Adventures with acroyoga

Yesterday I took my first acroyoga class, which was held at the Laughing Frog Yoga studio.

We started with headstands, which I’ve been learning to do with the assistance of a wall. This time we did it without a wall but with a partner to spot. We were instructed to start in crow pose (picture from the web, not of me):

Next, you place your head to the mat and rotate your hips up to go into a headstand.

This is hard.

It was the first time I’d done crow pose, which is a nontrivial exercise in balance. Then I got my head down to the mat, but I couldn’t rotate my hips all the way up. So I started over and did it the way I’ve been practicing: bend at the waist, put your head on the ground, and rotate your legs up from that point. This is much easier, mainly because your waist starts higher.

In the handstand, we adopted a straddle pike position, which means legs apart in a V and hips bent so your legs are in front of you (not straight overhead). We then practiced flexing the sacrum to learn how to rotate the legs forward and back without tipping your weight forward and back. Why? Because “once you’re doing this on top of someone’s feet, you don’t want to tip off onto the floor.”

Of course.

Next we did a “back flying” sequence, which means the flyer (person on top) is on their back above the base (person on bottom). In theory this is scarier, since as the flyer you can’t see the floor. In practice, to me it feels the same as any other pose where you’re dangling in the air on top of someone else’s feet. Here is an example somewhat like what we did:

Then we did a “chi machine” in which the base supports the flyer’s shoulders with his/her hands and shifts his/her feet to inside of the flyer’s knees; the flyer then folds at the waist into a very relaxed pose. Surprisingly comfortable.

Then the flyer rotated slowly into a “straddle bat” position as the base worked his/her feet around the flyer’s hips. It looks like this:

We then practiced going back and forth between back flying (base’s feet under flyer’s sacrum) and straddle bat (base’s feet at flyer’s hip fold).

Next we went higher, into star position:

As the flyer, you get here by grasping the base’s hands, ducking your head down to place your shoulders on the base’s feet, and leaping up into a shoulder stand. The base brings his/her feet together behind your head, and you press your head back into his/her shins to lock yourself into place. You also still have the hands to help balancing. :)

I got to serve as the base and flyer for all of the moves! Being the base is harder for me, because I get scared that I will drop/hurt the flyer due to my beginner status. My side-to-side control is weak. But when it works, it feels awesome :)

1915 physical fitness standards: Do you measure up?

While scanning old newspapers for the library, I came across this Monrovia Daily News article from August 23, 1915. The University of California announced its standards for its incoming freshmen in terms of their physical fitness and abilities. But it’s more than being fit — the word “moral” appears throughout the article, and it is emphasized as if obvious that being physically fit leads to moral fiber as well. Wow!

At any rate, I was amused to discover that the *only* items on the list that I would be able to perform are two of the swimming ones: to swim 50 yards (note there is no time limit specified) and to dive from a height of five feet. The others are well beyond my physical ability.

On the other hand, if they had been imposed as requirements at some point, maybe I would have worked to achieve them!

So, do you measure up? Can you imagine if this were required of freshmen today?

Climbing the silks

On Tuesday I took my first aerial silk class. Wow! I was inspired to go after seeing a fabulous demonstration of people climbing, wrapping, dropping, and otherwise performing fantastic acrobatic feats. While some versions of this apparently lean more towards the exotic or even erotic, the displays I saw were more along the lines of the picture at right, and the class itself focuses on improving fitness. Phenomenal!

The performance, and the class, really impressed me with the athletic ability and strength required to do these moves. I found that there were some things I could do immediately, and others (which look just as easy when done by the instructor and other students) will take me a while to build some additional muscle. Here’s a rundown of what I learned in the first class:

  • Climbing. You have two drapes of “silk” (actually lycra), and your goal is to scale them. I’ve never tried rope climbing and had no idea how this would even be possible. It turns out that physics, and specifically friction, is your friend here. You grasp the silk, wrap one leg around it, and stand on that foot with your other leg, trapping the silk between sole and instep. If you press hard enough, this gives you something to stand on. Then you hang from your arms, bring your legs up to your chest, re-wrap/grip the silk, and stand up, gaining a few feet. This actually works! I also learned a variant (“Russian climb”) which requires quicker action, but I found to be easier: you push one foot sideways into the silk, then reach beneath with the other one and wrap it up on top of the first foot.
  • Angel. This is *awesome*. After climbing to the top, you spread the two silks apart, and push your torso through so that the silks run down behind your arms, then between your legs. You let go, spread your arms wide, and use your leg grip to gradually slide down the silks. It looks fabulous and is easy, but you have to descend slowly lest the silks give the back of your arms friction burns. :)
  • Straddle. You hold the silks in both hands, then hang, spread your legs, and raise them up over your head. I simply couldn’t do this — I don’t have the core strength to raise both legs that high. But I was allowed to “cheat” by jumping up to get my legs vertical, then straddling from there.
  • Foot lock. You add an extra wrap around your foot so that you can stand on it with no effort; it is locked there. You can’t climb higher unless you unlock it, but you can use this as a base to do other moves.
  • Bird cage. From a foot lock, you spread the silks apart and squat down between them, as if perched inside a cage.
  • Candy cane. From a foot lock, you spread the silks apart and pull outward on one side, then use your free foot to slide one silk down toward the supporting ankle. You then pull yourself through the open silks and repeat. This progressively wraps the silk around your supporting leg, and your torso forms a graceful arch that is the top of the candy cane. Delightful, although by that point I was getting awfully tired!

  • Hip-key. From a standing position, you grab the silks and lift both legs to wrap the silk around your waist in mid-air, then roll to the side leaving you in a securely hung position. This looks great, but it was another move that required just a bit more core strength than I could muster. I could wrap the silk, but not lift my legs high enough to get it near my waist / center of mass.

I can’t wait to practice these again, and learn more!

Recovering from Runner’s Knee

Six weeks ago, I was forced to stop running due to intense knee pain. My doctor advised a complete halt to impactful exercise (running and Jazzercise) and then a gradual return to activity. Three days ago, I’d had it with waiting and went out for a tiny 1-mile run. Most of my body felt fantastic, loving that feeling of jogging once again. My knees weren’t as thrilled and complained for most of the run, but not to the point of making me stop. It was a slow run (the mile took me 11 minutes), but it was a huge improvement over one month ago, when I tried to jog along the sidewalk and didn’t make it 20 yards.

While my knees didn’t like the run very much, by the next morning they felt better than they had in a while. (Even going down stairs had been mildly painful.) My hip flexor, which had also been troubling me, also was greatly improved. It really seems that mild exercise, at least for someone with a sedentary day job like me, is good for the body.

Tonight I went for another 1-mile run, finishing in 9:30. My knees still aren’t at 100%, but there was noticeably less pain this time. I’m encouraged to keep at it.

I found some tips on dealing with runner’s knee, including:

  • Take glucosamine pills. I tried this for a week, and by the end of the week I actually did notice that my knees felt a little better (this was before my resumption of running), *but* my left knee got very swollen (fluid? glucosamine muck?). I have no idea, but after a while the puffiness bugged me enough that I stopped, and it went away. My left knee is the one with the torn ACL. So *maybe* glucosamine is good for joint issues but bad for a torn ligament? No clue.
  • Run on the balls of your feet. This reduces the impact your legs/knees absorb by “50%”, compared to running with a heel strike. It doesn’t feel natural (yet?), but it does feel softer. I put “50%” in quotes because this number appeared in a variety of places but without any data or authority to back it up, so it could just be made up. Running this way may be the same thing as pose running — or at least similarly motivated. So far this feels really weird, but I’m encouraged to keep at it.
  • Run in the street instead of on the sidewalk; asphalt is significantly softer than concrete. Okay, I’ll try that. And be sure to wear super-reflective clothes :)
  • Strengthen your quads. Apparently they absorb a lot of the impact as well, so stronger muscles can help save the knee. Methods for doing so include “quadricep setting” (flexing the quad with the leg stretched out flat in front of you) and (careful) squats. I haven’t tried this yet.
  • Less sitting. Sitting stretches the tendon over the patella, increasing pressure on the irritated part of the knee. I’ve been spending long periods at work standing instead of sitting, or just standing up and moving around periodically. I’m not sure if this is helping directly, but it makes me feel better in general.

Here’s to pain-free running, and building back up to multi-mile runs!

Runner’s Knee

Last December, I started training for my first triathlon, which for me primarily involved running. I’d never done any sort of regular running, but I soon found that I really loved doing it (far more than, say, swimming). In March, I successfully entered and completed the Pasadena Sprint Triathlon — what a high point! I’d worked up to 3-mile runs without any trouble. After the triathlon, I continued running, and kept increasing the distance until I made it to 5 miles. That run actually wasn’t so much fun, so I backed off from there to ~3.5-mile runs again.

By June, however, I started experiencing knee pain. Not while running, but at other times, like just walking around, and especially when going downstairs. The final straw was when I was hiking in Scotland and had to cut a hike short (one I’d done two years before with no trouble!) because it was just too painful. I took a couple of weeks off of running but still was feeling achiness in my knees. That’s right, knees plural — not just the one I’d injured skiing last year.

Today I visited my doctor and learned that I’ve developed runner’s knee, also known as “patellofemoral pain,” which often manifests as aching below the kneecap, most strongly when going downhill or downstairs. This can be caused by a variety of things including imbalance in musculature or mechanical problems with how your patella (kneecap) slides over the knee, but it’s very common in runners who increase their distance or speed too aggressively, and also twice as common in women as in men. Argh! I was being cautious, but I hadn’t really abided to the suggested “only increase by 10% each week” rule because I was feeling fine. In fact, my knees don’t hurt much or at all while I’m running. It’s afterwards (for days?) that I notice it. So this all points to the running aggravating the joint, and it means I need to back off, take it easy, and be more gradual in my efforts. As my doctor said, “Run for enjoyment, not for achievement,” and then chuckled self-deprecatingly before he segued into a story of his own over-ambition and series of injuries in his determination to run a half-marathon even if it killed him (or his knees). There are also some strengthening exercises for the quad muscles that can help, and I can go to a running shoe store to get an assessment and their recommendation for shoe styles (many friends have advised this). His other advice was to avoid running downhill (here I’d thought downhill bits were my chance to improve my average speed!) and online I’ve read that I should be running on a track or something softer than sidewalks/roads.

I hope to improve soon! I am really, really missing my running. The good news is that the doctor said there’s no reason someone my age shouldn’t be able to run 3 miles 3-4 times a week, so I should be able to build up to that pain-free. It was good to hear this confirmation of my own expectations, rather than a dim outlook and some dire words about the effects of aging. Bah!

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