Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Day 41

I had a sleepy, sluggish practice this morning. At one point during Prasarita Padottanasana, I caught myself thinking: “Wouldn't child's pose be nice right about now?” But I persevered.

Lately, my least favourite pose, Purvottanasana, has been feeling really good. I've also been doing a nice modification for Setu Bandhasana using a block and really enjoying that posture. These are the small moments that help me love this practice even as I'm hating it. ;-)

Using a strap for Supta Padangustasana has been making a huge difference in Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. I'm able to bring my leg up higher and I'm definitely becoming more flexible in the pose. Now I just need to work on balance, since I've taken this pose back to the wall while I worked on the flexibility part of it. This 'one step back in order to take two steps forward' approach is something I of ten do with my students. I often use props to make aspects of a pose easier in order to work on specifics.

Shoulderstand, which was feeling great last week, is not feeling so great this week. Ditto for headstand. I could barely come up with straight legs today and I felt unstable in the posture. My back was cranky too.

I didn't do my evening yoga practice last night (I told myself that I was 'too tired'). I'm wondering if that has anything to do with my sluggishness this morning?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Day 40

“The good, the bad and the early”

And it certainly *is* early. I promised myself that if I took this contract, I would not compromise my daily practice so I've built my mornings around 90 minutes of the Primary Series.

My three readers should brace themselves: In order to pull this off, I've started to get up early. And I mean EARLY. I used to get up around 5 or 5:30. That's fine and doable for me, not even very difficult actually. Now? The fun starts at 4:30 a.m. Yeah, no joke. I'm seriously nuts.

At 4:30 a.m., I pull myself out of bed, put the kettle on and put the futon up (it folds into a couch to create more space in my small city apartment). I splash some water on my face, get dressed, then set up my yoga things for practice (so when I return from my walk, there's no avoiding it).

Then I go for a walk - it's always an hour (that's how long it takes to get to the park and back). This morning, I watched the sun rise as the full moon set in the west. Really lovely! I share this hour with my little dog, who loves the exercise, the smells and my undivided attention. The walk is also good exercise and it works out some of the stiffness before I stand on my mat for that first sun salutation.

I'm back home by 5:45 a.m. I do my practice, wrapping it up around 7:15. I get cleaned up, get my work things together and do a quick email check and by 7:40, I'm getting ready to leave. I ride my bicycle - it takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on my pace. By 8 a.m., I'm sitting at my desk, facing a long day in the office.

Time will tell whether I'm able to sustain this, but so far, I love it! The mornings are so cool and quiet. Practising in the morning has a different feel to it. The only downside is going to bed before it even gets dark, and feeling sleepy at 7:30 at night, like I do right now!

This morning's practice was great. My knees are feeling much better, though I'm still being careful. Utthita Trikonasana felt particularly good this morning and my Kurmasana is really coming along. I've noticed that I'm really savouring breathing in the poses and when I feel 'stuck', it's breathing that gets me through.

I've decided to start skipping backbends in my morning practice because they just don't work for me at that time of day. I added a backbend to my evening practice last night - it was fantastic! So I'll continue to do that from now.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day 39

I hate it when I need to hurry my practice. I was running late this morning and also running on about three hours sleep (went out last night and stayed out late - rare for me). I managed to do most of the primary series (skipping what I needed to for my sore knees) and finished in an hour and fifteen minutes. I was late to the soup kitchen, but I'm glad I took the time for my yoga - I felt better for it.

My back has returned to its seemingly perpetual cranky state, which was disappointing, but I had a good Kurmasana. Lately, that pose has been causing me less angst and I've even *gasp* started to enjoy it a bit.

Marichyasana A and C have pretty much returned to their previous glory. Marichyasana C and D are not in my repertoire because my knees just can't take it.

I skipped headstand today completely by accident, but in retrospect, that's probably for the best. My neck was feeling very sore. I really need to focus on using my abs as I come up because I'm sure I'm putting strain on my neck.

It's a moon day today (as usual, I'm baaaaad and practised anyways). It's also Sri K. Pattabhi Jois's 92nd birthday. I reserve special admiration for anyone who has dedicated a lifetime to bringing yoga to the world. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Day 38

I saved my practice for the afternoon today, opting to do some cleaning and catching up on stuff in the morning before I taught my class downtown. I was riding around the city on my bicycle running errands so by the time I got back, I was quite warmed up. With the whole afternoon stretching out in front of me, I felt like I had all the time in the world and I just reveled in it! I truly enjoy my practice today.

It was more than just being in the moment - I savoured every pose and found it very easy to focus. Some days, I feel like I have to force myself to practice, but today, I felt like I was really taking time for myself and I loved every minute of it. Even poses I'm normally not keen on (Purvottanasana comes to mind here) were pleasant. When I finished, I had a crazy (and very brief) thought that it would be fun to do it again. I think I'll save it for tomorrow ;-)

My knee felt better than it has in days and I was able to do a few of the half-lotus postures. Marichyasana B and D are still out of the question so I mindfully practised Marichyasana A and C twice. I found that C was deeper the second time around. It's been very interesting to observe the pity party my ego throws for itself whenever I approach a pose that I was doing easily a week ago and now need to be cautious of with my sensitive knee. The knee pain has allowed me to back off of some of these poses and enjoy (and deepen them) in different ways. But there's a part of me that doesn't want to admit that I can't do something.

I just tell my ego that it's all part of the process.

My backbends are back! For today, at least. I used blocks against the wall for the first two Urdhva Danurasana but the last one I did without props and it felt fantastic. I don't think a backbend has ever felt so good! I'm really happy about this because it's foreshadows better days when I'll be off this medication and the joint pain will dissipate. I'm so looking forward to that (it won't happen until the Fall, probably).

I still do handstands against the wall, but I try to balance on my own once I'm up. Today, I did three lovely handstands and held one of them for 10 breaths, balancing on my own. I've never done this before, but it felt easy. I felt like I was floating.

And apparently, my transverse abdominus was there all along - I just needed to send it a memo letting it know that its services are required in Sirsasana. I came into headstand with straight legs today! I did it twice, so I guess it's not a fluke. Since Sirsasana is one of my favourite poses and I had lots of time, I held it for 35 breaths, came down and then back up for another 10.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Day 37

On Thursday, through a series of events completely serendipitous and unexpected, I found myself accepting a one-month contract at an office I worked at two years ago and I start today!

I've worked contracts past summers to fill the time that I'm not teaching (my classes always slow down in the summer, due to summer holidays and some pre-registered programmes only run in Fall/Winter/Spring) but this year I decided to take some time off to work on my practice and plan for the 'busy season.'

This opportunity literally came out of the blue but it is well-timed because I was going a bit stir-crazy at home. They offered me a flexible schedule to accommodate my teaching (I'm on a part-time teaching schedule at the moment) and the money is good - it will top up my emergency reserves.

It was so much fun going back and seeing everyone again! As I walked through the office, I was hugging people left and right - it was like a homecoming. The work itself is not that interesting. I thought it would be paralegal - it's actually data entry. But I'm fine with that - brainless is okay when you can listen to your iPod.

My practice was cut a bit short (1 hour, 15 minutes) this morning because I had to simultaneously do my laundry. My knee was bothering me a lot (I biked to my Thursday night class and I think I aggravated it), so I skipped many of the postures that are contraindicated for knee pain. I was using a towel rolled up in the knee pit to support the knee in the other postures. Ironically, when I played hockey on Wednesday, my left knee was bothering me (that's the knee that I always seem to have problems with), but for yoga, it's the right knee that's a problem.

I felt a bit rushed during my practice this morning, but next week, I'm going to start getting up a bit earlier so I have time to walk, practice, meditate and shower before biking to work for 8 a.m. (I elected to work the early schedule). The next month is going to be very busy for me with this contract and my classes!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day 36

This morning's yoga was supposed to be an early morning practice, but I had some problems motivating myself (and, predictably, ended up on the computer) so didn't get going until almost 8. Once I stepped on my mat, I felt okay, though.

My hamstrings were sore.

This is good! This means that my new Evil Plan for Conquering the Universe through Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (and perhaps Upavista Konasana and a few other poses while I'm at it) is probably working. Here’s the odd thing: since I started doing the Primary Series as a daily practice, my hams have become tighter - I've actually lost flexibility in poses like Paschimottanasana and Janu Sirsasana. I'm trying to regain what I've lost.

So my Evil Plan revolves around using a strap during Supta Padangusthasana to achieve a deeper stretch. Yes, I can hold on to my toe, but when I do, I tend to either bend one leg or the other and the stretch never feels healthy (even though I'm on my back, I’m pretty sure I'm rounding my back). I'm not sure if being all Iyengar about this is going to get me anywhere, but I'm willing to try. So far I think it's working.

Goodness! I hope there aren't any non-yoga people trying to read this blog. They'll think I'm speaking Martian! ;-)

I added some abdominal work to my evening practice last night and did some more this morning. I devoted a chunk of time to coming into headstand and did manage to come up several times with straight legs. However, there are a couple of disclaimers I must 'fess up to:

- I gave myself a little boost with my toes to get going.
- As I got tired, I noticed that I seemed to be transferring some of the effort into my arms/shoulder/neck and my neck felt stiff afterward (necessitating a round of a 'neck releasing' series I often teach my students).

I need to research this a bit and find out if I'm on the right track. The good news is, I was feeling very stable as I came up and really didn't need the wall at all.

Shoulderstand felt particularly good today. I felt very strong and stable in the pose. Could this be a side effect of the ab work? Does core strengthening effect poses so quickly (I've only been at it for a day).

One final note:
There's a possibility that my life will shift in an unforseen way in the coming week. This will effect my practice only in that I will absolutely have to do it in the morning. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Day 35

Back to my early morning practice! I was up at 5 a.m. for my sunrise walk, then practised for an hour and a half. The time flew by. I still haven't figured out where the magic is in practising early, but when I do, the time slides by effortlessly most of the time.

My wrists and arms feel fine this morning. Well, except for my right wrist which is still sore from a fall I took on the beach last weekend (I tripped over a picnic table and used my right arm to break the fall). I was surprised to find that it felt 100% better after my practice.

My right knee is still feeling very tender and I have no idea why (possibly climbing in and out of the tent all weekend?). I particularly noticed this in all the half-lotus poses, so it looks like I'll be modifying some things for awhile. For any pose that involves a bent knee, I now roll a facecloth and put it in my 'knee-pit'. This is a trick I learned from my teacher years ago. This worked like gangbusters and I didn't feel any pain in the poses, but also couldn't go as far into them.

You know what? This whole knee thing is really raining on my Marichyasana Parade! *grump*

On the bright side, it's nice to get back to inversions. I still feel stupidly weak coming into headstand, but my handstands were good today. I'm thinking it would be an interesting experiment to add some ab work to my evening yoga practice and see if it pays dividends in my ability to come into headstand with straight legs...hmmmm.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Day 34

My Lady's Holiday hit me so hard this month. I felt sluggish and heavy in the days leading up and crampy and leaden during the course of it. Not pleasant. It seems to have a very minimal effect on my mood (though I do get a bit cranky and antisocial, and about a week before, I often become inexplicably paranoid) but the physical effects are very obvious to me - in yoga and in my day to day life. Last month, I took a day off. This month, I took two.

So tonight was my first practice in two days - the longest break I've taken since I started doing this daily. I was astounded at how difficult it felt at first. You would have thought I had never done Chaturanga Dandasana in my entire life! It got better, but it was a still low-key practice with many modified poses. I wasn't trying to be a rockstar - I just wanted to finish.

Some new issues have popped up. If my 'cranky low back' was a theme last month, this months theme may well be 'cranky knees' and 'cranky wrists.' The latter really surprised me, as I never seem to have a problem with my wrists. I wonder if this pain has anything to do with my medication? All the pain seems to be in my joints, which would make sense. My shoulder joints have been bothering me too.

As for my cranky back, it felt fine tonight and I did ALL THE BACKBENDS! This is an event! My back hasn't been this happy in two weeks!

I'm not used to practising in the evening (I would have done my practice earlier, but I had to, *cough cough* finish reading a BOOK) and I have to say, I rather enjoyed it! As it got darker out, I didn't bother turning on any lights and it the apartment felt cozy by the time Savasana came around. I finished my practice, got in bed and slept like a log!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day 33

Note: This post is transcribed from notes I jotted down during my camping trip.

My silent alarm went off at 5 a.m. and I slipped out of my sleeping bag and grabbed my shoes. I didn't sleep well during the night and I kept getting up (but looking up and seeing the Milky Way on the way to the washroom was breathtaking all the same!). I was so tired and my back was achy from sleeping on the air mattress. Did I mention how cold it was? The temperature had dropped below 10 (around 50F). Morning practice by the lake is a special tradition of mine at camping, though, so I was eager to be off. After a quick trip to the washroom and a change of clothes, I headed to the beach with the dog.

I took a few moments of quiet meditation by the lake, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the call of the loon (yes, we really are in Canada, aren't we!?). The sky was just beginning to lighten as I laid my mat out on a picnic table (the sand was wet) near the lake and started my practice. I felt like an amazon goddess on top of that picnic table - a wobbly goddess, but still all powerful! ;-) As the sun peeked over the horizon, I finished my last Sun Salutation!

I had a good, though extremely modified practice. No inversions (Ladies Holiday hit with full force later in the day) and nothing that required even a modicum of balance because I felt very unstable on the picnic table. It didn't help that my mat was sliding around because of dew on the table. I took a very nice Savasana at the end, then some more meditation and enjoyed the beach for awhile before heading back. Blissful!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Day 32

I took a day off of practice yesterday, though I did do a gentle half-hour of Iyengar yoga in the evening before bed. A good night's sleep did much to shake my exhaustion and yesterday was a good day for a break, since I needed to prepare for the camping trip I'm going on this weekend.

This morning's practice felt so good! Ladies Holiday is starting, so I skipped all inversions (most of closing sequence). My back felt better than yesterday (I was in a lot of pain yesterday) and the practice itself flowed for me. I found myself really savouring my Ujayi breath and enjoying the postures. I took everything down a notch (for example, binding to fingers instead of wrists in Marichyasana) and took the postures deeper in different ways. I particularly enjoyed coming into deeper twists because they are soothing to my back.

Yesterday, I spent some time reading an Ashtanga Yoga message board and I was a bit alarmed at how often people get horribly injured from forceful adjustments in Ashtanga (particularly Mysore style Ashtanga) and how this is widely accepted as 'normal' and necessary to advance in practice. I'm not sure I agree with that.

After some thought, I decided that even if I can do every single pose in the Primary Series before my 365 days are up, I'm going to stick with this series and not move forward. And if I do decided to go to a shala, I'll set clear boundaries for the types of adjustments that are made on my poses. I'm willing to experience this style of yoga, only as long as it doesn't damage my body.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day 31

Lots and lots of modifications today because my lowback and sacroiliac joint are feeling very sensitive. I removed all inversions from the practice, opting to come into poses like Urdva Mukha Paschimottanasana from a seated position. I substituted Supta Baddha Konasana for Marichyasana D and during the closing sequence, I did Viparita Karani.

It's hard to tell how much of this pain is due to the medical treatement I'm undergoing (medication) and how much of it is related to my upcoming Ladies Holiday. I think my body is just aggravated in general.

I also experienced a deep sense of fatigue during my practice today, at one point I wasn't sure I would be able to finish. I frequently wanted to curl into Child's Pose and I felt sleepy. Later on in the afternoon, I even took a nap.

I think it's time for a day of rest!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Day 30

I did it. I made it to Day 30.

It was not a happy-go-lucky, easy practice this morning. In fact, it's amazing that I practised at all, given how I was feeling. But I did - I practised for an hour and a half, just as I always do. It's certainly a testament to the power of habit and routine.

You know that old saying that it takes 21 days to form a habit? Apparently, that's just a myth, loosely based on a study done in the 70s. But software developers offer '30 day trials' in the hopes that the software will become so habitual that the user will fork over money for a licence.

Well, I've had my 30 day trial of the Ashtanga Primary Series and here are some thoughts:

It's a routine
Every night, I leave my mat out (after my short evening practice) and also lay out clothing, props, and Mysore rug for my practice the next morning. Then I go to sleep. After I get back from my walk in the morning, all I have to do is hop into my yoga clothes and I'm ready to go. Even if I don't feel like practising after my walk, everything is just THERE and it's beckoning to me. So I just do it. It's no great feat of will power, really. It's just a routine.

I've been meditating for years, but it ebbs and flows. Over the past month, I combined my meditation practice with my Ashtanga routine - I meditate for a brief period following my practice. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't, but I almost always meditate. Interestingly, I find myself meditating other times too - to centre myself after brunch in a noisy restaurant, in the evening before bed. I've started meditating because I *want* to.

I've already written about the numerous comments about the muscle tone in the arms. From a purely practical standpoint, I'm noticing new strength and I'm using it in my day-to-day life: everything from carrying my folding bike around to lifting myself from a seated to standing position to carrying heavy boxes.

Put simply, I crave the bad stuff less. I had already been on a 'sugar-free' diet before I started doing this, but I've found myself craving junk food a lot less. When I do break down and eat it, it doesn't taste as good to me. I crave food that's good for me, like veggies and rice and fruit. This has all led to...

Weight loss
I'm pretty sure that Ashtanga is responsible for boosting my metabolism which, in turn, allowed me to shed some extra weight I had been carrying around for about a year. It would be dishonest of me if I didn't mention this very-much-appreciated, but not necessarily expected benefit of this system of yoga. I certainly don't want my three readers to get the impression that this is the primary motivation for my practice, but I'm not exactly missing that weight either. ;-)

I've had some gains and a few setbacks, but overall, I think my practice is stronger. The true test will come in the fall, when I return to study with my teachers. What interests me the most is whether my skills in the poses of the Primary Series will transfer to some of the other poses I've been struggling with.

Will power
There is definitely something pretty special about doing this thing with such regularity over the past month. As I go through my days, I know that I've already done something challenging in the morning, so the rest of the day doesn't feel as hard. I've also been getting up early for my practice, which structures my days and seems to pave the way for more productivity in the morning and early afternoon.

Anyways, all of that is just a distraction from the real story, which is how bad my practice sucked this morning. Ladies Holiday is on the near horizon and my low back hurt so much. I modified a lot:

I blew off Supta Konasana and did Supta Baddha Konasana instead (and my lower back felt SO much better after that)
I didn't roll up into Ubhaya Padangustasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, instead opting to do come into them from Navasana
I blew off the entire shoulderstand series in closing and just did Viparita Karani against the wall.

Some days, it's not a great practice, or even a good practice, but just a plain old practice and that's fine too.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Day 29

A few days ago, I mentioned that the blue pants (my bellwether indicator of 'ideal body weight') were fitting a bit snug, but fitting. Yesterday, I tried them on and the snugness was gone, so I wore them to brunch, to a flurry of compliments. I guess they do seem 'new' since I haven't worn them in well over a year. Today, on a whim, I tried on a pair of shorts that haven't fit in years - I nearly donated them to Goodwill last fall. They fit! I was ecstatic! No need to buy new shorts for my upcoming camping trip. Coming soon: an enthusiastic dive into 'clothing storage' to find all the skinny clothes I thought I wouldn't wear again anytime soon.

I'm sure my sugar-free, low-fat diet has a lot to do with this, along with the long walks I've been taking every day since early May. But I'm also sure that 2 hours of daily yoga practice every day, particularly a vigourous practice like Ashtanga, hasn't hurt. To be honest, I'm amazed that it was this easy. My metabolism seemed to take a dive last year and I was sure it was due to my age. No amount of effort seemed to budge my bulge. I felt doomed. When I resolved to start walking every day, it was more of a summer project than anything. And I started the sugar fast because I felt I ate far too much sugar and it affected my moods. But it wasn't until I started doing the primary series that everything kind of 'firmed up.'

It will be interesting to see how Ashtanga affects weight maintenance. If I manage to do this practice 365 times over the coming year as planned, how will my body change? Will my metabolism change? And on another level still, will my meditation deepen? How will this effect my teaching (of mainly Hatha Yoga classes)?

My practice was sweaty today. I started out very distracted, mentally writing a to-do list for the camping trip and fussing about the details, but I settled in after a few standing poses. Today, I noticed the I was using ujayi breath more instinctively than I ever have before.

Apparently, I hate Marichyasana C. How do I know this? Because I blissfully went straight from B to D without stopping. Then I had to backtrack to catch C. I think my subconscious is telling me something (and she's absolutely correct!).

My back is still cranky in Urdhva Danurasana and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. I've come to a mindful acceptance of my own stiffness and I'm not going to let it get in the way of the joy of my practice. I did the backbend three times to the best of my ability and celebrated what I *could* do.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Day 28

Still only binding on the right side in Marichyasana D, and just barely (Just thought I would get that out of the way *grin*).

I really enjoyed my practice this morning. It didn't start out well. I was very distracted by some drama in my life and I was letting that get in the way of my focus. But I buckled down and the practice itself seem to calm me and direct my attention. My mind was so quiet by the time I finished that I had a blissful meditation after Savasana - the time literally melted away as I sat. And everything was so quiet. Amazing.

Later on in the day, when I came back from a chatty brunch with a friend, I felt myself craving that silence and actually sat for five minutes in meditation just to centre myself.

I kept the apartment closed up last night, so by this morning it was toasty. Sweated buckets - it was great and just felt a lot better.

I'm concerned about my backbends. I know that it's probably this medication I'm on, but they're nowhere as deep as they were in the winter. It's frustrating because I have the strength and I have the muscle memory to come up and then I just can't. I feel blocked.

I”ve also experienced some stiffness in my hamstrings and I can't blame this one on the drugs (unless it's my sacroiliac joint acting up, which is a possibility). I'm fine in Janu Sirsasana, but I find Paschimottanasana very difficult. I find it's a bit easier and more open for me during my evening (Iyengar-based) practice.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Day 27

New moon today and yes, I'm practising. I'm a baaaaaad ashtangi! Ironically, I realised the my first day of doing the primary series was actually a new moon day. I guess I started out on the wrong foot and I'm just continuing that way!

Lately, I haven't been sweating very much during my practice, even with the faithful application of ujayi breath. It's cooled down a lot here and last night, it was in the low 50s.

Usually, I open up the doors and windows in the morning and leave them open all day. This morning, I didn't. It was still warm and a bit stuffy inside when I got back from my morning walk. This strategy worked - I had more heat in my practice (don't worry - I did open up the windows after that).

I suppose in the winter, I'll need to heat up the room I practice in. A loaned my space heater to a friend - I'll try to get that back by the end of summer.

I was able to bind on the right side in Marichyasana D today, but not the left. My arm kept slipping off my leg. Sometimes the sweat makes me sticky and it's easier to bind, sometimes it's too slippery and I can't get a good grip. Oh well!

I had absolutely no core strength to speak of this morning - my could barely come up with bent knees in Sirsasana. I think I need to comb the forums for tips in building strength for this one. The only advice that BBB gives is that you shouldn't even be coming into the pose if you can't come up with straight legs (at least, that's the way Pattabhi Jois teaches it), but I can't embrace that because I love the pose so much...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Day 26

Last night, I did a short yoga practice before bed and woke up hours later, curled up happily on my Mysore rug, snuggling with a yoga brick. Yep, I fell asleep on my mat!

I slept in this morning because, clearly, I was wiped. So it was a mid-day practice for me today and to be honest, I didn't find it any easier or harder than a early morning practice. Perhaps I'm adjusting to this routine?

Some practice notes:

Parivritta Parsvakonasana: I continue to struggle with this pose. I can do the whole hands-in-namaste version with no problem. I'm working toward version with bottom hand flat on the floor. Trouble is, when I do the pose this way, it just feels wrong, like my body is collapsing. Today, I put my hand on a block and that felt a bit better, so I may work that way for awhile and see how I progress.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana: No more blocks, hallelujah! Not only that, but when I brought my fingertips to the floor, I was able to place my hand flat on the floor. All the issues I was having with balance just faded away and I folded forward even more deeply. It felt lovely!

Utthita Trikonasana: In Anusara, the bottom hand is placed on the floor to the outside of the front foot in this pose. In Ashtanga, proper form is to grab the front big toe. I find that the 'big toe grab' allows for more extension in the spine, while the 'hand to the floor' brings stability and a sense of lightness in the torso. So I'm torn. Today, I put my hand on the floor.

Bujangasana: I'm in a holding pattern in this pose. I can come into it, but I can't lower my forehead to the floor, so for now, I'm hanging out in the balance. In general, I’m finding that all my arm balances are becoming stronger. I was working on arm balances for my yoga-new-years-resolution last year, so it's nice to see continued progress this year on the foundation I built.

Supta Kurmasana: I never thought I would hear myself say this, but Supta K is feeling better! I came in deeper today than I ever have before.

The Marichyasana Diaries: I can easily bind wrist in A, B (Mari B is becoming my very favourite pose in the whole world!), bind to fingers in C. I bound to my fingers on the left side in D today. I seem to be switching back and forth between right and left sides in terms of binding in this pose, which is interesting. Could the day be that far when I can bind on both sides in Mari D? *crosses fingers*

Sirsasana: Today was a sad, sad day for my transverse abdominus. I could barely come into headstand with bent knees. Poo!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Day 25

The 'Shape Shifting Edition'

With the 'teeny ashtangi' thread going full-throttle over on the Ashtanga message board, now seems to be an opportune time to talk about yoga, weight loss and the changes I've seen in my body during the month I've been practising the Ashtanga primary series daily.

I'm no stranger to regular yoga practice - I've had a daily yoga practice (Hatha, Vinyasa, Anusara) for 10+ years. As a full-time yoga teacher, I also teach anywhere from five to fifteen classes per week. I'm in good shape and not remotely overweight, though I do notice when I put on a few additional pounds. Last year, during a stressful period, I consoled myself with muffins and I put on some weight.

I guess you could say I got a muffin top! ;-)

This spring I made some simple lifestyle changes in order to speed my metabolism (which is slowing down as I near my 40s): I started walking for an hour every day and cut out sugar completely. I was already seeing a moderate weight loss from those changes when I decided to add a daily Ashtanga practice to my routine. Since I started this practice, I've seen some dramatic changes in my body that I can't attribute to diet and walking alone. Simply put, the shape of my body is changing:

I have, in fact, lost some weight. Whether it's due to diet, walking, Ashtanga or the combination of the three is anyone's guess. I suspect the walking fuels the Ashtanga (it gets me up in the morning) which fuels the diet (I don't seem to crave junk food as much when I'm practising vinyasa). I don't know how much I've lost because I don't weigh myself. Instead, I use my favourite blue Capri pants as a measure. This winter, I couldn't get into them, in the spring they zipped but didn't button, now they're slightly tight but I can wear them.

From the waist down, I'm shrinking, but from the waist up, it's a different story. Many of my shirts are now too small, and this despite the fact that I've gone down nearly a cup size in my bust. Specifically, I've gained some brand new muscle mass in my arms and broadened in the shoulders. A few shirts that I bought last summer no longer fit properly due to my new, 'buff' physique.

“Baby, I love your arms!”
The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke (a complete stranger complimented me on my arms and asked if I lift weights). But last night, a close friend said almost exactly the same thing. I was showing her the rash on my arms (yeah, I love to show off my nasty rash to people in pubs) and she suddenly commented on the 'definition' in my arms. Of course, I responded by doing flexing and doing my best Charles Atlas impersonation. ;-) Seriously, though, I've noticed it too. I'm stronger; lifting things is less of a chore. I have no doubt at all that this new strength is derived from doing Chaturanga Dandasana a kazillion times every morning.

But back to the 'teeny ashtangi' issue (which revolves around weight, self-image, and whether one's size impedes yoga practice): Having practised yoga for many years, I can say with certainty that dedicated practice has changed the way I view my body and the altered the importance I assign to physical appearance. I think a strong, properly focused yoga practice can cultivate self-acceptance. I have round-bodied students who have beautiful, advanced yoga practices. I have slender students who can't touch their toes, but express incredible grace and beauty in their asanas. Bottom line: I don't think it matters what your BMI is *and* I don't think it really matters how flexible you are either.


Yoga is about moving the body, mindfully. Period.

From a strictly physical standpoint, moving, stretching, and building strength are all things that make us healthier. Movement increases blood flow (bringing a sense of well-being and health to the internal organs), lubricates joints (alleviating stiffness), lengthens muscle (which prevents injury), and builds muscle mass (to better support the joints and increase quality of life). The mindfulness aspects developed in yoga practice carry over into daily life, increasing tolerance to stress, ability to 'stay in the moment', gratitude, joy and self-acceptance.

I continue to reap these benefits from my yoga practice, regardless of the style I'm practising (though I do find that a daily practice is the best way to cultivate the benefits of yoga).

And on that topic, I had a great practice today. I felt comfortable and unrushed and for the first time, my hour-and-a-half Ashtanga practice felt smooth and graceful. And I was able to bind in Marichyasana D on the right side! The straight-legs-into-headstand project is going well. I'm not there yet, but I'm feeling stronger.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Day 24


Thanks to a crème prescribed by my doctor and liberal dabs of shea butter, my eczema is gradually healing up. Twists were far more pleasant this morning. This leaves the door open for another side-effect to rear it's ugly head: joint pain. Yes, again. It feels worse this time around and I credit yoga with keeping me from hobbling around like an old woman.

The half-hour quasi-restorative practice I've been doing in the evenings has proven its value: last night, I skipped it and this morning my back was very cranky. Yoga to help me do more yoga? Fine, I'll take it! I may even experiment with doing some yoga before my hockey games to control the pain.

A few items of note in my practice today:

Not only am I frequently getting my leg straight by the end of the five breaths, but I'm also doing this without the support of the wall. This posture has always haunted me in Anusara classes with my teacher - I was prone to fall over. I find the more I practise it, the more stable I feel. Now if only I could get my hip to open up a bit!

I have a confession. I'm a reverse-namaste-abstainer. I can do it, sort of, but find it excruciating. I like the rest of the post so much that I usually fold my arms behind my back instead. Lately, I've been working with a happy medium: Gomuhkasana arms. I switch arms as I switch sides. The first few days were rough and I found that I couldn't go as deep into the posture, but today I was binding on both sides and I was sinking deep into the forward bend. Could this eventually lead to reverse namaste? Stay tuned...

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana
I've been binding in this one, but using a block to come into the forward bend. I'm still using the block to come down more control, but I'm now putting my hand on the floor after I put it on the block. In the next few days, I may try working without the block, starting with the left side.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Day 23

I overslept a half-hour so didn't get to my practice until nearly 7:30. It wasn't terribly hot, but it was very humid. Good flow and focus this morning. 'Flow' is the best word I can come up with to describe it, though it may not be accurate. Flow is being in the moment of each pose. Flow is not thinking “Wow, are we there yet?” or “Oh no, I'm not even to Navasana yet...”

I've been struck with yet another side effect of this medication. It seems like whenever one thing fades, another thing just pops up to replace it. The joint pain is pretty much a non-issue now (or I've become used to it and it's the 'new normal', which is an interesting thought, but I digress...). My skin is very dry and I developed some mild eczema on my elbows pits (yes, I made up that word and I use it all the time in my classes) but over the weekend, the eczema erupted into a full-blown occurrence. My arms, my shoulders and chest are now covered with tiny, festering wounds.

I thought nothing could make Marichyasana D any more difficult than it already is but I was WRONG. So very, very wrong. Ouch. That's all I have to say about that. None of the twists are very pleasant actually and when I sweat, I itch. I'm not supposed to itch, so there's one more thing to occupy my monkey mind in asanas. Good times!

I'm back against the wall in Sirsasana because I've decided to complicate my life and work on coming into the pose with straight legs (instead of bent knees, the current state of affairs). So far, it's a work-in-progress. That said, I'm still loving headstand. It's become my favourite pose.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Day 22

It was very hot and muggy this morning, even at 6:30 a.m., but I didn't feel like I was sweating any more than usual. When I first started doing this, I was sweating a lot, then I went through a period when I wasn't sweating very much at all. Now I seem to have reached some sort of equilibrium when it comes to the heat of my practice.

I found a good flow today. I've been experimenting with drinking water/tea on my walk beforehand and though water is probably healthier, I think the tea is helpful in that it quells my hunger. I had good focus throughout my practice.

Yesterday, I finally sat down and watched the DVD from start to finish. I know, I know...you're supposed to do this before you practise for the first time, but honeslty, it was more valuable to me now, with 20+ sessions under my belt because I have some context. It was really interesting to see the more advanced practitioners in the DVD (Holy floating jump-backs, Batman!) and the modifications used by some of the others. Now that I'm tuned into the ins-and-outs of the practice, I'm better able to notice the subtleties of the poses.

I was struck by how each participant did absolutely everything, even if only in a modified version. Inspired, I decided to try everything this morning, even Janu Sirsasana D, which seems impossible to me (my feet were all “Huh?” when I tried to dorsiflex them). I did bridge as a modification of Setu Bandhasana, gave my best college try for Marichyasana D and used the modifications I've already been using for other postures.

There's no good reason that I haven't been doing Uttana Padasana (I can do it easily), but I did it today. No more slacking off; I was hard core.

I bound to my wrists on both sides in Marichyasana B this morning. I bound to fingertips easily on both sides of Marichyasana C. For some reason, the Marichyasana sequence seems to be my current indicator for 'where I'm at'. I was very happy with my practice this morning!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Day 21

The medication I'm on has an array of side effects. I've been lucky enough to have avoided most of them, but I am experiencing some joint pain. Perhaps because I'm very body aware, I notice the pain very specifically, in context to specific joints (my sacro-illiac joint and I have become quite intimate as of late...) and because I'm very active during the day, I feel achy mostly at night. I've tried various strategies to combat this pain (sometimes so intense that I can't sleep), including resorting to Tylenol before bed.

Last night, I spontaneously decided to go for a long walk in the evening and since yoga after my walk is a habit, I practised an additional half-hour of gentle yoga right before bed. I slept like a baby! And as an additional bonus, my morning ashtanga practice was incredible. My back hasn't felt this healthy in a month! Of course, it could be a fluke, but I'm going to repeat the experiment tonight. What do I have to lose?

I spend Sunday mornings volunteering at the soup kitchen and since this afternoon was supposed to be very hot and muggy, I was up very early to walk and do my yoga practice. When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., it took tremendous will power to get out of bed, but the beautiful, cool morning won me over - complete with a glorious sunrise and a waning crescent moon. I enjoyed every moment of my walk.

I started my practise at 6:30, but felt none of my usual early-morning stiffness. The first two sun salutations were rough (I had fleeting thoughts of 'Why am I doing this thing?!'), but the heat kicked in during Surya Namaskara B and I started to feel good. I had some moments where I completely lost my focus and a few times I actually became disoriented, but for the most part, the practice just flowed.

I'm coming to a point where I'm curious about my alignment in some of these poses. I'm familiar with the alignments from the traditions I teach and study (Hatha and Anusara), but I understand that Ashtanga is different. For example, I'm finally putting my foot flat on the floor in Parivritta Parsvakonasana (previously, I was on the ball of the foot). I feel more stable, but I can't come into as deep of a twist. I'm not sure how far the shoulder should be in front of the knee and I also seem to be hyperextending my elbow which just doesn't feel healthy to me. I'm thinking that it may be time for me to visit a led class down at the shala, in order to get some guidance and have some of my questions answered.

I tried Garba Pindasana today. Hilarity ensued.

Backbends felt good. I've been using blocks against the wall to come into Urdhva Danurasana for the first two repetitions of the pose (then without the blocks the third time). Today, I tried not using the blocks at all and found it rough going. I could get up, but the backbend wasn't as deep. I'm amazed by how much those props support and deepen the pose.

Meditation was great, but a bit unusual. This weekend is the 'Grand Prix' and I can hear the sound of the cars all the way in my neighbourhood. I tried putting on my noise reduction headphones, but I could still hear (and be distracted) by the unearthly whine. Finally plugged the headphones into iTunes and listen to an ocean soundtrack and had a fabulous, serene meditation. At least I could pretend that I was sitting on a beach!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Day 20

I got up early this morning (which was more a matter of will power than anything else) then went for my daily walk. It was so lovely and cool out! The circuit from my building to the park and back takes about an hour. This morning, I drank tea as I walked.

I've been finding that when I practice mid-day, my mind tends to be more distracted and it feels like my practice swallows up a huge amount of time. In the morning, I seem to be more focused and able to move right into it. That's what I did this morning. I moved from walking to yoga to meditation, sort of like a big vinyasa - mere breaths between each activity.

I'm still working on keeping my focus on the breath and the static contraction of my quads in poses. It was coolish out this morning, but I still managed to build up heat and even had to wipe away sweat during the seated postures.

A few milestones in the standing postures: I've been using props and modifications to maintain alignment in some of these postures. Today, I took my block from vertical to horizontal in Parivritta Trikonasana. In Parivritta Parsvakonasana, I've been staying on the ball of the back foot, but today I managed to get my foot flat to the floor.

I grabbed my wrists on both sides in Marichyasana A this morning, only one side in Marichyasana B. Marichyasana C felt better on the left side than the right - this is a switch! I'm continuing to work Hanumasana for five breaths on each side. Today, I took the blocks for that pose from vertical to horizontal. This is substantial progress for me! Perhaps there's hope for that one yet!

My lower back was very, very cranky in Paschimottanasana and I didn't do Kurmasana or Supta Kurmasana.

In Urdhva Danurasana, I experimented with the blocks, using them for my feet instead of my hands (I saw this mod in the BBB Power Yoga book). I ended up slipping and hitting my head! I tried again with the hands on the blocks...better. I'm feeling very strong doing the pose without any props at all - in fact, I now feel very comfortable coming up into it, but if my back is not open, I can totally feel it. That's become my new 'edge' (rather than arms and shoulders).

In the closing sequence, I worked against the wall for Urdhva Padmasana and Pindasana, just to start to get a sense of the poses.

I did ten minutes of meditation too.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Day 19

I went to get my bloodwork done at the doctor's office this morning, so I didn't get to my practice until the afternoon. I had a really, really hard time motivating myself to practice today, kept getting pulled into other stuff (notably, the Internet *ahem*).

I was very distracted during the practice itself - totally lost that sense of flow and focus that came so easily to me yesterday. The practice seemed endless and I could feel the edge of impatience tickling the edge of my consciousness.

My back felt really cranky in Paschimottanasana, particularly my sacrum. I worked on alignment and tried not to worry about coming in deep. But Janu Sirsasana felt great and I could kiss my shin in that pose. What gives? I do know that my right side is tighter than my left in Janu Sirsasana.

I viewed some images of the variations of Marichyasana online today and realised that I was grabbing my wrist wrong. Today, I corrected that and like magic, I was able to grab my wrist in Marichyasana B on both sides! A, B down, C and D to go! (yeah, like D is ever going to happen *eye roll*)

Oh, Urdhva Padmasana, why do you vex me so? This looks so easy, so why is it so difficult and unstable for me? I have yet to nail it. Today, I tried bringing one leg into a kind of Halasana, and supporting the other leg in an Ardha Pasmasana with my arm. Try to do both and I tumble. Ditto for Pindasana.

It's worth noting that while I can do lotus, my left knee needs so support because it doesn't come to the floor and I can't fold into lotus from inverted posed. I also can't bind to come into Baddha Padmasana. For Tolasana, I've continued to use blocks.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Day 18

I was out doing a photo shoot in the morning, so didn't practice until the afternoon today. I didn't have a spectacular practice, but I did feel like I was in some kind of 'zone' today. I had a lot of bhavana - focus and awareness - in each pose and everything just seemed to flow very smoothly. I wasn't thinking about the pose I had just finished, or the pose I was going to do next; I was fully present in each pose and each moment. I really seemed to nail the whole practise-without-attachment thing.

And I grabbed my wrist in Marichyasana B!! This is a good sign that I'm going deeper in the Mari sequence. I could only do it on one side, but the other side is very nearly there too!

Oddly, headstand felt unstable and unsatisfying. I didn't even try to do a half-bend, just came down in to child's pose so I could pout.

It was a good day for backbends. I did held each instance of Urdhva Danurasana for five breaths.

Savasana was like floating.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Day 17

I haven't been getting up early for my practice/walks lately, at least for the last few days. Today, it was raining when I woke up, so there didn't seem to be a point. Also, I have been experiencing some mild joint pain from a medication I'm on and mornings are particularly difficult. I find my practice is much better if I schedule it later in the day.

Today wasn't a sweaty practice (I seem to sweat less and less, the longer I'm at this). It was coolish out, though. Once again, I worked on keeping my breath consistent. One thing I may try to do today is watch the DVD as an observer, without practising. I think I'm ready to start refining the practice and adding some of the finer transitions to my sun salutations (particularly in Surya Namaskara B).

I had a nice moment in Marichyasana A today. I was able to fully bind (grab my wrist, instead of just my fingers). I was also able to find a deeper bind in Marichyasana B, though not my wrist. Marichyasana C felt much better. I think I've come to a place of acceptance in that Mari and just work with my edge where I find it.

I've been doing Hanumasana in place of Marichyasana D. I'm finding that I'm coming deeper into Hanumasana, and also finding acceptance of my edge in that pose as well - a challenge for me with my tight hips and hamstrings.

My handstands were very strong today - I did three. On the third one, I came up so lightly that I didn't even come to the wall, but just floated in mid-air for an instant before the wall found my heels.

Headstand was incredible. No wall today at all. It was like the wall wasn't there. I'm starting to pretend that the wall isn't there. Soon, I may start moving further away from the wall.

It was a good day for meditation. I felt very serene and calm. The few times I felt agitated, I used a simple mantra to calm my mind.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Day 16

Today, I set the intention of being very focused and consistent with my practice. I only stopped the DVD once (to blow my nose). I didn't drink water at all during the practice (as has been my habit) and I tried to maintain Ujayi breathing throughout.

It seemed to work well - I kept my heat up even during the standing poses. I felt strong and open in most poses (but Mari C gave me some trouble today). Forward bends felt a bit better. My back was actually fairly open today, which surprised me a lot. I came into Urdhva Danurasana three times - twice with blocks against the wall and one glorious backbend without props. I felt like I was flying.

Headstand was good - true to my goal, I'm not using the wall at all. I'm about a foot away from it, just for safety. I feel very stable and safe in the pose.

I didn't practice Ashtanga yesterday. Instead, I did a very gentle, restorative one-hour practice, going back to my beloved 'Yoga for Beginners' DVD with Iyengar Yoga instructor Patricia Walden. I started my yoga practice with this programme on video years ago and it still feels like a happy place to me. I recently purchased a copy on DVD for old times sake.

It was interesting to do this practice as a more advanced practitioner. I found some of the beginners modifications very soothing and did them, even though I could go deeper. I broke into a tiny little sweat in standing poses and the holds didn't feel difficult at all (when I first started, I remember them being excruciating).

Viparita Karani is still pure bliss and I still love Walden's Savasana sequence. I recall that I always had problems focusing during Savasana, but didn't have that problem tonight. I guess I really have grown!

I nearly skipped practice yesterday, but I'm glad I chose to do this gentler practice instead. It was a good reminder to listen to my body and stay in the moment.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Day 15

Early, early practice this morning - I started at 6:45 after an hour-long walk. It's very cool out this morning and I had a lot of trouble building up heat. I managed to start sweating in Surya Namaskara B, but cooled off as I moved into standing poses. I think part of my problem is that I was not very focused on my Ujayi breath.

I was also very distracted this morning, took many potty breaks and skipped a few of the more difficult poses.

Jumpthroughs were not happening right away, but I got into them after awhile (then gave up completely about half-way through primary series).

Backbends were not happening at all. My back was so cranky, that I skipped a few poses that tend to aggravate it (Ubaya Padangusthasana).

I literally cheered when I finally got to Sirsasana - it felt like an inverted child's pose and half-bend is finally feeling stable to me.

When I have a 'bad' Sadhana like this, I have to remind myself that at least I'm on the mat, *doing* the practice. At least I didn't give up.