Ninie Ahmad: Off her yoga mat.

Her daily AFFIRMATIONS of staying optimistic especially when she's (upside) down.

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ARTICLE: ‘Others often think I’m good at yoga because I am flexible and strong. Fact is, my flexibility and strength came from practising Ashtanga yoga.’ (SUNDAY MAIL, June 1st 2014)

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PETALING JAYA, June 1 — Yoga teacher Ninie Ahmad’s studio, Upward Yoga, was a wedding gift from her husband. She says, “Ten days before our wedding, he took me to view an empty space near our new home. At the time, I had taken a year off teaching. He told me that the space was perfect for me to resume my classes. ‘It’s time,’ he said.”

Opened in 2011, Upward Yoga is a pristine, open space. There are many photographs of New York city and I Love NYC posters. Ninie says, “I modelled Upward Yoga after my favourite studios in New York city.

Those yoga studios don’t use mirrors so I find students will correct their poses based on what they feel within rather than checking their reflections.”

Smiling, the petite yoga guru adds, “Most serious yoga practitioners seem to find their enlightenment in India. I found mine in New York, and now here in my own studio.”

1. Mats

Upward Yoga offers students the use of high-performance, slip-resistant Manduka mats, which are made from a blend of polyester and eco-certified PVC. Ninie says, “Serious yoga practitioners swear by this mat as it supposedly never gets damaged and has a lifetime warranty. The idea is it should last long enough to pass down to your children.”

2. Yoga books


One of Ninie’s favourite yoga books is Ashtanga Yoga As It Is by Matthew Sweeney, one of the most advanced practitioners of Ashtanga yoga in the world. She says, “I started yoga in 1999 but only began my Ashtanga practice in 2008. This book is an indispensable step-by-step guide, complete with what to do and how to eat.”

Ashtanga yoga requires serious discipline and commitment as it requires six days of two-hour practices per week. Ninie says, “It is not for everyone but I enjoy this, what I consider to be the most challenging form of yoga. Others often think I’m good at yoga because I am flexible and strong. In fact, my flexibility and strength came from practising Ashtanga yoga.”

3. Ashtanga Yoga poses poster

A framed poster on the studio wall displays the poses and sequence of the first and easiest series of Ashtanga yoga. For Ninie, it’s both an easy reference and a source of motivation. She says, “I used to wake up at 4am to practice for a couple of hours before breakfast. For example, the Chaturanga (or yoga push-up pose) turns up 84 times in this sequence alone. Imagine doing that number of triceps push-ups!”

Ninie admits that initially she didn’t like Ashtanga yoga because being unable to do all the poses frustrated the perfectionist in her. It took her five years to complete all the poses in sequence. She says, “Ashtanga humbles me.”

4. Peacock feathers


Two tall vases of peacock feathers have an important place in Ninie’s studio and in her heart. She explains, “My mother-in-law gave me these feathers as she knew I loved feathers. My favourite pose is also called the Feather Peacock Pose or Pincha Mayurasana.”

When Ninie was pregnant with her daughter, she found that the Pincha Mayurasana pose, previously difficult for her, was now easy. When it came time to name her newborn child, it was a no-brainer. She says, “Pincha chose her own name.”

5. Bronze yogini figurines

Ninie first saw these brass figurines of yoginis (female master practitioners of yoga) at a shop in Bangsar. However, as they were very expensive, she decided to save up to buy them. She recalls, “I was pleasantly surprised when my husband bought me one for my studio opening.”

When Ninie returned to the shop to buy the rest, the shop owner told her someone had bought the rest. She was disappointed till she received another figurine from her husband for her birthday, and then a third for their wedding anniversary. She says, “They are a beautiful reminder of devotion to my practice as well as my husband’s love.”

6. Scrabble tile display

Upward Yoga’s feature wall used to be covered with numerous framed magazine interviews from Ninie’s early years. She later removed them to remind herself not to hold on to the past as well as not to distract her students from their practice.

In their place, she has put up a mural made from giant Scrabble tiles. She explains, “I used to be a big Scrabble player. I had bought some of these tiles as decorations for my daughter’s first birthday and then decided to recycle them into a new focal point for yoga practice – to breathe, stretch, and heal.”

7. Candles and essential oils


The calm, steady glow of a candle’s flame and the fragrance wafting from essential oil invigorate the minds and bodies that enter the Upward Yoga studio. Ninie says, “Each essential oil has a different healing attribute. My favourites are citrusy oils such as orange, tangerine, lemongrass and mandarin. These really help to refresh the studio and everyone within.”

8. Music

During her classes, Ninie plays a musical accompaniment for Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series titled Learn to Float. Created by David Robson, the music leads practitioners through the sequence of poses to the steady, hypnotic beat of a drum. She says, “This helps deepen the focus on breathing during the practice. Also, I find the repetitive beats a form of meditation on its own.”

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, everyone is believed to have a predetermined number of breaths in a lifetime. Ninie says, “Therefore, the longer the breaths we take, the longer we live. I always tell my students to inhale the optimism around you and exhale all the stress.”

9. Singing bowl


Similarly borrowed from Tibetan lore is the singing bowl (also known as a standing bell or suzu gong). Ninie shares, “The Tibetans believe that when you hit the rim of the bowl with a handle, it produces a fundamental frequency that balances and rearranges the molecules in your body back to perfection again. At the end of my classes, I will ring the singing bowl to wake my students up from Savasana or the resting pose.”

Ninie’s singing bowl is a handmade bronze bowl from Ubud, Bali, where she attends the BaliSpirit Yoga Festival every year. She says, “As it’s handcrafted, the bowl is not perfectly smooth and therefore produces a more organic sound. It creates different energies that are healing and meditative.”

Upward Yoga

Bungaraya Complex, Persiaran Golf, Saujana Resort, 40150 Subang, Selangor
http://upwardyoga.com
http://facebook.com/upwardyoga

Full article at Sunday Mail, June 1st 2014

ARTICLE: ‘It took me a decade of practising physical yoga (asanas) daily to realise that it’s not all about the poses.’ (MALAY MAIL, Oct 3rd 2013)

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Ninie Ahmad balances motherhood and helping others discover their inner yogis with perfect poise.
(Picture by Choo Choy May)

YOGA MAMA

By Kenny Mah

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 — There’s something about Ninie Ahmad: this petite, bubbly yoga instructor will make you smile within seconds of meeting her. She has taught yoga full-time for more than 10 years but still remembers what it’s like to be a beginner so her students feel safe and happy with her guiding them.

From starting her own yoga studio and yoga magazine to becoming the Malaysian yoga ambassador for an international fitness apparel brand, Ninie seems to have done it all. Yet her happiest experience may be giving birth to her baby girl in February this year, after teaching yoga during most of her pregnancy.

What’s life like now for this yoga mama?

What was teaching yoga during your pregnancy like?

Believe it or not, aside from not being physically able to demonstrate yoga poses that involve twists, nothing really changed about my teaching when I was pregnant.

Yoga is one of the rare exercises that are proven helpful for expecting mothers because of its relaxing, opening, strengthening and de-stressing properties. As for teaching yoga while pregnant, I was definitely more compassionate to my students and somehow blessed with greater intuition to feel “within” when my students needed gentler adjustments or healing touches.

Furthermore, I believe my baby girl Pincha is the calm, healthy and strong baby she is thanks to the hundreds of hours I spent practising asanas, stillness and meditation when I was pregnant.

In fact, I named her Pincha after my favourite peacock feather pose. It’s a very difficult balancing pose but I could perform it effortlessly when pregnant. So I believe she chose her own name!

Tell us more about how you’ve changed after having Pincha.

Honestly, I thought I was the most peaceful person I knew until I had a baby. I didn’t know that I could be more humble. You see, I always had what I wanted with my yoga journey. I like being in control about everything; not only my breath but my poses too.

But after giving birth, I realise now I have something I can’t control and I have to slow down. That there’s now a life that grew inside of me but I can’t control her always now that I’ve given birth to her – this humbles me greatly.

I used to tell people who say they had no time to do yoga that they can always wake up a little earlier to exercise; I would wake at 4am to do my Ashtanga practice. But now I allow myself to sleep in a bit more because I want to spend more time with my daughter when she is awake.

Thanks to Pincha, I’ve changed my perception about how to become a better yoga practitioner. It’s about being in the moment, and being compassionate. I think now that is my yoga. This is my new challenge, being a mother.

You were very athletic even before practising yoga. What is your definition of fitness?

I started doing yoga because I thought I was very fit when I was younger – I was playing hockey, rock-climbing, and even running marathons – but I knew I was not flexible. For me, back then, a fit person is someone who is strong, flexible and has endurance.

It was only after practising yoga that I realised a fit person also needs to be able to keep their centre of gravity whatever position they’re in, and to be healthy. For example, I know many gym-goers who can perform perfect handstands but if you remove the wall they are leaning against, they’ll fall down. Some can work out for hours but afterwards they still eat junk food and smoke. That’s not healthy.

As a mother, I have to watch what I eat, how much I sleep and keep healthy for my daughter. Staying fit is my responsibility.

You conceptualised Upward Yoga to be a yoga studio with no mirrors. Why?

All the yoga studios that I have taught at in Kuala Lumpur were mirrored. Most gym-oriented yoga practitioners prefer that. Being a perfectionist and a pretty vain person, I used to find myself adjusting my hair or my clothes unnecessarily, getting distracted by other people’s movements in trying to maintain my stillness, and judging myself (and sadly others) by the reflections I saw in the mirrors.

In 2010, I took a year break from teaching and travelled for a bit. My idea of a vacation is being able to wake every morning not having to teach and getting to practise at different yoga studios in my favourite cities in the world.

I had an epiphany in New York City where I noticed a significant difference in my practice. There, all of the studios were not mirrored. Inspired by the Kula Yoga Project and Dharma Mittra Yoga Centre in New York City, I vowed that my next yoga studio would not be mirrored. The less we see with our eyes, the more awareness we gain within.

In July 2011, Upward Yoga was born. My students here also find the non-mirrored practice space a breath of fresh air, with our open windows and trees outside as the background instead of superficial mirrors.

What is your biggest insight from your years of practising and teaching yoga?

It took me a decade of practising physical yoga (asanas) daily to realise that it’s not all about the poses. While I truly vouch for practising yoga as often as you can with experienced teachers to maintain general health and to keep fit,  I have also come to terms with acceptance and realisation that being kind to others through our actions is actually more “yoga” than the complicated yoga poses most of the time.

These actions can include being respectful to our own bodies by feeding ourselves with only clean and nutritious food, and simply being content and grateful with what we already have. Signalling that you’re about to change lanes while driving also counts!

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition
of The Malay Mail on October 3, 2013.

Written by Ninie

October 4th, 2013 at 8:59 pm

ARTICLE: ‘Blogging about the importance of physical yoga poses is slowly being replaced with how compassion and patience are more yoga than any yoga poses.’ (HELLO! Malaysia, August 2013)

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Interview by Jessica Liew

Revelling in her new role, Ninie Ahmad takes us on a poignant journey of motherhood with her first child, Pincha Jamilaa.

It’s hard to believe that the extremely toned and trim Ninie Ahmad had only given birth to her first child. At just five feet tall, the yoga instructor looks just as beautiful as before she was pregnant, and continually stirs admiring comments from our HELLO! team throughout the photoshoot.

The founder of Upward Yoga, a New York City-inspired yoga practice space located in the Saujana Resort, is all smiles as we step into the home she has shared with her French-Canadian husband since they got married in December 2010. Like a multitasking pro, Ninie manages to greet each of us in between dashing off to check on her new daughter, Pincha Jamilaa Forget, and preparing for us organc iced lemonade.

Ninie’s diminutive size belies an inner greatness. Her big personality and remarkable yoga story of self-discovery through optimistic postings on her website earned her the Malaysia’s Best Health and Wellbeing Blog 2012 award. Her energentic life was put on hold on 3 February 2013, when Pincha entered the world, and since then, Ninie’s attentions have shifted to enjoying every moment with her daughter.

The first thing we notice about Pincha is how peaceful and alert she is for a baby. “She was such a calm baby that she did not even cry in the first minute she was born,” says her mum. Throughout the photoshoot, Ninie continually chirps words of endearment to her adorable daughter, who responds with big expressive eyes.

As a devout yogi and wellness advocate, getting pregnant was a decision Ninie approached in all seriousness. “I was at my fittest and healthiest by choice before I tried getting pregnant because I was wanted to be responsible for nurturing the life I was carrying, ” she says.

Drawing on a mother’s faith, a yogi’s strength, and a woman’s instincts, Ninie tells us all about her pregnancy, birth and motherhood.

Congratulations on your first-born baby! How is motherhood treating you so far?
Motherhood is thus far the most interesting chapter in my life. I used to think if I’ve mastered handstands in yoga, I’ve got life figured out but burping a baby is harder than yoga inversions!

How did you and your husband react when you first discovered you were pregnant?
I tried not to get pregnant for a year after we got married as I wanted to focus and build Upward Yoga, which was a wedding gift from my husband. When I was finally ready, I started taking folic acid in January last year, which is recommended for women to promote a healthy spine development in their babies. We finally tried in April, and in early May, I found out I was about four-weeks pregnant. We were immensely happy but not surprised.

Did you wish for a boy or a girl?
I have always wanted a girl and I kind of applied what I learned during my Preconception, Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training on increasing our chance in getting a girl. I don’t know if it really worked or if it was purely coincidental but I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl. I kind of knew before the obstetrician/gynaecologist confirmed that I was going to have a girl because the day before I found out I was pregnant, I ended up buying 15 new dresses in one afternoon!

How was your pregnancy?
My pregnancy was a breeze. I only experienced morning sickness during my first trimester, and I escaped common pregnancy ailments such as swelling, bloatedness and back pain. I was still wearing my XS Herve Leger dress at my seventh month to celebrate my 30th birthday!

Did your experience as a yoga expert help with the progress of your pregnancy?
I believe that a woman should be at her best physical shape and mental health before she enters pregnancy. Having had practiced yoga every day for 13 years made me not only very healthy and calm, but also strong and flexible inside and out. Pregnant mothers are often also recommended to take up yoga for its relaxing, strengthening and healing benefits. I was still teaching headstands and handstands when I was 36-weeks pregnant!

How did your husband support you throughout?
My husband is beyond amazing. He bent over backwards providing me with organic prenatal supplements not available locally and made sure that I was fed with healthy organic whole food whenever possible. We have been staunch advocates of plant-based diets and organic eating so nothing really had to change.

You chose a home Lotus Birth for your daughter. Why did you make this decision and how, as a wellness advocate, did you prepare for the birth?
I did plan for a Lotus Birth (the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut after childbirth so that the baby is left attached to its placenta until the cord naturally separates) at home because I do not know of any OB/GYN in Kuala Lumpur who would allow Lotus Birth in hospitals. I sat for Preconception, Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training twice and even attended a gentle birth course with Ibu Robin Lim in Bali.

I was physically and mentally prepared to birth a child naturally. My husband and I hired an Italian midwife to stay with us a month before my labour date to ensure I was fit for a home birth. A doula (professional trained in emotional, physical and informational labour coaching)  was also present in the case of a hospital transfer. I endured a 40-hour labour at home without knowing that I encountered Neurapraxia, a disorder of the peripheral nervous system that resulted in Foot Drop. I was well-read on most birth complications but not this one as Neurapraxia is only common among professional athletes!

Fearing the safety of my baby and I, my midwife advised for a hospital transfer, and there, I was pressured into a Caesarean, but I stood firmly on my choice. I had to sign many release forms and state my reasons of not following ’standard’ hospital protocols, especially on the Lotus Birth. We reached the hospital at 5pm and at 10.50pm; I defied medical logic by delivering my 3.51kg baby through natural birth. We also had our dream Lotus Birth, which was also the hospital’s first.

How did it feel when you first laid eyes on your baby?
It was magical! A tiny creature grew inside of me for 41 weeks and three days and I would be curious of how she would look and move like. She was more beautiful than I ever envisioned. I kept ‘talking’ to her during my meditation when I was pregnant, that she does not have to cry if she is happy, healthy and not in pain. Until today, she still does not favour crying. I am so blessed!

How did you choose the name Pincha Jamilaa for your daughter?
I have always wanted a Sanskrit first name for our baby since my husband and I met through yoga, and I would love a Malay middle name for her and keep my husband’s French last name. ‘Pincha’ means feathers in Sanskrit and the Arabic ‘Jamilaa’ means beautiful. And then there was my favourite yoga inversion ‘Pincha Mayurasana’ that was easier to hold when I was pregnant so I figured my baby chose the name herself.

What would you say your baby’s personality is like?
My baby is a bigger yogi than I am. She is very calm and strong compared to many babies of her age. She started sleeping through the night from 8pm to 7am like clockwork since she was five-weeks old so I never had sleeping problems. She also started flipping over at 13 weeks and at 102-days old, she started laughing loudly, which I managed to record a good half a minute on my iPhone!

I believe that the yoga and meditation I practiced and good nutrients throughout my pregnancy contributed to the healthy, happy and contented baby she is today. I also think the Lotus Birth contributed to many of these amazing developments. I have come across many stories of Lotus Birth babies who possess almost superhuman strength.

How would you describe the parenting styles of yourself and your husband?
My husband and I are pro-choice individuals and parents. It is too early to say for now but natural parenting, Attachment Parenting and Glenn Doman’s early learning methods resonate the most with us right now.

What are your hopes for your baby?
I love Khalil Gibran’s “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” Until Pincha can speak and decide for herself, I will provide her the best brain food she can get and a clean healthy environment to grow in and find herself.

What are some of the things that you have learned from being a mother?
Watching and taking care of Pincha every day brings me back to one of yoga’s biggest principles: non-attachment. Babies are pure souls who do not need unnecessary luxury. They are blessed with primate survival instincts and that keeps me humbled. Just enjoy, learn and experiment with what we already have – two hands, two feet, five senses, just like babies.

How will Pincha’s arrival change your old routine as a full-time yoga instructor/ blogger?
I have to dust cobwebs off my blog! Blogging about the importance of physical yoga poses is slowly being replaced with how compassion and patience are more yoga than any yoga poses. As for teaching, I promised friends of Upward that I will open the studio again in April but I extended my maternity leave to ensure complete recovery of my Neurapraxia. I hope to resume teaching at Upward in July 2013 but let’s get back to non-attachment, shall we?

From Page 48 – 51 of HELLO! Malaysia, August 2013

ARTICLE: ‘Anything beautiful we see in others is us recognising the beautiful qualities we already possess.’ (HELLO! Malaysia, March 2013)

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From last inside page of HELLO! Malaysia (March 2013)

Written by Ninie

March 14th, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Article

Tagged with

“When I am asked, ‘Why don’t you cut babies’ umbilical cords?’, I say, ‘Isn’t the real question: Why do you cut?” ~IBU ROBIN LIM

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(WARNING: Graphic content!)

And so there were many curious clicks at my previous Lotusbirth link,
here are two more interesting and easy read on Lotusbirth if you are interested.
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_birth
2. http://www.lotusbirth.net/

Researched-based and secondhand stories aside,
I have fallen in love with the idea of Lotusbirth since I first understood its ahimsa (non-violence) concept:

  • No cruelty.
  • No cutting.
  • No separation (mother & baby, baby & placenta).

My Prenatal Padmasana (Lotus Pose) at 24-weeks pregnant

Following the birth of my daughter leaving her umbilical cord attached to both the baby and her placenta, without clamping or severing, and allowing the cord the time to detach from the baby naturally – I am beyond pleased, grateful and humbled by the differences I notice in my baby and many other newborns I know.

PJ playing with her ‘bestfriend for 10 months’, day 3

  • PJ is very strong for a newborn. At only two days old, she started raising her head up if she were to be lied on her stomach on her daddy’s chest and she can push her feet to standing up if I tried to make her burp vertically on my belly. At almost 20 days today, she is already beginning to turn her whole body / roll sideway by herself!
  • She is also a very calm baby. She hardly ever cries, she only squeaks if she needs to be fed or changed, even at night. Aside from the spiritual and meditation work I did when I was pregnant which I also believe helps contributed to this, I have came across many stories of Lotusbirth babies who are very peaceful, alert, responsive and possess almost superhuman-like strength wise.
  • I have not heard of many newborns who did not get jaundice during their first week. Alhamdulillah, PJ managed to skip jaundice altogether (read the very bottom of THIS).

In preparation for a planned Lotusbirth, I assembled this:

Lotusbirth Kit from Yayasan Bumi Sehat Bali, a sterile stainless steel bowl
and a copy of Ibu Robin Lim’s Placenta book

In the Lotusbirth Kit (Rp250,000 = RM75 = USD25), which you can easily prepare yourself:

  • high absorbency small square / hand towel
  • herbal powder (with mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove)
  • sea salt
  • finely shaved pandan leaves
  • ‘mengkuang’ (pine) leaves woven basket, no cover
  • bamboo box
  • carrier with shoulder sling
  • instruction sleeve of Lotus Birth (what is Lotus Birth, why Lotus Birth, what will you need for Lotus Birth & how to prepare for Lotus Birth)

Not included in the kit:

  • 100% essential oil (lavender)
  • bio-degradable diaper / chux pad / underpad
  • stainless steel bowl
  • Ibu Robin Lim’s Placenta book (Rp200,000, buy e-book here)

How To Prepare for Lotusbirth?

1. After the birth of the placenta, it can be placed in a bowl. It is important to keep the placenta level with the baby after birth until the gelatinous substance (Wharton’s Jelly) has solidified. After several minutes, blood transfusion s complete and the cord stops pulsing.

2. Place the placenta into the colander to drain off any excess blood. Using a jug of warm water, gently rinse the placenta as thoroughly as possible, taking care to remove any blood clots as they decay quickyly. Pat dry and air for 24 hours.

3. Your placenta is now ready for embalming preparation. You can salt the placenta on both sides in order to preserve it better. How much salt is up to you. Not everyone chooses to salt the placenta – and if you will be using it to plant a tree over, the less salt the better. Aplication of salt is repeated each day for a few days, depending on how quickly the placenta dries out. Essential oil is used to stave off any unpleasant smell the placenta might make.

4. An alternative to salting is the use of powdered herbs. This is the Egyptian embalming method. Start by softly covering one side of the placenta with turmeric powder and then sprinkle the salt. Add the powdered herbs and / or powdered spices. Repeat the process for both sides. The essential oils and dried herbs apllied encourage drying, help neutralize the smell of decomposition and are used for their antibacterial properties.

5. Use the cloths to wrap the placenta in as they are absorbent and allow the placenta to breathe and can contain all the salts, herbs, spices or dried flowers that have been used to pack the placenta to aid the drying process. Then place the cloth inside the Bumi Birth lotus box which holds the placenta during the Lotus period.

It is important to take extra care when moving your baby, so as not to pull at their belly with the cord. Also, keep placenta at the same level as the baby or slightly higher. In most cases, the placental cord will dry and separate from the baby’s navel within three to seven days.

(from Yayasan Bumi Sehat’s Lotus Birth Kit)

Why Lotusbirth?

  • possible faster healing of the umbilicus
  • to avoid unnecessary risk of cord infection
  • personal preference for cruelty-free birth
  • no need to worry about clamping or cutting the cord
  • respect for nature, baby and placenta’s spiritual reasons
  • to encourage mother / baby bonding
  • limits visitors who may prefer to wait until cord separates
  • less passing around of the baby
  • to allow most gradual and peaceful transition into this world for the baby
  • baby and mother get maximum rest in quiet & still environment

    (from Yayasan Bumi Sehat’s Lotus Birth Kit)

PJ, day 5

It was an absolute eye opener and humbling experience for me after having honoured my baby and her ‘twin’ by embracing Lotusbirth.

And a particular friend observed ’something else’ too..

‘Rosemary pizza for baby’ (click HERE for bigger photo), really Henry?

O_o

ARTICLE: Why Every Athlete Should Do Yoga

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By Rich Roll from Mind Body Green

Rich Roll is a two-time top finisher at the Ultraman World Championships
and in 2010 was the first person (along with colleague Jason Lester)
to complete EPIC5 – 5 ironman-distance triathlons on 5 Hawaiian Islands in under a week.

Just the other day I was having dinner with an old swimming buddy of mine, Mark Henderson, a former world record holder and Olympic Gold Medalist in the 4×100 Medley Relay at the Atlanta Games. In other words, a phenomenal athlete.

Sure, we talked about swimming. Then our conversation turned (quite unexpectedly) to yoga. Mark had begun practicing recently and was amazed by the results – increased strength, presence of mind and improved sleep, to name a few. The list goes on.

Almost simultaneously, we spurted out the same lament: “Why didn’t we do this when we were competing!?”

In truth, I wish I had discovered yoga during my prime swimming years back in the 1980’s. Because there is no doubt in my mind that it would have made me a much better athlete, not to mention human being.

Thankfully, I discovered it many years later. And it has improved my life in amazing and unpredictable ways – not just with respect to my career as a middle-aged ultra-distance triathlete, but in countless areas of my life.

In my opinion, EVERY athlete – irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice. I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.

Here are a few benefits I have reaped:

1. Improved Strength:

Routine and consistent practice of the various yoga asanas (poses or postures) has helped me build strength and improve lean muscle mass. Most notably with respect to several muscle groups under-utilized in my chosen athletic disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. These gains have enhanced core body stability and significantly impeded overuse injury by strengthening the supportive but otherwise under-developed muscles surrounding the more utilized muscles, creating a more balanced and optimally functional overall strength.

2. Balance:

As a swimmer, I have always been rather flexible. But my balance is historically horrible. But through a consistent yoga practice, my coordination and balance have improved immensely. Why is this important? Better balance and coordination means enhanced control over how I move my body, which in turn leads to better technique and form — the brass ring every athlete spends a career refining, whether your focus is a swim stroke, golf swing, running stride, jump shot or wrestling move.

3. Flexibility:

Yoga invariably improves joint and muscular flexibility, which is crucial to the body’s overall structural soundness.  Enhanced joint and muscle pliancy translates to greater range of motion, or an increase in the performance latitude for a particular movement or series of movements.  For example, a swimmer with supple shoulder and hip joints is able to capture and pull more water than a swimmer with a more limited range of motion. The result is more forward movement per stroke as well as enhanced muscular economy. In turn, this increased range of motion provides a greater ability to strength condition a particular muscle group due to the amelioration in overall force that can be exerted with each movement. And although there is some dispute about the advisability of “over” stretching (for runners in particular), I remain a huge advocate, finding that the more I work to maintain my flexibility (something that wanes with age), the less likely I am to suffer an overuse injury.

4. Mental Control:

The physical benefits of yoga for the athlete are huge. But they’re nothing in comparison to the more ephemeral benefits. Most people, particularly athletes, tend to think of yoga as a great “workout” – a means to tighten the core, flatten the stomach and tone that butt. Sure, it does that. But as soon as the rigorous portion of the class comes to a close and it’s time for savasana (corpse pose), otherwise known as the meditative portion of the session where the student lies down on his or her back for a period of quiet meditation, I watch people flee for the door, ducking out early under the false belief that this most important asana is optional and unnecessary – the hard work is done.

Not only are these people wrong, they’re missing the point of yoga entirely. Because savasana is where the magic happens. Deprive yourself of this experience and you are missing out on the best and most beneficial part of the practice. From a traditionalist point of view, the series of physically challenging yoga asanas were originally designed for a specific purpose that has nothing to do with the strength or flexibility. Instead, they were conceived and organized solely as a means to prepare the mind and body to reap maximum benefit from the important meditation that follows, which, taken as a whole, is a routine designed not to give you a nice butt, but to improve your ability to quell, quiet and control the impulses of the mind — to clean mental house, center focus and promote serenity by silencing the endless and seemingly unmanageable mental chatter that invades our daily experience and undermines the expression of our “best self” within.

In other words, savasana is the most important part of the practice for the athlete (and everyone). Why? Because the mind is a mysterious contraption, more often than not an actual enemy, constantly impulsing us with negative and fear-based signals that keep us trapped, afraid and all too often paralyzed to unlock the dormant and untapped potential within that is yearning to come out.

What does this have to do with athletic performance? Everything. When you look at the highest levels of sport, all the athletes are incredibly talented. They all train equally hard. So what distinguishes the Olympic champion from the also-ran? The mind. The guy or girl who wins typically knows he/she is going to win. Unrestrained by fear, free from negative thought patterns, and laser focused, I think it’s fair to submit that the champion athlete most likely has enhanced dominion over his/her thoughts when compared to his/her competitors, able to leverage it’s incredible power to focus entirely on the task at hand and remain thoroughly rooted in the present moment without the invasion of unhelpful thought patterns. They visualize success so completely that it literally becomes a foregone conclusion.

Much like a muscle, the mind can be trained. And consistent practice of the asanas when followed up with proper savasana is the best way I have found to not only improve my sleep, reduce stress, quell negative mental chatter, and manage (and walk through) fear, it informs my entire approach to training and racing. And has made all the difference in helping me achieve some rather fantastical athletic goals that seemed not only far beyond my capabilities, but almost impossible from any objective or logical perspective.

5. I Met My Wife In Yoga:

The biggest benefit I have reaped from yoga? 14 years ago I met my wife in a yoga class. We’ve been together ever since. Not only is she a fantastic yoga teacher, she has been instrumental in making me a better man and a better athlete. So there you go. Don’t underestimate the extent to which yoga can change your life — you just never know.

Looking for an athletic edge? THIS IS IT.
So get on it, before your rival does.

Written by Ninie

May 21st, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Article

Tagged with ,

‘Impossible’ is just an opinion.

with 5 comments

This YouTube has gone viral for the past couple of days.
I have been tagged on Facebook and mentioned on Twitter so many times for this – I just cannot NOT SHARE this.

Sharing is caring.

And remember that when you feel all is lost,
to never give up. As you always have yoga.

Whenever anyone tells you that it is impossible for you
to walk, run, bend, touch your toes, do headstand and even fly,
don’t listen to them.

IMPOSSIBLE IS JUST AN OPINION.

The word itself says ‘I’m possible
~AUDREY HEPBURN

Written by Ninie

May 6th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

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