Tag Archives: back

Stay Zen #11 – Best Automobile Exercises

Need a little neck and back relief from sitting in that rigid car seat for too long? Or perhaps your plane, train or bus is delayed and you really need to stretch it out.

No worries, because my Best Automobile Exercises are quick and to the point, and they get the job done. And if you try any of these exercises while in a moving vehicle – and obviously, never when you’re the one driving – be very careful and always wear your seatbelt.  Enjoy – R

GQ – Letter to the Editor

If you’re a GQ reader like me, you probably read the August issue with Mila Kunis on the cover. On page 32, there’s a brief article by Mark Byrne called “Rewriting the Book on Yoga”, with a 15 minute yoga workout as prescribed by a studio owner in NYC. Unfortunately, I cringed when I reviewed the workout that includes three twisting and forward bending poses, the last of which is an advanced pose.

But before I add my two cents, let me state my fitness and yoga qualifications: I’m 48 years old, 5’7″ and weigh 150 pounds. My body fat is less than 9% and most people think I’m 33. I’ve worked out in fitness centers every day for the past 32 years totaling more than 12,000 hours. I’ve practiced yoga every day for the past six years totaling more than 2,000 hours. An accomplished student/athlete through college, I’m also a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Cycling Instructor, and 200-hour Certified Yoga Teacher. I’ve taught more than 15,000 yoga students of all levels in the past five years, from the ages 3 to 93. I’ve created more than 15 hours of instructional yoga videos in the past two years, including a Yoga Survival Guide detailing more than 100 poses.

I currently teach yoga to women and children living in domestic violence shelters, who had zero experience with fitness and yoga before I got there. I have neck, low back, shoulder and wrist issues, and have been injured three times since I started practicing yoga – all from bad teachers. Thus, my very precise teaching style is designed to minimize injury to any body part, especially the neck and low back. Finally, I’ve practiced yoga mostly in New York City and Los Angeles, the yoga meccas of the United States, and have taken classes with the “so-called” best teachers in the world. 90% of which are women.

That said, here’s why I disagree with the Byrne’s claim that GQ “found the best back-saving, workout-improving moves…” When it comes to anything twisting and forward bending while standing, you better move slowly and be super careful. Your stance is critical, which the caption doesn’t clearly emphasize. The caption also says “twist your head to look up”, which you should NEVER attempt without properly warming up the spine and preparing your body for such deep twists. Revolved triangle is a perfect example of this. A good teacher wouldn’t sequence this pose until at least halfway through the yoga class, because coming into this pose is AS IMPORTANT as the pose itself. So is coming back up to stand once you’ve been in the pose for any length of time. Here’s why: once your torso weight and your 10 pound head is down and over your forward leg, you’re balancing this weight over a tight triangular stance, making it quite difficult to manage. And since most men carry their weight in their torso and have tight hamstrings, coming into – or out of – this pose without bending your legs (like the picture shows), and without moving ridiculously slow, could lead to serious injury.

Thus, it’s not back-saving at all. It’s actually quite strenuous on your neck, low back and hamstrings. And requires ample core strength to control your torso as you’re folding forward at a 90 degree angle (if you keep your back straight like the picture – which is also very difficult). And although the directions state “you won’t be able to touch the floor right away – settle for your ankle”, very few men can even get to their ankle. Frankly, this is a very challenging pose for an advanced yogi, let alone anyone who’s never done it before. So take note and be VERY CAREFUL, especially when twisting and forward bending at the same time. And if you really want to experiment with this pose on your own, warm up and strengthen your core and abs first with my 5 Minute Fat Burning Workout #82 – Easy Abs. Enjoy & hope to see you on the FAT BURN TOUR! – Rich Tola

Think “Unity & Pride” today

When you celebrate Cinco de Mayo today, think Unity & Pride and the importance of believing that anything is possible.  Just reflect upon the 4,000 Mexican soldiers in 1862 who were greatly outnumbered by the well-equipped French army of 8,000 that had not been defeated for almost 50 years. However improbable, they were victorious as a result of Unity & Pride. Because sometimes it’s takes a collective energy interlaced with self-respect and dignity to overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable, even when the odds are stacked against you.  Like a daily fitness program.  You may not have the time or money or ability to join a gym or yoga studio, but you can certainly make time for at least 5 minutes of exercise each day.  So gather your family and friends today, and band together for some good old fitness.  And stand tall and proud like Mexico did.  Enjoy strengthening your back and abs with today’s 5 Minute Fat Burning Workout #71.  – R

Thwart the boredom

Last night I met a 22 year old gal who said she starting working out again after taking the last six months off.  When I asked why the long sabbatical, she simply responded she was bored with her workouts.  I know the feeling.  After 32 years of daily workouts, who wouldn’t, right?  The key to thwarting boredom is to have your mind supremely focused on the task at hand.  Not that easy, you say?  It is when you treat your workouts as a moving meditation with exercises attached.  If you’re doing the right exercises – and exercising right – you don’t have to workout for hours on end.  Keep them short and sweet (as in yesterday’s blog) and stay focused on every movement you make.  Or better yet, spice it up my 5 minute fat burning workouts and you’ll have many more exercises for your repertoire.  So keep it going and don’t let your mind get the best of you.  Enjoy opening your hips and low back with today’s Workout #44 – Frog Legs.  My best – Rich

Yoga for low back pain

I woke up today with pain in my low back, specifically on my right side.  It wasn’t there yesterday so perhaps it occurred during the night, or maybe negative energy or tension came to reside there as a result of stress or something I did yesterday.  No matter the cause, I went to the gym this morning and wasn’t able to work it out with my usual stretching so I decided to focus on it with 15 minutes of yoga and meditation when I got home.  First I laid on my back and quieted my mind with the meditative breathing technique called Ujjayi Pranayama.  In yoga terms (or Sanskrit) it means upwardly victorious or skull shining breath which is a three part yogic breath moving from the low belly into the upper chest and throat.  Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose – with your mouth closed – and the resulting sound is much like the sound of the ocean.  Next I hugged my knees into my chest while rounding then elongating my spine which is call Apanasana.  All the while I kept with my meditation and Ujjayi breath while sending thoughts of relief specifically to the point of low back pain.  Next I slowly rocked back and forth and side to side massaging my low back into the ground.  Next I reached for the sides of my feet moving into Happy Baby pose.  I also teach this pose in Zoo Yoga from my Yoga Survival Guide as well as Apanasana in Comfort Yoga and Ujjayi Pranayama in the very first lesson, Mountain Pose.   Next I straightened my legs best I could while holding onto my big toes – much like Paschimottanasana on your back (also taught in Park Yoga).  Next I spread my legs wide into a big V, all the while keeping my spine elongated best I could.  Finally I hugged my knees into my chest for another Apanasana, then slowly moved into my final resting pose, Savasana.  Viola!  No more pain.  Although everyone’s body is different with varying degrees of pain, give this sequence a try the next time your low back is bothering you.  It just might do the trick.  R