This Week In Running A Gym - June 8, 2014

Last weekend was the first of my 200 training hours to become a yoga teacher. This was at Expand Yoga in downtown Tacoma, Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday, and will take place once a month for ten months. I'm in the class along with our gym PT Jared, and gym superstar Ashley P. The following are some of my thoughts after the first weekend.

First, my experience with yoga, especially in a class context, is extremely limited. I first came across yoga through a library book in 1993. I was 15 at the time. I looked at the pictures and tried to make my body do that to the best of my ability. I mostly saw it as a form of stretching, but was surprised when I came home from work (my first job at Burger King, yo) late and tired , and I chose to go through the sequence as a way to bring myself down in order to go to sleep calm and de-stressed. Eventually I moved on and forgot about yoga. Fourteen years later in Thailand, Lisa started going to a class with a friend. The idea of going to a class was weird to me - you do yoga in the living room, why would you go somewhere else? So inspired by her, I got another book from another library and figured out what to do again in my living room. All yoga in Bangkok is hot yoga, you just open a window. I kept at it until I got through the learning curve and then lost interest again as my attention shifted to moving back stateside. After moving back and starting CrossFit Tacoma (aka Tacoma Strength), my energy has been directed at becoming a better trainer by learning as much as I can about exercise science and strength and conditioning.

My first takeaway from the weekend was to learn just how intuitive the yoga mindset really is. Everything about it seems oriented toward drawing your awareness inward toward your body and mind. The operative idea is to feel what you're doing. This is something I always enjoyed about my experience on my own, but now I have a sense of how central that idea is to everything. I particularly like how the start of class is spent deliberately drawing attention inward to the body and breath, that would be a good habit to cultivate prior to any physical undertaking.

Along with this intuitive approach is a surprising (to me) amount of vagueness about the “right” way to do a particular movement or pose. I thought that much of our time in class was spent talking about the different ways things could be done. I guess I assumed that the yoga world was more homogeneous, just as someone might think all CrossFit gyms are the same. Guess not.

This intuitive approach contrasts with the analytical mechanically-oriented perspective of exercise science. In the strength and conditioning world, it's all about the most efficient way to move, the order of operations, joint angles, percentages, and lines of force. Whereas yoga is intuitive and internally oriented, fitness training is mechanical and external. I would think that an ideal perspective would be one that balances between both. After all, the mind navigates the body and both as athletes and coaches we want the awareness and control that comes from a yoga-like approach. At the same time, gravity is imposed on all of us from without, so an objective analytical point of view will yield its own benefits.

Most of the technical training from the weekend centered on the Primary Sequence, a series of movements that roughly goes from: standing, to forward bend, pike, push-up, back arch, then back to standing. It's nearly identical to our Inch Worm exercise, but with a lot more of the details filled in and coordinated with the breath; which I loved. The whole time I kept thinking about how attention to those details (like, for example, how to hold tension in the hand while on the floor) would benefit anyone who wanted to do something like Crossfit or any other athletic training. Definitely expect to see some crossover in the future.

I'll finish with an idea that has been on my mind for the last several days, which is the word psychosomatic. The word comes from a combination of two Greek words. Psyche is a huge concept but basically means your conscious self, your mind or soul. Soma is the word for the physical body, so psychosomatic is literally mind-body. Although not used directly, it's a word that came to mind while listening to a lecture about Eastern Orthodox Christian theology recently (yes, I do that). The Orthodox idea in a nutshell is that body and psyche are inseparable, thus living a life of faith will require a bodily practice. I've been chewing on this for a week or so, and it was on my mind this weekend. The idea kept resurfacing as I observed the myriad connections people made between yoga (a physical practice of breath, movement, and posture) and emotional, psychological, and spiritual concerns. I'm not sure that I have any big conclusions to come to about this now, just that the strength of the connection between mind and body has never been more apparent to me.

How about any of you readers? Does your physical practice (whether in the form of CrossFit, Yoga, or any other discipline) have a spiritual (however you define that) element to it?

By Morgan on Sunday, June, 08, 2014