24 August 2014

It's Called "Awkward" For A Reason

I have a new "least favorite" posture (outside of Triangle, obviously).

The Sanskrit name is Utkatasana.

In class, it's known as Awkward Pose.

I call it a pain in the ass.

It's a three part pose, and I have difficulties in each part.

First, one must stand with feet hip-width apart -- about six inches. Interestingly, I no longer hear an instructor say, "... two fist-widths distance between your feet". Then the arms are extended out in front of the body, palms facing down. While keeping the feet parallel and the arms extended and the heels on the floor, you are supposed to sit down until your thighs are parallel to the floor (as though there was a chair there for you to sit in). There is always an instruction to arch the spine back while keeping toes, heels, knees, and hands all six inches apart. This seems to be an impossibility for me... I can lift my head up and get my neck straight but my shoulders are always angled forward and I see no way of "arching" the spine back. All the while, my hands are beginning to shake, and for some reason, the joint where thumb meets hand cramps up -- to the point where I have to flex or shake my hands to get them to relax. Then, a brief respite of sorts:

"Change. Come back up. Keep your arms there". Man, that hurts!! Sadly, though, we're just getting started.

"Second part. Stand on the tops of your toes (like a ballerina). Bend your knees and come down halfway...". Only I cannot. I try and try and topple and fall over and over. I have tried standing on the balls of my feet. No dice. I have tried to "wedge" my feet up where the toes meet the foot and stand in that "crease" of sorts. Nope. I have tried to fan my toes out and try to grip the floor. Negative. I either topple forward (I think because my gut screws up my center of gravity) or my calves can't stand the strain and I have to return to a flat-footed position. If you read from "Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class", it states:

"Give it all you got. Every time you think you've risen as high onto your toes as possible, you haven't. There's always a "higher" and "forwarder"... The farther forward and upward you roll the insteps and the heels, the farther backward you must lean to be anywhere near straight-backed."

I have asked instructors for tips, and while they can demonstrate the idea, I still have no clue. There is a disconnect somewhere between my brain and my toes. I'll keep trying.

"Change. Keep those arms up! Come up slightly on your toes and bring your knees together to start. Inhale, stomach in, and you go down. Slowly. At least ten counts. Spine straight position. Leaning against the (imaginary) wall. Hips 1/2 inch above your heels...." Before I hurt my knee in April this was the easiest part for me. Four months later I am just now feeling confident that a) it will take the strain and b) that it will be nearly painless. Even on my best days, however, I have really concentrate so I don't rock back and forth and fall out of the posture. As for that next bit about bouncing "up and down like a motorcycle ride", well, that would simply make me fall out. 

Finally, the instructor calls out for us to come back up and complete the posture. I am gassed damn near every time and the first part of Eagle always seems to suffer for it. My arms are dead, my legs are shaking and I feel defeated. 

Every so often, when I'm waiting in the lobby or locker room, the subject of "hardest postures" come up. I hear "Camel" or "Triangle" or "Standing Head to Knee". I never hear Awkward Pose mentioned. Am I missing something here?

Knees up, heels up!!


03 August 2014

Double Feature, Double Trouble

I was browsing through the Documentary section of Netflix a while back and my attention was drawn to the title Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Released in 2010, the description read, "Two men whose bodies have been trashed by steroids, obesity, and illness, document their rigorous healing path in a bid to regain their health". I thought that it might be interesting to watch, saved it to my list, and went to bed. Last night, I watched the film. When it was over, I watched it again. Then I watched it again this morning.

Oh. My. 

Joe Cross is an Aussie who skipped college, made his fortune in business, and enjoyed the fruits of his labor -- so much so that at, in his early 40s, he was morbidly obese and suffered from a rare condition in which his body's histamine reaction had gone haywire. He went to a number of physicians, specialists, "... even a witch doctor...", as he says, looking for relief. He found none. 

So what does he do? He goes to New York City for 30 days, armed with a juicer and a goal. Under a doctor's supervision, Joe goes on a 30-day juice fast. Three large glasses of green juice each day. That's it. No solid food at all. His reasoning: juicing allows one to get a higher amount of nutrients than by attempting to eat the large amounts of fruit and veg that it takes to make the juice. In essence, your body is supercharged with vitamins and minerals, and is spared the trouble of having the body work to break down the food. 

The results were amazing. In thirty days Joe dropped 47 pounds! In addition, his dosage of Prednisone, prescribed for his condition, was cut from 15mg to 7.5 mg. Over the next thirty days, Joe continues his juice fast, or "reboot" as he calls it, while making his way across the country. In Iowa, he convinces a woman who suffered from constant migraines to try the fast for 10 days, with great success. As he travels, though, most of the people he meets aren't really interested in his ideas. Some say they don't have the willpower. Some (who have already had health problems) say that they aren't concerned about their diet ("I'll eat what I want..."). Only a few think that this plan might work for them. In Arizona, Joe meets Phil, a long haul trucker with the same rare condition. Joe convinces him to try the juice and pledges to help him in anyway he can. Phil doesn't take him up on it and they part. 

Six months later, Phil contacts Joe and asks for help. Joe flies back to the US and sets Phil up on the plan. We follow Phil on his journey and literally watch a man bring himself back to life! It is an amazing film -- one I highly recommend that you watch. 

After watching that, I looked in the "also recommended" section and came across  Hungry For Change. Since it listed Joe in the credits, I hit play. This film details how major food producers use science and marketing to convince us to buy their products. It discusses how our modern lifestyle, in many instances, is leading us to early graves. It also details the weight loss journeys of several people who were once obese but reversed their conditions by eschewing processed foods for a more natural diet. It is another fantastic documentary and I think everyone needs to see both of these films.

Why am I writing about them?

Well, for one, I work for one of the largest supermarket chains in the nation. As such, part of my job (even in my department, Dairy) entails stocking and merchandising processed foods. Flavored milks, cream cheeses, refrigerated dough, yogurt, the lot. While I'm no longer a huge user of these products (since my girlfriend has Celiac Disease, most processed foods are off the board), I rely on selling those items to pay my bills. It does affect me when I see someone pushing a cart full of frozen pizzas, canned soups, chips, cookies, and gallons of sugar laden drinks. The feeling is even worse when there are kids in or around the cart. Do they have much of a chance to learn healthy habits?

The other reason I have chosen to write about this does actually pertain to my yoga practice.

I love being able to practice yoga. It has meant a lot for me. True, I lost 45 lbs by doing back to back 60 day challenges in my first year of practicing. True, after a lot of struggle, I believe I have smoked my last cigarette. True, through this blog I have re-discovered my joy for writing (no matter what the quality).

The films, however, brought out something that I must finally learn to face and conquer: my own diet.

Just today, I've had processed breakfast cereal (two bowls), four cups of coffee with processed non-dairy creamer, two 12oz processed sodas, a bacon-cheeseburger and fries (I was traveling and stopped at a roadside joint), two gas station taquitos, a handful of graham crackers, and one forlorn liter of water.

Not good, eh?

At work, it gets worse. In the break room there is almost an endless procession of pre-made, heavily processed sandwiches, cakes, cupcakes, and donuts. When there is some type of gathering, it's pizza or nachos or ice-cream sundaes. Even before I get to work, there is the daily ritual of a 20oz. coffee. And a burrito. Or two. With hash browns.

So, while I'm a guy who does yoga, I'm also a guy who has no willpower and is back on the road to obesity just as my mom was along with her father and brother. When I first started, I was so much more disciplined than I am now. I don't know what happened. and it is really fucking hard right now to right the ship. I must find a way because I do not need diabetes, broken hips, or cancer to deal with. Watching those films struck a chord  -- now I must find a way to build on that. I don't want to do yoga just to say "I do yoga". I want it to be a cornerstone of a healthier, happier life.