This past Sunday I participated in my first ever “Yoga Mala”, a fundraising event for the New England-based nonprofit organization “Yoga in Action” in which I completed most of the 108 sun salutations! This practice is an empowering and transformative experience with ancient roots and many benefits. Even though I was doing this virtually in front of a video monitor, I felt connected to the other participants on the screen at the event's location, River Mill Landing in Dover, New Hampshire. Together, we mindfully paraded through (or suffered through) a seemingly endless succession of sun salutations “mountain pose, forward fold, chatarunga, upward dog, downward dog, repeat”! Upon the completion of each round of 10, a queue card was placed on an easel reflecting our count and a new instructor would begin the next round, each instructor infusing the event with their own unique energy.
After the first 2 rounds we paused for a heartwarming video testimonial of one gentleman’s experience with Yoga in Action. He spoke of reaching a point in life where he was accepting that aches and pains and limited mobility were simply inevitable, of how he had once previously experienced yoga “in a room full of perfect bodies”, feeling intimidated and unable to do most of the poses. His life changed for the better when he began attending 2 different Yoga in Action sponsored classes. Here the teacher taught him to find a new way in his body, to connect his mind to his body, and over time he experienced a decrease in aches and pains and an improved sense of well-being.
The break ended and back to the torture, I mean salutations. Seriously though, I have been practicing yoga for about eight years, and even though I am fairly advanced in my practice, this was one of the most physically and mentally challenging yoga moments I have yet experienced, the phrase “yoga marathon” coming to mind. By the time I had completed 50 sun salutations I was starting to feel a subtle drop in energy, periodically doing the occasional modification from this point forward to survive the second half (not to mention those dreaded salutation B's that a few teachers snuck in). After a few more rounds another heartfelt testimonial was read by one of the event's instructors, Marie, this one speaking of another Yoga in Action sponsored class “Yoga for Diverse Abilities” in Seabrook, NH. In what would be one of the most touching moments of the event, she shared a letter from the caretaker of a non-verbal young man who was finding a parallel between his weekly yoga experience and his love of music, his yoga class apparently having an immeasurable effect on his life.
Somewhere around 70 or 80 salutations I was starting to feel physically and mentally fried, and like a gift from the universe the next instructor, Dave brought some much needed lightheartedness, beginning his segment with “are you ready to do some yoga with the fat guy?”. Offhand comments about cookies and donuts were followed by Dave joking about his ability to talk about himself in the third person while teaching yoga. Before we knew it, we were at 100 sun salutations and on to the final eight, finishing strong with a big applause at the end! The final instructor took us through some cool down stretching, followed by a guided meditation, complete with body scan and visualizations, and then a well-deserved shavasana.
Three hours after I began this epic yoga moment the event came to its graceful end. I was pleased I was able to complete all but a few of the 108 salutations, and with some sun salutation B’s thrown in, somewhere around 140 chatarunga's (AKA half push-ups). Although I wasn't there in person, the spirit of the event shined through my video monitor and speakers, allowing me to feel connected to this amazing yoga community. My muscles were sore and tired, but my soul felt replenished and I felt a renewed sense of well-being.
The greater purpose of this event is to raise money and awareness for Yoga in Action so they can support communities that otherwise would not be supported through yoga, and I have a personal connection to this through the memory of my Dad, as the “Yoga and Cancer” program was of great help to him near the end of his life. To Michelle Couture and my friends at Prasada Yoga in Hampton, NH, my friends who made contributions and all who support Yoga in Action, thank you for helping to spread the healing gift that is yoga!
The video shows me doing the first and last eight salutations, sped up times eight. The photo shows me wearing a wonderful gift from my lovely Kelly, yoga mala 108 beads with a tree of life!
A little over three years ago my Dad passed away from a long battle with prostate cancer. He lived most of his life in relatively good health, but struggled in his last years as his cancer progressed. Gradually, he found himself surrendering many of his activities and abilities to the care of others. At the suggestion of my good friend, Robert Skaff I brought him and my Mom to a “yoga and cancer” class at Prasada Yoga in Hampton, New Hampshire. As an experienced yogi of many years I immediately recognized the high level of teaching and care brought by the instructor, Michelle Couture. As cancer patients and recovering cancer patients have various physical limitations, the style of yoga for them must be specifically contoured, and modifications to traditional poses are necessary. Some, including my dad were instructed to do most of the class seated in a chair, downward dogs and other poses modified to be done using blocks, or standing against the wall. My Dad took well to the class, and by the end of it, he was fast asleep in what would become his favorite pose, Shavasana.
This introductory class took place during one of my trips home before he passed, and for the next 2 1/2 years Dad and Mom became regulars, often going twice a week. I talked on the phone with Dad every week during that time and he was always bringing up the yoga class and how much he looked forward to it. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of more classes with him on trips home. During my last trip home shortly before he passed, he told me that there were two places in his mind he would go when the pain or anxiety got really bad. The first place he described was shortly after he and mom married when they hiked to the top of Mount Chocora. Shortly after reaching the summit, a formation of F-14’s came out of nowhere and flew low across Lake Chocora towards them, ascending into the heavens as they reached the base of the mountain right before them! The memory of this special moment brought him peace. Then he said “the other place I go is yoga”. I don’t think I realized just how much the yoga was helping him through this difficult phase until that very moment.
The yoga and cancer program that my Dad went to (and mom still participates in) is a part of the nonprofit organization “Yoga in Action”, which works to provide free and accessible yoga to anyone who needs it in the New England area. On Sunday, February 20th at River Mill landing in Dover New Hampshire, they held their 16th annual Yoga Mala fundraiser, in which I participated virtually, helping to raise awareness and fund many yoga programs throughout New England.
The world just lost a great human with the passing of my old friend and band mate, Mark Gagnon. The longer we stick around this place, the more loss we seem to experience, and every once in a while somebody leaves us and it rips a giant hole in our heart. This was the case for me and likely anybody else that had the gift of having Mark in their lives.
I’ll never forget the first time I was graced with Mark’s presence. Back in 1990 I was playing in the band Crossfire, and on an off night we all went out to see The Branches, another popular band on our circuit. We walked into the packed nightclub and the energy was oozing off the stage, with the audience absorbing every bit of it. My first impression was that the band was great, the singers were top-notch, but the bass player was almost stealing the show. It wasn’t just his bass playing, which was top-notch; it was beyond that, he just had this amazing, kinetic energy. With an ear to ear smile that never seemed to fade, he put every ounce of his being into every second of that performance. He seemed to have this kind of magic spirit that lit up the whole room. A few short years later I found myself playing in a band with Mark, and I learned that this is what you would get from him on a nightly basis. This was Mark at his core, a kind soul who loved playing music and loved making people happy.
I would spend the better part of the next 10 years making music with Mark, growing our band, Shockwave from the ground up. Within our ragged little band of misfits, Mark was the guy you could always count on to lighten the mood. “Hi, my name is Chance. Give Chance a piece!” he might say. While helping to hang our backdrop with thumbtacks he would shout “Aaa-tack!”. Or while sitting at a late-night breakfast joint he would pick up the saltshaker and yell “Assault!”. Always on time and with a smile, or even early (probably the only musician in the history of bands who was ever early), whatever demons he was carrying, for the most part he left at home. A band is like an extended family, and I think Mark thrived on that element. Traveling the country side together, going to new towns and venues, facing unknown audiences night after night, you develop camaraderie, a kind of “us against the world” thing, and Mark’s caring and giving nature made him the perfect comrade for this kind of life. He was a total team player. And I would say he was at his happiest when he was on stage making people happy by making music.
During these years making music together we became great friends, playing hundreds of shows, writing and recording original songs, eating, sleeping, partying, and laughing together. He was even the best man at my wedding and delivered the most amazing, heartfelt speech for the champagne toast. His sweet and thoughtful sendoff brought everyone to tears. As life pulls us all in different directions, I lost touch with Mark in recent years, but I will always cherish the time we spent together. I’m lucky to have known him and am a better person for it.
Even though he’s gone, he wouldn’t want us to be too down about it. Of course we will mourn, but let’s also remember all the goodness he brought into the world. Rather than offer condolences, I would like to encourage everyone to share your stories, Mark one-liners and other “Markisms” in the comments. Let’s celebrate his life and the impact he had on us all!
Here’s a couple more Mark quotes to get the ball rolling:
“She gives good hug”
“Excuse us for a moment, were having a caucus. And in a minute we’re going to have a boobus!”
“If I sing out of tune, it’s always sharp, I’m an overachiever!”
Ever have one of those moments of clarity where the truth hits you like a lightning bolt straight out of the sky? A pivotal moment in your life, which when looked back upon is seen to be the moment your world is forever changed, sending you on a path, a journey, a new life mission. Of course, you don’t realize the scope of this moment as it occurs, you just know something is forever different.
It was the summer vacation right before my sixth grade school year, a couple weeks before school started back, and a picture-perfect, warm, sunny day fell upon us. A bunch of friends sitting lazily around the man-made fishpond in front of the Sadowski home, music emanated from stereo speakers placed in a bedroom window. The mood was relaxed and cheerful, and although the chitchat drifted in and out, the strange music pulsing from the second-story window kept drawing us in like metal particles to a magnet.
“What are we listening to?” I asked innocently.
“Woodstock.” replied one of the Sadowski brothers. “It was the first big rock festival concert back in the 60s”.
The music was electric and raw and had a strange earthiness to it, blossoming imagery of another time and place. I was already familiar with some of the music of this generation, as my Dad frequently played records of Clapton, Santana, and many blues greats of that era, but this was different, the mega concert format depicting the best artists of that era in a peak moment of reckless abandon.
After the first couple album sides of mostly acoustic artists, the music started getting more intense and heavy. Following CSNY and the Who was this emotional roller coaster performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends”.
“Wow, who was that?” I asked.
“Joe Cocker. If you liked that, you’re really gonna like what’s coming up.” replied one of my friends.
The big guitar sounds of Santana, Ten Years After, and others, interspersed with strange announcements and crowd chants drifted from that mysterious bedroom window as my attention continued to deepen. Then all of a sudden it happened.
As funky and cool as so much of all of this music was, it instantly transcended into another plane as the final side of vinyl played on. The electric guitar seemed to pulse and dance amidst a rhythmic and visual soundscape, building and building, going higher and higher until suddenly the drums and bass fell away, leaving a lone guitar to sing her blues.
What’s this? Now he’s playing the national anthem? Of course he wasn’t just playing the national anthem; he was living it, the sounds from his guitar painting the most surreal imagery of all the strife and wonderment of our world across a cloudless blue sky. Interspersed within the melody of an age-old moment of remembrance were rockets, explosions, bombs falling from the sky, people crying, and chaos surrounded by a strange divinity, the guitar literally screaming in pain while simultaneously singing of unimaginable beauty and optimism.
The sounds coming out of that speaker in the window might as well have been coming straight from Mars. It was the deepest penetration of music into my being I had ever experienced in my 11 years of life on this planet. My friends informed me that I had just heard the music of Jimi Hendrix, and the mystery of this bold, cosmic messenger became instantly more elusive as I learned of his passing just one year after this magical performance.
I was forever changed from that moment. I didn’t really know what I had just heard or experienced, but I knew what I felt. I felt an awakening to a mystery. A mystery I wanted to live and explore. The world before me grew instantly larger, with infinite possibilities on the horizon. And although I had already begun learning how to play guitar the year prior, this was the real beginning of my life pursuits in music and beyond, a moment of clarity and truth, a new North star. For me, summer had just begun.
Last Tuesday I awoke to the heartbreaking news that my Dad passed away. After a long battle with cancer, he died peacefully in his sleep with family members by his side. His passing did not come unexpectedly and over the past months I did much to prepare myself, but we are never really that prepared for this kind of thing. He was an amazing man whom gave so much to all who knew him; I miss him more than words can say. It was his wish that all four of his children would give eulogies at his service. Here’s what I wrote for him.
What can I say about Dad. There’s so much to say. He wasn’t just a great Dad, he was also a great friend, mentor, bandmate, and probably my biggest fan. He was my hero. His departure has left a giant black hole in my universe. I was just talking to him the other day, sharing stories and laughs like we did often through the years, and now he’s gone.
But he’s not really gone. His physical being may have left this world, but all the goodness he embodied and the huge impact he had on his family and friends remain. A part of his spirit is still here and lives within all that knew him.
Dad had an amazing sense of humor, probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. If you knew him well enough to call the house, you might have occasionally been greeted with “Murphy’s pool hall”, or “Coles Barbecue, best butts in town”, or some other equally entertaining abstraction. My curiosity was always peaked when I would see a voicemail from him. Sometimes it was just to say hi, other times he would leave some sort of CIA spy jargon like “The camel has left the tent.”
His text messages could be equally entertaining. Sometimes I might get something like “your time zone is behind ours, therefore you must be an hour late for everything.” Or “what are you doing standing there looking at this text? Get back to work!”. He loved to laugh, and he loved to make others laugh.
Dad loved music, and this passion flowed out of him like a cool mountain spring. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of dad placing headphones over my infant ears to hear the music of Carlos Santana. He may not have been an actual hippie, but he was always playing music of the Woodstock generation back then, always eager to share it. His passion for music led him to become a great bass player, something he was able to do till the very end. He didn’t think he was a great bass player, that’s because he was humble. But he was great! - Solid, dependable, always holding down the fort. These words describe not just Dad’s bass playing, but his approach to life. I’m really not sure why I chose to become a professional musician. I would say that Jimi Hendrix is the reason I play guitar, but Dad is the reason I play music.
My relationship with Dad changed over the years. I looked up to him in my younger years, his calm, subtle exterior almost masking his pillar like strength. I battled with him as a rebellious teen, as my experimentation with nearly every drug on the planet most certainly attributed to whatever bouts of hypertension he may have had. I’m not sure when it happened, but some time well into my adulthood, I realized that he was one of my best friends. He always made time for the people in his life, whether you wanted to chat with him, ask him for advice, or just share stories or jokes - if this isn’t the definition of a best friend, I don’t know what is.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to endure in my life was living half a continent away from Dad and my family for the last 17 years. Little did I know that following my lifelong musical dreams, largely instilled by Dad, would lead me away from him for all these years. But in carving this path, I found myself, and did a lot to make Dad proud.
And Dad did a lot to make me proud. He was always there for his family, always finding a way to provide whatever we needed to have a good life. He would wholeheartedly take on any job or task that came his way, whether it be vice president of a regional bank, volunteer greeter at Exeter Hospital, or bassist and bandleader of Wind Spirit. Perhaps the biggest thing he was always there to share was his love - his love of life, his love of family, and his love of friends. If you became his friend, you basically became part of his family, otherwise known as “Team Normand”.
During these last few years I grew closer and closer to Dad. I would visit when I could, which never seemed often enough, but we talked on the phone all the time. He was always so totally present when we talked, that even from 1200 miles away I felt as if he was right there beside me.
I am grateful that I was able to introduce him to yoga in recent years, something which gave him great comfort and solace at a point when he really needed it. See Dad, you really went full circle, doing yoga and chanting Ohms - half way to becoming a hippie again!
Another great thing that happened in these last months was our “album club”. I’m not sure what started it, but for a while, each morning would start out with me texting him a record that he turned me onto when I was a kid. He would listen to it on Google music, I would listen to it, and then we would talk later in the day about how great it was. After a couple of weeks of this he texted me something like “I must of been ahead of my time. Did other Dads of that era listen to the smart music as I did?”.
All of these memories, and so many more I will forever cherish. For me, my mom, and my brother and sisters, Dad was a safe haven. He infused our family and anyone who was lucky enough to know him with love and kindness.
So while I’m sad with the immediacy of his loss, I’m so happy to have known him, to have been his son, and to be a part of team Normand. He gave this place 78 amazing years and that’s something we should all be happy about. The great thing is that his spirit still lives within us all.
So Dad, my good friend, if you’re listening, thanks for all the friendship, the music, and the love. And thanks for inviting us to the party!
To say that last week was heavy is probably the biggest understatement of all time. Last week was one of the most emotional times I can remember in my adult life, I can’t even remember the last time I cried so much. When I first heard the news of the passing of my dear friend, Mike Chapman, I was deeply saddened, but I didn’t really grasp the full meaning of this for a couple more days. It wasn’t until me and Kelly arrived at Mike’s “Celebration of Life” ceremony on Friday that it fully hit me, Mike really is gone.
But he’s not really gone. His physical being may have left this world, but all the goodness he embodied and the huge impact that had on his family and friends remain. A part of his spirit is still here and lives within all that knew him.
I met Chap about 10 years ago, while working for country artist, Rhett Akins. We were in between bass players and our drummer at that time, Cliff Thompson said Mike would be great, if he was available. It turns out he was available, and our friendship and musical adventures began on a tour bus bound for Virginia. I had no idea on that day that he would eventually become my favorite bass player to play music with, but also one of my favorite people to be around.
Those that knew Mike knew the depths of his amazing talent on the bass guitar. Millions of people who have no idea who he is have unknowingly enjoyed his playing on countless recordings. Being a world-class studio musician and playing bass on all the Garth Brooks records (and countless others) were just one part of his amazing contributions to the world. He was also a phenomenal live musician; for he could hold down the fort like no other! My good friend, Patrick Weickenand, owner of a bar in which me and Mike performed many times, the Fillin’ Station, once said “Mike’s unreal, he never misses!”. Solid, dependable, never missing a beat – these words describe not just Mike’s bass playing, but his approach to life.
So many beautiful words were said of Mike at his celebration last week by some of his closest friends and his daughter Allison. Mike’s love for his family, friends, music, and life were as deep as the deepest ocean, his life had such meaning and purpose, and he lived it to the fullest. He was also the humblest guy you could ever meet, if he heard me (and everyone else) talking about him like this, he would have probably said something like “thanks, that’s really nice, but you don’t really have to say all that”.
I played a lot of “big gigs” with Mike, most of the gigs with Rhett Akins and The Peach Pickers were in front of thousands of people. Some of my most memorable musical experiences were with Mike on bass backing up The Peach Pickers on the Luke Bryan Farm Tour in recent years. But hanging out with Mike on the bus, or sharing a meal or a walk, these moments were just as special.
Over the years we also played a lot of small gigs, you know the kind, 30 or 40 people in a cozy neighborhood bar (or sometimes even five or six, three of which were 2 band wives and the bartender). My wife and I were always amazed that on many occasions he would drive an hour to do these gigs with me, for nothing other than tips and a good time. I remember him saying after one of these gigs “thanks for inviting me to the party! “, And after another “music is like ice cream!”. We really did have some magical musical moments in these little bars and I am grateful for the experiences and memories I made with him. He treated every show, no matter how big or small, with the same level of importance. He really loved to play music!
What Mike has left behind for us, aside from his musical legacy, is his legacy of love, and this was so evident at his service. One of the things I loved most about Mike was the way he would greet you with a big hug and a smile, every time! And it wasn’t just a little hug; he hugged you like he really meant it, as I believe he really did. And even if he didn’t physically hug you, he hugged you with his smile; there was so much love in his eyes. And this went on at the service, everybody was hugging everybody, it was like a great big, teary-eyed hug-athon!
In the days since that service my wife and I have talked a lot about Mike and some of the things that were said of him on that day – things like his honesty, integrity, compassion and selflessness. He never had a bad thing to say about anyone and went out of his way to help others, ideals the world can never have too much of. He generously shared his love with everyone and that might be the greatest gift anyone can give.
Over these last few days we’ve stumbled across a new mantra – “Be like Mike!”. If you’re having a bad day and life gets a little hard, hold your head up high and be like Mike. Be like Mike in all the ways that he shared his goodness in the world. Be like Mike and smile a little more, hug often, and love always. I can think of no better way to honor our friend.
Mike once said in an interview about attaining success in the music business “you’ve got to be a nice guy”. If there’s one thing I learned through my years of knowing him, being a nice guy came very naturally to Mike Chapman. I wish I could hug him one more time and play one more gig with him, but I guess that will have to wait. So if you’re listening my good friend, thanks for all the friendship, the music, and the love. And thanks for inviting us to the party!
Back in 2009, I began putting together a list of people to interview for my book, The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide, and my friend, Mike was at the top of this list. Those of you who knew Mike know that he was a very caring, giving, and humble human being. The interview he gave was not only insightful for aspiring musicians, but also a wonderful insight into his musical journey. Although he has now gone on to a better place, his music can still be heard, and his magical essence still shines through the words on these pages. It is with that spirit that I’d like to share his words with you all. Mike touched so many lives, and we are all the better for it. I miss my friend.
Click here to view the entire interview: https://nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com/Blog/mike-chapman/
This past Thanksgiving marks the second year anniversary of my yoga journey. It’s been an exciting year, lots of milestones and lots to be thankful for. At the one year mark, I decided to write a blog about my first year of yoga, so now that another year has come and gone I’d like to share how this transformational journey continues to evolve. For those of you who don’t know me, or didn’t read my first blog, I’ll start with a condensed version of how and why I got into yoga and then I’ll get into some of what I’ve learned during the second year (halfway through the writing of this blog I realized that it really wanted to be two blogs, one about the physical practice of yoga, and one about the mental and emotional benefits, so let’s start with the physical journey).
Throughout my adult life I’ve gone back and forth between two professions; music and construction. In 2011 I decided to go back into construction after many years of working as a touring musician. I was 43 years old and hadn’t worked in construction for about 15 years. Ouch, I was quickly reminded of how hard this work can be! Within a year I was having chronic shoulder and neck pain as well as relapses of tendinitis in my right arm from an old injury. Sometimes, after a few hours of work, my left shoulder would begin to hurt, the pain and stiffness spreading into my neck, ultimately limiting my range of mobility and causing intense pain. Once my shoulder and neck were “tweaked”, it might take several days to a week to subside. It was getting so bad that the condition could even be brought on by simply coughing or sneezing. I tried stretching, ibuprofen, lifting weights, but nothing worked, the condition was worsening.
Then one day a friend told me how he had used yoga to self heal an injury. I was intrigued. I began practicing with a yoga DVD (P90X Yoga) as well as putting together a few of my own short routines. I wasn’t consistent at first, but the ball was in motion. Then one day my wife, Kelly sent me a couple of YouTube video links. One was a 30 Minute Morning Yoga Class by Ali Kamenova (if you’re interested in exploring some great yoga videos, check out Ali’s YouTube channel). Almost instantly, this routine, and Ali’s style clicked with me, and soon this YouTube video had become my new best friend.
By one year into this commitment to self healing I was practicing Ali’s yoga routines almost daily, and the neck/shoulder pain and tendinitis were, for the most part, gone! Although they occasionally did show their face, the problems were minimal, and usually gone by the next day. There were a lot of other changes over that first year – a whole new sense of body awareness, breath, connectivity, improved attitude – I was stronger both physically and mentally, and had a growing sense of inner peace – all this from a 30 to 60 minute daily yoga practice at home. My first year of yoga was very exciting; self-healing my own injuries was very empowering. One of the biggest things I learned was the connection between the body, mind and breath, and I definitely felt an increased awareness of my physical and emotional state.
Figuring out what the body needs
When I first started practicing yoga, I was typically hitting the mat three times a week, occasionally four. By the end of that first year it was almost daily, and I often found myself struggling to figure out what my body needed on a daily basis, which class to choose, what type of flow, how to alternate routines to target different parts of the body, etc. Maybe a certain area of my body was holding extra tension and required specific attention. I was also exploring how to build my day around my practice (to ensure it happened daily) and what clothing was most comfortable. Over the second year of practice, I gradually found answers to many of these questions.
Creating a space for yoga
In order to practice yoga every day I believe you have to build it into your daily routine in a way that is sustainable, and this is different for everyone. I’ve learned that I don’t have the energy or focus for a challenging yoga sequence by the time I get home from work, so it’s pretty much a morning practice or nothing. For a while, I tried hitting the mat shortly after getting out of bed, and this was a struggle as my body was too stiff and I seemed to lack energy. Gradually, my schedule evolved into waking up around 5:00 AM, eating breakfast, doing a few other things around the house to kind of wake things up a bit, and then starting my practice at the last minute possible before leaving for work (allowing maximum time for digestion). On the weekends I find myself practicing much later in the morning and my body seems to like that a little better, but the compromise during the work week is essential. I think the key is to make a commitment to a daily practice, and then build the practice into your daily routine.
Types of routines:
I love a strong, moderate paced power yoga class, 50 to 60 minutes in length, with lots of warriors, backbends, twists, hip openers, and core work, and I do these as often as possible. However, sometimes my body wants something different. On some mornings I feel a little beat up from the workday before, so I might do a less intense routine that focuses on flexibility. I use these classes to take the edge off of whatever pains and tweaks I might wake up with and to prepare my body for another day of life’s abuses. Do you ever wake up feeling really tight, achy, and just really beat up from head to toe? Well even with all this yoga I still have days like that, too. On those mornings I try to do very easy, therapeutic routines, maybe 20 to 30 minutes in length with mostly seated poses. And then some days the body just wants a complete rest! Our physical state seems to fluctuate, going from higher to lower points of energy and stability, so it’s important to listen to your body; it is speaking to you and will tell you what it needs.
Loosening up, tightening up, loosening up, tightening up…this seems to be a pattern in my life. I get all stretched out with a wonderful morning yoga class, and then sit in my car for an hour drive to work. Sitting in traffic sucks, and boy, will that tighten you up! Then there’s the repetitive motion of the job itself. Throughout the day, I’ll throw in a few poses, almost always right before lunch, and then again at the end of the day right before the afternoon commute. Even just a couple of forward folds and a standing side stretch can work wonders.
My job as a painter and drywall repairman is very physically demanding and requires a lot of sustained, awkward body positions. Working over head, crouching, kneeling, climbing up and down ladders, painting with a brush or roller for hours…did I mention sitting in traffic? No matter what you do for work; it will take its toll on the body. This is where yoga comes in. For every task that stresses the body, there’s a pose or group of poses that will counter it.
Painting and/or repairing ceilings place more stress on the neck and shoulders than almost anything else I do. Over the last two years I have greatly increased my flexibility in that region with backbends, twists, and shoulder openers. This work still takes its toll, but much less so because of my increased range of motion. Work that is low to the ground, like painting baseboards, is also quite taxing. You’ve either got to sit, kneel, crouch, or lie on your side. I find myself sitting crosslegged to do a lot of this work, kneeling (with knee pads), or even squatting, and this requires open hips and loose hamstrings. Hip openers and hamstring stretches improve the ability to sit or kneel for extended periods of time. I’m constantly going from standing, to crouching, to climbing ladders, and this is where all the core work really pays off. Working over head or standing on a ladder requires the ability to balance and an awareness of my body in space. Balancing poses greatly help (if you want to get a sense of where you’re really at, try closing your eyes during tree pose!). When I perform music, I might be playing guitar and singing continuously for an hour or more, and this can be just as demanding as painting a house. All the muscles that get used and abused by performing music are stretched and strengthened by my yoga routines.
Breathing is the only way to deepen our practice
Anyone who has delved into yoga, even just a little bit, knows the emphasis placed on breathing. When we breathe deeply, with complete inhalations and exhalations, our body receives this as a signal to relax and to let go of tension. Sometimes I become aware of growing tension, and a few focused deep breaths almost always help to relieve it. If I do something that aggravates or tweaks a muscle, breathing can help to minimize, or even reverse what might otherwise become a runaway problem. As a chronic sufferer of migraines, I’ve learned that deep breathing can be a very powerful tool. And deep breathing can be especially helpful in dealing with the simple stresses of everyday life, arguments, traffic jams, etc.
I’ve learned so much in these last two years about how my body works, what it needs, how to use yoga to become less prone to injury, self heal injuries, and to optimize my physical and emotional well-being. My yoga practice, along with healthy eating is my own personal healthcare system. I believe it can have a powerful effect on anyone, and the best part is, it’s never too late to start. The transformational effects of my practice go way beyond increased strength and flexibility, and part two of this blog will delve into the positive effect it can have on mental and emotional wellness. As my initial exploration of yoga was centered on fitness, as it seems for many, I wanted this blog to partly serve as an inspiration or catalyst to those who are curious about it, or just getting started with their own practice.
Yoga practice seems to be dominated by women, and I think a lot of men don’t get into it because they don’t really understand what it can be. A big misconception among many who have never practiced yoga is that it’s all about meditation, or just for “stretching”. While it does include those things, the right kind of yoga routine can be as ass-kicking as any workout you’ll ever do. At its core, yoga is really about self exploration, and the breath, but it can also be an amazing physical fitness program. And with that, I’ve got to get going. It’s almost time for work and I’ve got to go hit the mat!
Here’s some photos my wife took during one of my recent yoga sessions (click or swipe the arrows to see all the photos): the before and after shots show my progress from one year ago.
Namaste, friends and fellow Yogi’s! If you’re not a regular yoga practitioner, you’re probably not familiar with this greeting, don’t worry, until recently, I wasn’t either. Almost exactly one year ago from the time of this writing I embarked on my journey into yoga, one which was prompted by an almost debilitating battle with chronic shoulder and neck pain. A year later, after making a serious commitment to try yoga as a holistic approach to self healing, the injury is healed and I am relatively pain free. Before I delve into the healing and transformation that happened over this life-changing year I’d like to tell you how I arrived at this place.
For most of my life I’ve been a musician, having earned a living as one for most of my adult life. I’ve been playing professionally on and off since 1989, having played thousands of night club gigs before moving from my native New England to Nashville, TN in 2002. Since my arrival to Nashville, I’ve played another thousand or so gigs, most of them as a professional touring musician. I even wrote a book about the Nashville music industry in 2011. About three years ago, the artist I was touring with decided to stop touring, and I used this moment to make a change. Having seen the country from a bus window several times over, I also decided to stop touring. I had no idea what I was going to do next.
A fellow musician whom I had played a few local gigs with owned a painting company, and one night on the way home from a local show said “If you ever feel like swinging a paint brush, let me know, I’m always looking for good help”. I took him up on his offer, as painting and drywall is something I’ve also done at different points of my life. At first I just worked a couple days a week, but a year later, now up to four to five days a week and still playing music part-time, this pace began to kick my ass! Not having done physical labor in over 10 years, I soon began having regular pain in my left shoulder and neck, as well as some relapses of tendinitis in my right arm from an old injury. The shoulder pain sometimes caused my neck to stiffen up, often to the point where I lost mobility and could barely turn my head to the side. It was getting ugly!
Like many Americans, I didn’t have health insurance, I haven’t for most of my adult life. So I knew I had to go about this holistically. I was already eating pretty well, as I had been for several years. I’m not vegan but I do eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy oils, nuts, and lots of water, with meat and dairy only being a small part of my diet. I avoid processed foods and almost never eat in restaurants. As far as exercise, at the time these problems began, I had been doing the P90X workout program on an off for about two years, and sometimes went on hikes. I was relatively fit, but my exercise habits were inconsistent. I started doing the P90X stretch DVD on a regular basis, and while this seemed to help, it wasn’t enough. I started doing the resistance exercises again, and sometimes they seemed to help, other times they seemed to aggravate the injuries.
By the end of this second year of construction I was at my wits end, the nagging shoulder problem now an almost daily occurrence and the tendinitis not far behind. I was determined to remedy the situation holistically; I knew it could be done as my wife had just conquered a bad neck injury from a car accident through regular exercise. I needed a new approach, as it seemed like everything was just too tight and getting tighter – shoulders, neck, and a whole bunch of muscles I didn’t even know the names of. I had some earlier experiences with yoga, mostly from the P90X yoga DVD, and, remembering how good I felt after those workouts, I began exploring it again. Around the same point in time a friend of mine told me how he had used yoga to heal a chronic injury. For the next few months I began doing yoga, mainly using that DVD or just putting a few poses together on my own. I wasn’t doing it with any real consistency or plan, but I was doing it.
Then one day a bulb went off in my head. I remembered something that a Soft Tissue Specialist once told me about my tendinitis. He said something to the effect of:
“The tendinitis in your forearm is the result of inflamed tendons and muscles rubbing. There’s an overlapping series of tendons and muscles that go all the way from your wrist to the back of your shoulder. So the problems in your forearm are also related to tightness in your triceps, and shoulder. You can’t just work on the one area of inflammation, you need to stretch everything around it, lengthen everything.”
Realizing that my shoulder and neck problem likely worked in the same way, I figured that yoga might be the perfect choice for something to stretch and strengthen my whole body. Right around this time my wife sent me a couple of links to some yoga classes on YouTube, one of them was a 30 Minute Morning Yoga Class by Ali Kamenova. I’m not sure if it was the unique and challenging flow to this class, or maybe her soft, steady and almost hypnotic voice delivering detailed explanations of form with a cool, Bulgarian accent, but something just clicked for me when I did this class. This was the beginning of my serious commitment to yoga.
For the first couple of months into my new commitment I did this same 30 minute routine 3 to 4 times a week, basically every other morning. I noticed the shoulder pain was diminishing and I was becoming less “tweak prone”. I started experimenting with some of Ali’s other classes and honed in on a 66 minute Vinyasa sequence that covered all the basic poses, adding this to my weekly rotation. I also began doing regular cardio, the “run-walk–run” method, basically, interval running about 2 to 3 times a week. By the time six months had passed from my initial commitment I realized I hadn’t had any major flareups in a while. I found another challenging Ali video that resonated with me, “Arm Balances Emotional Release”, and added this to my weekly regimen of yoga and running. Ali’s style of yoga, “interval yoga”, is not your traditional yoga. Many of the videos add elements of strength training and cardio, making the classes challenging on many levels.
It’s not about the hour a day that I do yoga, it’s about the other 23 hours.
During the second half of this transformational year, I began to notice a lot of other changes happening. Not only was I in less pain, I felt stronger and noticed having more energy throughout my days. I noticed feeling less beat up when I awoke in the morning. A lot of other subtle changes were happening – better posture, body awareness, deeper breathing, I even noticed that my attitude was becoming more positive. I began to make the connection between negative thoughts and tension and pain. It was obvious that my exercise routines were improving many aspects of my life.
The intermittent shoulder and neck pain that started me on this journey was often triggered by many different things. Sometimes it was from looking up for extended periods of time at work, turning my head to the side in an unsupportive way; even sneezing could trigger a spasm. These spasms would escalate to the point of constant pain and tension in the shoulder, eventually working its way into my neck and causing a limited range of motion. Once a spasm began, it would take anywhere between three days and a week to get under control. It’s not like I’m invincible now, but I haven’t had a major spasm in over six months, and if I do have a tweak, it’s much smaller now and typically gone the next morning. I am certain that it was this serious commitment I made to myself that allowed me to self-heal these injuries, as my physical problems were worsening before this intervention and I never once went to a doctor for any of this.
The benefits of Yoga in everyday life
Life can be challenging, work can be hard, and nothing is ever easy. No matter what you do I’m sure there are moments throughout some of your days when you are in physical or emotional pain. Here are some of the concepts and practices I’ve learned from yoga that seem to help ease some everyday struggles.
Breathing – It seems ridiculous that fully grown humans would need to examine their breathing. But the truth is that many of us use shallow breathing much of the time. If you haven’t been doing yoga or another exercise in which breathing is integral, then you’ve probably never given it much thought. “Deep inhalations followed by deep exhalations”. Throughout my days, as often as possible, I check in with my breath. Am I breathing deeply or have I gotten lazy. Breathing deeply seems to help the body stay loose and the mind, calm and centered. Whenever I have to climb way up high on a ladder, I’ll take a few deep breaths first. I’ll do the same thing if someone cuts me off in traffic, if I feel an argument about to ensue, or if I’m getting nervous before a performance.
Posture – one of the best things about yoga is the emphasis on body alignment, and this transcends into posture. “Shoulders back and down, tuck your butt, lift through the crown of your head, relax your shoulders, don’t hyper extend your knees” – hearing these phrases repeated over and over in the workouts has helped me cultivate better posture even when I’m not working out. I can’t think of how many times throughout the day that I catch myself faltering when suddenly one of these phrases just pops into my head. I’ve also re-examined how I sit, often now choosing to sit crosslegged in a chair, or even on the floor. I believe good posture is half the battle.
Body Awareness – the more I do yoga, the more I become aware of how my body feels at any given moment in time and space. Now that I’ve got my two biggest ailments under control (the shoulder and tendinitis), I’ve become aware of other minor discomforts that have been there all along, possibly going back years. These are not a big problem; they are simply areas of tension or limited mobility to work on long-term. Also, if I’m pushing myself too hard throughout any given day or just getting tired, I become aware of growing tension and work to relieve it.
Stretching – a few times throughout my day, I’ll throw in a random stretching pose. I love to just hang in a forward fold for a minute or so right before lunch or driving home at the end of the day. Sometimes I’ll just do it if I feel myself getting tight. I’ll also do downward dogs, back bends, and other poses to counter building tension or tightness, when necessary.
Body mechanics – to me this is the art of efficient and safe movement, and I’m aware of this now more than ever. What is the easiest way to do any given task? Whether it’s playing guitar, painting, sitting at a computer, I’m always searching for the safest and easiest way to do it.
Attitude – Out with the negative in with the positive! Stress and tension can definitely cause physical pain, so it only stands to reason that having a positive outlook can make one healthier. One aspect of yoga is quieting and clearing the mind. Getting good at this seems to have a direct correlation to preventing injuries and living with less pain, not to mention, increased happiness. I find that the meditative aspect of yoga brings great inner peace and calmness.
Paying It Forward – Yoga has been such a powerful force in my life that I want to share with others, and I’ve already taught a few moves to a few friends. I have a long-term goal of becoming a yoga instructor, not to make a living from it (I’ve heard that’s pretty hard to do) but because I want to learn it on the deepest level possible and share that knowledge with others. Yoga seems to be female dominated, with many men shying away from it for a variety of preconceived notions. Seeing many of my friends living in pain has given me the desire to help change that and make yoga more accessible to men.
I can’t say enough good things about what yoga has done for me. I’ve learned entirely through home practice, almost exclusively using Ali’s videos. Ali has been a great teacher, responding to messages with advice and encouragement. She seems to do this for a huge amount of people all around the world. It’s an amazingly altruistic venture she has embarked on to make yoga so accessible to so many (she has over 200 free full-length yoga classes and tutorials on YouTube!), and to give such personal attention to everyone who seems to need help.
At age 46, I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. No matter what fills my days – painting a house, performing music, spending time with my family, running at the park, or yoga – I don’t think I’ve ever been in a happier, healthier place. We all live in varying degrees of pain, be it physical or emotional, and I believe yoga is the best pain management program of all time. There’s a reason it was invented and used over 5000 years ago as the original healthcare system in India. I’m grateful to be a part of this tradition and thankful that it found me. There’s still so much to be learned, so I better get started. Namaste!
“The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.
Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”
Here’s some photos my wife took during one of my recent yoga sessions (click or swipe the arrows to see all the photos):