Monkey Business

What is Monkey Business, anyway?
Monkey Business is a hybrid system of CrossFit and yoga, and is based on my own personal experiences of what has healed my body, increased my strength, flexibility and peace of mind.
I started practicing yoga after being a ballet dancer for 15 years. I was naturally very flexible but had to work for every bit of strength I gained. I practiced only Ashtanga yoga for 10 years and was in love with its momentum, surrendered to its discipline and I even travelled to Mysore, India to study with the guru himself (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, to be specific). However, I was in pain constantly. Plagued with right shoulder issues that persisted in holding me back, my lower back also ached almost constantly from doing deep backbends that I didn’t have the strength to maintain internal integrity throughout. Those who are familiar with the Ashtanga tradition may be thinking that I was probably practicing traditionally (aka. Sloppily). That was not the case; I was an alignment junkie and had the help of plenty of wise instructors. I was tireless in terms of doing mobility exercises (physio-prescribed), but it was starting to seem as though YOGA WAS HURTING ME.
I believed, as many Ashtangis believe, that it was a complete system and you didn’t need to do anything else to have a healthy body. I had a long-standing debate with a friend who was a CrossFitter, each of us arguing the merits of our own chosen system. We debated until we concluded that the next obvious step was to participate in each others’ systems, as an experiment. He came to Mysore class with me, and was capable of completing primary series without being tired afterwards. He barely sweated. Granted, his hamstrings were tight, but that can change quickly with regular practice. Hmmmm, I thought… perhaps there is something to this CrossFit business.
Then it was my turn. I remember the WOD (workout of the day): 3 rounds of 25 jumping squats, 25 push presses (35/20 Dumbells) and 1 minute of kettlebell swings. I honestly had no concept of how it was going to go beforehand. I then proceeded to fall on my face (not literally). I was heaving and panting; my cardio sucked. The coach sat beside me, and my new mantra became “5 more reps, then take 3 breaths.” Several of the girls in the small group finished within 5 or 6 minutes; It took me over 13 minutes to complete the workout, but I was determined, being that everyone sat around and cheered me on to completion. I staggered out of there, humbled yet determined. I did penance for the next week with DOMS so crippling I could barely sit on a toilet seat.
Clearly there was a chink in my yogic armour. Of course, I was wrong to think my way was the best, but I can forgive myself in retrospect for getting caught in the all-too-pervasive dogmatic viewpoint in yoga that keeps many yogis (and CrossFitters, let’s be honest) IN THE BOX. Clearly I needed to head back to the drawing board and sort myself out.
I signed up for boot camp, at 6am. It sucked, but I kind of loved it too. I was sore for the first month, but I surprised myself with being able to complete workouts that I never thought I could. Sure, I wasn’t very good at a lot of it, being that I had never trained in any kind of high intensity way before. But in addition to showing myself that I was more capable than I thought, I got hooked on the post-workout endorphin rush. When you stagger (or float) your way home after working out, you literally feel high as well as like jello. Major bonus! I love alternate states of reality. CrossFit also embraces gymnastics and agility training, and being from a yoga background I really loved the gymnastic rings, handstand pushups, and swinging from the pullup bar.
I also found the community at the CrossFit box to be FRIENDLIER THAN AT THE YOGA STUDIO. I hate to say it, but as a generalization, yoga strangers can often seem snobby. Yoga studios can be cliquey, unless the teacher makes it a mandate to transcend that. People at Crossfit cheered each other on, and the slowest athletes got the most encouragement (how brilliant is that?); suffering together is a bonding experience. I had come from a land where the prettiest and most flexible yoginis got the most attention, from the teacher as well as the other students forward by their gym members. The change was a surprising relief.
Something else happened. I GOT TIGHT. Nobody else stretched at the end of CrossFit class, so why should I? Admittedly, for Miss Bendy Pants it was a novelty to feel the limitations in my hamstrings. So this was what stiff people feel like! Previously I had no point of reference for what it felt like to have muscular tightness, so I secretly enjoyed it. I could no longer put my leg behind my head, and I DIDN’T CARE. My arm balances improved due to the tightness, especially handstands. My wrists got stronger from wielding a barbell. My body felt more connected, like my muscles were armour. I had never felt anything like that in my body. Also, the chronic pain in my right shoulder/upper trap/levator disappeared. I was shocked! CrossFit seems an unlikely place to heal injuries, but simply hanging from the pullup bar to increase my grip strength was doing wonders for my shoulder. Within 2 months of doing CrossFit 3 days a week, my resting heart rate dropped from 80 BPM to 65 BPM. Shocking!!!!
Ignoring my yoga practice was temporary, but this newfound practice of CrossFit changed my outlook on what my body needed. So I started to experiment, and think outside the box.
What emerged is what Monkey Business has grown into; a combination of things that I love to do, and movements I know I need to do. Both Ashtanga yoga and CrossFit are amazing, but neither are complete in and of themselves because ashtangis don’t do cardio and most CrossFitters hate stretching and only do mobility either because their coaches force them to or they got injured (probably from not stretching). Both groups attract obsessive type-A personalities (hand reluctantly raised) that can tend to veer into judgement and rigidity, if they’re not careful.
So what does Monkey Business look like? The first 1/3 of class is a yoga-based warm-up, using sun salutations, standing postures and “power poses” to prepare for the next 1/3 of class, which is the high-intensity portion. You can expect any combination of squats, push-ups, handstands, ring dips, rope climbs, sprints, burpees and many other creative exercises that defy description here. There is always pole conditioning, as nothing will get your core in shape faster than a pole. You will sweat, your heart rate will go up, but you will also learn tools to expand your breath into hypoxic places that yogis never dared to go before. The last 1/3 of class will encompass joint mobility exercises, long hold hip openers, and meditation.
Who can get up to Monkey Business? Anyone, that’s who! Small classes allow for individual attention, and everything is infinitely scaleable. Injuries can be accommodated, just let me know at the start of class. Anyone who wants to feel strong, capable, flexible and open-minded should check it out. Anyone with an interest in healthy movement and a sense of adventure is absolutely welcome.
See you Mondays at 5:30, at The Doghouse! Comox Valley, BC