Today I felt quite a bit better than I did yesterday.

I was hydrated, well fed and woke up at a reasonable hour for a Sunday, about 9 AM. My yoga practice today was outside on my deck. It was amazing because the weather was great, felt like between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun was out. I love the feeling of reaching skyward and feeling the wind and sun brush back against my skin as if in response to my stretch. I did a quick Surya Namaskara sequence and then some back bends. I eventually felt like doing inversions, so I did three 10 second headstands. The headstands came to me easily, I didn’t fall or struggle to hold. I love how inversions make me feel. I wore a somewhat silly looking sleeveless hoodie and sweat pants that I wouldn’t really wear outside of my house, unless I was going to the gym at an early hour when there was no crowd.

After Surya Namaskara, back bends and headstands, I moved into a sequence of downward facing dog, forward bends, and pushups. In this way, I stretched my hamstrings and tired out my chest and biceps a bit. I also roasted a whole chicken, with sprigs of dill, freshly ground cumin, smoked paprika, coriander, and salt and pepper. The chicken was delicious, served over long grain jasmine rice with salad on the side. However, I looked up the brand of the chicken (Mary’s Free Range Chicken) and unfortunately came across a few articles indicating that Mary’s “Free range” chicken is not really any more humanitarian than any other industrial chicken farm, and that most of the chickens never see the light of day more than once in their lives, when they’re on the way to the slaughterhouse. This kind of threw me off my food for a bit. I sometimes consider going vegan or vegetarian as prescribed by most classic yoga teachers, but haven’t yet attempted to do so.

I’m conflicted because I want to eat 2900 calories a day with at least .8 grams of protein per lb bodyweight (120-135 grams) and gain muscle and strength. For me to eat in a caloric surplus for an extended period of time is not a simple task for me as it is for some people: I’m perfectly happy to go a little bit hungry some days (consistency again?). I am a competent cook and could food prep meat, greens and carbs several days in advance, but it will still be difficult for me to eat enough while also eating ‘clean’. I will oftentimes feel like I am forcing myself to eat, or being gluttonous. When a ‘hard gainer’ is trying to bulk, they typically don’t have time in the day to have an empty stomach, because if the stomach is empty it means they’ve missed a meal that is needed to amount to my daily calorie goal.  Of course, if I really am putting in the physical effort to use those calories, this bloated feeling should be reduced.

The reason this makes me feel conflicted is because to be a successful yogi, the recommendation is to eat a light, fresh, and primarily vegetarian diet, and to have a mostly empty stomach while practicing. The ideal yoga diet would be subsisting on “sattvic” foods: mung beans, ghee, fresh and lightly cooked vegetables and fruit. I’ll post more about sattvic food in a later blog post.  I’m still considering how to reconcile these two goals, but yoga is more important to me and makes me feel better, so it remains my daily focus.

As I was taught, weight lifting puts stress and resistance on the body and ends up contracting the muscles, making them tighter, denser and more muscular. Yoga also makes you stronger, and improves health, mood and complexion, but works in an opposing way; instead of contracting the muscles, it releases them. For instance, heavy deadlifts, squats and bench press can lock up the chest, hamstrings and lower back. Being very muscular in these areas tends to lower your flexibility. This is shown in an exaggerated way by professional bodybuilders who struggle to scratch their own back. Someone who practices yoga instead will be more flexible but less able to lift heavy weight and less visibly muscular. For me, the ideal would be balance. I can and should do yoga every day, and weighted exercise would be appropriate three days a week for now. This is the schedule I’ll be attempting starting tomorrow, Monday, which will also be a weights day.

Below is an excerpt from Yoga and the Hindu Tradition by Jean Varenne showing shirshasana, yoga headstand.