Okay, confession time: I’ve not been having an easy time with my new, longer practice and I haven’t been adjusting very well to the realities of a home practice. If I were to choose three words to describe my practice at the moment, they would be: Long. Difficult. Lonely.
I kind of muddled through for the the first week-and-a-bit, limping along forlornly, trying to keep a brave face. Then circumstances rescued me by providing brilliant and entirely valid excuses not to be on the mat (Moon Day! Lady’s Holiday!).
But all valid excuses eventually come to an end.
On Saturday, I happily did a led Primary, for fun. But as I faced a return to my longdifficultlonely Primary+Intermediate practice on Sunday, I faltered. And my ever-helpful Brain lobbed onto a great alternative: Shala Central’s monthly led Primary! It was scheduled for this Sunday. I could go as a drop-in student! I absolutely *love* the led Primary class at the Shala. I could visit my friends! I could do a warm, cozy safe (easy!) Primary Series practice surrounded by shalamates and led by a Sanskrit count. I could geek out over Astanga during the after-class discussion. And eat muffins!
Seriously, who wouldn’t want to do this? Particularly when the alternative is a difficult 2-hour-plus practice, alone in a quiet apartment, punctuated by endless backbends and humiliating attempts to stand up from them.
I was all ready to go, bolstered by a million reasons this was SUCH a good idea. Then I stepped back and did a reality check. And I realised the *only* reason I wanted to go to led Primary at the Shala was to avoid my longdifficultlonely practice at home.
And that’s not a very good reason.
So, in the end, I decided to stay home, put on my Big Girl Ashtangi Pants, and do my practice.
Not that it wasn’t a struggle. I woke to the 5:30 alarm, remembered my practice, rolled over and went back to sleep. Woke again, remembered again, avoided again and again until 7, when I couldn’t put it off any longer. I took a salt bath, heated up the apartment, unrolled my mat and started my practice.
And you know what? It wasn’t THAT bad. In fact, I had a really nice practice.
Last week, I had a couple breakthroughs which seem to be sticking around so I’ll mention them:
- Very smooth and controlled lotus jumpbacks. I’m still doing that cheaty Mayurasana thing with my arms, but now I can lift up and hold the lotus there before the jumpback.
- Successful exit from Kurmasana to Bakasana and jumpback! No toe-to-floor-cheats! The key to this seems to be pushing down through my hands as I swing both feet around at the same time. It’s not a pretty Bakasana, but it’s solid enough for the jumpback. (I’m still not nailing the exit from Bhujapidasana because my legs are not far enough up my shoulders).
And I had two HUGE breakthroughs in today’s practice.
In Laghu Vajrasana, I’ve been lowering my head to a block, set on end - vertically - then coming back up. I do this over and over again until I’m tuckered - usually 10-15 repetitions. Today, lowering to the vertical block was too easy-peasy so I set the block horizontally and tried that a few times. That was pretty easy-peasy too, so I laid the block on its side and tried that.
Okay, that wasn’t *exactly* easy-peasy, but it was still do-able! I lowered and came up several times until the movement felt smooth and controlled. Skippetty’s advice (for standing from a backend, actually, but it’s well-applied to Laghu), ‘lifting from the belly button’ has been really helpful to me. I find it’s better if I just pretend that I have no solid body above my mid-torso, then work on bringing my hips and belly forward. As I come up, I allow my chest/shoulders/head to roll up floppy-ragdoll-style.
Since it was going so well, I decided to raise the bar even further. I looked down at the block, looked at the floor and thought, “Hey, why not?!” I shoved the block aside and tried lowering my head all the way to FLOOR. And I came back up!! It was challenging, but with a big inhale it was do-able. I repeated this a few times. Yay!
Here’s where I raised the bar a little bit *too* far. I wondered if I could lower my head to the floor, then *hold it* there for a couple breaths and come back up again. Nope! Ha, ha! I ended up collapsing into Supta Virasana, then laughing as I struggled to sit back up.
But still, this is a LOT of progress in this pose!
Then I worked on backbends. *sigh*
I did three warm-up Urdhva Dhanurasana from the floor, bringing my head to the floor for a one breath rest in between each. In these warmups, I focus on keeping the weight in my heels while relaxing the gluteals and breathing (!). The biggest challenge seems to be straightening the arms. As soon as I think about my legs, I forget about my arms. I also walked my hands in a bit each time to deepen the backend.
Next, I started playing around with hangbacks and dropping back to the wall. I placed two cork blocks at the wall, set vertically, and walked my hands down the wall to the blocks. I thought this little bit of height might help me stand up. Nope. No dice. I didn’t feel stable.
While reading through Grimmly’s notes about standing up/ dropping back, I recalled that he used his sofa as a prop. I decided to drop back to the futon and try standing up from there. The futon gives me about 30 centimetres of height.
I dropped back to the edge of the futon very easily, then rocked my hips forward a few times. It felt awkward. I decided to approach the action *exactly* as I do Laghu Vajrasana. So I exhaled completely, pushed my hips forward and applied Skippetty’s advice about ‘lifting from the belly button’. I kept my attention on my hips and belly, tried to relax my head and shoulders, ignore the fact that I have arms (for some reason, the arms always throw me off).
Then I rocked forward and stood up! It happened so smoothly, I thought it was a fluke! So I dropped back again. I stood up again. I did this about 8 times. I just couldn’t believe I was standing up from *anything* resembling a backbend! But I was!!! I was doing it!
Keep in mind, though, my hands were 30 centimetres from the floor. But it’s a good start!
From here, I can work on developing muscle memory for the action and gradually move to a point closer to the floor (dropping to the futon frame will be my next goal). I’ve been through this whole song-and-dance with dropbacks. It’s all a matter of taking baby steps. I can do this!!!
Funny aside: My arms *really* do take on a life of their own when I’m standing up, especially since I’m pointedly ignoring them. I’m not sure what they were doing the first time I stood because I was so excited that it actually happened. But the second time, they sort of flapped around like Mermaid Arms. The next three times, they did this whirly thing like airplane propellers (as if THAT’S going to bring me to standing *eyeroll*). After that, they were doing a combination of propeller-hands and jazz-hands.
Sheesh! I’m going to have to regain control of my crazy arms if I ever want to stand up at a shala! I’m pretty sure jazz-hands aren’t part of Astanga yoga! I’ll never hear the end of it! ;-)