Leg Series is a set of postures I developed as a very gentle way to stretch the legs and hips. I particularly like to use it myself after I have been travelling and sitting a lot, or at the end of a long day. It is gentle enough that it works for most students.
Those for whom this would not be appropriate would include anyone who should not lie on their back for an extended time or anyone who should not do deep stretching for any reason. There are some cases where one should not do yoga, or not do forward bends.... It is important to check with your physician or other health care provider to make sure your practice nourishes you, rather than making an underlying problem worse.
Anyone who is beginning a new form of exercise, or is beginning to exercise generally should consult their health care professional before starting. Our bodies are a combination of a uniuqe life history and unique genetics. Understanding our injuries, limitations, strengths, and structural nuances can make our exercise (and our yoga practice) both more effective and safer.
I generally recommend holding each posture for about 6 breaths, though it will not be a problem if you prefer to do it as a flow, with a single breath for each place, or hold it even double that many breaths. Allow your body's needs and kinesthetic feedback to guide you.
I generally count a breath as about a slow 4 count in, and a slow 5 count out. However it can be a bit less or a bit more. The inhale should not be so deep it is uncomfortable, and the exhale (for this series) should be slightly longer than the inhale.
A strap can be very helpful. If you can bind the foot, by holding it you will have more control in the posture, and your body will be less inclined to tense up as a self protective measure against going too far into the stretch. I recommend not looping it too tightly around the foot, not pulling on the strap too tightly, or holding too tightly. You want to feel a good stretch, but not go to pain (pain is your friend and will tell you where not to walk), and not go to where you start to hold your breath with effort. I also suggest placing the strap over the ball of the foot, and not over the instep.
Other props are equally useful. A folded blanket, or bolster, or block can support a body part that is too tight to go fully into a position.
I strongly suggest not seeing these postures as necessary to reach endpoints, but as a signal fo the direction into which one is to stretch. How far you go is less important that what you feel as you move in that direction.
I believe the BEST way to begin to practice is with a teacher. The interaction of their feedback with your movement can really help you begin to understand, and find a path that works for you. But for those who cannot always get to a class, or who have developed a strong personal practice these sort of suggested sequences can sometimes offer new ways of thinking about how to do things. I tend to do this a lot in the winter when people are going to go on vacation, or get very busy, and I am hopeful my students will remember enough of it that they can do a bit at the end of a long day and at least be able to keep their practice going that way. A teacher of mine once said 'a posture is a practice'. I really like that. It reminds me that even when busy I can slow my breath, put my awareness into the lift of my breastbone, and the release of my shoulders, and in that moment I am back on my mat.
This is a bit of an experiment: I am not great with technology, so I am attempting to add a scan. I hope you can all read it, and if not I apologize, and just send me an email and I will send you the series that way.
With any posture in yoga there are two questions: How to do it safely and effectively, but also Why to do it at all. When I was very young and trying out yoga poses I saw on Lilias, or in books and so on, I would see a cool looking pose and try to mimic it. It was all about the pose. But when you do that you start to realize that some poses feel good, and that they might feel good at particular times of the day, or after other activities. That is why I tell my students “Think of the posture as a tool, rather than as a goal”. You would not use a hammer when you need to saw wood. Of course once you identify what you want to do and what tool you need to do it, you need to know how to use the tool effectively and safely. Effectively means that you will be able to hammer in the nail you want in the place you want it, and safely means not banging your thumb.
However, just having a list of problems and projects and tools is not going to be enough. Because (I believe) in its essence yoga is about balancing opposite pulls. So the tool analogy is not enough. Sometimes I talk about the squishy toys (my kids used to love those): push hard enough on one part and the fluid bulges into another part. Push really hard and the toy will break. This is why in all physical disciplines you hear about the kinetic chain. That is the old “the shin bone is connected to the knee bone” thing. What you do in one area will flow outward into other parts of the system, and without working with synergistic pulls you can create imbalance. For instance if you do half an hour of bench pressing 3 days a week for a year, and never do any sort of back work you will have a muscular chest, but a very rounded back.
To see what you need to create balance you need connection. And I prefer the word connection to control (apologies to Joseph Pilates), as to me the word control suggests that the thing controlling is somehow outside of the system. We connect the understanding with the tools and implement their use in a balanced way.
To see what benefits might accrue from backbends (and particularly cobra), as well as to see how it must be balanced, and how to do it safely and effectively it is important first to think about some anatomy. (Is she finally going to talk about cobra? My goodness, how much context do you need?)
I did a whole blog a while back on the spine and spinal twists, so I will suggest reading that if you want more depth.
The spine sits between the shoulders and the hips. There are 33 vertebrae, with 5 sections. The sections are defined by, among other things, a set of balanced curves. The first curve is inward at the neck (cervical). The second is outward at the upper back (thoracic), the third is inward at the low back (lunbar), and the last two follow the lumbar curve, but have little movement (sacral and coccygeal). Each vertebrae is shaped and sized differently, with each of the 5 areas being similar (and yes, the top two are quite different... they are shaped to help rotate the head, so put them aside for the moment). Generally (except at the top and bottom) the vertebrae look like misshapen doughnuts. On the back half of the doughnut are various bony projections that allow complex attachments to each other, and to supporting muscles. The front half is more smooth, and above and below attaches to the next vertebrae in line with a soft disc between. In the center of the doughnut is a hole, each of the holes stack over the next, and the spinal column runs down through this hole. In front and behind the spine there are ligaments, holding the system together, and lots and lots of muscles that contract to provide multiplicity of movement: from belly dancing to building sand castles to rock climbing.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when tackling back bends:
It is important to lengthen and create space before actually bending.
Gravity and body weight push down on the spine. This pressure is greater in the lower vertebrae than the higher. That is one reason the lower vertebrae are bigger and heavier. (And certain positions will put more pressure on the lumbar area. Sitting puts more pressure than does standing, and sitting and bending forward puts the most. Back bends actually help balance the strain of such forward bends)
Interestingly, with age the blood vessels no longer directly provide nourishment to the discs. So backbending and twisting become extremely important in pushing fluid around and hydrating the discs. When the discs are hydrated they keep the bones from sitting too close together and so promote movement. And help avoid the loss of height you see so much with age. Something like 25% of the length of the spine is in the discs.
It is important to balance strength with flexibility; in particular it is important to engage the core.
While the rib cage helps keep the thoracic spine stable, the lumbar spine has no such help. It is the strength of the core muscles that helps stabilize this part of the spine. That ligament on the front of the spine will help keep the vertebrae from sliding on each other, but intra abdominal contraction helps to avoid over stretching at that area.
Do not forget to think about the shoulders and hips in any back bend.
The spine may be flexible or not, but it is attached at top to shoulders and at bottom to pelvis and if those areas are tight or unbalanced the spine will tend to go out of balance to try to compensate (like a functional scoliosis developing in response to one hip being pushed up.
It is also helpful to do range of motion exercises to prepare for deeper holds. Vinyasa can be very helpful here, as is the viniyoga technique of coming into a held position and moving in and out of a range of motion to create fluidity in tight spaces
More is not always better.
I always ask my students: Do you want to be on the cover of a yoga magazine, or an olympic gymnist, or do you want to enhance your OWN health and well being?
While the sternum and ribs stabalize the vertebrae if you push too far here the vertebrae can rotate slightly, and as they are attached to the ribs the ribs will also and that will be rather uncomfortable, and possibly not healthy, given that in front the ribs are protecting the heart and other internal organs.
Certain areas of the spine have more movement (such as T11 and 12, or L5 S1 where most of the lumber bend is generated). Too much lift will tend to go to those areas where the movement is greatest, and too much movement can overstretch the ligament, or push the disc place. Getting the soft center of the disc herniated or pushed into the nerves running down the back is not something you want to do.
Use the whole system.
The natural range of motion may be different in different parts of the spine, but if you engage a small amount at each place you will open the whole system more, and avoid over stressing the more fluid places.
Be aware of the neck.
Doing jalandhara bandha is helpful to take pressure from C7 T1 where the spinal curve shifts. Flex the neck slightly first, and then draw the chin slightly up.
Beware of tingling and numbness.
These are signs of nerve compression. If you feel these remember that pain is your friend, and it is warning you not to take this road farther. Please do contact a health care provider if you experience either of these things.
So why do we practice back bends?
To balance our forward bends
To stretch the spinal flexors
To hydrate the spinal discs and promote fluidity of movement through life
To strengthen the muscles of the back, shoulders and seat
And one last thing of note: while forward bends are associated more with parasympathetic nervous excitation (i.e. they promote relaxation), back bends are associated with sympathetic excitation. When feeling sluggish and tired and unfocused, backbends can be very helpful. BKS Iyanger actually recommended them to fight depression. While I think we need a lot more research to delineate and quantify such an association, there is a good bit of research out there to suggest the strong benefits for mood and quality of life from yoga practice. And, if done safely the side effects are pretty much all positive.
There is a lot of specialization in exercise classes. Sometimes the specialization is in what effect one wants: cardio for strengthening the heart, weight training for strengthening the musculoskeletal system, core for, well, the core, and so on. Sometimes it is in style: zumba and spin both are cardiovascular (though of course with strengthening and sculpting effects), but quite different in style. Sometimes it is in target population: zumba gold targets an older exerciser, as does fit for life, though the music and movements will be different. And lots of classes are based on specific needs of a target audience: children, teens, developmentally disabled, breast cancer survivors, those in wheel chairs, etc. Teachers are always stretching their creativity, and offering 'branded' workouts with unique slants.
In yoga you see the same thing. Of course, in yoga 'brands' are 'lineages', many of which have stood the test of decades: think Iyengar, or Kripalu. There are choices of heated or non heated, vinyasa or non vinyasa, yin or non yin. Chair yoga is popular, as is yoga specifically designed for children, or teens, or any of the same categories you might make any physical movement class to reach. After all, the shared variable is the human form, and a shared variety of human experiences.
Is it better to take a specialized class, or to take a general one?
My students will laugh now, as my answer will be, as it usually is, 'It depends'. Generally speaking, I would say that they are not mutually exclusive, and that you will get something out of both.
Why take a specialized class?
If one is generally health and of reasonable fitness, and lives in an area with many available classes, and is financially able to take classes without hardship, specialized classes can offer depth and variety. Some people will find they gravitate toward a super hot environment, or a flow class, or lots of inversions, or whatever it is. I would suggest if possible take some time to try different styles and studios and teachers. Remember there is as much variation between teachers as there is between styles. And if in the end it is clear a particular style is right, one will have chosen with the knowledge that they have tried other paths and this one works. For this person the specialized class offers the opportunity to dig deep within a particular lineage or style.
In terms of classes developed for people of a certain age or condition, there are also benefits. I trained in a style called 'Mega Yoga' developed for larger bodied people. There are some specific techniques for moving flesh folds to allow depth of movement without loss of breath, or ways of supporting the body to alleviate stress on knee joints, for example. In a general class these specific techniqes are difficult to present in depth for one or tow people. And there is the camraderie is see in the senior center classes I sometimes teach. To be with a group of people who have shared experiences, and who may have similar needs (like too loud music makes it hard to pay attention to the teacher speaking) can both increase the sense of belonging, and enhance the learning experience. The same is true with pregnancy classes. There are issues that can be discussed at length in a class with a group for whom those issues are currently relevant and interesting.
Actually, just as much as a group class, I think a person can learn a lot by doing some individual work with a teacher or trainer. This is again, not instead of, but in addition to. Even if there are no injuries, or conditions, or needs.... every person is like a blank book in which a unique story is being written. Having someone read it with you can sometimes provide insight that can deepen your own understanding of what you will be writing your whole life.
So what is the point of the general class? Is it just for the reasonably fit person in middle life, with no other needs? Actually I think everyone in a multi level class benefits when the class level varies.
First, for the person who does not have special concerns, having others in the class who do offers the opportunity to try the 'path less travelled'. If I as a teacher show someone a different way to hold the shoulders, or a new way to take a spinal twist because a student has a limitation or condition making the way I would usually teach it difficult, everyone in the class can see and try it. This happened last week, and I found half the class using the modification, and could see them looking at each other with 'wow, this is really great' all over their faces. Without the person with the need, we probably would not have gone in that direction.
Second, for all of us it offers the opportunity to learn about, support, and connect to those who are not mirrors of ourselves. I see no reason why the only people who would be expected to be supportive of someone who is in some specific group. Karma yoga teaches us that, as Marley's ghost said in A Christmas Carol “Mankind was my business”. The lines of energy in yoga run deep into self understanding and self study, but equally far out into our world.
Third, for those with a specific need, it can be a great way to practice self study. When I was a couple of weeks post partum from first son, a yoga event occurred for which I had waited over a year. Beryl Birch came to our area for a workshop. I knew I would not be doing all that I could at my prime. Being able to be with a group and not do everything, and listen and modify, and pull back when necessary is not always easy. The breathtaking beauty of her practice made me want to fly. But it provided a chance to practice something even more difficult for an (then, more so) athletic person surrounded by her peers.... letting go of fear of judgement, letting go of self judgement, and being in the moment.
Every time I step on the mat to teach I have such a sense of gratitude for my students. I know there are those with scars on their hearts, and scars on their knees, everyone so different, and each so interesting, and wonderful. In the end, what practice you choose matters, in that it provides a path, but also does not matter, as it is the accepting of the practice that makes the difference. If Krishnamurti is right that truth is a pathless land, what really matters is getting up and going, not the how you do it.
Today you can download apps with yoga postures, or whole flows. You can subscribe to videotaped practices that teachers create with iphones and upload to their personal web pages. You can scroll through thousands of you tube clips, or subscribe to whole channels. You can get podcasts. You can get it on facebook. You can get yoga on your laptop, your ipod, your ipad, your smartphone, or your game console (think wii). And yes, you can still buy yoga DVDs, and books (and decks of practice cards, and calendars, etc...)
Forty years ago you would have had choices if you were not able to make the trip to India to spend months or years with one of the master teachers. There was yoga on TV; but you would have to watch it when it was actually being broadcast. And it was a few teachers, rather than thousands. I can remember doing yoga watching Lilias on a tiny fuzzy black and white TV. Now you can get her on you tube and facebook, and lots of other ways.
I think you know where this is likely to go. I am going to say that all these ways to commoditize and share yoga are fine, but that they do not replace fully the experience of working directly with a teacher. And, yes, that is true. Just as reading a wikipedia entry on intestinal parasites does not stand in for a diagnosis with a doctor actually examining you, a teacher can see where your form is off, and help you align, can see where you are holding tension, and help you learn to release. I find I may have an idea of how a class might go, but that always flows the second I step to my mat and feel the energy of those in front of me; see what they need. More than that, yoga done alone in front of a screen closes off the human interaction piece, and therefore sacrifices one of the dimensions of our human condition. And yoga at its core is about binding together those parts.
I do not mean that a solitary practice is bad. I would hope many of my students practice on their own. There is a lot to be learned there, including the focus to make such a practice happen, and the ability to flow without external direction. But it is like climbing to one level of an observation tower. You may see a great distance more than from the ground, but without climbing the next level it is hard to realize how much more there is to see.
However. And there is a however. Not to use the new and exciting ways of exploring yoga is to cut yourself off from a lot of the view as well. As though you had new areas of that observation deck built, but you boarded them up and said “this is a great view, so I will keep climbing only on this side, rather than walk around and explore”. All these digitized bits of yoga allow you to experience great teachers without making those long travels. As a youth with few economic resources my understanding of yoga would not have been able to grow without Lilias and my public library. Imagine someone living in a rural area without the corner yoga studio. Imagine the person for whom buying a class pass is an economic hardship, or who works so many hours it is hard to get to one when they are open, or has no good transportation. Modern technology offers a chance for the love, and compassion, and physical well being that are at the heart of a yoga practice.
All of this digital matter is very new, but the road to open access to such ideas and options was paved a long time ago. Today we can compare a time when we looked up phone numbers in the yellow pages, got news from a couple of papers, and three news stations, and bought books from a book store. The changes brought through the explosion of technology and the ways in which we connect has truly rewritten the methods of culture. But before the internet even a not very well off youth could go to the library and borrow a book for free, and read the newspaper while there. In the mid 1400s in Europe a middle class German from Mainz invented something that would shift the way people get and share information in ways that shifted the course of culture as profoundly as the invention of the internet. Gutenberg and his movable type paved the way for information and learning to be mass produced and shared among more than just the wealthy. Hand illuminated bound volumes found in museums today are often breathtakingly beautiful. They also could take years of work, that ended up asa single book in the hands of one person rich enough to pay for it. The printing press meant knowledge, and therefore power, could be for all.
This transition is apparent in the world of yoga. Once the great works of the masters could be printed and read widely, those ideas could spread beyond the few who were able to sit at their feet, even beyond the lands of their beginning. The publication of “Autobiography of a Yogi” was as important as the author's tours abroad. This explosion of shared information includes everything from very arcane texts, to the kind of thing both western and Indian youth might order from the back of a magazine picturing a well defined physique, and giving instructions for transforming oneself from the '90 pound weakling'.
“Well”, you might counter to me, “All very interesting”, but how do I use this explosion to further my yoga?” I think, generally I would suggest you pay more attention to the message than the medium. Pick a teacher who really speaks to you in a way that works for you, or a school of yoga whose principles and practices are meaningful to you. You could start with reading some good books (on your kindle, or on paper). Then, if you are someone who carries your cell phone or ipod everywhere, you might look for an app, or a podcast from that person or that school. If you prefer a big screen and no ads, go for a DVD. If you do not have a particular school or teacher you really like, there are a lot of generic aps and videos out there, and some will work just fine to help some people integrate some yoga into your life outside of going to class. I personally have two or three yoga posture aps, none of which I have opened since I got them. But I am not you, and each person needs to see what works for them. But I would encourage you to see those options as the sides, rather than the main course, and to try to get to even a few classes, if you at all can.
A Little Background
In October of 1995 I gave a workshop to introduce local teachers involved in the Mid Atlantic Yoga Association with White Lotus flow yoga. This was the flow series developed by Ganga White and Tracy Rich of the White Lotus Foundation. Ganga White was a very experienced teacher who had spent many years with the Sivananda organization, before branching off. He had worked with and hosted at his center both BKS Iyangar and Sri K Patthabi Jois.
At this time there were American teachers who had been studying the vinyasa style, but it was not yet widely known. 1995 was the year Beryl Birch published 'Power Yoga', but she points out in her introduction that she had been working on the book since the early 1980s, and that her teacher had gone to India and stumbled upon the teachings of Patthabi Jois a decade before that, and had talked him into taking him as a student. But the power/flow/vinyasa style so prevalent today was not as widely practiced (at least in my part of the world) as was other forms, like Iyangar. And yoga was only beginning to be a normal part of the offerings of the corner Health Club. Of course today vinyasa style is one of the most common styles taught in the U.S. In addition to classical Ashtanga Vinyasa, there are quite a number of flow style schools, and many teachers who teach their own varients of that style.
Patthabi Jois is given the rightful place as father of modern vinyasa yoga. He called his form 'Ashtanga Vinyasa'. But it is important to remember his teacher (and it is part of yoga training to remember and honor your lineage, and your teachers), who also taught Desikachar, and Iyangar, and Indra Devi, was Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya was probably the most seminal teacher of the early 20th century. One of the things I find interesting is that if you attended his classes at the Palace at Mysore (he was under the protection of the Maharaja) you might also be working out in weight training classes, or doing European style gymnastics, or going to sun salutation practice. In some ways we think of the Indian practice of yoga coming to the west and new fusions being created here, but before it got here Indian teachers were both rediscovering the roots of their tradition, and creating new forms themselves. And the western students who went to study with Patthabi Jois, and their students who continue to teach the forms that have evolved from that form, continue a fluid, creative process whose roots are hundreds of years old.
What Makes the Practice Different?
Flow, or vinyasa yoga is marked by having held postures bound together by a repeated series of postures which are not held. Typically the breath moves in sequence with the postures. So, for example: plank would be an exhale, followed by cobra with an inhale, followed by down dog with an exhale, and so on. The repeating of the range of motion about the joints, the use of breath, and the building of heat all help deepen the postures which are held. The original six series of Patthabi Jois have been joined by hundreds of variants and new flows. For example, the one time guru of Kripalu, Amrit Desai actually did a kind of flow where instead of having a preset series, you would move with breath and a meditative state allowing the postures to arise naturally out of what felt right at that moment. Hot yoga, like the Baptiste style, is another example. The flow style is so popular that Yoga Journal publishes new ones as a regular feature. One can link whatever postures one likes, though there are some principles which help make the flow work more effectively. For example, rather than doing two backbends in a row you might move from a back bend to a forward bend. The basic principles of sequencing tend to follow in flow, as in much of yoga, though I think as long as the practice is done in a way that does not harm it speaks to the human quality of curiosity and play not to see the guidelines as written in stone.
What is it that makes the Practice Appealing?
I believe flow echoes, or perhaps participates in, a fundamental commonality of human physiology and of the multidimensional space and time we inhabit, and it is that synergy that gives the practice its pull.
The living human body a large number of processes each of which has a pattern or flow. The most obvious is the heart beat. You can scan and record the heart beat and mark recurring points (the QRS complex, for example), like recurring postures with flow between. The release of certain hormones, peristalsis, ….. there are numerous flows going on inside our bodies all the times. Think of the shift between sympathetic system (when we are angry, or excited, or otherwise aroused. I blogged on this before) and parasympathetic (when the markers of arousal, such as increases in cortisol level, heart rate, sweating, respiration, decrease). We flow at need (hopefully) between arousal and release, just as in our flow we reach up, and bend over, or open the chest, and then curl inward. The most central of these flows, or perhaps, the most outwardly obvious one is breath. Inhale flowing to exhale is the rhythm of life. Physiologically it is both simple and complex: breath dominance shifting at regular intervals (about 1 to 6 hours in most people, though it can fade with age) from left to right, rate of breath increasing with mental or physical arousal, and decreasing as the arousal fades....
These flows, these waves define the human condition. It is sitting still that goes against the grain. They also show our commonality with the world in which we live. The seasons we experience are a repeating flow that follows the flow of the planet we inhabit. The regular pulsation of an atom, the flow of light... That which is too small to see, that which is too large to grasp, and us in the middle... we are all part of a continuously pulsing dance. Flow is the essence of what is. It is the synthetic a priori. It is the pattern of life. It is the wave upon which our boat moves. And our yoga, in finding and using the flows of pranayama and/or asana give us a window to understand, as well as a tool to steer our boats.
When I was 14 my mom went back to work. Since she was working in a department store, and sometimes working evenings I began to cook meals sometimes. My mom did not love to share her kitchen, so I had not done much cooking before that ( Though I think it is better to teach kids cooking early, I can understand that; she had five kids, and not a large amount of money so she worked extremely hard and kids can make a lot of mess in the kitchen. ) The other thing that happened is that I went to a high school on the other side of town, and the bus ride was significantly longer. It could be as much as an hour and a half with a transfer and wait for a second bus downtown, and a walk after that. So sometimes I would go to the downtown library when I got there and wait for a ride with my dad when he finished working. In addition to studying and doing homework there I began to read cookbooks, (as well as other do it yourself books), and started to try to cook occasional meals of food from other cultures. This was the seventies, so fI wasn't lucking onto books on, or ingredients for things so common today as Vietnamese spring rolls, or Ethiopian injira, but I tried my hand at Irish, and German, and French food. I also used to stop for an orange, or honey candy from a tiny whole foods shop on the corner near my mom's store (also downtown) and get their free magazine. It was my first foray into the idea of food's connection to health. I can remember big containers of brewer's yeast, and carob candy. I tried some recipes from the magazine also, though I had less success with them. I suspect some of my siblings may still remember the fiasco of the ground peanut burgers.
But though French food from a novice fourteen year old is probably about what one would expect, some things were more successful. I baked bread for the first time that year. We had no bread machine, or cuisinart, so I beat and kneaded by hand. I did not have bread pans, so I baked round blobs on cookie sheets. The first time I ended up with about eight loaves. They were wonderful. Crisp on the outside, warm and with a slight yeast scent, and a bit of chew.
Here is a revelation. Baking bread by hand provides something so beautiful and rich to the senses. It does not need artificial enhancement , or colorful packaging, or expensive advertising to make us want to eat it. And in the process of kneading I found my first experience of meditation. You push, and roll, and dust with flour, and the mind flows with the roll of the dough. To smell the air as you enter the house, to bite into the newly baked loaf that has been made with love for you by someone you know.... this is to open the heart.
I also think making foods from scratch, even if you only try it once or twice, is really important. When you go to the grocery today so much is pre made and processed. We look at the box and see the outer, surface layer. We open the box and see it as an object already whole, but we do not see (and the companies who make premade food often do not want us to lift the veil and see) under that surface. It is like seeing ourselves by looking in a mirror. In my yoga practice I try to encourage people to see themselves beyond the skin..... to feel the movement of muscle and joint, to understand the action of the organs, to find the connections between brain and body, to understand the cognitive, intellectual, and emotive part of themselves, and to see how those things move together. Through understanding we can find change, we can not just drift but steer our selves. Baking bread gives you the power of understanding.... when you reach for a loaf and turn it over and read the ingredients you can know what is in the original thing, and what is being added to be able to give you a surface illusion of that thing.
It is not just bread either. I tried my hand at pickles, and bagles, and English muffins, and fruit cake, and jam, and even cheese. I grew my own mint and made mint jelly from it. Growing something and making something from it is really wonderful. I never made it as far as growing wheat, but we did go to a local mill once and buy stone ground corn meal. (Actually my interest in understanding from scratch how things are made, and tracing those roots for myself go beyond food. I have made candles, and took a course on book making. To this day I have a beautiful little book I made: I sewed the binding, glued the end pages, built and fit the cover, and stamped the outside with gold letters saying “Fait a la Main”. Every time I open a book I feel more connected to it because I have made one. It is kind of like how a doctor learns the human form more deeply through dissection.)
So if you are a practitioner of yoga, looking for self understanding, or health, or strength, or peace of mind, remember that in its original form yoga does not begin and end with movements done on the yoga mat. It is about the whole person, and the whole of our interactions with our world and the others in it. If you are a person who loves to run, or lift, or do other exercises, remember that the health and strength you seek is a factor of not just your physical movement, but of what you choose to eat, and more broadly of all the life choices you make. It is important to look past the surface, to turn over the package in the store and read the label, to learn what each ingredient you are putting in your mouth actually is. It is important to try to make what you eat actually healthful. But we must all be willing to learn and look, before we can understand and see. To make that food by hand is to learn that lesson deeply. To eat that food you have made by hand is to take that lesson home, and to nourish your body truly. To share that food with those you love is to share that lesson, and nourish your heart as well as your body.
All people get older. That is a baseline of the human condition. But although the effects of age, broadly speaking, are part of the life cycle, how quickly and how much they develop is variable. We cannot change our DNA (yet). Some people have greater risks for heart disease, or cancer, for instance. But lifestyle choices can have an enormous impact across our lives on how we age, and even the way genes are expressed can be affected by those lifestyle choices.
One of the most useful tools for holding back the effects of aging is exercise. The effects of exercise are almost directly opposite to the effects of age, though less strong. Exercise cannot stop the body from aging, but it can slow many of its effects. Doing a variety of exercises is particularly helpful as each will have varied benefits.
There is a gradual loss of bone mineral density from a peak (around 25 or 30, usually). In women this is retarded until menopause, but increased after that. Weight bearing exercise can protect bone density, or even increase it.
Musculoskeletal strength also diminishes over time: but weight bearing exercise increases it. A person at 80 will not be as strong as they were at 25 (on average there can be a loss of 50% of muscle mass by 80), even if they have a lifelong habit of lifting weights, BUT they will be stronger than a lot of younger people who do not lift weights, and they will be way stronger than others in their age range.
Cardiovascular exercise helps push back decrease in cardiovascular function (as well as aid in musculoskeletal strength). Though there is an age effect in the loss of elasticity in the blood vessels, high blood pressure, plaque in the arteries, and all sorts of detriments to cardiovascular functioning can be lessened through exercise. Again, you cannot stop aging, but there are a lot of ways you can balance against age related loss.
Flexibility, particularly with respect to the spine, is enhanced through stretching exercises. With age the intervertebral discs dry and shrink. The bending and twisting of yoga works like squeezing one of those jell filled toys, moving fluid and helping to hydrate the discs. It also generally helps promote range of motion through all the joints of the body. The increase of range of motion of the joints is particularly helpful to those with arthritis whose range of motion is decreased or painful.
Balance can become difficult with age. A number of factors contribute to this: loss of flexibility and a resultant difficulty in maintaining posture, loss of core conditioning, decrease in visual and auditory sensitivity. Many trainers and group exercise teachers incorporate balance work, and in many mind body exercise like yoga and tai chi it is central.
Urinary incontinence can be an issue for some older people. Core exercises, like Pilates, as an example can be very helpful.
There are many areas where I think yoga is particularly excellent for allowing the body to age gracefully and with strength and health. The flexibility, range of motion, and benefit to the spine are only part of this. Yoga postures are not equivalent to stretches. Many postures build strength: arms, shoulders, hips, legs and back are all strengthened, not by an external weight, but by the body's own weight. The effects of yoga on strength are different than the effects of weight lifting, and I do not see them as mutually exclusive. For those with limited strength it provides opportunity to begin simply and work up slowly. Yoga promotes mental functioning within exercise. Moving slowly and with awareness helps avoid injury. This can be really important for someone with brittle bones. There are core awareness exercises within yoga to promote a reduction in back pain, and help strengthen the pelvic floor. One of the places where yoga shines is with the sensory diminishing that happens with age. Vision, hearing, smell, and taste tend to recede with age. Yoga promotes kinesthetic awareness, extending awareness inward. But it also encourages the practice of menal focus to pay attention to what our senses show us, and how our bodies respond.
Stepping back here, remember that while the fact of age is, well, a fact, how we regard the aging process and older people is a cultural construct. What I mean is this: different cultures value different things.... and I don't just mean that some cultures look down on the consumption of red meat, or some value mustaches on men. Some cultures place a high value on older people, considering them as sources of wisdom and experience. Some value more the energy of youth. Actually, traditional yoga philosophy would say that the way one learns yoga shifts with age, rather than trying to make an older person into a young person. A young person would be expected to work on discipline and respect to the teacher, in the prime of life one would work on strength, and as one ages one uses the practice with more inward focus as one journeys to the next stage. The current western culture comes down pretty much on value for youth. This is especially true for women. There is a definite current in our society that a pretty, thin, young woman is more valued. So for some women age is a frightening place where their sense of self value seems to slip away with every year. The message of yoga is that neither who we are, nor what value we have is about poundage or wrinkles. The flame in us may be clouded by anger and hatred and narcissism, but not by age, or physical limitation.
When we begin a yoga practice the question is always 'why did I come to the mat today?' What is the intention of the practice. I think we should also consider what exercise has to offer us as we age, but also how we view ourselves in that process. Are we exercising to continue to enjoy, and participate in all that life has to offer us, for as long and as healthily as we can? Or are we fighting against age as a monster and an enemy that seeks to take any value we once held? Do we want to make ourselves look as much as possible as a sixteen year old, or take joy in being a healthy how ever year old? Loosing weight, building muscle, developing endurance and balance can enhance the enjoyment of our life. One individual cannot change a whole culture (well, usually, anyway), but we can seek to promote respect for the continuum of human existence. If we come to the mat running away from something, or in fear, how will we ever allow ourselves to be fully open? Here is the truth in the yoga adage, the process is more important than the endpoint, and every day, every practice is to be enjoyed to its fullest for whatever it brings.
Flexibility is about more than Hamstrings
This does not mean that one can never be too flexible. The human form is beautifully balanced between strength and flexibility. If a joint becomes too mobile it can be more easily injured. If it becomes too tight it can be more easily injured. Moreover, as a whole the form exists in balance …. each joint works in combination with the others within a complex balanced system. The same thing can be said of the mind. Someone who believes and follows the last person with whom they spoke is going to get into as much trouble as the person who never changes their position even in the face of absolute proof of their incorrectness.
With holidays this means that it is important to meet changes to the expected with an eye to what matters, and the ability to bend. Will your holiday really be ruined if you do not get the window seat? (I used to really covet that seat, but generally was placed between my two younger brothers in an effort to curb battles).
Flexibility also balances habit. Habit is a powerful thing. One of the most frustrating things for me as a teacher is going to a class with someone who does movements almost like mine with small differences. My body wants to go into the same groove it is used to. But to move out of the comfortable groove requires seeing where the groove takes you and that requires svadhyaya.
Become the Self that Observes without Judgement
I know people who come to the mat as though they are on one side of a sparring mat and their legs (somehow as a separate entity) are on the other and they are doing battle. I think it can be helpful, even before practicing ahimsa to practice observation.
The same is true in life. Non judging observation is one of the best tools to begin to work on habit. Like keeping a food diary lets us see exactly how we eat. (Assuming we log everything in, which is hard). So just as you notice as you step on the mat if you are lifting your shoulders again, or leaning on one leg, and make small changes, it can help to notice a pattern of action or reaction with events and people. A child whines, you yell. Perhaps one could offer a sandwich. Or a game of fish. (Actually I found that I would be halfway through saying I was taking a toy away and realized I was reacting angrily where it was just making things worse and would add I would take it for 7 million years. We all knew it was a joke and tended to decrease the tension. At least when the kids were six or so.)
Of course, what do you do with what you observe? Is it “Wow, I am weak in my shoulders, I am going into headstand RIGHT NOW!”
Headstand is not for Everyone or Every class and Hard Postures need Preparation
Not every pose in yoga is about bending. Some are about grounding. Some are about strength. One things you try to do in a yoga practice is decide what postures you need. And you cannot write a list one day and that is it for every day for the rest of your life. Figuring out when and in what order is as important as what. Some people need to practice forward bends, and some need to practice plank. And the same person may need different things different days. Also, you cannot tackle a posture like eka pada koundiyanasana (look it up if you don't know it) the first time you come to the mat.
There are times where you do need to stand firm. On the other hand if you never met an issue where you do not believe you are absolutely right and anyone who disagrees with you is an idiot you need to practice flexibility (and humility). But if you give in on everything, if you never see yourself as capable and strong that is just as much as a problem. The important thing is to pick your battles. Fight for the ones that really matter. And have the patience to wait till the time is right. Thanksgiving might not be the best time of year to go on a fast. That does not mean you cannot moderate your pleasures (remember the black and white thing? Rather than “I am going to eat every pie I see until I am completely stuffed for the next month” You might try “I am going to eat and enjoy some homemade treats during the season.... one a day, but not eat the prepackaged store made junk that is full of trans fat, food coloring, and chemicals.) It might also be not the best time to have a conversation about your child's grades in French. Such conversations do well when there is lower stress level, and less distractions. I believe most people can master headstand. Most. But not everyone will want to, and that needs to be honored. And advanced difficult postures need to be approached with caution and preparation.
Despite what the Ancient Texts Say You are Probably not going to cure every Disease with Just Yoga and it is a good idea to take advantage of Modern Medicine
This is a serious one. Ever since I was old enough to read fashion magazines I have seen articles suggesting bubble baths and candles and alone time as a cure for a stressful day. I agree with the principle, though I do not like bubble baths (massage therapy on the other hand...). However, if stress, and worry moves into anxiety or depression.... if you are dealing with more than the normal variation in mood all humans have, … if things seem unbearable or unyielding, … if life seems like walking through oatmeal.... talk to someone: your physician, a school health counsellor, your spiritual leader, or contact the NAMI help line:
If you do not Step on the Mat you will not have a Practice
It can seem easier sometimes to sit difficult things out. The age of the internet makes it easy to avoid messy human interaction. But engagement is key to living. Do remember the balance principle: If you are attending events like attending to an 150 item to do list it is like doing yoga at 140 beats per minute. None of the poses are going to have a chance to do much, and you are likely to end up injured. Balance rest and play. Choose events and people you believe will enrich your spirit and give you joy. Do not bring what is harmful to the body or mind or spirit to your mat. But turn your face to the sunlight, and open your heart to possibility. Remember what Mother Theresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness....”
Remember in School when they Asked “For what are You Thankful?”
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise can be a really important part of maintaining health and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. The yoga mat is a place at its best for that journey toward peace and joy, health and wellness.
I would say, for me as a teacher, the greatest honor over the years has been to welcome students whose bodies or spirits are not perfectly fit and flexible and strong, but who seek those things. Years ago I was working as a trainer at a small gym, and a woman walked up the stairs into the club: middle aged, a little plump, a bit out of shape, never having been in a gym before. Twenty years almost later I still remember her. What courage it took to walk into a place so foreign to her, to risk opening herself to possible criticism and judgement. (She actually chose well. This place was welcoming to the non fit). Her trust and the trust of others like her have been among the greatest gifts I have been given.
"I Hope You Dance"
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
Dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance..
Lee Ann Womack “I Hope You Dance”
One way to begin strength training is to buy a set of dumbbells and start moving them around. Over time, bit by bit, we come to understand that we can get better benefits by being more precise: we start organizing our lifting into sets and reps, measuring the amount of weight lifted, planning out which days to train, and so on. What a good trainer understands though, is that there is a step missing here. Like a student who teaches themselves piano and then goes to a teacher only to struggle with hand position ( I can remember at 19 struggling with using the correct fingering. What I had taught myself worked, but made certain reaches almost impossible to get past.). Or like building a lego tower without attention to the structure of the base. It is fine up to a point, but get to a certain height and the whole thing falls. With legos you can pick it up and build again rather easily (with a few tears depending on your age), and is a good way to learn proper building technique and patience and resilience. But with an actual building, as with your actual body, the stakes are bigger.
Most of todays trainers will not start 'pumping you up' until they address the base. For the body the base is where your body is in terms of alignment. We look to musculoskeletal alignment at rest, and then with movement... from the core through the whole kinetic chain (movement from one joint through others). Before you run, how do you stand? Before you lift a 10 pound dumbbell is the shoulder misaligned? A fencer may have muscles overdeveloped on their weapon side, a parent who holds a 12 pound baby on their hip may have tight muscles on one side. A person with scoliosis, or one leg longer than the other will have muscles that are either tight or lengthened. It is important to understand both what the human form and human movement looks like in theory, and what it looks like in your own form. Then it is important to understand the difference between those overuses that can be balanced, and those that must be worked around (Remember the prayer of St. Francis?)
At its best this understanding needs to go deeper than what the muscles and bones are doing. Even if your goal is to strengthen,or to sculpt the muscles, the actions of those skeletal muscles and bones will affect the heart, the other internal organs, the fascial web.
So what does yoga offer to strength training?
A long time ago when I was actively doing personal training I had a client come to me who worked in economic development in underdeveloped countries. She was going to be traveling to a place where she would have a small room, where outside running, or even walking without an escort was dangerous, where available equipment was non existent, and the length and difficulty of that travel made carrying weights a real challenge. Even access to clean water was an issue. I offered her a yoga practice, which would help with keeping her flexibility, her stress reduction, her overall health, as well as her strength.
In strength training we distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic training. Extrinsic training is about lifting, moving, or carrying weights: a dumbbell, a barbell, a child, or a couch. Intrinsic training is about moving one's own body against gravity: a push-up, a pull- up, getting out of a chair to make a sandwich. There is research available on the benefits of each. My sense is that unless you are training for a specific end (a body building competition, a cycling competition, and so on) it is less important to choose training that gives the best result within micorunits, but to do things that you enjoy, that give results, that minimize injury, and that vary, because varying the load helps minimize injury. So I think it is good to do some of both. For my client in that month she was traveling she could use the body weight exercises of the vinyasa yoga routine, and do whatever activities of daily living that were required of her, and then return to the weight room when she got home.
I can remember a real divide between the yoga people and the strength trainers years ago. I would say I see less of it now, but that may be because I walk more in the yoga world these days. I can remember body builders rejecting stretching or yoga as likely to undo the sculpted bulky muscles they had worked to create. I also remember vividly women particularly coming into the gym for the first time and being quite adamant that they only wanted to do cardio as if they did weights they thought they would get bulky. Leaving aside the competitive athlete, whose goals are specific and require a specific program of training, we need to remember that everything we do affects everything we are. The muscles you build with strength training are the muscles that work to burn calories during cardio. Strength training, cardiovascular training, flexibility training, balance training: these all focus on a different part of the human organism, but the systems they target exist in an interdependent web. Just as if you kill off the bees the plants will have problems, and if you kill off the plants the plant eaters like mice will have problems, and if you kill off the mice the hawks will have problems, and up the chain.
Yoga is associated with flexibility, but once you begin to practice you understand that while it enhances flexibility it also enhances other things: balance, focus, breath control, stress management, mind body coordination, and, yes, strength.
I think what yoga has to offer for strength training comes in a few areas. First goes back to the idea of creating alignment and balance of muscles before starting to strengthen any one area. Yoga is a system that is based on the idea of finding imbalance and creating balance so as to decrease compensation of tight or week muscles, and thereby allowing proper range of motion within particular muscles when training that muscle.
Yoga promotes (through dharana and pratayahara) kinesthetic focus that helps avoid chronic or acute injury. You move into positions slowly and with mind focused on what you are doing and what you feel. You are encouraged to back off if something feels wrong. I always tell my students that pain is their friend because it warns them where not to walk.
Yoga promotes balance between joint stability and joint mobility. Too much flexibility leads to joint instability. Too much stability decreases the ability to attend to activities of daily living, and decreases appropriate range of motion in individual joints. Yoga done improperly will lead to injury, like anything else. Yoga done properly can cause an injury, like any other body system, but is much less likely to as long as we adhere to the principles. I have had one or two injuries, but in each case it was not out of the yoga, but other aspects of my training. I have some ligamental damage from high impact aerobics with a poorly trained instructor. I had a shoulder injury from carrying heavy groceries after attending 2 10 hour days of a personal training convention almost 20 years ago. Clearly I was not listening to how fatigued I was. But after decades of yoga I still find the yoga helps me to work around where I have problems, rather than creating them: as long as I do not try to do ninja yoga, or forget to be present in my practice.
Yoga teaches us to decrease momentum, and thereby to increase control of our movements. This helps us keep the work within the range of motion and the particular muscles we are targeting.
Through the use of mulha bandha and uddiyana bandha yoga teaches us to work from the center (physically in this case, philosophical or spiritual centering is part of it, but not what I am talking about here) learning to engage not just the rectus abdominus, but all of the structures of the core.
And in its practice of pranayama yoga promotes the avoidance of breath holding, that in weight lifting is associated with transient increase of blood pressure. Breath work in yoga is good for many things, but very transferable to weight training in its avoidance of the valsava maneuver.
I thought about ending by recommending a few strength building postures, but I am hesitant to do so. I fear it would be like giving a new person entering the weight room 2 ten pound dumbbells and instructions on doing bicep curls. Really good in themselves, but if done repeatedly in the absence of a balanced program not enough, and likely to create imbalance, rather than balanced results. I hope if you do yoga you will consider trying a few of the strengthening postures. I hope if you do a lot of power yoga, you will consider trying some alignment and breath focused classes as well. I hope if you have injuries you will seek out someone with training in restorative yoga, as well as a good physical therapist. I hope if you are in my classes you will talk to me about what you feel and what you want and what you need in your class. I hope if you do not do yoga you will maybe give it a try. And I hope if you are going to give it a try you seek out someone who walks the middle path..... with experience and training.....who looks for more than the quick burn, and the most extreme moves. Most of all I wish you well wherever the path takes you.
Head, heart, and hands
This past week has been really busy. Actually things have seemed rather busy for a while now. It is at the point that the piles of 'to be done when I get the chance' on my desk have dates at the bottom of the pile that would be way past due if they were cartons of milk. Some of it if it were packaged cheese. At least I am not at the dried bean stage.
I started to think last night as I was setting the alarm and preparing for bed about what the options were for a strategy to reduce the problem going forward. First I thought, “I am really tired, but maybe getting up earlier will give me time when I am fresh”, unfortunately past experience has taught me that though I do get up earlier if I have, say, a 5 am class to teach, if the work is not actually scheduled in I am more likely to hit snooze. It is kind of like when one says to oneself “Starting tomorrow I will begin a healthy eating plan (i.e. a diet, though that word is out of fashion) and then one gets up groggily and pours coffee and grabs a slice of white bread (not to say a pop tart) and then says “oops, well, I'll have to start tomorrow”, and eats everything in sight because, well, starting tomorrow one will not be eating any of it. That is one of the problems with the whole all or nothing plan. Occasionally it works, often it collapses and makes things worse. And trying to begin anything first thing in the morning is, I think, usually a bit hard anyway. So I decided, yes, occasionally getting up earlier is a good idea, but I should let it be a naturally occurring thing, if I can manage a few extra minutes in the morning I will use it to get a healthier breakfast into everyone.
Then, of course, the natural thought is, if I need more time, and it is hard to get moving in the morning, how about if I stay up later? Again, unfortunately, my self knowledge was a bit problematic. Most of the time in the evening I am very tired and find focus hard. When I was in college I often stayed up late reading Thomas Mann and Fyodor Dostoevsky (two of my favorite authors of the time), but in my fifties my clock has shifted. Folding laundry; not a problem. Doing the accounts, or writing.... well, I tend to sit looking at the screen, maybe checking facebook, or getting distracted by a story someone posted, and by the time I have to admit it is a question of diminishing returns it is pretty late, and if I had just gone to bed earlier I might have made option one happen. The other general problem with staying up late is I have seen some reports (sorry I do not have the citation) that one tends to eat more calories if one stays up late. That was certainly true when I was in college. I was particularly fond of ice cream and steamed broccoli (not at the same time). So, again, I think I am best leaving this as an open possibility for nights I do not have to be up super early the next day, and/or there is something particular needing to be finished on a tight deadline.
If, therefore, (as the logicians say) I cannot easily add to the total available minutes for 'doing things', can I be more efficient with the minutes I have? This is certainly a possibility. It takes a little discipline and self knowledge, but can be tackled in easy chunks. If I need to watch a training video it is easy enough to schedule it for a big pile of laundry to fold. If I have errands it is easy enough to map them out and do them on one day, with a list organized in a geographic line out of town and back in. If I have ink cartridges to take to the office store, and batteries to take to town recycling, it is easy to store them in the car for when I drive by. A lot of this can be done with an online to do list. Actually, I already do a lot of this, but a review of where I am with everything might lead to some efficiency. Of course, the mistake here is to delete all down time. If I remember correctly in the children's book “A Secret Garden” the older boy's mother said 'the two worst things for children are to always have their own way, or to never have it' (do not remember the whole quote), but down time is like that. Take none and you will eventually loose all of your energy and productivity, take too much, and it will be the same (you know I am going to say it... we are back to Aristotle)
Another option is to decrease the minutes of required work. There are a few methods for this. First I could outsource. This works best if you do the math ….. can you hire someone who will do a much better job, and/or will charge less than you would be able to make in the same amount of time so you do not have to work more hours to pay for the work? I no longer steam clean the rugs. It is an annual job (we have asthma and allergies in the house, so this is a priority), so the cost is not incurred too often, but for me to do it takes significantly more work than the wonderful gentleman I have found who comes in with his backpack. I take shirts to the laundry because they do a better, quicker job pressing than I do. I do not hire a housecleaner anymore though, because the cost is high for a recurring expense. Right now I really want someone to repair my lawn mower, as I have been struggling for hours with it. The mowing I do not mind, but repair takes too much time for me, as I am not experienced or naturally gifted with this. A lot of us do this with food.... we cook less from scratch and buy more premade. This is something that has to be really well planned. I do not see most families baking bread weekly, or soaking beans overnight several times a week, and making sofrito and hummus, or pickling their own vegetables, and so on. All of these things are good to do, but we need to pick and choose.... and if we buy premade read the labels very carefully. It can be done, but the cost to health of buying pre packaged junk may outweigh any extra minutes we get in any case.
Another way to decrease the required work is to rewrite that to do list. Shift the standards on how much or how often, or how thoroughly something needs to be done: Wash bed linens every week? Or every second or third week? Move the furniture when you run the swifter? Write the blog every week?.....
Actually, the blog is kind of like dessert for me. Well, actually all of my teaching, of which writing is a part. I am very fortunate to have work that I truly love. I would be on the mat twice the number of hours I am now, but I have to balance it with the daily work of life, the needs of my family and household. I have to remember that I left full time teaching to practice the karma yoga of raising a family, and that job is not done yet. It is balancing all these threads, these competing demands on our time that takes a little strategy. And some logical thinking. One of the best classes I took in college (and one of the ones that at the time gave me the greatest despair) was symbolic logic. Though yoga teaches us to open our hearts and to connect the heart and mind if we ONLY practice bhakti (heart opening) we do a disservice to our mind. Jnana balances bhakti. Logic and the ability to organize conceptually are tools as important to develop as emotional resilience or strong muscles.