Monday, August 31, 2009

Yin

I dug out the Sarah Powers DVD today and did the 47 minute Yin Kidney practice today. Well, I did as much of it as I could before I fell ASLEEP. Geez! I love that DVD, but it's like yogic valium. I don't use it that often, but it *is* a lifesaver when I'm not feeling well.

Meanwhile, in another parallel and glorious universe, right here in my city, Ashtangis are happily practising led Primary with Sharath. And I'm missing it. *grump*

In retrospect, I'm relieved that I didn't sign up ahead of time like I had planned (I looked at the calendar and thought better of it). By the time my Lady's passes, I'll have missed it completely. So much for all of that fussing around, eh?

If I'm feeling a sense of regret, it's not so much about Sharath as it is about missing the sense of community in that room. It would have been fun to meet other Astanga practitioners and teachers, soak up the energy of a large room and just experience it.

Next time, I guess. Or maybe I need to go to India!

Or maybe I'll just go back to Shala Central for another led Primary - that was fun.

In other news, I finally broke down and got my hair cut. In an valiant attempt to avoid a Pema Chodron hair-do (why do stylists always do this to me?!), I loaded several photographs onto my iPod, depicting a very nice layered cut.

This one is my favourite:

I showed these to the Grumpy Gay Russian Stylist Guy and entrusted a summer's worth of growth to his capable hands. He didn't disappoint; he did a great job. It's shorter than I wanted (Seriously, what UP with that!?), but it looks fabulous.

Here's the thing: I don't want to *think* about my hair. I live in a bike helmet and spend a good part of my day rolling around on the floor and doing things upside-down. I want to run my hand through it and be done with it.

So I'm back to short hair. The experiment with longer tresses turned out to be short-lived.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Restorative

My Lady's Holiday hit me today like a tonne of bricks so I laid low all day, waiting for the right window of opportunity to practice. It never really came.

Finally, in the evening, I did 45 minutes of Iyengar-style Restorative practice, using the notes I took at the Yoga Fest last week. Ah yes, *those* notes. The ones that look like architectural plans:


It was great! Putting together these precise configurations of blocks, straps, blankets and bolsters was such an engrossing process that it completely distracted me from how awful I was feeling (well, that and the Internet).

It was a bit like constructing a piece of furniture from Ikea: intricate diagrams, a lot of head-scratching and those few stray pieces laying around at the very end (”Where does that second strap go again?” "I have an extra blanket - is that bad?")

Forget Sanskrit. I think these poses need new names. Like BÅKKBJENND or SÅSVÅSJANNA.

By the way, my new name is SKÄI

What is your new name? Find it here, then join me in SÅSVÅSJANNA ;-)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vinyasa

That was fun!

I wasn't feeling overly ambitious today so I did a flow class from YogaDownload: Power Vinyasa Flow #2, 45 minutes, with Dawnelle. I seem to be gravitating toward Dawnelle's classes. I like her voice, her cueing is precise and she's not the slightest bit flakey. This class is another one with no inversions, which makes if perfect for times when I'm avoiding inversions.

I was surprised by how sweaty and vigourous the sequence was. None of the poses were particularly challenging, but there was a lot of up and down, a lot of Chaturanga Dandasana.

Teacher D gave me a couple of pointers on my practice last weekend and both observations were related to Chaturanga Dandasana:
1) My 'middle' is sagging towards the floor in plank position - I need to lift up my hips
2) My shoulders are too close to my ears in Chaturanga.

and here's another one that Teacher D didn't mention, but Teacher V has a couple of times:
3) I'm coming too far down (close to the floor) in Chaturanga.

None of these issues are new to me. I know that Teacher M has mentioned the shoulders before (ad nasuem), but it's a tough habit to get my head wrapped around. I'm always on the lookout for pointers that can help me navigate my *perception* of my body alignment, versus the *reality* of my body alignment.

In plank (and Chaturanga), I have to consciously stick my bum up a bit, even though it feels counter-intuitive to the way the pose is supposed to 'look.'

Coming down too far is an easy fix: don't come down as far (the trick is remembering).

But the shoulders? I've been struggling with the shoulders for years.

In the sequence I practised today, I stumbled across a great pointer for the alignment of the shoulders in Chaturanga Dandasana:

Come into plank, wrists under shoulders, then *lean forward* so the shoulders are aligned over the fingertips before lowering into Chaturanga. This has the effect of bringing the shoulders away from the ears in Chaturanga, but it's easier to do because the alignment is there before you actually come down.

This is totally working for me! I've been trying to pull my shoulders away from my ears while in Chaturanga, and it felt impossible. It's like a difficult puzzle piece has snapped into place and it was so simple!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Astanga

It's a gray, cool day, a perfect day to sit in the window seat, sipping tea and pondering life. I'm blogging, drinking chai and eating my famous cookies (I baked a batch for my noon class yesterday and there were a few left over). I have a few good books waiting for me. There's some fun, new music on my iPod. Best of all, I finished my practice already.

I decided to do an outdoor practice this morning, even though it was not very warm out (it was 17C and overcast when I headed out at 9 a.m.). I did full Primary today, but there was not a lot of binding going on because I was wearing long yoga pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Fabric, as I've discovered, is slippery. I didn't even bind in Supta Kurmasana.

I was curious what the vibe around the Big Park would be at that time of morning. It was quiet, very quiet. The only other people were joggers (running around and around) and the tennis players (pristine in their gleaming white outfits).

And waaaay over there, on the grass, was the Crazy Yoga Lady - that's me - with her small dog, moving through sun salutations.

I become very focused when I'm in the middle of my practice. A neighbour once spotted me doing yoga in the Little Park and said that I looked so 'intense,' she couldn't interrupt.

Not everyone feels that way, though. People have approached me to ask directions, to see if my dog wants to play with their dog (”Uh no, if we were out here to play off-leash, we would go to the DOG AREA”), and even to ask me what I'm doing ("..Yoga!"). I've been approached by scam artists. I've been approached by people (okay, men) who want to 'do yoga with me'.

It's a city. We get a few weirdos.

This morning, in Sirsasana, I watched a man in flowing, cotton garments float towards me in that smooth, graceful way people seem to move when I'm viewing them upside-down. He was flapping his hands in an odd way that triggered my Freak-o-Meter. As he approached, the dog growled in warning.

Keep in mind: I'm standing on my *head*. He starts to chat me up, but I wasn't responding because I was, you know, VERY BUSY.

So I ignored him. I exited Sirsasana, rested just a few moments and moved right into Yoga Mudra. He moved on. I wasn't worried about him - in the Big Park I'm surrounded by people. There's a playground nearby, joggers and cyclists all around. But this is the reason that I don't go to the park very early or very late.

I skipped Savasana and headed home.

Cooookiiieeees!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Astanga

Today, I did sandwich yoga: a yoga practice sandwiched between two of my own classes. It was pretty out, so I walked up the Big Park with the dog. It wasn't quite as pretty as yesterday, but it was pleasant, a bit cool. I didn't sweat very much.

I started my practice with the intention of doing full Primary, but I soon realised that I was in a time crunch, so I cut it to half-Primary. The nice thing about the Sharath recording is that it's cut into handy little segments. There is a separate segment for the closing sequence, starting with Sarvangasana (which gives me a good excuse to skip the backbends entirely).

I was hanging out for a long time in Sirsasana, watching people walk by. Have you ever watched people walk while you're in Sirsasana? They look like they're floating and the motion of their legs looks very odd, almost circular. I don't seem to get this as much when I'm hanging out in Prasarita Padottanasana. It must be something about the inversion.

I saw a lot of dogwalkers today, most of them with 4 or 5 dogs. They're particularly entertaining. All those legs!

For fun, here's some Yoga To Go (via Yogadawg)

"The great thing about YOOOOOGAAAAA is you can do it *anywhere*"



"Yoga isn't competitive because we are the BEST!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Astanga

Today was a flawlessly beautiful day. Sunshine. Warmth. Bright blue, cloudless sky. Neon green grass. Amazing. I know that come February, I'm going to have trouble imagining a day like this. So this afternoon, I set out to enjoy it.

I walked the dog up to the Big Park and unrolled my mat in our usual spot. I did an unremarkable full Primary, medium sweaty, binding everything that's bindable. Breath and Bandhas were pretty good, but my Drishte was straying. It was early evening, so the park was fairly busy.

The 'Boot Camp' people were back. To be completely honest, I'm a little bit mystified by Boot Camp. These two trainers set up a little sign. They place orange cones around the grass. They unpack some Boot Camp Torture equipment. Then they sit around on the grass and gossip. I've observed them doing this for over an hour. Yet I've never seen an actual Boot Camper at the Boot Camp. It's a big mystery!

And the Fitness Twins were out tonight, moving around the park in perfectly synchronized skipping and jumping manoeuvres. The Twins are unique - you can't miss them: two middle-aged women, physically identical, dressed alike (from their baseball caps down to their athletic shoes), doing identical fitness routines in perfect synch. They even jog together, in stride. It's eerie.

One thing I never see is anyone else doing yoga in the park. Right up until tonight, that is.

I was well into my standing poses when I noticed a woman, clad in colour co-ordinated Lululemon, walk into the park and unroll a blue mat (colour co-ordinated to her Lululemon, of course). I wondered if she was a Boot Camper, but no - she sat down, cross-legged, and brought her hands into Anjali Mudra. She then launched into a fun-looking vinyasa flow. She had a pretty good practice!

Finally! A shala-mate for me! I wonder if I'm starting a trend amongst the masses, or if she's been doing this all along? I wonder if I'll see her again? She was moving into seated poses as I rolled up my mat and left.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vinyasa

I woke up this morning to a crystal clear sky and bright sunshine. I fuzted around the apartment, thought about the day ahead (I didn't have any classes to teach until the evening). I looked at the weather: cooler temperatures and rain for the rest of the week. I decided to seize the day, a spontaneous beach day. For all I know, this may be my last opportunity for the season.

Within a half-hour, my knapsack was packed with a towel, bathing suit, books, and a picnic. The dog hasn't been to the beach yet this summer, so I took her along. By 11, I was on the ferry and by 11:15, I was practising yoga under the trees, with the city skyline to my back and a vista of sun-sparkling lake in front of me.

I did a Yogadownload practice (Shoulder Opener #1, 40 minutes, with Dawnelle), did the closing sequence and later on (on the beach), I did the Schiffman shoulder sequence. Lots of shoulder-opening today and I could really feel it.

The beach was absolutely fantastic! It was sunny, but there was enough of a breeze that it wasn't too hot. The e coli counts were very low. I was in and out of the water all day and there were waves on the lake! We had mini-breakers coming in, which was good fun.

I folded my yoga mat in half for the dog and left her in a down-stay at the edge of the water while I was swimming. At first she was anxious, but after I had come in and out of the water half-a-dozen times, she figured it out and calmed down.

She was like a queen on her throne, watching the world go by and accepting pats from well-wishers. Another dog went by and she didn't break her 'stay' - I'm so proud of her!

I lazed around all afternoon, reading and listening to music, came back in on the 4 o'clock ferry so I would have time to get ready for my class. The dog slept all the way home - I haven't seen her this exhausted in a while. She enjoyed the beach, especially the running around and barking part. ;-)

Perfect day! I couldn't ask for better.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Astanga

Morning practice today, but not a great one. I have a lot on my mind and sadly, I let my worry interfere with my practice. I was rushed, so I cut my practice short at half-primary.

Somewhere around the Marichyasanas, I turned off the recording of Sharath, which I've been practising with to hone up my vinyasa, and went solo. It was nice - really nice. In fact, the silence smoothed away some of my anxiety.

I seem to go through phases with this. I've gone through periods of practising with DVDs because I work harder, hold the poses for the right duration and don't get off track (that's where I've been for a couple of months now). While other times, I find that practising in silence (or with music), led by my own breath, works better for me.

No judgement, both methods are good.

My Lady's Holiday is on the horizon. I know it is because I'm feeling pudgy and I've been struck with 'weepy PMS.' I was on the subway with the dog this morning and she was getting abundant attention from all the dog lovers around. When the friendly dog lovers left, I was horrified to find myself on the verge of tears...over strangers! I was feeling sentimental because they were so *nice*. Same thing happened later when a polite child asked if she could pet my dog. She was so gentle and caring that...*sniff*. Ah...crazy hormones!

Because of my impending Lady's, I haven't signed up for Sharath's workshop yet, and don't know when I will. I'm aware that I may miss my chance - some of those days are probably sold out already. Next week would probably be fine. My plan was to go on Sunday, but I have a feeling that Sunday is out.

I'm feeling unmotivated and lethargic, so I don't feel like making decisions, which isn't helping.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vinyasa

I slept through my alarm clock this morning and missed the early morning meditation session at the Yoga Festival. Now isn't THAT a metaphor for my life?! ;-)

(I'm still giggling about it...)

I did make it to my first session, though, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a 3-hour asana class/workshop with Teacher D from Shala South. I've always been curious about D's teaching background. Though frequently billed as an 'Astanga teacher', she'll be the first to argue that's she's not. Definitely not a 'traditional' one and Shala South is not a 'traditional' studio by any stretch of the imagination.

I've never been to Shala South's Mysore room, but apparently, it's a free-wheeling, 'anything goes' sort of place, where you can do any sequence you like and receive advice and adjustments for your practice.

It sounds *really* cool, actually.

Anyway, Teacher D talked about a bit about her history of practice (very similar to mine): She started out with Iyengar, then a vinyasa practice segueing into traditional Astanga. She lasted about a year in traditional practice before branching off into something that wasn't quite Astanga, but very similar. She talked a lot about the poses of Astanga and how many of them are simply not possible for many people.

Bells went off in my head as she spoke. I've certainly observed this in the years I've taught. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy teaching 'intro' Astanga classes in a non-traditional setting. I believe anybody can do this practice with the right attitude and modifications, but (and truly, I'm not trying to start a war here) the traditional methods don't work for all bodies. I take a very Swenson-eque approach to my teaching, with modifications and alternatives that preserve the spirit and intention of the pose, if not the full expression.

But I digress...

This is where her story got really interesting! In her own practice, Teacher D found herself focusing more and more on breathing (like me, she became weary of the fussiness of Iyengar because she just wanted to 'move and breath'). She experimented with using a metronome (sound familiar? *nudges Arturo*). She eventually started using this technique in the Mysore room where she practised (introducing other practitioners to the concept) and teaching it in her classes. She replaced the metronome with a live drummer (her son was the drummer for our workshop) and started offering two-hour classes with a deep focus on the breath.

I've been to one of these classes and they're amazing.

The workshop was about breathing - not Ujjayi per se, but how to breath diapragmatically and how to breath consistently in vinyasa practice. We discussed the anatomy and action of the diapragm. We used a hammock to create a 3-dimensional representation of the diapragm. We did a few breathing exercises including my favourite lay-on-your-belly-and-observe-the expansion-of-the-low-back (I like to teach this with partners - with a hand on the low back, or using some other feedback mechanism like a towel or block).

Then we enjoyed an oxygen-infused vinyasa practice that was completely the opposite of my last experience with Teacher D (where I sweated buckets). I was slightly warm and very lightheaded from all of that breathing! One participant commented afterward that it felt like a restorative vinyasa class.

For the next several hours, I worked for the Festival as a volunteer. I totally lucked out and got a plum assignment: working the door at the classroom where the senior Iyengar teacher was giving a restorative yoga workshop. She's famous for her restorative classes and rightly so - it looked blissful from my perspective. The classroom had a window and I took copious notes about the configurations of bolsters, blankets and straps.

Ever efficient, the Iyengar teacher's last teaching of the day was a how-to on bundling props for transport back to her studio. She put her participants to work and in less than 10 minutes, everything was ready to go. I've never seen a more speedy exit of equipment from a conference.

My next workshop was on cueing from the perspective of the Pilates tradition. An old teacher of mine was teaching it, so I wasn't terribly surprised when she didn't show up *eye roll*. I quickly scanned the other rooms and chose a session on home practice, given by a teacher from my neighbourhood who is well-versed in Eastern medicine.

It was interesting. I'm more accustomed to using anatomical relationships to generate my verbal instructions and adjustments. This cat was taking his cues off the meridian system. It was kind of awesome. It felt very ephemeral to me, but I was impressed with his depth of knowledge.

Then I went home and emptied my dog.

I made it back in time for a performance by a yoga-based dance troupe. They had amazing energy. Afterward, at the Kirtan, these ladies were still dancing! The Kirtan singer was great too. I was interested in her use of guitar as an accompaniment. There's a new goal for me: learn to play a few chants to eventually lead Kirtan. That would be fun!

Some general observations about the conference:

- It was not as 'high level' as I had hoped and I wasn't impressed with the Asana workshops. Ideally, I would have liked to see more offerings targeted directly to teachers or advanced practitioners. It would have been helpful if there was a rating system for the classes, indicating the level. But then again, all of the classes were beginner/intermediate. Even Teacher D's class was toned down.

- I tried Nia. I hate Nia. I know, I know! I should love Nia, because I love dancing, but I hated how structured and precise it was. For me, my Nia experience really highlighted all of the things I love about Journey Dance and similar approaches (and everything I hated about formal dance). I connect with the concept of 'dance as a spiritual journey' and I feel comfortable and confident in 'free dance.' In Nia, I felt awkward and ugly in my body; it reminded me of aerobics (insert bad 1980s flashbacks).

- Amma has an entire product line! With a logo! Seriously, I'd love to know who was responsible for Amma's 'rebranding'. It's brilliant! If I had a dollar for every Amma coffee mug or water bottle I spotted at this conference...(and there were *many*)

- ...I could have afforded the astonishingly overpriced food. Yes it was organic. Yes, it was authentic Indian (apparently, they used Mira Nair's caterer). And it was very, very good (as a volunteer, I ate lunch for free). But $13 for a small plate and a cup of chai? You can get a decent lunch special in this city for $6. There wasn't even naan!

- I'm tired. Really tired. And totally, completely burnt out on yoga. I don't feel inspired like I did after the Yoga Show. It wasn't a bad experience, it just wasn't great.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Astanga

Just got back from seeing 'The Time Traveller's Wife'. Hm. It was *okay* but I had many eye-roll moments. I didn't read the book. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had? The whole suspension of disbelief thing wasn't happening for me.

Today's practice was half-primary, self-led, outdoors and completely spontaneous.

I was up early this morning running an errand before class. As is the norm with me, I totally over-planned the whole thing and ended up getting to the park an *hour* earlier than I needed to be. So I decided to do my practice right then and there. I didn't work very hard and to be honest, I skipped a few poses: Janu Sirsasana C and Marichyasana D (to save some time). I was finishing up the closing poses as my students arrived.

Then I taught the Erich Schiffman shoulder sequence for my class. Fun! They loved it. One student did reverse Namaste for the first time ever. You should have seen her face!

And hey, *I'm* doing reverse Namaste in Parsvottanasana daily in my practice and it's getting easier and easier! Magic! The Schiffman shoulder sequence ROCKS! Thanks for the tip, Karen!

Tomorrow is going to be an intense day. I'm at the Festival starting at 7 a.m. for the meditation, then I'm in an asana class/workshop (Astanga-based, so it should be good!). My volunteer shift at the registration table starts after that, then I'm taking an afternoon workshop. I'm planning a mad dash home during the supper break to reassure the dog that I still love her and offer a potty break, then heading back for the closing party.

*phew* Just thinking about it makes me tired! Bedtime...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Astanga

I woke up at 6 and was on the mat by 7 this morning - a necessary evil because of today's very full schedule. I had a nice, albeit stiff practice. I did full Primary with Sharath's voice leading me forward through the poses.

One good thing about this Sharath kick I'm currently on: I'm becoming very comfortable with the correct vinyasa; I've put aside many of my bad habits. No doubt I have more I don't even know about.

Alas, I won't be able to attend the led Primary at Shala Central on Sunday because of my participation in the Yoga Festival. I already signed up for a 3-hour class/workshop with Teacher D that morning. I would have liked one more opportunity to go through the poses in a Shala setting, but it just isn't possible.

I've decided to go to at least one led Primary with Sharath at the end of the month. The only issue is money. I have to figure out how many days of this I can afford (it's pricey). I definitely want to do the Sunday and attend conference later on that day. Thankfully, the location is a 20-minute bike ride from my apartment so transportation isn't an issue.

This morning's practice was followed (karmically canceled out?) by Banana Pancakes (twice in one week - decadent, I know!) and a walk with a friend. We took my hoop into the park and did some hooping too!

I spent the rest of the day at the Yoga Festival. I used my volunteer discount code to buy a half-day pass and went to two sessions and an evening roundtable discussion. I wasn't sure what to expect. The Festival debuted last year. A friend of mine attended for the full three days and just raved about it. It's *very* local, so there are not many 'big names' on the schedule. To be honest, there were not many sessions that interested me.

Disclaimer: My experience of this festival was (and will be) heavily skewed toward Yoga Asana. It's my main area of interest because it's what I do. I don't teach meditation or philosophy and to be honest, I would rather read about those topics in books or take a comprehensive course than hear a basic outline in a two-hour workshop.

That said, the asana offerings were scant. There was little that was Ashtanga-specific. I found a lot of the topics pretty vague.

The first session I attended today was a two-hour Iyengar session targeting knees and hips. It was taught by the most senior Iyengar teacher in Canada. I started my yoga journey with Iyengar, so I'm familiar with the style, but this lady is in a class by herself.

The first thing she did was *completely* rearrange the room to her exact specifications. The second thing she did was impose prop-control: we were discouraged from using our own belts and blocks. Notebooks were banned, so I couldn't jot anything down.

It was a Yoga Military State...lol. I half-expected her to make us change into uniforms. Actually, she did fuss about 'yoga pants' and informed us that next time, we should consider wearing shorts.

Or maybe fatigues.
(Kidding!!!)

But no one argued with her. She handled this very large class with such finesse, we all just followed along like happy sheep. At 71, she's physically strong, sharp as a tack and has an eagle eye for misalignments in the human body. I was in awe. Whatever my criticisms, she's a class act.

She showed amazing self-restraint and made only *one* small jab at Ashtanga ;-)

In two hours, we covered exactly *four* poses and when I say 'covered' I mean we analyzed them to *death*: Tadasana, Dandasana, Baddha Konasana, Supta Padangustasana. It was quite the opposite of Ashtanga, where every movement is made with efficiency and fussing in a pose is discouraged. We spent long periods fussing over poses. This is exactly why I moved away from Iyengar-style practice as soon as I had developed basic knowledge of asana. I found it way too niddly-piddly for my tastes.

The workshop was interesting and she was fascinating. In the end, though, I received little practical knowledge from this workshop that I could apply directly to my classes and my own practice. She talked a lot about the nitty gritty specifics of what the hips and knees should be doing in Iyengar style poses and I gained some general knowledge of alignment. I guess I was hoping for more modifications to protect tight knees and hips and tips for opening up those areas in my students. I was also hoping for a class geared toward teachers (it was billed 'teacher enrichment') but found that it was presented for the general practitioner.

The main draw for me today was the session on Children's Yoga. This is a bulls-eye 'teacher enrichment' area for me because I teach 5 children's classes per week during the school year. I've been teaching kids for over 5 years and to be honest, my well of inspiration has started to run dry. This workshop was a *great* resource for me (and quite fun!). The presenter was trained through the 'Yoga Ed' programme (I'm dying to get my hands on a copy of their training manual...eBay?). She covered basic categories: breathing, visualization/relaxation, asana and games.

She touched only briefly on asana because we're all familiar with the basic poses. I really enjoyed her tips on using 'yoga tools' to convey information to children, as well as the resources for stories and activities and ways of conveying yogic concepts (like the Chakras) without disturbing the religious sensibilities of the school environment.

The games were a hoot! Imagine a bunch of adults, in Dandasana, feet-to-sacrum, in a 'train.'

“Raise your right hand!”, she commands. We comply. “Now toot your horns!”

TOOOOOOT! TOOOOOT!

*grin*

The evening keynote was a discussion of 'Yoga and Relationships.' It touched a variety of subjects, including guru-disciple relationships, attachment, unconditional love, jealousy, gender, celibacy, open relationships, the householder/ascetic dynamic and Tantra. It was good fun.

Quote of the evening (in the Brahmacarya discussion): “At the end of the day, sex is not a problem.”

I'm teaching on Saturday, but I'll be back at the Festival on Sunday (for a full day). More stories to come!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Astanga

I practised in the morning because I had a day of teaching ahead of me. I'm continuing to work on my 'Sharath Cramming' - that's what I've heard it called on other blogs. Apparently, many people are showing up to Shalas to brush up on their Primary or Intermediate Series in anticipation of Sharath's visit.

*raises hand* Guilty as charged!

Full Primary Series today, doing everything. My problem poses are Mari D (used to bind, now I'm not even close) and Setu Bandhasana (ouch, my head). Janu Sirsasana C is actually coming along. It's not my best pose, but I can even do the forward bend, sort of.

I'm really embarrassed that I can't do proper jump-backs and jump-throughs so I've been diligently working on the 'take it up' in the vinyasas. I'm hoping that they'll magically come to me if I keep 'doing my homework'. That's how it played out with Chaturanga.

I'm open to any additional advice. I realise that it's probably not going to happen for me before Sharath gets here, but I'd like to do this eventually. And yes, I've tried using blocks. I just can't do it without the blocks. I feel stuck.

My first Urdhva Dhanurasana was so yucky that I stopped and thought it through. I realised that my hips were tight, so I did a few hip openers and voilà! It was better, not great, but better. My shoulders are still very tight, though. There's a great shoulder opener discussion going on over at Karen's blog. She recommends Erich Schiffmann's video. I found this sequence on his website, so I might start with that.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'm attending a yoga conference downtown, the same one I'm volunteering at. It was a last minute decision. The teacher enrichment sessions look good and the roundtable in the evening should be interesting. I receive a good discount on the half-day rate. I'll also be there on Sunday (attending in two sessions and volunteering for a third; long day). I'm really excited about it!

Some yoga randomness:

I found this article interesting. I do agree with the premise. I've experienced this first hand; I find it easier to maintain a healthy diet when I have a regular practice. And besides increased mindfulness in the general sense, it's tough to ignore the muffin-top when it's hanging in my face in Halasana. Just sayin'.

Some non-yoga randomness:

Hold on to your hat, Dorothy! A fantastic storm just moved through the city. Funnel clouds were spotted downtown and the sky turned this eerie yellow colour. Here's a photograph of the storm as it moved in. Within minutes of this photo, torrential rains came down with zero visibility. It was pretty scary. The dog is still hiding in the closet.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Astanga

I was feeling disoriented and out-of-sorts this morning. I got up, swept the floors, checked email and paced the apartment. Finally, I decided to walk the dog as an alternative to going stir-crazy. As I walked through my neighbourhood, I carefully examined my ennui. When the answer came, I was surprised.

I was feeling lonely.

You see, I'm quite at ease being by myself. In fact, most of the time I prefer it. After years of living alone, I've adjusted to solitude and I usually require a certain amount of alone-time. I thought my recent trip would have had me 'peopled out' and it sort of did. But I also grew accustomed to being around people constantly and I enjoyed the companionship. The silence of my apartment was unnerving and I didn't know what to do with myself.

It was good to have a diagnosis!

And here is the cure: I put my laptop in my knapsack, along with books. I headed down to my favourite café, where I knew I would find a few friendly faces and a casual conversation or two. I did some writing while I was there, indulged in my favourite Banana Pancakes and felt the buzz of humanity around me for a couple of hours. Then I was happy to come home and sit quietly on the balcony and finish the balance of my work.

It was a beautiful day - sunny, but not too hot, with a clear blue sky. Really perfect weather. I walked up to the Big Park in the afternoon and did my yoga practice. It's been a while since I practised in the big park - they finally mowed the grass and it's all over the place (the city leaves the clippings). I found my allergies acting up as a result.

This was my first true full Primary Series in almost a week. I practised with Sharath's recording and tried absolutely everything. It was nice to welcome my rolly-polly poses back (grass is softer than rock). And the inversions (I particularly revelled in my return to headstand). I had a good practice, but it wasn't my most breath-aware one. I've somehow fallen out of the habit of Ujjayi breathing over the past week. I started to find my rhythm again in the closing sequence.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Yin

The Island, Day 5 (the trip home)


When my iPod alarm sounded at 6 a.m., it was windy and clouds were churning across the sky and past the windows of our little cabin. The only sound I could hear was the rush of wind through the trees and the splash of waves on rocks (even the tree frogs were quiet). I sat up and tuned in with all my senses, deeply aware of the rawness of nature around me. It was exhilarating. I got dressed and went for a walk.

The wind is your best defence against mosquitos. I wandered over to my yoga rock with the dog and I meditated for about 15 minutes. Then I breathed and gazed out over the water. I visited the swimming rocks (but didn't swim) then headed back to the cabin to wake up the girlfriend. I made early-morning pancakes for the gang and packed up my bags. The boat was due at 8:30. We listened for the motor and I even took my bags down to the dock. But no boat.

Turns out, they forgot about me, and they had to run a boat out from the marina. This delay cost me a half-hour and added a burden of stress to my return journey. I don't mind travelling alone, but I don't enjoy being pressed for time. The trip home was much quicker than the drive up - I made it back to the city in under two hours. I returned Dirty Harry a half-hour late, rode home on my bicycle and arrived at my apartment by 1 p.m., feeling deeply disoriented.

And that's when I crashed. I had some crazy notion of doing my practice when I got home, but I could hardly keep my eyes open. I slept all afternoon.

The city is at it's August worst: hot and humid and noisy and stinky. I unpacked and waited until evening to do my grocery shopping and errands. I took a long bath when I got home and spent 45 minutes on the mat, doing Yin Yoga. It's nice to downshift a bit in my yoga practice after a stretch of Vinyasa-type practice.

I'm still feeling disoriented - this is normal after travelling. I miss the island and the fresh air and the silence.

Good-bye, cottage!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Astanga

The Island, Day 4 (written on the road)


My departure day has been a question mark since I arrived. My girlfriend will be staying on for the week, but I need to return to the city to teach my classes. I could have left early this morning with Cousin B, but I didn't want to. I wasn't feeling ready. I really wanted one more day of sun and fun. So I reserved a water taxi for early Tuesday morning. This will be squeezing it close (Dirty Harry needs to be back in his lot by noon on Tuesday) but I think I can pull it off.

I'm settling into something resembling a routine. Sleep in, make brunch, drink tea, go for a swim, yoga. Then swim and sun (with a break for lunch), repeat. Prepare supper, feed the fox and enjoy a relaxed evening with books and puzzle-construction.

Everyone is pretty relaxed and casual at the cottage. The biggest joke so far has been my huge duffle bag, full of clothes I've hardly touched. Seriously, I really needed only one outfit because I've been *living* in my bathing suit. I feel like a 7-year-old kid again, running wild.

The even bigger joke is my selection of yoga clothes. I never bothered to even unpack them! On a private island, I can, and do, practise yoga in my bikini. No one is around to see me. No one cares if my boob falls out of my top.

This morning dawned overcast and by late morning it was looking like rain would move in. I took a quick dip in the lake and headed out to the rock for my practice. I was grateful for the respite from sun. I didn't attempt anything close to full Primary today - there are too many skipped poses due to rock-comfort-safety issues in the full series. Half-Primary was perfectly suited and I modified my closing sequence. I meditated for a bit and when I finally opened my eyes, the clouds were melting away into a beautiful, sunny day.

After lunch, everyone napped except me. I headed to the water to enjoy a couple of hours of solitude. I laid in the shade, reading my book and went swimming about every 10 pages or so. The gang joined me in the late afternoon. We took a break to pick saskatoon berries, then the girlfriend and I went for a walk.

Walking around the island is less about walking and more about *climbing*. A half-hour walk will leave you sweaty and winded because you're scrambling up and down slopes and traversing uneven surfaces like a mountain goat. We walked the perimeter of the island and even snuck over to the Finn's property to explore their gazebo and swimming platform. The interior of the island is dotted with small marshes, home to hundreds of tree frogs (which occasionally make their way up to our cottage; we spent a half-hour trying to catch one indoors tonight...hop, hop, hop).

Our walk led us back to the swimming rocks where we swam well into the evening. It was a great ending to my visit.

(Frog photo for Arutro!)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vinyasa

The Island, Day 3 (written on the road)


The sunset was beautiful last night and we had a pleasant supper. After dark, it's dangerous to be outside lest someone get carried off by one of those poodle-sized mosquitos (entire packs of them!). We gathered around the main room of the cottage with hot tea and good books, safety behind screen doors.

There's no Internet here (I'm embarrassed to admit: I did check to see if I could pick up a wireless signal. Nope!) but there is television. I'm resistant to television generally (though easily seduced by a good episode of Law and Order) so I was reluctant to turn it on last night. Who wants to travel into the wilderness only to watch CBC comedies?

Instead, I helped Aunt M with her puzzle. I haven't done a jigsaw puzzle in years (there's no space in my shoebox-size apartment for such a thing). What fun! I'm thoroughly addicted. After Auntie abandoned the puzzle to go to bed, I finished it and we've since started a new one.

This morning, I woke to the sound of water and wind. The girlfriend and I slept in the little cabin last night and it was lovely. I could gaze up and see stars twinkling outside the window. Though it was a hot night, a fresh breeze wafted through every so often to cool us. It's a bit like sleeping in a big, solid tent - with a baseball bat next to the door in case of bears! ;-)

We slept in a bit in the morning, then headed up to the cottage for coffee. I prepared brunch (mushroom-cheese omelettes this time), with fresh mango on the side. Cousin B joined our party last night and today, my girlfriend's sister arrived in the afternoon. It's a full house!

After brunch, we headed down to the water for our morning swim and I eventually wandered off and did my practice. It hasn't been hard at all to make time for my practice (I thought it would be). It's nice to have some alone time now that the cottage is full.

There's a scrawny tree next to my flat rock and I create a survivor-eque shelter for the dog by tying my pāreu over the branches. The dog is feeling fine and she's back to her full antics. I've been trying to keep her out of the sun and we haven't asked her to go in the water again (in case it was lake water that made her sick). She absolutely *loves* being outdoors and she's finally beginning to warm up to Aunt M and Cousin B (a good cottage-guest doesn't bark at her hosts!)

I really enjoyed the Yoga for Runners sequence so I repeated that today and meditated on the rock for a while afterward. Great practice. Hot practice! The weather has been fantastically clear and warm. I'm in the direct sun so even the cool breezes can't stop the sweat once it starts!

My after-yoga swim was heavenly. I've really gotten the knack of getting in the water. it's pretty cold - not something you want to do gradually. I find that the final 'dunk' is best executed on an out-breath. Deep inhale in, brace yourself, exhale, DUNK (brrrrr!). It feels fine once your body adjusts.

I got lots of sun today (probably a bit *too* much), drank many vodka lemonades and even a beer or two, swam so many times that I finally lost count. I read that horrible lump of a book, Infinite Jest, which I've been suffering through this summer (but I'm determined). I napped in the sun. The party continued over supper (veggie and chicken fajitas). I can't remember the last time I had this much fun over a meal. I laughed until my belly hurt.

Life doesn't get much better than today.



Saturday, August 15, 2009

Astanga

The Island, Day 2 (written on the road)


This part of the country is dominated by a geological feature called 'the Canadian Shield.' It's a sheet of Precambrian rock (mostly granite) that covers an area of approximately 4.4 million square kilometres, including much of northern Ontario. The island is part of the shield: 6 acres of rocks, covered with wind-stunted pine trees and punctuated by marshy low-lying areas.

The islands lies just adjacent to two other islands, one owned by relatives of famous Canadian painter A.Y. Jackson (founding member of the 'group of seven,' he spent that last two years of his life there) and the other owned by a family of homesick Finns (the terrain is very similar to that of Finland).

The island is owned by my girlfriend's Aunt and her family. Aunt M's father bought it in the early 1900s for $50. It's worth a lot more now. The cottage is large and well-appointed. It has running water (from the lake, so you can't drink it) and a septic system (read: indoor flush toilet). There's a full kitchen with a fridge, stove, even a microwave. A woodstove provides heat in colder months.

One of the family sons built a small cabin (really, a shed), far enough away from the main cottage for some privacy, with just enough room for a futon. We intended to sleep there during our visit, but on our first night, things unfolded very differently.

My dog was absolutely delighted from the moment she set paws on the island. She ran and romped and jumped from rock to rock. We even asked her to wade in the water (she was not a fan). I kept an eagle-eye on her, but sometime that afternoon, she ate something BAD.

We're not sure what it was, but by supper time, she was horribly, horribly sick. I've never seen my dog *this* sick. She was absolutely in *agony* and for several hours, I focused the whole of my attention on nursing her. She cried, vomited, whimpered, moaned.

We were on an isolated island in the middle of a remote, northern bay, a $100 water taxi ride away from shore and a three-hour drive from the nearest vet. It was terrifying.

I kept her outside for as long as I could, but as dusk fell, the mosquitos came out in droves. So I moved her indoors to the bathtub, where I spent much of the night. I curled up around her in the tub, comforting her as she whimpered and shook and dry-heaved.

I wept. I prayed.

After a few hours, she finally calmed down and was able to sleep. I moved her to a nearby bed and I slept too. By dawn, she was taking water (hooray!) and a few hours after that, she was back to her old habits: begging for breakfast.

I was so relieved!

We had a great day! The brunch I prepared was a hit: pancakes and fresh berries. We lazed around drinking tea and coffee. Midmorning, we headed down to the 'beach,' which is an area of sloping rocks with a sheltered area for swimming. Parts are it are very shallow, but there are deeper areas and a rocky island just offshore that's easy to swim to. After a quick swim, I headed to my 'yoga area'. It's private, sheltered by trees and accessible via a small foot bridge.

I did a *very* modified Primary Series, using Sharath's recording to guide my vinyasa. My practice area is on some of the oldest rock in the world and it's HARD (the rock, that is). I skipped any pose that involved rolling around on my spine (buh-bye, Garba Pindasana!) and nixed all inversions (but did a headstand or two in the cottage). I had a good practice, mostly very private (the occasional boat zipped by, but that was it). It was sunny and beautiful and the air was clean.

After practice, the party started! I headed to the swimming hole for a dip, then grabbed some drinks from the cottage. I rarely drink (alcohol) but for this cottage weekend, I brought eight vodka-lemonade coolers. I enjoyed one (and one more) as I laid on the rocks, heading back into the water periodically for a swim. Talking, reading, relaxing and getting lots of sun.

Aunt M has a regular visitor in the evening, a wild fox. The bay ices over in the winter (this entire area is inaccessible but for about 5 months out of the year) and animals migrate over across the bay. If they don't get back to the mainland by the spring melt, they're marooned. Aunt M has been feeding this fox all summer. She's skinny and apparently has a litter nearby. She loves any kind of raw meat and vegetables. She refuses to even consider french fries. Smart fox!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vinyasa

The Island, Day 1 (written on the road)


Remind me to *never* again waste my money on a low-end rental car company. I didn't save very much money in the end. In the wee hours of the morning, I cycled 45 minutes to a remote north-west corner of the city, where I waited forlornly in a dusty lot, fearing for my life (bad neighbourhood). And I waited. And waited.

And finally, I called the company number, borrowing a phone from a nearby auto garage (the mechanic looked unsurprised, and sympathetic). Another 45 minutes passed before the guy arrived, growling about a worker who didn't show up and resplendent in his ratty t-shirt and cutoffs. He invited me into a dirty, trash-filled trailer to fill out the contract.

The car he offered was a filthy junker: an aging Pontiac Grand Am with squeaky brakes, shaky alignment and a cigarette-burned dashboard. It was the best car on the lot (I dubbed this sad, obviously abused automobile, 'Dirty Harry').

For a mere $4 more per day, I could have rented a new, pristine automobile from my favourite Corporate Rental Company, signed my contract in a bright, clean office, staffed by handsome young university students decked out in cheap, but well-pressed suits. I could have picked up and dropped off the car at a downtown garage, 10 minutes from my apartment.

Live and learn, folks, live and learn.

Due to a variety of delays, we didn't even leave town until close to 11. Part of this was my fault - I was so certain that this whole trip would never happen (I won't get into the Family Drama, but SHEESH!) that I didn't bother to do laundry, pack or shop for groceries. We missed our 2:00 boat, but we phoned ahead and rescheduled for 3:00. By 3:05, dazed and more than a bit gobsmacked, I was gliding across the water in a small powerboat, skimming through an obstacle course of rocky islands in Georgian Bay.

By 4:00, I was swimming in the cool water and by 5:00, I was doing the yoga on a flat rock overlooking Split Rock Bay.

I did a vinyasa practice from Yogadownload.com (Yoga for Runners #1, 60 minutes with Dawnelle). The audio quality is really bad on this recording, but I *love* the sequence. It's destined to become one of my favourites.

I didn't have the visual guide, so I had to puzzle through parts of it. There's one section that's unclear and I ended up completely turned around the other direction (and repeating poses on one side, which I know isn't quite right). I have a feeling there's a cueing error in that flow. But there are no inversions in this practice, so it was perfect for the rock (I wasn't willing to risk a fall here). When I finished, I went for another swim :-)

So, the million dollar question: was it all worth it?

Yes, it was.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Astanga

A quick update because I have a busy day ahead:

Morning practice, medium-sweaty, full Primary, led by Sharath's recording, tight hamstrings, back was tight, couldn't bind in Supta Kurmasana today, skipped the second Urdhva Dhanurasana (but did the first and third), couldn't do Pindasana at all (Karna Pidasana was uncomfortable too), held Uth Pluthi for 6 of Sharath's counts (I figure I'll add a count every day until I can hold for the full hated 15).

My face is breaking out and I don't know why. It's annoying.

I'm going away this weekend, to a cottage, up north, on a private island. It's owned my girlfriend's aunt's family and it's apparently a very beautiful place.

I would have been more excited about this, but to be honest, the plans were uncertain and I was convinced that nothing would come of them. As a result, I didn't feel compelled to mention them here *and* I didn't bother to make any preparations for the trip, including laundry, packing, groceries.

*gulp*

We leave tomorrow, early a.m., in a rental car that I'm driving. So I'd better get busy!

Although I will definitely be practising and I'll even be writing about it, I won't be posting my updates on this blog until Monday night.

Until then, have a great weekend, and enjoy the sunshine, everyone!

I'm off to the country...

Text:
You live in the country?
Very well, these woollen stockings are just the thing for shopping
in the village, or walking in the muddy lanes. They are knitted
in a close ribbing stitch and will last for ever and ever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Astanga

Girly post today! I'm going to talk about food and hair. But first, my practice.

Same, same. Full Primary, trying to do everything (even the 4,000-year hold in Uth Pluthi, though I never make it past five counts, ever). I'm practising with the recording of Sharath's led.

My practice reports are starting to feel boring. No fun outdoor practices (it's been raining every day; thunderstorms), no funky vinyasa. I'm trying to for six in a row of the Primary Series this week, then I'll reward myself with something different.

By the way, the bottom leg, in Supta Padangustasana, has a pointed toe. I'm discovering pointed toes everywhere these days! An here's another epiphany from the Sunday led class: Baddha Konasana B is this rounded back thing that I'm now absolutely loving. I always heard 'head to toes' on Sharath's recording and wondered what the heck he was referring to. Of course, I could have always asked Arjuna.

Now, girl stuff:

First, food. I'm still working on improving my diet (which has fallen into stunning disrepair since I ceased being a single person last year). Interestingly, I've been very resistant to logging my foods. I can't seem to motivate myself to use CRON-o-Meter, so I've been trying to do without.

This week, I'm focusing on a 'more water, less sugar' strategy. I have a wicked sweet tooth, so eliminating sugar pretty much eliminates most junk and processed foods from my diet. I'm been drinking 8 glasses of water a day, trying to get all of them in before lunch.

This means that I skip breakfast. I realise it sounds suspect, but I really don't miss it and I don't overeat at lunch. I drink water all morning and then eat lunch and reward myself with a pot of chai tea. So far, so good, lots of hydration. I'm sticking to my plan and my pants are fitting better.

This isn't the first time I've done the no-sugar thing, so I'm on the lookout for the effects. My moods stabilize when I'm off sugar and I feel lighter. I'm craving fruit. I've been eating my 'heavy meal' (protein) at lunch and opting for raw veggies and fruits for supper. The fruits help satisfy my evening sugar craving.

Tonight, I was really noticing how 'sugary' the carrots and grapes are. I'm also much more aware of flavour difference between different types of apples now. I accidentally bought a 'golden delicious' at the store and it really *is* delicious, has a pear-like flavour.

And, onto hair (continuing the 'post-yoga-fro' discussion on Karen's blog)...

Oh, yoga hair, how you vex me! When I started Yoga Teacher Training, I had waist-length curly tresses! No joke! (I was a big fan of French braids)

It only took a few months of hair-wrangling in YTT for me to cut it all off. Literally, I went from long to very short. Now, after years of a 'Pema Chodron-esque' hair-do, I've been trying to grow mine out - not very long, just longer. I guess I'm trying for a softer look, but I totally forgot about all of the high-maintenance styling and upkeep that longer hair entails. And it gets in the way of my yoga.

I'm discovering that hair is insulating (read: HOT) and also absorbent. By mid-practice, my brain is boiling and the sweat is dripping down my face. Right now, I'm trying the 'Baron Baptiste Head Bandanna' strategy, but I'm this close (*millimetre*) from chopping it all off again. The only thing that's stopping me is that I don't have the money to throw at this problem. It's fine for now because I have time to bath after practice and I'm not teaching a lot.

But soon I'll need to make a hair decision.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Astanga

I seem to be on a roll with my practice. Today, I practised with the Sharath led Primary recording again. Again, had a wonderful, sweaty practice. Again, I tried to do everything 'by the book.'

The great thing about trying everything is that I'm discovering what I really can and can't do. I've fallen into a comfortable routine in my practice, so it's good to shake things up a bit.

For years, I've had notoriously tight hamstrings. I've modified, modified, modified to protect my back. But the hams really aren't that tight anymore. I'm capable of coming deeper into forward folds than I have been. And I'm learning that I'm not going to spontaneously combust if my back rounds a little bit. Lengthen, extend, yes, but in deeper forward bends, there is going to be some rounding of the back. There has to be.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is one example. I haven't had the flexibility or balance to bring my chin towards my shin in this pose. For months, I've just been working on getting my extended leg straight while keeping a long spine. Once I arrived in this comfortable place, it was easy to 'stay comfortable.'

On Sunday at Shala Central, I knew I couldn't get away with staying in my comfort zone, so I decided to 'try' to bring my chin to my shin in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. My greatest concern was actually keeping my balance, but I was stable. Yesterday and today, I worked with the full expression of the pose, chin to shin. Well, the chin isn't even close to the shin, but I'm working on it.

Sirsasana was better today - I stuck it out for the full count. Yesterday, I conked out in half-bend. I need to lift my legs a bit more to take the pressure off my shoulders (Teacher P pointed out that I'm lowering them too far in half-bend).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Astanga

My morning practice turned into a mid-day practice thanks to the magic of procrastination. Apparently, the threat of yoga was just enough to motivate me to sweep my sandy floors (goodbye, beach!), do the cleaning and also do some actual work-work.

If my Fall schedule unfolds as planned, I'll be doing more than okay. I slotted a few new classes into my calendar, contacted clients, set up a meeting for tomorrow. My last guitar lesson is today - I'm putting the lessons on hiatus and also cutting back on meals out. Seriously, I'm not *too* badly off if these are my 'austerity measures'. I have a lot to be grateful for.

Yesterday's led class left me feeling very inspired about my practice of the Primary Series. I decided to practice with Sharath's led Primary to review and fine tune my vinyasa and transitions while it was all still fresh in my mind. I worked really hard, skipped nothing, did the whole practice according to form. Sweated buckets (the weather is finally summer-hot here). I want to learn the closing chant so I can conclude the practice properly.

For my 'take rest', I did Sivasana Relaxation #1 from Yogadownload. I've been using this to relax in the evenings before sleep and it's really nice. Since Sharath's led moves quickly, I have time for a long, drawn-out Savasana.

Some additional observations/adjustments from yesterday's led Primary:

- There are a few instances of “astau up” that I've always found confusing (post-Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana II). The 'up' refers to a lift-up into a partial handstand, timbering into Chaturanga Dandasana afterward. Not that I can *do* that, but good to know!
- It's better to do the proper form to the best of your ability than use modifications. Seriously, I couldn't get away with *anything* yesterday. ;-) Teacher R even insisted that I do reverse namaste hands (”Just do your best”) in Parsvottanasana.
- I have enough flexibility in my hamstrings to clasp my hands/wrists in forward bends. Need to start doing this in my practice.

And finally, I forgot to mention the Best Adjustment Ever. I can't count the number of times I've wished I had help in Urdhva Mukha Pachimottanasana. I was struggling with this pose yesterday. Teacher P supported my back, then squished me deeper into my straight legs (pointed toes!). It was marvellous! But the best part is, today I was able to replicate the pose more confidently on my own. I guess I just needed to form a 'muscle memory' of what the pose is suppose to feel like.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Astanga

Hm...*that* was interesting. And a tiny bit intimidating too.

I was thinking about it and I'm pretty sure this was the first time I've ever attended a proper Astanga Yoga class. I went to at least one 'Astanga-style Vinyasa' class with Teacher M, but it was 8 years ago, before YTT. In fact, I think it was part of the entrance requirement for YTT! We had to attend a class with each of the YTT teachers so they could evaluate us. I thought: “How hard can a Level II Astanga class be?” And proceeded to get my ass whupped. Teacher M came up to me, after I had scraped myself off the floor, and said “I think you'll be fine in YTT.” Yeep!

First challenge was finding Shala Central. The Shala has moved around town a fair bit over the years. Because they only teach morning Mysore classes, they rent space from an existing studio. For a short time, they were even located in a studio I was teaching at (before it went out of business). Now they're at a small studio space in a funky, bohemian market area. I locked my bike and headed upstairs. I was 20 minutes early.

First impressions: It's a SMALL room, warm, lots of windows. There were 12 people at this led Primary and I'm pretty sure I was the only 'alien' in the room; everyone else was a regular Mysore student. The room was kept toasty throughout the practice. I was sweating *buckets*. It was cozy, but not overly croweded. We had to do a bit of body-rearranging for some poses.

Teacher R greeted me at the door (I had emailed in advance). I offered a nutshell version of my yoga history: 14 years of practice, 2 of those Astanga. And then came the question I was bracing myself for:

'Where do you practice?'

'Home practice? How did you learn Astanga?'

'From books and DVDs?' *raised eyebrows*

I don't think she really knew quite what to make of me. She and Teacher P certainly kept an eagle on me during the practice. They were never mean-spirited or obvious about it, but I was, after all, a stranger in their shala. It makes sense that they would carefully evaluate my practice.

After standing, though, I sensed a subtle shift in attitude and by the time we did closing poses, Teacher P was quietly making suggestions for me to deepen my poses (I was being rather conservative in my practice since I was in a new space and unaccustomed to the room temperature). He called me by name in a comfortable way. I felt welcome.

Their feedback was *awesome*

- My stance in Utthita Trikonasana is too wide
- My stance in Virabhadrasana I is not wide enough ;-)
- I should take my palm all the way to the floor in Parsvakonasana (I tend to stay on my fingertips)
- My foot is much too close my inner thigh in Marichyasana A. There should be a space of at least 10 centimetres between foot and thigh.
- I need to bring my hands slightly forward into a steeper angle in Uttana Padasana
- In Sirsasana half-bend, my feet are a bit too close to the floor; I can raise them a bit
- Pointed toes everywhere! In Navasana and Halasana (which I knew about) but also Sarvangasana, Sirsasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (which is pronounced 'PaschiMAttanasana'

And I got some good 'squishes'. I love me a good squish! ;-)

I wisely skipped Setu Bandhasana and observed the other students doing this pose. There were many variations in the room, I asked about these during the question/answer session afterward. I got some good tips for moving into this pose slowly (one variation, which looks like an Upward Table pose, looks doable for me). They shared some strategies for lowering the head in Bhujapindasana (without the faceplant!). The other students brought up questions about the vinyasa sequencing, which I'm fairly comfortable with already, thanks to Sharath's CD.

This session was very valuable to me in terms of feedback, a few small adjustments (Hey! My ankles can cross in Supta Kurmasana! And I stayed bound too!) and doing the Primary Series in a group setting. I really enjoyed it. I actually found it easier to focus on Ujjayi, Drishte and Bandhas with so much feedback (in sound, movement and energy) coming from all around me.

The biggest surprise (it always is) was Sirsasana. It was a non-event. I came into the pose. I held the pose. I did the half-bend. I came out of the pose. This one was my nemesis for years, so it still floors me every time I do it, particularly in a new situation and, in this case, very tight quarters (God help me if I fell! I didn't...).

As I rode home, the sky was dark with thunder clouds. I stopped at the burrito place briefly and by the time my meal was ready, it was pouring. I worried about this for half-a-second before realising, 'Hey! I'm already soaking wet from practice!' and rode home in the rain.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Astanga

I resurrected Sharath's led Primary from iTunes purgatory and loaded it on my Shuffle today, then took my practice to the park. It wasn't nice out, but it wasn't raining either. It was gray and cool, but at least the park was quiet.

I was enjoying the fresh air and the subtle suggestion of background noise: children laughing, cars going by, a soccer ball in play. That is, until a Canadian Idol reject arrived with his acoustic guitar in hand. *sigh*

I play my guitar in the park too, so I can hardly be critical. In fact, I would have enjoyed the sound of his guitar, had he been playing quietly. But this guy sat down a few metres from where I was practising (it's a BIG park; there are plenty of benches to choose from) and proceeded to sing classic rock favourites LOUDLY.

I managed to tune him out for most of my practice, but as I settled into Savasana, I realised there was no chance whatsoever I could relax with that racket going on the background (he just got louder and louder). So I abruptly picked up my mat, called the dog and headed inside. It's probably for the best. I'm covered with mosquito welts from the beach yesterday. Not 'bites', 'welts'. If I had stayed, the mosquitoes might have carried me off! I enjoyed an indoors Savasana.

My goal for practice today was to do absolutely everything - no skips - to see where I'm at with the Primary Series. So I tried to do Janu Sirsasana C, which I always skip (ouchmyfeet). I did Marichyasana D, which I often skip (I can't bind anymore, or at least, I couldn't today). I did all the vinyasa between poses (but I always do - that’s my favourite part!). I did every single Navasana (there are five on that recording). I even attempted to do Setu Bandhasana (argh).

Tomorrow morning, Shala Central is offering a led Primary Series and I'm sort of planning to go. I want some help with a few poses and would like to get feedback on my practice. Sharath is here at that end of this month. I can't afford to go to every session he teaches, but I would like to attend one of the led Primary at least. I'm hoping the class tomorrow will give me some confidence to do that.

I went shopping today for a pair of capri-style yoga pants (so I won't need to humiliate myself by wearing short-shorts to the shala; my long yoga pants are way too warm). I ended up with two capris and two new yoga tops. All were discounted overstocks from Winners, nice clothes and I'm delighted.

The purchases are under the pretext of 'clothes for work', tax write-off, yada, yada. But EEEEEK! The money! The money I don't have! I wish I could be one of those people who 'trusts the universe to provide' but my Responsible Spending Genes always override my faith in Cosmic Abundance.

Manifest! Manifest! Manifest?

But hey! I'll sure look snazzy tomorrow as I break my neck in Setu Bandhasana!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Vinyasa

I did an early morning practice today. It's amazing how I can motivate myself when I have a sufficiently exciting carrot dangling in front of me (beach! beach! beach!). My abs are still tender, so I took it a bit easy and did a 45-minute class from Yogadownload, 'Hip Opening Flow #2' with Lisa. I'm appreciative of the different time durations for these classes. I can choose a longer or shorter one to fit the available time I have for my practice.

Then, beach day!

Years ago, when I was still working for Acme Beverage, I used to get a benefit called 'summer hours.' In return for working an extra hour the first four days of the week, Friday was a half-day. I would go in early, leave at 11 and be at the ferry docks by noon, ready for an afternoon of sand, surf and sun (okay, not so much surf, but plenty of the other two). The beach isn't crowded on Fridays and the line-ups for the ferries are short.

We took our time heading to the ferry today. We stopped at the Café and shared banana pancakes. I filled my tires at the bike shop and we browsed one of my favourite independent bookstores, which is closing at the end of the month. All stock 20% off. I found a great muscular anatomy book (more soon - it's awesome!)

The beach was all the usual fabulousness. It was actually coolish, which made sunbathing pleasant because it wasn't unbearably hot. I'm now brown as a bean, even with the thick layer of SPF 45 sunblock I applied before going out. It's my good Italian breeding! The e coli was only 30, but I didn't swim. The water was far too cold.

On the way home, we almost got hit by a commercial bus. I met up with the driver at the station where I was brusquely told by the driver that she had honked so I would 'get out of her way.'

Ahem... Obviously *someone* has not studied up on the Share the Road traffic laws of my city. Well, she probably will after she gets ticketed for aggressive driving. I reported the incident to the police and filed a report today. They take this stuff seriously.

I'm all about compassion and kindness but don't run me down with your goddamn bus.

Still, it was a good day. And it's supposed to rain all weekend, so I'm glad we got out and enjoyed the sun while we could.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Astanga

Great day! I taught two classes, walked to the Big Park with the dog and did my yoga practice in the sparkling sunlight. I meandered through full Primary and yes, my abs *still* hurt. A lot. I was having all of these 'ouchmyabs' moments. These served as not-so-gentle reminders which poses require core strength. Apparently, most of them. Especially Garba Pindasana. Ouch.

But the flip side: Urdhva Dhanurasana felt GREAT!

I'm in a good mood this week.

Do you remember 10 days ago, when I kept bursting into tears during my practice and I couldn't stop crying? Well, this week I'm having the opposite problem. I'm happy! Happy, happy, happy! And it's not like everything is going *that* well. I'm actually pretty stressed out about money these days. Worried about about my teaching schedule. Concerned about my relationship. But still, I'm happy. And, in part, it's because I'm doing lots of yoga, spending time outdoors and teaching. I'm doing all the things I love doing.

This time last year, I was better off financially, but I was overscheduled and stressed out, hated the office I was temping at, and I didn't have time for my practice (and then I got sick). I guess I'm just ridiculously happy not to be in that situation again, even if it means that I'm church-mouse poor. It's something to think about.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Vinyasa

When the alarm went off this morning, I sat up in bed and actually winced. That abdominal thing from the Shala South class yesterday? Yeah, I felt it. I've been feeling it all day. In my side body too. Sidebends = ouch. Bujangasana = ouch. Coming up from a seated position = OUCH. There will definitely be an Epsom salt bath tonight!

Meanwhile, the studio class fun continues: I took another yoga detour today.

Yesterday, I received an email from Teacher V announcing that her studio would be closing for the interim, starting this Thursday. I've been meaning to go to a few classes there over the summer, but I kept getting side tracked. Now I'm just kicking myself! This is very shocking news. She's hunting for another space, though, and I hope she finds one. I really love the atmosphere of this studio - it's one of the few in the city I've gone to with any regularity.

As soon as I got the news, I made firm plans to go to a noon class to visit Teacher V and also to say 'goodbye to the studio.' You see, I get really sentimental about the studio spaces I've practised in. When my 'home studio' (in my neighbourhood) shut down several years ago, I was heartbroken. I often still gaze longingly towards the fourth floor windows where I did my YTT. I sometimes wonder if the people in that space (now an office) feel the energy of the hundreds of yogis who practised there over the years.

This studio is lovely. In the main room, afternoon light streams in through big windows and there are plants everywhere. The mall is directly across the street, along with a huge billboard featuring Celine Dion. It was always a bit disconcerting to look up and find Celine staring me down as I practised. I've been eagerly awaiting the removal of that billboard for years. Now, it appears that Celine has outlasted the studio, which is a sad, sad state of affairs.

Memories: I bought my hollow wood blocks (required for YTT) at this studio in 2003. In 2007, I took a year-long course on Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita with Teacher H. I also attended a few of her asana classes while she still taught there. Last summer, in Teacher H's class, I did a freestanding headstand for the first time in a class (I was doing them regularly at home). I've sampled the occasional Jivamukti class and particularly enjoy Teacher V's classes.

Today, this wasn't my best class with Teacher V, but I suspect she has a lot on her mind and I felt broken. And I wasn't up to full strength, being so incredibly sore from the class at Shala South yesterday. It's cooled down a lot today; the room wasn't warm at all. I barely broke a sweat (and had to move my yoga towel to the side because it wasn't giving me enough traction; needs to be damp for that).

I was delighted with the opportunity to do one last headstand at this studio. I came up with straight legs and stayed for the entire duration (probably about 2 minutes). We did Surya Yantrasana (Sun Dial Pose). She also taught Baddha Ardha Chandrasana (Bound Half Moon Pose) which was good fun. I can sort of do it. It's mostly a mental leap, easier against the wall until you can get your head wrapped around it.

By the way, when did Virabhadrasana III get so horrible? I used to like this pose, probably because no one was asking me to square my hips to the floor. Argh. I noticed that my Ujjayi breath was completely absent from my practice. Usually I'm able to bring it into my practice regardless of what style I'm practising, but not today.

Geez, I hope I can get out of bed tomorrow - I have two classes to teach! Epsom salts...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vinyasa

I had an unexpected detour in my practice today. In the morning, I received an email from Shala South promoting a free yoga class in the park. Cool! I like Shala South for being funky and somewhat non-traditional. They don't take themselves too, too seriously (Unlike Shala Central, who take themselves VERY seriously and are VERY traditional. I can't speak of Shala North, since I've never been there).

This class was over two-hours long, Ashtanga-based, accompanied by a live drummer. The drum was a nice touch because it kept the pace going (I kept thinking of Arturo and his metronome).To add icing to the cake, the class was being held in the same park where my favourite drum circles gathers. It's been ages since I attended a circle, so I decided to bring my drum.

Just as I was firming up my plans, it rained. Not just a few sprinkles here and there, but *heavy rain with big thunder booms and lightning flashes across the sky. Gah. By afternoon, I received a message saying the class had been moved indoors.

Fortunately, the showers eased off enough to allow me to bike to the Shala. I arrived early but the room was already packed. Over the next 15 minutes, the mats got closer and closer together. By the time class started there was *no space* between mats, not even a centimetre! There must have been over 60 people packed into that tiny room. Every time another person arrived, the assistant would call out: "Move your mats closer!" People were literally squeezed into corners and in odd spaces.

I'm not really picky about where I am in a room, but somehow I ended up over by the wall beside the cubbies. I finally moved myself and my mat to one side for awhile so the cubby-goers could tuck their items away. It wasn't a problem once the class started though, and the wall came in handy. It was also a relief to have a tiny bit of personal space, even if it was only 3 centimetres of space to my left.

The heat was tough. The storms had brought up the humidity. It was unbearable inside that room. I hadn't done a single sun salutation and sweat was streaming down my face. I spread my yoga towel over the mat, figuring that I was already dewy enough to stick to it. I was right. I've *never* had a sweatier practice. It felt like Bikrams. My shins were sweating.

The class was taught by one of the studio directors, Teacher D, and it was truly, completely, entirely free (which suits my budget just fine). We started with an abdominal exercise that left me gasping for breath. All around me, I could see the regulars pumping away and I was moving in slow motion. Sun salutations were next, 5 A's and 5 B's and then some of the standing sequence. We varied the practice a bit, due to space constraints (there was no way we were doing the Prasaritas).

There were a few fun poses thrown in. She taught Svarga Dvidasana, Bird of Paradise (I think this pose is stalking me. It comes up in every Vinyasa class I go to) and Parsva Bakasana. I got the impression that she was teaching a milder version of the class due to the heat and the multiple levels in the room.

By the time we finished, I was sweaty, but nowhere near as sweaty as the guy next to me (his mat made 'squishy' sounds when he walked on it). My clothes were soaked and the bike ride home felt *heavenly*.

Overall, it was a good experience. As a home practitioner, it was great feeling the energy of a room full of people and I *loved* the drum. The pace was pretty steady throughout, except for the more difficult poses. Interestingly, the drum seemed to act as a prompt for my Ujjayi breathing too - it helped me focus.

I'll be seeing Teacher D again at the end of August because I've signed up for her class at the yoga conference I'm volunteering at.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Astanga

Amazing day, *long* day.

Practice was in the morning, before all the fun. I did the full my full Primary Series, indoors, back to the old routine and it felt great. I even did handstands.

New rule for handstands: No more kicking up. I'm forcing myself to jump up, even if it means that I hover around with my knees tucked for a long time, never straightening my legs. It needs to happen eventually and the bottom line is, I'll never be able to do this pose without a wall if I keep kicking up. Also, kicking up is easy-peasy. I need to challenge myself.

The other work-in-progress is nailing jumpthroughs and jumpbacks. I'm getting close, sort of. The rest of my practice is coming along so nicely, this is really the last element: the transitions.

The rest of my day had nothing to do with yoga. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and food for picnic (my usual: fruit, lavash, hummus) and headed to the beach for the day. It was fantastic: perfect weather, not too crowded (though more crowded than Saturday; everyone has figured out that the ferries are running again...drat!) and the water was clean.

What do I mean by clean? Okay: this is a lake, a lake next to a large city. There is *gulp* e coli in our water, to varying degrees. If it's more than 100ppm (parts per million) you're not supposed to swim in it. To be honest, I probably swam in dirtier water as a kid, living at the lagoon, but I'm a grown-up now and more squeamish. Lately, the e coli counts have been hovering around 30ppm, which is great, definitely swimmable. I'm not a big lake swimmer, but I'll give it a go when it's 30.

Today, it was 39ppm. I did swim, but didn't stay in for long. After that, it got hazy and very, very windy. We were considering making an quick exit when we noticed the waves. The WAVES! We almost never get any kind of wave action at the lake, but these were 2-3 foot mini-breakers on our beach! We headed in, cautiously (apparently, I was standing there with my ankles in the water in my bikini, knees knocking together, shivering).

The water felt good once I adjusted to it. The waves were so much fun! They were rough enough to knock down an adult (the life guards were hovering nervously, as there were children in the water). One kid was even body-surfing!

We stayed for about an hour, laughing and enjoying the 'surf.' As we were leaving the water, I noticed that the information board had been updated and the e coli was 11ppm (!). That's incredible. Lots of deep lake water being pushed to our side of the lake (Ha! Take *that*, New York!)

We dried off and headed to the island restaurant for an overpriced meal and drinks on the patio. We missed our ferry and played on the playground equipment and goofed around on the basketball court (the island kids leave a ball there) for a while until the next one came at 9 p.m.

The playground is an Ashtangi's paradise! There is a huge, cylindrical climbing structure made of rope. No kids on it today, so I climbed all the way to the top, then hooked my feet and hung upside down (my partner just shook her head: “Do you want to *lose* your supper?!*).

Fun, fun, fun! Photos next time I'm there.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vinyasa

I did a Yogadownload class today, Heart Opening Flow #1, 60-minute class with Jackie. This is billed as an 'intermediate' class and I found it challenging but not impossible. The cueing was a bit over-the-top, though. It's difficult to pin down, but some teachers are a bit too 'dramatic' in their presentation. It's annoying and can be distracting.

The sequence was great though. It moved along, all the counter poses were there where I needed them. The pacing was good and there were plenty of rest intervals. I liked the variations on the sun salutation - fun!

I did all of the suggested advanced variations. I loved transitioning from bound Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle) to Svarga Dvidasana (Bird of Paradise) - that was new to me, and awesome! This is the stuff I miss when I'm doing Ashtanga practice exclusively. It's just nice to do something different.

This practice also had all kinds of standing backbends and there backbends in each 'Crescent Lunge'. It reminded me of the Anusara classes I was taking a couple of years ago. By the time I hit camel, I was feeling pretty good and I was surprised how deep I was able to go in the pose. This is definitely a class I will do again.

I slept in late this morning, 10 a.m. because I didn't go to bed until 2. Yes, as a matter of fact, I *did* go out dancing last night. It was fun I guess, but Holy Meat Market! I could feel the questioning gazes slide over me like slippery fish as I walked into my favourite bar. I haven't been there in awhile and it's an entirely different crowd than I remember; I didn't recognise anyone. I stayed for a half-hour and when it stopped feeling fun, I headed home.

Since it was a lovely summer night, I decided to walk. I noticed that a new Bikram studio has opened up around the corner. I don't like the one down my street . The director is an ass and he *hates* Ashtangis, goes out of his way to be a jerk if he knows a student practices Ashtanga. The last time I went in, he stopped the entire class mid-sequence and announced “Kai is doing Triangle Pose wrong. We will all do it again.” I was floored (and embarrassed). He also insisted that I round my back in forward bends and hyperextend my knees. I never went back.

Don't misunderstand, I do try to respect the traditions of the studios I visit and honour the instructions of my teachers, but not to the degree that I risk injury. When I see a hyperextended knee on a Bikrams advert, I actually cringe.

Anyways, I might have to give this new studio a try sometime. I've heard good things about the directors and I do enjoy the occasional Birkram Torture Session. ;-)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Astanga


Newsflash: Summer is here!

Sunny days are here, and hot, summer-y, HUMID, weather is here! It's awesome! We had a few gray days last week, but so far, August looks like it will be hot, humid and sunny. And I'm so grateful - the winters here are so cold, my happiest days are in the summer. It's been so dark and cool this summer, it didn't seem fair.

But better late than never, right? Today was a beach day, my first this year! I slept in a bit, taught a morning class, then headed off to the ferries.

I *love* riding the ferries. I always feel like I'm really going someplace when I cross water. The trip isn't long, no more than 15 minutes but the view of the city from the water is fantastic and it really feels like a daytrip. I packed a picnic and everything!

At my favourite beach, I rediscovered my favourite spot, and unrolled my travel mat. I started sun salutations before noon, but it was already HOT out! I'm glad I brought my old Mysore rug because it was too hot to practice on my black travel mat without it.

I found the heat and the sun really distracting and struggled a lot to maintain focus. No bugs today, but lots of sweat rolling off my brow and glinting sunlight off of the water. There was some cloud cover in the afternoon and I have to admit, I could have used some of that in the morning because (and I can't believe I'm saying this), it was just too much sun.

I ended up doing half-primary instead of full, which made sense, given I was surrounded by hot sand (Kurmasana would have been unpleasant). I did do the closing sequence, though and headstand was fun (and elicited some stares - by this time the beach was filling up). Savasana wasn't fun. I just felt hot and miserable, so I got up, changed into my bikini and went for a swim. Floating Savasana!

Yes, you read that correctly: I actually *swam* in the lake, the yucky, icky lake. For the record: I'm a water-snob: I hate lakes for swimming, especially this lake. But it was SO hot out. The water felt amazing - I even went in for a second dip. The sun felt good after the water. There's nothing like a swim in cool water, then drying out in the sun (I really miss having a swimming pool at my apartment building).

After the swim, I did a lot of reading, flew my kite and listened to music. I ate fresh fruit for lunch and dozed off. I stayed until about 5, which was the perfect amount of time. It was nice being there solo, didn't have to follow anyone's schedule except my own.

The fun continues tonight - I'm going out for Thai food and *may* even go out dancing afterward.