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Monday, October 09, 2017

Swimming ... for Stiffness ?

Every Sunday for the past few weeks, I have spent at least 45 minutes swimming a mile, or rather 1600 metres, in the lanes at the pool. (Yes, indoors. Yuk! I know). I've been using a combination of my fairly smooth-but-steady breast stroke and a lumpy form of freestyle. Among other things I've been trying to get the latter more coordinated and sustainable.

If I take a deep breath, I might now manage 4x25m freestyle, but then I get puffed and have revert to breast stroke (which I can do indefinitely, it seems). The development is as much about stroke coordination/efficiency as cardio response and body strength. Freestyle (front crawl), when it's broken down, has got about 43 discrete micro-actions, each of which can be done wrong in 11 ways and correctly in one or two. So there's all that theory, experiment, proprioception and observation to do. And there's the physical infrastructure. Lungs and muscles take several weeks and a range of Sunday lunches to change from state A to state B. This all takes dedication and patience. Taken together it's a nice mixture of challenges. Eventually I'd like to be able to do big chunk (1000 m?) of continuous freestyle without having to hold on to the ropes or sinking to the bottom. 

Results? Apart from aches in parts of my shoulders that don't get used in the office, and perhaps a bit of general tone, I've noticed another less welcome effect. My legs seem to be 25 years older! For example, rather than springing out of the sofa during the ad break, I'm tempted to relax and enjoy the show. "Ah yes, that's an amazing whiter white, even on grass stains!". When I do get up (it feels like "out" of a huge gravity well), one leg turns into a block of wood and I hobble uncontrollably towards the screen. Hmm, I might also try a tiny bit of stretching, or even yoga. It might help, you never know.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Yoga with some differences

Yoga's inescapable these days. I used to do a fair bit a few years ago, when it was more of a niche thing, but nowadays it seems to have become an Industry, complete with a uniform. I've got a stack of yoga books, including an excellent runner-oriented one (distance runners' hamstrings get short and tight, which you will notice in down-dog).

Never liked uniforms, as you know. Aha, what's this popping up on the ever-keen-to-interest-you Meetup? Naked Yoga in South London! It seems legit, and not a front for a muscle-boys' knocking shop (they have an app for that), so let's join. After a few weeks on lurking in the group, I register for a class.

It's run by Doria, whose site has got a few references to her naked yoga sideline (or it might be her core offer, I don't know), complete with press coverage and some nice studio shots of her. And were some of the images from a warm evening at Burning Man, I wonder, as it looks like some artistic structures/contraptions in the background on the sand?

Naked Yoga means practicing yoga without the contraints of clothing. There is a sense of freedom practising yoga naked: freedom from negative feelings about your body, and deeper connection with yourself and the world around you. While many equate being naked with sex, this couldn't be further from the truth in a naked yoga class. Naked Yoga is about being comfortable in your own skin and the amazing confidence that comes with it. It's about knowing, accepting and loving yourself at your core.


The studio is tucked away in XXXX road, a block or two away from where the A3 whizzes through on its way to Clapham Common. Shoes off at the foyer - good sign, and then up some little stairs to the studio proper. The building is a former warehouse? Small factory? Dunno, anyway it's converted light industrial about 150 years old with nice high rafters and a lovely weathered looking wooden floor. The floor's lovely and clean, thanks to the shoes-off arrangement.

I'm about the 3rd guest there. Doria's still putting mats out in a U, so I take time to admire the 6ft long model sailboat, which looks like the sort of thing that people used to race on ponds. Not sure what to do now ..., er, um. Aha, someone has taken their kit off and sat on his mat. I'll do that. People, mostly chaps, arrive as we do so, and go through their stretches. I improvise. Not sure I've got a pre-session Routine, so I find where the tension is and stretch those things. Shoulders mostly. Numbers are building up now, and finally we have 6 or 7 men and 2 women, plus instructor.

The added ingredients are : music (Doria's got a cute but effective Bluetooth speaker), lots of heat, and for me, a Vinyasa oriented approach. Removed ingredients are: clothes, light (just the red of the heaters, and some other very minor light sources, and presumably any inhibitions. I'm perfectly fine with the nudity : more concerned about the intensity of the practice.

I shouldn't have worried. Although there is some pretty strong work in the middle of the session, we start gently in corpse, then visualisation and intention-setting, before waking up the breath. There's a core routine in the Vinayasa sequence around which variations are built. Plank, Up-dog (or is it Cobra?), Down-Dog, Forward Bend. Tonight we are working within Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Triangle. I spend a bit of time thinking "really?, there?" but I'm not bothered by my inadequacies. Doria gives numerous Option 1's for the less flexible to work on, so we don't need to gauge ourselves by the Option 3 crew. I do a lot of sweating!

Practicing without clothes is good. No scrunching or tightening of fabric anywhere at all. Heat can evaporate immediately, no damp patches. Having a glance at fellow practitioners is instructive too and makes more sense when nude. Not that I'm competing or ogling, but I feel I can get a sense of the intended pose by viewing a few examples. The anatomy is easier to read without interfering material.

The high energy aspects of the class then fade, and there's a lovely warm down sequence. Again we are in a corpse-like pose. Our teacher gets us into this state of active repose and then moves amongst the group. A fragrant energising oil, warmed by her palms, is offered to the temples as we rest, which seems to unite/vibrate/connect Heart-Throat-Forehead. We consider the effects of this, and of the practice, reflecting on our intention, and our (unfortunate?) need to re-enter the world and then we finish.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Swim summary: not as summery as before

I will do sincere penance to the data integrity gods for failing to keep these posts In Their Proper Order. I posted about Swim 12 (or non-swim, as it turned out) having left you with only a data fragment from #8. Bad monkey!

Now where were we? Swims 9-11 could be characterised by quiet seasonal changes, and taking opportunities as they present themselves.

Swim 9 was from the Secret Spot with L, on an intermediately cloudy Friday morning a couple of weeks ago. The water was cool (14º?), but didn't perturb us too much. This time no dope-smokers on the sluice-gate (all back at school going over the learning objectives for the year).  Some sunshine broke through here and there as we pottered upstream, reaching about 1 km from the start. And swooshed back down again, being regarded at one of the corners by the Big Brown Cow. Ducks and herons otherwise. Couple of submerged branches to contend with, which seemed to favour my (heavy?) legs rather than L's. A couple with a baby en papoose regarded us with a semi-interested expression as we clambered out. Until I fully emerged that is, and then they're off! Nothing like a naked ginger guy to disperse people, I find ;-).

Swim 10. The following week. Solo, from the Weir at 4pm. Bit earlier deliberately, to keep the sunset out of the equation. Weekday, so not much chance of muggles. Sunny, so there were a few. Get in without fuss, and puss along in the cool substance. Push the muscles along to generate some heat. The sun adopts a low position, and scatters its rays all around my grubby goggles. Floating apples, along with leafy debris, bump my nose, like Atlantic growlers along the hull of the craft. They give off yeasty, cider-like smells to warn of their approach.

I keep largely to breaststroke but insert some crappy bursts of what could pass for front crawl, keeping the breathing rate quite high. It occurs to me that I could improve my stroke given time and dedication. I seem to have got it to a basic level of competence now, with some ideas of what's going on within the cycle. I wonder if I will bother to adopt this as a project, or even cram in any pool swimming at all over the winter.

I do my usual mile, turning round at Trower's Bridge (28:16 upstream leg, 19:31 down).  Water a comparatively toasty 17ºC. The air temp was a few notches higher. The previous day even more, which had helped.

Swim 11. Earlier this week. Someone I vaguely knew popped up on one of the Facebook outdoor swim groups asking if there were any takers for a swim further up the Wey, at Thundry Meadows.

This spot is in the meadowy meandering territory west of here, in the Elstead region. Having parked up on a tiny lay-by, and wandered through a slightly marshy approach (duckboards provided) I meet with B. How's it going man, have you seen X lately, done any more Y? 

The river is guarded by a corral of electric fence, which is there to keep the herd of youthful black and white bullocks (Belted Galloway I believe) from getting stuck over the quite steep bank.  Cattle like river banks as we know. We walk up to the entry point he's found, beyond a gate. He's got this fancy IR non-contact thermometer, and takes a reading in the low teens (12º?). In we go and down we paddle with the fairly brisk flow. The water is clearer too, and combed by snakey weeds. Hardly any floating leaf fall, in contrast to the Godalming reaches. The sun catches what look like floating sand crystals, but are actually resting insects. The meanders and various trees being half-in half-out mean that although the swimming isn't hard work, navigation is actively required. I think we do that for no more than 20 minutes, maybe less, escorted for some of the way by a fleet of nearly grown up ducks. The only other spectator is one of the bullocks who's found an easy beach to slurp the river from. He's up to his knees (or ankles, I'm not well up on bovine anatomy) with a dirty face. He stops his slurping to regard us going by. There is sunshine on every other twist, but it feels like a stolen margin of summer rather than the legitimate article.

B's been using the river for weeks it transpires. He tells me the spot was, over the high summer, frequented by a tiny amount of people, a few walkers and even some (female) skinny dippers (so we are not the only ones). An angler, the owner of the third vehicle in "our" lay-by, casts and draws, or whatever the fly-fishing term is, around 500 m downstream. When the ducks are quiet we can just about hear his ratchet whirring. The trees whisper whatever they whisper about. Cars whizz by on the road behind the trees, charging back home to Farnham after their day's work.

The exit is fun. Up the steep bank onto the lawn-like margin. Then under the electric fence, propping it up with a forked stick B has found/made. He hides that in a wood pile and we walk back to the start where I've left all my clobber. I'm thankful for the lush grass that the Galloways are happily munching, having left the usual Crocs back at home. It's nice to walk along with nothing on, being warmed by the sun, but when it goes behind a tree I'm reminded that it's nearly October, and lingering is out of the question. Thanks too for the Thermos. I will also bless the gods of nothingness, for keeping the vacuum that kept my tea warm.

Non-swim 12

Yesterday's swim turned out to be a series of failed attempts. 

4pm, earlier than the August swims. To the Weir (usual spot - see previous blog posts), past *dozens* of walkers on the path. Not a good thing in my book.  A few boats including an odd looking narrowboat with a tall flue moored up at the Manor Inn beer garden.

Ugh what's this? Mystery oil slick on the water was off-putting, and spent ages inspecting it from the bank (bet it was out of the leaky engine of the antique narrowboat having passed through earlier), and then when I'd made the decision to go in anyway (Water: 14ºC), an angler turned up and stood right there casting, which put me off again. I asked him about whether he's noticed the oil slick. "Tench, perch sometimes", came the reply, in a sort of Polish accent. er, let's try again.

Cycled along the towpath to the secret upstream spot, well beyond the reach of boats. Which wasn't that secret: occupied by 2 or more boisterous yooofs yelling at each other. And that was the allotted hour gone. Still, it was a fairly nice randonée. 

I'll tell you about Swim 11 when I get a chance. In-tress-ting.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Swim 8 data fragment

An earlier start, but otherwise mostly the same as swim 7.
Upstream leg: 28:32; downstream: 19:31. 48:03 over 1650 m.
16 °C.
Total to date: 9100 m.