might be surprised how holding up a body part can generate heat, possibly some shaking and a new awareness of your muscles. I used to think of yoga as a nice thing for people to do if they could not do a “traditional” workout. My first experience with yoga was about 10 years ago in a class called gentle yoga. I still remember how sore I was the next day and realized there was more to the class than I had given it credit for. Since then I have learned a lot more about it, but two main lessons stick out for me. The first is that it is not a competition and the second is learning what it means to press into your foundation. Both are important to understand in yoga and in life.
Yoga is one of those activities where there will always be someone who can go farther forward or back or lower or who can balance better or who can wrap themselves into a pretzel shape all while standing on one toe. I have learned to accept what my body can do and not force it into positions that can lead to injury or embarrassment trying to keep up with someone else. Many years ago I was a member at a gym and part of my weekly workout was running a few miles on a treadmill. One day a man was on the next machine over but I wasn’t paying any attention to him. After my run, he stopped as well and gasped how happy he was I was done because he was not going to stop until I did. He was competing against me and I did not even know it until he almost collapsed next to me! Yoga has taught me that pushing myself to that point is not good for me. Learning to say no and accepting myself is a mind set I am still working on. That being said, I will push myself. Last week I spent an hour shoveling snow. I had to stop periodically to check in with my back and muscles, but I knew I could keep going until it was done. Leave the competing to the those in actual competitions. For the rest of us, set realistic goals, push yourself to your own limit and celebrate your wisdom in knowing when to back off.
For years I heard yoga instructors telling me to press into my foundation or root to rise and to spiral into the midline. Huh? Then one day I was trying to go from a kneeling, low lunge into a standing, high lunge. Something clicked as I pushed into my feet and hugged my legs in and I popped up with a lot more ease than ever before. Try this: if you are sitting down, tighten your upper legs until your feet come off the floor. That sensation of engaging your muscles is what yoga is to me. It is feeling my body working. Table top is a common position in yoga. If I am really paying attention it can be one of the hardest positions to hold. I am pressing down with my legs, feet, hands and fingers. My muscles will shake and I will feel my temperature increase. From that base I can go to other positions feeling sure of my balance and strength. I concentrate on my foundation and the rest comes along. What a great lesson for everyday! When life is asking me rise to an occasion it is time to find my roots, press into them and then move forward. Trusting in my foundation will ensure I won’t fail because I have a strong base to return to no matter the outcome!
My cat, Burt, likes to add extra challenges as I do yoga!
Every January I do a 30 day online yoga challenge. I have been following Yoga with Adrienne for years and love her approach to a home practice. She can be silly but she gives everyone props for showing up and finding what feels good. Yep, 10 years later and I am just beginning to understand how much yoga has seeped into my mindset and workouts.
Okay, put your hands down now.
I have a quick recipe for you this week. I call it a trio of salads because there are three distinct parts, but they taste good all mixed together or individually.
Trio of Salads
Juice from half a lemon (more if lemon isn’t very juicy)
2 tablespoon tahini
chili powder to taste
dash of turmeric
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup english cucumber, diced
1 teaspoon dried dill OR 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Balsamic glaze (usually available at supermarket or make your own)
Salt and pepper to taste