Recently I was speaking to the owner of the Telluride Yoga Center, Kristin Taylor, exploring workshop ideas. She said what people want to know is how can they can keep “playing hard.” I recently moved to Durango and feel as though I’ve moved from a fit city (Denver) to a city that’s even more fit, particularly among those 50 and older. My early morning spin class for example is filled with this demographic working just as hard as I am at 47, if not harder. I came home to tell my significant other that the instructor was an absolute beast with a look of steal that shot right through me given my bike position directly in front of her. Her furrowed brow only intensified the gaze.
Why am I not riding outside you might be asking? Boy, that would sure be my preference but unfortunately, the smoke from the 416 fire continues to affect air quality particularly in the mornings. Waiting until the smoke clears later in the day and it’s just too hot for me to ride. The fire started June 1st and is now at 37,000 acres with 37% containment. I’ll take this opportunity to express profound gratitude for the 1000s of personnel, particularly the fire fighters, who have been battling this fire. It is a testament to them that no people or structures have been lost.
Back to playing a different kind of hard, my significant other wakes at 4:20am to get to CrossFit. He’s been going for about three years now. In my first class I was on the receiving end of cheers and hoopla as I went through the WOD. The camaraderie drives discipline and accomplishment. ATG, ass-to-grass (or ankles – in other words, get low) AMRAPs, as many reps as possible and Murphs, a 1 mile run followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 body weight squats are terms I’ve come to know.
So here’s my case. Just as the Yoga Therapy I teach should be adapted for one’s stage in life, constitution, health condition, the time of day and season, so too should other types of movement. I will be speaking to two of these considerations, ones I feel warrant far more attention. This isn’t to say in any way that I am anti-cross fit or beasty spin class. My significant other has transformed at CrossFit Durango. But how can we keep doing what we’re doing in a sustainable fashion?
Stage of Life: as I was trained as a Yoga Therapist, there are three stages: sunrise, midday and sunset. The type of practice we pursue in the sunrise stage of life is more vigorous, conducive to building strength and endurance. Its focus is on the postures. The midday stage practices are ones that help maintain energy. This is generally a period of career and family building and so energy must be sustained. Breath practice is the primary tool. In the sunset phase of our lives, we are preparing to return to our source. The primary tools during this time are meditation and other more internally focused practices.
Constitution: Ayurveda, Yoga’s sister “science of life,” is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science. According to Ayurveda, each person has a particular pattern of energy, a combination of mental, emotional and physical characteristics. The constitutions – Kapha, Pitta and Vata – are combinations and permutations of the five great elements that make up our entire cosmos: space, air, fire, water and earth. To learn how to balance the body, mind and consciousness requires an understanding of how these energies work together. As it pertains to exercise:
- Kaphas can do the most strenuous exercise, even though they are the most reluctant to exercise, preferring to do little or nothing. Otherwise, they will feel emotionally heavy and dull. They will also tend to put on weight.
- Pittas can handle a moderate amount of exercise with swimming being especially helpful for imbalance which would manifest as too much heat in both body and mind
- Vatas require the gentlest exercise even though they are generally attracted to active sports; activities like walking and gentle swimming otherwise they might tend to get carried away and push themselves too hard. This leaves them feeling ungrounded.
Yoga is, in fact, recommended for all body types but as you’ve guessed, it is most effective when adapted to support the particular constitution.
Exercise is one of the ten factors in health and illness and as a general rule, Ayurveda recommends exercising up to one half of one’s capacity. A good gauge, says Vasant Lad, a well respected Ayurvedic physician and author of several books, is to exercise until sweat forms on the forehead, under the arms and along the spinal column. Straining is “absolutely not recommended.” John Douillard, an ayurvedic and chiropractic sports medicine practitioner tells us in his book Three Season Diet that when people exercise strenuously, they often find themselves huffing and puffing in the name of weight loss or fitness. Gasping for air is perceived by the body no differently than if you are being confronted by a lion on the African savannah. Your nervous system reacts with a stress response. Think fight or flight, death or survival.*
Whoa! What about those CrossFitters and cyclists? I’m guilty. When outside on my bike, my philosophy is to climb or go home. Climbing = straining. A lot of it. One gauge I use is nose breathing. You can read more about nose breathing in an earlier blog. If I am unable to breathe through my nose, my body is most likely headed into a stress response. I admit, it takes mindfulness to be conscious of my breathing throughout my activity but my exercise feels significantly more efficient and sustainable. Midday stage of life: sustainability and protection. I also listen to my body much more than I used to now that I respect my stage of life and understand my constitution and the perils of over doing it.
The owner of Yoga Telluride Center also shared with me that as much as her students want to know how they can keep “playing hard,” they also want to know: how can they feel sexy? Stay tuned for another post. Maybe. Yoga and sexiness? That speaks to thought patterns. Preconceived ideas. Shifting perspectives.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to evaluate the type of movement you engage in on a regular basis. Is it in support of your stage of life? Your constitution? Experiment. Change it up. Note the effects. Share your experience below!
*If you’d like to read more on the stress response, I would recommend Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Suffice it to say that you will have an entirely new appreciation for what it means to mitigate and eliminate as much stress as you possibly can. While he doesn’t go so far as to say that stress causes disease, there is no doubt that it undermines our ability to avoid it – in a huge, domino effect way.
Kristin from Telluride Yoga Center also shared that her students want to know how they can feel sexy. Maybe a topic for a future Blog…