Take Some Yin and Call Me in the Morning

Neal Pollack used to do yoga as exercise. But after weeks of traveling, he turns to slower practices to put get his body back in working order.
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Neal Pollack used to do yoga as exercise. But after weeks of traveling, he turns to slower practices to put get his body back in working order.
Legs Up Wall

I've been traveling a lot for work lately, trips that involve a lot of sitting--in cars, at tables, on airplanes--and not a lot of movement. Because of that, yoga has been hard to come by; five minutes of surreptitious airport psoas stretching does not a full practice make. On my days off, I need yoga badly.

When I came home earlier this month after a five-day trip, my sacrum was locked, my hips stiff, and my shoulders crackly. There was only one solution. I did yoga, greedily, like a dog licking a plate of leftovers. There were only a few days until my next trip, so I packed my classes in close.

When most people, even people who practice, hear the phrase "did yoga," they imagine a sweaty vinyasa flow class that gets your heart pumping and pulls your IT band from stem to stern. That's not what I undertook. Instead, I put myself on a course of yin yoga. This is a style, performed either seated, prone, or on your knees, where you hold poses for three to five minutes, often using props. It's heavily influenced by traditional Chinese medicine, designed to stretch your connective tissue, massage your joints, put minimal heat on the muscles, and generally heal what ails you.

After a three-class program, one of which I spent mostly in an L shape with my legs up the wall, I felt better, not totally regenerated, but good enough to head back on the road. My body was ready to sit for five more days. Yoga had prepared me for the journey ahead.

When I first started practicing, nearly a decade ago, I used yoga as an exercise program. That may be because I started at a gym. Regardless, it worked. I lost weight and gained muscle. For the first time since I was a teenager, I had confidence in my body and walked with a broad stride.

Now, many years and many minor injuries later, yoga serves a different purpose for me. I don't use it as an exercise program. Instead, I consider yoga preventative health care. It can lower blood pressure. Joints atrophy less slowly. After practicing, I move through the world more calmly, and with less stress. My body, now firmly established in middle age, may not be worthy of a magazine spread, but it works a lot better than it otherwise would.

Obviously, if you're sick, see a doctor. Yoga doesn't help much with pneumonia or bacterial infections. But if you're just feeling a little off, a little grumpy, or a little stiff, well, I recommend you spend a few minutes in Sphinx Pose. It's amazing how quickly your perspective can shift.