» Ever notice how much better the brain functions when you're physically fit? How much more clearly the mind operates following a fabulous work-out? How much more lucid things seem when you're running barefoot on the beach?
Here in Southern California, as you might imagine, exercise is big thing. Specially as spring arrives.
You see them taking to the streets, wearing bright colors, pounding the pavement. Because off come the clothes at the beach come summer.
The idea of living in a place where the climate is conducive to a fitness-oriented lifestyle was one of the things that drew me here. (Scraping ice off your windshield at 6AM gets old fast.)
Most of my life I've run to stay fit. Running is easy on logistics. No club member$hip dues required. Simply lace up your Nike's and step out your front door. (There's a 5K here in Corona del Mar next weekend, on June 4th.)
» Yoga's Ancient Technology New for Me
Recently I've been 'practicing' yoga. It's very different from either running or weight-lifting. But anything that endures five thousand years deserves a closer look.
I asked this personal-trainer I know (from the coffee shop) if she could scribble down a series of poses.
"I got a better idea," she said. "I have this *great* DVD. I'll bring it next time I come. If you're not here, I'll leave it with somebody behind the counter. Keep it. It's yours."
Very good DVD, yes. I could see why she was excited. It just covers the basics, but that's all I wanted. (All I could handle.)
» -- Balance --
The biggest difference, I've found, between yoga and say, weight-lifting .. is that, with yoga, YOU provide the balance.
In weight-lifting, you're simply on one side, and the weight (gravity) is pushing against you.
Your focus is on ONE direction, and one direction only .. that being, whatever direction is opposite the weight.
In yoga, poses are designed such that you focus on two (or more) different directions simultaneously. The word balance comes to mind. Seems like a minor point, but in practice it's major .. from a mental perspective, I mean. Which is why I find yoga more difficult.
I can go for a run, or throw iron at the gym and not really think about it. My mind is usually a million miles away .. and that's why I like it.
» Mental Focus & Awareness
But yoga keeps your attention focused on your body and your breath. I'm sure I will get used to it, and I like the effect it has (.. more about this later) .. but yes, I find it considerably more difficult.
I mean, the DVD has instructions like "breathe awareness into your sacrum," and » "breathe awareness up your spine, energetically lifting each vertebra".
Another thing is that I never sweat doing yoga. And I feel sweating (detox) is important.
Update - A few of you wrote to mention Bikram, which is like doing yoga in a sauna:
Remember the climate where yoga originated isn't like yours or mine. Hence, why some forms of yoga specifically aim at using heated environments, the most widely known being Bikram Yoga, which of late has been marketed worldwide (since Bikram copyrighted his particular techniques). Both "Bikram" and generic "hot yoga" studios are everywhere here now.
The best thing I like about running (especially on the beach, at sunset) .. is how I dont have to think. My mind can free-wheel. Visit Nirvana. Spend time there. Weights require a little more, but it doesnt take much concentration to pump out a set of reps on the bench-press.
••• today's entry continues here below •••
» More Compare & Contrast
Not so with yoga. Yoga wants your complete attention.
I've been thinking how quantum physics has found that the act of focusing the attention (conscious observation) has a physical effect. Sounds corny, but the experiment has been reproduced thousands of times.
This would imply that yoga, which focuses your attention (on your breath and on your body) .. has an effect on you.
And in these last few weeks, I've been paying attention to what these effects might be. In other words, I've been paying attention to myself paying attention. (Would that be considered 'recursive'?)
Update. Nigel writes (about recursion):
"Paying attention to your paying attention" is weakly recursive because it's only a single level of introspection, rather than something with potentially infinite levels (i.e. circular or cyclic, as opposed to a simple acyclic with no loops).
So, A paying attention to B paying attention to A has a cycle of infinite regression. Most of the technically important kinds of recursion involve infinite cycles, so they're the only kind we tend to discuss.
What were we talking about? Oh yeah » the effect yoga has on you from focusing your attention on your breath & body. (Sorry for the recursive digression.)
Seems like with yoga (.. hard to describe) .. that you're massaging yourself with your attention (.. that contains good intentions) while you stretch your body in poses that feel good .. after you get used to them, of course. (At first, you're certain your legs will snap off at the knees .. maybe even at the hips.)
» Good for You
Another surprising thing I've found .. is how much yoga makes me feel like I'm doing something GOOD for myself.
It would be an exaggeration to say yoga makes me feel like I'm LOVING myself, but you get my drift.
Definitely more than either running or lifting. (I mean, a set of dead-lifts can make you feel like you're pushing your body to its breaking-point. Loving is NOT the term that comes to mind.) And it's this focus of awareness (which contains good intentions) that seems to make the difference.
These impressions I have about yoga are far from solid. Still rather foggy. But I find them interesting (.. which is why I'm writing about them).
I prefer doing yoga around sunset. But that's just me. Heck, if I had to do yoga in the morning, I wouldnt last. I feel too stiff when I wake. And I prefer to do my poses by candlelight. The natural light seems to work well. (Three candles do nicely.)
It's also nice to do yoga following a hot shower. The heat makes your muscles pliable. Tho a shower beforehand is not alway practical.
Along these lines, I like to sip a cup a herb-tea before starting. The warming effect. See .. if you're stiff, yoga is hard. (And if you're very stiff, yoga is very hard. Tho Taylor Wells would disagree.)
I was surprised to find how toning yoga is. I thought yoga would be mostly about stretching, but yoga does a surprisingly good job of toning your muscles. (Particularly the shoulders, due to Down Dog.)
Yoga is definitely better for the posture than either running or weights. You can feel yourself straightening, as yoga focus on your spine.
» Exercise is Really About the Head
Vigorous exercise has always been about the head (.. which includes stress-relief). Frame of mind. Sense of well-being.
Exercise gets the heart pumping and causes the body to release 'feel-good' hormones.
The increased respiration (breathing hard) helps oxygenate the blood. This well-oxygenated blood is then pumped to the brain at an increased flow-rate (.. heart pounding).
[ So conscious am I of this effect that I even purchase loose-fitting reading glasses .. to avoid throttling the flow blood to my brain while I'm studying. ]
Yoga is a different animal .. from running & weights. Same species (exercise), but different. Ya think this might be why I've been having those wild dreams?
The best part of running (aerobic exercise) is the altered state you get into .. rhythmically blowing down the beach .. communing with angels.
The best part of lifting weights (anaerobic exercise) .. is that invincible feeling of strength that comes (.. after several months of training). Eating nails & chowing on steaming bowls of gunpowder soup.
Yoga, on the other hand, seems more spiritual .. more balanced, methodical, deliberate.
Yes, I've done Pilates (.. the dancer's work-out) .. studios for which seem to be popping up all over the place. Pilates makes you feel very good .. probably better than all the other exercises I've done.
Perhaps it's worth mentioning .. that all the people I see who are in the very BEST shape .. all jump rope. That simple exercise from childhood. Few thngs more poetic that a fit girl who can jump rope with pizzaz. You go, girl.
I'm still a yoga-n00b, but every week I can reach a little higher, stretch a little further. My exploration of this ancient technology continues. Yeah, I feel different. ■
PS - My favorte place to run was Hawaii. Ideal climate. Year round. Lived downtown Waikiki (.. with the Dog). Ran 4 miles everyday around the Ali Wai canal (.. with the Dog). Sometimes we ran the beach at Ala Moana. Always finished with a 90% sprint. What problems? Where'd they go? =)
For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » exercise training physical fitness yoga vs running vs weight-lifting pilates strength flexibility