Thursday, January 31, 2008

Day 180

Last day of WoYoPracMo 2008! I woke up very, very early and did the full Primary Series, zipping through in an hour and 20 minutes. The early start gave me time for a leisurely shower and breakfast before doing my Karma Yoga, volunteering at the soup kitchen. Musical Sirsasana was Sean Paul's 'Punkie [Español]' (3 min, 45 sec).

I successfully met the two goals I set for the month of January:
1) The full Primary Series every day
2) Daily meditation

I learned many things about myself and my yoga practice over the course of this month. I already had a six-day practice when I started, so for me, WoYoPracMo was more about the discipline, re-establishing a meditation practice and fine-tuning my routine. Here are a few of the things that stood out for me during the month:

I really value my days off:
I missed my yoga-less Saturdays. I missed my celebratory Moon Days. And I really, really, really missed having time off for my Lady's Holiday. It was miserable and difficult practising during my monthly cycle. It was certainly educational to try it once, but I would never do that again on a regular basis. I'm all for practising through discomfort, but that was *misery*.

Early morning practice:
I tend to practice in the early morning in summer, but in the winter I let this slide; my practices sometimes started in late morning and I would feel like half my day was gone. This month, I found my routine again and started getting up early and loving in. I'm hoping that I'll be able to carry on with early practices for the rest of the year.

I love my morning breakfasts. 'Slow' breakfast (rather than grabbing a quick yoghurt on the way out the door) is something I started this month and I've come to treasure this relaxing morning ritual. I find that I have a better day if I take time for myself in the morning. In general, I find that I practise better on a completely empty stomach so the prospect of a hearty breakfast becomes the carrot dangling at the end of my mat!

Asana stuff:
This month, I was finally able to bind to wrist on both sides in Marichyasana C. I found myself binding for the first time in Supta Kurmasana. My headstand improved incrementally and it's now one of my strongest poses. I started holding headstand for minutes instead of breaths (and I discovered that it's easier to hold headstand for a duration if I time it to a song on my iPod). I'm able to kick up to handstand lightly, with control and even balancing on my own a bit. I hadn't yet mentioned this, but I've pretty much nailed jumpthroughs. They're not pretty some of the time, but I can do them. Garba Pindasana is becoming easier - sometimes it even looks good! I can put my hands on my head in the pose and I think I'll be keeping them there for the rolls in the coming month. To sum up, my practice is coming along.

This is a big one. My meditation practice was dormant at the beginning of January. I decided to start gently, with five minutes a day. Week by week, I increased the time: 10 minutes, then 15, then 20. It was rough going at first and it took me half the month just to get my stride. In the past week or so, meditation has become blissful and nourishing. Most days, I meditate for 20 minutes in the evening before bed and I love it. It makes my day feel like a yoga sandwich: Asana in the morning, meditation at night, teaching, volunteer work, reading in between.

Yogamum has challenged members of the WoYoPracMo Sangha to choose a new goal for February. Here's mine:

The fifth Niyama, Swadhyaya (self-education):
I would like to start doing daily inspirational reading during breakfast. I think this will be a nice addition to my mornings. I'm going to start with Swami Satchidananda's commentaries of the Yoga Sutras (which has been sitting on my shelf for months, waiting for me to make time to read it). There also may be some Rumi in there too. And other scriptures where appropriate.

My asana practice will go back to a six-day schedule, with a break on Saturdays, Moon Days and the 3-day Lady's Holiday. However, I would like to continue to practice the full Primary Series (rather than occasionally substituting a modified or truncated version) for six days a week. I have set daily meditation as one of my New Year's Resolutions, so will be continuing it as a daily practice.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Day 179

A few people have asked why I'm the 'Reluctant Ashtangi'. Why 'reluctant'?

I was reluctant because I had some very bad experiences with the Ashtanga practice early on. Years ago, I started practising yoga without a teacher, using a video. The video I used was based on the Iyengar system of yoga: lots of focus on alignment, longer holds, not a lot of vinyasa. When I did start taking classes, they were in classical Hatha yoga, which is more gentle and less vigourous than Ashtanga (Hatha is what I mainly teach now).

With eight years of Hatha Yoga under my belt (and on the verge of yoga teacher training), I started experimenting with classes in different yoga systems. As part of my entrance evaluation for YTT, each of the YTT instructors needed an opportunity to evaluate me in a class setting. This was my first encounter with Teacher M - I tried his Ashtanga II class thinking “How hard can it be?“ The answer: “Very hard.“

I hated everything about Ashtanga: the pace, the postures, the people (many of whom seemed conceited and body-obsessed to me). I couldn't do Chaturanga, my hamstrings were tight. I left the class convinced that I had flunked out of YTT before I even started, but M gave me his seal of approval.

For years, I was negative about Ashtanga. This attitude was reinforced as I started getting 'Ashtanga refugees' in my classes - students who tried the form and hurt themselves. Their injuries, and the negative attitudes they developed about yoga as a result, reinforced my perception that Ashtanga was a potentially dangerous style of yoga that could cause harm. I cautioned students to be careful in Ashtanga classes and to listen to their bodies.

So I came to the practice reluctantly and admittedly, with a bad attitude. When I started, it was truly an experiment and one that I only intended to do for the summer (I never thought I would actually be able to carry on for 365 days). I recognised the potential for building strength in Ashtanga and I believe that's what drew me to it - I was ready to advance my practice and instinctively, I felt drawn to the form. I decided that my strong background in alignment and years as a teacher would allow me to avoid injury.

I'm currently on Day 179.

I do teach one Ashtanga class now, and it's an introductory one. In my class, I teach all postures in 'phases' so that students who are not as strong or flexible can still benefit from them (this is similar to the approach in David Swenson's book which I use as my reference). I don't use props. I do teach Ujjayi breathing. I introduce the Bandhas, but don't emphasize them a lot (I feel that these beginners have enough on their minds)

I still have issues with the 'adjustments' given in many Mysore classes. I believe it's important for students to develop a sense of their own 'edge' and work with it. The magic of the practice is that it is just that: practice. If you keep doing it, the strength and flexibility will come. I don't believe the injuries are a sign of the body 'opening', an idea sometimes circulated in Ashtanga circles

Good alignment in poses keeps the body safe - particularly the spine and joints - so I emphasize this in my classes. I genuinely believe that if you move slowly and carefully, with good alignment and don't use force, you can build incredible strength and flexibility *without* hurting yourself. This is the magic of the Primary Series for me.

So, I'm no longer reluctant. I am, however, sometimes skeptical. I'm holding onto this skepticism because I believe it's healthy to question and by questioning, I learn.

Today's practice: Full Primary Series, steady and strong. I was very focused today and cruised through the practice in an hour and fifteen minutes. My hammies are still tight - don't know what's going on there. My low back was feeling cranky, but it was fine by the time I tackled my three Urdhva Dhanurasanas. The backbends are kind of on a plateau right now. I don't feel like I'm moving forward, nor backward. I'm just abiding in them.

Musical Sirsasana: 'Wake Up Exhausted' by Tegan and Sara (3 min, 16 sec).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Day 178

I played ice hockey at 9:30 last night, a half-hour past my bedtime, so I napped for an hour-and-a-half before. I hate these late games. I arrived in the changeroom all cranky and tousled, completely unprepared to face my jovial teammates. I put on my neckguard first to ensure I wouldn't forget it and some wiseass immediately made a crack about it. Grrrrrrr...

We played the #3 team in the league. They have the benefit of having the best player in the league, a fast, talented and fabulously generous soul who passes the puck instead of taking sure-shots on the net, shouts encouragement and gently coaches her teams to greatness. No wonder they're doing so well. I've also had a crush on her for a couple of years. *gulp*

As she zipped past me during warm-up, I thought: “We're gonna get creamed.” Did I mention that we didn't have a goaltender again? (well, they didn't either). The defence was sharing the net minding duties, which meant that I didn't get any time at all on the bench and spent my 'breaks' sprawled on the ice frantically blocking pucks with my stick, my legs, my skate - anything I could. I did pretty good, actually, blocked some hard shots. And I was flabbergasted when we actually won that game, 3-2.

We were singing 'We are the champions' in the changeroom. It's only the second game we've won.

This morning, I was sore and foggy-headed, so I slept in until 7:30. That was blissful. I can't remember the last time I slept in. My practice was good, though my hamstrings were *tight*. I was very focused, though (which is kind of funny because I've been feeling scattered ever since). My noon class moved to Friday this week, so I'm feeling a bit at-loose-ends with my precious routine disrupted.

Musical Sirsasana: Broken Social Scene, 'Finish You Collapse and Stay for Breakfast' (1 min, 24 sec).

I suppose I should walk the dog, get out of the apartment. Yup, that sounds like a plan.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Day 177

Awake at 5, lingered in bed until 5:15 and on the mat at 5:45. I had a very ordinary practice, worked hard, but not too hard. Was distracted at times, but managed to rein myself in. I've noticed that since I started doing daily meditation practice, I've been less distracted during my yoga practice. Probably not so surprising.

Musical Sirsasana was 'A New England' by Kirsty MacColl (3 minutes, 33 seconds).

I'm experimenting this week with bigger breakfasts in the morning. After practice today, I threw a sweatshirt over my yoga clothes and headed into the kitchen to prepare my meal: a small egg white omelette with spicy black bean tofu, an apple quarter and half a banana, sliced, and 100g of probiotic peach yoghurt. And, of course, a pot of green tea.

Sitting down to this small, but hearty breakfast was such a pleasure that I'm now kicking myself for not doing this before. It reminds me of the time I spent in Europe and all of those leisurely breakfasts with European friends. Europeans know how to do breakfast right. They always seem mystified by the North American habit of skipping the meal.

Now I'm getting all nostalgic. Those first moments of the day, with tea and yoghurt and cheese on the table, pleasant conversation and snow drifting over a European city as church bells ring...good memories! And a good ritual to take up, I think.

(writing about this makes me realise why, when I have the money to travel, I tend to head back to Europe rather than some more exotic location)

The ice rink in the park isn't ready yet, not even close. The ground isn't cold enough, so we're having a tough time getting down a base of ice, even with the icy temperatures here. I skated at my regular rink yesterday after volunteering at the soup kitchen. Now I'm headed down there in a few minutes. Incredibly, later on today it's supposed to *rain*.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Day 176

I'm running on about four-and-a-half hours of sleep this morning because I was out until the wee hours last night dining and dancing with my friends. We were celebrating a birthday and had a private room at Voglie. It was a lovely, intimate setting with snow drifting down lightly outside the windows and a fireplace (I sat by the fireplace - I'm always cold!) We had a big group - about 20 people - but I've known most of them for years, so it was comfortable.

The food was absolutely stunning. I had a bad experience at this restaurant a few years ago, but they're under new management now. I consulted with the waiter and chose a breaded, pan-seared soft goat cheese as my appetizer (served with lightly toasted baguette slices). It really packed a punch. I don't often eat cheese (or bread, for that matter) so this was a treat.

For my main entrée, I chose an interesting salad, the Insalata All Panzenalla. There is no lettuce in it, just fresh tomatoes, cucumber chunks, red pepper, thinly sliced onion and capers with a zesty dijon mustard vinaigrette dressing. The croutons soaked up the dressing and were so yummy! I wasn't sure if I liked capers. Well, I love them! I'll be looking for them at the store next week.

Dessert was a decadent homemade Tiramasu, which was beautifully presented and incredibly rich. It was like an orgasm on a plate; I was in heaven.

After the leisurely meal, the group headed upstairs for some dancing. I haven't danced at this club before and I was pleasantly surprised. The DJ was playing a good mix, including some Soca, which I always enjoy. I stayed for longer than I had intended, but managed grab a subway before it shut down for the night.

Needless to say, I'm feeling a bit sore and tired this morning. My left hamstring is tight. I don't know if this is because of my Mad Movz on the dance floor or because I had my legs crossed for part of the meal. I lingered in my forward bends during the sun salutations.

I went deeper in today's practice, playing with my edge more than I did yesterday. My Bhujapindasana gets better and better every day. Today, I even did a very decent approximation of Tittibhasana A as I was exiting. I'm not bringing my head to the floor these days, instead focusing on deepening the pose and balancing.

Supta Kurmasana absolutely rocked today.

Musical Sirsasana was Linda Ronstadt's 'Desperado' (3 minutes, 27 seconds). I was wobbly.

I'm relaxing with a cup of tea for a little while before I head to the soup kitchen to do some Karma Yoga. I still need to do some baking and my prepare my soup for the week, but after that is done, I'm sure there will be some napping! Both are great activities for a gray, snowy day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Day 175

This is the last time I will practice on a Saturday for awhile. That is, it is until the next time I need to move my regular 'day off ' to another day - or the next time I participate in a yoga marathon like WoYoPracMo (probably not until next year). I'm eagerly looking forward to having my Saturday's off, as well as Moon Days. While I appreciate the many benefits of daily practice, it's not sustainable for me. I'm getting tired.

I woke feeling yucky this morning. I'm worried about this - it's not like me to feel so wrung out. I stayed in bed for an hour then finally got up to practice. I took it easy and had a wonderfully lazy practice. I did do the entire primary series, just not with gusto. In fact, I kind had my own vibe going there for awhile.

After the standing poses, I was feeling woozy, so I stopped to grab a bite to eat (just some trail mix to munch on and some orange juice to boost my energy level). I even made some tea and sipped it for the rest of the practice (Ashtangi Buffet!).

I decided that I was going to focus on stretching and not work very hard. I felt fabulous afterward, much better and glad I had practised.

Musical Sirsasana was Enya's song 'Flora's Secret' (4 minutes). That's the fastest four minutes I've ever experienced and headstand was the best pose of the day!

I taught a class this morning, did my regular Saturday shopping, then took a long nap (two hours) this afternoon. I think I needed the sleep and since I'm going out tonight, it's good that I took the rest while I could.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day 174

My Friday teaching schedule has changed again with the addition of a new class, so no more sleeping in and lazing around until the afternoon. I was up at 5 and on the mat at 5:30. To be honest, I've really developed a deep appreciation for these early morning practices and look forward to them. This is one thing WoYoPracMo has given me - it's helped re-establish a habit of early morning yoga practice. I really look forward to these serene mornings on my mat.

Big excitement in the neighbourhood! The natural ice rink in the park was flooded for the first time last night! It wasn't cold enough earlier in the month, but it certainly is now. The city brought in some big chunks of snow last week and used a plow to form the perimeter of the rink. The rink is maintained by community volunteers, including myself. My neighbour, Ice Guy, floods the ice (usually in the middle of the night). I shovel the rink when it snows. We'll probably have ice for just a few weeks, but I'm looking forward to it because I will be able to skate with stick and puck and work on my stick handling.

I had an average practice today, nothing special. I've decided to go back to the basics a bit with Setu Bandhasana because I've been having trouble deepening that pose. Today, I did variation D in David Swenson's book, bringing my arms into something approximating bridge pose so I was up on my shoulders. I'm working on the foundation of the pose - the legs - so when I try to come up on my head, I'll have that support.

Today's Musical Sirsasana was 'I feel it all' by Feist (3 minutes, 29 seconds). I felt it all. ;-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Day 173

I knew that this part of the week would be exhausting and I had a strategy. So far, it's worked pretty well. It's called “Getting Enough Sleep”.

I went to sleep at the shockingly early hour of 8 p.m. on Tuesday to stock up on Z's. This gave me the extra oompf to get through yesterday. Didn't get a lot of sleep last night (I never do with a late bedtime and early wake-up for practice and my Karma Yoga, but I napped for an hour-and-a-half today, so that's something.

Interesting, though: I feel pretty rotten today. Groggy and I WANT. A. CUPCAKE. Emotional eating, anyone? Turns out, I'm just a girl who needs her sleep and naps don't quite cut it. I can't do anything about this Thursday schedule (I need to be up early to work my shift at the soup kitchen and if practice doesn't happen early, it just doesn't happen), but I can make sure I get my adequate Z's on the other nights.

Today: I hit the mat this morning at the blood-curdling hour of 4:15 a.m. and had a focused, utilitarian practice. Read: I got it over with. I taught five classes yesterday, so I think it's fair to say that I was a bit burnt out on yoga. I'm still hip with the WoYoPracMo, tho. And one week away from achieving my goal of the full primary series every day in January.

I'm still meditating daily and haven't missed a day. I'm up to 20 minutes of meditation a day and plan to boost that to 30 minutes (which is officially my limit, in keeping with the meditation tradition I'm following). Daily meditation is one of my New Year Goals, so I'll be continuing for the rest of the year.

Today's Musical Sirsasana was 'Walking With a Ghost' by Tegan and Sara (2 minutes, 37 seconds). I may need another headstand, though, to get me through the day (without the cupcake).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day 172

“Spend an hour with a pretty girl, and it feels like only a moment. Put your hand on a hot stove for a moment, and it feels like an hour. That's relativity.”

This quote is often attributed to Einstein, though I'm not sure he actually said it. That's how I sometimes feel about holding headstand.

Today's Musical Sirsasana was abitious: 'No Cars Go' by The Arcade Fire, 5 minutes, 42 seconds. I love this song. When I'm listening to it, time flies by. It ends and I'm all “Is is over already?” Today, as I listened to it in headstand, it seemed to last forever. By the time The Arcade Fire got to that chorus at the end where they're singing “Go-oh-oh-oh-oh...” I was all “FINE! Stop singing already!”

That, my friends, is relativity! ;-)

I had a good practice, got up on time for a change. Sometimes I dawdle and get to the mat a few minutes late. I'm looking forward to ice skating this morning, as I wasn't able to skate yesterday. It's not snowing today.

And I'm looking towards a very, very long day. I try to limit myself to teaching four classes a day, but today, I teach five. I rescheduled a class to accommodate one of my regular classes because they had an event in their normal time slot. I know I'll be grateful to roll into bed tonight. I went to sleep early last night to give myself an extra 'boost' of energy today and I'm feeling lively.

Have a good day, everyone!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day 171

Sometimes my yoga life and my day-to-day life collide in uncomfortable ways.

I played ice hockey last night and for the first time in several games, we had a goaltender in net. Playing without a goalie is uncomfortable for the team - everyone must play more defensively - but it's particularly hard on the defence. When we're short on players it's usually the defensive line that takes the hit. This means three rotating defence and if there is no goalie, the three of us are on the ice constantly - no chance to sit down, drink water or rest.

But last night, we had a goaltender and for the first time in a long time, I was actually enjoying the game. So when one of the forwards suggested that we give up our goaltender for the second half of the game, I balked. This seemed to shock some people on my team. After all, I'm the yoga teacher, the Buddhist. I'm supposed to be all about random acts of kindness and compassion, right?

But here's the thing: hockey is hockey and yoga is yoga. Ice Hockey is a competitive sport and I enjoy having that place for competition on my life. I'm a good natured player - I play by the rules and I don't play dirty. But if there's an open net, make no mistake, I'll be shooting on it. Finals are in two weeks and our team is dead last in the league. We've lost nearly every single game.

Give me Karma Demerits if you like, but I have a competitive streak when it comes to hockey and I just wanted to win.

Today is a moon day, so ordinarily, I wouldn't be practising but I'm still in the midst of WoYoPracMo so practice I did. I hit the mat at my usual hour and did the full Primary Series. I was feeling open today, so bound in everything that's bindable for me. Today's Musical Sirsasana was Anita Baker's song 'Close to Me' (4 minutes, 11 seconds). Breakfast was blueberry yoghurt and half a banana. I did try to go skating, but it's snowing out and the Zamboni was going non-stop clearing, so I went home and walked the dog for a half hour.

The rest of my week is going to be incredibly busy. I'm half anticipating it, half dreading it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Day 170

Awake at 5, on the mat by 5:45, finished by 7:15. I like to finish up by 7 a.m. because that's when the construction starts next to my building. Fortunately, they started late today and they're not too noisy.

It's still bitterly cold out - the windchill was -21 when I last checked. So I didn't go ice skating (I have my limits and extreme cold is one of them). Usually, I pack up my laptop, a few snacks and spend the morning in a café, working on bookkeeping and my class plans for the week. Not today. I'm parked on my sofa. Wild horses couldn't move me from this apartment (though I was actually flirting with the idea of heading out to Lettieri later - it's only steps from the subway).

Practice was comfortable and easy-going. Lately, I've really enjoyed the sun salutations. When I'm laying in bed, pondering the momentous task of pulling myself out of bed for practice, it's the sun salutations that do it for me. Those 5 A's and 5 B's used to kill me, but these days, they feel like a light, comforting warm-up. I love them.

I've been thinking a lot about my 'suddenly-supta-kurmasana' moment this week and it may not be as spontaneous as it seemed. I rarely consider the effect that my teaching has on my practice because I don't do the classes with my students. Instead, I limit myself to 'launching' poses and doing the occasionally demo for new stuff. Last week, though, I was teaching a sequence that focused on the upper back and shoulders. There was a lot of new material in that class, so I was doing more demos than usual, including many shoulder openers. With 13 classes a week, that's a lot of shoulder openers!

This is actually an exciting thought! If I keep doing shoulder openers, perhaps I could deepen the pose still further!

Recently, I've added a new element to Parsvottanasana in my practice: the arms portion of Gomuhkasana. I liked this combo so much that I taught it in my classes last week, dubbing it 'The Bovine Pyramid'. My students loved it! (I think the name got a few laughs) I think that, in combination with a few other stretches that I demo'ed in my classes may have contributed to my bind in Supta K. Mystery solved!

Here are a few of the key stretches I included in my sequence last week. I'm interested to hear if anyone else finds these useful in their practice:

Marichyasana Arms: Bring the right arm onto the low back, palm outward. Reach back with the left hand and grab the wrist. Gently pull the right arm to the left until you feel the stretch in the right shoulder. Repeat on the other side.

Marichyasana Arms

Gomuhkasana Arms Reverse Elbow Grab: Being able to reach the arm up the back is a pre-req for this one. I use it to deepen my Gomuhkasana arms. Reach up your left hand up your back, then grab the left elbow with the right hand. I kind of lodge my left hand into the right shoulderblade to give myself some leverage and deepen the pose. Repeat on the other side.

Gomuhkasana Arms Elbow Grab

Bovine Pyramid: Come into Parsvottanasana, right leg forward, left leg back. Bring the right arm out to the right, thumb down and bring the arm up the back. Reach up with the left hand, bend the able to bring the left hand down to meet the right. If you can, bind, then come into the forward bend, pressing the left elbow towards the right foot. Repeat on the other side.

The Bovine Pyramid Pose

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Day 169

I was up at 5 this morning, on the mat by 5:30. My whole body felt stiff and sore and I kind of doodled and dawdled through my practice, not working particularly hard, finding myself quite distracted. I glanced at the calendar this morning and this all makes perfect sense in context to my monthly cycle. Even now, I still feel groggy and out-of-sorts.

I bound to fingers in all the Marichyasana poses because I was wasn't feeling particularly twisty, didn't come as deep into my forward bends as I usually do (my hamstrings were very tight) and I only held headstand for 10 breaths. It was just one of those days.

I did, however, do three backbends without angst or drama and I still have that bind in Supta K, so all is not lost. ;-)

In the midst of my practice today, I asked myself “Is there anyplace else you'd rather be?” I had to think about it for a moment, but finally concluded, “No, not really.” (although going back to bed did cross my mind)

Lots to look forward to today. I'm working a shift at the soup kitchen in the morning, then meeting up with a friend for brunch in the Annex.

And then? Taking a nap.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Day 168

It's cold out today. The wind chill is -16 C (3 F). I was out walking the dog a little while ago and saw a guy in our neighbourhood park doing Ashtanga Yoga in jeans, parka and toque. It was definitely Ashtanga - I recognised many of the postures, though he was doing them a bit out of order. He did Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Padottanasana, some forward bends, then Sarvangasana, Halasana and Karna Pidasana.

A few weeks ago, I remember reading some discussion about heat in practice. I can't remember if it was on the Ashtanga forum or on a blog, but's an example of someone who not only shuns a heater, but embraces arctic temperatures for his practice! (and the fresh air and distractions of the great outdoors). I sat and watched him for awhile, but had to leave because my dog was so cold she was quivering (and my fingers were frozen).

I did my practice at 6:30 this morning, *indoors* with my little heater chugging away. Looks like my bound Supta Kurmasana is here to stay. My back was cranky this morning and my whole body felt stiff, but I was still able to bind easily. I'm absolutely mystified and amazed by this. There was no grey area for this one, no period of almost-but-not-quite. I literally went from not-even-close to binding in one day - sort of like the Divine waved a magic wand over my head and said “Let there be binding” and there was.

I accidentally skipped Parsvottanasana yesterday and didn't realise it until I did the pose today. I wonder how often I skip something and don't even notice? I'm teaching a variation on Parvottanasana in my classes this week and I wonder if perhaps my subconscious had a role in the omission; I'm kind of sick of that pose.

I've started to enjoy my Musical Sirsasana very much. I selected a four-minute-long song today and stayed in the pose easily for the four minutes. Soon, I'll need to graduate to 'headstand playlists'. ;-)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 167

Today, as I was moving through the Primary Series, breath by breath, pose by pose, feeling warm and light, bathed by the sunbeams streaming in the window, I had this thought: “There is nothing else I would rather be doing in this moment. Nothing.” And it was true. I don't always feel this way when I practice, but lately, that's how I've been feeling. Getting to the mat can be a chore, but once I'm there, I'm content. And afterward, I feel whole and happy.

Yesterday in the comments, Michelle asked what kind of yoga I used to practice, whether I preferred Ashtanga and what yoga system I find more fulfilling. This is timely question because this topic has been on my mind recently.

I came to yoga almost 13 years ago via Patricia Walden's 'Yoga Practice for Beginners' video, which I found in the bargain bin at Best Buy. At the time, I had just walked away from a short-term contract as a field archaeologist because I was in too much pain to continue. I was 26 years old and I was in constant, chronic pain. Some of it was physical, some of it was emotional.

I had a lot of time on my hands, so I tried the yoga tape. And I hated it. I couldn't do any of the things on that tape very well, and many of them seemed impossible (like forward bends, and I clearly remember Virabhadrasana II being particularly challenging). It's a mystery to me why I kept doing yoga, sometimes every day. It reminds me a lot of that episode of Star Trek in which Data has been given an emotion chip. He finds a new drink repulsive, but drinks it again and again, saying “Yes!!! I hate this!” (and then asks for more).

(and can I just digress wildly for a moment here and add that it took me only ONE SEARCH on YouTube to find this Star Trek clip that I remembered clearly from years ago? Thank you, Internet!)

The clip I'm referring to starts at 00:46...

I persevered. I kept doing yoga and yoga got easier. My back started feeling better. In fact, my entire body started feeling better. But here's the thing: the more yoga I did, the more everything around me started to look different. I realised that I hated being in debt. I hated my job. I regretted going for my MA. I hated where I was living. I deeply regretted my marriage (Yes, I was married. To a man.)

My whole life felt wrong. Slowly, bit by bit, it all began to unravel. I had changed.

I got out of the marriage, handled my own divorce and came to terms with my sexual orientation (I'm gay - I had known this since I was 13, but I was living out a 'normal life', in a desperate bid for my parents' approval). The divorce itself was a big thing but it was even bigger for me. I researched the laws at the library and wrote up the forms myself, dealt with the legal system and all the obstacles thrown in my path. For the first time, I started managing my own finances. I found my own apartment. Although I has been on my own since I was 17, I had never had my own space.

For years, I had been hiding. I had rarely spoken up for myself. I was a follower and I followed well. Then, all of a sudden, I was doing these breathtakingly brave things. I was taking care of myself. I had been brave before, but I don't think I had ever much considered what I really wanted or needed, let alone pondered the novel concept that I had a right to demand those things in my life.

Four years after starting a regular yoga practice, I was divorced, living on my own in an entirely different country, in a city which I loved, supported by a wide network of loving friends, participating in hobbies I was passionate about, in love with a complicated but lovely woman and on the verge of paying off my student loan debts with the six figure income of my new career. I was still doing yoga and though my life was a work-in-progress (I hated my job), I was evolving, instead of just taking up space.

So you can understand why I have a very difficult time hurling any kind of criticism whatsoever at any yoga system. From where I stand now, I think they're all golden. Iyengar-based Hatha Yoga is miraculous to me because it launched me into this new life. The classical Hatha Yoga my teacher H taught to me is precious because it was my first experience with joining a class and being part of a yoga community. My teacher M (who, for many years, I detested) introduced me to both Ashtanga (which, for many years, I detested) and Anusara. Both Anusara and M himself continue to challenge me. Ashtanga has become my home yoga practice.

When the student is ready, the teacher comes. Yoga has been my teacher. Every yoga system that I have encountered had lessons to teach me. I'm grateful for those lessons. The Ashtanga yoga system, which I've been doing as my home practice over the past 8 months, is a bit like that drink that Data couldn't stop himself from trying again and again. It has challenged me in new ways, made me stronger and given me the structure I need at this particular time in my life to develop and remain committed to a home yoga practice.

Right now, I find my yoga practice - both asana and meditation - deeply fulfilling. Yoga has become the thing that sustains me. Right now, Ashtanga yoga is the vehicle for my own personal transformation. I can only hope that as I continue to evolve, yoga will continue to challenge me to evolve.

Today: Full primary series in the mid-morning, because I slept in a bit. I had a deep and focused practice and everything felt very smooth and 'easy'. I enjoyed two amazing handstands. The idea of doing a handstand away from the wall is becoming increasingly plausible. I bound in Supta Kurmasana without effort, leaving me to wonder if this may be my latest breakthrough in this practice. I happily held headstand for 3 minutes. My 15 minute meditation sessions are feeling less onerous.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 166

Ha, ha. After describing my impossibly early schedule, it's pretty funny that I overslept this morning, ended up sleeping until 5:30, in fact. I was a bit late to the soup kitchen, which is bad because I was in charge of making toast today. Then, as if the universe was trying to tell me something, in the midst of my frantic toast making, the toaster caught on fire! I turned it off, filled my lungs with air and blew it out. Okay, it was a small fire, but still. There was applause in the kitchen. ;-)

I don't like it when my routine gets disrupted on a busy day. I get cranky. (Hello? Attachment, anyone?) So I was on overdrive all morning, but in a good way.

I skated for a half-hour after I finished at the soup kitchen and as I made my circles around the rink, I realised that I'm making progress towards the two skating goals I set for myself this winter: smooth crossovers on both sides while skating backward and feeling as comfortable skating backward as I do skating forward. Although it's tough to describe, I now feel feel 'at ease' when skating backward. I feel comfortable and happy. I don't feel like I'm going to fall, or run into someone, or not be able to transition smoothly back to forward skating when I need to (because I've worked on these transitions). This stuff is totally unrelated to yoga, but quite applicable to my other love, ice hockey.

And skating reminds me of headstand a bit - there's a comparison to be made here. For a long time, I always felt on edge while doing headstand in the middle of the room. Now I feel comfortable in the pose. Probably almost as comfortable in headstand as I do in Tadasana (simple standing). I would love to find that same ease in *handstand* - there's a new goal!

I blew through the Primary Series in a little over an hour today, a new record (and that was with over 4 minutes spent in headstand - a good song came on and I decided to stay in the pose for the duration of the song).

I had a fabulous practice. I didn't mess around or dawdle - I just did everything. And I had a few great moments. Binding in the Marichyasanas was solid - no breakthroughs but I did everything I already know how to do. I was actually able to bind in Supta Kurmasana, which surprised the heck out of me, because I rarely do that. Backbends felt amazing, strong.

Because I finished early, I was able to walk the dog and tidy the apartment and I'm nearly back 'on schedule'. I have a bunch of work to do this afternoon and then I teach all evening. Fridays feel like a holiday after this part of the week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Day 165

I live in an incredibly small city apartment that I've set up to function as a yoga space. My futon folds up, the coffee table goes on top of it and I move my zabuton/zafu on top of the coffee table. This clears enough space for my practice and enough that I could teach one student if I wanted to.

Then I sweep the floors, starting in the kitchen and moving toward the entryway. I also go over the floors with a Swiffer duster. It's very dusty in this building and I like my space to be clean when I practice. The sweeping takes less than 10 minutes.

When I get dressed and start my practice, it's usually at 5:30 a.m. on the dot.

If you haven't figured this out already, I'm a creature of routine. If I can establish a daily routine, I'll faithfully follow it like a good little lemming. A few times this month, I've been congratulated on my 'discipline' and asked how I come by it. It's really not heroic or difficult. I'm just following a script: get up, make the bed, sweep, practice. The routine has a tenacious momentum that carries me from practice to practice, day to day.

Seriously, it's the only way I'm able to survive my Wednesday/Thursday teaching schedule. These days are *brutal*.

So anyway, I was on the mat practising at 5:30 a.m. this morning. Full Primary Series. I'm binding again in Mari C & D, but not to wrist, just fingers. The twist feels funky, but I'm dealing with it. My digestive upset is still bugging me but I know what that's all about now, and it should subside in a few days.

My back was cranky this morning and backbends were difficult for the first time in days. This time, I could feel the difference. In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, I could actually sense that my back was not as 'bendy' as usual.

Headstand has been feeling really good and stable lately, so I've been having some fun with it. I've been lifting my head off the floor for five breaths, supporting the pose with my arm/shoulder strength. Half-bend has been getting easier, so today I played with that too. As I came out of the pose, I held it 3/4 of the way down and even hovered my toes an inch or so off the floor before light touching down. Fun!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day 164

Usually ice hockey doesn't affect my yoga practice and vice versa, although I have noticed that I've been taking harder shots (and more accurate ones) this season. But last night's game was particularly tough. We were playing against the top team in the league (they're undefeated) and we were doing it without a goaltender. I'm on defence, so I played a bit rougher than I normally would.

It was a hard game - we lost 2-0 and defence rotated through the net. I let one goal in - not my finest hour.

I went home and meditated before going to bed. It was interesting to notice the impact that hour of competitive scrambling had on my mind. I was literally buzzed. Lately, when I sit to meditate, I've noticed that my mind rebels in the initial minutes. Last night, I felt like a rodeo wrangler! I spent the first 7 minutes just trying to lasso my mind and it took me another minute to get that doggy on the ground and get it to stop wiggling around. Then I had about two minutes of true meditation. ;-) Tonight, I'm starting 15 minutes of meditation. More time for wrangling!

There were some physical reminders of the game that affected my practice this morning. I slept like that dead last night, but woke with a very tender spot on my left shin where I had blocked a hard wrist shot. My right foot is also sore (I vaguely remember a puck ricocheting off my skate). A right winger got testy when I lifted her stick, so she lifted her arm, HARD, and jammed my right elbow. My whole body ached this morning as I stood in Samasthitihi and started my practice.

I took it easy and didn't push myself too hard. I did every pose of the Primary Series, but took it down a notch. I particularly backed off from twists. I'm in the midst of some sort of digestive upset and twists are not feeling good to me right now, so I did a finger bind in Marichyasana C and didn't bind at all in Marichyasana D.

Backbends felt brilliant! I'm still working against the wall. Everything feels deeper and I feel much stronger. Today, for the first time, I noticed that my breath was completely normal (Ujjayi) in Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Day 163

It's really difficult to get up in the wee hours when you know that you don't really need to. I ended up sleeping in until almost 7 this morning and didn't get on the mat until 7:30. Once I started, I had a fabulous, very breath-focused practice.
A bunch of things that are sometimes tenuous were very good. My hips were very open today and this is interesting because I spent two hours at a friend's apartment yesterday drinking coffee and chatting. I sat on the floor for a good part of the two hours, usually in Padmasana or the legs portion of Gomukhasana. I felt stiff as I was leaving, but apparently, it was good fo me. Need to do more of that!

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana was very solid and stable - so rare for me to have good balance in the morning! Even bringing my leg out to the side didn't cause me to tumble over. I have been experimenting with my Drishte in this pose and I find that if I shift my gaze to the side and find a gaze point *before* bringing my leg to the opposite side, I'm far more stable (then shift my gaze back to front before bringing the leg back to front). The other big change in this pose is that I'm actually keeping my leg up (without holding on to the toe) for the full five breaths to conclude the pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana D). My quads used to cramp up when I tried this for more than a breath, so I seem to be building some strength here.

I had another good Garba Pindasana. I was able to cup my chin for a few breaths before doing my sloppy, but enthusiastic rolls. I'm not worrying so much about where my hands are as I roll. My main goal has been to complete the circle in 9 rolls (rather than 12 or 15 get the idea). For the readers who are non-Ashtangis, here's the deal: This pose consists of coming into Padmasana (full lotus), putting the arms through the legs, and bringing the hands up to the head, then rolling back and forth in a circle on the mat 9 times. On the 9th time, you come up into Kukkutasana. I made it in 9 rolls today! My next goal is to get Kukkutasana on the first try.

Backbends continue to get better and better every day. I worked against the wall today. This gives me a better point of reference for straightening my arms and pressing through the armpits. The only drawback to using the wall is that I have to walk my feet in instead of walking my hands in and I prefer the latter. The fabulous thing about backbends in general is that I'm comfortable enough staying in a backbend that I can worry about all of these intricacies and I'm not whining about how miserable I am. Gotta count my blessings!

Here's a photo of my work this morning. Go, armpits, go!

Urdhva Dhanurasana against the wall

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day 162

Ahhhhh! I *heart* Sundays.

I had every intention of waking up early this morning, but when my alarm when off I was very busy with a dream. I was on some sort of campus with lots of buildings identified by number. I had left my yoga mat in a room, in building 108 (I'm totally not making this up and I didn't even really comprehend the significance of the number until I typed it out just now). So I was searching for it. I kept running across memories of people from my childhood (I grew up on a sailboat, lived in marinas): Captain Al and his family who where my parents' dearest friends; George and June who used to give me big, fresh oranges to eat and they had a cat named Tom; the people who lived aboard the 'Faith' , and kept finches.

I always find myself growing bored as I read about other people's dreams, so I won't go on...suffice to say, it was deeply significant to me and I wasn't upset that I had 'overslept', especially since I woke up with plenty of time for yoga and a quick shower before heading to the soup kitchen.

Getting up to practice early on a Sunday is sometimes hard, but there's something deeply satisfying about heading to the soup kitchen to do my Karma Yoga with the knowledge that my Asana Yoga is already taken care of. It's also lovely to know that I can come home and listen to my favourite radio show and be lazy for the rest of the day! :-)

I had a good practice this morning - full primary, very focused, feeling strong. Interestingly, since starting WoYoPracMo, all of my practices have been very focused. A consequence of consistency, perhaps? I truly believe that when skipping my practice is absolutely not an option, I just jump on the mat and get on with it without fuss.

My back was full of morning crankiness but the backbends were happening for me nonetheless. These days, when I press up into Urdhva Dhanurasana, I brace myself for the full awfulness of it, only to be surprised by how relatively easy it is. It's almost anti-climatic. I read some great advice on Vanessa's blog today and may take that up, perhaps do a bit of backbending work in the evening, when my back is more open. I just watched another one of those Ana Forrest YouTube clips and I'm all “Oh! I want to do THAT!”

I'm still faithfully meditating each night before I go to bed. This week, I transitioned from 5-minute sessions to 10-minute sessions. It hasn't been all that different, though my mind protests a bit at the beginning.

On my very busy days (teaching 4 or more yoga classes), I bring my meditation timer with me on the subway. The subway ride home always feels like it lasts forever, but apparently it's only a little over 10 minutes, just enough time for me to meditate. When I move to 15 minute sessions next week, I'll have to brainstorm another way to fit meditation into those days!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Day 161

Normally, Saturday is my day off from yoga. I use the time to do my shopping and clean the apartment. Here's the routine: I get up and clean the bathroom and kitchen, then go to the regular grocery store early, before the crowds hit. I sort through the food and put everything away, prep some food for the coming week, cleaning the floors if I have time.

I teach a late morning yoga class down in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood on Saturday mornings. It's not a big-paying class, but it is a sentimental one - these students have faithfully followed me from gym to gym since I started teaching. They're truly a dedicated bunch. Walking into that studio is like walking into a room full of friends, so I look forward to it each week.

The studio is also within walking distance of the St. Lawrence Market, an amazing cornucopia of produce vendors peddling eye-popping varieties of vegetables, scrumptious bakeries, diverse speciality food vendors (including my beloved Ying Ying Soy Food) and meat shops if that's your thing (it's not mine, as I'm a vegetarian). There's also a farmer's market in the North Market where I buy my avocados and occasionally treat myself to a samosa at Raani Foods or banana cake baked homemade by a farmer's wife. I *love* going to the market. It's a special treat for me. And having a class in the same neighbourhood gives me an opportunity to stop in weekly.

With practice on Saturday, I've changed my routine. I now get up and walk the dog and practice for an hour and a half, then try to squeeze in some cleaning. Then I teach, do my shopping at a grocery store near the studio, then stop by the St. Lawrence Market (lately, I haven't been lingering as long). By the time I get home, put everything away and finish with food preparation for the week, it's already late afternoon.

This has given me a greater appreciation for my 'day off.' I use that time well! It also occurred to me today, as I was lugging groceries home in a knapsack and two huge reusable shopping bags (city life, no car, you make do) that Ashtanga has benefits outside of party tricks and eventual enlightenment: I'm a better human packhorse since I started doing all of those chaturangas daily.

I had a good practice today. I added my inversions back in today - I was really missing shoulderstand and headstand keenly. My back was feeling stiff and cranky, but my Urdhva Dhanurasanas were still relatively open which is rather amazing, considering how I was feeling. I think this is going to be a month of being constantly surprised by backbends. Makes me wonder what my backbends will look like next December...

I taught Purvottanasana heavily in my classes last week. This means 14 Purvottanasanas aside from the ones I do for my own practice. I never really thought about what muscled groups are used for the pose, but here's a clue: this weekend, my abs were a bit sore and my calves were very, very stiff. Ouch.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Day 160

There was no early morning practice for me today because I slept in, then laid around in bed playing on the computer. I did some clothes shopping, walked the dog, ate lunch and finally got around to doing my practice in the afternoon, a couple hours before leaving to teach a class.

I almost always love an afternoon practice and this one was no exception. Even though I'm in the midst of my 'lady's holiday', I was having such a good time that I actually forgot about that at times (but still passed on the inversions). It was a very strong, deep practice and I particularly enjoyed my backbends.

Yes, you read that correctly: I enjoyed Urdhva Dhanurasana.

In celebration, I took a photograph, certain that I would see significant improvement from the last time I took a photograph of my backbend.

State of the backbend, January 2008

Alas, it looks very much the same, it just feels much better. But, come to think of it, that in itself is a remarkable improvement, so I'll take it!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day 159

Today's practice ranks right up there amongst my very-worst-of-all-time. My lady's holiday started last night, I was tired and I had to get up especially early to practice because I work at the soup kitchen on Thursday mornings.

I was very, very cranky.

On the other hand, this was an interesting experiment to conduct. In all my years of practising yoga, I've almost always taken a break during my monthly cycle. I was curious to observe how my body would respond to yoga during this special type of stress. Would yoga feel the same? Would it feel different?

For the most part, I just felt sluggish but there were a few surprises. My low back is always cranky this time of month, and this one is no exception. I thought backbends would bother me, but quite the opposite happened: I didn't skip a single vinyasa between poses because Urdhva Mukha Svanasana was practically the only thing that felt good to me. I savoured each one of those little back bends (which, to my perception, felt like 'front stretches'). I was able to easily do three Urdhva Dhanurasana, without distress or complaint (I'm still amazed at my progress in backbends. I doubt my backbends look very different from the last time I took a photograph, but they certainly feel different to me).

Although I did as much of the full Primary Series as was appropriate, I did take my practice down a notch or two. I kept my twists (in Mari C & D) very gentle and I did modified versions of the Kurmasanas. And, of course, I didn't do any inversions in my practice. I skipped some entirely and for Sarvangasana/Sirsasana, I did five minutes of Viparita Karani. That was a genuine treat - a bit like wandering through Dante's Inferno and stumbling across a bowl of ice cream. You may say to yourself, “What the heck is THAT doing here?” but you're not going to look a gift horse in the mouth either. ;-)

As I did the rest of the closing sequence, it occurred to me that Pattabhi Jois is a very compassionate man. There's a very good reason we ladies are given a few days off at this time of month: practising just sucks. Now I know.

I think this morning's practice was the most challenging obstacle for me to overcome in achieving my WoYoPracMo goal (frankly, I've been dreading the prospect of practising during my lady's holiday, since WoYoPracMo started). I think it will be easy-peasy from here on out.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Day 158

Gusty winds woke me up sporadically during the night and from my window, I can see the whitecaps on Lake Ontario. We're having some seriously weird weather here. The last two days, it was rain and now it's dangerously high winds. I went to the ice rink this morning to skate, only to find the Zamboni Guy driving the Zamboni around collecting water (every minute or so, he dumped a cascade of water off the side and it poured across the square). The rink was like a lake (which isn't too odd, since it's actually a reflecting pool with fountains in the summer months). I stopped to chat with him for a moment and gave up on the skating idea - instead, I headed home to go for a walk. It's 4C out, but we had highs of 13C this week. Weird.

I was on the mat at 5:40 a.m. for full Primary. I had a good, strong practice and a quick one too. The pushups I've been doing in my vinyasas are now second nature and I decided to revert back to more traditional vinyasa. I had no idea how much time the extra step was adding to my practice. I started 10 minutes late, dawdled a fair bit and still finished before 7.

One interesting consequence of this change is that I'm not as tired in the upper body by the time I get to the Marichyasana poses. Coming into Marichyasana C, binding to fingers just didn’t feel 'right' to me. It didn't feel stable. So I did a wrist bind on the right side and realised that I can keep myself balanced (and not feel like I'm leaning backward or lifting my foot off the floor) by engaging the arm that wraps around the leg. It felt so good (and believe me, Mari C never feels good these days), that I tried it on the left, doing the wrist bind. It was a bit more difficult than the right side, but it felt okay.

The other big surprise was backbends. My lower back felt cranky this morning (I'm on the cusp of my lady's holiday), so I assumed that Urdhva Dhanurasana would be unpleasant. It wasn't. In fact, I was able to easily hold it for five breaths each time. This seems to be happening more and more. Backbends are getting easier. I almost don't believe it.

And finally, one funny little observation: I woke this morning to soreness in my thumb mounds (from all of the 'rooting down through the thumb mound' stuff I was doing yesterday). I guess this is a part of my body that I'm just not used to engaging with any regularity! If I keep it up, I may become the 'go-to' person at the soup kitchen for bottle lids that won't open!! ;-)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Day 157

Today, I discovered my toe mounds. And my thumb mounds.

On some level, I'm sure I've always been aware of them if, for no other reason, my Ashtanga-turned-Anusara teacher M mentions them about every 3 seconds or so in his classes. But this morning I felt like a little infant who had just discovered her feet. Feet!!! Who knew!!!??

It all started in the sun salutations when I began exploring different distributions of weight in my feet during Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog). I had asked my students to do this in Tadasana yesterday because I noticed that a few of them were struggling to balance in Vrksasana. We all stood on one foot and shifted weight to different parts of our feet.

What I discovered this morning was that rooting down through the big toe mound makes me feel stronger in the pose and it's also easier to keep my heels planted on the firmly on the floor. It also made me feel like the musculature in my legs was activated in a particularly intense way. In Chaturanga Dandasana - and especially in the 'push up' I do after - I could feel the muscles in my trunk and shoulders engaging in concert to bring me back up to plank. Sometimes I find that I'm letting my arms do all the work in that push-up and that's when my middle body sags and I feel like I might be straining my back. Good to know.

So, big toe mounds, thumb mounds. I'm sure this little tip not 'hot news' - it's probably spelled out very precisely in one of the half-dozen Ashtanga books I have lying around the apartment at the moment. But these little things are always so much more meaningful when I stumble across them myself, rather than read them on a page.

Today: Primary Series in full. Amazing Garba Pindasana, even though I fell on my side once and couldn't get up (laughing my head off at 6 a.m. - the neighbours must think I'm nuts!). My back was surprisingly open today - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana felt very soft and liquid. Urdhva Dhanurasana didn't make me want to cry the way it usually does.

And yes, it's a Moon Day. Traditionally, Ashtangis do not practice yoga on the days of the new and full moons. During a normal month, I would enjoy the day off and make it special - do something fun, go for a walk, celebrate it. It felt a bit odd practising today, but I figure that it won't kill me to do this for a month. And I still get to eat a cupcake! ;-)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Day 156

Woke at 5 a.m. and was on the mat by 5:30. It was really hard to peel myself out of bed, but I have tonnes to do today, as it's my first day back 'at work' after my holiday.

When it was all over and done, I was definitely glad that I had made the effort because I felt great! I gently flowed through the Primary Series in an hour and a half - I knew that I had finished in exactly on time because the construction crew started their engines at 7 a.m. sharp!

I had trouble binding in Mari D this morning, don't know what's up with that. Gave it a second try and I had it. Garba Pindasana has been particularly good lately. You know those 'invisible holes' in the legs where the arms go through? Well, they seem to be getting bigger! I was able to put my arms through to the elbow and touch my head yesterday and again today (alas, there was no head touching as I rolled).

The rest of my day will be absorbed in business-related details, mainly bookkeeping and planning what I'm going to teach in my yoga classes for the next two months. Basically, everything that I've putting off for the past three weeks. It's finally caught up with me! I also teach a noon yoga class - the schedule kicks back in this week!

The dog needs to be groomed - this will probably be done in the afternoon. And I play an ice hockey game tonight.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Day 155

This was one of those mornings when the alarm went off and I mumbled 'Fat chance!', hit the snooze button and went right back to sleep. I got to bed at a decent hour last night, but mysteriously woke up in the middle of the night. I finally got up, made some camomile tea and read for awhile. Then I slept like the dead until the non-alarm.

I still got up in plenty of time to do my practice (Full Primary Series + five minutes meditation) and shower before heading to my volunteer shift at the soup kitchen. It always amazes me how well practice goes even if I'm feeling tired and numb to start. It rarely fails: by the time I'm through the 10 Surya Namaskara, I'm feeling perkier. I need to remind myself of this when I'm reluctant to get up and do my practice (”I'm too tired!”).

I was feeling fussy when I returned home so I reorganised the kitchen counters. As part of my clutter-clearing campaign, I'm getting rid of my old microwave that I've carried around with me since my second year of university. I don't eat processed foods, so I rarely use it. This cleared up a bunch of space and everything looks so open and clean now.

Also (and, believe it or not, this is Ashtanga-related), after five years in this particular apartment, I've finally put up proper shades on the windows. What a difference this makes in terms of heat! It's so much warmer in here now, plus I have greater privacy. The shades may explain why I've had sweaty practices lately, despite the very cold weather we were having.

In the winter, the sun shines directly in the windows. I bought light filtering blinds, so when it's sunny out the entire apartment is lit with this beautiful white light! It's heaven to practice with. I'm really loving it.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Day 154

I tried a little experiment this morning. Rather than jump right into my practice after I woke up, I did a few tasks around the apartment for an hour. Nothing too strenuous - tidied up the kitchen and put dishes away, swept the floors, made the bed, got everything ready for the class I would be teaching later in the morning. I even took the dog out.

Alas, this little warm-up did nothing for me. My body was still stiff and unrelenting as I practised. Oh well, it was worth a try. It did buy me some time later on, so I was able to enjoy a leisurely brekkie and tea before dashing off to teach. This alone is worth the effort it takes to get up for an early morning practice.

So, it's Saturday! And yet I did the full Primary Series because that's the goal I've set for myself. I had a good practice right up to Baddha Konasana, then I felt really, really tired. But I persevered.

I've come to a decision regarding Marichyasana C. I'm going to stop trying to bind to the wrist because it effects the integrity of the pose, breaks my momentum (because it's so hard to grab those wrists) and causes me to breath really shallowly. Obviously, I'm not ready for it, so I'm going to back off and try to find the ease in the pose, with faith that it will come along when it's ready.

This has made a huge difference for me: I don't dread Mari C anymore. I still dread Urdhva Dhanurasana, but that's kinda par for the course, right? ;-)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Day 153

I looked at my calendar last night and realised that today is the last day on my calendar that has absolutely nothing scheduled on it (for the next two months, I'll be incredibly busy). Nothing official, that is. I knew I would go for a walk, do yoga, walk to the pet store to buy dog food and stop by the library to pick up a pile of books. But no classes, no soup kitchen, no meetings, no privates. Nada.

I celebrated by sleeping in!

Then I got up, went walking with the dog for an hour and did my practice. It took me a good 20 minutes to really feel like I was flowing through the Primary Series. My body was more open, but my mind was absolutely frantic. My mind did not want to be on the yoga mat.

Still, I had an enjoyable practice. I played ice hockey for an hour and a half last night, so I noticed that my right arm was sore and tired, there was a lot of tension in my shoulders and upper back and my hips were tight. But backbends, while not easy, were not excruciating today.

Now: Shower, lunch, dog food, library and I'm going to go enjoy the rest of my empty day.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Day 152

I practised very, very early this morning because I work at the soup kitchen early on Thursday mornings. Plus, today I had errands to run during the day and then I played and hour-and-a-half of shinny (pick-up ice hockey with a bunch of girls from my recreational league) followed by dinner and karaoke. Fun, but *yawn*, I'm beat!

Okay, I know what you're wondering: how early is early? Early is 4:15 a.m. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but I do like the early mornings - there's something magical about that too-early-to-be-awake hour. And, as an added bonus, I didn't have to worry about fitting yoga into my day later on.

As of next week, I'll have to do this anyway, because I have a heavy teaching schedule on Thursdays (and teach until 10 p.m. Good times.) In fact, it will be interesting to see how the realities of my busy January schedule effects my hour-and-a-half daily practice. Very interesting.

Anyway, I had a good, hot sweaty practice this morning. My back felt relatively open and I was very focused. Funny, even though I'm often tired in the morning, I'm usually very focused and move through my yoga practice without any dawdling, even if I don't necessarily need to rush off anyplace afterward. Since I'm not allowing myself any alternative but to do it, the full Primary Series doesn't seem as long or hard. I don't know if that makes sense - basically, I don't have any choice, so I just get down to business and do it.

I've been meditating every evening. I honestly wasn't sure where meditation was going to land in my schedule but it seems to have settled in right before I go to bed. At the moment, I'm only doing five minutes, which is very easy and reassuring; the time just floats by and I'm always surprised when my meditation alarm goes off.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Day 151

I got an early start this morning, stepping onto my mat at 6:15 a.m. Once again, my back wasn't open at all and I felt stiff and rigid in many poses. I've been mulling this over, trying to figure out if there is something easy I could do (go for a short walk, perhaps?) that would warm up my body and bring more openness into my poses in the morning. I could easily take the dog for a brief walk for about 20 minutes or so (although this morning, I would have frozen my tail off if I had tried - the wind chill is -25C).

My practice is very good and steady right now on so many levels: flow, breath, driste. I'm not making any great leaps of progress, but just the daily work of it feels like progress to me. I'm continuing with the little 'push-ups' to plank after every Chaturanga Dandasana. I've come to a point where this is hard work, but it's not exhausting work. I believe I am becoming stronger.

My Maris are mostly the same, though I've lost the wrist bind on the left side of Marichyasana C. I think that morning stiffness has a lot to do with this. I've also lost the very brief spell of binding in Supta Kurmasana. For now, I'm working on 'holding on' to my lower back in hopes that eventually, my fingers will come closer together, but I'm not pushing it.

Garba Pindasana entertains me on a daily basis. I always get my arms through and I always manage Kukkutasana, but I'm not bringing my hands anywhere near my face or head and I'm not trying to. The pose just confounds me.

Janu Sirsasana C is really coming along. I'm being patient with the left side, which is the holdout. I stretch the left foot every day and approximate the posture as best I can. I'm convinced that if I keep doing this, there will be an opening and I'll be able to do it.

I think that's one of the gifts that the Ashtanga practice has bestowed to me: the notion that if you work hard, consistently, everything will unfold as it should. And, for me at least, the value is in this journey - the daily journey to the mat, the work, the focus.

KarmaPod Update:
In the wee hours of the New Year, I found an iPod in the snow (see the full story on Day 150). I phoned Apple on New Year's Day, but they were not open on the holiday. I tried again today and totally got the run-around. Apple Customer Support does nothing to make it easy for a person to be honest. They literally have no procedure in place for facilitating the return of a lost iPod. Apparently, it just doesn't happen, which is a sad thing, in my opinion.

I hate being on the phone, but that's how I spent my morning. First, I was put on hold for nearly a half-hour, only to be transferred to another number, where I was put on hold for over an hour. I gave up and called another number, where I encountered a nasty 'customer service' associate who told me I should have just kept waiting at that first number and then she told me snarkily: “Why don't you just keep the iPod?!” And *then* she HUNG UP on me.

I finally called an Apple Sales number I found on the Apple web site. I lucked out: a truly wonderful Apple Employee listened to my story and then went above and beyond the call of duty to help me. She called in her three managers and then used the iPod serial number to locate its owner. She found the contact information and after some discussion, the posse of managers directed me to leave the iPod at a main police station. I gave them the address of the station and told them I would drop the iPod there within the hour. They, in turn, phoned and emailed the iPod's owner to alert him/her where it could be recovered.

I thanked the lovely customer service associate profusely for her help, but she in turned thanked me and said: “God will bless you for your honesty” which I found rather sweet.

I rode the subway to 52 Division where a dour-faced officer took the iPod and had me fill out a property claim form for it. I explained the situation (that someone would likely come in looking for it) and he logged it. He told me to come back in three months with my receipt. If the iPod has not been claimed, I can keep it.

I left contact information with the iPod. I'm hoping that I may hear from the owner of the KarmaPod, so I'll know that it found its way home.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Day 150

I rang in the New Year with friends and it was loads of fun. Lots of yummy food, great conversation, and really good music. I was pretty good about not going overboard with the sweets - I enjoyed a few of my own Fabulous Butter Cookies and some rice krispie squares, but I left the chocolates and the cake alone. I learned all over again that some people are always happy to knock the people around them who are 'eating healthy' (”Look at all of you, eating vegetables...”). I didn't let that stop me from reaching for another yummy slice of orange pepper.

I also learned something that I'm sure all of you seasoned Ashtangi's probably already know: the best way to describe the kind of yoga we do is just to say “You know, the yoga Madonna does...” This explanation elicited nods all around, whereas 'vinyasa' and even 'power yoga' drew puzzled looks.

I left the party at 3 a.m., certain that I would be able to take the subway home. Alas, the trains had already closed and I was stuck walking, then taking a bus, then walking from there. This is the only reason that I just happened to be walking down my old street, right down the middle of the street actually (because it's the least snowy place to walk when we're having a snow storm and the walks haven't been shovelled yet).

And that's the only reason I traversed the snowbank. As I climbed over the bank to reach the sidewalk, the snow was coming down so heavy I nearly didn't spot it. But there was a glint in the snow, lit by the streetlight. I paused and decided to investigate. The glint was from a nearly new 30gb iPod. It had obviously dropped out of someone's pocket into the snow.

There's somebody out there who is seriously bummed out about their iPod. And it's fortunate that I found it because the plows would have certainly covered it up by morning.

So I'm starting WoYoPracMo with a little bit of Karma Yoga. I checked the settings of the iPod and jotted down the serial (the owner helpfully included his/her name as the name of the device). According to the AppleCare web site, the serial number has an AppleCare plan assigned to it. I will be able to phone AppleCare later in the day and hopefully get in touch with this iPod's owner, in order to return it.

I'll keep you updated on my progress by adding addendums to this post, so stayed tuned! Karma Yoga is so much fun! :-)

By the time I was home and settled, it was already after 4 a.m., so I did what any crazy Ashtangi would do faced with a night of no sleep and too much dancing (but no alcohol - all I drank at this party was green tea and water). I unrolled my mat and did the Primary Series. I was feeling good and very awake so I had a good practice. This is actually the first early morning practice I can ever recall where my back was open enough to feel happy in Urdhva Dhanurasana.

But of course, I haven't slept yet. I'm going to catch up on a few things, then catch a streetcar down to the rink to take Zamboni Guy some coffee and do some skating.

And then, finally, I'm going to come home and get some sleep!

Happy 2008, everyone. It's going to be a fabulous year! :-)