The Beauty of Death – Savasana

A lot has been written about Savasana and its importance to a yoga practice. The time to integrate, absorb and make space for the work done during a practice is crucial to physical/emotional/spiritual growth. That time of rest allows the body and mind to reset and adjust to or find new

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

changes.

 

This integration time is key to yoga. But does it have to be unique to yoga? Think of other activities, sports, forms of exercise that are popular such as Pilates, running, weight lifting, etc. They tend to lack this crucial time at the end.

 

Crucial there is a strong word, but appropriate I believe. I think about the conversations that happen after a long run. Everyone is gathered around their cars saying good bye and there is a number of runners who want to nap because the run was tough. They are tired and sore and their bodies just want to rest.

 

Typically they don’t nap. They rush back to their lives and families and jump right in. As a result, the next day can be physically and mentally tough. Even later that day there is a feeling of being drained and lethargic. Feeling this way myself, I decided to try one of my wholly unscientific experiments.

 

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson  / Flickr.

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson / Flickr.

I did a hard run. Felt tired and knew that I would feel that run the next day and that if left to my normal course of action I would feel drained later. I went home, pulled out my mat and put myself into savasana.

 

I ran for 90 minutes, so I gave myself 15 minutes to incorporate. To be clear, this wasn’t a nap. I was awake and aware and guided myself through savasana just like I would after a yoga class. This includes a little stretch and settle, attention to breath and walking myself through the entire release and allow process.

 

When my time was up, I slowly moved out of savasana and stepped back into the flow of my day. That afternoon, I felt great. Not just great, amazing. That drained, sluggish feeling never showed up. I was amazed and thrilled.

 

Being aware that it just could have been my energy for the day, I repeated this process, not just for running, but for any physically demanding exercise I engaged in. I found a place where I could put myself into savasana quickly after the workout. I kept the same focus on breath, release and allow each time. And each time the typical mental or physical fatigue that would normally follow, never showed up.

 

Intrigued, I wanted to see if the reverse were also true. I took a few yoga classes and (after speaking with the teacher ahead of time to explain) I skipped savasana. Incredibly (but not unexpectedly) I didn’t feel quite as good later that day.

yogaleavepose

I’ve heard many times in many classes that yoga’s real work begins when you leave the mat and that the greatest challenge is to carry what we learn in yoga into real life. I’m not sure it was meant quite this literally, but I appreciate the results of carrying savasana into my other pursuits.

 

I’ve had such great experiences with this that I build time into the end of most of my workouts to find a quiet spot have a little integration time. I’ve found that physically it helps my post workout recovery by minimizing the physical impact of even the most challenging workouts.

 

Emotionally, yoga isn’t the only place where “stuff” can come up. Any intense workout can stir the emotional pot. Without this time, there is a great possibility that we can miss the opportunities to deal with what comes up in these other forms of exercise.

 

And finally mentally. Savasana is transition time. Just as there is typically a centering before yoga to move from the daily life to the mat, savasana is the transition back to life off the mat. Other forms of exercise have warm ups, or we develop our own routines to get our heads focused on the work out. I never really took the time to build a transition routine back. Until I found savasana.

 

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out. Take your next work out or two or three and build in a little savasana time after the work out. See if you find a difference. It’s been said everything is yoga. Yoga ends in savasana, so why can’t a good run?

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Why Yoga Makes You Mentally Tougher

Yoga. Well renowned for building the flexibility and strength of the body. It’s also known to shake loose emotional baggage. What isn’t so well known is that yoga also makes you mentally tougher.

 

There is a quote (I couldn’t find who to credit, and I’ve heard it in many different venues) that I like, “The posture starts when you want to leave it.” In some ways, this is the key to yoga’s success. As a teacher, my style doesn’t tend toward the gentle, restorative style naturally. I’ve learned to lead classes like that, but it isn’t my natural style.yogaleavepose

 

 

 

 

 

 

In fact, I draw quite a bit from my Tae Kwon Do and Ki Gong training when I lead classes. I tend towards classes that are tough, physically tough and I call that out. I then draw the students’ attention to what they think their limits are and what comes up for them both emotionally and mentally. Since the emotional and physical aspects of yoga are pretty well covered, I want to focus on the mental conditioning.

 

I led a sadhana for a yoga teacher training a couple of months ago. They had several other teachers lead them through morning sadhanas during prior sessions and those practices were all brilliant and supportive and while challenging, overall gentle. What I took them through, again drawing on my Tae Kwon Do and Ki Gong, was a sadhana of slow, steady postures with holding time and breathing in each posture.

 

This is the important part, the hold time mixed with the breath. Vinyasa is great, I like a good flow class for getting out of my head. But when it comes to getting *into* my head, I prefer a hatha style practice. I kept the postures simple because I wanted to guide them to a point where they found their preconceived limits.

 

Those limits we all hold onto, such as I can only do something for so long, or I can’t do that posture, or I can’t breathe like that, etc. Those internal limit we set on ourselves. To encourage students to test their limits, I guide them into simple postures. I layer in different breathing techniques to guide their awareness deeper into themselves. And just like a Tae Kwon Do Black Belt test, I drive them to what they believe their own limits were and encourage them to take just one more step.

Image courtesy of Mani Babbar Photography

Image courtesy of Mani Babbar Photography

 

That’s it, right there. The secret ingredient to yoga making you mentally tougher, taking just one more step or staying with a posture just one more breath.

 

As we approach what we believe our limits to be, there is a natural slow down in moving toward that limit. There is also a natural resistance that grows the closer we get to that limit. When we are in a safe environment and given a little nudge to take that one extra step, the old limit collapses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the limit collapses, we impose a new limit, beyond that extra step. And the next time we approach the old limit, we tend to breeze right by it. Do this often enough, and those instinctual limits we throw up start to feel less like limits meant to hold us back and more like boundaries that cry out to be pushed.

 

The next question I get is how does this physical boundary pushing translate to mental toughness? The answer is attitude creep. As we begin to experience a shift in our mental attitude in one aspect of our life, the shift starts creeping into other areas.

 

Another saying I like (that I also couldn’t find a reference for) comes into play here, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Start giving up in one area, you start giving up in others. Push your boundaries in one area, stand up to your fears, your limits, and watch how quickly that courage and determination spreads to other areas of your life.

 

Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. Choose just one area in your life where you feel afraid or timid. Start small. Find support, a friend, family member, teacher, trainer, whatever. Work with them to go up to that limit you have in your head and take just one step past it. And when you do, when you take that tiny little step, take a moment and notice what you feel. Pride, relief, excitement, confidence?

 

You may also feel that there is another limit you want to tackle. Some other limit that is chafing and needs to be pushed. Most people I work with experience this shift at some point. It ignites a determination (there’s that mental toughness) to examine their lives and goals and the limits they’ve set on themselves and start challenging them.

 

You have nothing to lose. And think of what you have to gain by feeling less constrained because you’ve pushed back on what you thought were your limits.livelifehappy

10 Reasons Yoga is Good for Men

Yoga has a long history of being beneficial physically, mentally and spiritually. On top of that, at one time yoga was also only taught to men. Interesting as that is, yoga today seems to be perceived as a woman’s domain. That small obstacle aside, what are the benefits that interest men today? How can yoga help me in today’s world where I don’t have the time or inclination to sit on the top of a hill all day, live in a cave at night and survive on nothing but meditation, the dew from a leaf and the energy of the universe? I’ve put together my top 10 benefits modern men get from yoga.

 

  1. Flexibility of both the mind and the bodycartoonbigguyyoga

In a world where we sit all day, every day in front of computers and in meetings, muscles tighten up and physically we lose range of motion in the hips, shoulders and back. Mentally, all that staring and concentrated focus leads to mental stiffness where we lose the ability to see things from other perspectives or points of view, diminishing creativity and problem solving. Flexibility from a yoga practice can counteract these effects.

 

 

  1. It pushes us out of our comfort zone

    Image courtesy of David Flowers

    Image courtesy of David Flowers

Physically yoga makes us stronger, more flexible and helps to keep us healthy. When paired with a structured breathing practice, yoga can also open up emotional locks. Growing up, boys are often taught that emotions are for girls and that the best way to deal with them is to stomp them down and lock them away. It’s how I grew up. Through my meditation and yoga practice, I learned how to let go of that control. I can now experience my emotions but not be ruled by them.

 

 

 

 

  1. It teaches humility

Standing or sitting in a class and listening to the instructor guide the class into a posture and think “you want me to put my >body part< where??????” Emotionally and mentally I find humility comes to me in the form of little life lessons. Something as simple as remembering to breath during stressful times, or something more profound, such as releasing resistance to change in my life.

 

  1. It teaches us to laugh at ourselves

There can never be too much laughter in the world. Laughter is contagious and an instant mood changer. Don’t believe me, try not to laugh or at least smile when a baby starts laughing. It just can’t be done. Learning to laugh at ourselves relieves stress, tension and things like fear, failure or embarrassment.

 

  1. It gets us away from everything electronic

    Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

    Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

Ironic, I know as I sit here writing this on my computer. However the benefits of disconnecting are numerous. Putting aside the gizmos opens up space for our friends, family and ourselves to come center stage in our awareness. Without the distractions of the next ping-like-tweet, insta-pin-snap-ring-whatever, allows for our brains to stop being digi-distracted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. It shows us it’s okay to take care of ourselves too

    Image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn   / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn / Flickr.

As men we spend a lot of time taking care of others, especially our family. A very wise friend of mine once gave me some advice; don’t forget to take care of yourself. The point he made was that if I did nothing but give of my time, my energy, myself, I would very quickly burn out and have nothing left. At that point, I wouldn’t be able to be helpful to others. Instead, taking some time for myself, to take care of myself, would allow me the ability to stay charged and be able to continue helping family and friends.

 

 

 

 

  1. Strengthens muscles we didn’t remember we had

Take enough yoga classes, and no matter how fit you are, there will eventually be some class that either modifies a known posture, or introduces a new one that finds some muscle or muscle group we didn’t know we had. I don’t always realize it that day, but the next day, I feel it.

 

  1. It can help us be more patient (eventually)

    Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks    / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks / Flickr.

Standing or sitting still is tough. With technology that keeps everyone connected all the time, instant gratification just isn’t fast enough anymore. Sustaining a posture, a breathing technique (or both) allows us to move past the point of struggle and resistance to a point of acceptance. Not acceptance of things which are not good for us, but acceptance of change, acceptance of others and most importantly, acceptance of ourselves. That acceptance breeds a humble, strong mind.

 

  1. It can reduce stress

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Sweat and distraction are great cures for that. Getting the body moving opens up the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Fresh blood gets circulated throughout the whole body. Putting your entire focus onto the workout at hand opens up mental space to clear out preconceptions and allow for new points of view to be evaluated. I’ve solved more than one tough problem while on a yoga mat or out for a run.

 

  1. It teaches us to breathe

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

In, out, repeat. Breathing is automatic and happens without conscious thought. However, when we think about it, focus on it and guide it, breathing becomes much more than something that “just happens.” Breathing becomes a tool to unlocking our potential. Through breathing we can calm our body and mind. We can also use breath to energize ourselves and create focus and clarity.

 

Yoga is beneficial for pretty much everyone. I think the viewpoint that yoga isn’t for men or excludes men is very limited for both yoga and men. I believe a male perspective on yoga, the sutras and the like adds flavor and a unique view that might otherwise be missed.

 

With this list in mind, I encourage all the guys out there to try out a yoga class. I’ve posted before on ways to approach yoga classes and some translations for what gets said in those classes to make the introduction a little easier. Find a yoga class and if nothing else, just breathe.

Yoga Postures for Men: Camel

 

Camel (Ustrasana) is a posture I like a lot. The posture itself requires strength, stability and control. However it’s one of those postures that gets queued almost exclusively in the feminine. Some of the most common include open your heart, spread your joy and open yourself to your inner goddess.  Instead I like to queue this as a way to strengthen the abs, back and legs and stretch the shoulders and chest.  As someone who sits in front of a computer all day, I really like the stretch.

 

Why this posture is especially good for men.

 

Strength building

  • Legs
  • Back
  • Abs
  • Glutes

Stretching and Expanding

  • Chest
  • Lungs
  • Abs
  • Shoulders
  • Spine

Stimulates and Regulates

  • Circulatory System
  • Adrenals
  • Kidneys
  • Balances Metabolism
  • Energizes the mind and relieves stress

 

Start kneeling (place a blanket under your knees if that is more comfortable).  Lengthen through the crown of the head and the tail bone in opposite directions.

Yoga -5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engage the abs in and up and place the hands into the small of the back for support. Inhale and lengthen to move the head backwards and the chest up towards the sky.  While this does open the chest, I like the extra support for my lower back that comes from slightly squeezing the shoulder blades together.  In addition to supporting my back, this is great for opening and loosening the shoulders.  If you type all day like I do, or just have burly shoulders (not really me), this can give quite the head-rush as blood vessels open in the shoulder and neck leading to the brain.Yoga -14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a block inside each foot and place one hand at a time on the blocks. Again inhale and lengthen the spine while opening the chest to the sky. If it is comfortable, move the hands to the heels or ankles and push the hips forward.  Again, the key here is to lengthen through the back and not to compress it by trying to bend all the way back on day one.  Yoga -21

 

Finally, if it’s comfortable, let the head gently roll back fully opening the chest.  There aren’t too many opportunities to stretch across the chest and shoulders.  Breathing into the belly here helps keep the abs engaged to keep pressure off the lower back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To come out of the posture, begin by first lengthening through the spine and engaging the abs even more. Next place the palms in the lower back for support and lift through the head to come back up right slowly.  The first few times I did this, I came out too quickly and ended up a bit dizzy.  If that happens, just sit with it until the dizziness subsides.

 

Key points when doing camel include lengthening instead of bending in the back (especially the lower back) and lengthen the neck to not pinch it by letting it flop when fully opening the chest.

 

One other important note on this posture, don’t rush it. We sit so much all the time; in front of computers, video games, televisions, etc. that the lower back eventually becomes a solid mass and loses its flexibility. Camel is a great posture for countering that, but if done too deeply too quickly, it can lead to injury. Much like the camel crossing the dessert, slow and steady with this posture.

 

Why Might Yoga Be Good for Men?

Article after article in magazines and papers (and blogs) too numerous to count have tout the virtues and benefits of yoga.  And they are indeed correct about all those benefits.  But I wanted to boil it down a bit and just focus on some of the benefits for men specifically.

 

Flexibility

cartoonbigguyyoga

I have found that most men at least start yoga because they do other sports and want to improve their flexibility.  The great part about using yoga to increase flexibility is that it is done while building strength and muscular endurance.  So not only are you limbering up, you are also adding a strength building workout into your routine.

 

Cross-training

Bench_press

While not generally a cardio workout, yoga is a fantastic muscle builder.  In less flow based practices where the asana (postures) are held for a period of time, the strength building potential is through the roof.  Isometric exercises have well documented benefits as a low impact strength builder.  These are great for recovery from injuries, recovery day workouts and strength building when you can’t get work in a weight lifting session.

 

 

New muscle groups

stretching

Yoga is designed to help us move within the full range of our body’s motion.  What does that mean?  Modern society has contrived to put us all in boxes (cubicles, train seats, car seats, plane seats and so many more) which limit our motion.  Having a steady yoga practice gives us the space to come out of those boxes and find all sorts of new muscles and ways of moving our bodies that can be both infinitely painful and glorious at the same time.

 

 

Core, core, core

from thebodymen.blogspot.com

from thebodymen.blogspot.com

The center piece of muscle groups and whole body health, the core, is strengthened, stretched and toned in essentially every yoga posture.  Aside from the benefits of a stronger core for health and fitness, let’s face it, no one minds having a toned stomach.  Yes, it’s a tad shallow, but that makes it no less true for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do have one more *possible* benefit for men to take up yoga.  Our significant others (S.O.).  If you aren’t into yoga and your S.O. is, then taking a class now and again with them is a nice set of points to bank and a great way to bond.  I emphasized the ‘possible’ above because this is predicated on you actually wanting to spend time with them.

by racheldragonfly

by racheldragonfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga is something that can be done almost anywhere at almost any time.  You just need a little space.  I encourage you to take a handful of your favorite postures and play with them in ways and places that are not “normal” for your practice (think Warrior 2 in a server room or Tree in your office while you are on a conference call).  And if you don’t have a practice (yet), take a few classes, pick a few postures that you enjoy and play with them.

yogaserverroom