No Pain, No Gain

This past week I started class by telling students that they were going to work hard and for them to remember that old adage- no pain, no gain. I admit that it sounds contradictory to what I teach as a theme in many of my classes which is to use the breath as a tool to protect the body so that you don’t go past your edge, but really what we should be doing in order to advance is to push ourselves just beyond that edge to a safe level of improvement.

Yoga asana is a practice of learning the body. In my practice that is quite possibly the primary benefit. The skill that I have to know where my hips are when I’m in an inversion and if they’re not forward enough to hold the balance is a skill that I learned though lots and lots of practice. Through injuries I have learned a lot about the limitations of my body from side to side, left and right, and how to modify my practice to make sure those injuries heal instead of inflame. And because of the mindfulness of breath and body work I can better detect when I’m getting sick, when I require more sleep, and when it’s a good time to push myself physically.

20160121_182214.jpgThe majority of my practice involves ‘basic’ or common poses – the warrior poses, lunges, sun salutes, forward folds; only a small portion of my personal practice involves arm balances and inversions, but I do incorporate them in almost every practice in order to evolve. Of course those common poses are the poses that build strength and awareness in the entire body which enable the core to lift the lower limbs overhead in sirsasana/headstand. Those basic poses are extremely beneficial. Lying in savasana for 20 minutes is beneficial. Skipping asana practice to recuperate is beneficial.

 

But it’s the gentle pushes and hard nudges beyond the body’s limitations that cement new challenging asanas. That being said, it is so important to learn proper technique and alignment because injuries in yoga occur and will occur more frequently without proper support and guidance. You can’t do an inversion without a killer warrior II. You have to know how to read that the back foot is engaged and the back hand is in the midline to also know that the legs are engaged when upside down. Sure those are totally different body parts and skills, but the proprioception skill is the same.

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In one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books he wrote that the Beatles were so good and changed the music scene not because of how much they played and practiced, but because they challenged themselves and the industry as musicians. I believe that the Beatles reference came from ‘Outliers‘ a book that Gladwell wrote about how the best of the best came to be at the top and no surprise a big secret was practice and dedication. A study was done at one point to say that the secret number was 10,000 hours – put that much time into anything, time in which you’re constantly pushing yourself into an area of gradual difficulty, and you will become great.

Sometimes when I post a fancy yoga pose on my social media I’ll get comments and questions such as, “Oh my gosh, that was so amazing, how can you do that?” My response is always to say that I did that with a lot of practice and dedication. A good week for me is to put in 5-6 hours of yoga practice on top of my 5-6 hours of teaching. That might seem like a lot (I’m sure many teachers put a lot more in than that, but I also have a full time job) but yoga is my passion, it’s more than a physical practice, it’s a lifestyle. It permeates into all aspects of my life and I will be doing some form of yoga until the day that I die.

Challenging my body into difficult positions is rewarding. I no longer think of my falls or poor attempts as failures but rather as the effort needed to one day make the impossible possible.

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Celebrate & Balance

The holiday season has come and gone and it breezed by like the wind. Parties, festivities, friends and family, and loads and loads of treats in the way of delicious holiday cookies and plenty of alcohol and toasting to the new year. I sincerely hope that you were able to celebrate and let loose as much as possible, but I also believe that for the sake of health there should be a balance of enjoyment and restriction. As a yoga teacher I teach people how to stand on one foot and put their arms in the air and how to balance on their forearms and top of their heads and put their legs in the air, but balance in life goes beyond being able to do impressive feats of gravity.

Adults tell children to eat their vegetables (hopefully) and we ought to remember that rule ourselves, especially at the holiday season when almost every vegetable in site has been corralled and buried in pounds of cheese and some sort of oil. Did I eat those tempting casseroles? Absolutely, but I also practiced yoga regularly during the holidays and continued to eat salads and drink a lot of water. I did not sacrifice one for the other, I thoroughly enjoyed eating three cookies for breakfast and sweating on the yoga mat in the afternoon. Waste not want not, we had a lot of cookies around, but during the other 50 weeks of the year we don’t.

The ball dropped in Times Square people and people around the world set intentions and resolutions, goals for the new calendar year. Often for women those goals are diet and weight based, which I have mixed emotions about, but if phrased in another way, say like this: Often for women those goals are health based, then I am all for it. Self worth and confidence should not be defined by a number on a household scale, but instead making goals to move more and feel better for the new year are great ways to move into the new year.

The way that I have chosen to stay healthy and physically active has been yoga. It consumes a lot of my life because I love the way that it makes me feel and I dislike the way I feel when too many days go by without practicing yoga, so much so that not doing yoga is not a part of my life anymore, I make time for it multiple times through my week. However, I recently went for a run with my husband and instantly realized that I am not exercising my heart enough. In yoga I teach students to not push their bodies into a state of aerobics and to use their breath as a tool to keep their practice safe and that is how I practice as well, therefore I hardly ever move into cardiovascular work. My form of physical fitness is very imbalanced.

When the weather is nice enough I commute to work by bike, so twice a day, five days a week I ride my bike to work pedalling hard up a small incline to get to work on time which makes me breathe hard and sweat, but now that it is winter I drive to work and am now lack cardio. My goal for 2019 is to incorporate more cardio into my life, even though I pretty much hate it.

Having a fitness and health goal for the new year, or at anytime of the year is a good thing in my opinion as long as it is a healthy goal and is not developed from guilt, but from a healthy consideration for one’s own longevity and quality of life. I know that the heart is a muscle that needs to be strengthened just like the quads and glutes and that it plays an extremely important role in my health, a vital role you might say, so although it is a struggle for me to decide to go for a run in a way that doing yoga isn’t a difficult decision but rather a happy one, I will still strive to do so, not out of guilt, not to shed pounds, but as an investment in my own future and so that I am able-bodied enough to hike mountains with my husband and our dog.

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May you create joy, love, happiness, success, health, and balance in 2019 and every year to follow, Namaste.

Guest Author – Ashley Biekert on Her Yoga Journey – A Yoga Beginner’s Testament

Introducing Ashley, a new convert to the joy that is yoga. Ashley gives her experience overcoming the ever-common anxiety and nerves that come hand in hand with attending initial yoga classes and her transition to becoming a regular yoga student that has had success in health, both physical and mental.

Yoga…. to someone who has had extremely poor flexibility (like I couldn’t even touch my toes) for my whole life, this four letter word held a lot of intimidation for me. I mean, sure, I had tried a few basic poses at home, but the thought of a class where other people might see me struggle made me shudder. To say it was out of my comfort zone was an understatement to say the least. But the truth is, good things happen outside of your comfort zone, and once I was able to recognize this, I was able to truly embrace this wonderful art form.

I started my fitness journey in December of 2017 with at home Beachbody workouts. Yoga was my Sunday workout video, and this truly was my first introduction to any sort of yoga beyond those couple basic poses I knew. As the weeks went on I began to look forward to my Sunday’s but I still felt like something was missing from the experience. I looked around online to get some more info on the yoga classes in the area but was incredibly hesitant because I truly felt there was no way I could ever measure up to the people in those classes and that I would be the most inexperienced person in attendance. So I waited.

At the end of February my birthday weekend rolled around and I found out there would be a Restorative Yoga class at Sun Moon Yoga, and since this sounded more my speed, I convinced my sister to join me as a birthday gift. It was great! My instructor Karen made me feel so comfortable and there was something so different about the energy in the room when you have fellow practitioners with you. I was hooked. At the end of class, I signed up for beginners yoga that just happened to be starting that Wednesday, and I went for it!

Now, was a nervous showing up to class that Wednesday? Absolutely! It was a new experience and those always make me anxious. But do you know what outshined that nervousness that I had? EXCITEMENT! I was so thrilled about this new journey I was embarking on, and I couldn’t wait to see what I could learn.

Every week I walked away from class with more confidence in myself and more appreciation for what my body was able to do for me. I could see my flexibility increasing, slowly but surely, and I feel myself getting stronger. I was no longer intimidated by the thought of someone seeing me struggle or the teacher adjusting me. In fact, I fell in love with adjustments. These are something you very much take for granted when you are only practicing on your own. It was great to finally have someone showing me the right way instead of just guessing. I could feel the poses working for me instead of struggling to get them to be what I thought they should be. There was absolutely no looking back now!

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I no longer fear new experiences when it comes to seeing what my body can do. I’m not afraid to be the least experienced person in the room. We are all on different journey and we are all at different places in our journey. To compare yourself to someone else’s capabilities is so futile. I’ve learned to love my body for what it is today while also being excited for what it will be capable of doing for me tomorrow.

The biggest thing Yoga has taught me isn’t how to touch my toes or the proper way to do downward dog, it is to love myself always… To love myself through the failures and successes, and to embrace my imperfections and work through them. This is the only body I get, and I am so blessed to be able to use it for the short time my soul gets to inhabit this planet. I won’t waste any more time doing anything but wholeheartedly loving my vessel and working to improve it however I can.

 


image2My name is Ashley Biekert and I have been a resident of Jamestown, NY my entire life. I have been married to my husband Andrew for almost three years and I am the mother of my beautiful 1-year-old daughter, Rayne. I have only been doing yoga for a few short months but I have found a lot of love for it. I hope to continue to grow every day and see where my body can take me. The sky is the limit! You can follow me on my fitness journey on Instagram at @raynys_mama