Wednesday, 29 July 2009

An hour of yoga is as good as an hour of sleep

Had a couple of really hectic days at work that involved starting before nine on a Monday morning and ending at midnight only to begin again at nine the next morning. I managed to make it to yoga on Monday but (owing to the drunken midnight bedtime) not to run on Tuesday. So when my alarm went off this morning, I was half-inclined to stay in bed. But I’d already packed everything up, so I convinced myself that an hour of yoga would be as restful as an hour of sleeping.

And guess what? I was right. Not only do I not feel like I need to go back to sleep now (as I surely would have felt if I had just rolled over this morning), I’m un-tired and un-guilty feeling!
After my complaint about spinal flexibility the other day, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to my back, and discovering that actually things do seem to be improving. Where I’m kind of used to twisting and trying to get my back to crack when it hurts, now I’m actually finding that the twisting does what it’s supposed to and things are actually sliding into place with that ever-so-satisfying crack. And also, my back is hurting a lot less than it used to. It’s been good to make myself focus on the things that are actually improving, because there are a few folks in my class who are insanely far ahead of me (things like putting one leg behind their head then standing up, then putting their hands on the floor and lifting the standing leg and swinging between their arms before shooting their legs back into plank) and while I shouldn’t be competitive about it, and actually don’t generally find Mysore that competitive, it’s nice to think about the ways that I’ve already improved my body.

Also want to give a shout-out to Runner Insight, a blind runner who is fundraising for Guide Dogs for the blind, and who stopped by here the other day to remind me of the value of a positive attitude. So, um, thanks. And have a great run at the Missoula Marathon.
Monday when I was doing purvattanasana, Philippa came over and helped me lift my hips enough to (almost) get my toes back on the floor. What a difference that made in the stretch across the chest and shoulders! So today I focused on trying to get that same stretch on my own. I also was happy that I was able to jump through to seated twice, and got pretty close two more times. That whole ‘hold the breath, focus on getting your hips up rather than your feet through’ thing actually works, who knew that a teacher could give you advice that would help?

So in summary, yoga can replace sleep and a positive attitude is a good thing. I’m an annoying-cheery person today, aren’t I?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Spinal flexibility

Will my spine get more flexible? Because right now it's more than a little stiff. I can't get my left shoulder far enough toward (let alone past) my right knee to reach the floor in parivritta parsvakonasana and Philippa has me doing some preparations for backbending which are the bridge (setu bandha sarvangasana) with hands by my ears like I'm about to go into wheel and the chest movement of fish pose (matsyasana) but with my knees bent and my arms still by my ears (does anyone know what these preparatory poses are actually called?). And I can barely get my hips or chest off the floor. Why is everything so tight there? And weirdly, also in my chest? It always makes me laugh inside when Philippa presses my shoulders open to stretch my chest in shavasana, but it's come into even sharper relief in purvattasana. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I'm just upper-body stiff in general - my shoulders are tight in prasarita padottanasana C and I cannot grab my elbows behind my back. I suppose it's the danger of an office lifestyle. Somebody please reassure me things will improve!

In further contibution to the global economic recovery, I bought a new yoga mat to replace the old one that is currently leaving purple bits all over the studio floor and me. It arrived today and I'm sad that I have to wait until Friday to inaugurate it. On the other hand, I get to run tomorrow, according to my modified Hal Higdon plan. (Modified because I'm only planning to run 3 days a week, counting yoga as both cross-training and stretch & strengthen, and to add one 12 mile run into the plan a month before the big day - his beginner plan only goes up to 10 miles and I think I'll be happier with something a little longer as prep.)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The inaugural run

This morning's run was inaugural in many ways: the first run on my new and revised training program, the first run this month (oops), and the first run for a whole bunch of new kit.

First, the shoes. I finally got myself to a proper running store and was properly fitted for new shoes. Apparently I'm in the vast minority of runners as a neutral runner - in fact, I was surprised to find out that when people say 'pronation' they mean rolling INWARDS, if I have any problems it's rolling OUTWARD which is the opposite of pronation. I didn't even know people's feet went that way. Also bizarre - the sales guy asked me, within the first 2 minutes I was jogging in my socks on the treadmill, if I'd had an injury on my right ankle ever. Well, yes, about 7 years ago I broke it, but that's really it! Turns out I run with my left foot straight forward but my right foot turned out about 15 degrees. Weird. Also strange that he could diagnose this as an old injury so quickly. I wound up with the Asics Gel Nimbus, which felt like running on air compared to the planks my old shoes had become. I think my milage tracking wasn't accurate, because they seem to be on 176 miles all the time but they are in bad shape.

Next, the top. This is a bit embarassing. A couple weeks ago we were at a festival and the Royal Parks people were there, selling last year's Royal Parks Half Marathon technical shirts for a fiver. Being the cheapskate that I am, I bought one even though I didn't run it. Took it out for its first run today. I usually like sleveless shirts to run in, and this is short sleeved, but it's easy and comfortable.

Finally, socks. Think Fast Move Faster is a new site that bills itself as a social networking site for athletes. Honestly, I don't know that they're succeeding in this quite yet but maybe it'll take off. They're also sponsored by Diesel Energy Stix, which I'm sure helped inspire a tweet offering to give away runner's gear. I tweeted back that I could really go for some socks, and they sent me some, free of charge, along with some energy bars and those aforementioned Stix. I haven't done any running long enough to justify any of the energy-products yet, but I did take my new Feetures socks out for a spin this morning. I like. I usually go for shorter socks than the mid-cut ones they sent me but cheapskates can't complain. The socks were comfortable straight out of the box, no real seams to create blisters, while feeling pretty supportive through the arches. I love my DryMax socks but these are a pretty good addition to the sock drawer. It was raining through my whole run but my feet were still dry.

A good first run back on the roads, took the first mile extra extra slow on purpose, second mile at a comfortably slow pace, then a comfortable pace for the third. 3 miles, 35:07

Monday, 20 July 2009

Matter over mind...

Usually, the fight between my brain and my body goes something like this:
Brain: 'Time to get up'
Body: 'Sleepy...'
-repeat until it's too late to go to yoga/run-
and the body wins.
Today, the body still won, but it went like this:
Brain: 'Not ready to go to yoga, forgot to buy class pass, not sure yesterday's horrible headache is gone, let's go back to sleep.'
Body: 'Ok. Oh wait, no, we're awake, let's get up.'
And so up I got. The battle between mind and matter is still tilted rather wrongly, but at least 'Body' had the right idea today.
And actually, as always, I'm glad I got up. I started doing some preparations for backbends. My spine is so stiff it's not even funny. Little by little, though...
Today there was a (heavily) pregnant woman in my class. Clearly she's a regular as Philippa knew her and Mysore isn't something you start 7 months into your pregnancy, but I was still really impressed at her. Other than that, though, the attendance was really light which is surprising since the moonday isn't until Wednesday (traditional Mysore/Ashtanga practitioners don't practice on new/full moon, not that I'll let that stop me as I have a hard time believing the cycle of the moon has that big an impact, or really much of an impact at all, but I'm a cynic like that).

Thanks to those who have commented on the relationship between your childhood fitness practices and your fitness practices today, I'm really interested to keep reading about others experiences!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Family fitness

A while back I posted about having had dinner at the School of Life and the conversation it sparked. A couple of you were kind enough to answer the question 'Who have you encountered in your (running) life that has really stood out, and why?' I'm having trouble thinking what to write today, so I thought I'd ask another question from the dinner, reframing it to be related to the subject of this blog:
What was family fitness like in your childhood? How has this influenced your approach to fitness today?
My sister and I were pretty active kids, always had some sport or another going on. Gymnastics, swimming, soccer, whatever. I've already admitted I was not exactly the most athletic kid, but I give my parents credit for encouraging me to keep it up anyway. I know my mom, in particular, had (has?) quite a lot of anxiety around sport - she would never play in local softball teams or anything like that because she never felt good enough - but she tried really hard not to pass that on to me or my sister. But we also didn't do anything as a family. I basically never saw my parents exercise, so I had no adult models for fitting fitness in around a life. I went to college and basically stopped doing anything - was no longer playing a sport (until rugby) and hadn't ever really learned to do, let alone enjoy, exercise for its own sake. So learning to make it a part of my life is something I've had to figure out on my own. Interestingly, though, my parents have been off-and-on exercising more since I left home, and are actually planning to run a half-marathon this fall.

Added paschimottanasana A-C and purvattanasana (the first of the seated postures) this morning, for yoga for a very sweaty 50 minutes.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Some time off might have done me some good

My feet still hurt. Anyone have any ideas? I took most of last week off entirely, but they still hurt. I've been trying to strengthen my ankles (standing on one leg while I brush my teeth, mainly) to no avail.
But anyway, I can't just not train, so I went to yoga again this morning. And I found that the time off has helped a bit - I found the plank-chattaranga-updog transition much easier than before. I've learned all the standing poses in primary series so am continuing to work on those, in particular trying to get the spinal flexibility and chest muscle looseness to put my arm behind my back and grab the other arm (eventually to be grabbing a toe, but that's a long way off still). It amuses me to no end that Philippa has to push my shoulders down toward the ground in shavasana (aka corpse pose - the one where you lay on the ground!).
Unfortunately though I was in a bit of a hurry this morning so didn't get to relax into the practice as much as I would have liked. I'm at an offsite today writing web content, joy joy joy. Time to run again tomorrow!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Time to revise

Clearly I do not have the base for a FIRST-style training plan. I've been off running for a week and my left foot still feels like there's something wrong with it - the bones at the base of my toes hurt, especially when they're turned or squeezed in any way, and my ankle is sore as well. So, I think it's time to revise my training plan. I like FIRST because it allows me to do both running and yoga with a day off a week, and because it incorporates some speed work to help me get faster. But I suspect that just running longer will help me run faster right now, so maybe I don't need it. I'm thinking of using a Hal Higdon plan as the basis for my own. Thoughts? Is three days a week enough? Should I incorporate a fourth running day and give up having one day a week off, counting yoga as recovery from running and running as recovery from yoga?

Philippa is an incredibly hands-on teacher. She spends the whole morning running (literally!) from person to person, making small adjustments here and big ones there, walking through asanas with people. This morning she pushed and prodded my down-dog - heels toward floor, hips up and back, full palms down, elbows turning out, shoulders extended but not hyperextended. Then she helped me add utkatasana and virabratasana. Meanwhile she's placing people's arms behind their backs for baddha pamasana and helping someone else with headstand. There was also this one guy who I've never seen before who came in and started by hanging like a monkey from the inversion ropes in the back. I'm not sure what that was about, but eventually (thank goodness!) he started on his regular practice.

The thing I find amazing about Mysore is that the teacher can know both where we are in the sequence - as in, how far along in our practice we are - and where we are in our practice - as in, how much of the sequence we do - for the 30-odd people she sees every morning. She knows what we're working on and what we need help with, for a bunch of people at different levels who begin at different times, don't all come every day, have vastly different bodies. It never ceases to impress me.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

How to move from upward facing dog to downward facing dog

How do you get from here:

image courtesy on flickr - click photo to see original

to here:
image courtesy myyogaonline on flickr - click photo to see original

with some amount of grace? (Leaving aside the obvious of needing to go from a deserted beach at sunrise wearing very little clothing to a sunlight studio at midday wearing rather more clothing. That takes a plane, probably, and a suitcase full of clothing definitely.)

More succinctly, I've been struggling with how to move from Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog) to Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) without just flopping down and flipping my feet, or just putting my feet right and then going into the pose, but rather in one solid movement.

This morning I was having a hard time staying self-foucused, but it actually worked out for me, I think, because I watched the woman in front of me do it and I realised that I'd been trying to lead by rolling-over-toes with my body following, but I watched her lead with her hips, with the rolling-over-toes occurring as a kind of side benefit. And lo and behold, I did it! So here's my advice to the interwebs: from up-dog, engage your core even more, lift your hips up then back, and - as if by magic - you'll roll over your toes and find yourself in down dog.

Which is to say, 45 minutes of yoga this morning. Philippa is back from Mysore. She's very involved, I like it already.