Yoga: looking for yin in all the wrong places

I need more zen in my life. That’s why I tried Yin Yoga, described as “a slow-paced style that has a powerful meditative element and long holds of floor poses.” Yin Yoga looked like a better way to find inner calm through exercise than the power-yoga style — plus it was appropriate for all levels of students.

Yoga baggage

I’ve attended yoga classes off and on for years, accumulating my share of yoga baggage. For example, in one of my first experiences, listed as a Level 1/2 class, I had the misfortune of situating myself between two rather advanced students. When we finally ended a taxing vinyasa series and were allowed to assume the corpse pose, or whatever pose we found relaxing, I was grateful to lie still. Although I was supposed to be “dead,” it was hard not to peek at the woman to my left. She hoisted herself up into a headstand.




Breaking yet another yoga guideline, I compared her practice to mine. And deemed her a showoff. There she was, exhibiting superior balance and strength in front of me, your basic dead person. I felt as inferior as a corpse could.

I continued feeling incompetent at another yoga studio. Even though I knew my alignment in the triangle pose was slightly off, I couldn’t help but take it personally when the studio owner stood next to me and announced in a loud voice that “some of us need to take private lessons before we’re ready to attend group classes.”



“Hot yoga” was no better. If the man in front of me had been young and fit, I would have been fine when he took off his shirt. As it was, though, he was neither. Plus there was a lot of sweating. Let’s leave it at that.

But enough time had passed that I was willing to try yoga again. So I opted for Yin Yoga. By now I was familiar with the general etiquette: bring your own mat, leave your shoes at the door, enter quietly and gather your props such as blankets, blocks, etc. Sit cross-legged and assume a meditative posture while you wait for class to begin. Don’t chat.

So far, so good.

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Why’s exercise walking so tough?

I love to walk. It’s a chance to get outdoors, breathe fresh air, clear my mind. Exercise walking takes no special equipment, just some decent shoes and for those of us who are fair-skinned, sunscreen. I can walk my dog, walk with a friend, or my personal favorite, walk by myself. I can catch up on podcasts, an audiobook, music or just think my own thoughts in silence.

So what’s the problem?

In a word, self-judgment.


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I can’t walk just for the pleasure of it. I worry about whether I’m walking briskly, burning enough calories, keeping my heart rate up. Add to that the mental distractions. If I walk in our neighborhood, I brood over how many people are remodeling their homes. I start to worry when, if ever, my husband and I will replace our fifty-year-old shower, drafty windows, etc. At the same time, I hesitate to drive to a woodsy trail twenty minutes away — that lengthens my workout, plus it’s steep, and it’s dusty. After all, I just got my car washed.

Exercise Walking at The Dish

There’s a terrific walking trail near my home on Stanford land that locals refer to as “The Dish,” because it houses a large radiotelescope belonging to the University. It’s a looping, up-and-down pedestrian trail about 3.5 miles long. The Dish trail doesn’t allow dogs or bikes, and it’s entirely paved. Like lots of others, I enjoy walking in the Stanford hills, away from traffic. The views are spectacular, affording vistas over Silcon Valley’s foothills, Stanford and the San Francisco Bay.


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Correction: please notice the views, they’re spectacular. I myself have trouble enjoying them while trying to keep my heart rate up. I pay attention to the ground ahead of me. While I walk the Dish, I’m usually bothered by an internal conversation that goes something like this:

What? Who are those women who just went around me, and on an uphill part, too? Oh no, I know that one — I played her in a USTA match. Well, no wonder she’s a 3.5 now and I’m not. Is she seriously MY AGE? I can’t believe that. What’s wrong with me? I have to walk faster, this is ridiculous.

Exercise Walking and the Dreaded VoJ

It’s that Voice of Judgment again. Only this time it nails me on a walking path where I’m supposed to be communing with nature, clearing my mind. Seems that I can’t stop competing, can’t stop evaluating my own performance and finding it deficient.

I don’t think I can silence my VoJ, at least not anytime soon. Maybe I can get it to quiet down a bit, though. If I temper my concerns about walking fast and burning calories with appreciation and gratitude for being able to enjoy a nice day, maybe that’s the best I can hope for right now.

See you later. I think I’ll take a walk.


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The tennis ball machine, your ideal workout partner

I just love working out with the ball machine.  Other than humming, “Whoosh, whoosh” as it shoots balls at me, it’s silent.  It never makes questionable “in” or “out” calls. Unlike some partners I’ve played with, it never complains with a tactful, “Don’t worry about making a heroic shot — just put the ball in play.” And the ball machine isn’t even capable of giving me a tense smile that says, “I’m not having fun here, but I don’t want you to keep falling apart, so I’m going to act as normal as possible and maybe things will be all right.”  Thus in many respects, it’s the ideal tennis partner.

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Tennis Ball Machine Benefit #1: Shot Practice

I try to hit with the machine about once a week.  More often than that, and my forearm gets sore — you can go through 500 balls in an hour without even realizing it, so you need to make sure you vary your shots and take breaks to pick up balls and drink water. It’s best to the ball machine use soon after a lesson, when you want to practice a new shot you’ve been working on, like a backhand down the line, or maybe a slice drop shot. Remembering of course that only “perfect practice makes perfect,” it’s critical to use good technique when you hit with the ball machine — otherwise you’re just cementing bad habits.

Tennis Ball Machine Benefit #2: Build Concentration

I like to set up the machine for forehands first, then backhands.  I vary the speed and/or height, and I practice volleys as well as groundstrokes.  I build concentration by trying to hit a certain number of balls, say 10, to a certain spot.  This is a lot harder than it seems!

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Tennis Ball Machine Benefit #3: Cardio Exercise

Another benefit of ball machine practice is that it provides a good cardio workout.  I put on a heart rate monitor this week and was surprised to see my heart rate jump up above 150 quite easily. For me this was great, as it was a better workout than doubles tennis, which is what I usually play, and lots more fun than what I’d have to do in the gym to raise my heart rate to a similar level. You can learn more about the workout benefits of ball machines and tennis generally from the Livestrong Foundation.

I really enjoy practicing this way — in fact, today is not the first time I’ve blogged about my love of the tennis ball machine.  It not only gives me a good workout, but benefits my self-confidence while improving my skills.  I’ve looked online for videos of ball machine drills I might try, but so far I haven’t turned up any good ones to post here.

Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of videos about tennis ball machines on the Internet, but it’s hard to cull out the good ones.  Most are marketing promos for buying a ball machine, or for working with a tennis professional, or they’re just some goofball’s idea of having fun on a tennis court with a camera and then uploading the result to YouTube.  This clip, which has nothing to do with the sport of tennis but everything to do with ball machines, is so ridiculous I had to share it with you:



My recommendation is that unless you’re going for a game show record, use the ball machine for its intended purpose: burn some calories, and work on your game.  You just might build enough confidence in your new shot to use it in your next match.


Nike+ FuelBand: real stats or just marketing?

The Nike+ FuelBand is a high-priced, high-tech toy you wear on your wrist to collect data about energy, or “fuel,” that you burn throughout the day. It’s about output, pure and simple — not what you’re eating or how you’re expending energy. While FuelBand data may be imperfect, the concept fits perfectly with the company’s “Just Do It” mantra.

You wear the FuelBand on your wrist.  It has a unisex, sporty look that works with casual attire — although I’ll admit, it’s not the best fashion combination with the bracelets I always wear on my other wrist.  The FuelBand’s clasp is a USB plug, which is how you charge its battery, and also how you sync it to your computer.  If you have an iPhone, you can  sync wirelessly so you are always within reach of your FuelBand data.

One hundred white and twenty red, yellow and green LEDs communicate your progress throughout the day. You press a button on the band to toggle through its settings: Fuel, Calories, Steps, Time. Time is time of day, so the FuelBand replaces your need for a watch. Steps — that’s obvious. Calories are an approximate measure of calories burned through physical activity.

NikeFuel is a proprietary calculation based on Nike’s “sport-tested accelerometer,” whose algorithms translate your movement into “fuel points.” You set your own goal — 2000 for an “average day,” 3000+ for days with greater levels of activity.

In my first three weeks of wearing the band, I’ve found the NikeFuel calculations associated with different activities to be rather misleading. Here’s a sample from my own experience (“fps” = “fuel points”):

  • Ride stationary bike (at target heart rate) 30 min: 145 fps
  • Walk from bedroom to kitchen, feed dog, make coffee, eat fried egg and homemade doughnut: 242 fps
  • Fold 3 baskets laundry 45 min: 400 fps
  • Make and serve dinner 1 hr: 750 fps
  • Walk dog 1 hr: 800 fp
  • Play doubles tennis 2 hrs: 1800 fps
  • Play singles tennis 1.75 hr: 2800 fps
  • Hike 1 hr 45 min at brisk pace: 3000 fps
  • Sex: my husband wanted to collect data here, but sorry, this is a G-rated blog . . .

The band awards more points for moving forward through space than it does for things like riding a stationary bike. If I were to live according to my FuelBand’s data, though, I would spend more time folding laundry, making dinner and eating doughnuts than I do at present.

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What YOU think of me is YOUR business

I’ve blogged about tennis failures – things like how I’ve let my emotions get the best of me, or how my game has suffered due to a “crisis of confidence.” But I also want to pass along what I’m learning about how to overcome these problems.  My tennis journey may be a long one, but it’s not so different from other roads I’ve traveled.  In fact, there are days when my “tennis journey” and “the midlife passage” have a lot in common.  And I don’t just mean the effects of gravity.


I reached a point where I felt as though I had invested so much time and money in learning a sport, watching the pros play it, buying trendy clothes for it, and even taking some “tennis vacations,” that I felt I deserved to be playing better than I was.  I held myself to a higher standard than I should have and was constantly evaluating my improvement against better players.  As a result, I was always coming up short.  By my own standards, I was never going to measure up, never going to get out of my USTA 3.0 “rut.”

But at the same time as I was tired of not improving, I felt locked in: I had put so much of myself into tennis, for so long, that I didn’t want to quit.  I was addicted to an activity that wasn’t going anywhere for me.  Aside from a bit of exercise and socializing on the court, I couldn’t point to many positives about my involvement with tennis – I wasn’t having fun, and I could have gotten a better workout by going to the gym.


So what started my turnaround?  Well, I was complaining about my frustration  with poor play in matches and my irritating “voice of judgment” to Coach Alan Margot.  He told me, “You can’t silence the voice, but tell it to quiet down.  When you worry about what other people are the court are thinking about you, remind yourself, as if you were speaking to them: ‘What YOU think of me is YOUR business.’”

This seems simple, but it’s deep.  For years I’ve taken ownership of how others perceive me on the tennis court, and more generally, in most other sectors of my life.  Since I’d rather please people, I end up pressuring myself to make a better shot than I’m capable of, let my partner choose when she wants to serve and whether she wants the ad or deuce side in doubles, try for a heroic poach when simply getting the ball back over the net would be good enough.  Outside of tennis, I rearrange my own schedule to accommodate an appointment that works better for my husband, or I ask a friend to give me a ride so my son can use my car.

At the end of the day, however, I don’t feel satisfied about setting aside my best interests in order to make others happier.  I’m not sure they even notice my efforts, to tell you the truth.  But it’s helpful to acknowledge that what someone else thinks of me is his or her responsibility, not mine.  It doesn’t give me license to be obnoxious — rather, it reduces a burden I shouldn’t be carrying anyway.

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