Quit Coffee but Still Stiff, What’s Up?

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Ken asks:

I’ve been a strict vegetarian and gave up caffeine for a little while, and I’m still not any more flexible. I’ve asked other yoga instructors if they drink caffeine and they do, and they are very, very flexible. They are also meat eaters, too, and they are very flexible. I prefer to be vegetarian. I figured I would try being a strict vegetarian. If anything, my flexibility has decreased. Why is this?

Well, Ken, this is a really great question, and for sure, no diet works for everyone. Certain things are going to work great for some people, and they’re not going to work great for other people. Now, when you look at really advanced yoga teachers and yoga students, you do find that a lot of them are vegetarian. One of the main benefits of vegetarian diet, if you’re doing it right, which means eating lots of whole foods, is you get a lot of water in your diet. You also get a lot of minerals in your diet, again, if you’re eating whole foods and mostly plant foods and not if you’re eating all milk and breads and things like this, and so that can really help with your flexibility.

Another thing that it does, is plant-based proteins tend to be lighter and they digest faster. Now, there’s controversy around plant-based and animal-based proteins and we don’t need to get into that right here, but they do digest more quickly. So what I mean by that, is let’s say you’re having a plant-based protein like some lentils or like some kidney beans or even like some broccoli or some seaweed, which are pretty good sources of protein as well. That’s going to go through your digestive system much more quickly than, say, a chicken breast or a piece of beef or any other animal protein.

And so what that does, is energetically, that makes your body much lighter and that can lead towards more flexibility as well. So really, the biggest benefits are water density of your food, which tends to be higher, mineral density of your food, which is almost always higher and faster protein digestion. Now that said, there’s people who eat meat and there’s yoga instructors and teachers who eat meat and they’re very flexible, and you’re right, they’ve very healthy and they do just fine. So, it’s definitely not the end-all, be-all answer, but some people do find it works well. You said that it’s working for you, so if it is working for you, it’d encourage you to stick with it. No need to be dogmatic. Do whatever feels right for you.

In terms of the caffeine and flexibility, if you’re talking like just a cup of coffee a day, it’s probably not a big deal. As soon as you start doing more than that, you start to get dehydration, which is really bad on all levels, but especially for your nervous system and especially for the mobility of your joints and your connective tissues. Everything just stiffens up when it gets dry. And it’s also an adrenal fry, and what I mean by that, is it causes an adrenal response in your body. It’s very similar to being stressed out, and that has all kinds of negative effects on your body, none of which are good for flexibility. If you imagine someone who just drank five shots of espresso, usually you think of them as very nervous and tense and their shoulders crunched up by their ears. That stereotype, there’s some realness to that, and that can lead into your body. Now, if you’re just drinking a cup of coffee a day and if you’re not a super strict vegetarian, it’s not going to probably make a huge world of difference.

More important than anything, Ken, I’d really focus on doing your daily stresses and supplement your stretches. So what I mean by that is, do your gravity poses, or if you’re doing another series, whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re working on flexibility, specifically outside of your normal yoga class. Yoga classes are great, they’re powerful. I do yoga classes and practices every day. But, if you’re working on a specific area, like your hips or your back or your hamstrings or your shoulders or whatever it is, you need to spend time focusing on the flexibility of those areas specifically, doing flexibility training, and that’s where you’re going to get your biggest results.

Make sure to time your poses. Make sure to meet or beat your hold times. We’ve talked about that in previous episodes, and that’s where you’re going to get the best results. Hope that’s helpful, check back with us, Ken. Let us know if that’s working for you.

Amy asks:

I just purchased your Gravity Yoga DVD and already it’s increased my flexibility. Thank you! I also enjoy your emails and online videos.

How much yoga is too much yoga? Is it possible to be too obsessed with yoga?

I would say, Amy, yes, it’s possible. I think a lot of us yoga teachers have gotten too obsessed with yoga. I think, really, there’s a famous Oscar Wilde quote, and he says, ‘Nothing exceeds like excess,’ and it’s an interesting way to look at the world. I don’t think that’s always true, excessive drinking, excessive eating, will lead you straight to the grave, but excessive things that are really great for you can really lead to excellence.

Now, how much is too much? I think too much yoga is when you stop paying your rent and you stop dressing properly and your social and family relationships fall apart. I would say that’s when it’s too much. To be obsessed with something that’s really great for you, as long as it’s a healthy obsession and it really makes you feel great and it’s not a guilty obsession, meaning if you miss your practice you’re feeling guilty all day, that’s no good, but as long as it’s a healthy obsession, you’re excited about it, that’s a really great thing. And I think more of us could use healthy addictions.

How much does a person need to practice to maintain the gains they’ve made?

Flexibility gains are very interesting. They’re very, very different than strength gains. For example, let’s say someone has been a cheerleader in high school. If you’re not in the U.S., a cheerleader is a kind of form of acrobatics/dance that American high school and actually professional sport now, where men and women will do things like splits and they’ll make human towers and do all kinds of really yoga-type stuff.

Anyway, long explanation, but someone who’s done cheerleading in high school can often drop into like a full splits, maybe even a full side splits, well into middle age. What’s interesting, is once you change your body’s connective tissues, maintaining flexibility is really easy. Now, maintaining strength is really, really hard. Talk to any body builder. They’ll tell you, if they go more than three or four days without going to the gym, they start to shrink just immediately.

But, flexibility is very, very different. Your connective tissues gains, they last a very long time. The only thing that really reverses it, is when you start to do repetitive motion or resistance training without flexibility training. So, let’s say, Amy, that you got your hamstrings really open, you could sandwich your body flat against your legs, and then you started doing a lot of intense marathon training without stretching. It’s possible you could go backwards, but for the most part, every gain you make, they’ll really last for a long time, as long as you do a little bit of maintenance stretching, and even better if you just keep progressing over time.

Is there a good yoga routine that you would recommend for the days I work 12 hour shifts?

So, if you’re working long shifts, that can be really, really challenging. I mean, one of the best things to do is try to take a break during the day and do some practices. I find that in the middle of the day, especially if you just have a short amount of time, one of the simplest things to do is just sun salutations. If you can take a break and go out to a park or escape, the challenge with yoga is you kind of look crazy. So, if you go to the park and start doing yoga, you get some funny looks, but there’s places where you can find to do them. Maybe at your office there’s a workout room or something like that, but sun salutations.

If you go to my YouTube channel, which is YouTube.com/LRockwood, you’ll find a whole bunch of videos on sun salutations. Those are probably one of the most powerful yoga exercises that exist. When I also have a short period of time, I also like to do things that are really intense and also inverted. So, I love to do handstand practices against a wall for a long period of

time, I like to do headstand practice, if you’re familiar with that, and then I’ll do some really kind of symmetrical gravity yoga poses, like a ragdoll pose against the wall. A lot of these, you can sneak in at work. The handstands, probably not, but like a ragdoll pose, you definitely could.

Jake asks:

What are the best poses to do to relive back pain? Can you give me a simple series?

People are always looking for the one pose that’s going to fix back pain or the one pose that’s going to open up their hips. And once in a while you’ll find one, but in general, what you’re really looking at is a holistic approach here. So you’re trying to figure out, what are the poses, what are the series, what’s something that I can sustain that’s going to support the healing of my back. It sounds like Jake has some back pain.

There’s a couple of things. First of all, if you go to our website, if you’re on our website now, go to the top. You’ll see something that’s call “Free Stuff,” and it will say “Yoga Back Videos” or something like that on the drop down. Go there, there’s like three different videos. One’s a webinar, one’s a tutorial. I think there’s a pose chart there as well. And they’re some of the simplest poses that I recommend a lot. That’s a great place to start. We also have a comprehensive yoga for back and neck care program. It’s a five-week program. There’s five different short yoga series, they’re about 15 to 20 minutes long. You get five yoga pose charts. There’s a bunch of really great information.

So, if you are a back pain sufferer, I’d definitely recommend checking that out. There’s some really great stuff there. But more than anything, you want to find something that you can sustain, because you want to find something you can do five days a week, whether it’s before bed or after your gym workout or after your yoga practice or whatever it is you do, you want to find something you can do on a regular basis. For sure, yoga can be very, very helpful for a lot of kinds of back pain. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider. Make sure it’s appropriate for your condition, but it can be really great practice.

Carol asks:

In my local studio, they chant Sanskrit, and it makes me uncomfortable. I’m a Christian and I don’t know if it fits with my faith. Is all yoga Hindu?

So, if you’ve never heard of Sanskrit, Sanskrit is the ancient spiritual language of India, in the same way that Latin is in western countries. And so, in some classes, you will hear chanting in Sanskrit. Why do they do this? Well, it’s kind of because yoga comes from India. So in the same way that at an American baseball game they will sing America the Beautiful in football games and things like this, sometimes they’ll do prayers and things like this. It’s more of a cultural thing than it is really connected to yoga.

Yoga itself is not a Hindu practice, but because it comes from a culture with such a strong Hindu background, sometimes Hindu traditions do slip in, and Sanskrit also is not part of the Hindu religion, but of course a lot of the ancient Hindu texts were written in Sanskrit and there are prayers in Sanskrit as well.

I think this is really a personal thing. I think faith and spirituality is something that everybody has to find on their own, so I certainly understand, Carol, that you might but uncomfortable in class with that. I think I’d definitely have a chat with your teacher and make sure they’re supportive of you, but in most cases, a lot of times, It’s not that anyone’s trying to bring in a Hindu scenario. They’re just sharing something that they’ve learned. And if you’re comfortable with that and that works for you, I think it’s great. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s cool, too, and there’s plenty of places where there’s Christian yoga groups and there’s people doing yoga of all different faiths, so I’d encourage you to take a look there. Yoga trapeze