Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yoga Anyone?

Namaste NIP,
            Considering that September is National Yoga Month, I decided it was time to revisit the physical aspects of one’s well being. As I’m sure you know, America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Although most people wouldn’t consider themselves obese—I certainly didn’t even at my heaviest weight of nearly 260 pounds—the truth is that obesity is when a person is 25% overweight, technically speaking. This means that many more Americans are obese than one might initially surmise. An average adult male who is 6 feet tall and roughly 180 lbs would be considered obese if he were 225. The statistics are even more alarming when you peruse the data: as of 2008, the CDC’s FastFacts website states that 34% of Americans are obese, and an additional 34% of Americans are overweight (20% rather than 25%). This means that over 2/3 of ALL Americans are overweight or obese…and people still don’t see the correlation between this epidemic and food that comes from our industrial agriculture system.
            Additionally, more and more people have become sedentary. While this fact alone is cause for concern, inactivity coupled with all of the highly processed, laboratory concocted “food” (whether empty calories from the supermarket shelves or fast food from the Golden Arches) is having a devastating impact on the American landscape of health. The worst part about all of this is our children are inheriting our sugar saturated/lipid loving legacy—1 in 3 children born post 2000 will not only be obese, but will have juvenile onset diabetes; for children of minorities, the ratio rises to 1 in 2. While I’ve devoted previous letters to the discussion of food and the industrial system that produces said victuals in the United States, I’d like to discuss one of my favorite forms of exercise—something that anyone can do regardless of age, height, weight, or size—and that is yoga.
            Erin and I have been practicing yoga for nearly a year and a half now. Words cannot describe the kind of impact yoga has had on both of our lives, but it will forever be a part of them from now on. This coming January, in fact, she and I will begin our training to become certified yoga instructors. Although this may open up some alternative career paths or even part time job opportunities, we both are primarily interested in the training for ourselves. We’re both looking to deepen our practice and knowledge, and hopefully share our love of yoga with others. This could be you, Nobody in Particular; all it takes is that initial lesson. I know there are many who may read this and feel skeptical—there are certainly many doubters out there when it comes to the transformational power of yoga—but you have to try it once before you knock it. Here’s why:
1)      Yoga is typically derided by men who see it as a feminine activity. Believe me, it can be as gentle or as grueling as you want. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit term for “yoke,” which is obviously for beasts of burden. Certainly the connotation of work then readily applies. Ultimately, when given an earnest effort, most men realize that yoga is no joke. It’s a fantastic workout, but is unlike anything physical I’ve ever done. It’s certainly a much more isometric workout, rather than isotonic exercise such as lifting weights or doing calisthenics. I still like doing P90X and Insanity routines, but I always make time for yoga. Since school started, Erin and I have been waking at 4:45 every morning so that we can begin our daily routine with 30 minutes of yoga.

2)     It’s literally for everyone. No matter how old or young, level of physical fitness, or any other perceived hindrance, yoga can be tailored to your specific needs. Erin and I sort of jumped into the fire when we first started doing yoga—our introduction was through the P90X program, which is a challenging vinyasa flow style of yoga that is meant to be physically formidable (probably for even seasoned yogis and yoginis). It’s funny, too, because when many of the juniors and seniors at school began doing P90X upon my recommendation last year, they all complained that the yoga was “too hard.” But even without any yoga experience, you could begin by researching a local school/YMCA and checking into beginners classes, purchase a beginner DVD online, or check your on-demand television channels through your cable provider (BrightHouse has one if  you’re in the Tampa Bay area). No matter when you start, the important thing is that you are willing to give it a try. Just remember that all you have to do is what your body allows. In time you’ll find great improvements in your overall flexibility, balance, coordination, athleticism, and muscle tone. In conjunction with eating healthfully, I guarantee you’ll see results and physically feel much better.

3)     The “other” benefits. In addition to the physical changes that will occur over time as you deepen your yoga practice, the best perk is mental. I know this is the reason I love yoga now more than any other form of exercise—the symbiotic relationship that exists between the body and mind is nurtured and cultivated. Not only are you getting an immense workout with yoga in the physical sense, but the focused, single-minded attention that is paid to the breath and drishti help develop our minds much like meditation does. Heck, yoga is meditation in motion. The more that I practice my yoga, there’s a proportional increase in my energy and productivity. I’m not kidding, either. Though I am completely spent by 8:30 on any given night, I am constantly on the go throughout the day. But this newfound effervescence would not be possible without yoga being an important part of my life.
It took me years to realize I needed to get back to my Asian roots, if that even makes sense. After studying martial arts for many years during the course of my youth and up until about the time I began my career in teaching at age 28, I had a much better mind-body relationship. As that influence slowly drifted out of my life, I was changing slightly—probably for the worse, to be honest. The advent of Erin in my life was the initial big change I needed to get me out of my rut, and as you know the changes that have taken place since I turned 33 have been monumental. Above all else, my willingness to overcome my own skepticism has helped me grow infinitely as a human being. Making that first choice to hit the mat was one that altered me forever…and I’m so glad I made it.
If you get a chance during this month, please try some yoga. I think it is something that everyone can benefit from regardless of where you are in life. Plus, you may come to find that you actually love it—and if you do make sure you share that love of yoga with someone else.
- Ryan

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