Over the last eight weeks, I’ve more than doubled the amount of yoga I’ve done in my life. And I’ve got to say, yoga is neat! My roommate/girlfriend introduced me to a website called doyogawithme.com and I’ve relied on that to take me through a variety of guided practices. And I don’t use the word “variety” lightly. I’m not overly familiar with the different categories of yoga practices, but I must have done ten different types during my fifteen recent session including: ying, yang, power, hamstring, spinal, vinyasa flow, morning, evening, core, and my favorite (except I hated it) digestive.
Going into this experiment it was my hope that yoga would have positive effects on the physical, mental, and spiritual areas of my life. Physically, I was aiming for increased flexibility and therapy for my nagging sciatica. Post-workout freshness and alertness of mind, as well as increased self-awareness were my mental and spiritual goals respectively.
I wish I would have bench-marked my flexibility before the experiment via a sit-and-reach measurement. But I didn’t. Now I have to take that to the grave. So I don’t have quantitative support of increased flexibility, but I have the next best thing: my word. Even though I practiced many different types of yoga, there were common poses used across most of them (except that fucking digestive practice – all I did was cat poses), and my ability to perform certain poses drastically improved as the weeks went on. I now can downward-dog with the best of ’em, I tell you what!
As far as my sciatica, I haven’t experienced any flare ups since starting this experiment. I typically have symptoms during extended periods of walking/standing – not so much during high intensity physical activity (like watching Cops). Now that I think of it, I was on my feet for hours at a time for a project at work and I didn’t notice any problems with my back. Way to go, yoga! You continue to surprise me!
The yoga instructors in the videos often gave the following advice at the outset of a session, “Go into your yoga practice without any expectations”. That’s easier said than done for someone who has his muh-fucking expectations in the blogosphere for the entire world to see.
“You’ve got like half a dozen followers, Mark. Don’t kid yourself.”
In any case, while I made an honest effort to go into my practices with a clear mind free of any judgement and expectation, I found myself getting frustrated easily. I came out my first few practices feeling less refreshed and focused than I did going in. But this got better. And for the last few sessions I came out with that supercharged post-worked euphoria that prompted me to carry out this experiment.
Increased self-awareness? I don’t know what I was going for with that hippy-dippy bullshit.
I still love the idea of quieting down the mental chatter and focusing on a simplistic repetitive phenomena (breathing) while adding a physical element (the actual poses). However, I don’t think this combination works well for beginners. I was so focused on mimicking the instructor that I didn’t get the meditative kick that I desired. I think this benefit will come with added practice – where I can simply hear “swan dive” and “half bend” and know what to do rather than breaking my concentration by squinting at my laptop from an awkward angle.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve fallen head over heels for yoga, but I will keep her around for a while and see where our relationship goes. This experiment has deepened my appreciation for a practice/lifestyle whose ever-growing followership speaks of its benefits more loudly than I ever could.
The idea of an activity that combines physical, mental, and spiritual aspects is and always will be appealing to me. I believe that by combining these elements, each is able to take a more effect. That is, if such strong mindfulness wasn’t required, I don’t think the physical benefits would manifest themselves as strongly as they do. It sounds silly, but it takes a certain level of focus to engage body parts that would otherwise be ignored.
An unexpected physical aspect of yoga that left a positive impression on me is how it naturally raises one’s internal temperature. What’s particularly fascinating about this is that you never step out of the 11.33 square feet occupied by your standard yoga mat. Neither heavy lifting nor rapid body movement is required (or encouraged) either. The increased temperature serves as a reminder that your body is indeed being challenged (if the violent pulsating and vomiting didn’t make that clear). The speed, weight, or distance that typically defines a “good workout” is replaced by mindfulness. The next time you a watch a seasoned yogi notice how every movement, not just every pose, but every movement within that pose in addition to the transitions between poses is well-crafted and deliberate.
While it may be with less regularity, I am going to continue practicing yoga. Chalk another one up in the win column for Mark. That’s right – I’m winning at the lifestyle design experiments.
Speaking of winning, here’s a calorie consumption update: