Since I started this blog, and my journey to a healthier and stronger lifestyle, I’ve experienced a lot of “firsts” – my first organized 5k runs, my first badminton tournament since I was a kid, my first pair of skinny jeans. Every time one of these events happen, I tend to reflect on them for a bit, as some things are less surprising (badminton tournaments) than others (holy cow – skinny jeans!).
I’ve recently been fortunate enough to experience another pair of firsts, namely my first true massage from a professional Registered Massage Therapist, and my first ever attempt at yoga. Now to be truthful, these are both things that, while I didn’t deride them, I didn’t see the value in for me previously, and was perhaps a little bit skeptical of their benefits. Having experienced both of them for the first time, I can tell you that I have definitely seen their merits – while I may not have “drunk the Kool-Aid” as have many headlong proponents of either practice, I will definitely try both again. I’ve let some time pass from both trials to really let things ferment, and to formulate my thoughts about them, and here’s what I’ve resolved: they are both fantastic in their own way, both can be a great part of your health and fitness regime, and both are a great way to break up the monotony of our regular workouts.
Yoga (also pronounced Yog-ahhhhhh)
Let me start of by saying I’m a bit of a skeptic. I live on the We(s)t Coast, but didn’t grow up here, and while I’ve embraced the yogurt and granola, I’m always still quite skeptical of most things, especially if they have a whiff of New-Ageism. Now I know, yoga has been around for centuries and isn’t at all like that, and I get it – but I’m a skeptic. I categorize things and move on. Fortunately I’m getting wise enough to try stuff out before I shelve it, and this is one of the ones I enjoyed.
This was quite an experience, given that I’m a pretty fit guy. I exercise regularly. I run a few times a week and always stretch my hamstrings beforehand. I play a pretty active racquet sport when I’m not running, which requires quick forward, back and lateral movement, and power rotations and swings in one of my arms. I thought yoga would hurt for, you know, a few of the stretches, but my legs and at least one arm and shoulder would be ok.
Let me immediately correct that assumption.
I was able to do a fairly easy-level hatha yoga class, where most of the work was on a mat. Through several postures, the names of which I’ve no hope of recalling, we stretched our backs, legs, arms, hips, and places I wasn’t aware had muscles. After an hour and a quarter, I really did feel relaxed. I was stunned, though, that the hardest parts for me to stretch were in fact my hamstrings, considering:
- how often I stretch them, ie: 5-6 times a week before I warm up to run or play badminton, and
- how intensely I use them.
I honestly would have thought that they would have been quite flexible, but in fact they were the tightest parts of my body, and the hardest to stretch out to achieve the required positions. Aside from wicked foot cramps brought on for no apparent reason, this was the hardest part of the whole evening.
Yes, it was very peaceful – almost too peaceful, and I had trouble hearing our leader and really had to pay attention as she spoke so quietly. There was a period after of absolute stillness called Shavasna at the end of the session, and as we lay on the mats I couldn’t get over the fact that it felt like nap time in kindergarten; I almost made myself have a fit of laughter wondering if there would be organic cookies and fair trade pomegranate juice after class. I did love that we were roused from our rest by a barely audible ringing of an extremely quiet bell. It was all very earthy and non-pretentious, and I have to admit that afterwards I felt very loose, very free, and extremely relaxed. I now do see what so many other people see in yoga, and I may have to start attending every once in a while.
I really liked the studio, and given that there are yoga studios popping up on every corner now, I will suggest that the Open Door Yoga Studio is well worth checking out for anyone living in Vancouver. You can find them on Facebook or follow them @opendooryoga.
Given that I am a runner, I’ve recently come across a great article on yoga poses after a run, with an instructional video, all courtesy of Runner’s World Magazine. Certainly something I’m going to try – slowly – to work into my running routine.
Massage (also pronounced mass-ahhhhhh-ge)
I was recently deployed through my company to the beautiful city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, where I spent two weeks working hard, running nearly everyday near the Lakehead University campus, and generally having some pretty long days. (Thunder Bay is where Terry Fox had to end his Marathon of Hope, and the memorial there is beautiful.)
All of our management and administrative staff were working just as hard, and in recognition of that, the project leader decided to bring in a treat for everyone – a 15 minute massage with a Registered Massage Therapist. I had until that point never had a proper massage from an RMT before, and given my background as a claims adjuster I had been somewhat skeptical of them. I believed that they would give only temporary relief of my aches and pains, treating only the symptoms and not the causes.
Let me immediately correct that assumption.
I was surprised to learn that a session time had been reserved for me, as I was concerned that the administrative staff had their time before me. I was one of the last folks for my session, and when I lay down on the weird little portable table, I was frankly quite nervous. Given the number of people that she was treating, all of the sessions were done through clothes, but that didn’t mean that for my first massage it didn’t feel spectacular. She immediately pegged me as a runner, and did work on my legs quite a bit. She was also quick to point out that I was a racquet sports player, given the way my muscles had formed in my shoulder.
I was also surprised the number of times I said “what the hell is that?!?!?”. The RMT repeatedly found spots on my shoulders, neck and back where they felt perfectly normal until she touched them and pointed out a knot the size of one of Jupiter’s moons. I was truly surprised by the number of these she found, and how quickly she managed to work them out. I’m strongly considering finding a local clinic and attending regularly – like many folks with supplemental health coverage, some massage therapy is covered by my program. I’m going to start availing myself of it.
The Crux (boy, do I hope that’s *not* a yoga position or a type of massage table)
Both of these practices were immediately beneficial. I can absolutely see how yoga improves both flexibility and strength, especially core strength. I can also see how massage can really help maintain a fitness level by working out sore areas, and letting you move more freely, and thus stay strong and healthy. I was once a doubter about both, but am starting to come around in my old age.
However, if you see me practicing Tai Chi in Stanley Park, call for backup. Actually, don’t – that’s also something that I’ve always wanted to try. If you ever see me sipping Chai Tea Latte in Stanley Park, though, just call for an emergency infusion of dark roast from Starbucks.