Thursday, August 8, 2013

10 Months

Dontcha just hate it when a blogger goes MIA for almost a year and doesn't check in to let you know what's up? Yeah. Me too. ;-)

To my own defence, I have a very good excuse for not writing: This is an Astanga blog and I haven't been practising Astanga. Without getting too far into the nitty gritty details or a long sob story, I stopped practising because I was injured, seriously and chronically. If I didn't stop, I was looking at long-term damage or surgery. So I quit. That was in October.

I didn't quit cold turkey because, quite frankly, I think my head would have exploded. Instead, I eased out of the practice, or perhaps, the injury nudged me out. I was instructed to avoid anything that caused pain. Well, that was pretty much ALL of my practice, so I spent many mornings curled up on my mat sobbing - not so much because I was in physical pain, but out of sheer frustration. I didn't want to let go of this thing I loved so much.

It was December when I finally threw in the towel: I decided to take a break for one month. Have you ever broken up with somebody and felt like you suddenly had all this free time? Well, that's *exactly* how I felt about quitting Astanga. My life was suddenly empty and vast. I started sleeping in. I went out at night - I mean, *late* like 9 or 10! ;-) I took sock knitting classes and attended a weekly knitting social. I bought a sewing machine and taught myself to sew. I baked. I read piles of books. I visited museums.

The month off didn't help, though - in fact, the pain became worse. It was now affecting me in my day-to-day life and work. January saw me walking around with my arm in a sling. Yeah, that was Big Fun. Especially in the middle of a Canadian winter (ever try to button your coat over a slinged arm?). During the winter, I teach upwards of 20 yoga classes a week, which became reallllly interesting with my arm immobilized. My verbal teaching skills improved exponentially.

February arrived and the pain was now affecting my sleep. Apparently, as I sleep, I like to throw my arms over my head wildly like a nocturnal raver. I started strapping my arm to my body at night with ace bandages - without the intervention, I was reinjuring myself nightly. I was demoted to lighter duties at the Soup Kitchen because I couldn't lift milk or juice or coffee caraffes with my injured shoulder.

I got really depressed. I cheered myself up with M&Ms. Lots and lots of M&Ms. Did you know that you can buy a bag for 69 cents at the dollar store? I was going through a pack a day. While I ate M&Ms, I sat around and watched DVDs (I'm now a fan of Nurse Jackie and totally got sucked into Homeland too). I gained a bunch of weight. My Mighty Man Arms started shrinking. I felt like I was disappearing. I stopped reading Astanga blogs; they felt irrelevant to this new life of mine.

Ironcically, I was still practising in a *very* limited fashion, a few times a week. Once you establish a daily practice, it's really hard to let it go entirely. I was doing what I could, usually an hour or less. I could do the standing poses with my arm in the sling. I could do anything on the floor that didn't involve arms (admittedly, there's not much).

I focused on core work and practised micro-actions that don't require any heavy lifting (I spent at least two months focused on finding my shoulderblades in Shalabhasana and Cobra). There was nothing wrong with my legs, so I started working out on an elliptical machine. As the weather warmed in March and April, I started taking long walks. I resumed my meditation practice.

April came and my arm was out of the sling, but my range was still limited, I was still in pain. I invented heavily modified sun salutations and did the seated poses of Primary Series with my arms hanging modestly at my sides. My backbends were all Shalabhasana-esque.

Then, May. As the weather warmed, I began to feel better - there was less pain. But I was not hopeful, merely resigned. I decided that I would probably never get my practice back and that was just fine. I embraced my new life. I learned to knit lace and started a shawl. I went to hockey games. I picked up my guitar again.

June arrived and I planned my summer around live music, hikes in the park and visits to the beach. To be perfectly honest, I've had a marvelous summer and I didn't miss daily practice. I was having so much fun, I forgot all about Astanga. I embraced my life as a non-ashtangi.

I stopped eating M&Ms and lost the extra weight. I bought a Fitbit and became quasi-obsessed with walking a certain number of steps per day. My shoulder started feeling better, so I added some very light vinyasa to my daily (but very light) yoga practice. I started attending beginner-level vinyasa classes at my shala, modifying almost everything but enjoying dipping my toe into the warm water of community.

And then, it happened: I received official clearance to return to my practice. I was stunned. I hadn't really expected to ever practise vinyasa-style yoga ever again; I had completely surrendered.

"What can I do?" I asked, a bit flustered.

"Anything you like!" was the answer. "Be aware of any pain. If you feel discomfort, ice it. You'll definitely feel muscular soreness, but if it feels deeper than that, back off." I'm cured! I went home and did half-Primary that day. The next day, I did it again. I practised for a week.

Then yesterday, for the first time in over 10 months, I returned to the Mysore room and did a full practice. There was no pain - it felt like magic! A year is a long time while you're experiencing it, but in retrospect, the time fades away. I felt like someone had waved a magic wand over my head and cured me overnight.

I was flabbergasted by how much I could do! How much? Pretty much *everything*. I got all the binds in the Marichyasanas, including D (this is a huge deal for me because the injury radically altered my range in binds). I did leg-behind-head (with a bit of prep) for Supta Kurmasana and got that bind too. I even practised the Intermediate Series up to Laghu Vajrasana.

The biggest surprise was Laghu Vajrasana. I've always struggled with this pose, but now it's super-easy for me. I was able to go to the floor, hold for five breath cycles and come up effortlessly. But Navasana? I can't believe how hard this pose is for me now! It was the toughest part.

I'm taking a day of rest tomorrow to see how my body reacts to the practice (taking a late moon day) and if it feels okay, I'm back to it on Friday. That is, if I can get out of bed! I might need some Epsom salts. I'll have to dig around in my brain to remember which aisle they're in at the drug store. It's been awhile.

Anyway... Hi! How are *you* doing?! :-D


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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Toothbrush

Today's photo theme: Toothbrush

Yes, a toothbrush. I didn't write this list of photo prompts, though I've been faithfully following them for two months and it's been fun.

Next month, I won't be blogging the photos here, but I'll probably post them on Instagram. Give me a shout if you'd like to follow my Instagram feed and I'll add you.

Also: this blog will be going on a one-month hiatus while I carry out a top-secret blogging experiment.

Ask yourself these questions:
-Are we buddies?
-Does the secret code word 'Superfilter' mean anything to you?
-Do you know me in person, or have we followed each other's online shenanigans for a number of years?
-Would I share my sweet potato fries with you?
-Can I vouch for your identity through an established yoga blog or online presence?
-Are you dying to keep in touch with me and/or are willing to persuade me that you're not my secret stalker, posting as an Ashtangi loyalist?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', please drop me a line. I'll hook you up.

As usual, I'm up to no good ;-)



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Monday, July 30, 2012

Calm...

...before the storm.

I shot this photo at 1:30 in the afternoon. For hours afterward, it rained, poured, thundered and flashed lightning. Princess Fur hid under the bed. I just watched in awe...


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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Last Thing I Bought

Today's photo theme: 'Last Thing I Bought'

The good news: I'm not buying those chocolate-covered almonds anymore.

The bad news? Well...lol...




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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cup

Photo theme: Cup

From the archives: A cup of herbal tea in classic Queen's Ware - this is a replica of eighteenth century Queen's Ware from George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate (I'm flying my 'archaeology geek' flag today).




I spent at least an hour composing a long diatribe about Astanga and aging and meditation. Then all the wind went out of my sails.

Looks like you guys will need to wait till I finish the Maehle book for an official review. Also, it appears that he's now writing a book on meditation.

My response to this news, in short: 'Yes, please!'

Check out this superawesome post on Maehle's FB page. I can't figure out a way to link to it, so I'm reposting here in its entirety:

I completed the 2nd draft of my new meditation book, called Yoga Meditation.

I will now start to here post content.

I got requests from a few students to write about how body and practice changes as one gets older as people seem to struggle to keep up practice. Important here is to realize that asana practice was designed to support practice of meditation and pranayama. As you get older you need to shift emphasis from asana practice to the higher limbs. Try to limit your asana practice to 90 minutes and spend the rest on higher yogic practices.

Physical problems often result from students not graduating on to the higher limbs. It’s the higher limbs that will give you the realization that you are not the body but the consciousness, the self. Once that has been attained the ambition to flog the body in asana practice, will disappear and with it many of the physical problems.
(passage from Yoga Meditation): If asana is understood on a deep level then we will, once in the posture, produce the counteraction that propelled us into the posture. When done on all levels of live this method leads to mastery, that it going with the flow, being in the zone or being in the Tao. Rather than manifesting an enormous force that breaks through the barriers of the world and must in the end produce our own un-doing we move through life without force but using existing forces. This way no counterforce is ever necessary to manifest against us.
This principle is beautifully expressed in Chuang Tzu’s “The Dexterous Butcher”. The story is a bit unsavoury for vegetarians but the message is deep nevertheless. Here, Lord Wen-hui watches and questions his cook who for 19 years uses the same blade to carve up thousands of oxen without sharpening it. The cook explains that rather than hacking through the oxen, he first pays respect in his heart, meets the oxen with his whole consciousness and he cares for the Way. He then moves with great subtlety, finds the right spot, almost effortlessly leans against the oxen and suddenly it is as if the whole oxen falls apart by itself. (end of quote)

Your body is that oxen. Rather than hacking through it with much energy and effort, first pay respect for it in your heart. It is not an animal that you need to conquer and beat into submission. Meet your body with your whole consciousness and treat it as an expression of the Divine creative force (prana). Do not think that you only want to get that backbend, that leg-behind-head or which ever posture it is. Understand that your body is the crystallized history of your past thoughts, emotions and actions. Its not just meat, but more than you think it is.

Move with great subtlety and find the right spots where you are holding on. Because it is you that is holding on, not somebody else. And now comes the secret: After with having identified with great subtlety the right spot, lean against it almost effortless and without ambition, just by shifting your body weight within your body. The result will be that your body will open almost effortless.

Important though is that you do not practice for the results, for the outcome. Do not practice goal-oriented as that will lead to more and more injury. As Lord Krishna says in the Gita, surrender the outcomes of your actions.
I found that it takes many years and decades to open to inner intelligence and intelligence of the body. Good news is that intelligence grows as one gets older. Years ago scientists thought that we get dumber as we get older but this has now been proven wrong. There is something called the neuroplasticity of the brain. It means that as long as you keep learning, your brain will become more and more powerful.

As I am getting older, I found that I am using less and less energy and time to achieve in my practice more and more. Recently I read a sign in a café’ saying, ‘Drink coffee. Do more stupid things, faster and with more energy.’ A was amazed that the sign expressed reciprocally what happened in my practice (without coffee). Using much less energy, I do less things in a smarter way but the outcome is much more profound. But like Lord Wen-hui’s butcher I first had to learn to listen to my body.

The good news is that yoga gets better as it goes on. I found the first 10 years tough. The second decade sort of happened by auto-pilot, meaning it required no additional effort. But only in the third decade the harvest began. Keep hanging in there. It will get better and better.

I had a fantastic time teaching in Manila. Heartfelt thanks to the people of the Philippines, who welcomed me so openly. I found them to be some of the friendliest people that I ever visited. I very much look forward to returning to Manila in the future.

I will stay in Perth for the next almost three months until we got to Bali to teach our 200-hour teacher training. Here we will present the essence of our 35 years of research and practice. If you are interested please request our prospectus at http://www.8limbs.com/teacher-training

If you are currently reading or have read my Pranayama book and found it helpful please do not hesitate to give it a review at your favourite online retailer. I put an enormous amount of work into my books and your reviews help to circulate the books and keep me going.

Hari OM
Gregor



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Friday, July 27, 2012

On the Road

Today's photo theme: On the Road

From the archives: A fragment of poetry written by bpNichol on the lane named in his honour (behind Coach House Books)



Because of the varied schedule at Shala South, I don't follow a 'traditional' weekly schedule anymore. Thursdays have become my 'day off' instead of the traditional Saturdays (and when I say 'day off' I mean 'a day for a led class'). Fridays are my Sundays. And Tuesdays are usually my Fridays (that's when I practice Primary Series).

I mixed things up a bit more this week, doing my regular practice on Tuesday and taking Primary Series at home on Wednesday morning.

It's been months since I did any home practice and I found it surreal. Oddly, after I finished (early in the morning), I kept forgetting I had practised and I went around all day thinking that I needed to get on the mat!

On Thursdays in the summer, I usually go to a led class in the east end of the city with one of my first teachers. It's an easy vinyasa class and I love the slower pace. It gets me back in touch with why I fell in love yoga in the first place. All of the hard work I do during the week seems to find a fruition in the practice of these basic postures; grace and mindfulness and joy.

Last night, I arrived at the studio early and unrolled my mat, grabbed a couple of blocks with a supine backbend in mind. But there was a glimmer of chaos in the air and I noticed a couple of the other students were eyeing me with mild curiosity. "She's in here!" someone called out, and I realised they meant me.

My teacher had an emergency and wasn't coming. The staff at the front desk asked if I could fill in and teach the class. The odd thing is (and I don't know how I knew this), I had a *feeling* I might be teaching that class! I even wore my 'teaching clothes' instead of the groddy clothes I usually wear to Mysore practice and I put on some jewelry and lipstick before I walked out the door.

So, yay for intuition! ;-)

As I pulled my mat to the front of the room, I tried to initiate that mental shift from 'student' to 'teacher'. And you know what? It's hard! It took me a few minutes to find my voice and to get a good grip on the thread of a sequence that would allow me to begin.

But once I got going, I had a lot of fun. In fact, it's the best class I taught all week - mainly because it was unexpected and funny and vaguely serendipitous. My sequencing was choppy because I was winging it, but sometimes flying by the seat of your pants is fun! :-) I nearly skipped a posture on one side. Then I had a few extra minutes so I added a fun arm balance.

The studio has bolsters (most of the places I teach don't), so I walked around during Savasana, offering bolsters around like a flight attendant handing out cocktails and blankets in the first class cabin (do they still do that, I wonder?).

Afterward, I rode home and did three sun salutations and though *that* was officially my practice, it was really so much more.


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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sunshine

Today's photo theme: Sunshine

From the archives: Princess Fur enjoys a sunbeam.


She's doing really well, fully recovered from her ordeal and back to her happy routine of napping, eating and tolerating my undivided attention when she isn't outright demanding it.




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