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.

58 Vinyasas

58 vinyasas. That’s the best count I could get out of the ashtanga book I use. If I did the full primary series, I would hit 58 vinyasas.

5 for the first round of sun salutations. 15 for the second round of sun salutations. 3 for the standing sequence. 31 for the primary series. And 4 for the road in the finishing sequence.

58 vinyasas.

58 chaturangas. 58 up dogs. 58 down dogs.

My shoulders are achy just thinking about that. And that’s exactly what I want.

Yesterday, I tried a new class with a new teacher. It was a slow, deliberate pace. I worked up a sweat. And somehow, I was still a bit dissatisfied. It wasn’t a bad class. I plan to go back, but I was still dissatisfied.

But why?

I had excess energy when I left. I’d gotten used to creating puddles of sweat that I could collapse into for shavasana. This class didn’t do that for me.

Oh how far we’ve come.

3 years ago when I started at this studio, this would have been a perfect class for me. In fact, it was. My Goldilocks teacher stressed a slow, deliberate practice, and I loved it. Last night was very reminiscent of that teacher’s class. They even shared the same first name.

The stars all lined up, but it turns out I’d moved somewhere along the way. I’ve become a new version of me.

This had me thinking about the changes that had occurred. 18 months ago, this was still a pretty ideal class for me. And then I started ashtanga.

Did ashtanga ruin slower classes for me? Maybe.

There’s no getting around the fact that I think of ashtanga as my core practice. It’s what I do at home now. When I think about what yoga is, I think of ashtanga. I think of 58 vinyasas.

Sort of.

I’ve never done all of them. There’s never time in class to do all the poses and vinyasas in between. And since I’ve gone after ashtanga at home with a bad knee, some poses are just off limits.

But I know what’s out there. 58 vinyasas.

So when I think of yoga, I think of 58 vinyasas. I think of tired shoulders. I think of sweat dripping off my face onto the mat. I think of moving with my breath. I think of the sweet rejoice of hitting shoulder stand and knowing that I’m not far from getting to collapse into my puddle of sweat and just breathe.

If that’s yoga, then what was I doing last night?

It was still yoga, but it was yoga light. I need a new high. As I’ve pushed myself further in yoga and as I lost running as an outlet for the foreseeable future, I started chasing a new high.

There are other highs, but they’re detrimental in the long run. Yoga was my way of dealing with stress in a positive way. And I’ve got a lot of stress right now.

Productive unproductivity.

This isn’t the only place I try to use this philosophy, but this is the only application that’s relevant here. If I’m going to chase a high, then I can at least chase a high that will leave me a little better off at the end of the day.

So 58 vinyasas.

I burned up my body on Tuesday with my ashtanga practice. I warmed it up yesterday in class. I let it coast today with the sun salutations. All for the high of chasing 58 vinyasas.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to find on this quest for 58 vinyasas. Maybe I’m hoping to find a better version of myself. Maybe I’m just trying to make sure I’m just trying to stay present when I’m on the two- by six-foot piece of PVC.

Either way, pretty sure tomorrow I’ll be trying to get a little closer to 58 vinyasas.

Yogis and Academics

They say you should blog to reach a broad audience. I’ll do the opposite. I’m going to talk about the general types of people who exist at yoga AND in academia (and really, the only thing more pretentious than talking about yoga and academia is using the term academia). So for all 12 people this applies to (and the 2 of you who might actually read this), here we go, let’s start with

The one who’s been there forever. The old-timer. They’re still going strong, but they’re using techniques no one’s seen since the Reagan administration. They were there before it was cool (we’re going to pretend at some point that faculty life became cool). They’ve done their time, and they’ve earned your respect. They’ll listen to Joni Mitchell if they want to. And even though they’ve been here forever and been at it longer than the some of their peers have been alive, they’re still not

The know-it-all. Ugh. This is the one you would throw something at if you weren’t so enlightened (in yoga) or afraid of prison (because who wants to be the professor in a sweater vest in San Quentin). If this was the same as the last person, all would be well. But usually it’s not. Usually they have more in common the next person. I should probably admit that I’m this person in the academic community. I can’t help it. And this person makes it worse for

The tentative newbie. These are the fun ones. They did their research before they showed up. But now they’re here and they don’t know what to do. They need guidance. They’re watching others to make sure they have the right supplies and take the right actions. And they’re desperate not to be called out in the group because of a giant case of imposter syndrome. Give them a few weeks and a few Google searches, and they’ll become the know-it-all. Maybe. And when they show up in the group, the newbie can’t help but wonder who is

The smelly one. Why does there always have to be a smelly one? And why do they never seem to know it’s them? And deep down, you know your fear is that you’re the smelly one. But certainly, you know you’re not

The chipper one. Almost as bad as the smelly one. They’re just glad to be here. If they can’t do as well as everyone else, that’s ok. This isn’t a competition. We should all be smiling. Do you want to grab lunch? They’ll just hang out and maybe make friends with

The who’s just better than everyone else. And you don’t even hate them for it. They’re not just trying to show off. They’re just better. The only person who doesn’t like them is

The competitive one. And you do hate them for it. I’m also this one in both settings. It’s caused some problems. Injuries in one place and arguments in another. I’ll let you guess which (though wouldn’t it be great to hear a couple of yogis going at it in the middle of warrior II just heckling the crap out of each other? “You call that front knee 90 degrees, Brian? Watch this.” “Your arms aren’t even level, Kenneth. I don’t want to hear anything from you today.”). And the competitive one means you might not get to keep

The visitor. They might be new. They might be seasoned. Either way, they’re just around temporarily. Maybe they’ll come back for more later on, but that’s not in the cards right now. So they’re a stranger in the group. Sometimes they have their own baggage and do things their own way, but sometimes that’s good for the group to see a new example, just so long as it doesn’t catch the attention of

The blogger. And don’t we all wish there were fewer of these…

Introspection After a Good/Bad Yoga Session

I’m trying to treat myself better.

This means a lot of things, but there are some consistent themes in life for me.

I make the same New Year’s resolution every year: treat yourself better. This means a lot of things. Eating better. Working out more. Being nice to myself.

When I go to yoga, I set the same intention each time: bring nothing and take nothing. By this, I mean keep the BS that happens outside of yoga off the mat, and leave any BS that happens in yoga on the mat. But this amounts to the same thing as my New Year’s resolution. I’m trying to treat myself better. By letting yoga be yoga and life be life, I’m not going to get caught up in things as much.

I take the bring nothing and take nothing thing a little further when I’m classes. I try to pretend I’m the only one in the room, and I’m hearing a disembodied voice guide me.

It works, somewhat. I spend a fair amount of time with my eyes closed, and my glasses are off so I can’t actually see people’s faces (facial expressions, anyway) even when my eyes are open, so that I’m not paying as much attention to what’s going on around me (though there’s a very real risk I could be making eye contact without knowing it; my bad, yoga stranger). And multiple times I’ve been in the room with someone I knew without realizing it until afterward.

But that’s my system. Before class, I’m in my own little world lying down to stretch out my back with my eyes closed just slowing down my breathing to get my mind right. And when class is going, I’m trying to just do my own thing within the sandbox of the class instructions.

I modify. And I modify. And I modify.

8 years into doing yoga, I have a better idea of what I want to get out of it, so I make adjustments. I try to be open-minded and generally will always give something I try before going rogue.

Today was no different. And that was the problem. Modifications to make the poses easier or more difficult is something everyone should do. But they should do it for the right reasons. I didn’t today.

I’ve been trying to create lots of puddles of sweat these days. This is a part of me trying to treat myself better. I’m also trying to eat better (I’m currently at about 6 or so days in a row where a salad has been a meal, though I feel like pizza will be supper, so that’s streak’s going away today).

Puddles of sweat and salad. This is me coping with the stress of getting ready to leave a job, town, apartment, friends, etc., and chase a new adventure. Seemed healthier than my usual tactics of pretending everything’s going to be ok and doing nothing to make myself mentally and physically prepared for the stress I’m putting it through.

The puddles of sweat have a problem: my ego. Working out is great. Working out too hard is bad. I have a habit of pulling the latter because of ego and getting injured.

As I’ve been trying to more consistently make puddles of sweat, I’ve been pushing myself harder. On Monday, I did the most brutal ashtanga session I’ve probably ever done, including when I’ve been class. On Wednesday, my body vetoed some of the last poses because it couldn’t take any more. I had muscles feeling tweaked in my chest. Turns out they weren’t the only ones.

Afterward I had to ice my knee, shoulder, and back.

Maybe I should rest some.

I did myself a favor and took Thursday off. On Friday, I still wasn’t 100%, so I considered doing an abbreviated session, but I also knew I wanted to go to class on Saturday. There’s only one teacher left for the summer I’m still willing to take class with, and this was the last time I’d get a chance to take her class. So I took Friday off.

And Saturday morning? I felt like shit. For some reason, Saturdays before yoga don’t go well for me. My schedule is slightly altered, and I stress about going to class (even if it’s a studio that I’ve attended more than 100 class sessions at). It’s fairly routine for me to feel bad before class, and today wasn’t any different.

So going into class, I’m coming off a couple of tweaked muscles and a knee that’s doing a good impression of being an a-hole. And I’m tired.

My thought was that I would do what I can. Then I revised that thought. Can and should are two different words. I resolved to take it relatively easy on myself.  I wanted to do what I should do, not what I can do. I’m quite capable of many stupid things I shouldn’t do.

These intentions are all well and good until I get started and my ego gets involved. Despite knowing I was exhausted and didn’t need to push myself, I did it anyway. For the most part, it was fine. I was just riding the struggle bus as I went after things I normally would have done. I also got to fly out of a couple of poses and end up hopping around on a concrete floor on one foot, which did wonders for aggravating an old injury to said foot.

But that’s not the dumb part. That’s just the part where I wasn’t successful. That’s the part that stays on the mat when I leave.

The dumb part is where I was successful.

We got to crow. I can do crow. I’m doing crow. Did crow. I was sweaty, so I couldn’t hold it as long as I’d like without slipping. Great.

But the teacher was trying to help some students who were new to the pose. So I did another crow. Also fine.

But the teacher was still helping them, and now I’m standing around. Ok, screw this, I’m doing side crow. I don’t get to do them often, and my ego followed me to yoga.

Brief aside: When I started going to classes, I didn’t know side crows weren’t in everyone’s wheelhouse. It was in the book I used, so I had been doing them for 5 years before stepping into a room full of yogis. I didn’t do it all that well, but I could do it. And then a teacher last summer showed a class I was in a good way to get into it, and all of a sudden, my side crow got a lot more stable. Now I had a dangerous source of pride.

So I did side crow on one side today before sweat-slicked limbs sent me out of it. And then I did it on the other and the sweat wasn’t a problem, which meant I was holding it steady. Then the teacher pointed me out doing side crow. Now we have a problem. I had the attention of some of the class and heard something to the effect of a “wow” from someone. There was some slight embarrassment that I went rogue and it got pointed out. There was also a massive ego boost knowing I (seemingly) impressed someone else in class.

And that’s a problem.

I’m not in yoga for an ego boost. I’m not in class to impress the people around me. I go to class to practice with other people (even when I try to pretend they’re not there). I go to class to allow someone else to shoulder the load of guiding me through my practice. And yet, there I was letting my ego drive me and subconsciously made a decision to do something to impress the room. I can’t show up to yoga hoping to impress people.

It all worked out fine, but that’s not the point. The point is that I let a bad part of my personality take the reins. Even if I didn’t get hurt this time, I’m putting myself at risk for next time. And even if I never get hurt, I can’t be motivated by the perceptions of other people in the room.

I’m trying to treat myself better. Going to yoga was a good thing. Going after that side crow when I was dealing with shoulder and chest muscles hurting was a bad thing. I won’t beat myself up over it, but I need to acknowledge that was problematic. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it’s there. Maybe next time I’ll just patiently wait for the next pose. Maybe.

Creating the Perfect Workout Playlist

As any sentient being knows, music makes things better. Whether you’re trying to get through that last mile of your race hoping your jam comes on or you’re like my buddy in high school who would always wait for the Rocky theme to come on in the weight room so he could hit his best sets, you know music can help you through.

I’ve talked about music before, including sharing what was on my playlist and the music vs. no music running, but I wanted to go a different route today. Let’s talk about the construction of a good workout playlist.

I’ll break this into three sections so if you want to see construction, just keep reading. If you want to just see the lists I’ve made publicly available, click on ahead.

What constitutes a good workout playlist?

Yoga list

Running lists

What constitutes a good workout playlist?

We have to start at the beginning before we get into the lists themselves (unless you clicked ahead, in which case you aren’t reading this, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?).

What do you want to feel?

That’s what it all boils down to. What do you want to feel? Do you want to feel anger? Looking at you death metal enthusiasts. Do you want to feel like the audience is cheering you on? Looking at you high school buddy listening to Rocky theme. Do you just want to feel the beat in your chest?  Whatever it is, that’s where you start. You find that emotion, and then you track down the songs that grab your heart just that way.

I like making playlists, so workout playlists are just an extension of this habit. I have a wedding first dance playlist. I have angry playlists (the kind designed to be played so loud you can’t hear yourself think). I’ve made writing playlists. I’ve even made a leaving playlist since I’ll be moving in a couple of months.

The key is catching that core emotion you want to feel. We all have different preferences when we work out, so I don’t expect my playlists to necessarily suit other people (when we get to the yoga playlist, you’ll see why).

Probably the best recommendation I can make is to have existing playlists you can steal from. I have a few core Spotify playlists that I cultivate, so they’re my natural starting point whenever I build any playlists, especially a workout list. I can peruse the list and if I’m not sure if a song works, I give it a listen. If it has that hits the right emotion, it makes the list. If it doesn’t feel quite right, it stays off.

Much like going through your closet to throw things out, be merciless. You don’t need to be in the middle of making puddles of sweat and think “I’ll skip this song.” You want to stay in the moment. I actually got derailed yesterday because my internet went out, so my yoga list got interrupted. I pulled it up on my phone, and then Spotify got buggy and started playing songs related to my playlist but not my actual playlist. I quit mid-workout because I was so frustrated.

That’s step one. Step three is to Google playlists that you’re looking for. When I was building that first song playlist, I Googled alternative and indie first dance songs. For workouts, there is not shortage of lists. In fact, you can subscribe to some if you want. I’m not a fan of this because the lists aren’t yours, but if you’re not picky, go for it. I’m just very picky.

On this note, step four is to steal from other people. There are a few people I follow on the social media who have very good music tastes. When they make a recommendation, I listen. About half the time, the song ends up on some sort of playlist. Along these lines, and this is relevant for the yoga playlist, I steal from yoga teachers. Not all of their songs fit the mood I’m looking for, but if I know I can work out to something already, then that’s a start.

And finally, step five, if it pops into your head, add it to your playlist now. Don’t do anything stupid like adding songs while driving (like I have a bad habit of doing), but if you hear it or think of it, add it before you forget. You can always remove it later, but odds are you’ll forget the song if you don’t add it in the next few minutes.

But let me reiterate, it has to hit the right emotion. I’ll go a little deeper into that thought process in the next couple of sections.

Yoga list

I’m starting with yoga because I can’t run right now, so all of my puddles of sweat are being made on a yoga mat.

Despite doing yoga for 8 years now, I didn’t make a yoga playlist until the last couple of weeks. Why? Because I can’t survive full yoga sessions on my own, especially since I started taking classes. I’m lazy.

But then life happened. My yoga teacher is on break for the summer, but I move in the summer, so to get the practice I really want, I have to do it on my own. That’s all fine and good, but I have trouble keeping myself on my mat. I thought music might help.

But where to start?

This playlist is actually a bit quirkier than my running playlists. Those are built to play on shuffle and maintain one emotion throughout. The yoga playlist is built to function for a full session of yoga, start to finish. This is not when one emotion will work. Added bonus, it’s built for ashtanga.

If you’ve never done ashtanga, it’s doing the same thing every time. Depending on how hard-core you are, you could be at it for 90 minutes. I’m not hard-core. I’m not even medium-core. I’m lucky, especially with my knee, to get an hour out of my session.

But knowing the list is built for ashtanga, I had to keep the practice in mind. While most of these songs are picked from my existing lists, I also bookended the playlist with songs I first heard in yoga (and they were placed where they are in my list).

The most energetic part of ashtanga is the beginning. You’re doing 10 rounds of sun salutations (5 of A and 5 of B). If I survive this part, I’ve already got a decent workout in, and I’m certainly sweating. As such, the first songs in the playlist have more energy than the rest. Kashi Vishwanath Gange (I have no idea what this song’s about) starts slow, which is good for getting in your right mindset, but then picks up as you actually start to do the salutations. And then it gets into Very Busy People. Timing-wise, I get very close to finishing the salutations at the end of that song because then we’re slowing it down.

The rest of the playlist gradually winds down as you go from the standing sequence to the seated sequence to the finishing sequence. There is a song my yoga teacher has that basically feels like an omnipresent heartbeat. I wish I had that song because it’s a good shavasana song, but Be the Song is a pretty good closer.

Without further ado, this is the full list, but skip to after for the discussion.

If you know these songs, you probably realize that a lot of them aren’t happy. I honestly didn’t even realize how melancholy this playlist could seem until I was in the middle of using it during a session. It was at that moment that I realized I probably am not cut out to be a yoga teacher, especially for those students who are just looking for a good time.

For me, yoga is a time to carve out space on my mat and pretend that no one else is around (at home, this is a lot easier). This is my time for taking care of me, which means fixing things. Fixing myself doesn’t really feel like a happy endeavor. It’s certainly a worthwhile one, but it’s not a happy one. I’m trying to leave all the bullshit that exists off the mat. As such, I need to feel something. I need songs that have substance. These are the songs you play as you jump off the cliff into the lake below. These are the songs that are playing on a cool, dark night with the windows down on a back country road. They won’t make you cry, but they should make you feel centered in your own little universe.

And that’s why they’re not happy.

Running lists

But how can we have a running blog post without the running playlists?

The first playlist is my 5K mofo list.

This is the list I created a few months into my Super Awesome Year of the 5K when I was getting tired of what was just on my phone. As it turns out, I would run my best race of the year the first time I used the list. Did the music help? Maybe, maybe not. But it makes for a better story to tell.

With this list, I was just going for pure uptempo music that I wouldn’t want to skip. This is music as distraction. There’s a lot of good music here, but it’s not the most substantive music to exist on this earth. The point is to distract me from running. That’s it. If I feel the need to skip a song when it comes on this list, it gets removed from the list. I’ve had a couple where that happened.

It’s a mix of pop, rock, and hip hop. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s shallow. But it’s beautiful. Maybe I should rename it the shallow playlist.

The second list took a bit more form. I was getting tired of always using the 5K Mofo list during races, so I built another 5K list. This one was built to exclusively be rock music. The music has a bit more substance to it, and it’s honestly going after a slightly different emotion.

The goal for this playlist is a little more to pull at angst. If I’m running and I’m angry, this list is more likely to pop up that the original 5K list. I’m purposefully trying to burn off energy with this list. This will be probably be the list that’s playing when I PR and then pass out before getting hauled off in an ambulance for stupidity.

Puddles of Sweat

As opposed to puddles of mudd

No, we’re talking about puddles of sweat. Why are we talking about puddles of sweat? Because I’m living off of puddles of sweat at the moment.

Sometimes there’s just a lot going on in the world, and you need to cope. There are lots of ways to cope. Exercise just happens to be one of the more socially accepted varieties (I’d try meth, but I’m pretty sure that won’t get as many likes on Instagram).

I’m moving in a couple of months. I’ll be starting a new job in a new town and dealing with all the natural stressors that come along with it. And I work in a career that can be just as stressful as you want it to be.

Coping means creating puddles of sweat.

I’ve been creating puddles of sweat for a long time now. I started doing sports when I was 5. I wasn’t very good (re: I was downright bad), but I was active. I was a kid who played a lot of video games and read a lot of books, but I was also a kid who spent a lot of time on football fields and basketball courts. As I got older, I spent more time being active and less time on video games (books never went away, though. I even have a handy dandy 2nd blog documenting that habit).

While I was running around as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to the puddles of sweat. As a teenager, I started paying more attention. One was vanity. 9 times out of 10, being a sweaty mess isn’t how you get a cute girl’s attention in high school. Two was pride. I started seeing a sweat-soaked shirt as a badge of honor. Something I earned the hard way.

This came about from the weight room. You’d have the entire varsity and JV football teams in one weight room lifting a lot and lifting fast. There were days my entire shirt was soaked just from lifting. I couldn’t pull that off if I tried these days (and if I did pull it off, I’d probably be asked not to return to that gym any more, please sir).

But that’s where it started. There was this masochistic urge to feel completely worn out and broken down. That was when you knew the workout was good.

As I got into college, the puddles of sweat largely went away. When I lifted, I was going for strength, not cardio. It was a good workout, one that would often leave me barely able to move, but there wasn’t much in the way of sweat. Unless I ran. When I run, I pour out sweat like a faucet. A stinky faucet.

I probably didn’t start appreciating my puddles of sweat again until I was working on my Ph.D. (did I mention I’m a fake doctor?). I worked on my degree in Florida, which is basically like hanging out in a sauna that has gators nearby.

Running was an easy way to achieve sweaty mess status. I finally soaked shirts all the way through for the first time since high school. But this barely counts. I was running outside in Florida summers (basically March to October). It was earned, but it wasn’t the same as doing it in a weight room.

But you know what does feel the same? Yoga.

I started doing yoga in ’09 to kill time and mitigate back pain. This was just at home in my living room to keep from being an embarrassment in a class. I can’t remember when I first pulled it off, but as I was able to progress in the book I used, I was doing a more vigorous workout. Eventually I was soaked in sweat to a point that my mat was slick and a little dangerous to use for some poses.

And there was pride. So much pride.

In an air conditioned apartment doing what seemed like glorified stretching, I was pushing myself to a point where I was indecently sweating. That was something.

Eventually, I realized I liked being exhausted. Even later, I realized I was craving the exhaustion. There are a whole host of things wrong with that, but the fringe benefit is that you have to work out to get that particular type of exhaustion.

As for the host of things that are problematic, this isn’t the only thing I treat this way. I like to dive into things. I dive into work. I dive into books. I dive into songwriting. I dive into cleaning. I dive into interactions with people (on more than one occasion, I’ve had 2-hour conversations with people I just met). It’s addictive behavior. Addictive tendencies lead to being on reality shows hosted by Dr. Drew. I recognize that about myself.

The real trick is to take that inner addict and channel him toward something useful. It doesn’t always work, but when I get addicted to workouts, at least I’m doing something good for me and probably not being a jerk to the people around me.

But let’s get back to those puddles of sweat. That terminology comes from this video (that I watch entirely too often when I need some inspiration):

The video spoke to me. I understood the benefits of exercise in moments when you weren’t especially happy with yourself or the world around you. I understood the puddles of sweat. I understood how those puddles of sweat could help you function. I understood how those puddles of sweat could help you sleep.

With my knee being an asshole, I had to do without my puddles of sweat for a couple of months, and it about drove me insane.

Physical therapy wasn’t just me getting the chance to help my knee. This was also the window I needed to help my brain. I don’t sit still well. I crave puddles of sweat.

All in all, the past few weeks have been pretty good to me. I was able to stay active between PT and yoga (I was inching toward 5 days of workouts a week at one point). Unfortunately, my favorite yoga teacher stopped teaching classes temporarily and PT ended.

I was dealing with a puddles of sweat problem.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more. I did the ashtanga workout (mostly) on my own at home. I kept the AC turned up to the I’m-not-home level of mid-80s. I set up shop in my living room, and I went after it. It was about as good as I could hope for.

The next day, I tried to do the ashtanga warmup and actually had my arms give out near the end. Not a win for that day, but at least we know the day before did its job.

A few days later, I was able to go after the full workout again. This time was even better. I think I’d left the thermostat up a little higher. I was dripping sweat.

And the next day (today), what did I do? I went to a heated yoga class. My knee was doing ok, so I took the risk of class with a new teacher when I was still tired from the day before.

It was brutal and it was worth it. Again, so much sweat dropping onto the mat and onto the floor. I earned that sweat. That sweat is currency for sleep and you have to get it as many days as you can manage.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about the masochistic therapy of working out before, but sometimes you have to revisit the old topics. If you want another take on this instead of the video or this post, The Oatmeal has a fantastic comic that is well worth your time.

But that’s it from me. I’m going to recuperate from making puddles of sweat and hope my knee likes me enough to do it all over again tomorrow.

Let’s Talk About Recovery

As I slowly return to the world of the normal, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to maintenance. I try to do a lot for maintenance. Take away my knee, and I’m trying to do even more.

Why do we do recovery? 1) It feels good. 2) It (might) help. I say might because some of these aren’t necessarily proven to work so much as make you feel better, which then might help. The science of recovery is weird.

This episode of The Runner’s World Show actually delves into a business in Chicago (The Edge Athlete Lounge) that focuses on recovery. It’s like a regular gym, but they add in a heavy emphasis on recovery at $125 a month lowest cost (we won’t go into how this inherently caters to the wealthy who already have more access to recovery sources than middle-to-low-income folks).

But me? I can’t afford that. Ok, I might be able to afford that, but I’m not paying and I don’t live in Chicago.

I have to make other arrangements.

So I foam roll – This takes an astonishingly short amount of time, it’s the only thing that lets me function the day after a hard workout, and I just don’t do it often enough. But when I do? Oof. It’s magic.

I stretch – This may be the most consistent thing I keep getting recommended. In a bygone age, I could stand on 45-pound bumper plates and touch the ground. Now, I can barely touch my toes, and that’s an improvement. Between my back, knee, and chest, I’m supposed to stretch out pretty everything from head to toe. I need to start getting compulsive about stretching. As it is, my muscles, especially my legs, are loaded springs.

I yoga (uncomfortable stretching plus some strength) – This doesn’t have the same magic for recovery as a foam roller, but it’s the most important thing I do to remain functional long-term. You can only imagine the betrayal I felt when not only was my knee keeping me away from yoga but there’s a chance that yoga did me in. I couldn’t stay away. For my day-to-day life, this is the best thing I can do, so even if I’m limited, I’m going to find a way.

And I sleep – This one’s my favorite. I like my 8 hours at night. I’d like 9 even better. I like my naps. I like to eat breakfast, and then go right back to sleep for another hour or so. I like to curl up in my blankets in the winter in a quilted cocoon. I like to throw an exercise mat on the ground and get my afternoon nap. And why do I like sleep? Because my body craves it. That’s when I recover. No stress, no activity. Just sleep. Just rest. And you know what? I think I’ll sleep again tonight. I’ll probably sleep again tomorrow. Something to look forward to.

What do you do for recovery?