Saturday, October 8, 2011


When I was in elementary school we lived next to a library and I would often go to look around at the books and pictures that were there.  One day I found a book with pictures of a thin, brown-skinned man bending and twisting his body in extraordinary ways, an exotic sight to my 1950’s-little-kid eyes.  My mother told me that that was yoga.

Fast forward forty years.  I am lying on my back in savasana (“Corpse Pose”) on the floor of a large high-ceilinged room in a commercial building in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.  Sunlight streams in on the worn and faded colors of Oriental rugs that carpet the floor.  A tape of Enya plays softly in the background.  I re-discovered yoga in my early forties as a respite from the rush and stress of a busy real estate career and for years I went to classes several times a week.  Some yoga practitioners believe that yoga is the only exercise you need.  For me, cardio and weight-lifting turned out to be essential so there was no more time for yoga classes

Breathing is one of the central concerns of hatha yoga, the inward, invigorating inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, which is often twice as long in breathing exercises.  When I was in my thirties I was always trying to do things more quickly, to make my body go as fast as my thoughts.  In my forties I discovered that relaxing, letting go, was the essential other side of the coin, to slow the thoughts down to the pace of the body. 

I don’t go to yoga classes but I’ve incorporated some good yoga habits into my life.  If I’m in heavy traffic I try to pay attention to my breathing and make the exhale twice as long as the inhale.  When I got frozen shoulder, yoga stretches helped bring it back to normal.  And, in the evenings after I’ve done a heavy workout, I stretch, usually the resistance stretching I learned from Anne Tierney and Steve Sierra, a system similar to yoga. 

Some recent studies seem to cast doubt on the benefits of stretching.  Athletes used to be told to stretch before and after exercise to improve performance and prevent injuries.  Acute stretching immediately before exercise actually diminishes performance in some tasks.  Some researchers also question whether stretching has any effect on exercise related injuries.

If exercise doesn’t improve performance or prevent injury why bother? Because exercise improves flexibility and helps you to relax.  When you do strenuous exercise you break the body down a little so it will build itself up stronger.  The rebuilding process comes when you rest.  When I’m trying to sleep I sometimes use a yoga technique:  I slow my mind down enough so I can feel the little pulses in the tips of my fingers and just pay attention to those…

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