“What really limits your life is your mind - what you think is possible,” says Rodney Yee, in baggy shorts and a basic T-shirt, sitting cross-legged on a raised stage in front of a room full of yoga students, including me. He radiates strength and calm, good humor and great posture, and I couldn’t help but envy his signature ponytail.
“The body is an amazing mystery. We know very little about what is really going on.”
What’s going on with Yee is also pretty amazing. His yoga videos sell millions, he brought breathing and meditation to Oprah, and Vanity Fair just named him one of America’s greatest yoga stars. Yee recently gave a workshop at the 2007 Yoga Journal Conference called “The Gateways of the Body,” an all-day intensive on the primary energy channels in the body - how to open and balance them to give you greater strength, flexibility and endurance. What makes him a master teacher is his ability to help ordinary people experience the extraordinary connection between the mind and the body, the body and the breath. Learn that, Yee says, and your entire life will improve, your sense of well-being will explode and you’ll be doing gangbuster backbends before you know it.
Here are some highlights:
There’s magic in those feet
If you think it’s possible to draw energy from the earth up through your feet and out to every cell in your entire body, you’re right, says Rodney. And he shows us how. Open up and pin down the four corners of your feet. Spread those toes. Lift your arches, open the back of your knees and feel energy surging through your entire body, especially your heart. Hatha yoga is based on the understanding that there are 72,000 nadis (energy channels) in the body, says Yee, and our ability to access them, clear them, balance them begins in our feet.
It’s not about external pose
Don’t confuse yoga with gymnastics. “Contortionists have very short lives,” says Yee. “The magic of yoga has to do with the inner feeling, not where you put your leg.” The inner feeling Rodney talks about comes from releasing tension in the body’s gateways, including the feet, legs, arms, shoulders, neck, and aligning the energy so it flows freely. If your pose is too rigid, it’s wrong. If it’s too collapsed, it’s wrong. “Coordinated graceful movement with energy running through it -that’s what we’re looking for.”
Practice, practice, practice
Great musicians, great athletes and great yogis know the importance of daily practice. “I want you to put aside a little time every day, preferably in the morning, to sit and listen to your body to tune your sixth sense and become sensitive to small things.” If you do, over time, you will experience the gateways of your body, and all good things will follow.
DEAR READER: You’re never too old or out of shape to start doing yoga. Not your sport? No problem. Whatever activity you ask your body to do, you will do it better, with a lower risk of injury, if you are relaxed, strong and aligned so that your energy flows freely. That’s not yoga; it’s physics.
A super way to strengthen your lower back
Low back pain is painfully common. It’s also preventable. Here’s a simple exercise you can do - starting today - to strengthen the muscles that support your lower back and spine, and reduce your risk of crippling back pain. Physical therapists call it Superman. My yoga teacher calls it by its Sanskrit name: shalabhasana. Even if you can’t say it, do it.
Lie on your stomach, with your arms extended at your sides, palms up. Exhale, press your bellybutton into the floor and gently raise your arms, chest, thighs and feet off the floor. Don’t overdo it. It should be an effort, not a strain. Hold for 2-5 seconds, keep breathing and gently lower. Rest for a few seconds, and repeat 3-6 times. When you lift, don’t crunch your lower back. Imagine a free flow of energy from the tips of your toes, up your spine, to the crown of your head. Smile.
Energy express-o! What is she puffing?
“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.” - Brooke Shields
Marilynn Preston - fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues - is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.