SMARTer bodies

Tag Archives: alternatives to yoga

Give Yoga a Break and Do Something Else Already


Yes, we looooove Yoga and its framework for slow, methodical physical exploration is the one we prefer for many physical rehab scenarios.  But… some people seem to  think that once you start doing yoga it’s the ONLY mode of movement to do.  Why?  Well, one reason of many, is the widely-held belief that yoga can take care of all your physical and mental (and for some, emotional) needs.  Yoga is also a seductive alternative for those who may be intimidated by other types of exercise, since it is usually deemed as “safe.” People who take it for this reason falsely believe that things like running or picking up a weight might make them herniate a disk or explode a joint.  Yoga then becomes THE magical movement pill.  If you do yoga you can get fit, lose weight, perform better as an athlete, reduce stress, get better sleep, become a better person, have better sex…save whales.  Just kidding.  We want to save whales, but yoga may or may not actually help with that cause.

The problem is that yoga WILL NOT solve everything for you.  Why?  Because, no one movement modality does (and please don’t even try to bring up CrossFit).  Enough has been written in this post to start making some people uncomfortable.  These statements are made to disabuse many out there of the mistaken belief that yoga is all you need or should do.  If you want to dialogue/fight about this please leave comments below.  We invite dialogue.  To keep the structure of this conversation organized and less like a tangent several distinct points will be addressed succinctly:

  • Yoga can help me stay “fit,” “in shape,” “help me lose weight,”-  There is nothing wrong with wanting yoga-inspired fitness.  Indeed, some the schools of yoga are distinctly more athletic than others.  But one must be clear when using common vernacular such as “fit.” For now, let’s assume we are talking about keeping what most of society would consider an ideal weight and body aesthetic (see. we are hedging and using language very carefully here, because this subject already gets complicated and is sensitive for many, as well as subjective in nature).  In order to keep up this ideal there has to be a demand placed on the physical body to exert energy and there must be challenge that a typical and long-held yoga practice most likely will not provide.  There are many yoga classes that are now including jumping (plyometrics) and increasingly more physically demanding challenges in order to satisfy those who want to keep the dream of exercise through yoga alive.  Bravo!  Those classes are probably great, but also cross a fine line between what is yoga (which for us is a physical practice that allows one to learn more about the body and is less about performance) and what is an exercise class.  Again, it’s ok to want yoga-inspired fitness, as long as one is cognizant of when exercise is being performed to “burn calories,” or “keep fit,” “lose weight.” Once you’ve crossed that line one is no longer doing the methodical and focused practice that (should) characterize yoga. There are many inve$ted in keeping you believing this.  Yoga Journal even published a study proving that yoga can do this for you.

Bottom line: BEWARE the people who claim to help “raise your metabolism” doing traditional yoga.  If this is the line they are trying to sell they are either blatantly lying and don’t care or don’t know about current exercise science. so much to say here, but we’ll stop…email us for more details

Here’s an article we think validly talks about how yoga can help you lose weight:  No such thing as a stupid question… BUT…., by Anacostia Yogi.

  • Yoga has enough variety of movement to fulfill all my physical needs – This is NOT true if we are talking about a yoga practice defined by the canon of traditional asana or the typical way yoga classes are presently being taught in the United States.   Most yoga classes are taught in a very 2-dimensional way, literally.  Typically, students only get to explore movement that has them moving up/down and front/back through space.  There is not much (if any) concentric movement that include all the 3 planes of space (up/down, front/back and side/side).  That’s ok, as long as students are aware of this missing movement they are skipping over in classes.  That’s when you can go do something else that creates that physical demand of 3-D spatial exploration like gyrotonics or dance.  Most of our joints move 3-dimensionally, so why would you not allow them to be used in such a way that would keep them balanced, happy and useful as you age???!  Sticking to only one form of movement also means placing limitations on theneuromuscular patterns the body/mind will have to choose from on a daily basis.  So if you also want to reduce your chances of degenerative brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s, variety of movement is the spice of life.  Many websites that discuss how to lower one’s chances of becoming a victim to this awful and tragic disease is exercise.  Of course, the obvious conclusion is the “healthier my body is the better that is  for me as a person overall.”  True, but also, it is becoming more and more understood that a key to brain health is also placing a learning demand that is varied. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s level of flexibility, which in part, has to do with how well we learn or recover from major traumas like a stroke.

Bottom line:  The more variety of movement you include in your physical demand repertoire the more movement choices available to you, which also keeps your brain healthy.  Flexible body/flexible mind and vice versa.

  • Stop doing yoga and get a fresh perspective! – Having a long-standing yoga practice can be a wonderfully enriching part of one’s life.  But it can also breed a familiarity with the movements that can be stifling to one’s exploration of the body.  Doing something, anything completely different can benefit your practice when you return to the mat.  When you give yourself a little space from yoga you can return to it with a fresh set of eyes and a new appreciation for your experience.  It’s good to practice with a “beginner’s mind,” a term used in Zen Buddhism.  There is no opportunity for learning if one knows it all.  Give yourself the opportunity to feel something new by stepping away from the mat. Also, the better you get at other physical activities the better you might get at the more athletic aspects of your yoga practice.  Learn how to do push ups well and your chaturangas may benefit from your additional experience and strength gained off the mat.So stop confusing yoga with exercise and go do something else.


The Power of Positive Visualizations…Oh Wait…


We know that using visualizations can help some people get clear on a goal, so they can stay focused and take the appropriate steps to make that happen.  But have YOU ever felt like it was just wishful thinking or you couldn’t relate to the process?  Well, you are not alone!  Kim shares her personal frustration with how some people exhort the positives of visualization without really explaining what it’s about.  Bottom line, nothing is wrong with you and there are other strategies you can use to help you get to where you want to go:

Often, one of the main differences between our westernized version of yoga and other types of physical exercise is the emphasis on meditation (or at least, it should be…). This comes in various forms and there seems to be a trend lately focusing on positive visualizations, or in other words, visualizing yourself attaining a certain goal. In a general class, a teacher might spend a few minutes at the beginning or end of class asking you to sit with your eyes closed and think about yourself surrounded by puppy dogs or rainbows or something else that makes you happy (chocolate covered bacon?) and this practice is supposed to somehow, magically help you manifest your goal. I have heard people rant and rave about this kind of technique and how transformative the practice can be… However in my own experience, I have never found it to make much more of a difference than day-dreaming. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME???

Well, turns out I’m not such a weird freak after all! According to this study published in Forbes, Visualize Success if You Want to Fail,  positive visualizations actually seem to invite failure. Their test subjects seemed to have less ambition towards their goal after the visualization, perhaps because their brains tricked them into thinking that they had already achieved it. So why does it feel better when you think about kitty cats and flowers in yoga class? It seems that even though the visualizations may not be effective in manifesting personal goals, they are effective in a physiological sense. During these visualizations, the subjects would experience an overall calming effect, which included lower blood pressure. That is something to rave about! So go ahead and visualize yourself swimming around in a vault of money, Scrooge McDuck style, while in savasana! Just don’t expect to wake up a millionaire (and definitely don’t dive head first into gold coins from a 20 ft. diving board; you might actually die).

That all being said, this study was very limited and I certainly don’t want to discredit the experience of those who have used these techniques with success. I’m sure lots and lots of people have found a way to use positive visualizations to help them achieve things. All I am saying is that, if it doesn’t work for you, it’s ok and there is research out there on your side. Different techniques work for different people and you have to find the one that works for you. Interestingly, in the article, it is suggested that one try visualizing failure.  This may sound odd, but some brains may react positively to the challenge and turn on their problem solving skills.  Perhaps we should stop day-dreaming and just get things done? Or create manageable steps towards change and take it one step at a time? What do you think?

Here’s Why You Should Ride a Bike in New York City

Commuting around NYC can be hectic, to say the least.  Although, apprehensive at first, Kim has found that riding her bicycle to commute around the city has relieved a lot of transportation tension. Some of the benefits include:

-saving money
-getting to work faster than public transit
-keeping you fit
-not dealing with angry commuters
-more environmentally friendly

Despite these benefits, many people are afraid of riding in the city. If more people were biking on the roads, however, New York City would become a more bike-friendly city. Because of the storm Sandy, public transportation has been overcrowded and hectic. In addition to this, Metrocard fares are estimated to go up significantly in January. Now is a great time to take up biking. Here to help you dispel your fears of riding in the City is Ed Hall, co-founder of the Marie Georges Foundation, NYSC spin instructor, former BMX competitor  and NYC bike messenger/commuter for the past 15 years. Ed discusses how to ride safely through NYC traffic, how to ride during the winter months and gives some tips on where to find good bikes.

*video shot by Reggie Millionz

Put on Metallica and Do Some Angry Yoga

There’s many reasons people do yoga.  One of the most frequently given reasons is to do it for emotional well being.  We do yoga to feel less stressed, to find inner-strength, to deal with difficult emotions, yada yada yada.  Instert Yoga Journal-crap here.  It’s so interesting that with all this emotion healing  we rarely hear or read about people doing yoga to get good and angry.

Allow me (Mel) to explain.  Like most yoga practitioners I like to listen to music while doing yoga.  In fact, the trend for live musicians and dj’s in yoga classes is trending hard in NYC right now.  Just google it.  The results are pretty numerous.  But the variety of music used in these classes seems to be heavily concentrated in the hippie/Michael Franti/Kirtan fusion genre.  Don’t get me wrong!  If that kinda music gets you going and fuels your tapasso that your practice is all you want it to be:  Good for you; there’s plenty of classes to choose from.

Here’s my issue.  I like to do yoga to Metal.  You know what I mean.  Well known bands like Metallica (old, pre-“Load” preferably, none of that new shit they try to pass for music.  Fucking Jason Newsted isn’t even part of the band any more and Lars is still an evil troll…WHATEVER.  I digress), Pantera,  Korn, Alice in Chains (grungey-metal), and Rage Against the Machine to name just a few.  I loooooove practing to the most brutal Black and Death Metal I can find.  Bands like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, White Chapel and Satyricon really get my fire lit and have me hitting the mat hard. Then I do what I do best, connect to a deeper part of myself and explore my internal physical, psychological and emotional landscape.

It seems so obvious to me that this is the music to listen to while devoting myself to finding a better state of being.  Others don’t think it is so obvious.  Often I hear, “What do you listen to?  To do yoga?! That’s weird.”  Well, I guess for me yoga isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and incense.  No honestly, I know I sound angsty, but come on.  I rely on my yoga practice to carry me through dark times, nasty emotional places and tumultuous periods of life.  Listening to what some consider to be “angry,” “aggressive,” or “frightening” music actually allows me to have the cathartic release I need in order to keep my sanity and not hurt people with words or actions.

When I practice I get to dive right into the dark center of my rage, my pain, irrational anger, fear…pretty much anything that’s keeping me from being the person I want to be.  I dive in, feel it all and my tapas burns up these heavy energies and allows me to strip away the layers of my day, my experience, my ego till I can reconnect to the more balanced and glowey Mel that shines her light in the face of the most challenging circumstances.  If you will, my practice is my personal mosh pit, from which I emerge healthier, lighter, happier and more able to do good for the people around me.

So my advice? Try it.  Go with whatever music does the same for you.  Think outside of the Deva Premal box.  Although, I do love me some Deva and sometimes play her too.  In the name of showing up authentically Kim and I will be sharing what kind of music moves us.  It may not be what works for you, so we invite you to share what you  listen to and why.

Guaranteed, this is gonna be interesting.  Enjoy today’s selection.


Athletes Doing Yoga, Here’s How

Athletes, of all kinds, are very much interested in yoga.  They hear that a regular practice can increase flexibility, stability, strength, endurance, concentration and possibly improve overall performance.  There are great teachers out there who really know how to help athletes reduce the risk of injury both in a yoga class and while playing a sport.  But there are also teachers who really don’t know how to help someone and rely on general advice like, “Well, Downward Dog would be great for lengthening all the muscles in your back, while making you stronger.”  Um, maybe…In reality, there’s a million different ways to teach an asana practice and it should be tailored to the individual’s needs.  If you are playing a sport and are looking for a yoga teacher then talk to a few until you get answers that resonate with your body’s needs. Read More

How Do You Practice Off the Mat?

In one of our recent posts we described using the body’s physiology to your advantage during a challenging moment. The easiest way to apply and experience what was described is during a focused physical activity like yoga. But we want to know how you take your practice OFF the mat. Below are moments that could be of service to finding ways to do just that.  Feel free to share your own experiences of conscious awareness, clarity and becoming less reactive due to your yoga or movement practice:

New Yorkers are challenged every day in the underground tunnels and overcrowded buses that make up our beloved transit system. Even if you don’t live in a city with this kind of public transportation you may have experienced the deep-seated frustration of extreme traffic in your daily commuting. Well be grateful for it! This is one of the best situations in which to test how well connected you are to your center, especially via the breath. When you are in a crowd of people how mindful are you of what is going on; does your movement and breathing go on autopilot? Read More