Monday, August 22, 2016

Ashtanga yoga and nutrition

When I started practicing yoga 37 years ago it was clear a yogi is a vegetarian. That's when I changed my meals. I became a vegetarian. That time back not so many people thought they could live without meat and sausages and fish. I was even told that I would get ill. I'm still healthy. I never liked meat or sausages neither fish so it was easy for me to make this transition. I discovered Indian dishes. It was the first time that I thought to eat is something joyful in live.

Ahimsa means living a life without hurting other creatures. Living a non-violent life is one of the few rules for yoginis.

In the meantime to eat vegetarian might not be enough anymore. When I first read about the production of milk I was shocked. It's so cruel. I don't want to get into detail here. We can survive without eating animal products. It's even healthier than the usual meat diet. Exceptions might exist.

I think the direction is clear. If it's possible to eat well without killing or exploit other creatures, this is the way.

The reasons are mainly ethical ones.

But is this enough?

I used to practice 2 and a half hour Ashtanga yoga every day for more than 2 years. So glad that I gave up this ineffective practice. In the afternoon I was so tired. I slept again. Often hours. My body needed incredible much sleep. Even though I didn't like this, but it seems as if Ashtanga yoga was the only activity I was able to perform. For anything else I had no more energy.

A few months back I used a fitbit armwrist. It measures the heart rate, counts the steps and so on. The accompanying software allows to enter the food that one has eaten during the day. That way I found out that I don't eat enough protein. This might have been a reason why I was so often so tired.

In most other sports the connection between nourishment and accomplishments are known.

With this post I want to draw the attention to this important aspect.

I practiced as mentioned already 2 and a half hours daily. Alone with this amount of time my practice was no more a hobby. Because of the injury of my sacroiliac joint I saw a physio therapist. She helped me a lot. I also appreciated the conversations with her. She said: Many amateurs practice more and longer than professionals, but they don't know that they have to relax as well. They have no treatments by physio therapists.  They don't get any advice what to eat and  so on. This is why injuries can be expected.

In order to have a healthy but also an effective practice nutrition is as important as the practice itself.

My meal planning:
1. Monday - lentils (Indian lentil soup, or a salad)
2. Tuesday - Tofu
3. Wednesday - Quinoa
4. Thursday - chickpeas
5. Friday - we usually eat out

Saturday and Sunday I'm flexible and I often try out new meals.

This is a list of ingredients with a lot of protein. How much protein does a body need? No more than your body weight. Otherwise the liver and kidneys are overloaded.

In order to build muscles the body needs protein. This is worth repeating. One of the reasons why I was not able to perform some asanas even though they were within my possibilities was because I was not strong enough. Additional strength training would have been good, but probably not enough, too. A nutrition with enough protein would have supported my endeavor to perform laghu vajrasana i.e. After 6 years of practice and not being able to come up from this pose requires for reflection: What went wrong? I guess I have to adjust my meals and I see the importance of strength training.
Life is an experiment, my yoga practice, too.

On my practice:
I practice, back pain returns, I interrupt my practice only to start again a few days later. Not to practice seems to be good, but it has disadvantages, too.  Quickly the body becomes weak and stiff. I got so weak. Incredible.
To do nothing for the rest of my life is not an alternative.

I focus on second series these days as it feels so much better. Yesterday's practice brought a highlight. I could do sun salutation B without back pain. It was such a joy.
This morning I practiced again. It was the first activity in the morning still before breakfast. I gave up rather early, but it counts as a practice. I was glad that I practiced in the morning.

I need a group of practitioners, but I don't want adjustments from people I don't know and who don't know me. M will be back in September then I'll join his morning sessions again......

Monday, August 08, 2016

"No pain, no gain." So true, so wrong.

"No pain, no gain." This is a core sentence in the Ashtanga  yoga community with fatal consequences. Sharath says this sentence sometimes. But when he speaks to a huge audience I'm sure he wants to use sentences that people remember. This sentence is often quoted out of context. It needs correct interpretation.

It's always good not to complicate things unnecessarily, but this sentence is so short that it becomes wrong.

In addition, as mentioned already it leaves too much room for interpretation. Mainly it's interpreted: Work through any pain that you feel, no matter what it is. No pain, no gain. Stick to the series and keep practicing as usual. One day you'll feel better again. Unfortunately this is not true.

I know now that this over-simplified approach to pain can have unwanted consequences till the point that one has to stop practicing at all. Not every pain stops one day from alone. Things can get worse.

Since  my sacroiliac joint was blocked about a year ago already I read a lot. I found a lot of knowledge. Of course injuries can happen also when doing other sportive activities. One can learn a lot from each other if one stays open-minded.
It was wrong to practice as usual. My back pain got so painful that I couldn't sleep anymore, I couldn't sit anymore, forget about a yoga practice. A yogini then wrote me to go to a physio therapist. This finally brought relief and a lot of understanding.

As it's so to the point in the book 'Fat loss happens on Monday: habit based diet & workout hacks' by Josh Hillis with Dan John I refer  to the chapter: Pain and other problems in the workouts: pain versus pain versus pain.

There are different sorts of pain and they require different actions. Pain is a warning from the body. Via pain we get messages that we shouldn't ignore.

1. There is muscle soreness when we work on strength. We feel when the muscles get tired. Only when we feel something the muscles get stronger.
2. Stretching discomfort: It's also wanted. If one relaxes the pain fades away. Then one can go deeper into a pose. The pain can guide us when we are attentive.

Only for these too sorts of discomfort the sentence 'no pain, no gain' might be true.

3. Pain from the joints or other pain are a warning. It's best to work around the pain and to see as fast as possible a physio therapist or a doctor (the more specialized the better) . This sort of pain becomes quickly chronic. After a few weeks of pain one speaks already from chronic pain.

It is not recommended to work through the pain. I repeat it, because it's so important.
Most Ashtanga yoga teacher cannot differentiate between the different sorts of pain, because they don't understand the sentence: no pain, no gain that Sharath says sometimes.
And what to do if someone has serious pain? A yoga teacher is not a doctor, but he/she can recommend to see a doctor........

The consequences of this lack of knowledge can be rather awful. Since almost a year I have this back issues now. I lost many asanas. My practice was so painful that I omitted the practice too often. Perhaps I could have avoided all the months of pain if I saw the physio-therapist much earlier.

Pain doesn't equal pain.

If you want to learn something from this post then it is to differentiate between 3 different sorts of pain. The one when you get stronger, the one that is felt when you stretch and the dangerous one that tells you: Stop, something went wrong. Something is seriously injured. Immediate action is required then. See a physio-therapist, reflect on your practice in general, alter your practice. Perhaps strength training is necessary and so on. To keep going as usual is not recommended.

My summer break is over and I practice again at home. Today I started at 6 am. I sweated and enjoyed my modest practice. There is a long way to go till I can practice again like 3 years ago. This I must accept.

Instead of thinking 'no pain, no gain', I recommend to think: 'Work smarter than harder'. 

I'll write in posts to come what I mean with 'smarter than harder'.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Halleluja, I practiced.

With this practice this morning the summer break is over. Friday still means that I focus on primary. I had to try out what is possible.

The first surprise came when I did the first upward facing dog during the first sun salutation. An unbearable pain was felt on my upper left foot below my big toe. It felt as if the nerves there are sore. Perhaps I was too long in my shoes last night when we flew home from LA. I interrupted my practice and stretched the feet, the toes. Then I adjusted upward facing dog, I remained on my toes and didn't stretch my feet backwards.

A very positive surprise is to report, too: I could get into sirsasana with straight legs. Back pain was so minimal that I could do this. My muscles could hold my legs. This is so WOW for me. I could jump up and down out of joy.

After an hour it was enough.

The summer break is over. 

Picture is from 2011. 

I daydreamed that I practice

We are at home again. This one month in the US was great. Yet in not one single hotel room I was motivated to roll out my yoga mat, not even for the tiniest practice. Once I practiced forward bending asanas on the bed. The consequence: back pain. My fascia roll was in the suitcase. From then on I bowed forward from time to time, but this was it.
It is possible to practice on soft carpets in a hotel room, that looks dirty, it is possible, but not inviting. I was not motivated to do sun salutations between the door and the bed as if I was in a deep valley.

In the meantime I read a lot of books on exercising. There are important rules to follow in order to make any practice safe. I'll write about it.
I'll write much more often again. Writing about anything that one wants to improve supports the process: Documentation is a well-known tool used in most sportive activities.

To travel is often also a trip to oneself. I do love the variety of this world. I'm in awe, fascinated, entertained. It's great to try out different life styles, different food, different weather. Highlights are always to meet locals. It helps to find out what one loves and if it is fine-tuning the own life-style.  I love a healthy elegant life style that implies yoga practice and cooking. I also love to have time for nothing. To function all the time, to work towards a goal all the time, to be busy all the time and so on is not enough. Simply to sit and to kill time is wonderful. This might be even more effective than running around all the time without creative breaks.

Sun rise is at 5:55 am here in the south of Germany. The days become shorter again, the nights longer. When getting up at 5 am it will feel as if it's deep night. It rains. The sound is so familiar. I feel ready to start practicing again - modest, passionate, careful.

I loved this trip in the US, I love to be at home again.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Focus is the process

Today my practice was painful again. I needed breaks. This is absolutely OK for me. I'm not stopped because one asana is not as it should be, I don't feel pushed. All my ambition is focused on getting up early (5am) to practice Ashtanga yoga. That's it.

I learned that even top performer are better when they have a relaxed attitude. Trying to give 90 percent shows better results than trying to give 180 % every day.

On the other hand I prefer to stay in bed to do anything half-hearted. My heart-blood must flood, otherwise it's not worth doing anything. I love Ashtanga yoga, but not every fashion of it.

Every day I become a bit stronger. At least it feels so. I focus on the positive aspects and I ignore the frustration. This is what yoga is. It's a mental exercise.

Now, at 15:49 this Wednesday my back is not existing. It's like a miracle. How long will it last?

Also today I'll go to bed early and I'll get up early.
On Friday I'll try primary again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I take the steps

I take the steps of the subway entries, I take the steps at home. I need strong legs for so many asanas. My legs are slightly sore, something is moving.

Before katotasana I was advised to do an exercise that shall help me to relax the upper body and to keep the legs engaged. I lie on 5 blocks that are under my arms in the middle of my back. With the hands I press against a wall. Slowly I walk down the wall with my hands. The pose gets deeper that way.
I'll have focus on the breath again. My breath is superficial these days. I even hold it, not on  purpose, but I fear the back pain. My practices are not pain free. A yogi told me a trick today after the practice, that helped him. Just laugh at and about the pain. This can indeed help, because in my case the pain is probably chronic already.

I do what is possible without pushing too much. I trust that my daily practice will help me to get better every day a tiny bit.

The rhythm to go to bed early and to get up early is perfect. I love the sun rise. Often the sky is red. It's such a joy to see this in the morning.

After the practice I went to a vegan restaurant round the corner to have a lemon-chia-cake and a chai. It had the addiction factor. But my breakfast at home is also excellent. From time to time to step out of the routine spices up life.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I progress again, and this shall be my focus

This was my supta kurmasana in 2014.
(Facebook excavates all these old pictures. I'm not sure if I'm convinced about it.)

A reader asked me in a comment if I know how this SI joint injury happened:
One cannot be sure. But I suspect that in my case i.e. supta kurmasana was the cause, because in the 'tradition' (whatever this shall be) it's always the left leg first behind the head. Then comes the right leg. My right side of the body is stronger as I'm right-handed, so it's harder to be as flexible on the right side as on the left side. But I needed much more flexibility to get the right leg not only behind the head, but also above the left leg (see picture). I personally am convinced that if I had altered legs, my body would still be balanced and therefore my body would be OK.
Padmasana is another pose that created imbalance in my body. Here too, one has to take the left leg first. Always. I used to alter legs. And I'm back to it.
These asanas are advanced asanas. For me it's important to practice both sides evenly. I can be wrong.
Not only Ashtanga yoga practitioners have SI joint issues. There are many causes. But one can do something to avoid it.

I learned that it's important to have strong abdomen. One has to do extra exercises probably. The muscles always keep the joints safe. I got stronger during my yoga practices, but Ashtanga yoga is not a strength training.
I think that this is an important rule. Always engage muscles to keep the joints safe.
This is also true for poses when the shoulders are challenged. How to do it? I learned a lot from books written by people who do strength training. I.e. when you want to do a pull-up, it's very dangerous to hang on the bar. From the beginning on the shoulder muscles must be engaged and this happens when the shoulders are pulled downwards slightly. Test it. Stretch your arms to the sky or the ceiling and then slightly pull your shoulders down. Muscles do this work and with this tiny movement the joints are protected. This knowledge is important to make the practice safe.
There are always muscles that must be active.
This shoulder tip is important for urdhva dhanurasana.

And this is two years later (now):

I curse. It drives me crazy how many poses I lost.

This is my very first focus to let go of the past. I cannot turn the clock backwards. It can be that I must live now with this Si joint injury and the pain that comes with it. Then it might be so.
And I progress. Today M helped me also in supta kurmasana. I could bind, my fingers could hook and my legs were crossed behind my head. I was passive. This is also something one learns when practicing Ashtanga yoga. The ability to relax when it gets tough is a skill, that can be learned.

It's still not very easy to get up that early (5am). But I did it and enjoyed a wonderful Mysore class. It helps me, it supports me. I go home content. I'm back exploring what is possible in this life and on the mat, too.

My practice was slightly painful. I rested in child's pose after every back bending asana. This feels good and makes sure that I feel great afterward. I do.
Best is for me that I can listen to my body and it's needs. I feel free to alter the rules. I don't feel any pressure. That's how it shall be.

Now I must only get stronger again.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


There are always alternatives. Instead of pashasana I practice the above pose. It was shown to me as pashasana is no more possible for me, too. I can only indicated it these days. A lot of poses are lost due to my SI joint injury that is fading away every day a tiny bit more. After more than 7 months with this painful back I have to return to my level 3 years ago. I will.

I practiced today at home. This allowed me to take some pictures. Again I realize what a great learning tool this is. The poses all look different than they feel.

Tomorrow I'll go to a Mysore class. I'm looking forward to my practice, the adjustments and the group. I feel very welcomed where I practice now.
I don't feel forced to do poses that damage my back. I can practice close to the Ashtanga series, but not strict. Yoga is about flexibility.

Soccer time now........European Championship (Germany : Slovakai)