Monday, March 31, 2008

Day 222

I woke early for my practice this morning. I'm still getting over this cold, so there was a lot of coughing and noseblowing happening between postures. Besides that, I eased into a good flow. Nothing very exciting to report.

My shoulder is completely back to normal. I'm not quite sure when this happened. It just seemed like one day the pain was there and the next it wasn't. Weird.

This is the last day of March - already! I can't believe how quickly this month passed by. It was a good month in many ways, difficult in others. Some emotional stuff earlier in the month brought on periods of low energy and angst - and I ate too many cookies. ;-) Lots of good stuff, too: I had 21 days of yoga practice, said good-bye to the ice rink (and skated for about an hour a day for much of the month), and relaunched my daily walks. I cleaned up my diet (again!), faithfully following my food plan from about March 10th and onward. I hope this momentum will carry me forward into the new month.

April will be a month for (hopefully) warmer weather, lots of yoga, daily walks, my BIRTHDAY (!), seasonal produce, and the Spring Debut of my fabulous, faithful, foldable, bicycle who carries me everywhere in the warmer months. Getting back into cycling will likely result in the return of tight hip flexors.

I'm looking forward to a good month! :-)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Day 221

I had a lovely day off yesterday - no yoga, not even restorative, though I did teach a class in the morning.

I went to the St. Lawrence Market and wandered around, trying tonnes of samples and buying some treats for the coming week (samosas!). There's a vendor of fresh pasta at the market. I don't often eat pasta, but I tried a sample of his cheese ravioli with a tomato cheese sauce and it was sublime. I bought a Pecan Shortbread cookie at Futures Bakery and nibbled on it as I walked around.

I'm continuing to experiment with 'computer free' time - I decided to do more of this over the weekend. I put away the computer after supper on Friday evening and didn't log on again until this morning. I immediately sensed the free time just open up. It was like magic: with no computer to distract me, I decided I might as well walk the dog. After a few hours of this, my focus and attention span adjusted. I did a lot of reading, went for a couple of walks, and cleaned the apartment. On Saturday night, I went out with friends.

I don't do enough of this. I don't talk about dating very much on this site, but I am single and I'm-never-going-to-meet-someone-if-I-don't-go-out. During the winter, when it's cold, it's easy enough to make excuses about the weather and just stay in. And then there's the whole Ashtangi thing that has been discussed ad naseum elsewhere. Going out with friends can be tricky because no one heads to a bar at 6 p.m. unless they're eating supper. My bedtime is around 9ish. Since 'going out' typically happens well after 10 p.m., I'm often too sleepy to really enjoy myself.

But it's not impossible - I have a strategy and last night it worked for me.

I went to bed around 6 and slept for three hours, which left enough time to eat supper and get dressed. I was at the bar by 10:30 and I felt wide awake. I stayed the entire evening (I'm notorious amongst my friends for ducking out early), dancing and chatting and enjoying myself. I really did have fun! At 2 a.m., we all went out for pizza! I rarely eat pizza so it was such a treat. I was back home and asleep by 3 a.m. and slept until 7 a.m. (of course, I'm used to getting up early so sleeping in late is sometimes hard).

I had a good practice. I seem to be back in a headspace where I'm enjoying my practice again. I did my thing - full vinyasa, binding in all the poses and binding to wrist in the poses that I can. Handstands were strong, headstand was stable. Today, I added the little 'push-up' into the vinyasa between some of the poses. I would like to build some more strength to improve my jumpthroughs (which have been so-so).

After breakfast, I turned on the computer but after I post this, I'm going to put the it away for the rest of the day. It's beautiful out. I want to walk the dog up to the Big Park, then I'm going to the Grey Café for lunch. There are a few things I need to pick up at the grocery store too. In the afternoon, I'm taking the subway out to High Park - Toronto's wonderful big city park. My dog loves to run on the off-leash trails there.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Day 220

Last year, before I reluctantly started fooling around with the Primary Series, I had a pretty solid home practice (Hatha and Anusara) and I went to classes whenever I could. I regularly attended Teacher M's Anusara classes on Fridays. Teacher H saw me less often because our teaching schedules are nearly identical; when she has classes, I'm teaching classes.

My schedule lightened for a few weeks last Spring and I dropped by one of Teacher H's advanced classes. It was a challenging class and I recall that I greatly enjoyed it. I've been studying with H for many years and the class highlighted the areas where my practice had deepened and the places I still struggled.

Near the end of the class, I had a moment of epiphany when H taught Sirsasana. I clearly remember dragging my mat to the wall that day. Even then, I had a solid, strong headstand, but I felt irrevocably tied to the wall. And I knew what was causing it: fear. I was too afraid to work in the middle of the room. Even though I could do the pose, I felt a sense of humiliation about it. I felt like my yoga practice was going nowhere.

On the subway home that day, I made a pact with myself: the next time I attended H's class, I would do Sirsasana in the middle of the room, unassisted. In retrospect, it seems silly and a tad vain. It just bothered me that I was afraid. I felt like I had something to prove because I'm a yoga teacher. Yes, ego definitely played a role.

But I also think I was on to something important.

Life went on. My schedule didn't allow me time to attend classes. I started doing Ashtanga in my home practice over the summer and Sirsasana became a daily routine for me. I became stronger in the pose, conquered half-bend, learned to come up with straight legs. And yes, I finally left the wall behind, doing the pose in the middle of my small apartment and holding it for longer and longer intervals (My main tool for this has been 'Musical Sirsasana': holding the pose for the length of one song, usually around 4 minutes).

Fast forward to this week.

My thoughts have been percolating about my experience in Teacher H's class this week and last. I knew, without a doubt, that these classes would be an awesome measure of how far I've come, and they were. My practice is simply unrecognisable from what it was just 9 months ago. Familiar poses were deeper. Poses that I had always avoided, I had mysteriously mastered. It was a surprise to me that the skills and strength I had developed in Ashtanga were transferable!

Without a doubt, I owe this to Ashtanga and my hard work in the practice. The Primary Series has given me new strength in my standing poses, flexible hamstrings and the ability to do backbends with greater ease. This last item is huge with me. I was floored at how easily and joyfully I came into Ustrasana last night. I did the pose with a depth and ease that was inaccessible to me last year. Backbending is not my forte, but it's finally entered the realm of 'the possible'.

But if I were to offer a 'defining moment' from the classes, it would be this:
At the end of class last night, I calmly and strongly came into a headstand in the middle of the room and held the pose for three minutes. Then I calmly came down, no muss, no fuss. The *feeling* of doing this was profound: I had complete and total confidence in myself and my abilities. Given my history with the pose and the class, it was unbelievably empowering.

My practice has deepened in so many ways that I don't feel like the same person who walked into that room 9 months ago. In many ways I'm not. I'm stronger, I'm lighter, I'm more certain. But the confidence I've gained is the most priceless gift. I'm still floating on that high.


I had a good, fun, early practice this morning. I didn't rush it and enjoyed a long Savasana, followed by a big breakfast and a long walk with the dog. It was a good yoga week over all. I believe that the classes gave me the support and inspiration I needed to climb out of my 'yoga slump.' Getting back to my early schedule was also helpful.

Tomorrow is my day off. I'll be back on Sunday. This week, I'll be writing some interesting posts in response to questions my five readers have raised in the comments or sent via email (I'm documenting this to keep myself accountable more than anything):

Modified Closing: I'll be sharing some of my thoughts about closing sequence and offering a description of how I modify it when my back/neck/hamstrings or entire body (!) is cranky.

Staying on top of things: Thoughts and tips on keeping organised. I'll describe some of the tools and strategies I use to organise my time and living space.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Day 219

I've been fighting a bit of a cold over the past week and last night, I woke up coughing and couldn't get back to sleep. This threw a wrench in my Grand Plan to get up insanely early and do my practice before going to the soup kitchen. It just wasn't going to happen. I'm shaking my head as I write this - I mean, seriously, what was I thinking?!

I have NO MEMORY of shutting off my alarm clock, but that's exactly what I did. And when I woke, I had just enough time to throw some fruit and bran cereal into a few plastic containers (breakfast on the train) and be on my way.

Karma Yoga at the soup kitchen was fun, as it always is. All my favourite people were there. While I was down there, I walked by the rink to see how much melt had taken place and was surprised to see that the ice was fully intact, though very rough (very nearly skate-able, if you want to ruin the edge on your skates). The weather has been cold enough to maintain it without Zamboni or chiller.

I practised yoga after my walk, but it wasn't the same. I missed the early morning, pre-dawn vibe. I felt unmotivated. I decided to go with that vibe and tone down the practice a bit. For today, this translated into less intense binds in the Maris, no vinyasa at all in closing, and a long, leisurely Savasana.

Yeah, you read that correctly: I was rockin' the long Savasana. Maybe I am making some progress after all! ;-)

I also don't need to be kicking my own ass in yoga today because my teacher will be doing that for me - I'm going to her class tonight. So it will be three hours of yoga for me today.

Go ahead, call me excessive.

Except for this: I get to go to a yoga class and not be responsible for the sequence, timing the postures, the safety of the students or adjustments. For an hour-and-a-half, someone will be telling *me* what to do. It's such a luxurious thought that I'm actually looking forward to it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day 218

I managed to wake early to do my practice again this morning.

It's very, very, very difficult to wake up, get out of bed and get moving early in the morning. But once I get on the mat, I find that I have less mental resistance to practice and I even enjoy it more! This has been a revelation for me.

I also love getting it out of the way - in the sense that I have a feeling of accomplishment the rest of the morning. And I don't need to schedule it into my day.

Physically, I seem to be on some kind of plateau in my practice. I'm not making any great leaps, but there's a lot of subtle stuff going on just under the surface. I think it's all manifesting in my reluctance to practice and all the little games I play with myself just to get on the mat and stay there for an hour-and-a-bit.

What really fascinates me about the Primary Series is that it's the same thing day after day, yet it's NOT the same thing at all. My practice right now is a completely different animal from my practice of February, or January or last July. My body feels different, my mind feels different.

Something has changed and I can't put my finger on it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day 217

I usually don't blog about my night time dreaming because, quite frankly, I find it boring as hell when other bloggers do it and why would I want to inflict that on anyone else?

But this one is too good not to share. I promise not to go into exhausting detail, okay?

First, some background information. I don't have family in Canada. My family lives mostly in the States, mostly in California, and they mostly think I'm nuts for living up here, but I digress...

I do, however, have people who are 'like family' living in Canada. They are the extended family of a former partner who I still keep in close touch with. The siblings in this family have managed to produce a huge brood of children, every single one of them girls. It's like the ultimate Girl Posse. I love visiting. I'm the fun, cool Auntie who comes from the city and they adore me. All the fun of family with none of the baggage? Priceless!

Anyway...

In the dream, I was going out to Brampton to visit them. It was evening and I could see that they were home because the lights were on and the little girls were crowded up to the window, all inexplicably dressed in grey t-shirts with their names silk-screened in yellow (Okay, I know you didn't need to know that little detail - BORING - but I'm setting the scene here...). One of them shouted “It's Auntie -----” and as I waited at the door, I heard the oldest girl say sternly “Don't let her in! She's supposed to be doing her YOGA PRACTICE.”

Huh? Who, me? Oh yeah...well.

Okay, fine.

The alarm went off I got out of bed and got on with it. I was propelled to the mat by my dream-guilt.

It was not easy getting up in the wee hours this morning because I had a late hockey game and didn't get home until almost 11. To add insult to injury, I played a horrible game. Plenty of reason to feel sorry for myself, but no, I didn't give in to my self pity! I got up! I practised, meditated, ate breakfast and even went for long walk.

Practice was typical of the early morning: a bit stiff, no balance to speak of, a tiny bit distracted but I stayed focused for the most part.

Still working on keeping a consistent Ujjayi breath. This is much harder than it should be. I've noticed that when I manage it, my practice goes really well, so it's worth the effort. I think it's a matter of building the habit/pattern of Ujjayi into my practice and I've just been lazy about it.

I opened this entry with a boring description of a dream, so I'll close it in another, boring, clichéd, fashion: complaining about the weather, which we do SO well here in Canada.

It's -5 and another, yes ANOTHER, snow storm is moving in: 5 centimetres of snow is forecast. Go ahead, you California people, laugh at me. I deserve it for moving up here.

*sniff*

Monday, March 24, 2008

Day 216

Today was another holiday (Easter Monday), so there was an easy-going vibe in the neighbourhood. Many people were home, out walking their dogs, playing with their children in the park. I didn't have anywhere I needed to go (except for ice hockey tonight). Of course, Mondays are always my day off, so I guess I just felt doubly lazy! ;-)

I did my yoga practice in the afternoon, full Primary Series, after my walk. I enjoyed walking - there's something so soothing and meditative about a long, brisk walk and it was a beautiful day out. It's still not very warm here, but at least it was sunny.

I find it easier to practice after walking too - easier to motivate myself to the mat and smoother going once I get there. I'm not sure why, though being somewhat warmed up probably has something to do with it. I'm looking forward to those bright summer mornings when it's light enough early enough for me to go for a walk *before* doing an early morning yoga practice.

Today's practice was good. My focus was on Ujjayi breathing. Lately, I've found that my breathing is inconsistent. In Teacher H's class last week, I found myself a bit distracted by following her instruction and I forgot my Ujjayi. So today I fell back into that rhythm.

I think this will be my task for the rest of the week. I'll be going back to her class again on Thursday evening, so that will be a good test!

Before my break, Michelle left a comment asking about how my meditation practice was going. I'm still meditating nearly every day, though it's often for no more than 5 minutes. I'm really trying to keep some consistency with my meditation practice and not worry about the length of the meditation. I find that I definitely benefit from even 5 minutes of meditation. I also find that the more consistent I am, the easier it is to meditate for longer periods when I have time to.

I'm slowly getting caught up with my backlog and will be responding to more comments tomorrow.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Day 215

I'm back!

I enjoyed my windfall Ashtanga holiday very much and kept busy during most of it. A few highlights:

Auntie Flo: Kicked. My. Ass. It's been a very long time since I was THAT miserable during my cycle. I spent much of two days in bed, huddled in a fetal position. Not fun.

Internet fast: I tried to stay off the computer, particularly the Internet, as much as possible over the past week. I had mixed success with this. If anything, it made me realise how much I use my computer in my day to day life (apparently, I can't survive without Google, the 'net is my conduit to the public library and I love email WAY too much) and how much I rely upon the WWW for distraction and entertainment (particularly RSS feeds). Good food for thought. I have some ideas about positive changes I can make in this area of my life. Stay tuned!

Sleeping in: Loved it! Every morning, no alarm clock, no compelling reason to get up early. And I didn't feel the least bit guilty about it, either. In fact, I was pretty lazy overall during the week, falling behind on things I really shouldn't have let slide. I honestly don't know where the time went some days. Come to think of it, isn't it time for my afternoon nap?! ;-) Seriously, I anticipate some big-time problems getting back into my early-morning routine. Or any routine.

Reading: Not as much as I would have liked, but I did crack open some amazing books. My goal is to read two books a week this year and so far, I'm falling behind. I'd like to structure some reading time back into my life.

Yoga: Yes, yoga. Even though I left the Primary Series well enough alone for five days, I did do some yoga. On Thursday night, I visited my teacher H and enjoyed an hour-and-a-half of Intermediate level Hatha Yoga. She gave me a great adjustment in Parsvakonasana and taught two second series poses to keep me entertained, but otherwise it was pretty typical Hatha. The next day, my side body was sore - probably due to the intense Parivritta Janu Sirsasana series she taught. Owie. Teacher M is out of town so I'll catch his class another time.

Restorative Yoga: On Moon Day and Saturday, I did some Restorative Yoga. Teacher H has a Restorative Yoga CD, which I purchased on Thursday. On Friday, I stopped by Sebastian's place and picked up a new yoga bolster (Yay! This is a great addition to my whole let's-try-to-enjoy-Savasana project as well as for the restorative practice). I broke the bolster in on Friday. To be honest, I had trouble getting into the restorative vibe and bailed after 35 minutes. But on Saturday, I took a long hot bath before I got on the mat and THIS made a huge difference. I found that I genuinely enjoyed the quieter practice. It's something new to look forward to on my days off from Ashtanga and I think I'll really benefit from it.

Ice skating: We said a sad goodbye to Mr. Zamboni Guy earlier in the week - his contract didn't allow him to work past Tuesday. I brought a batch of my Fabulous Butter Cookies and we held an impromptu party in the rink office, with rink monitors Skinny Guy and Pigtail Girl in attendance. I spent a lot of time at the rink over the weekend and on Sunday, I skated for over three hours. Because it was the last day of the season, most of the usual suspects showed up, including Newbie and his wife, Mrs. Newbie (both have become fantastic skaters over the course of the season), Slick (the amazing skater), Mr. Oblivious (who skates around randomly, running into people. I suspect he does this on purpose), Montreal Fan and his wife, Mrs. Montreal Fan, Ordinary Joe and Figure Skating Guy (who has been coming to the rink for as long as I can remember - this is going back about 9 years). FSG and I were the last to leave, finally taking off our skates in the mid-afternoon. We shook hands and shooks our heads in disbelief that the season has already passed (seems like it just started!). I'll see him next November. Until then, I'll be rollerbading and...

Walking: I pulled out my walking shoes! Another season of hoofing it around my neighbourhood has officially started! In the warmer months (read: no ice), I walk for an hour daily. Last season, I managed to get a walk in every single day and I intend to do the same this year. Today, the dog and I walked up to the big park. I can't believe how much snow is still on the ground. Usually it's cleared by now. The weather has been gorgeous these past few days and it can only get warmer, right?

I had a difficult time motivating myself to get on the mat today, in part because I was exhausted and I seem to be fighting a bit of a cold too. But I decided to 'just do it' and did. I had a surprisingly good, strong practice. My legs were a little tired, but my arms felt fine. I expected that I would be stiff after a five-day break, but my body felt very open. I'm wondering if the restorative yoga I practised contributed to this. I felt particularly open in the hips and hamstrings.

Overall, I found that I missed my yoga practice in much time same way I might miss an old lover who I'm nostalgic for but no longer attached to: I missed the *idea* of doing yoga, but I was also really digging that 'extra few feet in my bed', to quote the old Cowboy Junkies song.

I'll fall in love again - just wait! Waking up with my alarm would be a good start, though!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On holiday...

Just a reminder that I won't be posting to this blog (or responding to comments, answering emails, etc) for the next few days. I'm using this time off of my practice to also to take a bit of an 'Internet Vacation' and spend some time away from the computer.

I'll be back on Sunday.

Have a good week, everyone.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Day 214

“The challenge of yoga is to go beyond our limits - within reason. We continually expand the frame of mine by using the canvas of the body. It is as if you were to stretch a canvas more and create a larger surface for painting. But we must respect the present form of our body. If we pull too fast or too much at once, we will rip the canvas. If the practice of today damages the practice of tomorrow, it is not correct practice.”

- BKS Iyengar

This passage leapt out of me in the book I'm currently reading (Light on Life), particularly since Elise recently attended a workshop by David Williams that addresses this topic. Not only does Elise provide a very useful and informative summary of the workshop, but David Williams himself edited it for clarity. Definitely worth checking out. I've never attended any of David's workshops, but his approach to the Ashtanga system deeply resonates with me (A link to David's 'Letter to My Students' is in my sidebar).

All of this makes me feel a bit less sheepish in admitting that I've been skipping some poses in the Primary Series. First of all, let it be known that I don't do Chakrasana at all and, short of some experimentation here and there, I haven't even been working on it. In the closing sequence, I've started modifying Matsyasana and Uttana Padasana, working with straight legs in the former (to give myself a better foundation of support) and keeping my arms to the floor in the latter, so the full weight of my body is not on my head. I no longer practise Setu Bandhasana.

My concern is for my cervical spine. Though I'm not willing to say that I'll *never* do these poses, I can say affirmatively that I will not do them until I have the physical strength to ensure that there is no compression in the vertebrae of my neck.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that the ongoing issues with my left shoulder/upper back are completely unrelated to my neck and my yoga practice (although the hockey injury certainly triggered it). Easing up on Matsyasana and Uttana Padasana went a long way towards loosening up the tension in my left upper back (it's been feeling much better). Until I feel I'm strong enough to do those poses safely, I'm comfortable modifying my practice.

However, it begs the question: What could I be doing in my current practice to start building up the strength to support my neck in these poses?

Anyways, it's an interesting problem and I'll have FIVE WHOLE DAYS to ponder it because Aunt Flo is arriving at any moment for her monthly visit - a week late and mad as hell; I've been in bed for most of the afternoon moaning and groaning (I had an amazing practice early this morning - my first a.m. practice in about a week). After my three days of Ladies Holiday, there's a Moon Day to look forward to and then it's Saturday. Ashtanga Vacation, coming right up!

This is probably the longest break I've had from Ashtanga yoga since last June and I plan to make the most of it! I'm already tentatively planning to attend my teacher H's Level II Hatha class on Thursday night (Aunt Flo will have packed her bags and left by then) and M's Anusara class on Friday morning. The Yoga Reunion Tour!

I haven't been to see these teachers since I started doing Ashtanga regularly last June. I'm looking forward to observing how my practice has changed in the context of Intermediate Hatha and Ansuara.

I'll be back with a full report of my shenanigans on Sunday. Until then, keep it real, kids! ;-)

The yoga teacher!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Day 213

I enjoyed a wonderful 'day off' yesterday. The weather couldn't have been more beautiful, with sunny and balmy (well, 4C, anyways) temperatures. I headed down to the St. Lawrence Market early so I could buy my baked spinach-tofu samosas before they sold out. I also bought a homemade rice krispie square and a cinnamon sweet roll.

(And interesting aside: When I got home, I looked up nutritional data on sweet rolls and discovered that they are extremely caloric. So I divided my sweet roll into small servings and froze most of them to eat in the coming weeks as a special treat. Did you know that just one Cinnabon Classic has 730 calories and 24 grams of fat? I used to eat those regularly during Yoga Teacher Training...argh!).

After teaching my morning class, I ran another quick errand: signing up for a cooking class ('Heart Health Cooking', taught by a colleague of mine). Then I took the dog for a long walk in the Big Park. There seems to be about a foot of snowpack in that park - it's going to take forever for it all to melt. I spent the rest of the day reading and listening to some new music downloaded from iTunes (I achieved a personal goal and the music was my reward to myself).

I was having such a great day, I didn't want to go to sleep!

Today was cold (-8C windchill - seriously, when is it going to start warming up?!), so I spent much of it indoors. I made a batch of my Fabulous Butter Cookies and used my brand new set of icing implements to put the icing on the cookies. I just wanted to created a fancier 'look' to them. After fumbling around and ruining a couple of cookies during the inevitable learning curve (of course, I had to eat the ruined cookies because I couldn't let them go to waste! *wink*), I'm filled with admiration for those people who decorate cakes for a living. It's truly an art - and not as easy as it looks!

Fancy Icing!

I did my practice in the evening. It was laundry-yoga-fusion-practice (and I'll be sleeping on clean sheets tonight, yay!)

I was feeling a little bit tired, but as soon as I got on the mat, I felt energetic and strong. I had a really, really good practice - probably my best in about a week. Handstands were good, backbends were great! It felt so good to move and stretch my body. I was feeling a little bit stiff and stagnant after that long walk and no yoga yesterday. My forward bends were particularly deep.

Musical Sirsasana was 'Laughing Out Loud' by the Wallflowers. My arms felt really tired after headstand today and my half-bend felt a bit strained. Perhaps I need to do some work with Dolphin pose to build strength for this posture.

I'm looking forward to the coming week - I have a feeling that it will be a *good* week.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Day 212

Today is a classic example of what happens when I don't do my practice first thing in the morning.

Since I slept in, I went ahead and ate breakfast - of course, I couldn't practice after that. That's always my first mistake. So I sat down at my desk and caught up on some work, took the dog out. And by then, it was time to head down to the rink to skate.

Zamboni Guy told me that the rink is open until the 23rd, weather permitting, but he will only be working there through next Tuesday. This is far longer than it's usually open - apparently to accommodate late March Break weeks for some schools (It's nice for the kids to be able to skate on their break). I need to make cookies over the weekend to bring for the rink staff next week, as a 'thank you.' I also plan to go down to the rink for a farewell coffee break with Zamboni Guy on Monday morning. I can't believe the season is ending already!

After my skate, I came home and did some class planning. I had put off writing up my worksheet for my noon youth class - I needed to finish it and make copies. Of course, by the time I had finished everything, it was too late to do my practice before my class because I needed to eat lunch.

I went to the grocery store to do my weekly shopping after class. After I dragged the three heavy bags home (why is produce so VERY heavy!!!?), I put away the food, did some food prep for the coming week and that's when I realised that if I didn't start my practice right away, I wouldn't have time before my next class. I didn't want to put it off until *after* class because then it would be supper time and hunger would win out.

As it was, I had to rush it, and I didn't really do justice to Savasana. It wasn't a great practice and it wasn't a bad one. Despite the scheduling drama, I know that my practice was far better in the afternoon then it would have been in the morning (I still haven't been feeling well in the mornings).

Something very nice happened to me last week and I've been lax in not mentioning it here: I won a prize in WoYoPracMo! Yes, me! A prize! I was very excited when I received the email telling me of my prize and I had been looking forward to receiving the package every since because I love getting mail (and I love presents!).

My prize was provided by Christel, who lives in San Franciso. She sent me a lovely black silk eye pillow. It arrived last week, wrapped beautifully in colourful tissue paper and ribbon, with a vibrant postcard of San Francisco on top! I've been using the eye pillow during Savasana daily, and greatly enjoying this addition to my 'Savasana Self-Care Kit'. Thank-you, Christel! And thank-you, YogaMum for organising WoYoPracMo!

The prize!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Day 211

Finally, finally, FINALLY, I had a good practice. It wasn't fantastic, I didn't break any bliss records, but I unrolled my mat and got the job done. I'll take it.

I'm adding this new 'cheat' to my bag of tricks: a hot bath. Yeah, I know this is an old idea, but it's certainly an effective one. I was at the soup kitchen early this morning (I made it out of bed by 5:15 a.m. - yay, me!). Then I skated for nearly an hour afterward - in windchills of -16C. I took the bath for practical reasons: to thaw myself out. It had the welcome side effect of making my yoga practice easier, though. My cranky parts were less cranky than usual.

I added one other small boon to my practice this morning: bread baking. The heat of the oven always warms my apartment up nicely. Plus, I can look forward to a slice of fresh-baked ARTISAN bread (*waves at Yogamum*) afterward.

So, I had a good, sweaty practice today. I moved through the Primary Series with strength and a surprising amount of energy (given the way I've been dragging over the past few days). High points were focusing on my breath, paying more attention to the bandhas than I have in a great while and actually enjoying the poses.

Low points were handstand and Marichyasana D (I've stopped binding in this pose because I no longer like it. Fickle of me, eh? I'm sure I'll get over this eventually). Handstand threw me for a loop the first time I tried to go up, so I took a short break (checked on the bread) and came back to it. After that, I had no problems! I've noticed that my second handstand is always my best.

Backbends felt great and I did a couple of dropbacks against the wall. The last time I did a dropback was Monday night in the change room after my hockey game. Yeah, I was showing off a bit. ;-) Some of the girls have seen my photo on Facebook and wanted a show.

I've had dropbacks on my mind lately, after seeing this video and reading about some of the work that Vanessa is doing in her practice. I'm inspired, but my mind is waaaaay more inspired than my body is. Baby steps...?

Musical Sirsasana was 'Place to Be' by Nick Drake.

Overall, I'm feeling a million times better today in terms of my energy levels and outlook. Odd, as we're back to gray weather, icy temperatures and snow, but I'm not complaining. I'm teaching a workshop this afternoon and then getting as much done as possible while I'm feeling peppy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Day 210

I have a large and very colourful bruise on the inside of my left knee from an errant wrist shot in my hockey game the other night (we won, 2-1). It bounced off my knee and didn't go into the net, so no complaints here. It doesn't hurt either, but it's rather pretty. The other bruise, on my right knee, is small and plain, but that one hurts. I got it when I slipped and fell on the sidewalk going in to teach a class yesterday. Less than glorious and *ouch*!

I went to bed early last night, determined to wake up at the wee hour to do my practice, but it didn't happen. I ended up getting 10 hours of sleep and waking at 7. I was exhausted; I felt like I hadn't slept at all, so no early morning practice. I ate breakfast, set my mat out with the intention to practice later, and went ice skating.

It's the last week of outdoor ice so I'm trying to get down to the rink every day. To be honest, I'm a bit burnt out on skating, but I know that I'll miss it like crazy during the summer months. Lots of people were out this morning - many with their kids, as it is Spring Break here. My old friend Slick was there, which surprised me because usually he comes earlier. I guess he's also on a late schedule these days. I also ran into a guy I used to play shinny with. He was there practising some skating skills. I'm a better skater by far but damn does he have a good wrist shot. ;-)

I went home and started my practice with Samasthitihi, doing some Ujaayi breathing. I decided that even if the only thing I did was stand on that mat for a half-hour and breathe, that's what I would do. I reasoned that if breath (Prana) is energy, then breathing should give me a good injection of it.

It worked. I set the pace of the practice with my breath and the rest followed. I got through the sun salutations and standing poses. Did all of the seated poses with vinyasa, had two VERY nice handstands (the second one, I floated up and didn't even touch the wall!!). Backbending is sucky and difficult these days. I did one backbend and gave up. No Musical Sirsasana today - I just held for 10 breaths and came down.

Every time I felt overwhelmed by the practice and thought I couldn't continue, I would sit down on the mat and go back to the Ujaayi breath. Once I had that rhythm, I would flow back into the postures.

I held onto my breath like a drowning woman and, at least for today, this totally worked for me.

From BKS Iyengar, 'Light on Life':

“Will power is concrete, not ethereal. When you do something, you demonstrate your willpower, and it becomes all the easier to have the same power of will next time. When you perform your asana, you are physically demonstrating willpower through the expression of muscles...With willpower, you elongate the muscles and bring elegance. This willpower allows us to express peace, contentment, and freedom from body attachment as we expand our minds. Willpower is nothing but willingness to do.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Day 209

I won't lie - today's practice wasn't good at all. I've been feeling really sluggish and low energy over the past couple of days and this afternoon, I was hit by this tremendous feeling of lethargy. All I wanted to do was lay down and feel sorry for myself. I didn't practice in the morning, hoping that I would feel better in the afternoon, but I actually felt *worse* in the afternoon. And by that point, I couldn't put it off any longer so I unrolled my mat and just got on with it.

None of my usual tricks worked this time around. I tried to coax myself into practice by promising that I could take a break after the sun salutations. Trouble is, after sun salutations, I was totally ready to take a break; I didn't have any more energy after Surya Namaskara A& B than I did before. So I spent some time curled up in a fetal position on my Mysore rug, then I peeled myself up to continue.

It was awful. My mind kept saying: Don't. Want. To. I was really struggling with mental resistance. Nothing flowed, nothing felt good. On days like this, the only thing I can do is to just keep at it, taking breaks when I need to. And resolve not to be too hard on myself.

As I moved into the seated poses, I wasn't sure I would be able to finish the series, so I cut out the vinyasa between sides. The funny thing is, I ended up doing most of the vinyasa anyway because I forgot I was skipping it. I modified many of the poses and part of the closing sequence. I did one funny little backbend that was mostly painful. My handstands? Perfectly fine! I know I have a pose nailed when it goes well even when my body feels like it is made of lead.

This was a day that I had no impatience with Savasana. In fact, Savasana was the best part of the whole hour-and-a-bit.

I've been reading BKS Iyengar's book 'Light on Life'. Although occasionally dense (reading some sections is literally like breathing Jello), there are some fine moments in that book. On the subway, I read through this inspiring section and subsequently read it to my class:

“Do not say that you are disappointed with yourself. Find time every day to do something to maintain the asana practice. Sometimes both body and mind yield to willpower, and at other times the rebel. Do you have a problem part that makes the practice difficult for you? An injured knee? A stiff back? That is your problem child. Learn how to deal with it and how to nurture it, as you would a child who had problems that needed extra love and attention. Do not bother about failures either. Failures in life lead one toward determination and in having the necessary philosophical approach. Be detached.”

And this:

“The test of a philosophy is whether is is applicable and even more so applicable now in how you live your life. Even Patanjali, who was born a spiritual genius, Said that yoga is mastered only by long persistent nonstop practice, with zeal and determination.”

My mind is my problem child. I won't be disappointed in myself. And tomorrow, as always, is another day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Day 208

Judging from today's practice, I think I may be slowly emerging from this winter funk that I've been in.

I didn't practice in the morning because I just didn't feel like it and lately, I've been going where the vibe takes me. The vibe took me straight to my to-do list. I spent the morning doing actual work. I found the paycheque that I was certain I had lost but had already phoned the accountant to put a stop on - hopefully, he didn't. I will let this be a lesson: If I had actually done my bookkeeping when I was supposed to (instead of procrastinating), I could have averted the entire drama.

In the early afternoon, I headed up to my new favourite place: this kind of lame-o café on the second floor of my supermarket. The hip crowd steers clear, but it's a hopping place for the neighbourhood elderly. But I don't care about the cool factor because there are WINDOWS! Big, wide, south-facing windows through which wide beams of sunlight stream in.

Like an addict getting her fix, I sat in the sunlight for two hours until I was giddy. Then I came home and I practised.

And it was fine. I was a bit distracted, which is to be expected since I'm currently in the midst of a the Longest PMS In History (seriously, I should I have started my Ladies Holiday *days* ago). Nothing felt bad, though. I didn't want to cry, or curl-up-in-a-ball-and-die. I just enjoyed the practice. It feels as if it's been a long time since I've been able to say that.

It was weird not to be a in a state of dread over handstand. I just put my hands on the floor and did it. Today, I balanced on my own for 15 seconds too. I'm thinking about my technique. If you watch the video, you'll see that I do a little preliminary 'hop' before going all out and jumping into the pose. Today, I realised that 'the hop' is absolutely necessary. I guess that's how I psych myself up. No hop, no handstand - at least for now. Maybe I'll try to wean myself eventually.

Musical Sirsasana was 'You don't have to say you love me' by Dusty Springfield.

Tonight: Ice hockey action against Team 3 and I'm forcing myself to go to the pub. Because nobody loves a shut-in.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Day 207

I'm back from my two days off. Those two days were filled with a lot of sleep and even more snow. We had a two-day storm that left over 15 centimetres of the white stuff on the ground. Today, the city is digging out and the windchill is -21. It sure doesn't feel like March!

It would be inaccurate to say that I didn't do yoga at all for those two days. I may not have done the Primary Series, but I'm always doing a little bit of yoga here and there because I teach it. A day doesn't pass where I don't at least do downward facing dog and a forward bend or two as a warm-up and more postures in context of the class itself (though I shouldn't - and don't - regard them as my personal practice).

On Friday afternoon, I teach a loosely structured children's yoga class at an after-school programme. Many of these kids have been studying with me for three years or more, so they know a lot of yoga. There's nothing in this world cuter than a seven year old carefully leading her friends through Surya Namaskara A. Or, after attempting a jump-through, glaring at me and then announcing indignantly: “I can't do this because my arms are TOO SHORT!” (I have bad news for her - arms don't get any 'longer' as you age!).

One of my students - I'll call her R - has an amazing practice for an almost-nine-year-old. She's always bugging me to teach her new stuff (like any ashtangi, she loves to add fresh poses to her repertoire. *wink*). She also seems more serious and focused than some of the other kids and understands that yoga is not a game to me. She regularly asks me what I'm 'working on.'

When I told her that I was learning to jump into handstand a few weeks ago, she announced: “I can do that!” She promptly tried, fell over, then glanced over at me with a bemused expression. “Not as easy as it looks!” No, it's not!

Each week, we've been working on this. R is dogged when she's learning something new - she tries over and over again until she's too tired to continue. Then she takes a break and tries again. Every so often, she catches the hang of it, almost gets into a handstand and then she emits a little kid version of the 'Chewbaka wail.' I take a lot of inspiration from her determination.

And this is how I've ended up working on that dreaded jump entry into handstand over and over and over again on Fridays. I've been getting some extra practice! But this past Friday, something just clicked for me. One moment, it was impossible and the next, I was jumping into a handstand, smoothly, efficiently and easily. R stopped to watch me, then nodded sagely. “That's really good! You've got it!”

She was right.

Today's practice was sluggish and stiff. But I did two easy handstands. No fuss, no drama. I think Chewbaka may be gone forever!

I offer proof in the following video snippet. Please don't be turned off by the fact that the preview shows my butt. This is really a handstand video. Honest!

Reluctant Ashtangi Pictures presents...
"Die, Chewbaka, die!"


video

And, finally, Musical Sirsasana was 'Take a bow' by Madonna ;-)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Day 206

Note: Tomorrow is a Moon Day and Saturday is a day off. See y'all in two days...

Yesterday was difficult. In the city, 15 cm of snow really just means 15 cm of slush. I spent the day wading around sidewalks and streets in my not-quite-waterproof Sorrels, trying to get to my classes on time. I was exhausted when I got home - and hungry in a tired, mindless, PMSy sort of way. I was eating everything that wasn't pinned down. Ladies holiday soonish, apparently.

Lately, my yoga practice has been functioning as a sort of 'anti-carrot' in my life. When I can't motivate myself to do the things I need to do, I threaten myself with yoga and I shape right up! *eye roll*

I started my day at the soup kitchen, but felt exhausted after I got home. However, faced with the prospect of doing and hour-and-a-half of yoga, I eagerly dove into my to-do list as a better alternative. Amazing...apparently, given the choice between doing yoga and cleaning the bathroom, I'll choose the cleaning. These past few weeks have definitely not represented a high point for my asana practice.

When faced with bookkeeping though, I unrolled that mat and got on with it. Apparently, yoga trumps finances. I may use the prospect of tax preparation to motivate myself the next time I need a nudge towards my Manduka.

I had a good practice, though the first 20 minutes was a bit rough. I had to turn on the heater for the first time in many weeks - not because it's particularly cold out, but because I had the window open for much of the morning. Cabin fever, anyone?

Handstands were lovely and floaty (bandhas bandhas bandhas bandhas bandhas bandhas bandhas). After I finished up, I was feeling a bit ego-y and puffed up about those handstands, so I tried to do just one more. I banged my head into the wall and fell over. Ouch my head (ouch, my ego).

Musical Sirsasana was not really so musical, but humourous spoken word: Evalyn Parry's 'Profit in the Margins'. There's 4 minutes that absolutely flew by! Hilarious!

Is it laughing yoga when I'm upside down?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Day 205

There's a Japanese proverb that goes like this: “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

That's sort of how I feel about my recent efforts to hop up into handstand. This morning's practice was hard to get to, but once I did, it flowed nicely and I had two very good handstands. I literally floated up and straightened my legs without even touching the wall. Victory!

Backbends were yucky (typical for an early practice - I started at 5:30 a.m.). Musical Sirsasana was 'I am aglow' by the inimitable Sarah Harmer (back to CanCon!).

I'm starting to notice that it's getting lighter, earlier in the morning. The sky was blue-lit around Tiriangmuhka Ekapada Pachimottansana this morning. It made me feel like I was 'running late'. I can't believe that Daylight Savings Time kicks in this coming weekend! With our wintery weather, those long bright evenings are going to seem a little strange! It doesn't feel like March at all - it feels like January right now.

Snow, snow and more snow. Winter Storm Warning is still in effect this morning. There's 15 cm of snow on the ground and it's *still* coming down. The storm will blow over around noon, just in time for the next storm to move in.

The snow and bad roads are going to make getting to the *5* classes I'm teaching today such a joy. *eye roll* I'll be leaving early for all classes and bringing a good book (and crossed fingers).

It's going to be a long day.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Day 204

I did another almost-noon-time practice today because I just could not get myself out of bed in the morning. I suppose if I really *needed* to get up, I would have, but I'm not teaching a noon class and apparently this gives me licence to be lazy. ;-) I need to get a hold of myself because the entire month of March is going to be 'slow' in terms of teaching classes and if I don't watch it, I'll just go to sleep and wake up when in April, wondering where the time went.

After the mighty effort required to coax myself to the mat, I had a pretty good practice. I'm back to binding in the Marichyasanas again and I can bind to wrist in A-C. Marichyasana D is coming along slowly - I usually bind to fingers in that one, but lately I've been binding to my hand.

Binding in Supta Kurmasana is second nature these days. I even do the pose in my youth classes to the great amusement of the kids, who squeal: ”You look like a rock!!!!” and then pile onto my back (adjustment, anyone?).

Handstands were actually okay today! I floated into my first one, but had trouble with the second. I sat for a few breaths and then spontaneously did something I still occasionally do when I'm struggling with a pose and feeling very self critical (and I have been lately). I put my hands in Namaste and say out loud: “I honour myself for trying.” I managed a nice floaty handstand after that.

My back was very open today and I pushed up into Urdhva Dhanurasana easily. This is significant for a few reasons. First reason: a few days ago, this pose was heavy and emotionally burdened, leaving me in tears. Also, because I played ice hockey last night, I expected that my sore shoulder might act up. I had a fantastic game, one of my best. But I noticed some deep soreness in my shoulder early in the first period (I had taken a few shots on net - I tried to hold back after that). I kinda expected my shoulder to hurt this morning, but it felt fine. *crosses fingers*

Musical Sirsasana was 'Round Here' by Counting Crows (a brief departure from my CanCon streak; I felt like doing a longer headstand).

Yesterday, the high temperature was 11C and we had rain. That's 11 *above* zero. Very exciting! The mountains of snow around the city are starting to melt. I took the dog out for a long walk and it was such a novel feeling to be outside and still be able to feel the tips of my fingers. The temperature has dropped again today and we're expecting snow for the rest of the week, but that one, precious, warm day is a precursor of things to come.

Perhaps winter will end after all!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Day 203

Cookie!!!

Today, I wanted to respond to this reader's comment:

"I was wondering how can you be so skinny when you eat cookies? I must lose about 15 - 20 lbs and I must not eat cookies or cake or pizza... I am doing the primary series too, and even though I love it, it's hard. I am not doing it as good as you, with binding and all. Starting the practise every day, for me, often I don't want to do it, but must force myself, and sometimes I just don't do it (average I do per week between 4 to 6 times, but my goal is 6 times a week). I was surprised to read you sometimes don't want to do it either, I thought for you this never happens. I was hoping to lose weight doing this, but I lost only a few pounds, and not more. I do this 7 month now and should have lost all. I like your blog, and I admire your being so organized and getting up so early and always doing the practise!" - Anonymous

I hope no one out there thinks that I started the Primary Series and magically dropped 40 pounds. It didn't happen that way. I'm the first to acknowledge that my weight loss has been primary diet-based. I started out (last April) by eliminating processed foods and ALL sugar from my diet. This was difficult, but necessary. I was a chocolate-bar-a-day kinda girl who loved muffins, cookies, pastries. I had made a hobby out of my sweet tooth.

I radically overhauled my diet, cutting back significantly on my calorie consumption (it's still very low). Being of Italian descent, pasta was a major food group - I eliminated that completely and cut back on rice and bread. I upped my consumption of vegetables and low-fat proteins. I gradually and selectively added sugar and calorically dense foods back into my diet with careful attention to portion control.

I do eat cookies; I eat a cookie every day - a small one with my afternoon coffee. A few times a week, I have a fine Belgium chocolate for dessert - just one. I enjoy Hagen Daas Vanilla Ice Cream in small portions as well. Every so often, I go off the deep end and binge on something - usually cookies. I accept it and move on - usually eating a bit less over the next few days to re-establish my equilibrium.

As a full-time yoga teacher and car-less city dweller, I'm already very active. But last May, started walking to the park for an hour every single day (I didn't skip a single day all summer, even into November). I bought a new bicycle in June and to my surprise, discovered that I loved cycling. Everywhere! I started biking to destinations that had seemed completely ludicrous to me just months before.

I started doing Ashtanga to supplement all of this and to build strength as I lost the weight (it's common during weight loss to lose some muscle tone). But to be honest, the greater motivation behind my 365 Days of the Primary Series project was to revitalise my lagging personal yoga practice and advance my skills in key areas - including inversions and backbends. Ashtanga has done all of this for me, plus I've found myself plugged into a wonderfully supportive and dynamic online community of practitioners, which is a wonderful bonus.

No, I don't always feel like doing my practice. Sometimes I have to drag myself to the mat kicking and screaming. ;-) I do it anyway. Sometimes I cry as I do it. Sometimes I feel angry. Often I feel very distracted. But I do it because, for many reasons far beyond 'exercise' or 'weight' it's important to me.



These past few days, I would describe my practice as 'utilitarian' . I get on my mat and Just Practice. Today was like that. I didn't practice upon first waking because my body felt like lead (in fact, I slept in a bit). I finished some work in the morning then hopped on the mat closer to lunchtime. I had a good, focused practice.

I'm taking a different approach to my handstands these days. When I can't hop into the handstand, I sit back on my ankles and take three breaths before I try again. This does a lot to reduce my level of frustration and keep me calm. I had to do this several times for each handstand this morning, but I did eventually get up (the first one was pretty good, the second was all Chewbaka...baby steps!).

Backbends felt good. I rocked back and forth to open up the shoulders and chest and tried to go deeper in backbend #3.

Musical Sirsasana was 'These Apples' by the Barenaked Ladies, continuing with the CanCon theme this week (CanCon = Canadian Content).

I'm having a better day than yesterday. The sun has peeked out a bit and I may even go for a walk after lunch.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Day 202

Wow, if I followed my own worst instincts (and believe me, they were hollering loudly today), I would have never made it to the mat

On days like this, I coax myself. In this case, the coaxing took place in the evening. Around 5:45: “C'mon now, just unroll the mat. That's right! Now, 5 Surya Namaskara A. That's good! Now, 5 Surya Namaskara B. Excellent! Now, the standing poses... No! Don't even think about the Marichyasanas yet - just standing poses. Good! Keep going...”

And so on. If I approach the Primary Series in small little bites, I can usually stumble my way through the whole thing.

Alas, this reluctance doesn't apply to cookies. I ate far too many cookies today. Ug. Heavy practice. I felt like my organs of digestion were filled with concrete.

“Now you kids at home listen up - too many cookies and you won't be able to bind in Marichyasana D.” (said in my best, jovial 'Don Cherry' voice - sorry, Canadian in-joke...). Binding was a bit touch and go today.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes...

Handstands were full-on Chewbaka, complete with the sound effects. It took me at least 15 tried to hop into the first one. Try, try, try again... Backbends were not bendy, but they were not painful either.

On the bright side, I moved through the series efficiently without undue dawdling or dramatics (today's series was apparently the 'no tears' formula). My shoulder is even feeling better. And it's not February anymore!

But if it truly is March, then why is it supposed to snow every day this week? *pout*