Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Power Yoga: Part 5

Machines Can't Replace Yoga

The primary series of astanga yoga in Sanskrit is called yoga chikitsa, which means "yoga therapy." The series is specifically designed to therapeutically align the body and protect and rehabilitate it from injury. Nothing else seems to work as well or in quite the same way.

For example, riding a bike for a while instead of running may allow a running injury to heal and enable you to keep up your aerobic fitness level. And although cycling is a great form of exercise, the act of the bike-riding itself isn't healing the injury. Or let's suppose you have shin splints. A sports doctor might suggest that you sit on the edge of a table, hang a bucket over your toes, and then do toe lifts with the bucket hanging on your feet. This will strengthen (tighten) the muscles at the front of your legs in the hope that you will subsequently get rid of the shin splints. But doing bucket lifts with your toes isn't healing the injury! In fact, now instead of just having tight calf muscles (which is almost always the primary cause of shin splints), you have tight muscles on both sides of the bone. Since muscles tend to work in pairs, and these two are now competing for power, neither of them can let go (or be flexible enough) to accommodate the strength of the other. So you are trying to solve the cause of the shin splints -- tight calf muscles -- by overpowering them with the muscles in the front of the legs. Oooooh!

Individual muscle strengthening can be effective in the context of an all-around fitness program. But according to yoga therapy, it is much better to do something that will stretch the calf muscles and strengthen the anterior tibialis muscles (the front of the shin) at the same time! The incredibly effective and unique thing about this system is that it works on the whole person, from the inside out, which is essentially different from the fragmented solutions offered by a wide range of products and services. The marvel of the Power Yoga program is its completeness, its simplicity, and its accessibility to anyone, anywhere, at any age. There is always a place for you to start.

A Place to Start and a Way to Continue

Doing Power Yoga is an ideal way to start a fitness program and an ideal aid to continue a sport or fitness program for life. It can be done on its own or as a companion to sport. It will slowly teach you discipline and self-awareness -- not rigid, unyielding discipline, but doable discipline. It will teach you to be hard with yourself as well as soft -- to work hard and sweat and to rest and recover. It will work on your body, your mind, your whole self.

However, you should know that it won't happen overnight. If you are in a hurry, you are in the wrong place. For one thing, and this is one of my favorite Power Yoga axioms (No. 8): "No matter how fit you are at what you do, when you start something new you have to ease into it." You are using new muscles in new ways, and you can't expect to perform at the same level as you do in your own sport. If you do expect the same level of performance, you'll either be surprised or sore.

Second, no matter how unfit you may be, you have to ease into a new training program. You can't try to make up for years of inactivity by rushing out and cramming all the lost time into one workout or trying to pick up where you left off years back. This applies in the case of illness or injury, too. Whenever you lay off training, whether for a week or a year, you have to ease back into it, not pick up where you left off.

So let it be clear that this program does not promise or even remotely hint that we can get you fit overnight, or from one-sided to balanced, injured to healed, unconscious to conscious, out of control to in control, sloppy to disciplined, or fat to fit in twenty-one days or less. This practice encourages you to begin slowly, practice regularly, breathe deeply, pay attention, and build on the small, gradual changes you observe as you progress.

There Is Always a Faster Boat

There is a wonderful story in the yogic literature about an eager student who comes to the shore of a river and is most anxious to get to the other side, where he believes the answer to life can be found. He sees a little rowboat go by, and eagerly flags it down for a ride. The people in the rowboat kindly stop and pick him up, and he begins to make his way across the river in the rowboat. A sleek and beautiful sailboat passes by. Captivated by the smooth efficiency of the sailboat and its progress across the river, and tired of the hard work of rowing, our friend gestures wildly to the sailboat to pick him up, and as it comes by, he jumps from the rowboat into the sailboat.

But shortly thereafter, the wind dies and the sailboat comes to an abrupt halt; now it is being carried downstream by the current, not across. Impatient with the turn of events, the student jumps to a motorized boat passing by that is obviously the best transportation to the other shore. But shortly after jumping onto the motorboat, he becomes irritated with the noise and fumes from the motor, and then doubly annoyed when the boat runs out of fuel. Now he looks around and sees that the rowboat, with its hardworking rowers, is steadfastly making its way to the other shore. Ahhhh. If only he had stayed in the rowboat.

Copyright © 1995 by Beryl Bender Birch

Excerpted from

Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout
by Beryl Bender Birch
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