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Want to Start Running? See if You’re Ready to hit the Pavement

Want to Start Running? See if You’re Ready to hit the Pavement

New running shoes? Check. Hamstring stretches? Check. Crazy-expensive socks designed to prevent blisters? Check. You’ve got the gear and you’re resolved to get out the door and start a running program. However, despite your strong desire to be like Meb, don’t start pounding the pavement just yet.

Before you begin a running program, you need to know if your body is ready for this high-impact exercise. Running isn’t just about endurance; you need strength to run. Performing the strength test below is a great way to determine if you’re strong enough to starting running.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1) An exercise mat

2) A timer

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3) A step (a step stool will do just fine)

Start by going for a 10-minute walk to warm up. Then perform each exercise below for one minute in the order listed.

1) Forward lunge, knee up: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Step forward with your right foot, then sink down into a lunge. From this lunged position, push up on your right leg and bring your left leg forward into a knee-up. Step your left foot back to where it started and sink into the lunge again. After a few minutes, you should feel this in your right hip and right glute. If you feel this in your quadriceps (front leg muscle) or have any knee pain, focus on keeping your knee behind your toe as you lunge and your right knee turned slightly outward so that you’ll engage your gluteal muscles.

After one minute on one side, rest, and switch sides.

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    2) Mini-hops: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and hop just slightly above the ground. There’s no need to go super high. Just a slight hop will do.

    3) Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Stick your rear back, keep your chest up, and sit back like you’re going to sit in a chair. Just like in the first exercise, you should feel this in your gluteals. Strong gluteal muscles are essential for injury-free running, so if you can’t keep proper form, you likely aren’t ready to run yet. Until you’re stronger, you can hold onto a steady object (e.g., a chair, the back of the couch, etc.) to give yourself some stability while you master this move.

    4) Football feet: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Shuffle your feet up and down quickly. Move to right, to the left, or stay in the middle. You can do any type of football feet you like as long as you just keep moving.

    5) Birddog crunch: On your mat, start on all fours. Tighten your core and make your back flat. Tuck in your left arm as you bring your right leg toward your stomach into a crunch motion while keeping your back flat. Then extend your arm back out to be straight while you also straighten your leg. After one minute on one side, rest, and switch sides.

    6) Side V-up: Lie down on your right side with your right arm straight in front of you. Lean slightly back on your butt; keep your legs straight and crunch up, making a V, and then come back down. After your 30 seconds are done, rest, and switch sides.

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      7) Side plank: Lie down on your right side with your legs straight out. Stack your left foot on top of your right foot. Rise up onto your right elbow, while keeping your feet stacked on top of each other and your body in a straight line. After your 30 seconds are done, rest, and switch sides.

      8) Plank dog: Start in a plank position. Make sure your body is in a straight line. Press back into downward dog (i.e., making an upside-down V with your body) and bring back one of your hands to touch the opposite shin. Go back into plank, on the next downward dog, and switch arms.

      9) Bridge kicks: Lie on your back. Place your feet on the floor so that they are a couple of inches from your butt. Tighten your core and raise your butt off the floor. Keep your butt tight while you lift your legs one at a time. Is your butt dropping? Tighten it up; it needs to be level.

      10) Side steps: Stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Stick your butt back and go into a squat, keeping your chest raised. If you can’t see your feet, you aren’t sitting back far enough. You should be able to wiggle your toes. Once you’re in a good position, step to the side while holding this position for 10 steps (or as far as your living room will allow), then go back. Think about keeping your nose level as you move across the floor. (If you want to add an additional challenge, you can place an elastic exercise band around the lower legs.)

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      11) Heel raises: Stand with legs shoulder width apart with your feet straight ahead. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, then lift one foot and sink down slowly onto the foot still on the ground. Focus on bringing your arch to the floor last. After one minute on one side, rest, and switch sides.

      12) Mountain climbers: Start in a plank. Remember your butt should be in alignment with your back and shoulders. Alternating knees, bring each knee into your chest in a quick motion, like you’re climbing rapidly up a mountain. (Disclaimer: Nobody actually climbs a mountain like this, unless they want to die.) Keep your butt aligned; don’t let it pop up.

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        How did you do? Were you able to perform each of the 12 exercises for one minute, while maintaining great form, without having to take a break? If so, great – you’re ready to start running.

        If you’re struggling through these movements or need frequent breaks, you’re not ready; you’ll only risk injury if you start a running program. However, don’t worry. Every time you do this strength test, you’ll get stronger. If you are suffering pain after running due to plantar fasciitis, my article on how to choose the best shoes for plantar fasciitis is for you. Remember to do this routine up to five times a week and build up to completing the test successfully. Once you can, you can feel confident as you head out the door and begin your running program.

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        Published on January 17, 2020

        How to Learn Yoga (The Beginner’s Guide)

        How to Learn Yoga (The Beginner’s Guide)

        If you think yoga can be learned on the mat, you’re wrong! To learn yoga is to learn yourself, your life and the world around you, which happens mostly off the mat.

        Since 2000, I study, practice, teach and live yoga – I grow with it from year to year – hence life becomes more interesting and more meaningful from year to year, too. Through all these years, I observe the evolution of yoga in the western culture and see, how (mostly) wrongly, has been interpreted, taught and practiced. Little is known about how to learn yoga – about its practice, its effect and its application. Yoga is all about finding the simplicity and the meaning in the complexity of life.

        But when we look around us, it doesn’t seem so simple, even for those who practice it, and for the most who teach it. Everything about yoga begins in its definition from the original yogic scripture Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[1]

        And the value for how to learn yoga, is in this article – showing the value of the above definition and how to practice it in the simplest way, effectively and efficiently.

        What is Yoga?

        Yoga-Citta-Vrtti-Hirodhah — and its translation is: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations arising within consciousness.

        The 195 Sutras, that the original yoga scripture consists of, are written in a strongly compressed manner with the idea to deliver a profound meaning and a lot of space for interpretation. However, the interpreter must be highly serious and competent, otherwise the interpretation will drastically deviate from what the message conveys.

        When the definition about yoga is interpreted and applied the right way, it tells us how yoga is to be practiced and explored. To start the right way, we must know the right destination of yoga, which is Kaivalya:[2] The union between you, the other and the world.

        Let’s see how to do that:

        Beginning with the famous mainstream slogan “Union of Body, Mind and Soul”, brings up the question, “How to reunite the body, mind and soul?”

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        Your feelings – created by outside stimuli result in the creation of thoughts, hence there’s connection between your body and mind. That’s easy to understand, right?

        Now this connection and the thoughts must serve and improve the mind, making it capable to 1) understand the soul and 2) to unite it with the body and mind. That’s where our journey towards the goal of yoga (Samadhi) is interrupted – making the main part of the union not easy to understand, even less so to accomplish.

        Yoga is More Spiritual than Physical

        This is what makes yoga more spiritual than physical. To put it in numbers, yoga is 97% of psychological, philosophical and spiritual nature and only some 3% of physiological, considering that there are only seven out of 195 Sutras referring physiologically to sitting and breathing, of which I talked in my earlier post on Yoga For men.

        But before experiencing any spirituality from yoga, there is the mental (emotional) part that needs to be mastered and that part is to establish a connection between the body and mind. How?

        The simple thought and realization that you are conscious of how you feel within your body (cold, warm, relaxed, depressed, anxious, happy and so on), means that you have made the union between your body and mind. (below the step by step exercise for that).

        But to establish a connection to your soul – to the finest part of yourself – the Self:

        You must find out (through thinking) what is the subtlest thing that drives your body and mind – yourself as an individual and use that driver to go pass beyond your physicality and mentality.

        It is right here that you use the definition about yoga and the realization – the moment, where you are not analyzing any thoughts or feelings. This is a state of Yoga – a state of union between body, mind and soul, in which your consciousness has ceased to identify with its fluctuations.

        Yoga as Creativity and Expertise of the Individual

        In such a case, there is no specific (like beginners, intermediate or advanced) technique for learning yoga. The moment of the state of yoga arises for everyone of us in an individual way as everybody’s physique and mental content are different. You might be very well advanced in performing the most difficult asanas for decades but still unable and incompetent to be in a state of union with your body, mind and soul. Whereas, if you are a beginner and possess the grace and other virtues, than it’s easier and quicker to establish that connection.

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        As yoga is an inherent part of the human being, firstly, in order to pave the yoga path successfully and effectively, you must understand that yoga is not a technique for performance, but rather a creativity and expertise of yourself.

        Your learning process cannot be focused on, nor conditioned by a certain handbook, someone’s instructions or some specific school.

        Learning yoga requires your creativity to look within yourself and learn from yourself, become the expert of your feelings, emotions and desires. You, as a beginner might already possess many qualities and prerequisites for creating the union between your body, mind and soul, but your knowledge requires creativity for your growth to reach the state of union and then reap the fruits of that union. Once this happens there is no turning back – you’ll be pulled by the beauty and energy of your on being.

        Be Fast Mentally and Slow Physically

        As already mentioned, you don’t need to do physical performances like the split or the headstand to be able to immerse in a deep meditation or Samadhi. But you do need enough creativity for your self-inquiry.

        Many of my students start working directly with meditation – attending the complexities of the mind, because that’s where the hindrances lie. There, the meditator is able to work on the cessation of identifying with the fluctuations of the consciousness – where intelligence expands, adversity ends and the individual is ready to pass through its physicality and mentality in order to reach the union with the soul.

        But if you’re really a beginner and cannot start with that, then you can start enhancing your creativity on the body-mind level. The exercise follows in the next paragraph.

        The greater your creativity, the better your expertise about yourself – the deeper your competence to inquire further into the union with your soul. Sure enough that a more pliable and healthy physical body has some advantages and better preconditions for that, but don’t get discouraged because your body-mind union will open up the way.

        So here we are, you are at the moment to enhance your creativity upon that union. Please, take this as a very serious part of the practice as it is crucial for learning yoga – for learning yourself.

        The Beginner’s Exercise – Creativity upon Body-Mind Union

        The first and most important element to learn and practice yoga is of physiological and psychological nature: Stillness:

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        1. Make sure your body is still and comfortable.
        2. Focus on breathing to initiate observing.
        3. Observe your body and identify the first feeling that occurs to you.
        4. Keep identifying feelings and emotions, but without getting involved with them.
        5. Now create feelings and emotions as you please and let them go.

        That’s it! That’s the creativity upon the body-mind union. The validity of this creativity lies in the stillness and observance of that union. In this practice you can learn to understand and catch the moment – the main ingredient of life.

        Life is a sequence of moments and knowing that you’re able to manage that sequence is a new level of living life, called dharma – the practical and skillful way of living. An essential character develops as a result of practicing this discipline.

        However, be aware that we are still talking about outward elements of yoga – the gross levels (from Yama to Pratyahara) whereas the subtle, inward elements (Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) are yet to be approached, learned and implemented. It is on these subtle levels that you can realize the depth of spirituality and the essence of yoga.

        It is remarkable how the science of yoga can take you in such heights and depths of exploring life and being. Little is known about the essence and the right practice of yoga in the west. There is a huge knowledge gap between how yoga should be learned and how it is practiced today in the west. You can bridge this gap by practicing the above exercise.

        Know that yoga is of a very subtle nature – operating on a subtle energetic level – the level of your mental energies, your thoughts. That means that it is to be learned at that level and not on any other. A body posture alone cannot take you to that level if you don’t apply your creativity and self-inquiry.

        Prerequisite for Yogic Success – Union between You and the Other

        Yoga is nothing, if our relationships with others are not managed harmonically.

        Learning yoga is also learning connecting with the other – with the stranger who’s not you but carries the same “core”, the same heart as you. We as individuals, possess the inborn feature of Ego – the “I-consciousness” that makes us feel separate from the rest of what makes the wholeness.

        This separation is the second of the the five “klesah” afflictions[3] – that stand as major hindrance against the union (Yoga) – called “asmita” or I-am-ness / Egoism (Y.S. II.6.), and has to be cultivated and brought to a level of discernment that will lessen our disturbance that comes out the fragmentation between the “I-am-ness” and the “Other-ness”.

        This is a crucial concept in Yoga and it is inevitable to be worked upon this hindrance in order to reach the inner “psychological” freedom or the ultimate liberation “Kaivalya” for which Yoga stands for. But, again, if you are beginner in this part, you want to know how to start dealing with all this. Here is the exercise:

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        1. Practice observance from the first exercise.
        2. Realize that the structure of your feelings, emotions, etc. is identical with the one of the other individuals.
        3. Practice witnessing, tolerating and gradually accepting the diversity between yourself and the other individuals.
        4. Observe for so long with equanimity, until you see the uniformity in that diversity.

        This is one of the greatest accomplishments a human being can achieve. To be, means, to be in relationship – internally, as well as externally.

        Yogic Lifestyle – Union Between You, The Other and The World

        Here comes the last piece of the puzzle – the union – on the highest level of worldly existence – between you, the other and the world. This means that Yoga is also worthless if practiced only on the mat. So when learning yoga, especially when practicing the body-mind union, consider if:

        You speak the language of nature and how you’re connected to nature and its basic elements? Do you complicate your existence by thinking that you are in the center of the world and require extra attention and acknowledgement?

        Thinking this way interferes with the practice of yoga. And surely, you might wonder, what should be done here in order to create that harmony in union? You’d be amazed to know that there is one important yogic movement that needs to be done. That is:

        The action of not doing anything but contemplating! Then yoga happens.

        Yes, this goes beyond the physicality and mentality of your being. As our bodies play just a tiny part of the evolution of existence, we must not attach to the world in that sense – clinging to worldly life with that insatiable urge that generates worries and anxiety – but rather grow through life with detachment and the attitude that life has been gifted to us with the purpose to realize that gift and attain the wisdom of life.

        Go Beyond Your Physicality and Mentality

        Attaining greatness like connecting to the world and to your soul, we must pass beyond the thoughts, feelings and emotions, and the influence they have on us. Hence we want to make the mental fluctuations to cease and let yoga shine its light through this yogic movement:

        The stillness and the watching within.

        Can yoga be understood and achieved in one single session and then practiced continuously, productively and effectively? Of course it can. Your union within yourself, the other and the world is lot simpler and easier than you think. Practice these simple yogic movements diligently, seriously but also effortlessly and your yoga will be flourishing and fruitful. I salute the spirit in you!

        More About Yoga

        Featured photo credit: Avrielle Suleiman via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
        [2] Wikipedia: Kaivalya
        [3] Plato Stanford: Klesah

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