Tom McCook, Master Pilates Instructor

Beginner’s Guide: Meditation

Meditation Beginners Guide

Lately, it seems like everyone is talking about meditation and its benefits. From entrepreneurs to business moguls and self-care gurus (obviously) through to social media influencers, everyone is praising its benefits. But meditation is nothing new.

In fact, it’s kind of really old, with some archaeologists suggesting evidence of meditation practices as early as 5,000 BC. Throughout history, meditation has also become deeply connected to religion and culture, from Ancient Egypt to Hinduism and Buddhism.

While all of this might sound intimidating, meditation can be a straightforward practice that anyone can learn to enjoy, no matter their beliefs, in order to make positive changes in their lives as well as the lives of others.

To help us introduce you to the wonderful world of meditation, we’ve chatted with Tom McCook, Pilates education faculty for Balanced Body and founder and director of Center of Balance in Mountain View, California. He helps us with the ins and outs of meditation, as well as what types of practices may be best for you.

 

What is Meditation?

What-is-Meditation

 

Let’s first start by simplifying this sometimes-confusing term. For McCook, meditation can be defined as an attention practice, one in which you bring your attention to the present moment – focusing on your body and breathing as the primary object of attention. Why? “Sensation,” as McCook puts it, “only happens in the present moment.” When you direct your attention to the present moment, you fill your body with life, energy, and introspection.

Meditation is not about not thinking; instead, for McCook, it’s all about directing your attention to what’s happening in and around you. From your feelings to your thoughts, you can slow down to observe your aliveness. By doing so you’ll feel more fulfilled and be able to make the most of your life here on earth. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

McCook explains why many of us, specifically in the West, have come to view meditation as confusing, challenging, and strenuous. “Our Western-trained minds,” says McCook, “[think] that we’re supposed to be ‘good’ at it, and the results need to be immediate, or it’s not worth it.” Another common thought McCook often runs across is our belief that if “I can’t control my mind and stop thinking, I’m clearly not able to meditate and meditation isn’t for me.” 

But the truth is you don’t have to be a highly trained intellectual with mind-control powers to be open, present, and connected to your life. Practicing daily presence through meditation can even make you more effective and efficient with your everyday tasks. 

There have been over 50 years of promising, science-backed research on the benefits of meditation on our overall health and wellness, and the evidence is extremely positive, he says. “Meditation has been proven to be good medicine,” with research suggesting that it can lower stress and blood pressure, assist in emotional regulation, cultivate resilience and personal responsiveness, and improve one’s perspective. 

 

 

What type of meditation is best for me?

Type-of-meditation

Guided Meditation

What is it?

Guided meditation is, much like the name suggests, an instructor-guided meditation. These instructors, according to McCook, will guide you into the practice and help you settle into it, reminding you to bring your attention to your body and breath. You can find guided meditations on any topic from mindfulness with work, reducing stress and anxiety, helping to fall asleep, building self-esteem, you name it.

Who’s it for?

McCook believes that these instructors can be so incredibly helpful and informative for most, but especially when you’re just getting started with meditation, as they help guide and direct (and redirect) your attention back to the present moment over and over again, building that meditation muscle.

“Guided meditation is usually continuous instructions throughout the time of your practice,” says McCook. Since it’s not complete silence, this can be especially helpful when you’re just starting. But you don’t have to be a complete newbie to meditation to enjoy this guided bliss. “You can find guided sessions based on your levels of experience and the amount of time you have to practice,” encourages McCook. 

How to do it?

“Guided meditations come in a variety of forms,” McCook says. There is an endless selection of apps that offer great guided meditations, Head Space and Insight Timer being some that he recommends. Some of these apps even offer mindfulness practices and “Vipassana,” which McCook explains as an observation-based practice that focuses on self-exploration through the deep interconnection between mind and body.

 

Mindfulness Meditation

Like meditation, mindfulness has become a huge buzzword in recent years. We asked McCook to give us the details on what mindfulness really is and how we can practice it at home.

What is it?

“Mindfulness is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body,” McCook explains. This practice is fantastic for encouraging non-judgmental, momentary awareness both during and outside of your meditation practice. The more successful we can become at cultivating mindfulness in our day-to-day lives, believes McCook, “the more we empower ourselves to make conscious choices rather than being mindlessly led by our negative thoughts.”

Who’s it for?

Mindfulness meditations are ones that McCook would encourage anyone interested in experiencing the benefits of meditation to try out. It is, however, not the best choice for anyone with an overactive mind and has not yet learned to calm down their thoughts. For those individuals, mantra meditation may be a better way to go. 

How to do it?

Many studios offer in-person or virtual mindfulness classes that can be great for beginners. McCook also suggests using an app geared towards teaching mindfulness as a helpful way to begin a consistent practice.

 

Mantra Meditation

What is it? 

Mantra meditation, as McCook explains, focuses on a mantra (or a syllable, word, or phrase) that is repeated throughout the meditation. Mantras can be tailored to your present moment and can be spoken aloud, repeated in the mind, chanted, or whispered. Our minds are so powerful.

What we think we become, and mantra meditation can help guide your thoughts in the right direction to becoming the best version of yourself. Transcendental meditation (TM) is one of the most well-known forms of mantra meditation. 

Who’s it for?

Introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, it has gathered a following of over 5 million people (including celebrities) who swear by this daily practice. To know if you too can become an advocate for TM, give it a try for yourself.

How to do it?

“It’s different than mindfulness practice,” McCook explains, “as the goal is to go beyond the thinking process to a state of restful awareness.” To practice TM for yourself, simply close down the eyes and repeat a mantra of your choosing silently, for about 20 minutes.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 

What are the benefits of meditation?

Benefits-of-meditation

 

McCook has practiced meditation for 31 years, and from it has learned to let go of stress, discomfort, and judgments to experience clarity, kindness, and deep states of rest. “For me personally,” he says, “meditation has been a path for spiritual development, self-awareness, acceptance, and gratitude for my life and living more intentionally.” 

McCook breaks down both the short and long-term benefits meditation can have. In the short term, one can experience relaxation, stress relief, self-awareness, increased responsiveness and presence, and new perspectives. 

Long-term meditation practices have been demonstrated to improve mental focus and memory, reduce anxiety, and aid in treating depression. A long-term relationship with meditation can also offer a deeper understanding of one’s choices and tendencies.

But meditation isn’t all about the individual. Like other meditators, Tom believes meditation can be a precious tool in teaching compassion and empathy for others. Through regular practice, we can become more in tune with humanity and all other life on Earth.

 

What are some ways you can integrate meditation into your daily life?

Ways-you-can-integrate-meditation-into-your-daily-life

 

Meditation doesn’t have to be an all-day expenditure. McCook has found that even just a few minutes per day can be beneficial. He recommends starting with a five-minute meditation that consists of sitting with your eyes closed.

Allow your breathing to slow as you bring attention to your breath and other sensations in the body. And you don’t have to have a fancy meditation cushion; sitting on the floor, bed, or a chair is perfectly fine, as long as you’re comfortable and can sit up straight.

“It’s useful to put it in your schedule as an appointment to yourself that you’re committed to keeping,” McCook advises. That way, you can begin to make meditation less of a hassle and more of a self-affirming habit. He also warns against the common notion that you should use your meditation practice as a time to interpret thoughts and some of the negative mental gymnastics we all perform daily. 

Meditation can help gain a better understanding of the mind while also learning to let thoughts go and bring awareness back to the present. In other words, McCook urges us to “consider that a meditation practice is an opportunity to press the reset button, which gives us the possibility of being more responsive and in touch with what’s important to us.”

You don’t need anything but yourself to meditate but McCook does believe that meditation apps can be beneficial when you’re first beginning your practice. The app Insight Timer is his favorite, as it has everything from five-minute practices to something longer, all guided by the best meditation teachers around.

 

Top tips for beginners

Top-tips-for-beginners

McCook’s tip

McCook picked up one great tip for beginners from training and working with the Strozzi Institute over the past few decades. That is to be intentional with your everyday tasks like exercise or even those mundane chores like washing the dishes.

For example, when you’re out for a walk, bring your attention to the experience of feeling your foot lifts off the ground, the shifting of your weight as you switch from one leg to another. To ensure you are intentional with this exercise, McCook advises that you choose a duration of time for this meditation and commit to it, which leads us to our next tip.

Pick a time and stick with it

When meditation is not part of your daily routine, it can be highly beneficial to schedule it into your day. Choose what time you want to start and for how long; that way, you can hold yourself accountable. Plus, it will be easier to “habit stack,” like pairing your morning meditation with your cup of coffee or right after your workout.

Create a designated meditative space

Your meditation practice can quickly become something you are regularly excited about when you have a clean, designated space. Your chosen meditative space should get you ready to focus and unwind, similarly to how a designated office space can quickly get you (and keep you) in a good workflow.

Enjoy it

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself when meditating. We’re not able to separate ourselves from the past and the future to live in the now overnight. It takes work, but not hard work. You should never think of meditation as hard. This will only add resistance.

You should enjoy meditating and discovering new things about yourself. If you begin your meditation journey with the intention to improve your lifestyle rather than getting it right, you’ll effortlessly fall in love with meditation and your new outlook on life.

 

 
 
 

PilatesStyle Magazine - Natalie Coughlin

July/August 2012

Pilates Style July August 2012 Natalie CoughlinCoughlin is the poster girl for adding Pilates to your training regimen. “I started doing a kind of hybrid of yoga and mat Pilates as part of my team training regimen,” when she was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, Coughlin recalls. “I noticed that it helped me a lot in my swim training, so eight years ago, I started seeing a private instructor, Tom McCook [at Center of Balance studio in Mountain View, CA], one to two times a week.”

Every one of her Pilates sessions is different, she says. “Tom does such a great job of showing me how to apply Pilates principles in the water,” says Coughlin. “And I really enjoy it.”

Without her Pilates training, she might not have been so successful at the Beijing games. “The Olympics are such a stressful time,” she explains. “They’re emotionally stressful and they’re physically exhausting. When I first got to Beijing, I was about a week away from my first swim, and I really wasn’t feeling great in the water. So Tom gave me a 20-minute series of breathing and relaxation exercises to get me aligned before bed every night. I really think that was one of the things that got me in the right mental as well as physical state for my Olympics.”

Meditation 101: Easy Ways to Get Started

Meditation_main_Easy_Ways

When you hear someone mention meditation, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, it used to conjure up images of Buddhist monks, total tranquility and hours of sitting still. It all seemed too “woo-woo” for me. Besides, who had the time?

It wasn’t until I saw a segment on Dan Harris’ first book, Ten Percent Happier, in which he describes his journey from meditating skeptic to practicing believer. He busted my view of what meditation is and encouraged newbies to start with just one minute. Turns out, like most things in life, there isn’t just one way to meditate.

Meditation Defined

“Meditation can be a confusing term,” says Tom McCook, Pilates education faculty for Balanced Body and founder and director of Center of Balance in Mountain View, Calif. “My experience and understanding with meditation is that it’s really a practice of bringing your attention to the present moment, and your body and your breath tend to be the object of attention. Why? Sensation only happens in the present moment.”

“I hear all the time from clients of mine, ‘I tried meditating, but I can’t seem to slow my thoughts down enough to do it,’” says Amy Vales, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Many people think of meditation as spending an hour in silence, not moving and having a completely empty mind, when the reality is that there are so many ways we can meditate that don’t fit this picture.”

Vales says that she’s not a fan of putting boundaries on what meditation should look like, with clear indicators of success or failure. “Meditation is about slowing down, becoming aware of what is happening in your thoughts and emotions, grounding into what is real, and feeling relief from the experience of racing through life ‘without breathing.’ Anything that gets you to do that is an act of meditating,” explains Vales. “And the good news is this can be done by embedding meditative action into activities you’re already doing.”

Melanie Austin, OTD, associate professor of occupational therapy at New York Institute of Technology, agrees. “Practicing meditation does not have to take large amounts of time or dramatically alter one’s normal daily routine. Even brief episodes of meditation incorporated throughout one’s day may be beneficial for improving physical and psychological health, well-being and quality of life.”

“Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, brought meditation into Western mainstream medicine in the 1970s,” explains Patti Ashley, PhD, LPC, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of Shame-informed Therapy: Treatment Strategies to Overcome Core Shame and Reconstruct the Authentic Self, in which she provides meditation scripts. “Dr. Benson’s book, The Relaxation Response, revealed ground-breaking evidence that meditation improves overall health, lowers stress levels and increases well-being.”

Ashley cites a recent Harvard University study that suggests individuals who practiced 15 minutes of daily meditation over an eight-week period actually altered the functionality of their genes. “Dr. Benson’s research reopened a door that had been closed in the West for several centuries. Now that science has the ability to monitor the effects of meditation using devices that measure heart rate, blood pressure and brain waves, these ancient practices are once again seen as valid and beneficial to healing.”

In this particular Harvard study, participants with hypertension who responded favorably to meditation via lowered blood pressure, showed changes in the genes that affect systemic inflammation. Inflammation has been connected to a wide variety of disorders, including cancer, heart disease, liver disease and autoimmune disorders.

Citing a study by Gundel and colleagues, Ashley states, “Using neuroimaging studies, these researchers found that meditation experts exhibit neural changes that persist beyond the meditative task itself, suggesting that consistent mindfulness practice can result in long-term changes in empathy, health and metacognition.”

McCook concurs. “There’s been more than 50 years now of science-based research on the benefits of meditation to our health and wellness and the evidence is very positive,” he says. “It lowers blood pressure, assists in emotional regulation, lowers stress, cultivates resilience and personal responsiveness, and improves perspective. Meditation has been proven to be good medicine.”

How to Integrate Meditation Into Your Life and Coaching Practice

A common misperception about meditation is that it needs to be a separate, deliberate thing that takes up a lot of time. Deliberate, yes. Separate and time-consuming, not necessarily.

“You can incorporate meditation into the things you’re already doing,” says Vales. “Go on a hike and set an intention to notice things that are beautiful, take a walk on the beach and pay attention to how the sand feels under your feet, cook a meal and notice all the colors, textures and tastes that are going into it, or put on a song and allow yourself to express what you’re feeling through music and dance.”

Vales says you can even bring other people into your meditating practice. “Do these activities with your kids, friends and family to make it more of a communal activity. Get creative! If it slows you down, helps you notice what is present and makes you feel a little better, then you’re on the right track.”

Types of Meditation

Are you already using meditation and don’t even realize it? You might find that you already practice some of the following meditation techniques.

  • Mindfulness Meditation: Involves paying attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind without judgement, simply observing and noting any patterns
  • Spiritual Meditation: Can be a form of prayer, a means of strengthening one’s connection to God
  • Focused Meditation: Using any one of your senses to focus either internally (your breath) or on something external, such as a candle flame or a picture
  • Movement Meditation: Moving mindfully, paying attention to your movements and how your body feels; you can also take notice of your environment, especially if out in nature; activities such as yoga and tai chi incorporate movement meditation
  • Mantra Meditation: Repeating and focusing on a word, phrase or sound; you can use a word of intention for this
  • Transcendental Meditation: A more involved form of meditation that is done as a seven-step process and ideally learned from a certified instructor; uses silent mantras to “transcend” your normal thinking process
  • Progressive Meditation: Sometimes referred to as body scan meditation; can involve contracting and then relaxing one muscle/muscle group at a time, working down your body; is a great way to unwind at bedtime
  • Lovingkindness Meditation: Practicing accepting and allowing love from others and, in return, sending love and well-wishes out to loved-ones, friends, acquaintances and the world
  • Visualization Meditation: Using visualization to bring feelings of peace and safety; this method can also be used to gain clarity about your future by picturing yourself succeeding in certain situations and circumstances

“Throughout the day, you can take small, mindful moments to breathe and help calm the mind,” adds Ashley. “Some examples might be to take a minute to be mindful of the way the water feels in the shower, to sit in nature or to pet your dog. Cultivating an attitude of mindfulness by drawing attention to the breath—focusing on each inhale and exhale—helps to let go of worry thoughts and reground in the present moment.”

If you’re ready to get a little more structured with meditation, Austin suggests starting slowly. “The key is to get started with small steps. Start slowly to build new meditation muscles and endurance. There are many types of meditation techniques to choose from. Choose a technique that aligns with your unique self and your goals, and begin with an open mind and positive attitude, situating yourself with a comfortable posture in a quiet location. Try beginning and ending each day with one brief meditation session. Slowly increase your practice to one, three, or five-minute sessions as part of your daily routine.”

“One distinction of meditation that’s important to know,” adds McCook, “is that you’re not attempting to interpret [or judge] your thoughts. Through practice, we can gain a greater understanding of the mind and begin to tame those [thoughts], letting them go and bringing our attention back to the present moment.”

A simple way to introduce meditation to your clients is with a technique called the body scan. “Guide and direct your client in scanning and feeling each part of their body,” instructs McCook. “It’s possible to feel each part of the body when you put your attention on it. This also opens up the possibility to let go of tension and become more internally relaxed and present.”

“As you get to know your clients, start tailoring your meditations to their experiences,” recommends Vales. For example, let’s say you have a client who is an anxious mom who has forgotten how to slow down because she has so many activities going on. She might benefit from a meditation wherein she creates a “container” to place all her “to do” items into. You can be creative when it comes to meditation interventions.

Austin concurs. “Use a client-centered approach for determining what types of meditation may align with their personality and/or lifestyle. Support clients in understanding the benefits of meditation as an added strength to be utilized for eliminating barriers to achieving health success. For example,” says Austin, “when a client presents with challenges for staying on track with their health goals, health coaches can emphasize the importance of mindfulness meditation for achieving greater insight and awareness as to what may be sabotaging or preventing long-term health success. Health coaches can also use these meditation strategies as an outcome measurement tool, thereby monitoring client progress while highlighting the benefits of meditation throughout the process.”

If you’re not already, begin incorporating meditation into your own life before you introduce it into your practice. Experiment with different types of meditation, have fun with it, and tailor the types of meditation you use with your clients to their personalities and goals. Lastly, be careful about placing hard boundaries on meditation, because, as Vales says, “If it’s going to be one more thing that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough or doing it right, who wants that?”

Mountain View Voice: Small businesses want to be part of N. Bayshore plan

mountain view voiceNew Zoning could create a "Castro Street" on Shoreline

 

February 23, 2012
— by Daniel DeBolt

Small businesses near Google headquarters are excited by proposals to create a vibrant and walkable village in North Bayshore, but also worry that they will be squeezed out by plans to accommodate the internet giant. Karen deMoor, co-owner of a Yoga and Pilates studio at 1220 Pear Avenue called Center of Balance, told the City Council on Tuesday that she hoped businesses like hers would have a place in North Bayshore's zoning map in the city's new 2030 General Plan, a draft of which is currently being reviewed and analyzed by local officials, planners and concerned residents.

"The redevelopment of Shoreline is really exciting and we want to be part of it," deMoor said of her North Bayshore business, which serves 350 people a week, including tech executives, Olympic athletes and Pilates instructors who train there. "We want affordable space to be designated for businesses like ours to help us survive this" redevelopment.

The City Council is considering zoning that could allow for something like a second Castro Street on Shoreline Boulevard north of Highway 101. A downtown-like setting with new offices, mass transit, shops and up to 1,500 apartments aimed at employees who work in the neighborhood, an idea advocated by Google and others to reduce car traffic and spur the creation of a pleasing, walk-able neighborhood with outdoor cafes and small parks.

Google bought the building four years ago where deMoor's studio has been housed for 15 years. But there is still "no clear understanding of the larger plan" for the building, deMoor said. The studio has less than two years left on its lease.

The building at 1220 Pear Avenue is also home for the last nine years to the Pear Avenue Theater. A theater representative also expressed concerns about a neighborhood redevelopment mostly driven by larger businesses like Google.

"We cannot guarantee our work will continue if we have to find another space," said the theater's artistic director, Diane Tasca, who requested that there be a place for the theater in the new North Bayshore. The intimate 40-seat theater hosts "remarkable performances at affordable prices. The arts are vital to the life of the community. The Pear has provided a lot of artistic bang for the buck."

The concerns were echoed in a recent workshop which 165 North Bayshore businesses were invited to discuss the future of North Bayshore said Marianna Grossman, director of Sustainable Silicon Valley, which organized the workshop. "The smaller employers are really concerned about affordable rent and having large enough space to meet their needs," Grossman said.

Those small businesses include tech start-ups that have flocked to Castro Street, attracted by Google's local presence. Office developers say downtown is seen as an attractive place to work by tech employees, with its restaurants and shops providing an atmosphere that has at least a chance of comparing to the fun campus environment of a workplace like Google or Facebook. Palo Alto has apparently noticed the demand from small businesses, having recently declared the Meadow Drive area near Mountain View's border as a neighborhood for start-ups.

While North Bayshore could be a second downtown, it will require careful planning in order to keep already substantial traffic on Shoreline Boulevard and Amphitheatre Parkway from getting worse, council members say. Planning Director Randy Tsuda said it might be helpful to begin thinking of a future North Bayshore as a campus where people park their cars and walk, bike or take transit inside, similar to Stanford University where a parking demand management system uses shuttles and pays employees not to drive, keeping traffic below 1989 levels.

Mayor Mike Kasperzak is one of several council members who are interested in a unique personal rapid transit system for the area, with a network of guided pod cars connecting North Bayshore to the city's downtown train station.

"Everybody hates the traffic," Grossman said. Larger employers such as Google, "all would like to expand but in a way that protects the beauty of the area without adding too much traffic."

San Jose Mercury News: Frill - free yoga

November 30, 2014

— by Richard Scheinin

What yoga can do for men physically and mentally

San Jose Mercury Feb 1999

Jim Scheer used to "hem and haw" at his wife's suggestions that he sit in on her yoga class. "It was kind of like walking into a nail salon or something," he says, recalling how he felt at the time. "There were only a handful of men in that group of 20 or 25 people, so I hesitated. You know: 'Is this a guy thing?' "

That was 12 years ago, and Scheer, 73, now attends yoga classes every week in Capitola and Felton. He takes special pleasure in flying up into headstands and enjoys "the sense of relaxation I feel after the class."

Blake Lueders, 22, describes yoga's benefits in more technical terms: It enhances "functional movement" by building "core strength," says the defensive end for the Stanford Cardinal football squad. "As far as making you a better athlete, and as far as injury prevention goes, you really get the bang for your buck."

Standing at opposite ends of the age spectrum, Scheer and Lueders emblemize the coming of age of the men's yoga movement.

Millions of American men -- about 3.6 million, according to a 2012 Yoga Journal study -- practice yoga. Most have gotten past the attitude that "yoga is a girl thing" to embrace the idea that yoga simply is a good thing: good for destressing, good for establishing balance, strength and flexibility. It can be an antidote to the physical tightness and mental fatigue that plague so many men, often exacerbated by endless hours sitting in front of a computer. And for those who can't yet twist themselves into Cirque du Soleil swami poses -- well, so be it. After all, LeBron James does yoga; he sees value in a good basic stretch, so why not you?

Place to destress

 
 

"The first thing guys are looking for is some stress reduction, a place where they can destress from work," says Tom McCook, a yoga teacher since 1995 and director of the Center of Balance studio in Mountain View. "And luckily the information is out there that it's also a solid workout, rather than just some navel-gazing. So they find out that you can do a full-body workout in half an hour, and then they see that it's in a focused environment -- not in some distracting gym where it's just another way of stressing themselves. So there's physical benefit and there's a mental benefit, as well."

 
 

Especially for men over 45, yoga "is a way to keep your body healthy, by getting to know your body better," says Myles Spar, a UCLA integrative internist and physician at the Southern California Men's Medical Group in West Hollywood. He recommends that men practice yoga to help relieve chronic lower back and shoulder pain; to prevent injuries when preparing for a triathlon or marathon; and for feeling calmer, generally -- a feeling that can flow out into the home and office. "I truly believe in it. It has so many benefits for the men I see."

The irony is that through the centuries in India, yoga was largely "a guy thing," handed down as a practice from father to son. The Indian innovators who brought yoga to the West -- Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his famous students, including B.K.S. Iyengar -- were men. Yet in the West, women have dominated yoga. According to that same Yoga Journal survey, men -- even as their numbers increase and their attitudes change -- remain an enlightened minority. Of the estimated 20.4 million Americans who practice yoga, only 17.8 percent -- those 3.6 million -- are men.

"It has become a women's world," says David Moreno, a well-known Bay Area instructor who specializes in yoga for men. He finds that women "have a doorway, a portal, that's much more organic to them about opening to silence, to feelings, to the sensation of their bodies. Women are much more likely to come into yoga as a collective, while men are much more likely to come in alone, or to see it as a sport. Men are from Mars, really. We have different needs."

And the fear factor still can kick in when men arrive for class and look out on what appears to be a sea of supple women on their sticky mats: "Men are traditionally not as flexible. So we're all of a sudden in a public situation where we feel that we're underperforming. And that can be intimidating and can bruise the ego."

Paul Gould teaches a yoga class at Namastay Yoga in Felton on Nov. 19, 2014.
Paul Gould teaches a yoga class at Namastay Yoga in Felton on Nov. 19, 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Just for men

Which is why Moreno is writing a book on the subject, tentatively titled "Men and Yoga: Stories and Status." And it is why he has established an all-male class at Yoga Tree in Berkeley: One Sunday a month, at 7 a.m., 15 to 30 men arrive for the "Men's Kula," a two-hour session of asana (physical poses), pramayana (yogic breathing) and meditation.

Participants range in age from their 30s to their 60s, and include "a lot of dads who have three daughters and a wife at home, and they just want to be with the guys and have that energy around them," Moreno says. "Just to be in a room full of men practicing together, in a circle, facing one another -- it's powerful."

Instructors collectively guide the men toward "the kind of practice that suits men, that challenges men without overwhelming them." Poses are often modified; no need to stress and strain. Keep it safe. Do what feels right, and do it correctly. Sit on a block or a couple of blankets to help those tight hips to open.

"Someone with huge quadriceps and tightness through their hips -- it's going to be harder for them," says Nanci Conniff, a yoga and Pilates specialist for Stanford University's athletic program whose students have included Lueders, the defensive end. "They simply can't get all their flesh out of the way. There's just more of them to move around. So it comes down to meeting people where they're at. You start at Point A and you build it up. You do a lot of preparatory work."

Calm exploration

"Explore your own edge," suggests Paul Gould, who runs NamaStay Yoga in Felton with his wife, Jenni Fox. Teaching triangle pose -- a classic, Iyengar standing pose that involves extensions of the legs, arms and torso -- he often encourages a male yogi to "do a modified version with his body aligned, and then let's keep it aligned and see how deeply we can get into it." His goal: Bring the student to "a place of calm," while exploring.

Gould teaches men-only classes, too: "What happens is, we have a blast. I don't think yoga should be a dour undertaking. I've been to a lot of yoga classes where it's like, 'Whoa! This is not a lot of fun. Can we smile here?' "

Scheer agrees that he feels freer to let loose among men: "The moaning and groaning is kind of at a minimum in a co-ed class," like the one he attends in Capitola with wife Christa. But at his "all-guy class" with Gould in Felton, the atmosphere opens up: "We were all joking one time that we should make a CD, like the whales singing. We'd call it 'Men Doing Yoga.' "

Macho aspects

Spar, the UCLA integrative internist, finds that men can be drawn to yoga -- and go on to see its benefits -- if he uses "guy language" to describe it. For instance, headstands and shoulder stands -- the so-called inversion poses -- can be understood in terms of gym-rat resistance training, because "you're pushing against your body weight." Likewise, a standing warrior pose "works the quads and the glutes." Sometimes he encourages men to attend Bikram "hot yoga" classes for a sweaty workout that becomes a yoga gateway: "Oh, this is kind of a macho thing!"

Allan Nett, a Napa-based instructor who teaches in San Francisco and the East Bay, has created a class titled "Yoga with Your Boots On." No sticky mats. No lotus poses. A former contractor, he often teaches yoga to construction workers -- at the worksite. He instructs them in standing poses, stretching and pushing against walls to improve balance and alignment, thereby helping to reduce spinal constrictions and the attendant pain.

He teaches co-ed classes, too, but finds that with men he "treats it a little more like we're on a team, and pushes it a little differently. —‰'Come on you guys, you can do it. How come your arms aren't straight? I know you're stronger than that. I can see it!' I talk more personally with a man, in a sense, about what his body is like than I would with a woman."

And he tells the men to remember this motto: "You've got to be out of your mind to do yoga. That's not crazy out of your mind. It's thinking less and feeling more."

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED

 
 
Specialists in yoga for men include these:

PilatesStyle Magazine - Rekindling the Flame

January/February 2010 Special Issue
— by Maria Leone
Pilates Style - Rekindling the Flame

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Pilates Style - Rekindling the Flame

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Pilates Style - Rekindling the Flame

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Pilates Style - Rekindling the Flame

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Pilates Style - Rekindling the Flame

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Idea Fitness Journal: Pilates on the Cutting Edge

March 27, 2014

— by Rosalind Gray Davis

“Pilates has changed,” says Nora St. John, MS, education program director for Balanced Body®. Today, she explains, many Pilates teachers are well educated in biomechanics. “An understanding of both anatomy and the mind-body connection makes you a better teacher and certainly a better problem solver.

“In the best situation, Pilates is taught with the idea of, ‘Who is the client in front of me? What are his or her goals? How can I use this environment to help the client achieve those goals?’ I think this is a good contemporary view of Pilates.”

How are top Pilates educators respecting Pilates principles while allowing the repertoire to evolve in response to scientific findings and new equipment? Learn how present-day Pilates is blending successfully with other modalities, and discover the latest programs that are making that possible.

Support for Change

Sharing St. John’s sentiments about the importance of exercise science and conscious mind-body movement in an evolving Pilates world are Tom McCook, co-owner and director of Center of Balance in Mountain View, California, and a master instructor of Pilates and CoreAlign® for Balanced Body®, and PJ O’Clair, owner of clubXcel and Northeast Pilates, a STOTT PILATES® Licensed Training Center in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.

“Understanding how the body and the nervous system are designed to move gives us the ability to teach our clients how to move better and with less strain and less wear and tear,” says McCook.

“The body is not designed for performance; it’s designed for survival. The joints need to be mobilized before doing anything muscularly difficult. This allows a person to feel safe before performing a movement. We need to show our clients how to let go of excess tension and how to improve their posture and their body mechanics.”

“STOTT PILATES changed the order [of the Pilates repertoire] quite a few years ago because we felt that it was imbalanced,” says O’Clair, who clearly sees science informing the consciousness of the contemporary Pilates community. “Joseph Pilates was a brilliant man, but [based on] current exercise science, we believe [his original sequence included] too much flexion. People are already spending a great deal of time in flexion in their daily lives,” she says.

McCook agrees, pointing to the many hours clients spend sitting, driving a car or working on computers every day. “This makes you question whether or not it would be a good idea to start your workout with a flexion exercise. You are just doing more of the same thing. [We need] to look at the body and find the most functional movement for the person.”

Innovative Programs and Equipment

Over the years, creative instructors have found novel ways to combine Pilates with other exercise modalities. Pilates and yoga have blended well, for example, and less obvious hybrids—like Pilates and indoor cycling—have also enjoyed success. But new programs and equipment are enabling Pilates educators to refine their approach, expand their reach and fill in arguable gaps in the classical repertoire. Among today’s available resources are CoreAlign, ZEN•GA™ and barre workouts.

CoreAlign

The CoreAlign method, according to McCook, is designed to improve functional movement patterns, posture and balance, and to provide a full-body workout. The equipment consists of two tracks and carts that move independently with smooth resistance (assistance) created by six elastic resistance tube assemblies on each cart. Movement is possible in one or both directions. A ladder (wall-mounted or free-standing) is used in most of the exercises.

For more information, please see “Pilates Blending” in the online IDEA Library or in the print edition of October 2013 IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

 

Mountain View Voice: Yoga Boom Hits Mountain View

January 14, 2005
— by Diana Reynolds Roome

A guide to inner peace... and flexibility, balance, strength, endurance...

Mountain View Voice"I remember way back trying not to use the word yoga -- it was too strange. Now it's everywhere," said Elise Browning Miller, founding director of California Yoga Center at the San Antonio Shopping Center.

Though yoga classes have been available locally for years, centers are now so plentiful that choosing between them and various yoga styles can be almost as hard as practicing the Rajakapotasana, or king pigeon pose. 

Energizing and calming at the same time, yoga is an ancient path to physical and mental health originating in India.

Owen Grady on Mountain View Voice 2005

"Yoga is meditation in motion," said Joseph Hentz, founder of Yoga is Youthfulness on Castro Street. "It's about the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. You learn to be present, and slowly, slowly you ... gain health and energy, and with that, a buoyancy so that you're able to deal with negatives and become more optimistic and daring."

Based on the physical disciplines of postures and breathing, yoga increases endurance, strength and flexibility. It also relieves stiffness, tones the body, reduces mental stress and leads to deep relaxation.

Though traditionally rigorous, modern American yoga can be gentle or energetic, and "can be modified for all levels," explained Ann Merlo, instructor at the California Yoga Center where the Iyengar style is taught. "It works with wherever you are."

Mental and spiritual benefits are emphasized to different degrees according to individual teachers and yoga styles. Though classes vary in style or emphasis, all the centers mentioned in this article accommodate a wide range of participants, from beginner to advanced. And teachers often adapt postures (asanas) at different levels of difficulty.

"Asana means easy, comfortable position, so finding that ease is more of a learning process than an exercise," said Julia Roberts, founder of Yoga Explorations in Sunnyvale. "It's not about getting it right but what's going on inside."

Yoga is done without shoes, and clothes should be loose and comfortable. While yoga enthusiasts take their own mats, many studios have mats to lend. Classes are usually one to one-and-a-half hours. Most teachers, especially in smaller classes, will gently adjust individual students' poses.

The following guide is designed to help in finding the yoga class best suited for your needs and goals. (Note: This guide may not cover all local classes.)

California Yoga Center

570 Showers Drive, Suite 5, Mountain View 947-9642, www.californiayoga.com The lowdown: Founded in 1980 in Palo Alto, CYC is one of the first yoga centers in the area. It has some venerable teachers, including Lolly Font, Ann Merlo, Ben Thomas and Elise Miller, both on faculty at Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.

All classes are based on the Iyengar method, a classic form developed in India where yoga originated. It emphasizes precise alignment and inner awareness. Postures can be modified for all levels; teachers discuss poses and often work with individuals to find their best way to achieve an asana. Emphasis: How you learn is just as important as what you learn. Extras: Classes for back care and scoliosis, prenatal, and pranayama (rhythmic breathing) Nice touch: Workshops and retreats Fees: 8 classes for $112; $14-$17 for drop-in

Center of Balance

1220 Pear Avenue, Suite 1, Mountain View 967-6414, www.centerofbalance.com The lowdown: This studio was listed in "Yoga Journal's" national round-up of the best yoga studios and in "San Francisco" magazine's 2004 Best of the Bay Area.

There's a strong emphasis on physical fitness. Owner/instructor Tom McCook's customers include Olympic athletes and others who want to strengthen performance in other areas.

Beginners, pregnant women or those with injuries progress at their own pace and can benefit from private sessions. Pilates is also incorporated into most classes. Besides a yoga studio, there is a well-equipped pilates studio. Emphasis: Personal development through private and group instruction Extras: Massage, yoga store Nice touch: Juice and apples available after class Fees: 10 classes for $130, 30-day unlimited pass for $135. Student rates available. Private instruction $90-$110 per session. $18 for drop-in

Dahn Yoga Center/Brain Respiration

1776 Miramonte Ave, Mountain View 960-1717, www.DahnWorld.com The lowdown: One of 150 centers in the U.S., Dahn offers a system of exercise, breathing and meditation based on the ancient Korean healing tradition of Dahnak. It's not yoga in the Hindu tradition though it contains some similar elements.

Classes vary but include certain themes: fast, dynamic floor exercises to get the chi, or energy, flowing, stretching, and chanting. Emphasis: Opening meridian channels to increase chi Extras: Individual assessment, aura photograph, small store Nice touch: Cheerful yellow-and-green decor; circle exercises give a sense of class unity. Fees: 3-month pass for $390, no drop-ins

Yoga is Youthfulness

590 Castro Street, Mountain View 964-5277, www.yogaisyouth.com The lowdown: The core staff of 10 instructors offer classes that cover Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, Vinyasa flow (synchronized breath and movement) and restorative yoga. An early morning self-paced practice known as Mysore is provided with one-on-one teacher guidance. Many teachers trained in India, and classes are taught in context of yoga's philosophical basis. Emphasis: Yoga as meditation in motion; learning to be present and focused. Extras: Yoga for kids (5-12) and post-natal yoga; workshops and retreats; YIY hikes. Nice touch: Sculptures and artwork Fees: 10 classes for $115; 1 month unlimited pass for $130, $14 drop-in or 3 classes for $20

Yoga of Los Altos

343 2nd Street, Suite 3, Los Altos 941-9642, www.yogaoflosaltos.com The lowdown: Fifteen teachers, including Tom Abrehamson, Ben Thomas, Marti Foster and Osha Hanfling, offer a wide range of approaches from introductory classes to workshops focusing on therapy for the neck and shoulders. Their styles are eclectic, but include Iyengar, Anusara and Vinyasa flow. Early-morning classes encourage personal practice in the company of others.

New classes help seniors and those with physical challenges to increase flexibility, walk, stand and sit with ease, enhance breathing and concentration, and sleep better. Emphasis: Yoga for physical and spiritual well-being Extras: Private sessions for individual problems Nice touch: Meditation session at no charge Fees: 10 classes for $120, $14 for drop-in

Yoga Explorations of Sunnyvale

822 W. Iowa Ave, Sunnyvale (408) 746-2752, www.yogaexplorations.com The lowdown: YES takes an exploratory approach to traditional asanas, helping students understand their own bodies better rather than trying to conform to an idea of how a posture should look on the outside.

Small groups, moving slowly to develop the potential of each asana, work well for anyone concerned about limitations or injury. Instruction is mostly based on the Iyengar method. Emphasis: Individual yoga exploration for all, including seniors, prenatal, children and back care. Extras: Meditation, Aikido, Aikido for kids Nice touch: Personal attention; bright upstairs studio. Fees: 10 classes for $120, $15 for drop-in

YMCA Yoga

2400 Grant Road, Mountain View 969-7204, www.ymcamidpen.org The lowdown: Though its focus is on fitness, classes are based on Iyengar and Vinyasa flow and taught with full regard to the spirit of yoga.

Classes often attract a crowd in the big gym where teachers demonstrate postures, adapting them to most levels. Attention to breathing deepens postures and relaxation between poses. Yogilates classes combine yoga and pilates. Emphasis: Well-being and safe pace Extras: Props may increase intensity of workout. Nice touch: Quiet background music Fees: Free to YMCA members

Yoga for Teens

City of Mountain View Recreation, Community Center, Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View 903-6331 Tuesdays Jan. 25 to March 33, 4-5:15 p.m. Fee: 10 classes for $45 (only Mountain View residents)

These membership gyms and studios in Mountain View also offer yoga classes: Fit from the Core, 934-2673, Gold's Gym, 940-1440 The Club of Mountain View, 969-1783

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