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Showing posts with label Yoga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yoga. Show all posts

Yoga and Zen Vacations

Yoga retreats are a booming global industry, primarily for women and women's retreats, but there is a small but growing percentage of men who are visiting yoga retreats too.

The principle is simple - you go on vacation to some exotic locale, stay there and do yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and other activities (eg. some of these retreats even offer archery lessons).

Many of these retreats work on a 3-day or 7-day programme and offer a series of workshops on yoga, meditation - as well as services like massage, therapeutic discussions, etc.

The idea essentially is for people to go there, relax, do yoga, and then come back from their vacation feeling refreshed and re-energized.



There is only one problem.

These retreats are often ridiculously over priced and geared towards getting people to come back again and again because it is addictive. So be forewarned, if you get into visiting yoga retreats regularly you will discover they are very expensive and you will find yourself going back again and again. I have a friend who goes to a yoga retreat in Romania every year, spending $5,000 to $6,000 every year on the 2-week trip (she even borrows money from people just so she can go, even though she knows she should be spending her money more wisely). For just a portion of that she could get a membership at a local yoga studio in Toronto and go there all year long instead of 2 weeks per year.

From my perspective yoga is something that shouldn't even cost money. People do yoga in the park. Toronto has a Free Yoga Meetup group that organizes free events at Toronto parks for people who are into yoga. So it doesn't have to cost a cent, and you get to meet new people, make friends, and explore Toronto. Win-Win-Win.

There is actually multiple meetup groups for Yoga in Toronto/GTA.

North York Free Yoga

Plus Size Yoga Toronto

Etobicoke Yoga Grove

Markham Yoga

Beach Yoga Toronto

So there really is no shortage of Yoga Clubs in Toronto that people can join. No reason to go overseas or spend $1000s just to have a good time and feel good about yourself.

Exercising with your Cat + Yoga

Hello cat lovers in Toronto!

For fun I decided to post these cat / exercise videos I found. While not particularly instructive, they are certainly motivational and fun for anyone out there who wants to exercise and happens to have a cat laying around the house.

You can do a variety of exercises with your cat - including push ups, squats, and even yoga.

Or even weightlifting. Although I admit it really depends on how big your cat is - or whether you have multiple cats. In theory if you had two cat baskets you could lift the cat baskets like you would dumbbells. Note - The Arnold lifting cats GIF is just for amusement! Don't do that with real cats!

EXERCISE WITH YOUR CAT



YOGA WITH YOUR CAT


Yoga Injuries - Be careful, trying to perfect a pose can hurt

TORONTO - Sports injuries sounds normal for many more vigorous sports, including ballet dancing, but what about yoga?

It may seem ironic at first, but the exercise regime often recommended by doctors and therapists (aka yoga) as a rehabilitation tool to overcome a range of sports injuries can itself become a cause of sports injuries if people get "too into it".

Yoga, considered a relatively gentle means of building flexibility, muscle strength and endurance through physical poses and controlled breathing, can lead to a number of repetitive strain injuries and even osteoarthritis, Ontario doctors say.

"Most of the injuries I see are from repetitive strain," says Dr. Raza Awan, a Toronto sports medicine physician who's been practising yoga for about a decade.

The most common yoga-related injuries he sees in patients are rotator cuff tendonitis and tears; spinal disc injuries in the low back and neck; cartilage tears in the knee; hamstring strain and tears; and wrist injuries.

There are a number of reasons why yoga — in which practitioners generally perform a series of poses, called asanas — can cause injury, he says.

One of the causes is "definitely pushing too hard" to attain a specific pose, which can involve stretching the upper body into a forward or backward bend, twisting the torso, or performing an inversion, such as a handstand or headstand, balanced on the hands or forearms.

In other words trying to show off by doing handstands and headstands can get you injured. Gotcha!

"So, for instance, people who are too flexible or people who are too tight, they're at more risk, I find," says Awan. "If you're too tight and you try to force yourself into a pose and your muscles aren't flexible, then you might strain another area to compensate."

"Or let's say that you're very flexible and you get to the end range of a pose and you don't have the muscular support to maintain the pose ... you're holding the pose without muscular endurance, you're basically holding it on your ligaments or your tendons and you strain those structures that way."

Ego also can lead to injury, he says, explaining that in yoga classes, some people push their bodies beyond their limits trying to match or outdo the person on the next mat. Being a showoff is basically an excellent way to get yourself injured doing any exercise.

Even competing with oneself — for instance, trying to get the heels flat to the floor during the "downward dog" pose, despite having tight calf muscles from sitting at the computer for hours — can lead to strains or tears, he says.

"You strain yourself because you push yourself."

Sometimes, overdoing it in yoga may exacerbate an underlying problem called femoroacetabular impingement, or FAI, in which the bones of the hip are abnormally shaped and don't move together smoothly. The hip bones grind against each other during movement, causing joint damage over time and osteoarthritis.

Dr. Chris Woollam, a Toronto sports medicine physician, says he started seeing "an inordinate number of hip problems" about two years ago, including among women aged 30 to 50 who were practising yoga.

When range of motion in their hips was tested, not only was movement limited, but "they would jump off the table because of the pain," Woollam says.

MRI scans showed the women had joint damage resulting from FAI, which can be severe enough in some cases to require hip-replacement surgery.

And since yoga is becoming increasingly popular it is now ever more important to warn people about the dangers of trying to over do it.

"So maybe these extreme ranges of motion were causing the joint to get jammed and some to wear," Woollam says of certain yoga poses. "If you start wearing a joint down, then it becomes arthritic. So you're seeing these little patches of arthritis in an otherwise normal hip that seems to be related to these extremes of motion or impingement or both."

However yoga isn't entirely to blame. You just have to listen to your body. When it's saying there's a pain, then you have to recognize that and then take a break from whatever you are doing. Pain is a good signifier that you are overdoing it.

Vancouver chiropractor Robin Armstrong, who's been practising yoga since 1999, says the most common injury she sees among fellow enthusiasts are hamstring strains. Typically, they are overuse injuries and tend to occur more among experienced practitioners rather than beginners.

"I think it's also just repeating core movement patterns, and if you have a teacher who corrects the way you're moving, I think that can help prevent these types of injuries," says Armstrong, who also teaches anatomy and injury prevention to yoga instructors.

"I talk about where you have to use caution in certain poses and when appropriate use certain poses for certain people and when to avoid them altogether."

Some yoga teachers will encourage students to try a more challenging pose, while others may physically "adjust" a student to correct their posture and alignment. And that can take a person to a place their muscles and joints aren't ready to go. So sometimes it is the yoga instructor who is pushing the student too much.

But Armstrong says how far and how fast an individual advances in yoga is a shared responsibility between the student and the instructor.

"The teacher doesn't know what you're feeling in your body and you have to be comfortable enough knowing, 'OK, is this right for me? This might be right for the person beside me, but is this right for me at this moment?'"

"Don't get so attached to making the pretty picture with your body, you're still doing yoga even if you're not doing the full expression of the pose," she says. "And that goes back to not comparing yourself to others, because everyone comes with a different body and a different experience."

Yoga has many upsides, including sharpening mental focus, easing stress, and improving range of motion that can help avoid injuries while performing day-to-day activities or participating in sports.

"There's a lot of benefits to doing yoga for certain types of problems, but obviously any physical activity has its risks, too," says Dr. Awan, who is among those who uses yoga as a therapy for some patients and believes most yoga-related injuries are preventable.

"It's a great movement-based activity to do, but you have to try to keep safe, just like in other sports activities. Don't push your body beyond."

Is it possible to lose 5 lbs per week doing yoga?

Q

"Hello!

Is it possible to lose 5 lbs per week doing yoga? I read somewhere that this was possible, but I have to wonder if it is a gimmick or something. I want to know if it is actually possible to do.

:)
Helen S., Toronto"

A

Hello Helen!

Well yes, technically it is possible.

But it really depends on how much a person weighs, how many calories the person is burning due to how vigorous you are doing yoga, how long you do yoga and how often you are doing yoga.

For example lets say a 300 lb person does gentle yoga for 30 minutes.

Using a calorie calculator we can determine that would burn 178.6 calories. That isn't really a lot.

In contrast the same person doing vigorous yoga for 30 minutes burns 478.65 calories. That makes a huge difference in terms of calorie burn.

However in order to burn 5 lbs of fat per week doing any exercise you would need to burn 17,500 calories per week. (There is 3,500 calories in 1 lb of fat.)

So to lose 5 lbs per week a person would need to burn 2,500 calories per day, every day, above and beyond their normal routine - all while maintaining a healthy diet!!!

So that means that a 300 lb person would need to do vigorous yoga for roughly 157 minutes to burn 2,500 calories. 2 hours and 37 minutes of vigorous exercising sounds like a ridiculously tall order for a 300 lb person to do.

Even if you did so called "gentle yoga" it would take 420 minutes to burn 2,500 calories per day. 7 hours of gentle yoga per day also sounds pretty ridiculous for a 300 lb person to do.

Now lets pretend you don't weigh 300 lbs. What if you weighed 200 lbs instead?

Well it changes the numbers. Gentle yoga would be 119.07 calories in 30 minutes, vigorous yoga would be 319.1 calories in 30 minutes.

So to burn 2,500 calories every day you would need to do 10.5 hours of gentle yoga (every day!), or almost 4 hours of vigorous yoga (every day!)...

So I think the point I am trying to make here is that the math gets pretty ridiculous.

So in conclusion, yes, it is possible to lose 5 lbs of fat per week doing yoga - but the number of hours per week you would need to do yoga gets pretty ridiculous if you do the math based on your own weight. Find a calorie calculator for yoga online and do your own calculations and you will see my point.

Plus I would like to point out that losing more than 2 lbs of fat per week can result in sagging skin. You have to give your skin more time to adjust its elasticity and shrink down a bit to match the flesh underneath. See my various posts about preventing loose skin to learn more about why it is best to lose weight slowly so you don't end up with excess loose saggy skin.

Now don't get me wrong. Yoga is a great way to exercise and lose weight, but don't expect it to be a "lose weight fast" solution.

If you are looking to use yoga to lose weight then I recommend at most 60 minutes of yoga per day - and pace yourself with respect to how gentle or vigorous you want to go depending on your personal needs and goals.

Later as you get better at yoga you might increase to 90 minutes per day and try more daring yoga postures, but you should not be trying to burn fat in an hurry. Just take your time, do it properly, learn patience and self-control - these are things that are integral to the whole yoga experience.

Why Good Posture Matters

Bad posture hurts your muscles and harms your bone structure.

Good posture builds muscle and maintains bone structure.

But that isn't the end of it. Posture also effects your quality of sleep, eating habits, overall fitness, ability to perform a variety of exercises, and your overall health.

Now how do you improve your posture?

Start by ridding yourself of bad habits like slouching while you sit, leaning forward or backwards too much. Next do stretches every day to improve your flexibility. Lastly, yoga and abdominal exercises will also help to improve your posture - but general exercise will help too.


Yoga Gloves Vs Fishing Gloves

Have you ever seen these before? They're called yoga gloves and they're very grippy. The idea is that you can wear the gloves and do yoga on a bare wooden floor without needing a yoga mat. You also get yoga socks and you're basically set to do yoga anywhere, anytime.

However what I find funny is that yoga gloves look and feel very similar because they're made of the same materials and also designed to be very grippy - so that you can grab a slippery fish and they can't wiggle away.

The bottom line is if you like to do yoga in weird places (like during a fishing trip...) you can do so using yoga gloves and socks - or if those aren't handy, try some tight fitting fishing gloves instead and discover just how darn similar they are.


Sun Salutations in Yoga


During the physical practice of yoga, the session will sometimes begin with an exercise known as sun salutations. This series of twelve moving postures (asanas) are timed with breathing (inhaling and exhaling). The series is repeated anywhere from three times or more. Due to the nature of the sun salutation's constant movement, breath work, stretches and mental concentration, they encompass many common components of fitness, and makes for a challenging and effective total body workout.

Five Benefits of doing Sun Salutations

1. Postures such as chaturanga, (negative tricep push up), the Crescent pose, (lunges) and plank are body weight strength exercises that will burn more fat while at rest, decrease risk of injury and maintain bone density. Sun salutations strengthen the core very well, and yoga is commonly prescribed for low back injury and rehabilitation.

2. Sun Salutations have the potential to be very cardiovascular and burn a lot of calories while exercising your lungs and heart. Consistent movement, inverted poses (head lower than heart) like downward dog, and holding poses will improve heart and lung capacity, increase endurance and aid weight loss.

3. Poses like forward bends and downward dog will increase flexibility when practiced regularly. Sun Salutations are fantastic for releasing tension in the hamstrings and hips.

4. Focusing on timed breathing will increase mental focus and reduce stress. It teaches perseverance, mental toughness gives you a goal and something to think about to clear your mind during practice.

5. Sun Salutations will give you an all-around nice body! Yogis are known for their elongated muscles, lower body fat and over-all athleticism. Many martial artists also do yoga.

General Wellness - Mind, Body + Soul

If you exercise and eat well because of the health benefits (and longevity) its possible that you've also realized that health also includes mental health - and that mental health is often the most important thing you need to worry about.

Fitness is more than just sweating your buns off, pumping iron and trying to burn the most calories possible. You also need SLEEP and REST time to heal and build new muscle tissue.

Another thing you should do regularly is STRETCHES. There will be times when you are in so much pain for exercising that you won't even want to stretch, and you might be tempted to regularly skip stretching or exercise sessions because you are suffering from muscle pain/fatigue. That is normal. Its a sign that you've been pushing yourself too much.

When that happens it means you need to force yourself to do stretching or yoga instead of your regular exercises - and more importantly to rest and get plenty of sleep. You may even need to purchase muscle relaxers in the event that your muscle pain is so severe you are having difficulty sleeping.

Sore muscles become filled with lactic acid, the adrenal glands fatigue and the body produces more cortisol, a hormone that will store more fat, and make it harder to burn off. Too much intense exercising actually becomes quite counterproductive if you are overdoing it and making your muscles too sore. Over training can be a serious problem in exercise enthusiasts and can cause irritability, fatigue and the increased risk of injury. Take care of your body by introducing gentle exercise such as yoga, tai chi, Pilates or general stretching can help give your body a break and give it more time to build new muscle tissue.

Sports injuries are a sign that you are doing something wrong. When that happens it is important to make sure you are - not overdoing it, observing proper form on your exercises (sloppy form = more injuries), or trying to challenge yourself too much by doing things beyond your current talents.

It is true that "No Pain = No Gain" when it comes to weightlifting, but "Too Much Pain = You're Doing It Wrong" is also equally true.

Doing regular stretches and yoga, and basic exercises to build up your core strength, help to prevent sports injuries and should be a regular component in your fitness regimen.

Remember these three things!

MIND - Sleep, rest and meditation. Remember to take naps when you get the chance.


BODY - Stretching, yoga, low stress exercise days. eg. Going for a nature walk instead of weightlifing.

SOUL - Fun exercises / sports that give you peace of mind. eg. Archery, cycling, ice skating, swimming.


The simple act of walking or cycling on a nature trail is great exercise but also calming, refreshing and revitalizing - helping your mind and body on multiple levels. You have to think in terms of BALANCE so your body can maintain its equilibrium physically but mentally and emotionally too.

There is no point being buff on the outside if you are falling apart on the inside.

Yoga Class Etiquette 101

Practicing yoga is more than an exercise. Its meant relax the mind and bring peace to the body. Sadly not everyone knows about a number of often unspoken etiquette rules. There are many yoga instructors, many personal trainers and many yoga studios in Toronto. But sadly very few talk about etiquette for yoga or other exercise activities.

For many people their yoga practice is more than exercise. It is their whole mind and body well-being lifestyle. The studio is their sacred place, a place of quiet and relaxation. Here are a few tips on courtesy to avoid making a yoga studio faux pas:

#1. No Talking in the Studio

If you practice yoga with your friends, keep the pre and post catching up in the lobby. Some studio change rooms even discourage discussion because some people feel uncomfortable with talking while they are half-naked and changing their clothes.

#2. Bring a Yoga Mat Bag without a Zipper or Velcro

Walking into the yoga studio to set up and causing a loud ZIPPING NOISE is just as disruptive as talking! A bag with strings, a carrying strap or even a fabric sleeve is preferable.

#3. Give Others Plenty of Space

Personal space is important to people practicing yoga. In a crowded studio be sure to move your mat over as comfortably as possible to make room for other students. Don't hog space if the space is limited.

#4. Help put Straps and Blocks back

If you borrow equipment such as straps and blocks, be sure to put anything back as you originally found it. Don't expect the studio staff to clean up after you! If you rent a mat, disinfect and hang to dry.

#5. Don't Stare at Other People

Think of it like being on the TTC subway. Don't stare at the other passengers, or in this case, yoga practitioners.

#6. If you are new, head to the back

From the back you can see more experienced students and learn from them, without staring at them too much. If you are a new student and practice in the front, not only are you likely taking the spot that advanced students need to check form, but the students behind you may follow your lead without realizing you are an inexperienced yoga newb!

#7. Try to Arrive Early

Lateness and disrupting a class currently in session is a big no-no. You should also avoid leaving early and disrupting the class by quitting early and making noise as you leave.

#8. Turn your Cellphone OFF!

Easy. Press a button, turn off your cellphone. Its like being in a movie theatre. Avoid any unnecessary noises.

Yoga can do Amazing and Inspiring Things

The following is an inspirational video which brought tears to my eyes.


If an over-weight and disabled war veteran can do that using yoga, just imagine what you can do when you exercise?

Arthur had given up. He didn't think he could do it. You might not think you can do it either.

But along came "DDP", Diamond Dallas Page, who is an American retired actor/wrestler for the WWE, personal trainer, fitness instructor and yoga instructor. I admit, not your normal yoga practitioner, but he is certainly an athlete.

DDP gave him the instructions and encouragement to do it. And I must say they both did an awesome job of getting Arthur back on his feet and walking again.

And that is proof of how a personal trainer can help change your life. Regardless of whether you live in Toronto or California.

Breathing Exercises during Yoga

Before a yoga class starts, it is a good practice to do some breathing exercises while waiting for the teacher. Breathing exercises help you to become more aware of your body. Perception and awareness is very important to yoga and as human beings we are basically trapped in our minds, we sometimes lose awareness of how our bodies are feeling and lose focus on what body parts might be paining us.

As you begin the class many yoga teachers will tell you to clear the mind (easier said than done), to leave the past and future behind and focus on the present moment. With practice such brain exercises can build your mental self-control, and knowing a few breathing exercises you can focus on helps build this self-control.

If you think about your breathing, practice different breathing patterns and do it consciously you will notice it requires your concentration to do. Trying to do so while distracted will cause you to revert to your natural breathing pattern and to daydream about other things.

When combined with yoga movements, you add an extra level of difficulty to your yoga activities - but after awhile it's amazing how easy that becomes.

When many people start a yoga class their mind is a mess. Even without thoughts of what needs to be done, they are probably stressing over the idea of being in a challenging class for 60 or 90 minutes. By the time class is over, you may feel that it not only did it feel like a mere 15 minutes, but you may feel mentally and physically refreshed. (Although to be fair, some yoga classes will be more exhausting and leave you tired, sweating and hungry.)

In which case breathing exercises are also good to do AFTER yoga. It will help keep you feeling relaxed and refreshed (or relax you after a particularly grueling yoga lesson).

TIP!

Try breathing naturally, at your own pace, and count your breaths to 10. Sounds pretty simple, right? Yet due to our wandering minds, most of us lose track many times along the way. When it happens, start over again without frustration or worry. Its the learning process and journey that matters, not how many times you fail. Counting your breaths is not a game to win or a skill to master. Instead, it's an instant, ever-handy way to deepen your awareness and concentration.



How to Buy a Yoga Mat

 I don't teach yoga myself, as a personal trainer I am really not qualified enough to be teaching it. But I have taken numerous yoga classes and can tell you that having your own yoga mat is an important thing if you want to be a serious yoga practitioner.

Why?

Mostly for hygiene. Some of the yoga mats at yoga studios are pretty gruddy looking, and while they do clean them and disinfect them sometimes, they sometimes get old and who knows who's been sweating all over them.

Thus when you are looking to buy your first mat, since you have evidently taken your practice up a notch and want to upgrade to a yoga mat of higher quality, there are many places to shop in Toronto and lots of people out there with tips on what makes a good mat.

eg. If you really want advice you can ask for an expert opinion at a local yoga studio. They will happily give it to you and probably try to push you towards their favourite company. Its a bit like pitting Coca-Cola fans Vs Pepsi fans. They're pretty biased on the topic.

So lets first dispel a myth about yoga mat purchasing...

#1. Don't Buy Just Any Old Mat - Buy the mat which best suits your type of yoga practice, whether it be hatha, vinyasa or Bikram. Why? Well you could just buy a generic mat, but it won't really do you that well. Its a bit like buying "all weather tires" for your car. They are basically mediocre all the time and never excel at anything. So aim to get a mat that is specially designed for your purposes.

#2. Shop Around Online First - Do your research. There are many different kinds of yoga mats available online.

Extra Thick Yoga Mats
High Density Yoga Mats
Extra Long Yoga Mats (for really tall people)
Extra Wide Yoga Mats (for people who hate touching the floor by accident...)
Memory Foam
Toxin Free
Bio-Degradable
Non Slip
Durable
Ultra Absorbent
Pilates
Durafoam
Odor Free
Non-Sticky

#3. Do you want it to come with a strap, a sling or a bag? - Or you can buy such things separately. If you are going to be carrying it a lot (some people carry them on their bicycles) then you want something you can easily carry.

#4. Buy in Person, Don't Buy Online - Two reasons... you want to be able to see and feel the mat for yourself, so you know its the kind you want. So find local places to buy a yoga mat.

Examples in Toronto

Moksha on Danforth or Yonge and St Clair

The Yoga Sanctuary on Danforth

#5. Think Colours - eg. If you're a man you will probably want a blue, red, green or black yoga mat. Most men would not purchase a pink yoga mat.

Sensory Training for Archery

Years ago I started doing archery as a way to get exercise and have fun doing so. Now I am an archery instructor and a personal trainer here in Toronto. Go figure.

Since then however I have noticed something unusual... My skills in visual observation have improved dramatically.

Now I admit its not super-human or anything like that.

But it is definitely more than it used to be. Now you might chalk it up to the Zen benefits of archery, which gradually hones your mind and increases your ability to concentrate on a singular target while still remaining aware of your surroundings.

Which got me thinking... If it is possible to train your eyes to be more observant using archery and similar tasks, is it possible to train the other senses as well?

Well one example is that people who have lived through a fire become hypersensitive to the smell of smoke. That sense has become attuned so that whenever they smell smoke the memories of the fire they lived through comes flooding back to them at just the whiff of smoke. For me I have lived through my parents' barn burning down when I was 5 years old and my neighbours' house burning down when I was 8. I am perfectly aware that people can become more sensitive to smells due to strong memories.

Legends about Blind Samurais is another example of why I think it is possible.

Now I admit this is a concept from Japanese folklore, but the concept is simple: The warrior trains their other senses over time and develops above average ability to hear and sense movement around them...

And as proof that learning such martial arts is not impossible for a blind person, check out this video from the CBC of a Richmond Hill resident who is blind and is learning the Israeli Martial Art of Krav Maga.


Another reason why I think it is possible is because of documented cases of men who went through the Vietnam War and similar conflict zones who, due to their circumstances and extreme need for survival, developed unusually high skills of observation.

In pop culture there are a variety of references to military groups attempting to deliberately train soldiers or agents to have above average senses and observation skills. One such film that I am fond of is the 1997 film "The Assignment".


The beauty of "The Assignment" is that it is also based on the real life true story of how Carlos the Jackal was captured.

But if you're looking for the cream of all pop culture references to developing "super senses" the top of the list would be the TV show "The Sentinel" which ran from 1996 to 1999... However in the TV show they make out that the main character has a combination of genetic advantage and hypersensitivity training that was developed during his years in the military.

However that TV show isn't really a good example because the writers of the show went overboard and gave him the ability to communicate with ghosts, spirit animals and visions of the future... Which is just plain ridiculous and the show was eventually cancelled at the end of 3rd season so they created an extra half season just so the storyline could be wrapped up.

My last example of why I think it is possible to do Sensory Training isn't from pop culture.

Its from Ashtanga Yoga, the 8-fold path of purification.
  1. Yama     Moral codes
  2. Niyama     Self-purification and study
  3. Asana     Posture
  4. Pranayama     Breath control
  5. Pratyahara     Withdrawing of the mind from the senses
  6. Dharana     Concentration
  7. Dhyana     Deep meditation
  8. Samadhi     Union with the object of meditation
Of these topics there are several that deal with sensory awareness, but the most obvious of these is Pratyahara (withdrawing of the mind from the senses). The practice involves deliberately weaning oneself from the senses one at a time so that eventually you simply fail to notice things.

As human beings we regularly do this without even noticing it. We can narrow our focus visually when watching a TV screen (the kitchen could be on fire and we wouldn't notice). We tune out noises that we don't want to hear. We ignore tastes, smells and pains in our body, especially when distracted.

Now imagine doing the opposite. Sit in a coffee shop or some other public place and listen to other people breathing. If you close your eyes you can concentrate on this task even more. Listen for minute sounds and what you discover is that you can hear many different things around you, but your mind typically doesn't listen to these things because it is so busy tuning such things out.

Another thing you can do is play observational memory games with friends. This will be mostly your eyes being tested and trained.

The thing is that isn't your eyes, ears, nose, tongue or skin that is hypersensitive. Unless we have a disability like blindness or deafness can all do these things naturally anyway. What is different is our brain pathways...

To understand brain pathways and how it interprets the senses imagine a map with a network of highways in the shape of your brain. When you are a teenager these neural pathways are still growing and expanding, and depending on which neural pathways you use more of those pathways will become thicker and stronger as your brain reinforces those pathways.

So for example if you do a lot of math your brain will reinforce the mental pathways that control your ability to do math functions. Over time your brain will increasingly be attuned to solving math problems because that is part of the brain that is being used and exercised most often.

Memory, creativity, your ability to make decisions all stem from various mental pathways which are used, not used, depending on how often you do various mental activities.

Now by the time you reach adulthood many of these 'highways' have become super highways and they're dug in there pretty deep so that they are pretty difficult to change. However they're not impossible to change.

Lets say for example you were really good at math during your teens but at the age of 20 you stopped worrying about math and went to university to become a French teacher. By the time you finish university your brain will have re-wired itself so that it is now more focused on social skills involving interactions and also on language and communication skills. You will still continue to use the math parts of your brain, but they will fall into disrepair like an old highway that few people drive on anymore.

Now lets apply this concept to your observational skills.

If you practice and hone your ability to observe things every day, either with your eyes, ears or other senses, then with time your brain will reinforce various mental pathways which affect your abilities to observe your surroundings.

Which is what archery has apparently done for me. It has increased my visual observation skills without me even realizing it, re-wiring my brain pathways so I am now more observant.

Conceptually it is different from the various physical exercises I usually discuss, but the idea remains the same: If you practice a particular skill you will with time become good at it.

Mind Body Fitness Vs Zen Exercising

There is a new trend in the fitness industry called "mind-body fitness" (or various other names) which combine tough physical workouts with lighter and less stressful components for what some personal trainers are calling "a total mind-body solution".

In reality mind-body is a misnomer. People like to use the words mind-body (or mind-body-soul) whenever they want something to sound New Age in an effort to appeal to people's more religious/spiritual sentimentalities.

Now there is nothing wrong with being spiritual and trying to look for moral guidance. Moral guidance can teach you to be less lazy, less gluttonous, more proactive, more patient about your goals... more virtuous and less sinful = More Exercise and a Better Diet. So nothing wrong with trying to be moral and virtuous, especially when it comes to exercise.

However just because something says "Mind Body" doesn't mean you should buy it. If anything you should instantly recognize it as a slogan / catchphrase, the same as "Authentic", "Traditional", "Old School", or anything else that screams "New and Improved".

Take for example Yoga: Traditional Yoga sounds pretty good, doesn't it? So does Mind-Body Yoga. New and Improved Yoga just sounds like the person is trying too hard.

Mind Body Fitness really is a bit like Interval Training... except Interval Training alternates the difficult and easy exercises multiple times instead of just one each. One Stressful, One Less Stressful. But if you repeat them both 5+ times then it IS Interval Training.

Anywho, back to my main topic: Some examples of this more stressful/less stressful so-called 'mind-body' trend include:
  1. Cy-Yo-One hour workout that combines spinning with yoga.
  2. YogaFit-Stength, cardio and yoga merged into one.
  3. Pilates-Yoga - The core strengthening benefits of Pilates combined with the full body + relaxation of yoga.
  4. Extended Stretch Sequence - Personal trainers may leave the last 10-15 minutes of every few sessions for a good, thorough (and more than likely, much needed) stretch.
  5. Jock Yoga - It's challenging enough for athletes but involves the relaxation that active people need to stay physically healthy.
So when you think of it you can basically combine any light exercise with any heavy exercise to make a combined 'Mind-Body' workout.

Examples:
  • Weightlifting followed by Yoga
  • Cycling or Spin Class followed by Stretching 
  • Running followed by Surfing or Wind-Surfing.
  • Helping Your Friends Move all their Furniture... followed by tossing around a frisbee or football.
So really, pretty darn easy to do these things. But do they really engage your mind? Not really. The latter component is really just more physically relaxing compared to the previous activity.

How to Add Less-Stressful Exercises into Your Workout

Easy. Think of a really physical stressful activity that you don't like doing, but you know you should do (eg. intense cardio for 45 minutes). Then add an activity you enjoy doing which is more relaxing but still keeps you moving (eg. 30 minutes of archery).

So anyone can do this on their own if they choose to. It takes only a little effort to add it your daily regimen and what you will discover is that the enjoyable exercises make the whole thing worthwhile and enjoyable.

What is ZEN EXERCISING?

Well Zen is the idea of really focusing on what you are doing. You avoid thinking about other things (distractions) and your goal is to get really into the activity you are doing to the exclusion of everything else. Doing this will result in a more intense workout, create better harmony between mind and body (and better hand-eye control and reflexes.

So Zen Exercising therefore is a very different thing from Mind Body Fitness (which is really more about stressful / non-stressful exercises) because Zen Exercising really gets more into your mental state while exercising.

Some people like to exercise when they're angry. The adrenaline rush from their anger makes them stronger and more energetic. However if you only exercise when angry you probably won't be exercising very often unless you have some serious anger management problems.

HOWEVER!

Some exercises are really good for developing your mental abilities. Examples:

#1. Zen Archery. Archery combines physical strength and balance with your ability to aim and concentrate on the target. Even your breathing comes into play because if you breathe into your chest and move your shoulders your aim will be knocked off, so you need to concentrate on breathing into your stomach.

#2. Tight-Rope Walking. If you're not paying attention to what you are doing you WILL fall.

#3. Acrobatics / Gymnastics / Figure Skating. Many balance oriented exercises (like surfing) require full concentration.

#4. Yogic Breathing. Concentrating on your breathing patterns is more difficult than you think.

Thus someone wanting to add Zen to their exercise routine needs to be adding things which will cause you to concentrate on your balance, aim and breathing.

Yoga = Weight Loss? How and Why

When most people think of yoga they think of meditation and various poses that look more like easy stretches and sitting crosslegged saying a lot of "Ommms."

That is the stereotype at least.

But when you first try yoga what you quickly discover is that the intensity of yoga varies but is ultimately quite the workout because your arms and legs will feel the burn as if you are doing an intense workout. (More so if you've never done yoga before.)

There are many different disciplines of yoga (my favourite ashtanga yoga, but that gets into a whole mental discipline and the physical movements of yoga is only one eighth of the practice), but regardless if you are doing yoga for exercise then the level of intensity can sometimes surprise you.

The end result is you end up burning calories, but how can this be for just a bunch of stretches and poses?

Well for starters you are burning calories just by breathing. Your stomach and lung muscles are moving constantly. With yoga you practice your breathing at the same time while making a series of motions, which initially will feel like cardio exercises (cardio burns calories!), but some of the poses are more intense on various muscles and those muscular motions burn extra calories too.

The end result is that yoga is a full body workout and burns a lot of calories.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is the most familiar form of yoga for Westerners, and the kind usually taught in beginner-level classes. Hatha yoga emphasizes breath control and flowing postures that are simple and easy to learn. You can expect to burn 175 calories per hour, or the same amount of calories you would burn by walking 2 miles in 1 hour.

Ashtanga Yoga (Just the Poses)

Ashtanga yoga poses are more intense than Hatha yoga, but still places emphasis on breath control and flowing postures. The typical class has a series of 6 poses that increase in difficulty. A typical Ashtanga class will burn 300 calories in 1 hour, or the same as walking 4 miles in 1 hour. Full Ashtanga Yoga also includes self purification, moral codes, breath control, withdrawing from the senses, concentration and meditation exercises. Most people don't do the full thing and only practice the yogic postures.

Power Yoga

Power yoga is a Westernized form of Ashtanga yoga, which moves quickly between poses to increase your heart rate. Because of this, most classes typically last 30 to 45 minutes, rather than 60. The calories burned are approximately the same as a full 60 minute Ashtanga class.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is usually combined with the Ashtanga form to create one dynamic class. The emphasis is placed on flowing from one pose to the next, particularly during the sun salutation. Vinyasa classes typically burn 445 calories per hour, or the same amount as jogging at a slow pace for 60 minutes.

Bikram or Hot Yoga

Bikram yoga, also known as "hot yoga," is performed in a room heated to 105 degrees and with a humidity of 40%. This guarantees that you will sweat a lot as you perform the 26 postures in a typical class. One session of bikram yoga burns 630 calories per hour, or the same as swimming the butterfly stroke for an hour.

Most practitioners who use yoga as their primary form of cardio opt for the higher-intensity classes and aim for making it to class 3 times a week, for a 90 minute session. If you want to burn calories while doing yoga, go for the more intense classes and work on "growing" or stretching into each pose constantly throughout the class.

Studies show that people who find an exercise they enjoy will stick with it and make it a part of their routines more readily than people who feel forced into exercise they don't like. If yoga is your favorite form of exercise, find ways to increase your calories burned and then make it your primary cardio routine. You will reap the added benefits of increased muscle tone, core stability and decreased stress as well as a vigorous cardio workout.

Many people also argue that yoga creates mindfulness of everything that you do outside of practice, this includes food choices. People who practice yoga tend to eat less, and make healthier choices for their meals. Yoga has also been shown to reduce cravings in between meals.

When someone starts practicing yoga they lose an average of six pounds in the first two months. Plus yoga builds strength and endurance in core muscle groups. The new muscle tissue leads to an increase in metabolism and more calories burned per day.

When beginners are ready to take it up a notch, more intense practices such as Ashtanga (or power) yoga and Bikram (hot) yoga, burn as many calories as an hour long jog!

Yoga is not only fantastic for strength, injury prevention, and flexibility, it's a definite path toward weight loss.

Plus the practice tends to attract people who are genuinely nice, and we all enjoy making new friends who are genuinely nice people. Its an added perk!
Looking to sign up for archery lessons, boxing lessons, swimming lessons, ice skating lessons or personal training sessions? Start by emailing cardiotrek@gmail.com and lets talk fitness!

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