Thirty Years of Teaching Yoga

Sometime last month marked my 30th year of teaching Yoga. While I cannot remember the first day that I taught Yoga in the Spring of 1989, I clearly remember the life milestones that concurred with that then-new beginning. Those milestones occurred sometime in the month of April, and since then I've considered April, 1989 as the beginning of this significant chapter of my life. For most of those years, I taught Yoga as my full-time profession. During many of those years, I was delighted with my choice to follow my passion for Yoga, though some of those years were filled with feelings of doubt.

The arc of my Yoga teaching and practice has evolved over the years, more or less following a U-shaped curve. In the beginning of my teaching and practice, I was young and in love with Yoga. As I descended into midlife, my faith in the hagiographic portrayals of Yoga and its lore wore thin. Now that I'm rounding the bend to the age when many of my friends are retiring, I have had a renai…

Stuff I Learned - Thoughts on Heat Therapy (and Discomfort)

I cannot claim an affinity for sauna based on heritage, any more than I can claim a fondness for Citroen cars or BMW motorcycles based on heritage. Despite my name, I'm a mutt of European ancestry, who is no more Scandinavian than I am anything else. Despite my lack of ancestral inclination to sauna, however, I've always been drawn to the intense heat of sauna, sweat lodge and hot springs.

When I was a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota, my track coach encouraged sauna to expedite recovering from hard workouts. Even at that young age, I eagerly followed coach's advice, at least when it involved sauna. Upon graduation, I immediately embarked on a years-long, back-to-nature period that included lots of sauna (albeit wearing less clothing than during my varsity athlete days!)

Once I settled in the rural hill country outside of Madison 25+ years ago, my sauna-philia only increased. From September thru April of most years, I sought out every opportunity to embrace …

Speed Play

When I was first introduced to the Speed Play approach to running, I was wholly underwhelmed. I had little (almost none) sense of where my limbs were at any given time, and running was a less-than-satisfactory experience. Various coaches suggested that I run cross country in order to improve my coordination, and I obliged by running cross country in 1980 and 1981. Training was painfully challenging, and the high point of each workout was hanging out with my teammates at the close of practice. At the time, I could scarcely imagine that nearly forty years later, I'd be joyfully doing Fartlek workouts.

The workout, Fartlek, derives from the Swedish word for speed play. I've just returned from 90+ minutes of Fartlek running in Blue Mound State Park; delighted in the interplay of running slowly, darting up hills, and coasting along flats. Rather than structuring a workout into discreet bits of this and that, the Fartlek invites a playful approach to rolling with the terrain. The F…

Calculated Risk - Cardiovascular Fitness

In my previous posting, I explored some of the choices I've made with regards to strength training. Every system has its tradeoffs, and each of us is left to decide what tradeoffs (risks) are acceptable, and which are not. I've landed on working out 2-4x per week on the Pilates equipment, supplemented with some dumbbell and bodyweight exercises. After weighing the available information and feeling how things land in my body, I'm of the opinion that this combo satisfies my desire to maintain (and hopefully build) muscle mass... done within the frame of mindfulness that I came to appreciate through my years of Yoga practice.

In training cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness, there are various options. Some trainers advocate a primary focus on lower-intensity work done for longer periods of time, while other trainers are partial to high-intensity intervals, done for shorter periods of time. Each camp cites evidence supporting their approach, and claim many adherents who are more …

Calculated Risk - Strength Training

Last week I wrote a bit about calculated risk, and how pretty much every decision that we make contains a degree of it. This week I'd like to share my approach to muscle mass, and the risks I've chosen to reject and embrace.

I think the evidence is quite strong that resistance training is beneficial for the human body. Among the benefits of resistance training are:
Increased bone densityIncreased muscle mass (great for counteracting the effects of aging)Improved balanceReduced risk of lower-back painIncreased resting metabolism (good for weight control)Improved glucose tolerance (reduce risk of developing diabetes, and/or reducing its severity) With all the benefits of resistance training, I think we'd all be wise to consider how to work 2+ days/week of resistance training into our lives.

For years I considered my daily Yoga practice as sufficient resistance training. The teachers who taught me Modern Postural Yoga repeatedly claimed that yoga postures both built healthy m…

Calculated Risk

Some people have a lot of choices in their lives; what to eat, how to rest, what (if any) type of physical activity to pursue, etc. While not everybody enjoys the luxury of this much choice, a goodly number of people do. Within the possibilities afforded by all these choices, there is little that is assured. Given the available information, we are left with conflicting reports on outcomes. As a result, our choices almost inevitably take on a degree of risk.

I often work with people who are holding off on making lifestyle changes until they have all the accurate information. While I laud personal research and collecting a wealth of information, I don't believe we'll fully know many of the answers that we're seeking within our lifetime. Do we wait until we know, or make the best decision that we can with the available information? As you can probably surmise from this lead-in, I'm of the belief that making the best decisions with the available information is the ticket.

Is Deep Breathing Yoga's Secret Sauce?

When people speak about Yoga and its feel-good properties, they often suggest that slow, deep breathing is the reason that Yoga often feels good. While I cannot deny that an awareness or modification of breathing is indeed a defining characteristic of Modern Postural Yoga, I'm not convinced that Yoga's benefits are all about the breathing. Yes, the breathing's effect on the nervous system may be what makes us feel good after a Yoga practice, though it may turn out that Yoga stimulates the endocannabinoid system, increases the activity of the paraventricular hypothalamus (and stimulates the release of oxytocin), or activates another of the various feel-good systems that are embedded within the human body. I sure don't know, and I'm not sure that anyone fully understands why Yoga feels good.

What do we know about slow, deep breathing? In a Yogic interpretation of the Polyvagal Theory, proponents suggest that deep breathing increases Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV, …