11 July 2014

My Yoga Journey... So Far

When I started back at Taekwondo in 2012 I was surprised at how my body had maintained its flexibility. I could touch my toes in a variations of stretches with relatively little effort. Some stretches I felt, were beyond me no matter how much I practiced. Like the front and side splits, though I had gotten close to the side, or box, splits a few times.


Until this point yoga had floated in and out of my life. My first introduction of yoga was through lululemon athletica which I hated in the early stages of it's appearance. Girls in Junior and Senior high were wearing them as like jeans and some college girls were trying to pass them off as "smart casual"... OK, maybe now that's possible with the saturation of legging outfits available but back then, in rural Alberta, leggings was not a thing.

Also, yoga was not a thing. The young women I knew were buying lululemon because of how it made their rears look, not because they actually ran or did yoga.

Shortly after that, Yoga routines cropped up in various health and fitness magazines and the marketing for mental and physical health began. I don't contradict the value of health, but the way I remember it the marketing was to exaggerate the weight loss benefit of yoga (we now know it's diet AND exercise are essential for weight loss and health) or the zen-like state someone could achieve from the 3 times a week practice of the sun salutation.

I went to a couple of yoga classes in Canada, mostly because the classes were included in the various gyms  I had a membership with. A lot of it I could describe as "meh". The "teachers" didn't really seem to know what they were doing and I felt like I was flopping my body around into awkward positions while trying to "maintain calm" which was described in a very flowery speech.

Then I was introduced to Yoga videos available at the library originally, which included a lot of Rodney Yee, produced by GAIAM. The shift to finding direct to YouTube fitness and yoga routines was natural and I've stumbled onto people like Tara Stiles and Kino MacGregor.

I soon learned how yoga could be a work out and a good stretching session and the gurus seemed genuine, not just people who jumped on a trendy bandwagon to add some extra coin to their business. And while I did the routines on my own my flexibility never seemed to make any gains. My hamstrings never got worse, but they never "opened" or "lengthened" like the yoga-sphere claimed they should have.

Back to 2012 when I started Taekwondo again, I felt like something was missing: I had some really good days and really bad days, my worst being when I had mildly torn both my hamstrings at the junction. Training was hell for those few months as they healed and re-tore in cycles (the weather didn't help).

Fall 2012 I ended up doing a search for yoga instructors and studios. While there were a fair few to choose from I ended up going for a private teacher, Natalie Coleman, that held Saturday morning classes. I thought I knew about yoga and stretching, but I really knew eff all. The level of yoga instruction that was available to me was on a whole different level to what I imagined: her knowledge of yoga, of anatomy, of movement was probably better than a lot of health care professionals I've encountered. My body was so sore for the next week, having never stretched like before in my life.

To be fair, I've only been able to do this since 2014.
Source: Natalie's Twitter
But I was hooked! I went again the following week, and the next. But then there was an interruption for the week after that and the week after that. While I tried to continue to stretch on my own and practice the Ashtanga Primary Series, it wasn't the same: I was just too new at the practice to continue without attending a class regularly, so I had to make a goal, to attend at least 15 classes, approximately once a week. And it worked!

Source: Natalie's Instagram
Over time I encouraged my coach, Colin, to attend the classes as well and now I've got him hooked on coming once a week. Colin has also brought in Natalie for the Army ITF Taekwondo team for their week long training training camps which I think took a number of people by surprise, but in a really good way. One person came up to me a few months later and told me he does a few stretches in his room now for his back. The other day at the GTI National Open, Scotty told me it was a nice change from the hard training they had all week long which lead them to under performing on their competition days in the past. Except for last year where a much higher number of Army players placed in the Interservices. That made me feel really happy, to know that while not everyone is aspiring to be the ultimate yogi (myself included), that a lot of people during that session could appreciate the benefits of proper stretching. 

That girl in the purple t-shirt? That's Joy. I also have introduced her to Yoga.
Source: Natalie's Instagram

Last week Clifford (yes, first it was Taekwondo I wrangled him into, now yoga) and I were having a conversation with Natalie shortly before practice about how Clifford's flexibility has improved noticeably in the last several months, along with being more aware of some muscle groups he had a habit of tensing. I also mentioned that I've noticed that I am able to get into some stretches deeper, though the depth isn't as noticeable because I was reasonably flexible already. Natalie pointed out that I'm able to stretch safer, and that's a valid point: Just because you've been taught to stretch a certain way for years doesn't make it good: remember the bouncy stretches? Yeah, we know they're bad now.

All in all, I believe the world needs more yoga. Not to "Ohm" throughout the day or because it's a trendy weight loss option, but for the real benefits that apply to daily living. Anecdotally, Clifford and I both feel more relaxed following a session and tend to have more restful sleeps in addition to re-aligning our bodies.

Have you ever tried yoga? Did you get anything out of it? If you're a regular practitioner, what keeps you practicing?

01 July 2014

Canada Day in the UK


Yes! It's Canada Day!

And... I'm not celebrating.

With moving to another country, sadly your own country's national day is not a "bank holiday". Even if it is part of the common wealth. The Canada Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square that Clifford and I attended last year have also been scrapped.

So what's a Canadian living outside of London to do? The thoughts of a BBQ or pancake supper did cross my mind but the indulgence doesn't fall in line with my "cheat day". I went to the gym sporting one of my black Canada Olympic shirts and following a post-workout shower have put on a red and white Canada shirt while listening to Danko Jones and Our Lady Peace. It's about as patriotic as I can be at the moment.

I'm not unhappy at this moment living in the UK: I feel like I'm finally finding my feet after all. But deep down, I'm still Canadian: I still look at the world with Canadian eyes, hold Canadian values, and there are still moments in my life where it's painfully obvious that I'm not from the UK. Some days it can feel quite lonely, being the only Canadian in my most prevalent circles, and I still get a little home sick.

Today is one of those days. For British people it's just another day of the week (a Tuesday no less) and for me it's Canada Day, but a Canada Day with no pancakes, all day champagne brunches, BBQ's, beer, all day concerts, sandflies, fireworks and fellow Canadians (family and friends). It's anticlimactic and makes me wonder if I'm not losing my Canadian-ness because I didn't make more of an effort.

But that's nonsense.

I am Canadian and you can't take the country out of the girl.