How Diamond Dallas Page, no cable, and horse blankets got me started with yoga

The first time I did yoga was a bit strange. It started with back pain. This isn’t atypical.

I’d moved to Florida and had a six-week window where I was there with nothing productive to do before I started my grad program. I was mostly lying around on a cheap futon, with some guitar playing, some reading, and a lot of TV watching to do. This inactivity led to more persistent back pain than I’d like. The kind that lingers in your lower back just above the back of your hips.

Among my favorite channels was PBS. When I got there, I didn’t have cable. I plugged in my cable cord to the jack just to see if I would get lucky and have free cable. Nope. But for some reason it did act like an antennae, and I picked up a snowy version of PBS.

For the first few days, that was all I got, so once I got cable, I kept watching out of habit. There was a lot of time spent watching Curious George’s shenanigans and time spent watching Austin City Limits. And of course there were the glorified infomercials.

One of those was for a pilates video. It talked about how it could help with back pain. I did what I do and went to a bookstore for an instruction manual. I decided that yoga and pilates were basically the same thing and went looking for both. I opted for yoga because it seemed more manly (there was one book where Diamond Dallas Page was teaching yoga, and if yoga was good enough for DDP, it was good enough for me). I at least opted for a non-DDP yoga book. If I was going to make a slightly sexist decision, I could at least get a regular yoga book instead of a broga book.

I then read the book. I looked at what it had to say, including what I needed. Evidently, I needed carpet or a yoga mat. I had neither. But I did have a rug.

Let me tell you about that rug. It wasn’t actually a rug. It was a horse blanket. I won it in one of those little kid rodeos when I was 6 or 7. I didn’t know I’d won anything until they handed me this fancy horse blanket.

Problem was I already had a saddle pad. Why use the fancy blanket when I already had something to perform the same function? And it didn’t really occur to me to use the fancy horse blanket if I didn’t actually need it.

My brother used it as a horse blanket once or twice, I think. I’m not sure I ever did. Maybe once. Again, we had saddle pads that were more functional. I actually used the horse blanket as a blanket for myself once or twice. I was an odd kid. I’m still an odd adult.

Before my move to Florida, I looked around my parents’ house for what I could steal for my place in Florida. I’d never lived somewhere that wasn’t furnished, so I wanted some amenities from home so that Florida could at least have a bit of Texas in it (and some New Mexico, too). I had the saddle blanket sitting in the closet. I threw it in the wash (it had been used as a saddle blanket at least once, after all), and then I took it to Florida to use as a rug for my living room.

So I have a rug. This rug was conveniently about the size of a yoga mat. The book said I needed a yoga mat or a carpeted floor. Looks like I’d found the best of both worlds.

Well, instead of carpet, I had tile floors. I loved that tile. The problem with tile, though, is there’s no real traction to it. Turns out if you use a rug as a yoga mat, it’ll just slide around.

My first yoga session was spent with me tentatively getting into poses, including lunges, and praying that rug wouldn’t move far enough for me to bust my face on the tile floor.

It worked once, and that was all I asked of it. I upgraded to an exercise mat immediately, though it had some of the same problems. It still slid some, but it was kind of like playing tennis on a clay court. You learned to work with the predictable slide.

That mat lasted me five years until I went into a real yoga class. I thought I’d keep going back there, so I bought a mat and only went one more time. I ended up sticking the yoga mat under the exercise mat for traction, which worked wonders. When I started going to real classes after I moved to Mississippi, I strongly considered doing that, but I didn’t want to be the weirdo who took in two mats to class. I was already a dude at yoga, which made me stick out enough as it was. In some cases that worked to my benefit, but carrying in a second mat would not have helped.

Why am I telling this rambling story? It’s mostly because I can’t sleep, and I was lying on my rug while I drew something. So yeah, that’s how I started doing yoga. Fun fact: The exercise mat was my bed the first two nights after my move to Oklahoma.

Advertisements

Finding Your Inner Brogi: A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

The original title of this was Broga: A Bro’s Guide to Yoga, but after learning Broga is trademarked (turns out Brogi is also trademarked, so I may get a cease and desist after all).

Oh well.

At some point, I may write the brogi satirical post you all desire, but for now, this is a serious attempt. If you would like some, MaxNoSleeves has you covered.

I, on the other hand, am going to do what I can to help my fellow bros.

First, my credentials: I have no credentials.

Well, that’s no true. I’m a doctor. I’m just not the kind that helps people. I’m the kind that teaches and does research so that other people can help people. I help the people who help people.

So how do I establish credibility? Well, I’m still a bit of a bro. I’m actually typing this in a tank top from my time at UF. I also grew up your typical kid playing sports. I wasn’t any good, but I did play. That’s how I picked up my back and knee problems. I started doing yoga 8 years ago to mitigate the back pain. I was fairly intermittent the first 5 years, but I’ve been fairly consistent the past 3. No, I’m not qualified to teach yoga, but I can help a bro out.

Second, goal of this tutorial (of sorts): To help the novice brogi navigate yoga in a way that gives you many of the benefits of yoga without losing strength in those larger muscles. This means I want to make sure we hit the upper body, core, and legs. Posture is going to be a big focus. If vanity is your thing, posture matters, so I’ll note what I can in this. You basically can’t do yoga without working on flexibility, so that wasn’t as much of a concern. And we can’t forget the novice. My frame of reference was me 8 years ago. If I could do it then, then I consider it ok now.

Disclaimer: Not a yoga teacher. Not a medical doctor. I’m in no way, shape, or form qualified to diagnose or prescribe anything. I’m telling you what I think will work. You’re taking your own chances. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. Really, stop. Go to a yoga studio. Go to a doctor. Go to a physical therapist. Literally, anyone but me.

Ok, let’s do this. This is going to be a doozy of a post, so roll with it.

I’m going to talk about the pose, give a pic, and then tell you things to watch out for if I have something useful to say. You need a mat. You can get by with a pretty cheap mat. It wouldn’t hurt to have a strap, but you don’t need it.

Last, you can go to any class and get something from it. Ashtanga is actually a great way to go if you want strength work, but it’s light on leg strength, so I tried to incorporate that a bit more.

The Flow (I’m financially obligated to call it that; sorry, bros)

A note before we get rolling. Everything in here is timed by breaths. This means you can get as much or as little as you want out of this. We’re talking about a slow, deep breath in, followed by a slow breath out. You’re looking at about 6 seconds to cycle through a breath.

There are three sections: the warmup, the standing poses, and mat work.

Warmup

I like the ashtanga warmup, which consists of two series of sun salutations. You’ll do 5 rounds of each. If you only do the two sun salutation series, you’re still going to get some decent work in. Good way to wake up (the name seems like a giveaway there).

Sun Salutation A

You’re going to work your way through 10 poses, stopping where you started.

The first pose looks a lot like standing up straight with your arms out to the side. It’s called mountain pose. Everything you do should be active. In this case, you’re trying to stand up as straight as possible. You want your shoulders square (the cheat is to raise your shoulders up and then drop them down toward the back) and your palms facing forward.

You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to. You trying to keep your core engaged, so feel it in your abs as they keep you tall.

Next, you’re going to breathe in a raise your arms to the sky. You can put your palms together or keep them separate. The real point is that your stretching upward. You’re going from standing tall to stretching up (I usually feel the stretch in my abs). Basically, do what you would do as a kid when you’d try to see who was taller among your friends. You’re getting tall while keeping your feet flat.

As you breathe out, you’re going into a forward fold. It looks a lot like stretching your hamstrings. The difference that you want to give here is have a slight bend in your knee (think about an inch that your knee moves forward, though you bend more if you want to get your hands closer to the ground) and you want to let your head relax. Outside of this flow, practice it. You’re trying to let tension go, so you’re letting your neck relax, and you’ll feel the weight of your head stretching out your neck. Not a bad way to decompress during a long day. For the flow, we’re only hanging out as long as the breath lasts.

You’re going to breathe in and halfway lift (basically, straighten out your back). This gets your abs and it gets your hamstrings.

As you breathe out, in a perfect world, you’ll go straight to chaturanga (we’ll get to that), but I want you to take an extra step to help some hip mobility. Get your hands on the ground and step your right leg back (you’ll be in a runner’s lunge) and then step your left leg back to end up in a plank. You can do this in one breath. The reason for stepping back is that it’s going to stretch out your hips. Hopping back will put more upper body work, but you’ll get plenty of that later.

You want your plank to be a straight line from your legs to your head, but you’re a bro, so you already know how to do a plank. Focus on pushing your shoulders down so you don’t have a dip in your back (Basically, could you balance a ball in between your shoulder blades? If so, then push so that you can’t). You should feel pretty much every muscle in your body engaged.

You’ll breathe in and tilt forward a little so your hands are no longer under your shoulders (have your fingertips below your shoulder). Then you’ll breathe out and go down into a chaturanga. It’s a low plank. Keep your elbows in. Your upper arms will be parallel with your torso and your forearms will be perpendicular to the floor. Same as the plank, straight line head to toe. Everything is still engaged.

Next, you’ll breathe in and move to upward facing dog. As you breathe in, you’re going to move forward and then press yourself up. I did this one wrong for 5 years. Tops of the feet are on the mat. Legs are off the mat (this is where I messed up). And you want to pull your shoulders down and back (also where I messed up). All that crappy time you spend at a desk? This is where you go the opposite direction. Your shoulders are getting work and your getting to bend backwards to (hopefully) give your back some relief.

For every up dog, there’s a down dog. Breathe out. While you breathe out, you’re going to flip your feet so they are down (you probably will be on your toes, but the goal is for them to be flat. I’ll let you know the day I pull that off). You’re raising your hips and sending them backward and letting your core do the work. The purpose is to lengthen your back. Then you worry about getting your legs straighter over time. You’re going to hang out in this pose for 5 breaths (in and out).

Next, you’ll step forward into that runner’s lunge again as you breathe in. The leg you sent back first? Let that be the one that goes forward. Then the other leg until you’re in a forward fold. Breathe out. Breathe in and go into halfway lift. Then breathe out into forward fold. Breathe in to rise up to standing with your hands over your head. Breathe out and let your arms drop to your side in mountain.

You’ll go through this sequence 5 rounds. The way I keep count and keep balanced is to alternate which leg is leading the sequence. So round 1, right leg goes back first. Round 2, left leg. And so on. This lets both lets get some mobility work. You have the option to jump forward and back, which does more upper body work, but I would recommend stepping. We can get you more upper body work later.

If you’re keeping score, you’ll realize one leg led more than the other. Good thing there’s a second sun salutation series.

sun-salutation-surya-namaskar

Sun Salutation B

This round will incorporate almost everything from the A series, but it adds two new poses and just more work in general. For this round, send your left leg back first when you’re going back into plank. This is how you make up the difference from the first series. You’re going to do this series 5 rounds also.

You’ll start in mountain. You go this. But then you’ll breathe in and move to chair. There are a few things to watch here. One, you’re keeping you weight in your heels. Wiggle your toes; it helps. Two, you’re trying to make sure your knees aren’t going way in front of you toes. Try to keep your knees above your feet. Three, as you’re sticking your back end out (almost like you’re sitting in a chair), you need to watch your core. Easy to let it dip. Keep your abs engaged so your back and stomach stay straight. You don’t have to go too far down. You can pretend your chair’s a barstool instead if you want. Over time, you’ll get farther down.

After that, we’re the same until we hit the down dog (chair, fold, halfway lift, step back to plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog). Instead of hanging out for 5 breaths, you’re going to do one breath, and then step your right leg forward in between your hands. If you can’t get it in one smooth motion, no worries. That’s where you’re heading (again, we’re working on hip mobility). Go as far as you can in one smooth motion, and then get the bastard the rest of the way bit by bit.

You’re moving into Warrior I. The foot that stayed back will turn 45 degrees to the left (think front-left corner of the room). Foot in front faces forward. You’re trying to keep your hips square to the front of the room. Left leg straight. Right knee approaching 90 degree angle if you can manage it (watch the knee; it stays above the ankle, not in front or to the side; back is ok). You’re going to reach your arms up like you did standing earlier, except now you’re in a lunge. This is all supposed to happen during one breath in. To make your life easier, take a breath in to hit the lunge, breathe out to get your legs and feet correct, and then breathe in get your arms up. Legs obviously getting work, but your abs should feel something too.

When you breathe out, you’re moving back to a chaturanga. You’ll frame your foot with your hands and send that right leg back. You can either let it return to the ground and have a four-legged chaturanga like you have before, or you can let that right leg stay in the air for the three-legged variety. Either is fine. I like the three because it’s easier for me to get into the next pose and I like the extra little bit of balance work.

You’re going to breathe in to up dog. Out to down dog. And then you’re going to repeat the warrior I pose for the left leg. Then to chaturanga, up dog, and down dog. For this down dog, you’re hanging out for 5 breaths again. Then you’ll step forward into a forward fold, halfway lift, chair, mountain.

You’ll run through this 5 rounds. At this point, you’ve had a decent little warmup. You might even be sweating. This is a good time to stop if you just want a warm up. Or it’s a good time for a sip of water before you proceed to the route.

The Standing Poses

These next poses, we’re going to get more work into your legs. Not as much as we could, but I think we’ll do alright.

The first pose will be the crescent lunge. Basically the same as warrior I, except your back foot changes. You’re on your toes/ball of your foot. Hold for 5 breaths. After one leg, we’ll do a vinyasa, so down to plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog (one breath for each pose in vinyasa), and then bring the other leg to the front to do crescent on the other side for 5 breaths and repeat the vinyasa. Your legs are engaged, so let them do their thing.

From down dog, bring your right foot between your legs. We’re going to do the warrior sequence (I, II, & III) all with the right leg in front. Come up into warrior I for 5 breaths. Then we’re going to warrior II for 5 breaths. There are a couple of changes to make. Your back foot will go from 45 degrees to 90 facing away from you. Your hips will move from facing forward to facing the side. And the easiest is your arms will come out parallel to the ground. You’re standing tall, so you should feel it in your core.

After 5 breaths in warrior II, we’ll go to warrior III. This one might be the one to skip, but I think it’s worth a go. You’ll try to push forward without stepping that back leg. If you can’t now, that’s something you work toward. You’re basically pretending your Superman. You want a straight line from arms through your legs. The things I have to watch are that my hips stay level with the floor (I like to tilt the hip of the back leg up) and that you’re keeping your torso straight. You’ll probably need to bend your front leg some if you’re not fairly flexible. Hold for 5 breaths. Core and hammies are going to feel this one (not to mention some balance work)

After warrior III, vinyasa again, bringing your left leg forward after the down dog. You’ll go through the warrior sequence again with the left leg in front, followed by a vinyasa.

After this vinyasa, you’ll find your way to standing and then step your right leg out about 4 feet.

We’re doing triangle now. Right foot is parallel to the long end of the mat. Left foot is parallel to the short end of the mat. Arms come out to a T. Breathe in and lean forward over your right leg. Breath out, keeping your arms level with each other, and drop your right hand down in the direction of the ground. The point of this pose is moving that direction without twisting or letting your core collapse down, so if you need to put your hand on your leg (shin or quad), that’s fine.

Pretend you’re being squeezed in between two panes of glass so that every part of your body is in one vertical line if you were looking from the short end of the mat. I feel the stretch in my hips (and usually a satisfying pop when I go into it) and some work on my core to keep my torso straight.

After 5 breaths, bend the front leg a little and bring yourself back to standing with your arms at a T. Switch foot positions so you can do this on the left side. Same as above. 5 breaths and then come back up with your feet returning to how they were with the right foot pointing forward.

We’re now moving to extended side angle. You’ll bend your right knee, aiming for 90 degrees. As your bending down, your right arm goes on top of your leg (but not directly on top of you knee) and your left arm swings down to the floor and then up above your head. You’re aiming to have a straight line from your leg through your arm. Watch your torso so it’s not just dipping down. 5 breaths. You’ll probably feel the stretch around your hips again.

Then you come up, switch your feet and you’ll do extended side angle on the left side for 5 breaths.

Now we’ll go through the warrior sequence again. So right leg is forward, and you’ll do warrior I, II, and III for 5 breaths each. Vinyasa again. Then the warriors again on the left side. Vinyasa.

Now for the revolved side angle pose or revolved crescent lunge (or any other number of names). Basically, back to your crescent lunge with your right leg forward and bring your hands together at your chest in prayer position. Then you’ll twist to the left leaning down so that your left elbow is on the outside of your right leg. Keep your torso up. You can let your arm help keep you up. Hold for 5 breaths. Swap sides. 5 breaths. Vinyasa.

You’re done standing up. Congratulations.

Mat Work

From the last vinyasa’s down dog, make your way to plank. We’re not going to hang out here long. We’re moving to side plank, so turn keeping your left hand under your left shoulder and right arm goes to the sky. You’re going to hang out here for 10 breaths. You’re trying to keep that straight line from feet through the torso. Don’t let you hips dip down or let them fly up.

After your 10, return to plank and vinyasa. You’ll go through the side plank again on the other side for 10 breaths and then vinyasa.

Now to boat pose. I hate even writing boat pose, but it does what it does. Ideally, legs and torso are straight. Real world, torso needs to stay straight. You can bend your legs if you need to. You’ll hold this for 5 breaths. Hips get work holding up your legs, core gets work keeping your lazy body up straight.

After 5, bring you legs in and raise yourself up with your hands on the mat and let yourself back down. You cross your feet but not your legs. I’m having trouble find a picture, so think combo of the following.

When you come back down, you’re going into boat again. You’ll do 5 rounds of 5 breaths, raising yourself up after each one. Chase all that with another vinyasa.

Now we’re at the last strength pose. We’re going after crow. From the down dog, step forward so your shins are at your arms. You’re trying to get your knees as close to your armpits as you can manage and then you’re going to raise yourself up by leaning forward and lifting your feet off the floor. This is about balance. Strength in your upper body isn’t as important as balance and being steady. Basically, you don’t want to fall forward. It hurts. Hold the pose for 5 breaths.

Hard part is over. Put your butt on the ground with your legs out in front of you, Keep your feet up like you’re standing (basically, imagine your feet are flat against the wall). You’re going a seated forward fold. Hinge at the hips as far as you can, and then let your chest fall down. You’ll hang out here for 5 breaths. I like to use a strap here for extra leverage because I’m not even vaguely flexible, so my muscle will actually pull me back up. This is for your hammies of course, but when you bend forward and relax your back, you might feel that release some tension too.

Bring your right foot into your left thigh. Now hinge forward and bend over the left leg for 5 breaths. Then switch your legs up. After both legs, vinyasa.

Now take your legs out wide. You’re going to do a wide-legged forward fold. Hinge at the hips and then let your chest fall down. 5 breaths. Hammies and hips are where you should expect to feel this.

Then take it to the left for 5 breaths. Then the right for 5 breaths. Be careful to keep your torso long. Don’t just hunch over. Last vinyasa, I promise.

Now lie down. Doesn’t that feel good? If you have a strap, this is when it comes in really handy. Raise your right leg up, keeping your left leg out straight. The goal is to grab your foot with your hand. Again, strap. Hang out here for 5 breaths. Hammies are in love here.

Next, you’re going to let your leg fall open to the right. Keep your hips level on the ground. Hang out for 5 breaths. You’ll feel it on the inside of your hips.

Now we take it the other way. Bring your leg back up, then let it fall over to the left. Your right hip will raise up. You’ll fill this in your glutes, and the twist will feel nice on your back. 5 breaths. Then switch legs and do it all again.

Now to bridge. Lying on your back, bring your feet back until they reach your butt keeping your knees up. Put your arms down at your sides. Then lift up with your hips. Your trying to do this work with your quads, not your glutes. 5 breaths, then lower down. Hang out for a breath, then up again. You’ll be up for 5 breaths 3 times with a 1-breath rest in between each of them.

Sit up. One last seated forward fold for 5 breaths.

Now for happy baby. You’re lying back and lift up your legs, bringing your feet up and back above your head. You’re trying to grab the outsides of your feet. You’ll hang out here for 10 breaths. You’ll probably feel this the most in your hips.

Now for corpse pose. Basically, play dead. Lie down. Like a trust fall, except you’re already on the ground. There’s no time limit. Basically, hang out as long as you can stand it. Focus on breathing in and out and just soaking in the yoga session. One thing I’ve noticed is sometimes my back hurts here. What happens for me is that my back is stretching out and it evidently hadn’t been for the day. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but know it’s a possibility. Just ride it out, and you’ll be ok.

And you’re done. If you have any questions, I would recommend asking someone (literally, anyone but me) with some level of expertise. I have none. I’m just a dude that does yoga. Keep it real, brogis.