Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yoga vs the Gym - response to recent news and UT study.

A recent story on KSBY just came to my attention. The story discussed the difference between yoga "workouts" and gym workouts, and which one is better. The conclusion stated that both provide the same benefits but people doing yoga were slightly more flexible at the end. | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

I beg to differ.

First, I was not able to read the actual "study" because all the credential links point HERE, and if you go there, you'll see that it mentions nothing about such study, only general information on fitness.

Second, I want to know what kind of yoga people did and what type of workouts people did. This news report, gives you some idea: yoga 3x per week for one hour each, stretching, balancing, and core work, gym - treadmill pushing the heart rate. Now right there, i can see a problem.

If you've ever been at the gym you know that there are people who basically "stroll" on the treadmill and others who sweat like there's no tomorrow not just pushing the heart rate but busting the treadmill with inclines and speed. However, most people watch TV and stroll and/or chitchat with the neighbor. Which kind were the research subjects? What were the "fitness parameters" measured? If heart rate was the main parameter, than yes, strolling down the street would be compatible to a yoga class that only does stretching, balancing, and core work. You don't break a sweat. In fact, if the same treadmill heart rate intensity was compared to someone doing restorative yoga, the treadmill will win while the restorative yoga person is chilling out on the ground actually lowering their heart rate.

Lowering the heart rate is why people with high blood pressure would benefit more from yoga than any kind of gym workout. Other benefits of yoga include mental clarity, improved sleep, which in turn improves insulin/sugar cycles in the body and decreases stress hormones responsible for gaining weight. Further, flexibility increases while one does yoga, but not so on a treadmill. Yoga takes the joints through their full range of motion, keeping them healthy and decreasing inflammation. Running on the treadmill does no such things but if you overdo it you'll get a muscle ache, increasing inflammation, and you will be compacting your joints which over time has a negative effect on your knees and hips. Runners are some of the youngest demographic with the most hip replacements!

On the other hand, if the treadmill subjects were compared to people doing yoga in a power yoga class, or a vyniasa class, heart rates would be very compatible. However, ask yourself the question, if a treadmill-only person goes to a vinyasa class, will they get their butt kicked? The answer is usually "yes" because yoga also challenges one's coordination, self-acceptance, and the ability to stay focused and present. There's no TV to watch the news while going through sun salutations.

I mean the above in the ideal case when people going to yoga classes are actually doing yoga. One reason the study may have shown no difference between yoga and the gym could be because the quality of yoga has diminished to a point that it is no better than the gym.

Thinking of my private clients and why they do yoga, I can say that there are people who cannot, for various reasons, go to the gym and/or the gym exercises would be harmful to them. Yoga is the only, or one of very few options they can take to stay moving. Others come to me to get their head in the right place, to digest psychological challenges and to feel grounded. Some come to stretch in peace and have me help them because alone they can't do it the same. Yet others, come to fine tune their practice, to rehabilitate injuries they got at the gym, and so on... How versatile is the treadmill compared to yoga?

At the end of the day, I too believe that some movement is better than no movement but if you really believe the study that 2.5 hours per week of movement will keep you healthy, you are out of your mind. The older a person gets, the more movement they need. Gentle to moderate movement is better than hard-core movement. If one eats the usual 1800 - 2800 calories diet per day but only burns 500 calories per week, that person is headed for the fat house. Then it doesn't matter if they are doing yoga or going to the gym. Obesity and being sedentary are America's biggest killers, indirectly causing an epidemic of heart disease, diabetes, and slew of other problems.

In conclusion - media loves a headline, but digging into the details a different reality usually emerges. Anyone going to the gym should also be doing some yoga, in my humble opinion. Yoga is also great for cross training purposes and will benefit any other type of athletic endeavor. If you are not doing yoga you are missing out, but then again, make sure you are doing yoga not just something that has "yoga" in the label but it is actually another gym workout.

What's your take on this? Love to hear it from those going to the gym and those going to yoga. Comments are appreciated! Share this post of you know someone who can benefit from it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

It helps they say...

The art of stillness - The place that travel writer Pico Iyer would most like to go? Nowhere. In a counterintuitive and lyrical meditation, Iyer takes a look at the incredible insight that comes with taking time for stillness. In our world of constant movement and distraction, he teases out strategies we all can use to take back a few minutes out of every day, or a few days out of every season. It’s the talk for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the demands for our world..

This is a TED Talk worth watching: 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Yoga then and now...

We no longer practice yoga as it was practiced when it was originally created. When yoga appeared in Vedic times, social drop-outs hid in caves and experimented on the dirt floor by the fire. A yoga studio with a nice floor, windows, and climate control works better for most practitioners today. We've invented the yoga mat in a thousand varieties and colors and replaced the loin cloth with yoga pants. Not only are women allowed to practice today, but they also outnumber men 3:1.

Perhaps these are improvements. Unfortunately, we have also substituted the discipline of personal development and spiritual liberation with pride of achieving ever more strenuous postures and attachment to a "yoga image." Most practitioners today enjoy the physical workout of yoga and further develop their ego muscles by posing for the camera and anyone who would applaud their presentation.

Twenty years ago, when my yoga journey started, I was a youngster learning from the elders who by then had decades of experience and practice and took the yogic teachings philosophically. Today, the elders in the community are taking yoga from the youngsters who started doing yoga relatively recently, have no wisdom that comes with life experience, and only superficially are informed about yoga philosophy. The yoga elders are passing away, or leaving the scene because they can't bring themselves to compromise the practice just to gain popularity. Youth seeks action not wisdom. Today's practitioners seek escape from reality instead of understanding of reality. They seek yoga high not yoga insight. They grasp after deep back bends and ignore the opportunities for deep inward searching.

Sadly, the quality of today's yoga teachers will determine the experience of today's yoga practitioners and how their personal journey will unfold. When I first opened the yoga studio in 2002, the usual question from interested individuals went along the lines of "What is yoga? I've never tried it, do you think I can do it?" Today, the usual conversation goes something like this: "I've tried yoga and it's not for me. I've tried yoga and I got hurt. I've tried yoga and it was too fast. I've tried yoga and I didn't like it." I spend years educating people of the benefits of yoga through my newspaper column and TV program, just to see these people going to random yoga classes with random yoga teachers and never getting the benefits I, and scientific research, promised them. Instead they find themselves discouraged and possibly hurt.

Once I had a conversation with a hotel staff in Vegas who saw me doing yoga outside by the pool early in the morning.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Yoga," I responded.
"That's not yoga," she looked surprised.
"What do you mean," I inquired.
"I've taken yoga and it was totally different. You move very slowly and you stay in the same shape for a while and you make a sound when you breath. You are not sweating."
"Oh, that's just my style. You should try another class where people do what I do," I encouraged her.
"I've been to 5 yoga classes at 5 different studios here and it's always the same. I am not trying it anymore,"

This conversation broke my heart.

There is another version of the story too, where the yoga teachers, as uneducated about yoga as they are, but enthusiastic and full of confidence, lead their classes and give people the wrong information, usually a variation of some diluted yoga philosophy interpretation they read somewhere. Sometimes, things that they misunderstand or misinterpret. My favorite one is that moving fast will cleanse the nadis (the energetic channels of the human body.) First of all the energy system of the body as described in yoga philosophy is articulated very poorly. Most of the modern day interpretation of the nadi system comes from cross-referencing from Chinese medicine where things are more detailed. There is absolutely no mention anywhere in the yogic texts that moving fast from pose to pose will cleanse, or open, or in any other way improve the energy flow through the nadis. However, there are ample amounts of mention that regular yoga practice keeps your body energetically in balance. There is also plenty in a way of suggesting mindful movement, learning to stay present and connected to one's experience, witnessing one's experience dispassionately with discernment, and remaining non-attached to the results of one's labor. To encourage people to move fast is to take away the opportunity to practice mindfulness while moving because there's no time for mindfulness. The next pose is upon you before this pose has ended. To encourage people to keep trying harder and harder and up the ante on the level of difficulty for the sake of "getting better" is actually a spiritual disservice. It goes directly against the intention of the practice. It builds ego muscles.

Yoga was not practiced so one can get better at yoga. Yoga was a vehicle for one to become a better human. A good yoga practice should not leave you proud of your yoga practice. It should leave you soft on the inside, compassionate towards self and others, open to whatever comes, grounded, and spacious. Back bends don't make better humans. Mindful back bends make room for bad things to be released so the good inside can shine. Yoga poses in general help us find where we are stuck and give us the opportunity to let go of what we are holding on to. Not so, if we go fast. Not so if we do poses to get better at poses. That's gymnastics. That's acrobatics. That's contortion. All of those are awesome in their own way, but they are not yoga. They are performance and entertainment intended. Yoga is a mental attitude, an approach to practicing life in general. The postures are just a training ground for a mindful living through whatever comes. Your yoga should be a private affair and you, the only one witnessing it.

If yoga is not making a difference in your life and attitude, you are not practicing yoga. You can get a better work out at the gym, more fun at zumba, and more sweat in a body combat class. It will be cheaper too. If you want to practice yoga, practice with a teacher whose life is a testimony of their yoga practice, not with a teacher who tells you they are awesome, or seem nice. If your teacher doesn't have it together, they can't put it together for you either.

Find a real yoga teacher and change your life forever.