A ‘Pilot’ Program:  How Yoga Saved this Captain’s Career and Why Middle-Age, Sore and Stiff men Should Try It.


By Andy Barton, CYC Yoga Teacher and Commercial Airline Pilot

Beautiful women. 

 Ok, now that I have your attention, let me tell you how and why I got into yoga and spell out some of the benefits of adding yoga to your daily routine.  My name is Andy Barton and I am a pilot for a major airline.  I spent Independence Day, 2005 in the emergency room in agony.  In a rush to leave the cramped cockpit of the 737 I had just landed, I swung my heavy navigation bag around, unsafely twisting and straining my back- a stupid but classic mistake for pilots, and our number one “on the job injury.”  Back home, missing a month of work while on medication and rest, I was not able to move without pain and definitely nervous that I might never fly again.  To top it off, my wife Allison and I had planned our 25th wedding anniversary for over a year—a week at a hiking resort in Canada that cost a fortune, and I was determined not to miss this trip.  So, armed with pain medication, off to Canada we went.

Andy & Allison Barton on the Equator

After a long painful flight to Spokane, and a four-hour car ride north to the Canadian Rockies, my back was killing me when we arrived and received our schedule. I laughed when I saw that 6 am yoga was the first activity.  I whined that no way was I going to be able to do yoga- I couldn’t even bend over to put on my underwear.  My wife (an RN) knows me so well that she pushed the right button: “after all, we did pay for it.”  So off to yoga I sulked, and who walks into the class but the aforementioned BEAUTIFUL YOGA TEACHER.  Oh man, now I really was going to look like a wimp, so I started on the excuses again. Bad idea. Nurse and yoga teacher ganged up on me, and the teacher instructed me on how to modify the practice- to stop if I felt a sharp pain but continue if I felt a stretching sensation.  Throughout the class she checked on me and amazingly enough I not only made it through the class but felt a little better. 


All stretched out, we loaded up the jeeps and headed for the glaciers.  Up and down the mountain I went with a manageable amount of discomfort.  No drugs required.  That night, I had a massage, and at the end of that day I felt 50% better than I had in the morning before yoga.  After four days of yoga and massages, I was feeling so good that I planned to go back to work when we got home. I was “cured”!


My wife, as she often does, knew better. Back at home, she suggested that we continue yoga.  I predictably started in on the “I’m good now, I don’t need yoga” routine, and in typical nurse fashion she ignored me and bought yoga mats and a DVD.  Here is the problem with a Yoga DVD:  If you don’t already know how to do yoga, then a DVD is not a great place to start because the dude on the screen can’t see you and tell you that you’re doing it wrong and that you may either hurt yourself or not get the intended benefit.  After two days, I had enough of that. Undeterred, my lovely wife found the Camarillo Yoga Center and spoke to Audrey, the owner.  She suggested an entry-level yoga class for beginners.  My excuses fell on deaf ears, and I found myself in a room full of people on mats- to my surprise, many of them were guys.  The class wasn’t full of pretzel poses, and Audrey helped us both feel comfortable and gave me clear instructions on what I should do to help my back, the big one being to stretch my ridiculously tight hamstrings.  Sounded like a good idea, but to my dismay Allison signed us both up for six months of classes right in front of my eyes.  Did I mention that she knows me so well that once we paid for the classes she knew I was d…n well going to get my money’s worth?  After three months I realized the pain in my back was completely gone.  After six months, I did not have any pain anywhere in my body.  Ok, so maybe there is something to this yoga stuff.


Now, both Allison and I have been practicing yoga for over eight years, and teaching yoga at Camarillo Yoga Center for six.  We are in our mid-50’s and amazed at how we compare with same-age friends in terms of stamina, lack of aches and pains, and other signs of aging. I do yoga on the airplane between flights, and have even shown my flight crews how to stretch.  I’m into woodworking, and can spend longer hours on my projects, because I stretch while I work.


Andy teaching at CYC

Allison and I feel better that at any other time in our lives.  My body feels balanced, strong and flexible and my wife has never looked better.  Yoga is an activity that couples can do together because you learn to do what your body is calling for. Your spouse and everyone else in the class are all in different places and that’s ok.  Success in yoga is defined by showing up to class on your mat and dealing with where you are today. 


It took me 45 plus years to get my hamstrings so tight and short that I was getting back pain.  It took patience and commitment to free my body of pain.  Yoga is not about being super flexible, but about breathing and moving your body to maximize good health and longevity.  A consistent yoga practice is not a stand-alone exercise regime but designed to enhance all the other activities in your life, so that you can hike, bike, work in your backyard, or whatever is important to you, pain free, for as long as you can.


Dudes, get over it.  Your wife is right.  Take it from me, you need to stretch. Go to yoga.


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Yoga is not only for flexible women!

By Audrey Walzer, CYC Yoga Teacher; Owner & Director

“Yoga?  Oh no, I’m not flexible.”  If I’d only heard it once… but a thousand times later I am frustrated that people’s perception of yoga is still based on media images of yoga practice as a bunch of pretzel-like poses done by super bendy women in provocative outfits.  This imagery sells products from mattresses to designer water, and yet it keeps the very people who would benefit most from yoga, away from it.


As a yoga and movement teacher for over thirty years, please, please believe me when I say:  You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga!  In fact, if your muscles are tight due to lots of athletics, sitting at a computer all day, driving, past or current injuries, or simply being a couch potato… yoga can keep you from an almost inevitable visit to the orthopedist’s office one day!


Stretching the chest helps prevent rotator cuff injuries!

Our bodies were designed to move. As children, we naturally explore the full range of movement nature has given us. Today, even children move less, and teenagers are experiencing back pain in record numbers. As we age, due to lifestyle, time and family constraints, our movements become habituated, lacking variation, and our bodies become imbalanced… often tight in hamstrings, hips and lower back, chest muscles and shoulders.  These imbalances, if left unattended, inevitably lead to pain- in the back, in the knees, in the neck, and this can cause us to move less, creating a vicious cycle. Make no mistake, everyone needs to stretch!  Just look at an animal waking from sleep- it’s a natural instinct we have forgotten.  But once you begin, it feels so good!  The secret is this:  you need to move your body in a way that serves you, and not try to imitate a bendy-Barbie teacher.  


At Camarillo Yoga Center, we are celebrating our 13th year teaching “regular people” of all ages, sizes, shapes and levels of fitness, to rebalance their bodies.  With safe yoga practices that bear no resemblance to pretzels, and attention to individual differences, we ease the muscles of the back, hips and legs to alleviate lower back pain, and relieve shoulder and neck tension. We gently stretch tight muscles and strengthen those that are weak and ignored, most often the core muscles that support the lower back. Our goal at Camarillo Yoga is not to tie you into a knot, but instead to untie the knots that you know are there, and the ones you may not even realize are causing you pain or discomfort. 


“I tried to stretch; it hurts!” I believe it.  A machine that has rusted, no matter how old or new, creaks and groans, but a little oil helps lubricate the parts so they move smoothly. In yoga, as opposed to old-fashioned “reach and bounce” stretching, we use a very special oil can to help your body glide more freely: The Breath. Western medical science confirms that yoga breathing stimulates the vagus nerve to create a “relaxation response” so the “fight or flight” tensing mechanism is disengaged, and the whole body is able to move in a more relaxed, integrated way. Yoga breathing helps us focus, concentrate and  let go of the brain chatter that occupies us 90% of the time, so we feel our bodies in ways that keep us safe, and ultimately result in greater range of motion, balance and freedom. 


Touching your toes with straight legs not necessary!

“I don’t have time to go to a yoga class!” Time is the key. How many minutes do you spend at a computer, tightening your neck and shoulders? Our bodies are efficient accountants, and they want to please us. If we spend most of our time holding our bones in positions that shorten our muscles, our accountants will tell the muscle crew to just firm up and hold the bones there permanently. When we finally take that much needed vacation, and tear out our shoulder taking a suitcase from the overhead bin, our accountant is confused. This overhead bone position wasn’t in the plan- the muscles have formed themselves for typing. Ouch! We need to balance the ledger, it’s as simple as that, and denial is a huge factor in the ultimate deterioration of our physical health. So many people come to me for help once back pain is so great they are trying to avoid surgery, or when all the surgeries haven’t helped them feel better… if only they had put in the minutes to rebalance their bodies before pain became the motivator.


My heartfelt suggestion?  Put in the minutes toward your own health and freedom now. Open your mind and find out how yoga can significantly change your body balance sheet! 


Audrey Walzer Yoga Teacher; Owner/Director — Audrey Walzer was voted “Ventura County’s Best” Yoga Teacher in 2011, 2012,  2013 & 2014 in the Ventura County Reporter Reader’s Poll. She is the owner and director of Camarillo Yoga Center, (Voted “Best Yoga Studio 2012, 2013 & 2014) and director of the Yoga@Work program. Her DVD “Easy Yoga Stretches for Home, Office & Travel” can be found online at www.easyogastretches.net.