Friday, January 06, 2012

Janathon 2012 Day 5: Walking, yoga and the risks of exercise

Janathon 2012 Day 5: Walk - 3 miles, Time - 55min, Weather - blowing a gale, sometimes it rained, sometimes it didn't

According to my schedule I should have been running today but I just did not see the point. I still had a cold and so my heart rate was already elevated in addition It was horribly windy and any progress would be a struggle. I knew I would again spend all my time failing to keep my heart rate down. 
If I was going to be forced to walk all the time I might just as well dress in walking gear and be honest about it. On a bleak wintry day this seemed by far the best option as I could pull my chin down to my chest and hide it behind the collar of my anorak, hunch myself up defensively and tramp on.
Somedays are about more about endurance than enjoyment and this was one of them (not that there is much endurance in a three mile walk).
When I was out, not walking very far, not walking very fast I was thinking about the role of ego in sports. Today I had none - I was not trying to prove anything, I was just trying to keep going, but in other circumstances, no matter how much I might protest to the contrary, there is an element of me that says I should be able to keep-up, I should be able to do that, I should be better than them. I am not the world's most competitive person, yet I still have that in me. In fact I believe that almost everybody who takes up a sport, or active pastime has some of that in them. The higher the level, the greater the desire to excel and show yourself the best - the greater the ego
My thinking was sparked by an article on the dangers of yoga. Yes even yoga can be ego ridden and the desire to adopt extreme positions can cause of injury. This is entirely plausible: you only have to look at the fashions in different types of yoga. 
When it was introduced into the West the dominant type was Hatha Yoga and the underlying philosophy was that as Westerners sat on chairs and were not necessarily very active, they didn't have the basic fitness and flexibility of the Indian yogis who had sat crossed legged since childhood and led an outdoor life. The appropriate yoga was therefore more gentle.
But you can't keep the reasons for that approach secret and once it is known it does not sit well with the competitive Western mindset. It is part of our cultural upbringing to push further and prove ourselves as individuals and sometimes the more extreme the achievement the greater the validation. It is unsurprising that progressively more vigorous classes became fashionable. 
But the body has limits, you might be able to ease them out gradually over time, but you cannot easily fully reverse the consequences all that time spent in front of a computer screen. Our genetics and the what with our days set those limits and pretending you are someone else can be dangerous. 
No matter how many warnings about not overdoing things, working within your limits, and it is not a competition, there is still the ego driven desire to go further. That is fine as long as there is a good teacher to point out the problems and guide the progress. If there isn't then there are risks.
However, I wondered, is it more risky that the low level exercise I was doing. For sure my walking was very, very safe and there was minuscule risk of me injury myself but I did have to cross the road ...


Adele said...

Ah yes, competitive yoga, it is there! We were talking, at New Year, about the time I 'made' Edward go to a yoga class, it wasn't one I had been to previously and I found it a bit odd and threatening; he said 'It was very competitive'. This is not why I would choose to go to a yoga class, but I must admit to a sense of satisfaction if I manage to stretch further than others in the room. Sorry.

travellinghopefully said...

It's particularly satisfying if you stretch further than the tiny bottomed women with the posh kit.

My teacher is very keen on us not just 'making shapes' and being mindful of how we're getting into the posture. She also warns of yoga books that use photos of unnaturally bendy 18 year old dancers to demonstrate! Injury definitely lies that way.