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Study reveals great benefits to vigorous exercise — time to speed up your practice?

July 31, 2014

Here’s another opportunity to put 2 and 2 together and get: Ashtanga ought to be really good for you.

A new study, detailed here by the New York Times, has found that even a little bit — like five minutes a day — of vigorous exercise can have great health benefits:

Running for as little as five minutes a day could significantly lower a person’s risk of dying prematurely, according to a large-scale new study of exercise and mortality. The findings suggest that the benefits of even small amounts of vigorous exercise may be much greater than experts had assumed.

[snip]

For decades, researchers there have been collecting information about the health of tens of thousands of men and women visiting the clinic for a check-up. These adults, after completing extensive medical and fitness examinations, have filled out questionnaires about their exercise habits, including whether, how often and how speedily they ran.

From this database, the researchers chose the records of 55,137 healthy men and women ages 18 to 100 who had visited the clinic at least 15 years before the start of the study. Of this group, 24 percent identified themselves as runners, although their typical mileage and pace varied widely.

The researchers then checked death records for these adults. In the intervening 15 or so years, almost 3,500 had died, many from heart disease.

But the runners were much less susceptible than the nonrunners. The runners’ risk of dying from any cause was 30 percent lower than that for the nonrunners, and their risk of dying from heart disease was 45 percent lower than for nonrunners, even when the researchers adjusted for being overweight or for smoking (although not many of the runners smoked). And even overweight smokers who ran were less likely to die prematurely than people who did not run, whatever their weight or smoking habits.

As a group, runners gained about three extra years of life compared with those adults who never ran.

Remarkably, these benefits were about the same no matter how much or little people ran. Those who hit the paths for 150 minutes or more a week, or who were particularly speedy, clipping off six-minute miles or better, lived longer than those who didn’t run. But they didn’t live significantly longer those who ran the least, including people running as little as five or 10 minutes a day at a leisurely pace of 10 minutes a mile or slower.

For those who want to go right to the source, here’s a link to the study.

And then here’s why we can make a leap to Ashtanga:

The study did not directly examine how and why running affected the risk of premature death, he said, or whether running was the only exercise that provided such benefits. The researchers did find that in general, runners had less risk of dying than people who engaged in more moderate activities such as walking.

But “there’s not necessarily something magical about running, per se,” Dr. Church said. Instead, it’s likely that exercise intensity is the key to improving longevity, he said, adding, “Running just happens to be the most convenient way for most people to exercise intensely.”

The question, I suppose, is whether Ashtanga would count as vigorous exercise — unless done really leisurely, I can’t imagine it as moderate exercise. If you think it isn’t quite strenuous enough, there seems to be a few things to consider:

  • The focus ought to be on the vinyasa part of the practice (and maybe some of the tougher arm balances). Although it has been removed, for instance, maybe a short burst of full vinyasa might make sense. (That is, of course, with the intent of meeting these vigorous guidelines, which may not be your aim with your practice.)
  • I know in some quarters a Led Primary is pushing down toward an hour. While it has never been my preference, perhaps there’s something to it — again, for purposes related to this study.
  • Perhaps some intrepid rebel Ashtanga teacher wants to add a vigorous little section to the practice, maybe incorporate it into an improv class a few times a week. What about adding full vinyasa around Navasana?

Or, I suppose, you simply have to throw in five minutes of some other vigorous exercise per day. That’s not too much to ask, right?

What we really need is a study that looks at the combination of some vigorous exercise with a yoga practice.

Posted by Steve

On the yugas, and how to create your own Golden Age

July 30, 2014

Good post from Tim Miller this week, following up his last one that teased an end to the Kali Yuga. A few excerpts:

Another conception of the yugas comes from Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda.  In his book, The Holy Science, Sri Yukteswar explains the yugas in a way that makes more sense to me.  He begins by suggesting that within our galaxy there is a central point that our solar system orbits around in a 26,000-year cycle.

[snip]

Following Yukteswar’s reasoning, the next Golden Age will begin around 7,700 AD.  That’s a long time to wait, but not nearly as long as 427,000 years.  The good news, according to Yukteswar, is that the Kali Yuga is over, and the bad news is that the next Golden Age will not happen in our lifetime.

The real takeaway is this, though:

Little things like spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity, spending quality time with our family, and endeavoring to take the high road in all of our actions are ways of ending our personal Kali Yuga and giving birth to our own Golden Age.

Click the above link to find out which spontaneous acts he was talking about.

In the spirit of his good news/bad news comparison, a piece of good news is that Bobbie and I are, after a few weeks, feeling settled back into life in Los Angeles. We’re still processing the Yatra — if I manage to write something more sustained for Namarupa, another bit of good news is I have what I think is a smashing title — and will continue to do so. The bad news is that, as Tim mentions in his post, his two weeks at Mt. Shasta begin this weekend and we again won’t be there. (That’s the bad news, not that Shasta is happening.) We are planning to either go to Tulum or Shasta next year, though. My guess is it’ll be Shasta — avoiding airplanes for slightly longer.

Posted by Steve

Learn the Ashtanga pranayama sequence

July 29, 2014

David Garrigues a week ago uploaded a series of videos teaching the Ashtanga pranayama sequence.

The whole series on Vimeo is right here. Cost: $35, and it runs 132 minutes — broken into parts. Here’s DG’s description:

This video series is dedicated to Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who was a Vayu Siddha, a master of breathing, and from whom I learned this sequence. Study the material offered on these discs and your breathing can become a well spring, a main source for tapping the tremendous life force within you. Like Hanuman, the loyal servant of Ram, your breath can become a formidable ally, a most devoted friend that guides you further into the beloved practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Through practice may you attain Vayu Siddhi, perfection of breathing and go inwards to Self.

THIS VIDEO SERIES INCLUDES TWO LEARNING TRACKS:

TRACK 1 consists of the first 6 videos and introduces you to the Ashtanga Pranayama sequence by giving you step by step, detailed instruction in each of the five pranayama’s that make up the sequence. You can study each pranayama separately or all at the same time with the Full Instructed Pranayama Sequence.

TRACK 2 consists of the last 6 videos where you can practice each pranayama separately without instruction or you can practice the entire thirty plus minute Ashtanga Pranayama Sequence without instruction.

Depending on your perspective, this could be controversial, I suppose. Some teachers hold off on pranayama for more advanced students. (There are requirements for being part of the pranayama classes during Sharath’s visit to the U.S. in September, for instance.) While leading us through basic pranayama on our Yatra (while at about 12,000 feet, camping in the Himalayas), Robert Moses recounted a story or two of people doing too much pranayama and having some strong reactions. I think the technical term is, “They sort of went crazy for a while.”

Of course, there are Third Series videos available out there — again, your reaction probably will vary. DG does include this description of his teaching philosophy:

As an Ashtanga Ambassador he bases his teachings on the idea that ‘Anyone can take practice.’ said by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. He is dedicated to sharing the beauty and soul of Ashtanga Yoga with everyone.

David’s mission is to be part of an ever wider circle of people who are dedicated to exploring the living, contemporary, lineage of Ashtanga Yoga. He wants to join with enthusiastic people who are open and committed to learning and applying the teachings in ways that promote physical, psychological, and spiritual growth in themselves and others.

You can get a pretty clear sense of his perspective there. Still, perhaps I’ll make sure to add this caveat: Be careful. This type of controlled, intense breathing can stir up your physical and subtle bodies, alike. If done properly and under the guidance of a teacher, though, it can be a very important piece to your sadhana. (The videos may have similar warnings.)

Posted by Steve

The coconut water wars

July 28, 2014

Yes, we’re going a little New York Times heavy these past few days. But here’s another story that seems right up the yoga/Ashtanga alley — the selling of coconut water:

The battle for this market, worth $400 million a year and growing, now involves big players like Pepsi and Coke. But in the beginning, it looked more like a street fight between two guys. One was then a 29-year-old college dropout who rolled to Manhattan bodegas at night, on in-line skates, carrying samples in a backpack. The other was a former Peace Corps volunteer, driving a beat-up Econoline Ford van and fighting for the same turf.

Michael Kirban, who with a buddy founded Vita Coco, and Mark Rampolla, who founded its archrival Zico, happened to start selling nearly identical brands, in the same neighborhoods of New York City, at almost the same time — a week or two apart, in late 2004.

Those in the fray called it the coconut water wars. Each side quickly bulked up with sales teams and tried to win over Manhattan, one grocery store and yoga studio at a time.

It’s a far cry from the stalls all over India selling hacked-open-in-front-of-you coconuts.

Posted by Steve

The Internet + auto-rickshaws = Uber India, more or less

July 27, 2014

Interesting story from the New York Times:

In a country clogged with congestion, a handful of start-ups are using technology to more easily connect auto-rickshaw drivers with customers — an Indian twist to Uber and Lyft, the ride-hailing apps.

Mr. Dusane’s employer, Autowale, uses a program to map out potential routes and maximize pickups. AutoRaja has a dial-an-auto service in Chennai. In Bangalore, mGaadi offers rickshaw bookings via its website and app.

The three-wheeled, often black and yellow auto-rickshaws are ubiquitous in India, where public buses are rather abysmal, subways are limited and taxis are few and expensive. People can hail auto-rickshaws off the streets, but getting one depends on a combination of negotiating skill and luck. Most drivers tend to charge a flat, inflated rate, instead of going by the meter, and often turn down prospective customers if the distance is too short or to an area from which they might not get a fare back.

Autowale is trying to make the process easier by offering rickshaws on demand. Customers can request a rickshaw through the company’s app or website, as well as through the more old-fashioned method, its call center. Passengers pay a convenience fee of about 33 cents per ride.

Although Uber came to India last September, the service is expensive and doesn’t compete in the same space. As in the United States, Uber, which operates in six Indian cities including New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, focuses on the taxi market.

We all have an auto-rickshaw tale or two, right? Here’s a not great picture from Puri:

Auto-rickshaw in Puri.

Auto-rickshaw in Puri.

Posted by Steve

 

What’s it like to go to Mysore?

July 26, 2014

That question got answered on Thursday at “Quora,” which apparently is “your best source for knowledge,” except for the fact I’d never heard of it before this post appeared in my daily Google alert:

Like many things, what it’s like depends on who is doing the experiencing. It really depends on whom you ask, as well as when the respondent was last there.

[snip]

Even in the nineties, there were always complaints about the pool-side social “scene” and clique-y-ness that develops when young travelers spend a few months together, or the brunch time complaints about “the next pose” or the competitive atmosphere and more-yogic-than-thou bullshit that developed in the 2000’s and on up today.

That’s part of the answer from Joseph Goodman. You can check the post out and see if it all aligns with your thought — although whether it aligns may depend on when you go and read it, if you get my point.

I also feel compelled to point you toward this story from the Lafayette Journal & Courier about a subject that hasn’t come up in a while: Christian alternatives to yoga. A few key passages:

After a set of warm-up exercises, the Christian yoga alternative began. They stretched in postures instead of yoga poses. Gone was downward-facing dog and in its stead, women glided gracefully into tent pose. They still focused on breathing, adhering to constant reminders from Douglas to inhale and exhale.

However, the mood was intentionally religious in nature as Douglas read corresponding scriptures while the women lingered in their postures. By the end, as they lay supine in a refuge posture instead of the traditional yoga corpse pose, Douglas’ assistants laid warmed cloths soaked in lavender essential oil over the faces of the women to aid relaxation.

“Stay focused on God and your breath,” Douglas said. “Listen to that still, small voice.”

[snip]

“Yoga is a mystic and ascetic Hindu discipline for achieving union with supreme spirits through works, meaning salvation through works,” Douglas wrote in an email. “As Christians we cannot receive salvation through works but by accepting Jesus Christ. And yes, some of the postures look the same, (but) the body can only bend in so many ways. PraiseMoves is a redemptive work of the Lord.”

Reece agreed and said yoga shouldn’t be taught in Christian churches. “The Bible calls us to be a peculiar people and we should be that,” he said. “We shouldn’t blend in with the world.”

[snip]

Although the movement in PraiseMoves resembles yoga, Douglas argues that the philosophies are different.

“I don’t believe that yoga is just an exercise,” she said. “Yoga asks you to find what you need from within and they say that everything you need can be found from within. I’m nothing without God. Everything that I need comes from him.”

The postures have different names such as “The Cross,” “Peter’s Boat,” and “David’s Harp.” Each posture done in PraiseMoves has a scripture associated with it. Practitioners listen to the instructor recite scripture while they execute postures.

Kris Bowers of Romney said she prefers PraiseMoves to the traditional asana practice.

“I like yoga but I didn’t realize what it meant,” she said. “Each pose for yoga is a pose to worship a different god. PraiseMoves changes their moves to worship the one true God.”

I really like that just by changing the names of the poses, everything seems to be alright.

Bringing up PraiseMoves does allow me to broach a subject from our Yatra, an issue about which I think I disagreed with most of my fellow travelers.

There was a fair amount of discussion about just how religious, spiritual or steeped in faith India is — especially in comparison to the U.S. I did not, do not, find that to be true. If you compared a small, Midwestern city to a small, rural town in India, I think you’d find a lot of similarities between the roles of religion and temple/church. The people in that Midwestern town pray to and think about God, I wager, as much as the people in India. Religion is similarly central to both.

My sense — and I suppose I’ve found this within the broader yoga community — is that there is a dismissal of Christianity as truly religious or Christians as being truly religious and full of faith. So even if a person or family goes to church and lives by a set of Christian tenants, it’s all suspect.

I understand why that it is — we see and are familiar with the inconsistencies of Christianity that have made many people question it. If you have questioned and even moved away from Christianity, chances are you see its faults rather than its positives. I suspect if one got as familiar with those Indians in that town, there’d be a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions. Unfortunately, from my experience (and others), the priests in Hindu temples can leave a bad impression, for instance.

But all that is human nature. We’re flawed, fallen or living Maya — take your pick.

I’d just be careful when making broad statements about this facet of U.S. life, especially if you live on the coasts where, perhaps, life isn’t quite as full of faith and it is easy to forget about the flyover states. (Let’s blame Hollywood for our lack of faith, shall we? I also should point out that previous sentence was, in fact, written by someone who loves making broad, sweeping statements about people and things, as regular readers know. I also hate being consistent. [Goggle Oscar Wilde, consistent and dullard to find out why.])

I’ll now admit, for those still reading, all of this was an excuse to highlight this final passage from the Journal & Courier story:

She also teaches Mira!, a Christian alternative to Zumba.

“The Zumba classes I attended were very vulgar,” Douglas said. “There’s a lot of hip-shaking.”

The Mira! classes incorporate dance moves and are set to Christian music that typically has a Latin or rhythmic beat.

“But we just aren’t exaggerating the hip area,” Douglas said.

Yes, there is a Christian alternative to Zumba. That makes my weekend.

Posted by Steve

The Ashtanga practice as a model for living, but not as life itself

July 25, 2014

It should come as no surprise that during our Yatra in Northern India, there were lots of discussions about all things Ashtanga. (Maybe that should be our new blog site: allthingsashtanga.com.) Bobbie touched on some of it in her last post. I want to highlight one paragraph:

So stirred out of comfort, you have the opportunity to put asana practice where it need to be, and you are reminded regularly that we practice to still the mind, and to be healthy enough to pursue greater understanding. Going to a temple or a festival after morning practice changes things. The practice becomes like the matrix rock that contains a vein of gold. It’s the mental and physical structure that allows us to find a form for our selves.

Definitely one of the things the trip reinforced for me is the proper role of Ashtanga in our lives. Tim Miller (no surprise I’d default to the guru) has taught a workshop he calls “The Heroic Practice.” As I understood it, first off, it’s heroic to dedicate yourself to Ashtanga. After all, it’s hard, and it challenges you on a whole gamut of levels.

More so, though, the practice is a metaphor or microcosm for life. You face challenges and hardships — pick your personal pose to conquer — and learn to handle those tough moments with a degree of mental equilibrium, patient breath and relatively controlled reactions.

Of similar importance (although I think this gets seriously short shrift when people talk about Ashtanga — perhaps something to think more about, as a result, but I’ll save it for another post) is learning to handle triumphs with the same mental calmness, controlled breath and reserved reactions. After all, the next challenge or true adversity is just a vinyasa away — or, put another way: Done celebrating that drop back? Let us introduce you to kapotasana.

I also think we shouldn’t under-emphasize the value of the confidence that the practice can create: Knowing you can do some pretty crazy things — especially while really incorporating breath, bandha and dristi — can be a reservoir of strength when life’s tougher moments come calling. (Even if it is just the hardship of an 18K hike at 13,000 feet.)

Trying to capture a little of the difficulty of hiking to Gomukh.

Trying to capture a little of the difficulty of hiking to Gomukh.

After all, the hero has to have confidence in himself or herself. (Think of Arjuna at the beginning of the Gita.)

The Ashtanga practice teaches these lessons. And, if we can learn them, we should be better equipped to handle our lives with some success. (Think Arjuna and which side wins the war.)

A problem comes when the practice goes from being a metaphor for life and seems to become life, itself. Everything revolves around the practice: When you eat, when you get to bed, whether you see friends and family, maybe even what your job is.

I suppose this is OK if you’re going the renunciation path and have found a cave in the Himalayas in which to practice — but otherwise, that’s nothing like the balance and play of opposites that Ashtanga teaches. And judging from some of the conversations I had, getting out of balance is fairly prevalent out there. (Meaning: There were lots of stories and discussions around this idea, not that I felt surrounded by wacked-out Ashtangis. Well, maybe a few — and you know who you are!)

I suppose it is sort of a meta-hurdle. The practice, which is meant to teach us to calm our mind and live a life less battered by the storms the come along, becomes a hurricane that tosses you back and forth. And likely you don’t realize it because, after all, you’re doing all this Ashtanga — so you must be on the right path.

Now, those last three paragraphs are not meant to say you shouldn’t think about when (and what) you eat and make sure that the practice is a priority. For instance, often on the Yatra, the big meal of the day would come at 3 or 4 p.m. And that would be it (along with maybe an 8 or 9 p.m. bed time). Was practice the next morning a bit lighter than what’s typical of our usual routine? Yes. (Albeit that’s clouded by all things India.) So I understand the desire to prep things as much as possible for a good practice. (Obviously, it isn’t just about eating; it’s just an easy illustration.)

Again, though, it’s an issue of balance and the harnessing of opposing forces — and not letting any one direction spirit you away.

That sounds a bit like the Middle Way. Which actually fits, because a few other discussions I had on our trip have me checking Buddhist meditation out. Because the learning never ends.

Much like the Ashtanga practice itself.

Posted by Steve