Tag Archives: ashtanga

yoga and aging, the wall of flesh, and the weekly yoga practice check-in open thread, please drop by and say hello

I’ve been thinking about easy-going yoga practices vs. those practices where you push against…actually I’m not sure what I’m pushing against.  Against what my body can easily do today, perhaps.  Against the line where a luxurious stretch becomes effort.  Against aging.

I mentioned it in a comment on the Friday check-ins a few weeks ago, I’ll quote my comment here: “…striving vs. maintaining, or possibly it is working hard in the practice (as in this post by Stacey Ingham about a recent David Garrigues workshop) vs. pleasure in the practice (as described by me in this post about the first David Williams workshop I went to).”  Who doesn’t want a pleasurable practice?  Why wouldn’t we just do easy, relaxing practices?  I mean, duh.

But it’s like this wall of flesh is advancing on me.  That’s the big bad boss in one of my kid’s games, “The Wall of Flesh,” I love that, haha.  But look, if I push against it, this relentless advancing wall, I CAN gain ground.  I CAN get stronger, more flexible, more able.  On the other hand, if I do an easy practice, if I don’t push against that wall very hard, or at all, then IT advances.  Just a little on any given day, but it does, and before I know it I’m back to pushing again, just to maintain, or I have to make my easy practice even easier, to maintain the feeling of ease.

Pushing practices are harder (obviously) and it’s much more of a challenge to get myself out of bed to push.  Easier to get myself out of bed for something I think will pleasurable.  Yoga as tai chi feels delicious.  And it does maintain, and even advance (if you do it every damn day), although slowly (but safely, fewer injuries on this route).  But that wall of flesh gets more powerful every year and the ground I’m standing on is turning to sand.  I find I have to throw some hard-work practices into the mix on a regular basis just to keep where I’m at.  Tai-chi yoga isn’t enough.

Grrrr.

Joe Friel is a world class cycling coach and has written the bible on Cycling Past 50.  In it he looks at studies on older athletes, either that keep up a ‘good enough’ training schedule as they age (they drastically slow the deterioration that comes with aging) vs. the ones that keep pushing hard.  The pushers are just as good, or even better (faster, greater maxVO2 values, etc) than they were in their 20s!  Bottom line: use it or lose it.  (Friel has a new book coming out soon that I’m interested to read that looks at fitness and triathletes after 50, called Faster After 50, check it out if you like lots of science with your exercise reading.)

As Pamela says in the comments of that above post: aging body is real. We’re more tired just doing the same old things.  Injuries happen more easily and take forever to heal.  Everything is harder.  I want to rest.  It seems…kind…to honor that.  I want to be kind to myself.

On the other hand: “Don’t give aging an inch!” says Gillian Lynne, and 87 year old choreographer in this terrific interview, part of the documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas, about older women who are killing it with style and grace.  Two parts here: the first couple of minutes (first vid) introduces her and her work (and her husband who is 27 years younger):

And in the next couple of minutes she talks about her morning yoga/stretching practice and about pitting herself against the aging process, very inspiring.

Each day, each practice, each asana in a practice, I look at the question of how much to push, how easy to let it be.  Sometimes ease is what’s needed just to show up at all.  Sometimes I have to buckle in for some pushing—and I’m not talking about  crazy, I get injured too quickly.  But there is a continuum isn’t there, from going through the motions of practice like tai chi, through some effort, through wringing myself out.  I almost never wring myself out.  I’m lazy!  And afraid of hurting myself—it takes SO LONG to heal….  I want some of Gillian’s verve and energy to keep up the fight.  Actually I don’t want to fight at all.  But it seems unavoidable.  The war of attrition.  Maybe there is a different way to frame it?  Maybe engage, instead of fight…?

My weekly check-in is in the comments.   Fridays are open-thread days to drop in, say hello, talk about your practice, what you did, what you didn’t do, commiserate, ask questions.  Home practitioners especially need some community time and the Cyber Shala can offer that.  Please join in!

cyber shala: friday ashtangi open thread and chat, please drop by and say hello!

Basically, this is a space for a bit of chatting, check-in, commiserating, and celebrating about our practice, particularly for home practitioners who don’t have all this already at a shala, but everyone is welcome.  Great for motivation and all ’round fun.  Last week I posted a similar open thread and got some nice replies.  Hi, gals!  I hope you  drop back by, and I hope some new folks stop in to say hello.  Let’s keep the conversation rolling. I’ll keep posting them as long as there is a bit of interest.

[click the tag weekly yoga check in at the bottom for past check-in posts]

cyber shala: new friday ashtangi open thread chat, please drop by and say hello!

The lovely fellow home-ashtangi Rebecca, in a comment here, had the great idea to host a space for a bit of chatting, check-in, commiserating, and celebrating about our practice, particularly for home practitioners who don’t have all of this already at a shala.  I said, cool, let’s do it.  The plan is to put up a post like this one, maybe on Fridays, an open discussion thread where folks can drop by and chat about their week’s practice.  Great for motivation if you know you’re going to have to confess your skip days.  I hope y’all will join me.  It’ll just take a few regulars to make it worth our while….

finding new motivation in ashtanga home practice: PUNISHMENT

As a home yoga practitioner, keeping my motivation high (or at least medium) is super important because with no shala, I’ve got no one else to show up for, and it is soooo easy to just skip and get on with my day.  So I’ve always felt that the crucial thing is just to get to the mat, and whatever works to achieve that goal on any given day is awesome.  Just show up and I’m a freaking hero.  Whatever I do once I’m there is gravy.

Okay, maybe my standards are a little low.

On the other hand, the majority of the time if I can knock out a couple of surys, I’m probably going to be doing a whole Primary—or at least a half—because it just feels so good once I get going.  So “just get to the mat” is a bit of a psych-trick on myself.  Ashtanga practice, with it’s (mostly) fixed series, can be like falling down a hill after those first few surys, one asana leading right into the next, so if I can show up with a promise of “just a few minutes” then there’s a good chance I’ll stay for more.  Plus, David Williams says the acceptable minimum dose is 3 sury As, 3 sury Bs, and the final 3 lotuses and you’re good.  No guilt.  So it’s okay to quit after ten minutes.  I just rarely do.

Afterwards, I always wonder why, when it feels so good, do I struggle so much to get started?

I’ve written a little about motivation before: In 2010 I was using Asana Envy to get myself on the mat.  In 2012 I was going back and forth between Lazy Ashtanga and Heroic Ashtanga and found they are differently motivating. I wrote a surprisingly popular 2012 post on How to start a home practice and stay with it when I was three years into my home practice.  And in 2013, I did my most shameful post on the topic, getting on the mat for all the worst possible reasons.  A few days later, I tried to redeem myself with a better reason.  I don’t know if the redemption took hold….

Today I’m going to tell you one more motivator.

Punishment.

Sidebar/ We are not punishers around here.  We never did ‘time-outs’ with the kids or removal of privileges or, I don’t know, beatings.  It’s not my style and I think it sucks as a motivator for several reasons, a main one being that, while you might be able to get the behavior you want, you can never affect the reasons why the behavior is done.  And more likely you just end up creating a culture of lying and hiding the evidence.

beatings will continue

But I’ve had trouble with my motivation to practice this year.  This is my fifth year of Ashtanga home practice, I am forty-three, and I have had three injuries in the last twelve months (top of my right foot (1), high hamstring (2), right knee (3) see below for a few links if you’re curious about my saga [cue violins]).  I don’t know what is correlation and what is causation, but I suspect a vicious circle.  And possibly I’ve been cursed under a blood moon by a demonic faction.  Either one.

Anyway, bemoaning my lack of get-to-it-ness the other morning, Sophie suggested that she could punish me if I didn’t practice.  Would that help?

Uh, what?

“Like, spank me or something?” I said from under the covers.

“I was thinking I could make you watch something awful.  Like, My Little Pony.  Or Caillou. ”

Oh god, the girl was bringing out the big guns.  Those shows make me start bleeding from my ears.

i'd rather throw myself off the balcony

I’d rather throw myself off the balcony

“Seriously?  You think that would work?”  It sounded so…extrinsically motivational.  Aren”t I supposed to do things, especially yoga, for their intrinsic value?

“I don’t know.  It’d be fun to be the Yoga Police though.”

A carrot and stick approach?  Which reminded me of Tim Ferris talking about StickK.com where you put your money where your mouth is and sign contracts that say such things as, “if I don’t [fulfill x goal by y date] I will pay a $1000 to the Republican Party.” Or something else you really hate.  And you don’t get your money back if you don’t meet your goal.  Boom.  Maybe a carrot/stick approach can work if you choose your own goals?  Unlike parents who punish/reward trying to shape the behavior of the kid to match the parents goal.  Doing yoga is definitely my own goal.  Could this work?

“Okay,” I said, flinging off the blankets.  “Let’s try it.”

“I’m really going do it if you don’t practice,” she warned.  “I’m not kidding around.”

“I’m counting on it.  I’m going to go put on my yoga clothes right now.”

“Cool.”

So, Sophie has been gleefully threatening me with Netflix, bringing the ipad queued up with an episode at ten o’clock at night if I happened to oh-so-accidentally skip that morning….and I hustle out the mat to at least do some sury’s and avoid inflicting probably permanent suffering on myself.  Those Pony songs get stuck in your head like they are made of radioactive glue.

Her threats have been surprisingly effective.

And then this happened: I actually considered lying to her.  The shame of it.  I knew I could get away with it because she’d slept late.  I could have plausibly done yoga before she got up.  It could happen.  And I really didn’t want to throw down on the mat but seriously, I was not going to watch freaking My Little Pony, no way.

See what I mean?  If you’re doing something to get a reward or avoid a punishment, you start being willing to do whatever to get the actual goal (the reward or the punishment-avoidance) rather than the pretend goal (the yoga, in this case).  But it was too late now.  It was like that guy in the Stephen King story who contracts with the mob to help him stop smoking.  If he cheats, they cut off one of his wife’s fingers.  And they won’t let you out of the contract.  Yikes.

Okay, after about a minute I came to my senses.  What kind of person would I be if I lied to my daughter about practicing yoga in order to avoid watching crappy kids tv?  For heaven’s sake, that would just be pathetic.

I didn’t do the yoga.

She only made me watch about ten minutes.  Merciful goddess above.

It was enough.

Sheesh, this whole set up is  too hard core!  What have I done?!  Now I have no wiggle room.  If I wanted to join the army and have a drill sergeant I would.  (Not that they would take me.  And not that I would ever, ever do that.  Besides, they don’t do yoga in the army.  Wait, I feel like I’ve drifted off topic….)  Anyway, it’s been a week.  I’m aiming at five practices a week and I did four.  We’ll see how next week goes.

Maybe she’ll grow tired of it.

There have been times in the last five years where I have been super stoked to practice, have had no problem getting on the mat, have organized my life around it.  Right now…not so much.  I’m tired.  I don’t know why.  But I figure I ride this period out by whatever means necessary (even My Little Pony!  Such is my dedication!) and there will be another wave of enthusiasm after a while.  I’m not giving up, that’s for damn sure.

___________________________

Injuries.  Bleg.

1- The foot cleared up with a couple months break from all padmasana which stretched it too much.  I’ve been back in full lotus for a while now, and the top of my foot seems to be staying A-Ok.  So I think that one is done.  Maybe my hips opened enough in the interim so that there is less torque now on the foot.

2- The hamstring took about a year to be right again.  A YEAR.  This was the third time I’ve injured it, and the worst.  (First time in 2009 with some info about trigger point therapy, second time in 2010 with follow ups, third time in 2013 and how I got into cycling as a way to deal.)  I can now do all of primary now with just an occasional twinge, but I still baby it.  A forth time seems inevitable at this point.

3- the right knee came from the cycling.  It made it so I couldn’t compress the knee when weight-bearing, as in a squat like Pashasana or getting stuff out of the bottom shelf in the fridge.  I’m still on the mend from that, maybe 70% better.

A note to say that none of these injuries happened on the mat.  But I think yoga can be destabilizing to the body, especially right after practice.  I’m super careful during my practice, but then I dart after Luc to give him his hoodie, or ride too long on my bike in a hard gear, or do some whacky move during sex, ahem, and bam, something breaks.

Practicing while injured is a drag.  It really, really messes with motivation because you don’t get that sparkly high as a reward when you’re practicing at half steam, plus you lose progress.  I just have to be super careful, I guess.  My parts are less durable than they once were.

/end sob story

ashtanga yoga, five years in: state of the backbend

Q: What does five years of Ashtanga Primary, home practice only, do to one middle-aged woman’s spine?

I’ve done some previous State of the Backbend posts (2011, 2012, 2013) so some of these photos have shown up on the blog before.  But I haven’t done one in a while. Today’s post is the year five installment.

A bit of backstory to catch-up any newcomers:  I started Ashtanga in the summer of 2009 when I was 38.  I started because I got a sore throat and found that I couldn’t gargle because I couldn’t tip my head back far enough.   This totally freaked me out.  I couldn’t look at the ceiling?  Seriously?!  Thus the yoga.  The fact that I ended up doing Ashtanga was a bit of random hit—Primary was a routine when my biggest question when I got onto my new mat was “what do I do?”  Ashtanga offered an answer.

In 2009 I had zero backwards mobility in my spine.  For example, I couldn’t do an Up Dog—I had to do this kind of baby cobra instead.  Just lying flat on my back on the floor felt like a backbend.  Maybe this was the result of years of nursing, all curled forward, holding my babies.  My spine felt like cement.

But listen, this isn’t a miracle story, okay?  I have not made kapotasana my bitch.  Temper your expectations.  Never the less, in my gentle, no-adjustments, no-shala, no teacher, kind of way, progress has been made.

Let’s take a look.  This first shot is after one year of practice.  I could look up at the ceiling!  Yay!

hangback July 2010July 2010

Six months later….

hangback Jan 2011Jan 2011

Three months after that…

backbendspring2011

April 2011

Four more months… A watched pot doesn’t boil very fast, does it?

hangback Aug 2012Aug 2012

But still, from the start, that’s some steady progress, yes?

However, six months jump again…and it stalls.  The next one is less bend, but I was trying to get more upper-back bend and less lower-back cranking.  More arch, less fold-at-the-lumbar.  If you look at the 2012 pic, my upper back is still rounded forward quite a bit.  In the 2013 pic, I was trying for more upper back curve.

hangback Feb 2013Feb 2013

And then, for a long time, nothing seemed to change.  I didn’t take any pictures because shifts of millimeters just don’t show up in a photo, and it was depressing.

But, finally, yesterday, a year and half since that last photo, here I am:

hangback July 2014 July 2014

 Hey!  Some progress!  Not only can I see the ceiling, I can see the wall behind me now, haha.  So that’s something.

Okay, now Urdhva Dhanurasana.

When I first started trying UD, I couldn’t do it at all.  So I would stretch out over an exercise ball.  This was the first day I could put my hands on the floor, eight months into practice.

backbend April 2010April 2010

Those first attempts were really terrible….and uncomfortable!  My arms are bent at near right angles!  And so are my knees.  It’s a mess.

backbend May 2010

May 2010

But slowly my arms straightened out a bit.  Three months later:

backbend Aug 2011August 2011

Six months later….

backbend feb 2012Feb 2012

My hands are still way in front of my face, but it’s looking more like a UD now.  This next one is after nearly three years of practice.

backbend June 2012June 2012

I could hold them a bit longer at this point.  Meaning, from five desperate seconds (ha!) to maybe 10, slightly less panicked, seconds.

backbend feb 2013Feb 2013

And then…very little change.  For a long time.  Those early days when change happens so fast—it’s so motivating!  Long periods of mostly-the-same, man, those are harder.  (And hey, what’s with that baggy shirt?  Ugh.)

But here I am yesterday:

backbend July 2014July 2014

Not bad! Seeing this picture, I realized, hey, there has been some movement.  My hands are nearly under my head now, not out in front of my face the way they were last year.  My legs are quite a bit straighter.  And the arch is more evenly distributed, with my butt closer to half way between my feet and hands, instead of crunched over on the foot side.  So that’s good.

On the other hand, I haven’t gotten nearly as far as I fantasized I would after five freaking years.  Maybe it’s being 43 now, maybe its because I’m on my own, no teacher.  I wanted to be omnipotent by now!

But hey, barring that, I’m relieved that I wasn’t just treading water the last eighteen months.

Slow—very slow, perhaps—but I’m a far cry from where I started.   Millimeter by millimeter, the body opens up.  The tortoise wins the race.

And hey, if I make no further progress, but stay right here for the next twenty years…that would be a fine backbend for a 63 year old.

(But I might get a little more bend out of my spine, yet.)

Finally, it wouldn’t be a backbend post without a shot of my gorgeous and bendy photographer, Sophie, 10, who popped into this backbend cold, just for fun.

sophie backbend 2014

going off the count–the poses we wish were in primary

Ah, home Ashtanga practice.  Over time it can take on little quirks and shuffles, habitually repeated and made part of the texture of the routine until one day they become invisible to the practitioner, to me…until I see a “straight” primary again and realize, WHOA.  I’ve kind of, uh, drifted off course.

Some changes start out as the smallest of tweaks, like staying for extra breaths in Up Dog, one of the few backbends that doesn’t trigger my backbend panic.  Or dropping vinyasas on alternate sides, a forgivable sin, maybe, given my prone-to-problem wrists.  Or how about that extra long stay in Baddha Konasana?  GOD I love that pose!  I can get through the three hard ones before it just thinking about the juicy BK coming my way.  I’m not even any good at it!  My knees are six inches off the floor!  I don’t care.  That pose is mine.

But then there are a few poses I love that have been, um, salted into my primary.  Just a few, here and there, guiltily practiced, tucked in where surely no one will notice.  Until I’ve added them in so regularly that they have actually become part of the, my, Primary.

There’s the Reclining Virasana after Triang Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana.  I mean you’re right there, you might as well go for it, right?  Yum.   And that reclining twist after backbending: absolutely necessary.  My spine pops every time.

Oh, and pigeon pose, sandwiched inside the Marichyasanas somewhere.  I started adding that one in when the tops of my feet got over-stretched from lotus and I couldn’t do the Mari’s at all because of pain.  I stuck the pigeons in the Mari’s slot for some hip-opening without foot stretching…and man, I just really grew to like them.  Now my feet are fine, I do all the Mari’s but…the pigeons never left.  First I lay flopped over the bend leg, then do the backbend (another one with no panic! yay!), and then, because I’m right there anyway, I reach back for by bent leg.  Ahhhh, it’s so delicious!

And isn’t it the poses I look forward to that  get me through the hard stretches of the series?  Pleasure is my primary motivator, people, I freely admit it.  Make it feel good, that was one of David Williams’ Number One Lessons.

Speaking of workshops, I’m scared to ever go to another one!  I’d have to practice straight Primary for a month first just to break my off-the-count habits!  Oh the shame of it.

But I really love my practice. Five years this August.  No, I can NOT believe how that time has flown by.

I can’t be the only one who has made Primary a little bit her own?  Like that moment in Kino’s Primary DVD (Kino, my hero!) where she pops up into handstand during the Prasaritas “because it’s fun” ?  Of course I want to add all these reclining poses and she wants to do a handstand, ha.

Some people are such over achievers.

Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker review…plus! heartrate and calorie burn of Ashtanga Yoga

[Updated 5/7/2015, one year of wearing the Vivofit.]

You know I’m a gadget whore.  So when I got a chance to play around with a Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker, of course, I got to experimenting, starting with several Ashtanga Primary yoga sessions.  This post will start with the Vivofit review, then move to what I found out about my yoga practice.  Proceed as you see fit.  And if you know Primary, definitely scroll down to see the cool graph.

The Vivofit

The Vivofit tracks your movement with an accelerometer (super cool demo of how an accelerometer works) and your heart-rate if you pair it with an ANT heart-rate monitor—which I happened to already have, yay!  Between the two sensors, the device attempts to give you actionable data about your steps taken, distance walked, your sleep, and your daily calorie burn.  I don’t know how they crunch the numbers to come up with all that, but they give it a fair go.  The Vivofit also has some motivational “Move More!” features, like the Bar O’ Shame, as well as software to connect you up with people you know for competitive challenges, etc.  More about that in a minute.

First Steps. I think the whole concept of “steps” is not so much about the actual number of physical steps you take, but more an attempt to quantify movement. This makes some sense as the majority of people’s daily life centers around walking and sitting.  And in the gamification of fitness—which is think is one of the main goals of fitness trackers—moving more is the goal, the Vivofit is a score keeper, and “steps” are the points.  However “steps” aren’t the best or only way, of course, since, for example, cycling, swimming, and yoga (all my kinds of exercise, boo) use no steps, and so don’t get counted.

But steps are what we’ve got.

Having said that, the Vivofit’s counting of steps seems (1) very accurate if striding in a regular manner, as on a walk (100 steps will read as 99 or 100 or 101, or so), (2) accurate-ish if taken in a general sense over the course of a day, and (3) downright terrible if taken over a few minutes of start-and-stop walking as one does in the house while, say, cleaning up, or grocery shopping.  This is especially true if you have a small house (re: yurt) where you (and by you, I mean me) never really take more than seven or eight steps in a row (before coming to a wall) and often less.

The Vivofit also miss-counts if you are a ninja and sneak around a lot.  It is perfectly possible to take a hundred steps lightly and sneakily, and slip past the notice of the Vivofit.  Wake up, Vivofit!  Pay attention!

I think “steps” are best used as a number compared to itself, as in: did I move more or less than yesterday?  What’s my score?  For this, the Vivofit is pretty fun, as long as you don’t sweat the details.

Speaking of steps, let me jump over to one of the motivational features of the Vivofit that I find surprisingly effective: a red bar that appears over your step count if you haven’t moved (taken a registered step) in the last hour.  Oh the shame of it!  I’m surprised at how compelling this shaming is!  Much more than praising, a la fitness trackers that give you an increasing bar showing you how many steps you’ve taken and how close you are to your goal, like a glass of water being filled up as the day progresses.  I’ve found I have no problem ignoring those pat-on-the-back indicators.  (Tracker: “Come on, Maya, you’ve done so well, just a bit more!” Me: “Buggar off.”) but man, that red bar shows up, and I’m up taking Henry on a walk right away.  AH!  The Red Bar!  Quick, Henry, we’ve got to go!

Henry is so confused lately.  “Why are we walking again?” he says with his big brown eyes.  “Didn’t we just do this?”  “Yes, Henry, sorry to interrupt your nap, but there’s this red bar, you see….”

Distance is, I reckon, the Vivofit making a guess based on average stride length times your “steps” score.  Meh.  It’s kind of fun for a second to say, oh, cool, I walked X.Y miles today!  But I have no idea how close it is to reality and I don’t really care.  As with “steps”, it’s more valuable as a comparative than as an absolute value.  If you really want to know how many miles you actually walked, get a GPS watch.  But it’s nice, a bit of psychological lift, giving a physical distance to all those “steps” to try to make them seem more real.

For Sleep, you tell the Vivofit when you’re going to bed by holding down the button past the SYNCH screen and into the SLEEP screen.  You deactivate sleep-mode when you wake up.  While you sleep it tracks your movements…by which you can infer the depth of your sleep, I guess.  I don’t really get much from any of this.  Perhaps if it was really extreme in one direction or the other, lots of movement (“Oh, yeah, I really tossed and turned last night,”) or very little movement (“Slept like a log…”) it would be corroborative, but who cares?  I don’t see how I would use that information for anything, honestly.

Experiment time!  What happens if I sleep with my heart-rate monitor on?  Yes, I did this.  It was cool as far as it went—my heart-rate bobbed around 70 for about an hour and then zoom! shot up to 100 for about fifteen minutes…then back down.  A dream?

Unfortunately, the heartrate monitor quit after 90 minutes.  Maybe the contacts didn’t stay connected?  Bummer.  Maybe I’ll try again.  Duct tape?  No, that’s probably going too far….

Calorie Burn comes next.  The Vivofit gives a guess about calorie burn based on age, weight, and “steps.”  But an accelerometer just gives data about motion, it can’t tell anything about effort.  For example, lifting a feather and lifting a twenty pound weight are basically the same motion, even though one takes more work (and presumably uses more calories).   Same with yoga—holding navasana is nearly zero motion, but some serious effort…and the accelerometer alone can’t detect it.  Add the heart rate monitor, however, and the picture improves.  Now it can tell something about how hard my body is working and, presumably, the calories burned number gets more accurate.

There’s no way for me to know how accurate, of course, but, as with “steps,” it’s probably valuable in relation to itself.  The Vivofit told me last night that the hour of easy biking on the trainer while I watched Veronica Mars burned 400ish calories.  That’s a heck of lot more than it’s telling me I’m burning sitting here typing this.  I mean, duh, I already know that, but putting numbers to it gives it heft and weight and lets me put it on colorful, motivating graphs.

I love colorful, motivating graphs!

Which brings me to the Garmin Connect software.  It works, I haven’t had any problems.   Synching is very easy, either with my ipod 5 or directly to my Macbook.  As for the social part, I couldn’t care less about competing with anyone else or posting my “steps” or activities, etc., so that component doesn’t do anything for me.  But the software does make some nice graphs and pie-charts, for example, the heart-rate graph that I post an example of below.  I like me some graphs.

What would make the Vivofit better for me

Biggest one: if there was a way to pair the Vivofit data with something like LoseIt, an app for tracking calories IN, that would be cool, and much more useful than just the calorie OUT info that the Vivofit offers.  Calories expended is, after all, only half the picture.  It’d be compelling if I had both in one place, with more of those colorful graphs.  Maybe they are working on it.

Second, if there was a way to get some “steps,” that is, some “credit,” some POINTS, for swimming in my pond, riding on my trainer, or doing yoga, that would be a big plus. To have a relatively complete picture of my daily activity, it really has to include these things.  Yes, I can put on my heart-rate monitor for improved calorie tracking during these times (except the swimming), but still.  In the game of Vivofit, I want my points, people.

But here’s what I realized:  I already know I’m active during those times.  After a week on the Vivofit, the All Mighty Graphs have shown me that 30% of my time is spent sleeping (or in bed awake), 10% of my time is spent “lightly active” by which I think it means walking around, and 4-5% or so is “highly active” by which I think it means my heart rate is elevated zone 2 or beyond.  It’s the remaining 50freaking% where I’m sitting on my ass, reading, writing, hanging with the kids, and driving, that could use some attention.

I mean, I do all this active stuff….but that still means I’m 50% sedentary.   Crap!  To the rescue comes the Red Bar O’ Shame and walking Henry or something comparable, once an hour to break up the physical inertia.  As a result, I’m definitely moving more.  And possibly upping the amount of low-level daily motion is, in some ways, more valuable than increasing the intensity of the hour or two a day I spend exercising.

A few bits and bobs.  The Vivofit doesn’t need to be charged!  Big Plus!  It runs on a coin battery, which should last a year.  Also, it’s water proof, so you can swim/bathe in it.  These two together mean you really can pretty much put it on and leave it on.  It’s a watch, too, so that’s useful.

It doesn’t have a backlight, which might bother some.  For me it’s irrelevant.  The only time I’m in the dark is when I’m sleeping and I don’t need to know my step count then.

Bottomline: For tracking actual hard-data numbers for various activities, the Vivofit is pretty bad.  But for addressing that sedentary 50% and getting me moving more during those non-exercising, sedentary parts of my day, the Vivofit is pretty good.

Having written that, I can’t help but think of people who do physical labor for subsistence living and I imagine how NUTS this whole thing must seem to them.  Rich, fat Americans wear devices on their wrists to remind them to moveWhaaaat?  Yeah.  We kind of do.  It’s fun, a game we play with ourselves.  I can’t explain it.

Anyway.  ON TO THE YOGA.

Ashtanga on the Vivofit

Having just said that the Vivofit numbers seem relatively iffy to me, I’m still going to give you some.

Context.  I’m a 43 year old, 115 pound woman doing an easy-going, full Primary series with 5 years of Ashtanga experience and conditioning under my belt (so it isn’t killing me to get through it any more, if that makes sense).  I don’t work super hard because I’m concerned about injuries (at my age they take forever to heal)(and I’m also lazy), but I work hard enough to feel tired and a bit rubbery at the end.  I do not do vinyasa on alternate sides (to save my wrists), something I picked up from David Williams.  But still, I have to keep it moving pretty briskly to get through all those asana in 60 minutes.

Note: Ashtanga is a meditative practice, a breathing practice, for some a spiritual practice.  For me, too!  But it is also a physical practice and sometimes it can be fun to look at it from that angle.  So don’t get weirded out by me looking at ashtanga as exercise for a few minutes.  I’m not saying it isn’t all those other things.  /end note.

Okay!  Given all of that context….

The Vivofit says the calorie burn for my one hour primary varies from 180 to 240.  (These numbers from four tracked primaries this past week).  (Number does not include basal metabolic burn.)

So low!  Seriously?!  Because if you’ve done Ashtanga, you know it’s an intense freaking practice.  You might be as surprised as I was by these low numbers.  Is this a casualty of the intensity problem, i.e. asana are motion-less, even if you are working very hard, and so don’t read as “high effort” to a tracker?  Maybe.  But this data was gathered while paired with the heart-rate monitor, so it should be more accurate to effort.  (“Steps” are irrelevant, obviously, although the Vivofit registers a hundred or so.)

So what about that heart-rate?  I’ve crudely tracked heart-rate during Primary once before, but that was me writing down my HR at various points as the practice progressed.  Here we can get a continuous line graph….

Heartrate during ashtanga primary

Isn’t this a cool graph?  I find it cool, anyway.

And I can start to see why the calorie burn might be lower than I thought.  During yoga, we see my heart spending some time at 120 (hopping up for each vinyasa, for example), but it spends just as much time below 100 (dropping down for each forward bend).  Let’s compare that to the bike trainer ride I did last night, about 60 minutes at a fairly steady heart-rate of 120 while I watched tv, or twice as much net time at 120 as the yoga practice.  The Vivofit says an hour of 120 bpm cycling on the trainer burns around 400 calories for me.  Twice as much.  Twice the heart-rate, twice the calories?

(And then there are rides where I do intervals that pop me up to 170…haven’t tried one of those on the Vivofit yet.  Maybe tonight…?)

What’s interesting to me is that despite this apparent difference in calorie burn and heart-rate, I get off the bike energized (if sweaty), whereas after my yoga practice, I’m relatively wiped and have to recover.  I wonder what’s going on there?  Are all these numbers bunk?  Or is yoga more exhausting for some obvious reason I’m missing?

So there you have it.  My experiment this week attempting to quantify my yoga practice. I’m going to call it…inconclusive.

Oh no!  Since I’ve been writing this, the RED BAR OF SHAME has popped up!  Come on Henry, quick!

a week of kino: kino macgregor classes at yogavibes

I decided my practice needed a kick this week, so I surfed around and turned up Kino MacGregor classes over on YogaVibes.com.  Cool, perfect, I was so in.

I cut my Ashtanga teeth on Kino’s Primary Series DVD which came out around the time I started practicing.  I reviewed it and several women doing ashtanga dvds here on the blog way back when—man, that  seems like a million years ago.  In addition, I’ve watched and benefited from dozens of her short how-to Youtube videos that focus on specific poses.  Really, this is a fabulous time to be a home yogi!  And Kino is no small part of that.

Yogavibes has dozens of teachers and styles and hundreds of classes recorded, wow.  You could do a different class every day for years, I think, and never repeat, if you were into that.  Anyway, they have a 14 day free trial, so heck, with nothing to lose, I signed up and have done a different Kino class each day this week.

I think she’s adding a new class each week (so ambitious!).  Some quickie reviews of the classes I tried this week:

*****BEST OF THE BEST:  Core Strength: Lift off and Jump back.  This video is TERRIFIC.  I would put glitter and rainbows on it if I could and if it wouldn’t be horrifically annoying.  But seriously, this is the best of all the jumpback videos I have ever seen, and I have watched them ALL, no lie.  From unknowns to master teachers, this one tops the cake.  The problem with just about all of them is that the increase in difficulty from walking back to jumping back (or jumping through) is always too big.  This video breaks it down in a way I’ve never seen before, bit by bit, with strength training for each segment.  I’ve been doing Primary for nearly five years and I’ve never felt my stomach muscles burn and work the way I did in this video.  This one is totally on repeat for me.  FIVE STARS.  *roaring applause*

Ashtanga Yoga Basics: Sun Salutations and Standing. Easy going, a quick, 30 minutes worth of Primary, nice.  I probably wouldn’t repeat since I already know the practice, but once through was interesting, another take on the mechanics of the poses, reminders to suck in the belly, etc.  A good starting point for someone thinking about getting into Ashtanga.

Yoga Arm Balances.  30 minutes of working up to Vasisthasana, or one armed side plank, holding the upper toe, you know the one, they’re always doing it on the cover of Yoga Journal.  Let me tell you, this little sequence KICKED MY ASS.  I kind of loved it.  I don’t do Advanced A so I don’t have Vasisthasana in my regular practice, but I have been throwing in some planks and side planks lately, trying to get stronger.  Kino breaks it down and builds it up, bit by bit, the way she did the more complicated jumping back and through video.  I was quivering jelly by the end.  Very good.

Opening Your Inner Thighs. Very easy, a baby Primary with a 3 each of the Surys, part of standing, a few seated, part of finishing.  A dip-your-toes-into-Ashtanga practice.  I didn’t get a lot of inner thigh opening, but then I’m used to more of Primary than this—actually, I kept pausing to throw in some of the skipped poses, haha, my body is just too used to the sequence, it feels weird to leave things out.  Again, probably for someone just trying out Ashtanga.

Complete Yoga Core Strength….I want to do this one next, I’ll post here when I finish.

Ashtanga Yoga Primary for Beginners.  This is a lovely practice, all the bits and pieces (surys, vinyasas, no missing poses) of Primary up to Janu Sirsasana A.  Super friendly, supportive, “No stress!”  Lots of beginner options along the lines of do this, if that’s easy move to this, if you can do that move to this.  A bit of backbending, finishing.  She includes the opening and closing chants and just a general mood of “you can do it!” and supportive talk and tips for beginners.  High recommended for people ready to dig into Primary but without the endurance yet for the whole thing.

Asthanga Yoga Primary in Warsaw.  Long.  Wow.  A two hour Primary showing a class of strong ashtangis.  I nearly died.  While I can happily do a whole Primary in 75 minutes or so, it’s clear that I just don’t have the endurance to do a two hour version.  It’s the same poses, but staying in them longer, gah, I was about to quit several times.  I kind of limped through the end.  Clear instruction, interesting to hear her give a few instructions to individual people in the class (since she’s miced the whole time), plus the gal in the front has a gorgeous practice, bet they cherry picked her to be up front and I’m glad.  This is probably not a repeater for me since I rarely give two hours to yoga a day, but I’m glad I worked through it once.

A bunch of others, sheesh, I just don’t have the time.

Bottom line, wow, what a resource.  I poked around a little on Yogavibes, looks like Michael Gannon has a class, Ana Forrest has a section (I’ve always had a girl crush on her), there are just a TON of classes.  I’m pretty happy with my little Ashtanga practice and not looking to branch out, really, but it’s interesting to shake it up every now and then.  Yogavibes is a totally affordable ($20 a month after the trial, about the cost of a class a month) way to do that.

P.S. Kino ROCKS.  Thank you so much, Kino, for all your work!  From a home ashtangi here in central North Carolina, my practice would be much poorer without you.