Monday, June 14, 2010


When I tell people that I’m a yoga teacher and mention how much I practice, reactions vary. No one seems to think that I work very hard (Ha, ha! I wish I they could see me dragging my tired carcass home after a day that starts with my practice at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 9:30 p.m. with my fifth class). Some people (mostly guys) think I must be VERY flexible. Women often comment about how slender I am, but this has more to do with my food politics than my practice.

But almost everyone seems to think that I must be soooo relaxed after doing soooo much yoga, as if my entire existence was one big Spa Day.

No one ever says: “Wow! I’ll bet you just love the discomfort!”, but it might be more accurate. If I were to write my personal Declaration of Independence, ‘life, liberty, happiness and the pursuit of discomfort’ might be in there. I’m a big believer in exploring discomfort as a practice (that’s how this blog came about!). If something feels too easy, I’m probably not doing it right. If it feels hard, it’s worth exploring. If I have an aversion to something or someone, I like to dive in. If it’s difficult, I want more (well, to a point *grin*).

I’m a pitta, so I like to chase things! In my practice, I like to chase sensations in my body (or give them names). In my teaching, I encourage my students to find their edge and to follow it. Lately, I’ve been combing through Maehle’s book, Yoga Mala and the Internet, looking for little ways to shake up my Primary Series. Things are getting a bit too comfy-cozy for my taste. I’m getting lazy.

The Janu’s are easy for me - I’m flexible in forward bends (though I’m sure there’s some alignment stuff that could be tweaked). I’m still working toward the full expression of Janu Sirsasana C, backing off whenever I encounter problems with my feet. Most of the time, I manage something recognizable. On Friday, I went all out and my feet felt fine afterward, so I’m starting to rethink this one a little bit. This is one area I might push a bit.

The Marichyasanas always give me something to chew on. Love them! There’s at least one element in each pose that I have yet to fully understand and master. I’m grateful to DR for pushing me in Marichyasana C on Friday because he showed me what is possible in the pose. Today, I worked on a deeper rotation and I was amazed by how far I could go on my own. The wrist bind was easy-peasy! I managed to find the wrist bind on both sides of Marichyasana D too. That pose is feeling much deeper - my lotus knee is getting closer to the floor and I’m finding more length in my spine.

I’ve decided to add a ‘micro-pause’ in the Lolasana after my lift-up to jumpback, in order to add some extra work there. I try to stay lifted with feet pointed back just for a moment before I lower my feet to the floor for my ‘cheat.’ It’s hard and I don’t always manage it (Okay, honestly? I think I did it maybe five times this morning). If the teachers nix this idea, I’ll drop it, but for now, I’ll keep doing as much as I can.

R worked with me on my jumpthroughs today. She instructed me to lift my hips higher as I jump forward, then pull the knees in toward the chest, flexing the feet as I pull them through my arms. This is hard work and it’s a bit scary to me (a la handstand), which is good for my brain! I’ve put this one on the agenda for the rest of the week!

Project ‘Kurmasana Heel Lift’ was a success! I’m glad because I wasn’t sure if it was just a fluke on Friday. But as soon as I worked my shoulders under my knees and pulled my legs closer to my sides, the heels lifted! This is great news because the pose now feels difficult in all the right ways: my legs are working hard and my chest is pushed to the floor.

I need to do the same thing (get belly and chest to the floor) in Upavista Konasana. Now that my hips are starting to open more, I’m working harder in this pose. I reviewed the vinyasa for the transition from Upavista Konasana to Urdhva Upavista Konasana (last night, at 3 a.m., when Important! Thoughts! were once again keeping me awake!). I tried to integrate this into my practice today.

Each time I think I really know the proper vinyasa for a pose, I look it up and I’m amazed by how wrong I am. :-D For some reason, I find this hilarious and wonderful, like there’s always a new frontier of ignorance to be explored in my practice! Doh.

Supta Kurmasana was so much fun today! R watched me squiggle myself in, then she rearranged my legs for me. I’m starting to get the knack of pulling my feet toward my head once my legs are in place. It’s cool how the pose ‘comes together’ when I do this! After R tilted me up, I managed to push down through my hands for a decent lift, but my vinyasa fell apart on the exit. I was just so excited about the whole thing, I kind of lost my head! R patiently talked me through the vinyasa anyway (she’s really great about that). I wish, wish, wish I could get a decent Bakasana exit.

Ah, Backbends! If I don’t get enough discomfort in the rest of my practice, I’ll always find it here!

I did three and and spent a long time in each (well, for me, at least), really working my legs. My legs were tired! I did one more backbend, but came down to rest. R just shook her head at me.Too much resting! She said that I’ll never build any strength if I keep bailing out like that. I asked what I should be doing. She wants me to be able to do five Urdhva Dhanurasana in a row, only touching my head down to the floor in between.

I tried again and I managed four. Also: I need to walk my hands in while I’m in the backbend, not while my head is on the floor.


This week, we welcome back 70s Yoga Lady Kareen. I know you all missed her!

Today, Kareen is showing us her favourite Dristes!

Figure 39. Parsva Driste (with a slightly creepy smile, but we’ll ignore that)

Figure 40. Ajna Driste (which causes an immediate wardrobe/hairstyle change along with a few pounds of spontaneous and temporary weight loss)

Figure 41. Nasagrai Driste (in order to show off the awesome eye makeup)

Figure 42 OMG Driste (taken after observing the muffin-top hanging over the edge of her Lulu pants)


sarah said...

No doubt in my mind you are working very hard. I'm exhilarated but exhausted after teaching 3 classes -- so much love pours out of me that I think there is nothing left at all until I start walking home... and then the world seems so vivid.
This is interesting, this working hard thing, something for me to ponder. Love the 70s drishte images. it's not about the outside of course...but still ... hoooray for 21.5.800

Tara said...

I get that a lot as well: "You do yoga! You must be so relaxed!" Honestly, it's about 50/50, plus or minus a few depending on whatever is going on in my life. It also reminds me of something I read on a different blog ( back during winter: "Yoga enhances our lives, but it doesn't make us superhuman."

I also love what you said about exploring discomfort. I tend to take the runner's route and just grit my teeth a little bit and ignore the discomfort until it's time to move out of the pose. Next time I'll try it your way and explore it :-)

Jay said...

Wonderful post... Very informational and educational as usual!

Acai Optimum

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting how people's perspectives lean? I actually had a bit of a falling out with a close friend over my practice. She announced boldly one day, "well not all of us have time to practice yoga all day!" I snapped back, yoga practice is 24/7...OFF the mat into how you deal with daily life...and on it when you can be. And on a physical level, of course I took offense a bit feeling not only is Ashtanga a difficult practice for over-50 me but I also teach 4+ classes a week as well as practice 5-6 days a week. None of it all that relaxing all of the time but I LOVE it and that's what counts :)

Boodiba said...

Primary doesn't set up ANYone for back bending except the super gumby spined.

Maybe you're ready for a few poses of 2nd????

Kaivalya said...

So funny that you left this comment when you did - this very thought has been rolling around my mind all day!

2nd series won't be given to me in a traditional Mysore room until I'm standing up on my own, and I'm at peace with that.

But we both know that I'm happily 'crim' outside of the Shala. ;-) I haven't mentioned it much on the blog lately, but I've been doing my 'research poses' in the evenings.

I've added Ustrasana and a variation of Laghu, along with stretches for my hips, shoulders and achilles tendons. Urdhva Dhanurasana feels much better after all this work!

I've been working in the pose, trying to shift the weight into my feet until I can press up on my fingers (something DR suggested to me last week). Not there yet, but I was getting close tonight!

I'll keep working at it. Something's gotta give!!!

Boodiba said...

Ah but it happens all the time, even in NYC. For the non easy back benders, like myself, often 2nd up to Kapo is necessary for some time (six months in my case) before standing happens.

I am wishing for you... someone to teach you & assist you up to Kapo, ommm chakka lakka lakka.

Veri: horne

Now THAT is funny but has nothing to do with Kapotasana!

Kaivalya said...

I smiled when I read about 'love pouring out of you' - what a wonderful way to think about your teaching! I really like that!

The way I see it, the discomfort is there, so you might as well be friends with it. Sometimes when you try that, it just goes away!

Thanks so much :-)

It can be hard for friends to understand Astanga. I've had some really entertaining conversations with 'civilian' friends about my practice. :-D Not everyone understands. I really do love this practice - that's what keeps me going when I'm feeling exhausted or discouraged. I also find that teaching 'fills my love tank' when I'm feeling depleted.