Saturday, September 29, 2007

Day 84

I didn't feel like practising today - probably a bad aftertaste from yesterday's horrible practice. Of course, I practised anyway. That's the brilliant part about force of routine - sometimes you're carried along by sheer momentum.

I didn't have time to go for a walk first, so I pretty much rolled out of bed and onto the mat which introduced some problems from the get-go: I felt stiff and sore and tired. My right heel was tender (plantar faciaitis). I felt a general sense of fatigue and resignation. I felt like going straight back to bed.

Thank goodness that all passed by the third sun salutation! I had a great practice! I felt strong, clear and focused. When I finished, I was overwhelmed by a sense of contentment and peace that followed me the whole day.

It's really amazing what a difference a day can make!

I had a really difficult time with shoulderstand today. I held it for 10 breaths but it felt yucky. I seem to remember that I had this same problem in August, when I was practising right after waking in the morning. Apparently, my shoulderstand is not a 'morning pose.'

Friday, September 28, 2007

Day 83

I should get a medal for even unrolling my mat this morning. That's how unmotivated and uninspired I was feeling. I definitely did not bring 'my best self' to my practice. I ended up skipping a few poses in order to economize on time (I was running late) and I was generally lacklustre and grumpy. I found my mind wandering while I was holding poses. My state of mindlessness was so acute that I actually missed a pose and had to backtrack.

When I have days like this one, I wonder if I'm really benefiting from my practice or if I'm merely marking time. I guess there's something to be said for maintaining a routine, even if you're only doing it by the barest thread. Before I started this Ashtanga experiment, I probably wouldn't have practised yoga at all on a day like today.

But going forward with my lousy, half-hearted practice forced me to ask the question: Why? Why was I feeling so bad?

If I were to speculate, I would have to conclude that the Thai carryout I ate last night followed by half-a-package of Pirates peanut butter cookies was not for my highest good. Eating a lot of heavy food (which I'm not used to) did not contribute to my general sense of well being the next morning. And staying up late probably didn't help either.

I would love to say that I've learned my lesson: no more junk food! Will I do it again? Probably. That's the fun part about being human: making the same dumb mistakes over and over and over again.

Over and out...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day 82

Yesterday was a moon day. I've only recently become a fan of moon days, probably because now that I've been doing this practice 6 days a week, I've learned that a yoga vacation is something to be embraced! The only thing really missing from my moon day this time was a group of fellow ashtangis to go out and celebrate with! (where's the sangha when you really need it?) ;-)

As it was, I stayed up late watching the telly, then slept in the next morning. I really missed my practice, particularly in the afternoon. I felt kind of shifty and nervous all day. I ended up laying over blocks for 10 minutes and meditating for a while in the early evening.

Today, I had one of those practices where absolutely everything felt good! I was in a state of physical bliss for nearly the entire practice. This is such a rare state of affairs that I made sure to savour every moment of it! It won't last.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Day 81


It was another hot and sweaty practice this morning - the high today will be 31. That's very warm for late September. Hard to believe that by this time next month, I'll be wearing my winter coat!

The first half of my practice went very smoothly, but just after Baddha Konasana I got really hungry. I finally caved in and went to the kitchen to grab a handful of trail mix, but I was still distracted for the rest of the practice. At least the hunger is an indication that my breakfast is digested before I hit the mat. Since I'm no longer getting up in the middle of the night to practice like I was in August (4:30 a.m. UG!), I have to eat first thing in the morning and take my morning dose of medication. I usually have a small bowl of bran cereal with rice milk, then drink tea on my morning walk. I was concerned that this might affect my practice, but so far it's been fine.

Meal management is going to get more complex in October when my full teaching schedule kicks in. When I'm teaching 4 yoga classes in a day, there's really no time that I can properly eat!

I have another asana milestone to report. I've always struggled with Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. I was a runner for over 16 years, so I have tight hamstrings. That, in combination with the balancing, always threw me for a loop. Over the past year, my hamstrings have really opened up and over the past few weeks, I've been successfully balancing in the pose (and the transition to the side). This morning, I added the slight forward bend, bringing my chin towards the shin for five breaths! (previously, I was just working on getting that leg straight)

This small change really transformed the feeling of the pose for me; when I brought my leg out to the side for five breaths I felt this tremendous sense of opening and brightness. It was really terrific! Now I'm a fan of the pose, where I never was before. It's fun to discover new favourites as your body opens up in different ways.

Another pose that always vexed me but I now enjoy is shoulderstand. I still have 'bad shoulderstand days' but on the good days, I feel a genuine sense of ease in this pose. I was very curious about my alignment but this isn't something you can check in a mirror very easily, so I decided to pull out the camera and photograph myself in the pose. I was pleasantly surprised by how straight and upright my body is! My feeling of ease and balance in the pose now makes sense, given that I'm no longer 'leaning'.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Day 80

Practice was good today - steady, strong, but not stellar. It's unseasonably warm out, so I was sweating buckets.

Despite all of that heat, Kurmasana felt really yucky, especially after I came out of the pose. My low back felt very sore. I always worry about any soreness in my back because I put so much strain on it when I was younger (I played Tuba/Contrabass in marching bands and drum corps for years, then worked for many more as a professional field archaeologist). When was 26, my doctor expressed concerns about disc degeneration. In response, I left archaeology for an office job. I started yoga soon after and my back has been very healthy since, but I still worry when it's cranky. To be fair, much of this sensitivity could be due to my medication.

I spent a fun interval doing handstands against the wall. This isn't part of the traditional Ashtanga practice, but it's a BIG part of the Anusara practice so it's always been a part of my home practice.. Handstand is also an important pose to me because I was always incredibly fearful of it. I like the idea of doing something every day that scares me a little bit.

I'm finally feeling strong enough that I no longer flair around as I come up into a handstand and this represents considerable progress! I've been experimenting with moving away from the wall so I can practice balancing. Interestingly, when I do this I find myself coming up more lightly; it forces me to be mindful and controlled. I totally attribute my progress in handstand to learning how to engage the bandhas properly.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day 79

I often forget to note the little milestones I keep reaching in my daily practice. I can bring my fingertips to the floor in Parivritta Trikonasana most mornings, and this morning I managed to do it in Parivritta Parsvakonasana. Both of those are biggies - milestones I would not have reached if I hadn't started practising Astanga with such consistency.

Here's another one: If I start with my toes on the floor, I can jump back very smoothly (and strongly - that's my favourite part; I love how strong I feel while I'm doing it), but I never thought I would be able to jump through. This morning, I did - one leg only and it wasn't pretty (KATHUMP!), but I've learned not to be so attached to 'pretty.'

Milestones are important on days like this, when I'm feeling sluggish and uninspired to practice. I literally had to coax myself along this morning (”Okay, hang in there, you're nearly to Baddha Konasana!”) and I was so relieved when I finished. Not a good yoga day, but I suppose you could argue that it's always a 'good yoga day' when you make it to the mat.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Day 78

Bujangasana is giving me a run for my money these days. I can generally get my legs over my shoulders, lift up and cross my feet. I can even balance there for a while. But I haven't quite mastered the whole getting-my-forehead-to-the-floor thing yet.

At least, not until this morning. I actually did it! I was feeling all smug and pleased with myself so I started to lift back up. And that's when reality came crashing down or, at least, my face did. I did a full face plant on my Mysore rug, kinda twisted my neck and now I have a nice rug burn on the side of my face, and (how on earth did I manage this?) on my right eyelid. That's just great - I have a date tomorrow!

I was a bit stunned at first, like a little kid after taking a bad fall. I curled up in child's pose and felt panicked tears tickling the back of my eyelids, but after a few minutes I felt okay and carried on.

Other than that little mishap, I had a lovely practice. I felt very playful and open to trying to push my practice in new directions so I was up to all sorts of mischief! ;-) My practice stretched into nearly two hours as I experimented with poses, repeated poses and had fun. I love days like these!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Day 77

All hands and feet

My hips are back from their holiday, right in time for my Ladies Holiday. I wonder if the stiffness and my cycle are somehow connected? Today, I felt bendy.

It's wonderful how daily practice brings me back in touch not only with the cycles of nature, but my own internal rhythms. As I did the sun salutations, I was keenly aware of the ebb and flow of my body. I hesitated before doing Supta Konasana and ended up skipping it entirely and skipped the inversions in the closing sequence. Sure enough, after practice I discovered that the 'flow' had brought on my flow.

Over the past few days, I've noticed myself becoming more patient with the practice and losing some of that 'are-we-there-yet' anxiety that I've been carrying since early in the month. I seem to have distilled the Primary Series into discrete chunks. I'm sure this is different for everyone, but for me, it goes like this: The Sun Salutations. The standing poses. Seated poses up to Marichyasana D. The difficult (to me) poses up to Baddha Konasana (which is not difficult to me). The fun poses up to Setu Bandasana (but I still can't do Setu Bandasana). The little interval before closing when I do backbends and my beloved handstands (the part of Anusara that I can't bring myself to leave out of my daily practice). Closing sequence (Ahhhh!).

I find that more and more, I'm focusing on the whichever little 'chunk' of the series I'm currently in the midst of and not thinking to myself “Oh no, you mean I'm only at Marichyasana B? I'm gonna die!!!!” (are we there yet?). It's a long practice (takes me over an hour and a half most mornings). Anything I can do to make it more digestible seems like a good strategy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Day 76

Took the day off yesterday. Sundays seem to be the best day for me to take my weekly 'break' since I already teach on Saturdays anyway.

So, I lost my hips this morning.

I think they're off in the Bahamas someplace, or maybe Cuba. Wherever they went, I'm sure it's someplace warm, where fruity cocktails are served with little umbrellas and the sand warms happy joints.

No half-lotus anything for me this morning; I was modifying all poses that required the slightest degree of openness in the hips. But the modifications felt so good! When other parts of my body are tight (lower back, I'm talking to you!), I often feel discomfort or even pain. But my hips are a different story. No matter how tight I am, hip openers always feel like a sigh of relief for my body. I'm one of those crazy ones who silently cheers when my teacher announces that we will be doing pigeon pose.

I kinda miss pigeon pose!

It's been easier to get myself on the mat in the past few days. I'm getting back into some sort of a routine. I was right about mornings - I may not like morning practice, but it's the only way to discipline myself to practice daily and daily practice is very, very important to me right now.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Day 75

I went out dancing last night and stayed out until nearly 2 a.m. This is a radical departure for me, the one who is rubbing her eyes by 9 p.m. I was able to pull it off with a long evening nap, but all the same I was exhausted when I woke (too early) this morning.

During my practice, I noticed that my left ankle was sore. It was sore last night when I was dancing too. My left hip is a bit less open than my right and I've noticed in Marichyasana B, my ankle sometimes gets cocked at a crazy angle in the pose and feel achy afterward. I'm wondering if perhaps I'm over-stretching the muscles on the lateral side of the ankle and causing some instability in the joint.

This is definitely NOT something I want to do - I need all the stability I can get in that joint playing ice hockey. Just another little funny quirk that I can't fully blame on my medication...or can I? I need to pay attention to the signals my body is sending me, even if my body sometimes seems like an overwrought drama queen.

Shoulderstand came back today and I welcomed her with open arms. Supta Konasana and I are once again on speaking terms. Savasana was bliss!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Day 74

Today's practice was a comedy errors, with the stresses of day-to-day life making a special, cameo appearance.

I started out strong. Standing poses have really been very appealing to me lately, drawing me out of my fog. I've been feeling seriously run down over the past week. Yesterday, I was so exhausted in the afternoon that I decided to take a cat nap. Three hours later, I was still napping! I barely made it out to the Park to teach my yoga class.

Today, I worked steadily through the primary series, but stalled at Navasana. I took some time in child's pose and resolved to finish the practice, then I heard the 'clang' of my mail slot. And a thump - certainly it was the latest issue of Yoga Journal, so I got up to look at it.

And I found a letter from my landlord, informing me that I was being evicted for non-payment of rent.

I'm very organised when it comes to these things, so I checked my records. Sure enough, months before, I had given my super post-dated rent cheques through September.

I grabbed the phone and sat in half-lotus on my mat. I first phoned the accounting department of the management company. Mysteriously, they had received cheques only through August (or perhaps not so 'mysteriously' - I've had an ongoing dispute with the superintendents). I spoke with a manager and he agreed that in the future, I could submit my cheques directly to accounting, bypassing the superintendents entirely.

A few mintutes ago, I hand-delivered a replacement cheque along with three more post-dated cheques directly to the accounting office. I photocopied the cheques for my records and included a carefully worded letter to the management company describing the problem and the proposed solution.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with yoga. Well, a few years ago I would have had an emotional meltdown if I had received an eviction notice. I probably would have phoned one of my friends, sobbing hysterically and moaned “What do I do? What do I do?” I would have felt victimized. It would have ruined my entire day, likely my entire week.

I dealt with this entire matter in under an hour, calmly and with a minimum of drama. I think I even wrote those post-dated cheques while sitting in half-lotus on the floor. Instead of feeling angry or overwhelmed, I felt calm, focused and vibrantly alive. The eviction letter became my yoga. When I finished, I did a couple of handstands, took Savasana and now I'm enjoying the rest of my day.

I often write about the physical benefits I've experienced from my hatha yoga practice (going on 12 years now!), but I seldom reflect on the maturity and strength I've developed from it. I've never been good at being a 'grown up' but yoga has helped me become a better adult. I'm not always level-headed (particularly if I'm overtired or overworked, I'm easily overwhelmed), but I'm constantly amazed at the impact yoga (and meditation) has made on every aspect of my life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day 73

I had a good morning practice. Lately, it's been coolish out, so I've been delaying opening up the apartment until after my practice, so the room is nice and toasty. I love working up a sweat though it doesn't always happen (and sometimes, it doesn't matter how warm the room is). But when it does, I find that my lower back feels more open and my practice feels better in general.

Today, I enjoyed a lovely shoulderstand, such a change from yesterday! I felt like I could have stayed there for an hour. I wasn't even going to try to do the backbends, but coaxed myself into coming into a partial backbend. After that, two full backbends felt easy!

Best of all, I balanced for a few breaths in handstand! I always feel strong and mighty in this pose, but that hasn't always been the case.

When I first started working with handstand in 2004, I would burst into tears every time I came into it. At times, my arms would collapse and I would melt into a puddle of misery on the floor. No other inversion scared me so much. It seemed odd because I've always enjoyed headstand and shoulderstand.

One day in an Anusara class, a fellow practitioner brought me into a handstand in the middle of the room, then literally held me in a full body hug for about a minute, speaking soothingly as I held the pose. This was a turning point for me - I started working with handstand against the wall regularly at home. Then I injured my foot coming into the pose and I took a six month break. But my drill-instructor Ansuara instructor M was very persistent in encouraging me to do the pose.

These days, I'm comfortable (though not altogether happy) doing the pose with assistance in the middle of the room in a class. But I truly love practising handstand against the wall. To be honest, I never thought the day would come when I would hear myself utter the words 'love' and 'handstand' in the same sentence, so that's progress!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 72

I woke up feeling miserable yesterday - splitting headache, groggy. I went back to bed. When I woke again, I decided to honour the moon day. I wasn't feeling well at all. I usually scoff at the moon days, but today (coincidence?) I felt heavy and tired.

After concluding on Monday that the whole 'yoga-in-the-afternoon' thing wasn't working for me, I was all ready to get an early start today. I set my alarm for 6 a.m., only to awake and discover that it's absolutely pitch black out. So I pushed snooze for an hour and got up at 7. Eventually, I'm going to have to accept the fact that I can't always walk before I do yoga. As winter rolls in, the mornings are only going to get darker.

But this morning I walked, then practised yoga for an hour and a half - full Primary Series (with various modifications and tweaks). Today was not a good day for shoulderstand at all and my back was achy. Today was a great day for standing poses. I had a sweatier practice than I've had in recent weeks.

Overall, I felt more distracted than usual. When I get in these moods, I can spend the entire five-breath duration of a pose just studying my toes. *sigh* I'm going to blame it on PMS.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Day 71

Lately, I've been doing my practice spontaneously during the day, but not necessarily in the morning. This has the advantage of allowing me to enjoy more flexibility as I move past my morning stiffness, but it also means that if my plans change unexpectedly, I can miss my practice.

That's what happened on Sunday. I was out late on Saturday so I decided to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning before heading to my volunteer shift at the soup kitchen. When I arrived, I discovered that I was invited to a party. A small gathering for the 'core group' of volunteers was scheduled in the afternoon. I raced home after my shift, stopped by the store to purchase appetizers and replenish my baking supplies. Then I spent the afternoon baking my Fabulous Butter Cookies. Very mindfully, I swear! ;-)

But, no practice for me.

I did make it to the mat on this morning for a full and very intense hour-and-a-half practice. It was neither good, nor bad. To sum up: I just worked very, very hard. Sometimes, hard work in yoga is far more satisfying than having it all come very easily.

Here's an asana tidbit: I've stopped using blocks completely during my practice. I can now put my hand on the floor in Parivritta Trikonasana (a victory of yoga over tight hips and hamstrings) and I'm finding that I enjoy Parsvakonasana more without the block (a victory of yoga over tight shoulders). I'm doing Parivritta Parsvakonasana with hands in prayer position at the chest. Things are coming along!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Day 70

I suspect that today was the last really 'summery' day of summer. It was hot, sunny, with deep blue skies and whispy clouds strewn across like cotton candy. The beach was busy, but not crowded. The air was sweet. I resolved from the moment I awoke until the moment I finally crawled into bed exhausted that I would embrace this day.

I was outdoors nearly every moment, including a lovely yoga practice on my balcony, feeling myself unfold and open into a pink sky.

Okay, that sounded nice, didn't it? What I didn't mention is that I did not feel the slightest bit motivated to practice and had to bribe myself with the balcony bit to get my reluctant mind/body onto the mat. I was covered from head-to-toe with sticky sunscreen which I didn’t bother to rinse off because I didn't want to shower twice. I practised in my bikini because I didn't want to get my practice clothes all yucky with sunscreen.

Add to that, I was sunsoaked, tired and floppy-relaxed, which made the standing poses very annoying. The only pose my reluctant body really enjoyed was Savasana, which makes sense since that is what it had been doing all day anyway.

But it was a nice day, a very nice day ;-)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Day 69

Today's practice wasn't yesterday's, but it never is, I guess. It was good, complete, fun and frustrating in equal measures.

I don't have a lot to say about it, but I do have a meme ;-) I feel like the last person in the yoga milieu to take this little quiz, but here it is:

I'm a Balanced Yogi!

A Balanced Yogi
You love your friends unconditionally and accept them for who they are no
matter what their yoga style preference, religious beliefs, or spending habits.
You focus on the good in people and would never try to change them. Almost
everyone feels comfortable in your presence. You live your yoga. You are an
inspiration to yoga students everywhere!

Take the Yoga Journal Yoga Snob Quiz!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Day 68

Fantastic practice today - everything just felt 'right'.

It's worth noting that I put off practising until 7 o'clock in the evening, so I had been moving around, biking, teaching yoga throughout the day. My joints felt okay (I was on the tail end of some pain meds), my body was loose.

So I joyfully dove onto the mat and wow!!! I actually looked forward to Supta Konasana and thoroughly enjoyed it. I repeated my previous success with Bujangasana and Kurmasana. My forward bends were fantastic and, well, 'bendy.' Headstand felt like a slice of heaven.

To be honest, I can't think of one posture that didn't feel good.

Too bad every day can't be like that, eh?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Day 67

When I started the contract, I found it very simple to fall into a stringent routine because I had to be to work at a certain time. Easing into a new (really, an old) routine has been a challenge. Yesterday, I was in a state of confusion: doing my practice felt time-consuming and impossible. Today, I felt a certain reluctance to get on the mat, but I was fine once I started. Baby steps!

My sleep schedule is completely scrambled. Last month, I was in bed by 8:30 p.m. and up by 4:30 a.m. Since the sun is coming up later and later, I'm trying to adjust to a later sleep schedule in anticipation of Fall and Winter. Last night was bad - I managed to get sucked into the Facebook vortex and then chatted with a friend until late. I didn't go to bed until 11 p.m. and I was wide awake by 2 a.m.

I don't believe in tossing-and-turning. If I can't sleep I just get up. I tackled my to-do list and the night slipped into daytime. I never went back to sleep, so tonight I'm literally catatonic with fatigue. I'm determined to stay up until 10 p.m. and get back into some kind of sane schedule!

I did my practice in the late morning - full primary series, trying to do everything (though not always succeeding *grin*). The longer practice felt more natural to me today. I wrestled with my monkey mind in meditation for 10 minutes.

I had a break-through today with Bujipadasana. I was able to get my shoulders further beneath my knees than I ever have before. My body felt elevated in the pose and the combination of my legs and arms felt strong. This feeling flowed into Kurmasana. I came into the pose in the traditional way (in contrast to my usual entry: 'my way' involves starting from a seated position instead of standing). For the first time ever I was able to bring my forehead to the floor! And to add some icing to that cake, I was an inch away from binding in Supta Kurmasana!

I'm eager to see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Day 66

I took a three day holiday from my yoga practice, starting on the last day of my contract and ending on Sunday. This time off was necessary as a kind of 'clearing of the palate'. From a practical perspective, it gave me time to adjust to the different demands of a self-structured life after more than a month of the 9-to-5 life. It also helped 'reset' my expectations in regards to my yoga practice. Over the past month, I've been doing shorter, more focused (and somewhat truncated) practices. My yoga holiday eased the transition back into hour-and-a-half practices.

As I unrolled my mat this morning, I was struck by how much yoga has helped me to navigate life transitions, big and small. I believe this is one of the benefits of a six-day practice - it's something I can rely upon through change.

My practice felt strong today. As I suspected, a practice done later in the morning after a long walk is far different from a practice done after rolling out of bed at 4:30 a.m. In particular, I noticed that the shoulderstand variation poses were much more comfortable - even enjoyable. Supta Konasana might even become my new favourite! This ease in my shoulders and upper back certainly made the closing sequence more pleasant. After practice, I sat for mediation. I really missed doing this over the month of my contract. In the coming week, I would like to add some pranayama back in too.

I had two 'rock star' poses today. In Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana I managed to balance without the assistance of the wall. I was also able to bring my leg out to the side and back without bending it. But Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana was my real victory. I haven't even been able to roll up into this pose, though I try every morning. This morning, I just did it. Easy as pie!

The past month has often felt like a waste of practice, but clearly I've been benefiting, even when it didn't feel like I was . This is a good lesson to carry with me during the busy times and during the 'yoga slumps' that inevitably occur.