Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

Taking It to the Next Level

Posted: May 31, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay, My two cents
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write everything

We have a saying at my job: “What got us here, won’t get us there.” The idea is that we’re good at what we do now, but hard work will only get you so far. Eventually, you need to change the way you work in order to get better. To use a football analogy, what takes you down the field won’t work to punch the ball in from the five yard line.

Yesterday I was doing my morning yoga, and I got to a point where I was moving from half moon – a pose where you form a “T” with your body and stand on one leg facing sideways – to a standing split. It’s one thing to put your hands on the ground and lift up your back leg as far as you can. I was doing that in my first month of yoga. But what does it take to do the perfect standing split?

I thought about every aspect of the pose that I could imagine. If there was any tension, anywhere in my body, even between my eyes, I tried to relax it. I breathed, of course (you’re always focused on breathing in yoga). I straightened my leg, and realized out that I needed more strength in my upper quads. I wiggled my toes for a second, because why not, and realized that my foot had felt like dead weight before, and maybe it helped. I aligned my hips, and realized that I needed far more flexibility there, not just in my legs. I flattened my back, and realized that a flexible back would lead to more flexible glutes which would help my hips which would help me to lift my leg. I wondered, just wondered, if changes in my diet would help with my flexibility or muscle too, too. Finally, what about meditation? Would a clearer mind help me pick up the micro-adjustments I need to make?

That got me thinking, what can people do that take their writing to the next level?

Work hard. We all know this one. Start writing, and reading. Write the best that you can. Write the worst that you can. Write regularly, and at odd times, too. Finish your stories, then edit them to make them better. Read the things that got you interested in writing, so that you can learn from them. You’ll absorb it into your skin and it’ll color how you write.

Work smart. Writing’s about all of you, not just your passion or your inspiration. Use your head, too. Plan things out. Do research. Work on the elements, like character, plot, setting, tension, voice, motivation, and so on. A good craftsman knows how to use all his tools.

Get feedback. Use meetup.com to find a local writers group. Your library may have a club. This is great for three reasons. Your fellow writers will give you great ideas and inspiration that you never would have imagined. It feels good knowing that you’re not the only one out there who has this strange, wonderful love affair with words. And it turns writing from a lonely pursuit to a social pursuit. I can tell you that the connections I’ve made from writing have been my favorite part about it.

Play. One of the best ways to overcome writers’ block is with play. Write 100-word shorts. Write haiku. Take a scene and turn your good guy into the bad guy and vice versa. Write scenes that will never see the light of day. Turn your own personal negative into a positive.

Let it cook. Sometimes you’re working too hard on something. Let go of it and do something else, especially exercise. Sleeping on it works pretty well for me, too. Your subconscious is still working on it. The idea you’re looking for may well pop into your head once you get out of your own way.

Broaden your creativity. Olympic athletes cross-train to fill in gaps left by specialized training. Writing is a creative pursuit, and there are all kinds of creativity. Learn a musical instrument. Take an acting class. Join your church choir. Sketch. Learn calligraphy. Sculpt. This is the insight that I picked up when I was trying to do standing split in yoga. Anything you do that makes you feel more alive will help your writing. Did I mention that I’ve started creating iTunes playlists for my characters, to get farther inside their heads?

Share your knowledge. You haven’t truly mastered something until you can teach it to someone else. Helping other people improve their writing builds good karma, and it’ll give you perspectives on your own writing that you never had before. Comment on other people’s blogs and share helpful thoughts with them, as well as contributing in your writers group.

These have helped me make breakthroughs in writing, and this is just what I’ve learned so far. Give them a try and let me know how they work for you.

What have you done to take your writing — or anything — to the next level?

Photo credit: “to write love on her arms” by ashley rose at Flickr
Photo is unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license

My Morning Coffee

Posted: January 11, 2014 by writingsprint in Yoga
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Taking a break from fiction today. This is an article I’ve wanted to write for a while, sharing a little modification that I made to the Sun Salutation sequence in yoga.

One of my favorite things about the Sun Salutation sequence in yoga is how easy it is to customize it to add poses you like. I’m going to share the sequence I’ve been doing lately, which adds a three-legged dog pose, some twisting, and some Warrior poses. I hope you like them. (This will just be a quick overview of the poses I added, not an instruction of how to do Sun Salutation. There’s no substitute to having a good teacher.)

Yogis and yoginis will recognize the roadmap below:

Sun Salutations

Where I like to modify things is in the high lunge pose of Sun Salutation B, the outer circle. Rather than just the high lunge, I do this after downward dog:

Inhale Three-legged dog, right leg raised
Exhale Hugging the chest, bring right foot forward and plant it between hands, getting ready for high lunge
Inhale High lunge, right leg forward
Exhale Bring hands to prayer and twist to the right, hooking left elbow on right knee
Inhale Open arms so that the right arm is pointing skyward and the left arm is pointing toward the floor
Exhale Return to twist
Inhale Release from the twist, opening the arms and turning the other way, coming into warrior II
Exhale Extended side angle pose
Inhale Radiant warrior pose
Exhale Pinwheel the arms down, frame out the right foot, bring the right leg back, coming into chaduranga

After chaduranga, up dog, and down dog, repeat the series above on the left side.

The three-legged dog is where it all started, because it was easier for me to come into lunge by lifting my foot up high and then bringing it forward. Adding just one pose messed up the breathing sequence, so I focused on inhaling when the leg went up, exhaling when the leg came forward, and inhaling as I came up into lunge – back in sync with the regular pose.

Originally I just added the warrior, side angle and radiant warrior poses, because I felt like Sun Salutation needed a little edge. The opening movement with the arms to get into warrior felt like it should be an inhalation, not an exhalation. I went from high lunge to side angle to warrior, but that made me want to do radiant warrior to get the stretch on the other side.

Lucky for me, I love twists, and they’re ideal for the exhalation moves. The sequence adds a gentle back stretch, some time in prayer pose during all the movement – a little touch of meditativeness – and I think it sets up the poses from warrior really well.

I usually do three rounds of Sun Salutation A to warm up, then three rounds of “my” Sun Salutation B to really warm up, before going into the rest of the workout. By the time I’m done with “B,” my head’s clear, my heart’s pumping, I’m limber and I’m ready to go. I hope you find this useful, and maybe it’ll give you some ideas for your own practice.

Comments are welcome. Namaste 🙂 !

Reblog: Yoga Ink: Top yogis show us their tattoos

Posted: October 2, 2013 by writingsprint in Slice of Life
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I’m a fan of tattoos and yoga. Nice artwork here!

Yoga Ink: Top yogis show us their tattoos | Well+Good NYC.

Shout-out: Real Living Yoga

Posted: September 18, 2013 by writingsprint in Yoga
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This is an “unpaid endorsement” for the the new web site posted by my first yoga teacher, Real Living Yoga. From the site: “The mission of Real Living Yoga is to bring this living and breathing life science to your real, everyday life. These teachings were passed down to me from my teachers, and their teachers, in order to help us live vibrant lives.”

Meg is kind and thoughtful, a very gentle soul and the world’s most patient yoga teacher. She had to be with me in the classroom ;-). Check it out!

Ojai morning

Ojai is a small town (pop. ~8,000) a little less than half an hour north of Ventura. The distance is only 11 miles, but they’re winding miles through picturesque valley roads, so it takes longer to get there than you might think. Ojai is adorable. It has San Diego’s perfect weather without the big city hassle. It doesn’t have San Diego’s beaches, but San Diego doesn’t have Ojai’s small town charm. I know that I want to come back. In three days, I’ve already come up with a top five list of things I want to do every time I come to Ojai.

  1. Stay at the Blue Iguana. My supervisor recommended this place, and she earned major points with me for it. The Blue Iguana feels more like a bed and breakfast than a hotel. The rooms have a simple southwestern décor, with Mission style furniture, hardwood floors, and paintings by local artists. I also have a full kitchen with pay-as-you-go snack basket. Get one of the rooms in the back of the property; they’re quieter, and have mini patios in front and back for sitting. The rooms have air conditioning. You need it during the day, but at night the temperature drops low enough that you really don’t.
  2. Have dinner at Suzanne’s Cuisine. Worth driving out of your way and a change in plans. Get one of the seats on the back deck, facing the garden. That way you can watch hummingbirds taking a drink from the flowers while you enjoy your meal. I had two specials, a spinach salad followed by tilapia with orange and mango salsa. For dessert, I had the crispy chocolate tart. All of the above: to. Die. For.
  3. Have lunch at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. Again, delicious food with a great view, this time of the Inn’s golf course. You’ve never had a grilled cheese sandwich until you’ve had one with fresh homebread bread and heirloom tomatoes.
  4. Check out Bart’s Books. If you like quirky book stores, you’ll love Bart’s Books. I’ve been told that Bart’s is a local institution. All I know is it’s an open-air bookstore, meaning I can walk around in the sunshine and look at books at the same time. Did they know I was coming? And what do they do when it rains?
  5. Take a yoga class at Lulu Bandha’s. I have to admit I’m taking this one on faith. Lulu Bandha’s came up in a Yelp search on “Ojai yoga.” They have a class called “Stiff White Guys.” At age 44 and with the flexibility of a brick, I resemble that remark. Any yogi that would have the sense of humor to come up with a class named Stiff White Guys has to be cool. My work schedule has been too busy to get over to Lulu Bandha’s, but I’ll get there next time.

The Fred Astaire of Millipedes

Posted: July 24, 2013 by writingsprint in Health
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Bruce Lee wasn’t a yogi, but he should have been. In the book Jeet Kune Do, Mr. Lee described the a centipede does what it does without thinking; when it stops to describe how it manages to walk on all its feet, it trips and falls over. The moral of the story is that the development of the mind doesn’t throw the natural flow of life out of balance.

Yoga means “union.” I like to think of it as a union between mind and body. The mind settles the body by consciously letting go of physical tension. The body settles the mind by reminding it what calmness feels like, allowing it to let go of cares and worries. When you practice yoga, you practice being aware of your body and your mind. You let go of the b.s.. It’s not magical; you have to let go of it in order to relax, breathe, and hold the correct form. Angry, tense people won’t last a minute balancing on one foot, facing sideways, with their arms and legs lifted into a T. (That’s Half Moon pose, by the way.)

You can do this, too. The next time you’re chilled out, notice how your body feels. Focus on your neck and back. Those are the areas where I tense up when I’m stressed; they’re probably yours, too. On purpose, take a slow breath, tense up your muscles, then release your breath and let them go. Tense, relax; inhale, exhale. You’ll feel the difference, and you’ll learn to recognize when you’re tensing up in your everyday life. When that happens, take a break from whatever is causing you stress. If you can’t, take slow, relaxed breaths. Your body will get the hint and begin to calm down. You’ll come back to the problem better able to cope with it.

You can do the same thing when your mind starts going in ten directions at once. Learn to recognize it. When it happens, give yourself a minute. Just one. If you can’t, relax and breathe calmly. By giving your mind a break from whatever you’re worried about, solutions or approaches to solve the problem might pop to the surface from your subconscious. Even if they don’t, taking that break will probably settle some of your priorities.

My boss would throw darts in his office whenever he had to brainstorm a solution. I would take a walk or work on a scene from a short story. Problems are hard enough to solve without getting in your own way. When your mind and body work together, it can feel like you can solve anything.

By the way, the technique I described with tensing up and letting go is a mini version of a process called progressive relaxation. Rather than focusing on specific body parts, you relax your entire body over the space of a few minutes. I learned it during speech therapy. It’s very, very effective in releasing tension. It’s also a good way to become aware of the “hot spots” where you body likes to tense up.

Month 2, Week 4
Wednesday: Long bike (35 minutes)

After the post where I rediscovered exercising outside, you wouldn’t think I’d be bicycling indoors much. Not true. I slept late for the Fourth of July holiday, I don’t believe in exercising outdoors at high noon in the summer, and I knew that in the evening I’d be busy grilling on the barbecue. That left the gym for working out around noon.

I never seem to fit well on stationary bikes. Either the seat’s too high, and I’m losing circulation in my lower torso, or the seat’s too low and my I’m not getting as much push as I want out of the workout. Today I settled for the seat being too low. I cranked up the resistance a little to get a good workout while keeping the movement smooth and relaxed. There’ll be plenty of time to get back to kicking my own butt next week.

I do like exercise bikes because I can read while I ride them. I can do the same thing on elliptical machines but I tend to miss every third word on the ellipticals while I move up and down with the pedals. The gentleman next to me was reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and I was flipping through my latest copy of Yoga Journal. A few highlights from the magazine:

  • One of their photographers originally studied molecular biology. Yes, Virginia, there’s an artist in all of us
  • One of their contributing authors is a bicyclist and freelance author. A man after my own heart! Yoga’s the next thing I want to put back into my workout rotation. The body awareness, balance, flexibility and calmness of mind help everything
  • There was a fun article on meditation that talked about the sounds we hear every day. I once wrote a fantasy novel where the “wizards” were more like hunters, and I called them “Listeners.” Twenty years later I don’t know where I came up with that. I think it had something to do with an appreciation for listening deeply, which most people don’t do. A lot people would rather hear themselves talk. Sometimes you can learn more from what some people don’t say as opposed to what they do
  • Smoothies… summer salads… health benefits of chocolate… the difference between organic and fair trade goods
  • A deep article on baddha konasana, bound angle pose, or what I remember from karate as a simple seated groin stretch. These are my favorite. You wouldn’t think you could write a five-page article on a seated stretch, but you can, and there’s enough nuance to it that you’ll want to go look at the video before reading the article again once or twice. And this is one of the simple poses. Put it this way: how many muscle groups do you have in your body? Every one of them is doing something that you can pay attention to when you’re performing an exercise. Oh, and then there’s breathing…

Then my 35 minutes were up. Ten minutes of cooldown later, I was heading for the door with barbecue and a rum & Coke on my mind. Cheers…

So why tri?

Posted: June 28, 2012 by writingsprint in Health, Triathlon
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So why do a triathlon, and why do it now? I’m a big fan of well-rounded fitness. I get bored easily, and I strongly believe that if you only develop one form of fitness, whether it’s running, biking, swimming, dancing, yoga, whatever, you’re missing out on the advantages that the others bring to the table. You also never know how the benefits of one will help the others. The sheer stretchiness of swimming will benefit my running. The breathing, calmness, and body awareness of yoga will benefit my swimming. The cardio benefits of running will benefit everything.

Full disclosure: I used to like running. It’s a pure, simple, graceful sport, but it’s also brutal. They don’t call it pounding pavements for nothing. Umpteen miles and a bad knee later, I decided to go looking for other forms of cardiovascular fitness. Swimming was hard to get used to, but eventually you pass a point where you stop fighting the water and start moving with it. That’s when you’re swimming.

I first got interested in doing a triathlon from a friend of mine named Rachel that I knew back in San Diego. Rachel was a swimming instructor part-time, and was preparing for her own sprint tri that was coming up in a few months. I could barely swim, but I ran in high school, so I offered to be a running partner while she taught me how to swim. On the day of the race, I was overwhelmed with the sheer positive attitude that I could feel coming off all the participants. This was nothing like high school track meets. Everyone wanted everyone to do well, do their best and have fun, plus they got to swim in Mission Bay, use their organizational skills to cut down transition time, and enjoy three kinds of exercise all in one day. What wasn’t there to like?

Sometimes you have to give up

Posted: October 21, 2011 by writingsprint in My two cents, postaday2011, postaweek2011
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So I’ve been taking an intensive yoga class, and the past couple of classes have been difficult. I’ve only been practicing yoga for a year. I’m 42 years old, male, and about as flexible as a brick. We’re at the point where we’re taking turns leading the class, and there have been times that I’ve just felt lost.

About a week and a half ago I just gave up. I’m not ready to teach yet. Fine! I’ve still learned a lot, and I joined the class to learn about yoga, not to teach it. I told everyone that on the first day. I’ll teach it to the best of my ability during class exercises, and if it’s not as smooth or polished as the others, that’s just how it is.

Tonight, I took my turn teaching , and I just gently walked everyone through how to do the poses. I made a couple of adjustments to different poses, but otherwise, I took my time and kind of mailed it in. I didn’t try to act confident or project my voice to hit the back of the room. Eh. As long as I didn’t injure anyone, I was happy.

Wouldn’t you know, my instructor, and all my classmates, thought it was the best instruction I’d given yet! My jaw dropped open. I even told them straight up what my “technique” had been — giving up — and they all waved it off. They didn’t even care. My instructor said it was confident, patient, and much better than anything I’d done before.

The moral of the story is, sometimes giving up is another way of saying giving yourself a break, and that’s just what you need to improve.

Don't give up

“Don’t Give Up” is from Shattered Infinity‘s photostream at Flickr.

Yoga is in the House

Posted: September 13, 2011 by writingsprint in postaday2011, postaweek2011, Yoga
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Redneck Yoga

Redneck Yoga: Good. Now breathe deeply.

I’ve been taking a yoga teacher training class, and soon I’m going to have to stand in front of a room full of my fellow students and teach them for an hour and 15 minutes. (Insert picture of me screaming HERE, or my brain dissolving into a pool of jelly.)

The big challenge is, how do I remember 40 yoga poses, when I can barely remember 10 digits in a phone number? Not just the poses, but how to teach each one, and smooth transitions between the poses. Step 1: I have 4 weeks to study and practice, so STUDY and PRACTICE! Step 2: Method of Loci. I’m going to use the memory technique where you imagine something familiar, like a place that you know very well, place landmarks within it, and use those landmarks to imprint what you’re trying to remember. I haven’t used it in a long time, but I used to love Method of Loci. Vivid images make the method more effective, and I’m the king of vivid, silly images.

I have 40 poses to remember. There are three floors in my house. The third floor is the warmup, the second floor is the main workout, and the first floor is the cool-down. I’m making the front door the very last step, so that I connect saying goodbye with leaving the house. The third floor bedroom looks something like this:

My wife’s closet Crocodile pose A crocodile is sitting in the dirty laundry
My closet Cobra pose A cobra is hissing from among my ties
Easy chair in the corner Baby dog pose A puppy is barking and jumping around like a nut on the chair
TV and DVD player Downward facing dog pose An older dog is jumping into the “let’s play!” pose, in front of the TV
My dresser Monkey pose A monkey is shrieking and leaping up and down on top of my dresser. Amazing, no books get knocked over
The bed Twist from monkey pose Another monkey is spinning on our bed like a whirling dervish. He’s wearing a funny outfit and tassels are flying
My wife’s dresser Overhead stretch Nothing especially wild here; me reaching for the sky, with my hands up among the stars. I can knock them around like they were a mobile hanging down from the ceiling
A side table with flowers Shoulder and neck stretches Me doing shoulder rolls and neck stretches. My body looks rubbery, like plastic man

As you can see, my bedroom is now a cross between a jungle, a zoo, and a circus, but that’s the best way for me to remember. How am I ever going to clean it up?