Categories
Yoga Yoga Teacher Training

Selling the Yoga Experience

Telling vs. Selling: reclaiming the jargon as an honest story

I’ve started my own Yoga Teacher Training brand. It’s exciting and I believe in the product, but I have to figure out how sell my product without being pushy or obnoxious. I have to describe the product in meaningful terms. Using vocabulary that is easily misconstrued as industry jargon, I have to relate a story that describes my yoga practice and my product.

recharge, rejuvenate, inspire

holistic, authentic

Have these words become meaningless industry jargon?

Self-promotion has to be loud enough to be heard over the noise of Instagram, Twitter and fourteen other platforms. But it can’t be so loud to the point of obnoxious arrogance. Furthermore, tweets and posts must have meaning attached to the jargon.

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 2.42.33 PM
The noise of social platforms is deafening

Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters, but optimal posts have no more than 150 characters. The allowable characters have become industry buzzword. And those buzzwords saturate the market and compromise the reliability of the products.

“Join me at yoga teacher training and #recharge your practice. Learn to teach #authentic yoga classes. Discover your #holistic approach to well-being.”

That statement has fewer than 150 characters and contains the right words. But the vocabulary barely registers. There is so much scrolling  through so much content that it’s all at risk of becoming meaningless jargon.

So how do I attach value to my teacher training? How do I give meaning to my product? Authenticity comes from the story behind the service. My goal is to teach prospective yoga teachers how to transmit their own belief in yoga. And to do this, I have to be truthful about my own yoga story. Not because I have anything to hide, but because it’s the difference between telling and selling that adds value to my product.

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The days of market trickery are over because everyone is selling themselves online. Everyone has curated an online persona and whether or not they’re selling a product, they all know that Instagram isn’t real. And that’s why telling the story behind the product is crucial. The authenticity and the meaning in my yoga teacher training comes from a flawed and vulnerable existence. That is what’s relatable.

IMG_20181208_140323
Can a yogi wear a fur hat? I’m vulnerable in my yogic beliefs because I don’t subscribe to all the trends. Like veganism.

Behind the promotional jargon is real experience. I constantly #recharge my yoga practice by being true to what I believe in. Pulling fish out of the lake and wearing locally-sourced fur is more important to me than importing lentils for a vegan diet or shivering in synthetic fabrics.

The classes I teach are #rejuvenating because I base themes around relevant topics for a specific community. I don’t discuss veganism when I know most of my students have moose meat in their freezer. Instead I’ll reference the value of taking only what’s necessary from the land.

MVIMG_20181007_124612
You can simultaneously believe in hunting moose and practicing yoga

Yoga Teacher Training will be #authentic because you’ll discern your personal reasons for practicing and learn to teach only what you know. If you’re an expert on knee anatomy because you’ve had three knee surgeries, you’ll incorporate that. If you have personal experience with yoga for post-traumatic stress, you’ll teach that. If a vegan diet supports YOUR lifestyle, you’ll describe that. The authenticity comes from your own experience.

Yoga is a #holistic approach to well-being because the practice insists that you listen to your emotions and body and understand what you really need. Extract what’s relevant from the philosophy of yoga and learn to teach what you know. The honest story behind the promotion will shine through and the jargon will be rightfully redeemed as useful vocabulary. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of lifestyle choices. The vocabulary, just like the yoga itself, can be tuned to fit every iteration of practice. Tune out the jargon, but tune into the meaning behind the vocabulary. The stories are what makes the promotion believable.

Land and Heart Practice
click here for information and registration details

 

Categories
Skiing Yoga

Meditation and Rehabilitation

Meditation is the art of freeing yourself from life’s annoying circumstances. Life’s ups and downs happen all around. Highs and lows. Pain and ecstasy. Love and loss. Meditation is the tool to free yourself from suffering and feel at ease in your circumstances.

A couple of weeks ago, I tore my ACL. Behind me is the foolishness of my pre-injured youthful self. Now I’m a grim-faced gimp. In a moment of inattention, I metamorphosed from an egotistical and childish skier who didn’t know the debilitation of injury into a sedate and crippled adult humbled by the limits of my own body.

Slalok
Since I can’t ski right now, I’ve illustrated this article with gratuitous shots of my friends skiing.

Where formerly I would roll my eyes at friend’s descriptions of injuries to meniscus and patella, now I understand the anatomy of the knee with the same clinical accuracy that Jordan Peterson defends gendered pronouns. I hadn’t heard the sickening pop of a torn ligament and I was blissfully uninformed of the difference between MCL, ACL and PCL. They were just acronyms and I was just skiing. “No more conversation about knees…” I’d plead and loudly sigh as yet another friend detailed ACL injury and subsequent rehabilitation.

waiiiiiting
This is actually a conference on knees and skis. More than one person is bored listening to his friend talk about knee surgery.

But those days are over. Skiing and normal activities stripped away in a moment of complacency; the road to recovery lies ahead. The banality of a knee injury is not lost on me. For skiers, it’s as common as a cold. The tedium of thinking about my knee is oppressive. I’m obsessed with it’s healing, I’m terrified of slipping on the sidewalk and I can’t fathom the elasticity it’s going to take to get back in my ski boots, let alone on to my skis.

posing in the sun
Here’s a bored snowboarder unable to withstand the tedium of her skiing counterparts talking about their knees.

So what to do? So far, I’ve made it up and down a few flights of stairs and done some step-ups onto a 4-inch box. Those feats are a significant departure from bootpacking a 500-metre couloir or even doing consecutive box jumps.

Keyhole - Chamonix
First – walking up the stairs. Then – back to bootpacking

But it doesn’t matter what I could do before. All that matters is what I can do right now. Circumstances can’t be changed, regret is a waste of time and the only thing to do is whatever it takes to heal and get back to the mountain. And that includes yoga.

road to recovery
The road to recovery – one step at a time

I’ve told countless injured friends over the years that they should get on the yoga mat. Regardless of injury, regardless of perceived inability to “do” yoga. “I can’t go to yoga because my back/neck/knee hurts.” Well, you should go to yoga because your back/neck/knee hurts. I’ve said this to injured friends, with tyrannical authority, but I didn’t have any first-hand experience on the logistics of getting an injured body onto the mat and into the practice. Until now. Bitterly tasting my own medicine.

Waves
It’s a deep season that I chose to miss. Cayoosh – January 2019

On the day after the injury, I went to yoga. I wanted to stay home and watch Netflix. I was unhappy about being hurt. It was all so predictable. Skier injures knee. How typical, how prosaic. I was despondent and defeated by my circumstances. Yoga, meditation and the accompanying introspection was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to accept my circumstances; I didn’t want to be free from suffering. I was furious. This was the strongest I’d felt in years. This season was going to be mine. But that strength and confidence was gone. And I wanted to wallow in self-pity, not meditate on the gift of the present moment.

Japow
Shredding the present moment

But on crutches, in pain and feeling sorry for myself, I wobbled into the yoga studio. And at risk of sounding imperious, I’m here to emphasize that yoga is, indeed, the thing. Logistically, I couldn’t do many of the poses. In fact, doing any poses was out of the question. But I could lie there and quietly breathe, do a few knee bends and focus on cultivating a positive attitude. And as cliche and over-stated a positive attitude is, it really is all we’ve got. A positive attitude, unshakeable by circumstances, is the means to survive all of life’s disagreeable circumstances. Yoga and the accompanying meditation teaches comfort with discomfort.

DOA + Whistler
Keeping your skis going fall-line is the best strategy against knee injury

Yoga is so much more than the poses. The poses are only 12.5 percent of the practice. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think I truly got it until I was lying there unable to do any of the asana, but still participating in the class just by being present. The other 87.5 percent of the practice exists in the mind. Concentration, discipline, meditation, freedom from suffering.

up and away
Freedom from suffering in perfect pow

It’s the freedom from suffering that is central to yoga and the tool to manage life’s circumstances. A knee injury is not the worst tragedy to befall anyone. It’s not really even a crisis, but it’s a temporarily debilitating detail in my story. We all have debilitating details in our stories. Whether it’s the unanticipated loss of a job, illness of a parent, being a victim of burglary, paralysis following a car accident. These are all tragic circumstances. The hard truth though is everything could always be worse. But it could also be better. The point is that good and bad things happen with equal regularity.  Meditation teaches that surviving the ups and downs is possible. By meditating on the present moment, you teach yourself that the collection of experiences that populate your life’s story are not the totality of your existence. Furthermore, the collection of experiences that cause pain and difficulty do not need to equate to suffering.

Spruceman on skintrack
The wise (spruce)man on top of a mountain.

The myth of the wise man sitting on top of the mountain is an archetype of someone escaping the confines of life experience in order to seek enlightenment and avoid suffering. It’s a story to illustrate meditation as a transcendent and literal state of being. But glorifying meditation in this unlikely scenario is a hyperbolic way of viewing the practice. Literally escaping the trappings of society and its accompanying pain and sorrows isn’t necessary because meditation provides an avenue to metaphorically escape the confines of difficult circumstances. The trick is to use meditation to pay attention to the present moment, cultivate a positive outlook and refuse to suffer from unfortunate circumstances.

On the skintrack
Forward locomotion – still doable with a torn ACL (apparently)

Experiences and circumstances are sometimes beyond control. Events that cause pain are unavoidable. But choosing to suffer (or not) is definitely within your control.  Practice meditation as a strategy for accepting and coping with difficult circumstances. Learn to be comfortable with discomfort and maintain a sense of ease through all life’s injuries.

Cosmiques
Comfort with discomfort in the mountains

Lying on my yoga mat with a swollen knee, I didn’t feel prepared to accept my circumstances. But recovery will follow a specific trajectory and there isn’t any way to expedite the healing. I can’t change what happened and my ski season is over. So many details in my life are different now: the inability to walk the dog, waking up to searing pain because my knee twisted in the sheets, boredom with the only cardiovascular exercise I can currently do (swimming). But my ability to tolerate these frustrating changes and to thrive as a contributing member of society is predicated on making the conscious choice not to suffer.

Sprucedude
Suffering is optional

 

Suffering from these circumstances is easy. Using meditation to alleviate suffering and to understand my intrinsic worth is hard. Living a worldly existence populated by experiences and injuries is easy. When something as consuming as injury happens, it can be hard not to obsess with the story and the healing. But circumstance does not represent the totality of existence. Meditation is freedom from preoccupation with circumstances. Pain and difficulty is mandatory. Suffering is not.

Black dusk + skiers
Three pairs of knees functioning at full range-of-motion

 

Categories
Yoga YTT Blog

Yoga, weight loss and the search for compassion.

Weight issues are epidemic in our culture. Obesity as a medical problem is widespread, and overweight patients are often prescribed “weight loss” as a solution to any medical problem.  People with the particular physical characteristic of excessive body fat are given only one prescription for health. They feel constant pressure to conform, change and shrink.  They’re barely given much more advice than “exercise more. eat less.” This “solution” does nothing to depict health as a psychological and physiological system. Yoga can help patients reframe their sense of self with compassion and acceptance.

Recently, a student dropped out of my beginner yoga class because she was doing too many “exercise classes” and didn’t have time for all of them. She said her doctor had prescribed exercise as a weight loss strategy, but she was tired and didn’t want to attend all the classes she’d signed up for. In spite of my best effort, I couldn’t convince her that yoga is more than exercise and is actually a complete system for health. She said she felt frustrated in exercise classes, conspicuously different from everyone else and “fat.”  She had been told too many times to “just get more exercise” and she viewed classes as evil and unwelcoming and yet another domain for the “thin” people.

People with weight issues often apply a reductionist attitude to their health. “If I go to HIIT/ yoga/ crossfit, then I’ll be fitter.” “If I eat less, then I’ll lose weight.” These statements are true, but they don’t do an adequate job of framing health as a physiological and psychological system. It’s possible that exercise and calorie reduction will result in better health and weight loss, but there are much larger systems at play. Yoga offers a perspective beyond the “if/then” approach to improving health.

Obesity is such a prevalent problem in society and there is a lot of literature devoted to how the medical system treats obese individuals. Anecdotally, it appears that the system can be dismissive of obese patients and even go so far as to blame any ailment on their weight. For example, the New York Times refers to stories of overweight patients with non-weight related conditions like scoliosis or Crohn’s disease being prescribed weight loss in lieu of further examination. Patients who feel discredited by the medical system experience stress, shame and frustration.  Yoga can be part of the prescription, but the power of the practice might surprise obese patients.

These patients know the basics of getting and staying healthy; they know that processed food is bad, eating fruit and vegetables is good, regular exercise is imperative and that it’s critical to keep stress at bay. But the medical system sometimes confuses habits and lifestyle and instructs patients to “better” their habits, “get” healthier and “change” something with the expectation of “improvement.” Paradoxically, this desire to improve  creates stress. As an alternative to the desire to improve, yoga is a strategy to observe what’s happening with health and wellness. By doing a regular yoga practice, students are able to check in with their own physical and emotional self and understand their constitution from a point of view of acceptance rather than change.

By accepting themselves for who they are and not constantly being prescribed change and improvement, obese patients may be able to find wellness on the yoga mat – from a different perspective than they’re used to.

Obese students face many challenges in society, the worst of which is feeling the constant pressure to change their habits, overhaul their lifestyle and shrink. The pressure to change a physical characteristic is overwhelming but with weight loss being the only prescription, if they don’t succeed, obese patients are left feeling they’ve failed.

Yoga can give patients a new perspective on their health. By focusing on a meditation, they find acceptance and appreciation for who they are and remove themselves from the pass/fail outcome of results-oriented weight loss. Obese patients suffer from extreme attachment to a particular outcome. They are striving to lose weight and if they don’t succeed, they suffer because they are so attached to the outcome of their actions. The yogic perspective of non-attachment to outcome is a refreshing new perspective for a demographic who is being coerced by society to make changes to their appearance.

Yoga, meditation and a new perspective on “results” may help obese students love themselves in the face of society constantly telling them to change. From this love, a sense of wellbeing will start to bloom. Yoga teaches everyone to be compassionate to themselves. Obese students who struggle against society’s prescription of weight loss for health will find compassion towards themselves particularly useful. Weight loss is not the only prescription for health. Practicing yoga offers a consistent and steady approach to health that is not based on results. It’s a healthy lifestyle that is predicated on compassion.

 

Categories
Yoga Yoga Teacher Training Yoga Therapy YTT Blog

Thoughts for Yoga Teachers – explaining yoga as therapy

The practice of yoga is therapeutic. Anyone who has practiced yoga will agree with this statement, but the idea of “yoga therapy” is contentious. In January 2016, the Yoga Alliance requested that any yoga school remove the terms “yoga therapy” and “yoga therapist” from their title. This instruction was a precaution against misleading the public that yoga teachers are diagnosticians. The point was not that yoga isn’t therapeutic, but rather that yoga is not a strategy for diagnosing or curing ailments. The therapeutic potential of yoga comes from its consistent practice. Yoga is a complete system for maintaining health and wellbeing, but it is not a prescriptive solution to specific ailments.

As a yoga teacher, you will receive a lot of inquiries about how to “cure” a variety of ailments, or “treat” a specific population. Some examples include depression/anxiety, back pain, pregnancy, injuries, asthma, arthritis, insomnia and obesity. Your role as a yoga professional is to guide students to treat themselves for whatever they are suffering from. Yoga is not a replacement for other medical care, but it is a useful tool in healthcare. Consistent yoga practice offers students autonomy and awareness in their own healthcare journey.

The difference between yoga and other types of healthcare is that yoga does not apply a reductionist style of therapy. It requires commitment from the student and it is not a quick solution. For example, consider the following statements:

“If I meditate, then I’ll be calmer.”

“If I don’t smoke, then I’ll be able to run faster.”

“If I eat less, then I’ll be thinner.”

These statements are true, but they fail to capture health as a complete psychological and physiological system. Yoga affords a point of view that goes beyond the reductionist if/then approach to health. For example, the primary series of Ashtanga yoga is called yoga chikitsa. Translated, this means yoga therapy. The therapeutic application of Ashtanga is its systematic approach towards wellness rather than a prescription to cure/treat an ailment.

The therapeutic quality of the yoga is its attention to discipline, devotion and patience. Yoga chikitsa is intended to be practiced daily. Practitioners are to do each pose in sequence and follow the other suggestions for a well-rounded lifestyle.

First, you have to practice for a long period of time; second, your practice must not be interrupted—you must do it regularly; and third, you must do your practice with love and respect.
-Yoga Sutra 1.14

It is these qualities of the practice – discipline, devotion and patience – that students can apply to other therapeutic requirements.

How to teach therapeutic yoga

First, you must provide a nurturing and welcoming environment for every student that comes to your classes or even who asks you a question. Yoga is therapeutic in its consistent application. But suggesting this to a student who has recently been diagnosed with arthritis or asthma or depression and who is looking for a prescriptive “fix” may be counterproductive. Students who have recently been diagnosed with an ailment, particularly if they are new to yoga, will not initially be receptive to your suggestion that yoga must be practiced regularly and consistently. Incorporating a yoga practice into a healthcare regime is fundamentally different than taking a pill or getting surgery. Informing students that they must practice “forever” will be overwhelming. Furthermore, with insidious problems that require therapy such as obesity or back pain, students might be reluctant to embrace the lifestyle changes that are necessary to change their circumstances. So, it’s important to be compassionate and welcoming to each student, regardless of their previous yoga experience and regardless of their current expectations of the practice.

Next, be patient and creative in your approach. Encourage students as they develop a regular practice. Although it might be obvious to you how yoga is therapeutic for many ailments, the yogic approach of a mind-body connection might be foreign to new students. Assess each student by asking questions about their experience, their perception of yoga and what aspects of yoga make them feel better. Elaborate on this by making yoga appealing. For example, an injured athlete with a lot of energy may not stick with a seated meditation practice. She might find it boring and annoying. Propose to her instead that she try walking meditation. Instruct her to set a mantra before she walks and then to repeat the mantra during the walk. Just as yoga is an overarching solution for almost any ailment, there are infinite ways to incorporate yoga into a lifestyle.

Finally, even though yoga therapy is not a replacement for medical intervention, it is a valuable companion to medicine. As a yoga teacher, you have the time to discuss with students what is ailing them and together, you can evaluate lifestyle changes, such as work environment, leisure activities and emotional circumstances. Together, you and your student can determine an effective and useful application of yoga. Furthermore, by consulting with your student, and putting them in charge of their own health via yoga, you are giving them the autonomy to take charge of their personal wellbeing.

Yoga may not be a prescriptive tool to cure ailments, but it does provide a therapeutic elixir of which students have control over the dosage.

Categories
Yoga

Integrating yoga philosophy: the Koshas

Understanding yogic philosophy is daunting! It can be difficult to convince yourself that there is more to yoga than physical poses. Yoga classes are so focused on doing the poses, that practitioners might wonder what else there is to yoga besides stretching and balancing in awkward poses.

Most people who come to a yoga class really do want the vigorous part of the practice – they want to stretch, work their muscles and get the blood flowing in their bodies. It’s the physical asana that tends to calm people and satisfy their craving for movement. In the warmth of that calm, philosophical teachings become meaningful and relevant.

The koshas are a way to explain the layers of yoga. By envisioning the self as a series of layers, yogis can start to understand their true purpose. Furthermore, understanding the koshas in harmony with other philosophical aspects of the practice gives yoga meaning beyond a physical workout.

Studying yoga reveals that the central intention of yoga is to understand and have knowledge of the self. “Knowledge” is the emphatic belief that there is only the present moment and that the self is inextricably united with the present moment and nothing more.

The quest to understand the self is as timeless as humanity itself. Modern yogis are no different from their predecessors in their search to understand who they are, what their purpose is and what it’s all for. Without a sense of clarity, the daily drudgery of activities can seem toxic, pointless and without merit. By examining the five koshas, the layers of the self, yogis can arrive at a state of bliss and understanding about who they are in relation to the world.

Annamaya kosha, Physical sheath

Awareness of physical sensations. The physical body is the most obvious part of the self. It’s the part the world sees first. Awareness of annamaya kosha brings attention to how the body reacts to external force such as exercise, accidents or substances. Reluctance to truly feel the physical body and to understand its needs can result in feeling unwell. Yoga poses draw attention to the physical body and instruct you how to treat your body to avoid injury. Awareness of what you eat and how you move will instruct you on how to take care of your body. Becoming aware of annamaya kosha teaches you how to nurture and honour your physical self. This awareness contributes to ease and a sense of peace to your life.

Exercise: Physical awareness. Think about your skin. Visualize how it protects your organs, bones and muscles. Think about your muscles. Visualize how they work together to propel your body. Visualize your organs. Heart, liver, kidney…. Envision how these organs take care of your body. How they work together. Now focus on one organ. Hold it in your attention. If other thoughts pop into your head, label them (“thought”), and bring your attention back to one organ. Notice the appreciation you feel for the physical body as a system. Understanding annamaya kosha gives you an appreciation for how your body works and how you take care of it.

Pranamaya kosha, life force sheath

Awareness of the breath. Pranamaya kosha is the breath and the life force that flows through and around the body. It’s an energy that you can feel within yourself and that can be felt by others around you. Energetic, dull, lethargic, buoyant, excited, calm…these are all descriptions that describe your energetic life force.

Exercise: Breath control. Notice how your breath flows in and out of your lungs without you consciously needing to do it. The breath is one of the only subconscious needs that can also be harnessed and controlled. Observe how you can control your breath and that you can calm yourself down or energize yourself by changing the pattern of your breath.

Manomaya kosha, mental sheath

Awareness of ideas and behaviour. Emotions and thoughts punctuate your day. Manomaya kosha is the layer of thoughts and ideas that make sense of the world around. This is a layer of feelings and emotions that arise in response to external stimuli. Noticing this layer of mental awareness is necessary; reacting to every thought is not necessary. Manomaya kosha contains thought patterns that have been created by absorbing information from family, culture and perceptions of the world. These thought patterns are worth noticing because they describe the world around you and create a running narrative. The trick is to notice the thought pattern, be non-reactive to it and realize that thought patterns can be modified.

Exercise: Self-inquiry. Write down a situation in your life that has recently changed. Write down three thoughts about it. Now, one at a time, examine each thought. Ask: “how would I feel without this thought?” Notice a change in breath and awareness of self. Now consciously replace each thought with “I have the freedom to choose my reactions,” “There are numerous ways to examine this situation.”

Vijnamaya kosha, the wisdom sheath

The ability to observe the body and mind without judgement. Vijnamaya kosha is wisdom, intuition and knowledge of self. Awareness of this layer will provide insight into who you are. It’s like finding the flow state in work or sports or art. A feeling of transcendence where purpose and intention become clear. Access to vijnamaya kosha arrives when the first three koshas (body, breath, emotions) are peeled away and you can access the intuitive self.

A yoga practice for this is to focus on the third eye (spot in between the eyebrows). This is where intuition is housed. By quietly focusing on that spot, true information about the self can be revealed. For some, access to vijnamaya kosha will be revealed through a vigorous vinyasa practice. For others, a quiet introspective pose of forward folds like supported paschimottanasana or child’s pose will provide access to intuition.

Exercise: Complete concentration. Choose an activity that you love and that challenges you. Whether it’s work, making art, playing sports, writing, reading. Give yourself time to focus wholly on the activity and continue to do it even if you feel the desire for distraction. Distractions abound – social media, chores, pets – but you have the power to ignore the distractions so you can lose yourself in the flow state of the activity. Observe how that feeling of transcendence guides you to a greater purpose.

The next time you practice yoga, recall the absorbing feeling of being in a flow state. See if you can find that transcendence in your practice. From that transcendence, patiently wait to see what your true self, your intuition, reveals to you.

Anandamaya kosha, the bliss sheath

Awareness of the true self. This most hidden sheath is acutely felt through the instinct that life itself is good; that being alive is worth it. Revealing this sheath is to understand that life is its own reward. Mantra and meditation are a tool to connect with anandamaya kosha. The information that reveals itself is that love is the ultimate state of being.

These statements aren’t to mean that emotional ups and downs are not going to happen, rather that contentment and acceptance of all moods is possible.

Peeling back the layers to reveal anandamaya kosha and finding yourself in the bliss body is more of a visceral feeling than an intellectual one. It’s a subtle awareness that everything is as it should be, that love and joy are the foundation of the universe and that happiness is possible for all.

Exercise: Meditation. Practice sitting quietly, alone and without distraction. Practice acceptance of your physical body, of your breath and of your emotions. Some days it won’t work and you won’t be able to find bliss and contentment. But some days it will work. You’ll feel simultaneously grounded and buoyant and content with who you are. With practice, this awareness of bliss, of anandamaya kosha, will be increasingly easy to remember and you’ll be able to tackle life’s challenges with acceptance and compassion, and understand that the present moment is really all there is.

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Where crossfit meets training

After critical evaluation of Xterra 2018, I’m making a big change. Crossfit.

My training partner, whose talents and strengths I’ve admired for years, is a crossfit advocate. He’s actually a trainer but his expertise is partially based on his impressive weight loss of 100lbs. But that’s old news. He’s kept the weight off for several years. More recently  he made a dramatic improvement at Canmore Xterra from 2017 to 2018. His remarkable improvement forced me to ask why – our training was more or less the same. Same volume, same type of running intervals, same bike training terrain – but he did a crossfit workout five times per week. I did calisthenics after every run, free weight training in my offseason and a HIIT workout every week, but nothing that resembled the intensity and group setting of crossfit. I was reluctant to join because of the competitive nature of the workouts, the lack of control over the setting and the idea that a “coach” could tell me what to do.

But after a reassuring chat with my partner, I signed up and decided to take his advice and “trust the process.” It’s been two weeks. The workouts range from racing to finish sets of weight-lifting sequences (push press, front squat, hang cleans, etc) to bodyweight workouts done for 30 minutes without rest (box jumps, situps, pullups, jump squats, etc.)

The music is always inexplicably loud, the workouts are relentless, the voice of my partner-now-coach saying “you can do it!” (“Can I?! How do you KNOW that?” my reluctant self silently seethes). Furthermore, there are whiteboards with lists of workouts and rankings of the gym members. All of this – the music, the bossy coach, the competitive squats and lifting – is incongruent with my usual style of training. I prefer to be alone, in silence, and with nothing but my heartrate monitor and a timer to compete with.

Working out isn’t new to me. I started going to the gym after school when I was 16. I researched and fanatically followed numerous strategies. Supersets, HIIT, eccentric (negative) movements, overload, rest days. I have boxes of notebooks and journals filled with fitness goals and plans; all of which I completed to the letter. Triathlon, Ironman70.3, cross-country ski races. Some I’ve excelled at, two I’ve won, several I’ve come in last and many I’ve finished in the middle of the pack. The results are always different, but the common thread is strict adherence to training plans. But always alone. Other people irritate me and after the first workout, my crossfit companions were no exception.

But, with the exception of a 50km Xcountry ski race and a small local triathlon, I don’t win. Solitary training probably has something to do with this. The winners of the big races are often running in packs. Second and third place contenders nip at the heels of the winners. It’s that kind of pressure and annoyance that I hate and the reason why I train alone. I dislike hearing other people’s heavy breathing, smelling their sweat, listen to their swearing or cries of jubilation, acknowledging their opinions. All of it. But if I want to win, I need to embrace that pressure. Embrace the annoying other people and maybe even listen to them sometimes.

Right away at crossfit, I saw it’s the competitive edge that keeps everyone working. It’s the group mentality. “If they’re doing it, then so can I.” Even if I don’t want to, even if it hurts, even if it seems impossible (TEN pullups?!). Because training to win means embracing the pain, accepting the other people, recognizing that a “coach” might contribute useful new suggestions and doing it all in the midst of a group. Racing a triathlon is not a solitary activity. Neither is crossfit.

Every race I enter is a big goal. At crossfit, each workout is a mini goal. Start where you are, work hard and see it through to completion. Some of it’s annoying, some of it is loud, some of it isn’t how I would coach myself. But in order to improve, I need to train my weakest skills. Crossfit challenges even the most reluctant competitors. Its magic is the combination of stuff I don’t want to do (Olympic weightlifting, sprinting) and stuff that I love (box jumps, body weight training). It’s the amalgamation of favourite and least-favourite that generates the strongest training plan. I’ll never improve in triathlon if I only train the stuff I love (long distance runs) and never do the stuff I hate (swim sprints), but to excel, the focus has to be equally divided between both.

My incredibly inspiring training partner said this:

“The only piece of advice I can give is to embrace the suck. I think it’s become pretty routine at Just Fitness to see me lying on the ground in a sweaty, exhausted heap after a workout. That’s because every time, before we start, the last thing I say to myself is to make sure this hurts, because there’s no easy way to meet your goals. You gotta fall in love with the grind.”

He happens to love team sports and having workout partners. So for him, “the suck,” is something entirely different than what I’m explaining. But the sentiment is the same. In order to improve, you’ve gotta train what you don’t want to. You’ve gotta have a well-rounded training plan. You’ve gotta fall in love with the whole process. Crossfit. It sucks for stubborn training loners like me, but the benefit is learning how to compete and excel in spite of the other people.

 

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Doing it just for the sake of saying I did it.

Yesterday I was asked how many hours a week I devote to training. The answer is 12-16 hours per week. It sounds like a lot! My friend commented with admiration not for the actual activity, but for the dedication to my hobby. Truthfully her praise was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s not just the exercise that I love (although I do love the endorphin high every day), it’s the whole process of planning the training weeks, testing my speed and endurance once a month, eating well so that I don’t sabotage my workouts and above all, organizing my days around swimming, biking and running.

She asked me how I stay motivated. Sometimes I’m not sure. Most of the time training kind of sucks. Yesterday’s ride was over two hours long and the driving wind and rain was bitter. The day before there were several other people in my lane at the pool and their breaststroking antics were annoying. The day before that I forgot my outdoor running clothes at home and had to do my workout on the treadmill because I didn’t have a jacket. Before that I had a pretty uncomfortable run because I’d indulged in chips and candy the night before. Last week I tried compression tights for a long ride and they were so disagreeable and tight they actually left marks on my skin. Yet somehow the motivation to finish what I started carries me through all of the discomforts of actual training.

I create my workouts to the minute. For example,  a 16 hour training week is 960 minutes. Swimming, biking and running is divided proportionally according to my goal time in the race. My goal is to complete Canmore Xterra 2018 in 192min, broken down as follows: 30min swim, 105min bike, 55min run, plus 2min for transitions. The training proportions correspond to the race goal: 16% time spent swimming, 55% biking and 29% running. A 960 minute training week equals 153minutes at the pool, 528minutes on the bike and 278minutes running.

 

Each workout is subdivided into intervals. I might do a 160min bike, which is further divided into 6x20min intervals with a five-minute rest in between. My point here is not to outline every workout but to emphasize that when the training is really demanding (which lately is the case every day), I focus only on the task at hand. I only have to ride my bike for 160min today. If that’s too hard, I tell myself I only have to finish this 20-minute interval. If that’s still too hard, I tell myself that I get to rest for five minutes of easy pedalling. And if that’s still too hard, then I tell myself to tough it out and get the day’s training over with so I can get back into bed.

All this to say that the motivation doesn’t come easily. The training is excruciatingly difficult, painful, boring, lonely, frustrating. But at the end of a session, I get to colour in one day’s block on my calendar. The week is white to begin with, but at the end of the week, it’s coloured. At the end of many weeks, the entire google drive is colourful!

Colourful training plan

So is that what motivates me? Coming home and colouring in some digital boxes on the computer screen? Maybe! These boxes represent the commitment to following through on a plan that I schemed up on a frigid afternoon in March. These coloured boxes represent the complexity of the training and that it’s so much more than just pounding out the kilometres. It’s researching the best training formulas, it’s finding the most comfortable clothes so that I can stay as happy as possible on the long workouts, it’s making enough time every week to fit it all in, it’s learning which food makes me fast and what snacks make me slow. Ultimately, it’s just following through on what I started. So regardless of the wind, the rain, the uncomfortable spandex clothing, the missed junk food, the irritating swimmers at the pool, the skipped parties because of the protracted training schedule, I do it for the simple pleasure of saying that I completed a task.

Leaving their Mark

compression tights – just another thing to add to the long list of discomforts.

Categories
Workshops and Events

New workshop: twelve days of sun salutations

The summer solstice is nearly upon us! Celebrate the beginning of summer with a special 12-class morning yoga series. Greet the sun every morning with a vigorous ashtanga-inspired yoga practice. Each one-hour session will be a full practice, but with a special daily focus on each of the 12 poses of the sun salutations.
All body types and experience levels will be challenged. Students will learn the name of each pose and benefits of doing the poses in sequence. Also, options to modify will be provided.
Note that other poses will be included in the daily practice, but the focus will be on the value of practicing sun salutations.
A disciplined daily practice with a focus on repetition will be emphasized.
Tuesday May 23 – Friday June 8, 2018
645-745am at Taiga Yoga Studio in Yellowknife
To register:
http://www.taigayoga.com/workshops/2018/6/4/solstice-intensive-morning-sun-salutation-series
Meet you on the mat!
For more details about sun salutations, see the following tutorial:
Sun-Salutations-A-B-Chandra-Namaskar-1
Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Adult nutrition

What’s an adult? And, more importantly, what is hashtag adulting? How do I know if I’m an adult? I think the stages of adulthood arrive unexpectedly and often by surprise. The biggest indicator of adulthood is when we realize that we’re making choices and living our lives and there is nobody supervising. The feeling of being untethered from supervision might arrive at traditional adult accomplishments such as purchasing a first house or getting married or having a baby or getting a promotion at work.  On the other hand, I don’t think any of these things are required of adults.

Adulting is a verbed-noun that is associated with millennials who wish to summarize life accomplishments on twitter or Instagram. The hashtag #adulting is an example of attaching a keyword to a set of behaviours that are associated with aging.

There were parents before there was parenting. There was google before there was googling. There was  dialogue before there was dialoging. There were verbs before there was verbing. Verbing is a convenient way of summarizing an idea without using the whole phrase and in the age of Instagram, encapsulating an idea with a verbed-noun such as adulting is a way to represent an accomplishment associated with becoming an adult.

But what is adulting? Is it buying a house? Having a baby? Choosing to spend a lifetime with someone? Wearing a business suit to work? Moving out of your childhood bedroom? Buying a car? Yes…but no. Adulting is taking responsibility for your actions and being proud of your behaviour and choices even though there isn’t anyone supervising.  Adulting is taking control of your own circumstances and admitting that nobody is responsible for you but you. Accepting the process of aging is a rite of passage and often we wish for specific examples that “prove” that we’re being good adults. Attaching hashtags to accomplishments such as buying a home, or filing tax returns on time seems like a mark of adulthood but in reality there are no specific suggestions for what it means to be an adult. The real mark of adulting is the ability to intelligently make decisions and overcome challenges. “How will future me feel about the decisions that current me is making?” Adulting is recognizing that decisions made right now have a direct impact on the future.

Nutrition and food choices are a handy way to represent adult decisions.  Children desire candy and sugar.  Most kids, left to their own devices, will gorge on unhealthy food. Children don’t have any regard for the future and lack comprehension of how current decisions will affect future emotions. The opposite of a child is an adult. Adults have the emotional intelligence to ask themselves if eating a cupcake right now will feel good in the future.  Personally, I am in a constant battle with myself about what to eat and what to not eat. I often disassociate the consequences of eating an entire bag of chips on my future wellbeing, health and athletic ability. This disassociation and “who cares, it’s just one day” attitude has detrimental effects on my health and, specific to this summer, my ability to be a lean triathlete.

I have a friend who is highly motivated and possesses a remarkable ability to reinvent his circumstances. Last year he successfully lost over 100 pounds by changing his eating routine. In him, I confided my ongoing battle with compulsive overeating and he very succinctly said to me “ask yourself if whatever you’re eating will help you achieve your goal of finishing an Ironman.” It sounds so simple, but this rubric is truly the mark of being an adult. It’s important to nobody but me if I eat a whole row of oreos before bed. There is no accountability except to myself and to my goals. This is adulting. Making decisions without supervision.

Ironman training indoors today. Strong north wind and dreary rain made me grateful for the small gym with spin bike that my work offers! 7 x 2 min zone 4 intervals today. More on heartrate training to come. Stay tuned.

Categories
Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

On Goals….

Training for this Ironman fits into the category of “goals.” Goals, I was told throughout my youth, are integral to success. Having a plan and sticking with it until completion will provide structure and a sense of achievement in life. A quick google search of “why goals are important” informed me that setting goals will focus my acquisition of skills and organize my time and resources so that I can make the very most of my life. There’s a Lululemon shopping bag beside me instructing me to write down two personal, two business and two health goals for the next 1, 5 and 10 years. Apparently I should do this four times per year because goal-setting will trigger my subconscious computer. We’re a goal-setting and achievement-oriented society. Paradoxically, at the yoga studio, I’m repeatedly told to embrace the present and focus on the moment.

So how to find the balance between setting goals and enjoying the present moment?

There’s no way to plan or know what’s going to happen. No amount of goal setting has any bearing on the future. The only absolute truth is the present moment. But I’m not convinced that these statements should preclude steps towards achieving a goal. Even though some goals are overwhelming at first (finishing a doctoral degree, saving for a house down payment, writing a novel, training for an Ironman), the process consists of present moments.

As I embark on this Ironman training, I recall my success in a triathlon and half Ironman in 2015. Certainly, those goals were lofty at the time and I remember some mornings being overwhelmed with training logistics. I would wake up, check my training plan and have to prepare for two workouts in different disciplines (a swim and a bike, for example, or a run followed by a bike). I would find myself panicking that I’d forget my swim goggles and be unable to complete the workout. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in the workouts plus do my full-time job plus my part-time job plus see my friends plus do laundry plus look after my brand new puppy plus make dinner plus work on my masters thesis. Yes, when viewed like that, it was physically and emotionally overwhelming. However I noticed that if I changed my perspective and viewed the goal in manageable portions and asked “what can I do right now to achieve the goal,” then the entire project was not so overwhelming.

The process of accomplishing goals is achieved through engagement in a series of moments. Today, I biked 75 minutes. Yesterday, I ran 60 minutes. Together, these minutes in the day add up to “training” and, done often enough, will get me over the finish line in an Ironman.