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“Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. This is the one great thing to remember, it has been the one great lesson I have been taught in my life; strength, it says, strength, O man, be not weak."

 

"Make your nerves strong. What we want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel. We have wept long enough. No more weeping, but stand on your feet and be men.”

- Swami Vivekananda

 

You can't purchase strength. It has to be earned.

What can be bought are the conditions that prevent strength. Also known as comfort. 

To discredit comfort might seem contradictory to the sutra from Patanjali, “Sthira sukham asanam,” often translated to English as “asana should be steady and comfortable.”

But there are two types of comfort: one that comes from building internal strength and one that comes from purchasing external products. 

One example is extra grip on your yoga practice surface. Not only does this create a false sense of comfort but it prevents the conditions necessary for building strength. 

In my experience, what brings lasting comfort in asana does not come from a product created by businesses that don’t actually practice yoga.

Comfort isn’t sustainable when it is dependant on temporary external circumstances. The point of yoga and meditation is to find ease and happiness in all situations, including those less than ideal circumstances.

The sukha in an asana comes from building strength through effort sustained day after day, year after year, and overcoming obstacles as they show up.

The result? A competent, strong practice.

A warrior not a gardener (more on this idea coming up)

What I’ve learned in my own practice is that building strength is not optional if I want to progress through the asanas in a way that can be sustained over a lifetime.

SAAD Human

I have some bad news...or good depending on how you look at it.

The human body, the one that allows us to do asana, requires certain inputs to have the physiology and capabilities of a natural human.

These inputs once provided by a natural environment have been removed from our daily lives.

When we don’t receive these inputs, unfortunately, our bodies don’t just stay the same.

How come? The SAID Principle.

The SAID principle is one of the most important basic concepts in sports medicine. It is an acronym that stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. It means that when the body is placed under some form of stress, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at withstanding that specific form of stress in the future, which results in better movement. [1] 

It’s pretty well known that when you increase physical demands up to a certain level, the body gets stronger.

What isn’t so often pointed out is that when you remove the demands, it gets weaker.

This is the phenomena that I’ve labeled as S.A.A.D.: Specific adaptations from the absence of a natural demand.

And what is the cause of SAAD in humans?

Addiction to comfort resulting in overexposure of technology.

When our interaction with technology crosses over the line from a tool that serves us into an addiction that we can’t live without, the result is an adaptation of our biology.

The actual tissues of our bodies change since the time we used to spend with the natural stresses of nature is now spent with the comfort of technology.

There's a nature deficit and the result is we lose the physical capacity of a natural human.

Having the structure of a human unaffected by S.A.A.D. is what I call baseline human.

When Sharath, BKS Iyengar, Krishnamarchaya or Pattahbi Jois did their first yoga class, they all had the baseline human biology.

One example of SAAD, which has been pointed out by many western yoga teachers like Simon Borg Olivier, John Scott and Mark Robberds [2] is the ability to do a flat-footed squat.

Most westerners have lost the biology that can perform this natural human resting position.

The natural demands from lowering to the ground, sitting down on it, then getting back up has been removed by the comforts of chairs, toilets, beds, cars, gym equipment and other technology.

This is one obvious example, but there are many hidden ones, like the one I am about to explore in this post.

The good news is that if you know what is weak, then you have the option to strengthen it.

“They don’t realize that if you make the whole body strong in every aspect that you possibly can over a period of just three years, you’ve created an impenetrable machine that won’t get hurt, that won’t break down, that you can have for the rest of your life because you followed what you’re supposed to at the beginning” .- Ed Coan, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World

That’s been my personal journey and what I am trying to understand and explore in the Strong Foundations Email series.

My own goal is to not only move the bar up to baseline human biology but to get it as far past baseline as I can.

I want to realize my own human strength potential to its fullest -- physically, mentally and spiritually.

Grip Strength

One of the hidden baseline human attributes of a natural human is a certain level of grip strength.

Also known as squeezing.

How hard you can squeeze your muscles is a key indicator of your overall physical health.

The millennial generation is moving the bar in the wrong direction.   

According to a study in the Journal of Hand Therapy, when it comes to hand grip strength, millennial men are weaker than their fathers. [3]

NPR reports, “In a study of Americans ages 20-34, occupational therapists found that men younger than 30 have significantly weaker hand grips than their counterparts in 1985 did.” [4]

Millennials may have the ability to send a flurry of texts in one day, but they can’t carry a grocery bag for a sustained period of time.

The beginning of the Ashtanga Primary Series is one time and place we can start to strengthen our grip daily, but unknowingly, students use extra-grip yoga mats and towels and miss the opportunity.

Purchased comfort equals weakness. Removing it creates strength.

What is Strength?

“Scientists who study the brain know it. The top strength coaches in the world know it. And those who want to get bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner will eventually realize this basic fact of human physiology: Your nervous system is the key to reaching your ultimate potential. - Waterbury, Chad. “Huge in a Hurry.” Men’s Health.

Grip strength is nervous system strength, AKA neural drive.

If we use the most intuitive line of thought (System 1), it would seem that if a person has big muscles, then they must be stronger than a person who has smaller muscles.

But when you dig deeper and look at some examples of when this isn’t true, we realize there is more to being strong than just having the hardware.

While actually having muscles is necessary unless they work they’re for nothing more than show.

What makes muscles function is your nervous system; the nervous system is responsible for controlling muscle contractions.

The way it does this is through motor units which are comprised of motor neurons and the muscle fibres they stimulate. [5]

A motor neuron is a nerve cell forming part of a pathway along which impulses pass from the brain to a muscle.

“Neural Drive is a term for the nerve pulses reaching the muscle causing contraction. Thus, to create maximum strength, one must create maximum neural drive. “- Stuart McGill, The Gift of Injury

If the nervous system has the capacity to send a strong signal and produce a strong contraction, the result is strength.

Muscles that work.

So how do we develop the capacity to send a strong signal?

Use it or lose it

The reason millennial men have weaker grip strength than their fathers is because technology has removed the need to grip.

Up until a milli second ago in our evolutionary timeline, humans spent a lot of time gripping because the environment we lived in forced us to do so.  There wasn’t so much technology and life wasn’t so comfortable.

We used our bodies to carry things from one place to the other. We spent time working with and holding tools. We walked barefoot, or at least with footwear that didn’t stop natural movements.

(My Dad at 70 has the grip strength of a 30 year old from all the yard work he does--I measured it.)

Now technology has made gripping is optional.  

Whether cars, shoes or extra grip on your yoga mat, the need for your nervous system to send the signal to your muscles to grip has been removed.

When that signal is not used, it gets weak, and in some cases, it is lost completely.

Use it or lose it.

Unless they start making 30 pound cellphones, you’re going to have to schedule in some intentional gripping if you want to maintain or build your grip strength.

 Foot Grip Strength

“Your toes can do for your legs what your fingers can do for your arms.” -Pavel Tsatsouline

Let’s narrow our focus even more.

Since many people have written about hand grip strength, I’ll focus instead on the feet, which anatomically are very similar to your hands.

Almost no one is talking about foot grip strength. As a society, we just don’t think about our feet--we don’t pay them any attention. We stuff our feet into shoes and ignore them.

Imagine if you did the same thing with your hands and started wearing mittens all day every day?  It seems ridiculous, but that’s essentially what we do with our feet.

There is a test to see how much foot control you have; after reading this try it: (The link will be in the resources section below)

Some people, maybe even you, can’t move their feet at all. They just stare at them and nothing happens.

The signal from the nervous system to the foot muscles doesn’t make it.  

Humans who live in environments where walking barefoot is the norm, such as India, haven’t lost that connection.

These pics I took myself.

Walking barefoot

Walking barefoot

In Canada and America, being barefoot is frowned upon. The modern environment and culture not only stops you from being barefoot, but culturally discourages it. Think of all the “No shoes, no service” signs.

My local gym has told me numerous times to put my shoes on.

If even our gyms don’t accept bare feet, forget about work, going into shops or walking in the street.

You might say, “Well, even if it was culturally acceptable to walk barefoot, walking barefoot in the cold or in places with glass, nails or dog poop isn’t desirable either.”

That’s correct, but the technology has changed from protection into purchased comfort.

Because of these two reasons, we rarely use our feet as nature intended, and the result is that our foot grip strength is weak or even non-existent.

In our yoga practice, being barefoot is not only acceptable, but a requirement.

It’s one place and time that we can actually begin to address the foot grip strength deficit and rebuild the neural drive...but only if we get rid of extra grip and start using our own muscles to grip.

I’ll explain exactly how I do it, as well as other ways outside of practice but first you might be asking, “Why does it even matter?”

1. So You Can Move More Intelligently.

God is in the details - unknown

When you ask your body to perform a task, the sequence of muscular contractions starts with the smallest parts first.

So if you want to do a pull up, the first muscles to contract are the fingers. If you do a squat then it's toes. [Chad Waterbury, “Huge in a Hurry, Chapter 2” Men’s Health]

The small muscles guide the bigger muscles, which allows us to bring refinement and precision to the movement.

If you don’t even have the ability to use your feet, then all you will get are big, jerky, awkward movements.

Additionally, the sensory information that your feet and hands communicate to your nervous system is one of the ways it learns where you are in space.

Phillip Beach explains how this works in his book :

“The lower lumbar and first sacral nerves innervate the skin of the sole of the foot and most of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot are innervated from L4 - S3. Nerves that innervate the foot are the same nerves that innervate the deep muscles of the pelvic floor and low back…These small muscles act as vernier jets. A vernier jet is an auxiliary rocket engine that fine tunes the attitude of a spacecraft. Short sharp blasts position the spacecraft in three dimensions. Like the fins of a fish they need to be carefully placed to control the spaceships pitch roll and yaw. Used in this context the small low back muscle send short bursts of contractility amongst local vertebrae to fine tune their relationship to one another.

The small low back muscles are designed to be recipients of a massive stream of information in real time from the feet. Or rather they should be. Shoes dumb down the raw data the feet are capable of sending to the low back. All systems need incoming data to self regulate” - Muscles and Meridians, The manipulation of shape, Phillip Beach 

That last sentence cannot be bolded enough.

Our nervous system learns about our environment through the forces that act upon our biology. Crappy information coming into the nervous system (afference) equals crappy movement going out (efference).

2. Foot Grip Strength and Back Health

The foremost authority on back health (and a fellow Canadian), Dr. Stuart McGill, has identified foot grip strength as extremely important.

He defines it in his book, The Gift of Injury, as foot athleticism.

“Stiffer feet enhance the ability to root and grip the ground. This is essential when creating full power from the hips and the gluteal complex. Stiffer, stronger feet also assist with correcting flaw lines and the thrust lines which connect the load to the base of the body. This is achieved with control of the center of pressure within the foot. Centering the pressure and using it to “grip” the floor is actually the best strategy to adjust how the weight is the loading the body when under very heavy loads because it is not possible to realign the spine or the hips. Here we assess the ability to spread the toes, create a big foot for foot grip and more foot stiffness” - Stuart McGill PHD, Gift of Injury

Foot stiffness is foot strength.

Here he is referring to the load of squatting with a barbell.

In yoga our “load” is the asana we are doing

Dwi Pada is heavier than Trikonasana, so by the time you get there you want your flaw lines addressed. This means you want the bends, effort & support coming from the right structures.

Having a teacher who can determine if you do is essential.

This gripping action of the feet was also brought up in the most beneficial book I used to heal my own back pain, 8 Steps to a Healthy Back by Esther Gokhale

(What she pointed out was THE paradigm shift for me since the entire book describes the difference between bodies in modern society, where we have high incidences of back pain, compared to less developed countries with less technology where back pain is almost non existent.)

She talks about making a clam shell foot., which is a movement that babies do naturally.

Baby feet

 

In 2013, after learning how weak feet could be one of the causes of my debilitating back pain, I began to strength train my feet both inside and outside of my yoga practice, which I will explain at the end of this post.

3. Grip Strength and Longevity

“....the number one correlate with longevity is actually muscle to mass, it's actually strength. So, if you have greater muscle mass and strength you're gonna live longer.” - Dr. Keith Baar, mTor Signalling & Cell Growth HVMN podcast.

Some scientific studies have found there is a correlation between grip strength and health span, but I suspect culture has known for quite awhile.

I’m guessing it's the reason a firm handshake has long been considered a positive attribute.

When science and culture come to the same conclusion, that tells me we’re getting close to the truth.

Although science is often wrong it’s worth looking at what these studies have found.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February of 1999 conducted a 25 year study of 6089 45 to 68 year old men to see whether hand grip strength measured at midlife predicts disability in old age.

“Our study provides strong evidence that hand grip strength predicts functional limitations and disability 25 years later in an initially healthy cohort of 45- to 68-year-old men. Those in the lowest grip strength tertile had the greatest risk and those in the middle tertile had intermediate risk compared with those in the highest tertile.” [6]

 

A more recent study published in the British Medical Journal in May of 2018 involving half a million women ages 40 to 69 came to this conclusion

“This study has shown that grip strength is strongly and inversely associated with all cause mortality and incidence of and mortality from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, all cancer, and subtypes of cancer, including colorectal, lung, and breast cancer, with associations being modestly stronger in the younger age groups.”

The study also points out, “Many studies have shown that lower muscle function is associated with greater mortality and morbidity” listing 10 references to support that statement. [7]

Do you need any more convincing that grip strength might be important?

If you do here’s a couple more.

Warrior vs Gardner: Increased Grip Strength Is Increased Mobility

"Scientists analyzed data from more than 20,000 adults ages 65 and older to evaluate the link between weak grip strength and lack of mobility, in this case slow walking speed. Among the men in the group, those with a weak grip—less than 26 kg using a dynamometer—were seven times more likely to be facing mobility issues compared with men who had normal grip strength.” [8]

In this study, they weren’t assessing the ability to do yoga postures but walking speed later in life.   

What is the difference between being mobile and the way some people are doing asanas?

The ability to do it on your own.

It’s a common perception that by practicing yoga that we are becoming “flexible.”

Some people definitely are, but I would caution against creating flexibility through external support and instead focus on gaining mobility.

What’s the difference?

Strength.

Both flexibility and mobility refer to the range of motion possible by a joint, but mobility is when you have the strength to get into the range and get out of it on your own.

“A student said to his master, you teach me fighting but you talk about peace? How do you reconcile the two? The master replied - It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.” 

Using external props to do your work, such as your teacher adjusting you every day, foam rollers, backbend wheels and mats with extra grip, then you end up a gardener. You have range of motion with no strength.  

If your path leads you to more advanced asanas it’s much better to be a warrior.

(Side note: I’m not saying it is necessary to do advanced asanas to receive many of the benefits of yoga. There are benefits from day one but If you do want to go further and are interested in learning how to address mobility deficits, it will be discussed in the next post of this series)

You Need Grip Strength to “Open Your Hips”

It took me 13 years to do full lotus. By reading this it should help you do it a lot faster.

When someone says that the hips are open it describes the result but doesn’t tell you much about the process of how they got there.

For people with SAAD like myself this is important because we can unknowingly bypass the work in our Yoga practice through compensations.

Not until I started taking courses created by two Canadian doctors called FRC did I learn the underlying cause for having hips that weren’t open and why it wasn’t changing in my practice.

I was cheating.

Since the asana’s involve multiple joints I was able to create the form but not actually move the joint to it's fullest capacity.

Let me illustrate this point with an example.

The femur bone and the pelvis are two separate structures that have the ability to move independently of each other.


Where they meet is the hip joint which is a ball and socket joint.

How much space there is between these two structures is what is called in FRC terms “workspace”.

When then the capacity of that joint’s movement is reached the femur and pelvis stop moving separately and start moving together which is called joint coupling.

When a person has a small workspace then there is a small amount of space between the femur and the pelvis and less time before joint coupling.

If there is a large workspace then there is more space between these two bones and more time before that capacity is reached.

In practice just  because the movement has stopped at the hip joint doesn’t mean that you will stop in an attempt to do the Asana.

The structures that will pick up where the hips left off are usually the ones where the injuries show up like the lower back and the knees.

To do asana’s safely we need to know:

1. what body structures should be moving

2. how much they should be moving

and here is the part that gets missed...

3. What shouldn’t be moving. 

Which is where grip comes in.   

When I do the standing postures I need the strength & awareness to hold pelvis fixed so the femur can move in the hip joint without taking the pelvis with it.

The doctors who started FRC recognized that many people were getting injured trying to do different physical activities (not just yoga) because they didn’t have the “prerequisites” meaning natural human joints.

Just like grip strength, having baseline human joints, is a human strength deficit that needs to be addressed depending on what you want to do with your body.

Creating workspace and just as important having control of that space will be the topic of my next post in this series.

Grip Strength & God

“Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you. I know where the shoe pinches. I have gained a little experience. You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little of strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman when your body stands firm upon your feet, and you feel yourselves as men. Thus we have to apply these to our needs.” - Swami Vivekananda

What is the relationship between spirituality and strength?

What does all this jumping, bending, twisting and squeezing we do in yoga have to do with God?

I’ll share my personal thoughts after 15 years of practicing.

The body we inhabit is a form of God.

Our bodies come from nature and are alive through the breath and the nervous system.

For myself, a westerner living in the modern world, the purpose of these yoga practices is the practical method of how we can bring more of God, this aliveness, into us.

We do it by strengthening our connection with breath.

We do it by strengthening the nervous system so that it reaches into every muscle of our bodies.

And most of all we strengthen the ability to calm the mind and open up the voice of the unconscious.

“My teacher Krishnamarcharya as a religious scholar was emphatic, he said if you have religion in your life you need this, it’s part of the ancient primordial wisdom tradition of humanity, there needs to be a yoga a practicum ,something that you can actually do, otherwise the brilliance of the text, the beautiful ideas, stay ideas that make you miserable because it seems like you haven't attained them yet.”  - Mark Whitwell

This aliveness is not found in books.

Books are useful no doubt, but as the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu reminds us, “Words are the dirt of dead men.”

I think that this is what Swami Vivekanada was alluding to in the quote above.

You can read books and memorize scriptures in an attempt to know God, or you can go directly to the source of knowledge from which those books were written & experience it yourself.

Which is what we do in Ashtanga Yoga Mysore-style, we go to school to study and learn.

But in this school we don’t sit in chairs and we don’t look outside ourselves.

Our tools for study are not pens and notebooks; they are asana, breath, bandha and drishti.

With these tools, we study nature by turning our attention inwards.

We begin the inward journey, and as Joseph Campbell says,

And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.

This journey I've written extensively about on this site which is symbolized by the Sri Yantra.

And you thought it was just for Instagram photos.

Using A Yoga Rug To Build Foot Grip Strength

This is not my idea since it’s really just how all the first western Ashtanga practitioners chose to practice before business got involved and screwed it all up. 

Back then, there were no companies around to sell yoga mats.

Why we switched from a rug to a plastic mat is an unbelievable story if you have the time you can read that here.  I learned about all of this first from Mark Darby, one of the first westerners to study in Mysore.

Here’s what Darby told me:

“We practiced on the mat that was on the floor in the old shala. No sticky mats back then or any decent cotton mats. The Indians used small towels to catch the sweat. Eventually we found loose weave mats that would stretch and fall apart fairly quickly. After a few years we found mats made from leftover silk that was matted together. Once we started to sweat these were good. Actually it was a great benefit as we had to grip the floor so as not to slide. Something that you don't have to do with sticky mats." - Certified Ashtanga Teacher Mark Darby

The strategy is to create a surface where you have ability to adjust the level of grip so right from the beginning in the standing postures you do your own gripping.

Let's define the 3 levels:

Enough grip -  the amount where you are using your own foot grip strength to keep your feet in place and it’s slightly challenging.

Not enough grip - is when it’s too challenging which we don’t want.

Extra grip - no challenge at all and you are using the mat to support yourself instead of your own power.

Remember: Enough grip is not a fixed amount. It changes depending on each person’s level of strength, difficulty of the asana and the amount of moisture/sweat there is.

Let’s walk through this so you can see how it works in action.

Here’s the tools you will need:

  1. A modern yoga mat with a high level of grip
  2. An organic cotton yoga rug
  3. Moisture, either water or your own sweat
  4. The ability to pay attention and keep your ego in its place 

Step 1. Lay down your modern mat with extra grip

As much as I criticize all the “business first” yoga companies, the modern mat is useful, ironically enough, in modern yoga studios.  

The modern mat wasn’t necessary in the first shala in Mysore because the floor was carpet.

Now most shalas, including KPJAYI, have floors that are made of laminate, hardwood or tile.

It is easier for cleaning, but not great for a cotton rug on it’s own.

Using the modern mat with extra grip works great to solve this issue.

First, it makes your practice surface a little softer, but not too soft, which is good for asanas like Garbha Pindasana, for example.

Secondly, it puts a barrier between your yoga rug, which you actually touch and sweat on, and the public floor. This way you aren’t touching things like cleaning chemicals or other people’s sweat.

I often use the analogy of sheets on a mattress to a yoga rug. The mattress is in the floor and sheets go on the mattress. Then you wash the sheets on the bed. You don’t wash the mattress.

I personally use a Manduka Pro just because I got it for 50% off from another teacher 5 years ago.

Unfortunately, this mat isn’t biodegradable, so I would discourage buying the same one. I think they have some biodegradable ones now, and if you have any suggestions please leave in the comments below.

Either way I will never have to throw out my Manduka mat and add to landfills because of the next step.

Step 2: Put an Organic Cotton Yoga Rug On Top

Why the cotton rug works best for building foot grip strength is because it can be adjusted to have more grip.

The cotton rug gets more grip when it gets wet.  (Compared to how the plastic mats lose grip when they get wet.)

As you start to practice, the heat starts to build and the asanas start to get more challenging. The result is usually some sweat.

Harder asanas, more sweat, more grip on the cotton rug.

Perfect.

BUT

Say you live in a colder environment like me and you might be lucky to get one bead of sweat in Kapotasana.

If you find that you aren’t sweating enough and there is not enough grip you’ve got 2 options:

A. Remove the rug and use the sticky mat underneath. - Prasarita Padottanasana and backbends are common poses that you might have to do this for, but as with all things related to yoga, it varies with each individual.

Or

B. Dampen the rug or your hands and feet with some water.

There is usually a spray bottle somewhere in the studio as a sweat substitute or to help slide the arms through the legs in garbha pindasana. Simply spray or pour water where the hands and feet go and you have instant grip.

Both of these adjustments should be occasional and not every posture. If you have to add water for every one of the beginning postures, then its better to just use the modern mat and that level of traction till you build up some strength.

Step 3. Pay attention

Judge for yourself how much you are gripping and then adjust accordingly.

The “extra grip” level of traction of a modern mat may be “enough grip” for you to start building strength.

If it is too easy and you are getting comfortable, then it’s extra and the only thing getting stronger is your ego.

As Instagram reveals, the ego loves to showcase asana but  remember warriors don’t just look strong--they actually are.

By paying attention and adjusting your level of grip, overtime you will get stronger until at some point you will be able to do the whole practice just on your yoga rug.

(Added benefit: for led classes, you get extra breaths in Dandasana while everyone else is scrambling to put down their towels!)

If you have questions or need more information, please email me or check out our Mysore Rugs FAQ. (link to FAQ)

Building Grip Strength After Practice

My own experience has shown me that often the practice is not enough to address the human strength deficits created from overexposure to technology.

I've seen from my trips to Mysore that even the youth of India are losing basic human abilities like a flat-foot squat because of chairs.

The simplest way to address these deficits is to remove technology for periods of your day and spend more time in natural environments.  

This isn’t always easy or even possible, especially if you live in a city where there is a lot of technology between you and nature.

My solution when I lived in Vancouver was to spend time in the man-made versions of nature.

The two I used were the park and climbing gym.

1. The Climbing Gym

If you want to get a strong grip, this is the best way to do it.

I know what you’re thinking, and no rock climbing does not make you “stiff”. It makes you strong.

Not moving is what makes you stiff.

Climbing has so many benefits built in to the activity--variety of movement, gripping, community, and focus.

The indoor climbing gym is the hamster wheel of the real thing, so once you get hooked, start to venture outside.

Personally, I found that climbing fulfills a need that my yoga practice doesn’t address.

Yoga is practiced indoors, and although you have your community to practice with, it is still a very solitary, inward journey.

With climbing, you get to be outside, immersed in nature with the million benefits that come from that alone. It’s very social, you can’t hold a cell phone as you do it, and it challenges you individually. It also focuses the mind.

I’ve found that bookending my work day with yoga in the morning and then some type of outdoor activity with friends and loved ones is the best combination for me. My level of strength and mental happiness instantly starts to head in the right direction.

2. The Park

I’ve written about this is other posts which you can read here.

In Vancouver, we are lucky to have some beautiful parks and beaches right in the city. The only challenge is that with so many people and their pets using them, it’s not uncommon to be stepping in things you don’t want to.

When I was rehabbing my back, I would go to Kits beach almost every afternoon after my work day to both strengthen my feet and squeeze some grounding in.

I tried just walking up and down the beach in bare feet, but it was too cold and I also was worried about stepping in something disgusting or even some glass. To protect my feet but still have them move naturally, I would wear my 5 finger shoes.

They worked good for this level of foot training, but it wasn’t enough protection for when I started longer trails.

For that I switched to the Vevo Barefoot (plus they don’t look so funny).

Much like using the yoga rug you have to figure out where your baseline is and then go from there.

The other activity that helped strengthen my feet and at the same time was enjoyable is slacklining.

Slacklining

Slacklining is a bit deceiving because for the first hour you are learning, it seems impossible, but all of sudden it clicks and you can start to enjoy yourself.  

For this I would go barefoot since I could clear the area of dog poop, cigarette butts, glass or any other garbage.

Slacklining is similar to rock climbing in that you can do it outside in nature with friends, it focuses the mind, it costs almost nothing, and it makes you stronger.

Not to mention all the other benefits of just being outside in nature like grounding, natural light, and breathing fresh air.

The Best of Both. Yoga & Nature Together at Folding Mountain Mysore

At one point I realized that the city was preventing me from achieving my full human strength potential.

I moved there to study with Fiona Stang and to have a community to practice with, but the city was just too time-consuming to ever get the amount of nature exposure I needed.

So with the help of my fiancé Franceska, we scratched our own itch.

Mysore in the mountains. That’s what we are creating.

We have 27 cabins at the base of Folding Mountain at the edge of Jasper National Park, which is where I’m writing this post.

Folding Mountain Yoga

This summer, 2019, there will be the first version of our shala.

This guy is already signed up.

 

 

Ever since I found the Ashtanga Mysore method it’s been my sadhana.

From the very beginning, since I had no teacher, I had to travel to learn, but there was one thing I never liked: the majority of shalas, communities, and experienced teachers were always in cities.

I wanted to live in an environment where when I finished practice, I got stronger mentally and physically from the exposure of a natural environment..

“So this information I'm talking about has been gone for 110 years. We're reinstituting it and saying "Well actually if you want health to change in someone Māori, it can't be about people."  So health, in our opinion, has nothing to do with people. Health is more of an understanding of the environments that cause you to be the way you are.” - Dr Ihi Heke, Katy Bowman Podcast

I wanted to breathe in fresh mountain air with every inhale. I wanted to hear the sounds of the forest.

I wanted to feel the calmness of minimal to no electricity. After practice I wanted to walk on uneven forest trails and see trees and animals, not flat concrete with advertising.

I wanted deep sleeps beneath dark skies that revealed the stars. I wanted to touch the dirt of the earth with my bare skin and know it was clean.

Most of all, I wanted to learn what the mountains could teach me by immersing myself in them.

After Franceska and I made multiple trips to KPJAYI and received Authorization to teach, the best of both worlds is now a reality:

Mysore in the mountains, a small shala located at the edge of deep wild untouched forest. A place you can breathe in silence with other dedicated students. A place you can hear the wisdom that comes from creating the conditions to hear the unconscious.

Will you be joining us?

For updated Information on practicing with us click here.

Clint “Mountain Mysore” Griffiths

Resources

Foot Grip Strengthening

 

[1] SAID Principle https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2009/0110111

[2] Simon Borg Reference Squat  https://yogasynergy.com/traditional-yoga-for-the-modern-body/John Scott https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXpqkh-Gc9w, Mark Robberds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZvozanykAg[1]

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26869476

[4] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/13/481590997/millennials-may-be-losing-their-grip

[5] https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/10-4-nervous-system-control-of-muscle-tension/

[6] Midlife Hand Grip Strength as a Predictor of Old Age Disability https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/188748

[7 ]Associations of grip strength with cardiovascular, respiratory, and cancer outcomes and all cause mortality: prospective cohort study of half a million UK Biobank participants https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k1651

[8] Harvard Health Publishing https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/give-grip-strength-a-hand

 

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_3/Lectures_from_Colombo_to_Almora/Vedanta_in_its_Application_to_Indian_Life


HVMN Podcast reference https://hvmn.com/podcast/mtor-signaling-&-cell-growth-ft-dr-keith-barr-ep-109

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