Chair Yoga for Men

Senior Men’s Yoga has moved to a new time; 7am on Wednesdays.  Yes it’s early, and there was some grumbling from the regulars used to the afternoon time.  But, it’s a great way to start the day.  We’re also shifting the focus slightly and rebranding the class as Chair Yoga for Men.

Chair Yoga is a general term that simply means we are modifying poses and exercises to make them more attainable.  Postures are done seated on the chair or the chair is used for support (as needed) during standing and balancing poses. Chair YogaThe chair allows for greater stability to help you feel supported and safe.  Just as important, basic body mechanics of postures are retained no matter the individual’s circumstance.

You don’t have to sit cross legged on the floor to do Yoga!

In addition to a good stretch, chair yoga participants have reported better breathing habits and improved sleep patterns, reduction of stress and more ease in their body.  Chair Yoga for Men is suitable for seniors, people working with an injury and guys with a little extra in the middle.  Beginners are welcome.

Yoga at Fitness Over Fifty does require a Fit Class Pass at an extra cost to members.  But, you do not have to be a member to take the class.  And, first class is free.  Come check out Chair Yoga for Men at the new time.  If you have additional questions, contact André at 541-760-9122 or andre.alyeska@gmail.com.

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Yoga Benefits for Children with Autism

Regular readers know I work with austistic kids.  This was a nice article on the benefits of Yoga and approaches to presenting Yoga to children, especially children on the spectrum, and the challenges of teaching Yoga in schools.  Good stuff.  I’ll say this, however, I face most of those challenges with regular classes; some people do well with a visual cue, others don’t like the chant or religion.  What the article didn’t address is getting a reluctant child to simply exercise.

The Cosmic Serpent

The Cosmic Serpent

The Cosmic Serpent
DNA and the Origins of Knowledge
by Jeremy Narby, Peguin Putman, 1998

Jeremy Narby is a western educated anthropologist who entered the Amazon with the desire to protect indigenous rights.  His goal was to facilitate a sort of materializing of a non-material culture, so that their knowledge of the plants was being monetized in their favor rather than for the sole benefit of giant chemical companies.  And, in doing so, protect the rain forest and the human cultures it supports.

In his first interactions with the Ashaninca peoples from the Pichis Valley in the Peruvian Amazon he would ask, “How did you learn all this?” in reference to plants they use for their concoctions.  They would say ‘the plants told us.’  He could not accept this simple answer at face value.  It had to be a metaphor.  Plants don’t speak.

What he found out, however, was that it was not a metaphor.  The Ashaninca were being literal.  As Narby tried to understand what they were telling him, he kept running into aspects of their knowledge base that simply did not make sense through his lens, that of an academic.  It was, he says, “almost despite myself” that he began to study with shamans to understand how they acquire knowledge.

At first he listens and observes how they learn.  “I was continually struck by their profound practicality.  They did not talk of doing things; they did them.”  “People were suspicious of abstract concepts.  When an idea seemed really bad, they would say dismissively, “Es pura teoría” [“That’s pure theory”].  The two words that cropped up over and over in conversations were práctica and táctica, “practices” and “tactics” – no doubt because they are requirements for living in the rain forest.”

These observations and discussions weren’t enough.  To more completely open to what he was attempting to absorb, he tried the ayahuasca, the powerful psychedelic brew made from of a combination of various plants known to the natives.  This was met with mixed results.  While he did have visions associated with this type of activity, what his journey really requires is to disengage from the intellect to understand.  The book is, in large part, a story of his being unable to do this.

But it’s a fascinating read as he explains the process of having to adjust his focus from a purely rational point of view to what he calls a de-focalized gaze, which allows one to truly see what has been there all along.  In Yoga we use the dṛṣṭi, a focus on one point, as a means for developing concentration.  But I find when I am truly focused I see much more, my awareness becomes exponential.  In those states, I would suggest, it is indeed a de-focalized gaze we experience.

Narby calls this subtle play between a highly focused and de-focalized gaze a paradox.  And his examination of this paradox leads him to question the ways we learn and turns his sense of understanding upside down.  He states, “It’s almost as if we have to suspend belief, to really see.”

Though he did not intend to set out on a Yogic journey, his story unfolds as one.

The more he hears their explanations the more he doubts what they are saying.  And yet, using modern science, he can identify over 30 chemical compounds in one particular mix.  As he explains how the various plants offset the properties of others to facilitate the hallucinations, he effectively debunks the notion that it would be possible to arrive at the concoction through simple trial and error.  So, the notion that the plants told them of their properties becomes more viable.

Zeus defeating Typhon as DNA

Zeus defeating Typhon
Typhon representing DNA

Outside of the hallucinogenic properties of the ayahuasca, particularly mind blowing is when Narby compares cultures across continents and across the ages, finding countless references to the double helix of DNA. The commonalities between the representations he finds over and over again suggests that “primitive” cultures have long known of these basic build blocks.  But we have dismissed their stories as mythology.

Though he finds this supporting evidence, Narby still can’t believe it.  Even though he has learned to de-focalize his gaze (in Yoga we might call this pure awareness,) he appears to return to the highly focalized gaze of the academic, searching for answers through facts he can verify, rather than experience.

In short, this is a story of a western man seeking to understand the nuance of an experiential culture.  He succeeds!   But it’s a familiar theme, the explorer gains understanding of the indigenous culture he came to study, yet succumbs to the curse of the western man; the inability to surrender the ego, and the need for the intellect to be engaged over what pure awareness can offer.

Simply Walking, Good for the Mind

mobilaserA recent article in the Orlando Sentinel focused on Dr. Jay Van Gerpen, a neurologist who specializes in gait.  He’s working with Parkinson’s patients on a study to help them stay on their feet and retain brain health.  Van Gerpen uses a simple tool, a laser device attached to walkers or canes that shoots a red laser beam in front of the person walking.

The theory is that visual cues can help Parkinson’s patients walk without freezing.  A telling sign of Parkinson’s is when gait and movement become imbalanced or halting. When patients focus on stepping over the line, they access the visual part of the brain, which bypasses the motor output area that isn’t working.

The old saying “there are many ways to skin a cat, ” proves true.  The laser provides a work-around.  The end result, a higher level of functionality.  One user stated; “When I wasn’t able to move as much, I noticed my brain was much worse,” Puckett said. “With the laser I can move, get around, and am definitely able to concentrate better.”

Now, regular readers will know I invariably tie these kind of news articles into the practice of Yoga.  Yep, here it is: when we practice moving from one posture into another, we are challenging the neural pathways, as well as stretching our tendons and joints, and maintaining muscle strength and tone.  We work with balance and we move with both symmetry and asymmetry.  As Jason Wallis, owner of Fitness Over Fifty says, “It’s good to keep the body guessing.”

So, as our society has become increasingly sedentary it’s important to remember; simple activity, like walking, is a great offense to maintain health and functional fitness.  Exercise improves or maintains circulation, ie: blood flow, which helps keep our tissues healthy, and keeps our systems active, challenged and in use.  In this example, we use an external tool (the laser) to maintain health when one part of system stops working properly.  Ingenious, really.

The Orlando Sentinel’s Marni Jameson has written several articles on Parkinson’s you can find a sub-category here.  The link to this article has many photos and a short video.  It’s informative and worth the time.

Everybody’s a Critic (of Yoga)

In the last month or so, I’ve run across three separate articles dressed up as criticism of western presentations of yoga.  The trouble is, they come across being more narcissistic and envious of the “culture” they are supposedly now boycotting, and end up sounding resentful of fame and success rather than offering true criticism.

So here, with a grain of salt, I’m criticizing the critics.

better bunsOne article focused on the sensationalistic, commenting on the launching of a Yoga porn site, and Yoga for Better Buns to make his point of capitalism infringing upon this spiritual practice.  But then this very same poster is blogging at the HuffingtonPost.com and he is also an author of two books on Mindfulness and Meditation, both with a handy link to the Amazon Store right after his article.  And, by the way, he’s written many other articles in such a style.  If you didn’t already know, bloggers at the Huffington Post don’t get paid for their articles.  They do it for exposure.  Can he be any more of a shill?

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Yoga and Basketball

I recently finished reading Tiger in a Lion’s Den, by former LSU men’s basketball coach Dale Brown. It’s kind of what you’d expect in reading a book by a coach. It certainly isn’t a literary masterpiece. But, I’m a hoops junkie, and I’ll read most books on basketball by successful coaches just to see what’s there.

Brown was an emotional leader, one who played by the rules and was an outspoken critic of the NCAA. I enjoyed his stories regarding coaching against basketball luminaries such as Bob Knight of Indiana and Joe B. Hall of Kentucky. The story I relate here had to do with UCLA coach John Wooden. Continue reading

Write It Down

Things happen for a reason. I’m more convinced of this than ever. A series of events align and it allows you to see from a different perspective. This happens whenever I venture north to Portland for a class with Chase Bossart. I’m there for a series on Asana Sequencing and a review of the Yoga Sutra, and a little nugget on meditation appears. Chase says, “If something comes up in the process of your meditation, write it down.” In other words, don’t stubbornly resist it.

I knew this. But why wasn’t I doing it?

At Kripalu, one of the concepts that was presented during our training was to “give permission.” Maybe I needed permission. So I sit down to my meditation the day after our weekend sessions, and I have no paper, no journal. So I write nothing down. My mind is addled, things come up, but I ignore them and press on.

I finish my meditation, and it was ok. But I realize I did not take advantage of that clarity. Thank the stars, Buddha, whomever… a process like this no longer drags out. The next day I have paper handy.

Wow. So much stuff is in my head.

There’s uncertainty in so many areas of my life right now.  But yet, little epiphanies arose out of meditation.  This time, I wrote them down. I have to say, though I seemed to stop many times, it did not affect my meditation. Time flew by and I was unburdened and more refreshed. And, beautifully so, I had a plan for one area of my life where I could bring some certainty. There was progress immediately.

I have had periods where I have meditated, each with different intentions. For some reason, I had meditated 45 days straight just prior to when the worst news of my life was revealed to me. I was amazingly stable. I meditated every day for a year. And more recently, with a workplace wellness challenge as an incentive, I meditated 31 days straight.  But, it dropped off again.

With all that is up in the air, I need my meditation to be regular.  This time, I will keep a journal nearby.

Enlighten Up!

Enlighten UpEnlighten Up!
A Skeptic’s Journey into the World of Yoga
Directed by: Kate Churchill, 2008

My friend Dudley recommended this movie, and I finally got around to watching it. Enlighten Up! is a documentary that takes Nick, a reluctant yet curious individual at a crossroads in life, and immerses him in yoga to see what happens.

The movie follows him as he seeks out many famous teachers, takes classes from them (sometimes to gain an audience) and interviews them. There are predictable scenes of Nick in uncomfortable poses, and clips from yoga proponents; some sounding wise, some appearing surprisingly grumpy, while others just seem a bit too far off in left field to be taken seriously. Continue reading

The Wisdom of Yoga

The Wisdom of YogaThe Wisdom of Yoga
A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living
by Stephen Cope, Bantam Books, Inc., 2007

Yoga is the practice of experience.  This is often lost on the western mind.  We see Yoga as a physical exercise and don’t understand or perhaps fear the depth of what experience beyond intellect can teach us.

The Yoga Sutras are incredibly distilled.  Much like the Taoist advice from the Tao Te Ching, the Sutras can seem maddeningly simplistic or even contrary.  In short, I’m not sure the Yoga Sutras would have made any sense to me had I not had the experiences I had in the studio. Continue reading

Jim Kallett and Bikram Yoga

Jkallett posterim Kallett – Lecture
Friday, January 4, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon

Jim Kallett was invited to town by my local studio to offer a posture clinic.  He also gave a lecture the evening before.  As a Bikram Yoga aficionado of 8 plus years, I was interested in what he had to say and looking forward to the Q&A.

The talk started out as I would have expected; a biographical review of Bikram Choudhury, his youth, his training and the history behind the sequence and bringing it to American.  As one who has read his books, I knew much of this and was a little impatient at the pace.  However, not everyone is as geeky about Yoga as I am, and lineage is a major element of Yoga.

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