When describing the virtues of good training to new clients, one of the main beliefs I underline as a trainer and a coach is the need for basic, full body exercises which work as many muscles as possible– think push ups, pull ups, squats and lunges.
By requiring both strength and awareness, these movements demand the full attention of the client (meaning they momentarily put the iPhone down) and train balance, strength and coordination better than a machine ever could.
With that said, one thing many in my position fail to consider is whether the appropriate muscles are bearing the load. An example is someone new to a push up may be to use the neck muscles as opposed to the chest by shrugging their shoulders.
While I am a big believer in stretches and exercises to bring about proper posture, what I realized this week is something far more important comes before all of these things — simple awareness of one’s own body.
Allow me to explain: Much like a typical guy, my life alternates between lifting heavy weights and sitting at a desk more than I care to admit. (Hey, someone has to write this column). While I do mobility work and stretch on a regular basis, I have always felt something of a disconnect in “feeling” the exercises.
This is often because my mind is racing with ideas and next steps for the day versus taking the time to truly take in and honor the exercise. This also seems to be the problem with many -make that every – clients I train.
Everything is Zen when picking up heavy weight. (It better be or they risk breaking their backs.). When it comes time to stretch out comes the phone. And so I have decided to set a pre-New Year’s resolution: If I am accept the importance of stretching and mobility, then I will find a way to take these things in like any other part of working out.
With this in mind, I teamed up with Frankie Hart of Satya Life Yoga to begin my journey and offer some user friendly yoga poses and advice on connecting the benefits of yoga to a busy lifestyle.
(Re)Connecting with the Body:
It is around 9:35 pm on a busy Thursday morning and as always I am just leaving my cluttered studio for my 9:40 private yoga lesson with Frankie.
Whizzing between cars and scanning downtown for an open spot I can actually secure with poor sense of direction, I find my heart is racing along with thoughts of various projects and deadlines. At around 9:42, I waltz up to her studio door, turn my watch back two minutes and prepare to enter prepared and on time– only to find it locked.
Scrambling around to enter from the back door (as instructed by the sign at the entrance), I find my heart racing again as I scour the back alley for the entrance and finally make my entrance at around 9:47 AM (with my watch set back two minutes)
I am greeted by Frankie as I walk in to the palatial surroundings of high ceilings and the open space of her studio. Finally given some breathing room, I remove my shoes (a custom at Satya Life) and begin by simply talking about my life.
It is rather strange to be on the other side of this conversation, but Frankie wants to know everything from my occupation to history of injuries and activity background. More importantly, I see her watching me shifting from side to side in my chair and fidgeting as I am asked to talk about my situation for a change.
In my case, the one request I made of Frankie was a pose to help undue these issues that I could actually do in my office.
Positioning me against a wall, Frankie asked me to reach my hands above my head and get as long as possible while holding on the wall and breath deeply through my belly. Because I tend to slouch in seated and standing posture, this simple cue of elongating my body really helped me to relax and drop the tension in my shoulders.
Noting the tightness in my hips, she continued making slight adjustments to the position of my lower body as I attempted to relax. To my amazement, simple adjustments and the instruction to envision the muscles relaxing seemed to release tension slowly from each part of the body.
Instructing me to lean further forward on the wall while maintaining proper position, Frankie gradually transitioned me in to a Downward Dog pose which involved holding on all fours and pushing my pelvis in to the air while maintaining a perfect position.
Consequently by this point in the session, no thought crossed my mind other than complete focus on the areas in question.
Rounding out the lesson with some flossing (rope stretches) and poses to open up my upper back, I ended up accomplishing two objectives: I came away with some practical poses I could actually remember along with the feel for which muscles were being engaged.
Moreover, my mind was clear and focused on what I had learned. And as someone who teaches exercise for a living, I know this is the mark of a true learning experience.
What I learned about Yoga:
I must admit that going in to my experience with Frankie, what surprised and humbled me most was the simple instructions which connected my mind to the feel of each pose.
Though we only practiced four poses, I learned to measure my progress in breaths versus rushing through sets and reps. Forced to set aside my idle thoughts, my focus on one thing allowed me to relax and mold in to positions I would never have achieved otherwise.
Looking at this from a purely anatomical perspective, if we cannot breathe properly or relax as we stretch, no measure of flexibility work will eliminate poor posture, stiffness or soreness. Often, this is because we view this simply as another task at hand versus constructive self improvement.
Though I have known this for some time through my own study, feeling the difference has led me to make a few changes:
• I now set aside two three minutes per day of deep breathing before stretching. I find this calms my mind and prepares my muscles to relax.
• During each stretch, I move slowly to the end range of motion — you should feel a moderate pull on the muscle — and breath deeply while holding for 60-90 seconds. I find doing so allows me to slowly relax in to new ranges of motion while doing so.
• Before performing dynamic mobility drills and exercise, I work on the “feel” of the proper position and lock this in before moving. I terminate the exercise once I lose tension in the correct areas.
On a personal note, I want to thank Frankie for reminding me that every exercise can be a teaching experience. For someone used to muscling through life and exercise (such as myself) or those recovering from an injury, I feel this sort of self-awareness is a much underrated and necessary component to muscular development and injury avoidance.
This is why I will continue to make time for Yoga and recommend you do the same. To get the ball rolling, here is the simple process I have adopted from above to relax in to stretching.
For more information on Satya Life Yoga, please visit http://www.satyalife.com or call 863.802.Yoga (9642)