Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Astanga

I woke up before the alarm this morning. I must be adjusting to the new, early schedule! It helps that I’ve been getting to bed on time.

Today’s practice didn’t feel particularly strong or fiery, but I think I may just be adjusting to the heat and the environment. I decided to focus on my attention on the breath and keeping things flowing. Teacher M is good about pointing out areas where I stop and ‘fuss’. Today, he asked me to come into Dandasana and take the next pose wherever I ‘landed’ even if I was not completely on the mat.

Up to this point, the adjustments have been easy and quick but today M stopped me in a pose and kept me there for a LONG time. I had already taken 5 breaths in Kurmasana when he walked over and held me there for another five breaths for an adjustment. Then he rearranged my feet (bringing my legs out wider) and I stayed for another 5 breaths. With the adjustment, I was able to get my chest and chin to the floor and activate my legs. My heels didn’t *quite* lift up, but they were thinking about it!

In Urdhva Dhanurasana, I need to be mindful not to turn my right foot out. I currently carry too much weight in my arms; I need to root down through the heels, bring weight into the feet. At home, I’ve been playing around with hang-backs and coming up, carefully observing the muscular action required to come up from a backbend. I need this awareness to stand up on my own.

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if I could drop back and stand up on my own by the end of April?

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A Debrief: March, The Month of Tapas

Good-bye, March. You started strong, but turned into a marathon of a month. When I dubbed you ‘The Month of Tapas’, I had NO idea. You really kicked my ass. Um, thanks!

At the beginning of the month, I set some goals:

- Keep a six-day Astanga practice, including my Intermediate poses on at least 4 of those days
DONE, the Intermediate poses stopped when I started at the Shala
- Go to one class a week with a senior teacher (probably IM, since his class fits my schedule)
DONE, With IM for three weeks and the Shala for a week
- Go to at least one led Primary at Shala Central during the month
FAIL, but I did a week of Mysore, which counts for a lot more
- Increase my meditation practice to 15 minutes daily
DONE, in fact, I’m up to 20 minutes a day
- Practice my guitar daily
FAIL, I may need to go on a guitar hiatus; I’m feeling overwhelmed by my new schedule
- Daily walks, at least a half-hour
DONE, we walked in the park every day, even the yucky days
- Develop and launch an advanced class downtown
FAIL, this one is on hold, but I’m hopeful. I’m launching an advanced class in the west end starting mid-April
- Attend the yoga show and one or two workshops
DONE, I attended the show, but opted out of the workshops because I’ve signed up for Kino in April

I’m giving some careful thought to my ‘theme’ for April and some reasonable goals. I have a few ideas. April will be a more introspective month, I think.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Astanga

I paid for a month of Shala fees this morning. Now I’m committed, for 30 days, at least!

I didn’t skip any poses at all today, but I had to repeat Garba Pindasana because I was doing it in the wrong direction! All this time, I’ve been circling counter-clockwise and I need to do it clockwise. “This isn’t a problem”, I thought. But then I started to roll...apparently, I’m missing some vital ‘muscle memory’. On the bright side, once I learn this, I’ll be multi-directional!

Chakrasana wasn’t happening for me this morning. I kind of flopped around, but never managed a good landing.


It’s true. The world may be slapping me around a bit this week, but at least my scalp is healthy.

Embrace the small things.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vinyasa

I debated whether I would ‘fess up to bad news on such a public forum, but for better or for worse, it’s bound to affect my practice. So here it is: as of last night around 7:30 p.m., I unexpectedly became single. I’m feeling at peace with the decision and I’m quietly moving on with my life. I’m doing okay.

After the hustle and bustle of the weekend, this Moon Day was really well-timed. I’m yoga-ed out! It was a treat to sleep in this morning. After waking, I tackled the laundry, the cleaning and the grocery shopping, the clutter on my desk.

I made time for a 25 minute YogaDownload session, Yoga for Runners #1 with Dawnelle. This class is one of my favourites and I felt good afterward. I may do the Schiffman shoulder sequence later on today. And there will be a nap scheduled in there someplace too, because I’m playing a late hockey game tonight.

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And then maybe I’ll do some of this, just to let off some more steam:


Rowrrrrrrr!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Astanga

Sundays are often a led Primary at Shala Central, but not today. The Shala was open for Mysore style from 9-11 a.m. This means that everyone was there all at once. At half-past, Teacher M called the entire crowd to Samasthiti and we did the opening chant together, then picked up where we left off.

I was in the back corner today, adjacent to two heaters so I was sweating a few buckets, then a few more for good measure. The headband worked well enough, though my chin was sweating a lot. Yes, my chin. And my shins sweat too! I’m learning the fine art of mopping my face when no one is watching me. Stealth mopping!

I had a good practice. Today’s skipped pose was Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. This is an odd one to lose, given that I love it so much. It’s a big mystery to me why I skip poses at all. I’ve done the Primary Series hundreds of times by now. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who does this. I’m chalking it up to distractions at the Shala. It *is* a big adjustment for me, one that is gradually becoming easier.

I managed three Chakrasanas today, all on the first try (Thank you, Bo Forbes and your Bandhas routine - it helped!). I skipped the Chakrasana post Urdhva Dhanurasana. This morning, I was instructed to do three Urdhva Dhanurasana, take a rest, then do two more. I didn’t have it in me to do a backward roll after that. And I was worried about my neck.

My neck has been a little sore, but on Saturday, I had a sharp pain in my mid-back, near the left shoulderblade. The pain is triggered whenever whenever I turned my head. So, of course, I consulted the Internet. I thought this might be rhomboid pain, but in the course of my Googling, I ran across a reference to Dr. Robin McKenzie’s book ‘Treat Your Own Neck’.

I actually own this book so I pulled it off the shelf and confirmed that my mid-back pain is actually originating from my neck. I decided to test my theory. I took a hot bath, laid on the Acuball, massaged my neck with heat rub and then I did the full range of exercises described in McKenzie’s book. Then I took a muscle relaxant and went to sleep.

When I woke, the pain was GONE. So it’s definitely my neck and Chakrasana is definitely causing it. The neck exercises do alleviate the pain if I keep doing them throughout the day, but it always comes back. Dr. McKenzie offers a long list of things you shouldn’t do to your neck. Chakrasana isn’t on the list, but I’m sure it would be if the good doctor had any clue that consenting adults would actually roll over backwards repeatedly on a daily basis.

So I’m wondering: Do I carry on with Chakrasana? Do I take a break from it? Does this get better in time as I learn the transition? Thoughts, anyone?

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The last day of the Yoga Show was a bit of an overkill. I headed downtown straight from the shala (after a quick wardrobe change). When I arrived, I *almost* unrolled my Manduka, then thought better of it. Instead, I sat in a corner, observed and took notes. It was actually fascinating, particularly during Martin Kirk’s (Anusara) session because it was so large. There was a wide range of bodies, different alignments (and misalignments). When you’re teaching a large group, obscure cues can result in waves of chaos rippling across the class. I was entertained.

The next presenter offered us balls that are *exactly* like tennis balls, except she sells them for twelve bucks a set. She took us through a nice little sequence, which I enjoyed thoroughly because my neck and upper back were still bothering me.

I skipped Pilates Lady and wandered around the show floor saying good-bye to people. Then I finished off the Yoga Show with Nischala Joy Devi’s relaxation session, which blows me away every year (and she’s such a sweetheart, I just adore her).

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For those of you who are wondering, I’ve decided to sign on for a whole month of Mysore and see how it goes. Tomorrow is a Moon Day so I’ll get a bit of a break, but I’m back at the Shala on Tuesday, bright and early.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Vinyasa

It’s Earth Hour. I’m typing this post by candlelight, running my laptop off of a battery. But there are no lights on in my apartment! Only candles. Does that count?

It was fun watching all of the lights in the big office towers trickle off. I have a full view of the skyline and I have to admit, it’s a little less twinkly than usual.

Today was excessively busy and I’m exhausted. But I had fun. In the morning, I did a quick YogaDownload vinyasa class to launch my day. I enjoyed 30 minutes of ‘Yoga for Buns #1’ with Dawnelle. I miss these classes! I can’t remember the last time I did a ‘crescent lunge’ (a signature YogaDownload move: a high lunge with the back knee lifted). This class included some unique variations intended to target the gluteals. I jotted down a few notes so I can use some of it in my Hatha classes. My favourite was a table pose with back leg extended and ‘pulsing’ (there was a lot of pulsing).

The Yoga Show is turning out to be a lot of fun (I knew I would warm up to it). I seriously considered signing up for a couple of workshops and I even had money budgeted, but I spent that money on Kino’s workshops instead and it’s a far better value.

As a yoga teacher, the ’show’ part of the conference is gratis and there’s a lot to see. As I did last year, I’m spending much of my time in the ‘Yoga Garden’ where the free classes are offered. Most of the ‘big names’ move through there eventually. It’s amazing how much you can learn in a a short time slot! Sadly, I missed Seane Corn again this year (I was teaching during her session), but I caught a few of the other ‘big names’.

Dharma Mittra is a trip! For the first two minutes he spoke, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Finally, I fell into the rhythm of his speech and he became instantly comprehensible - it was eerie, like someone turned on the translator! The best part about Dharma’s session was watching Dharma. The dude’s 70+ and he can casually bend back and grab his ankles. He makes it look easy! I really enjoyed him!

Sadie Nardini’s session was very interesting, emphasis on core work. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by her depth of knowledge and creativity. She strikes me as a generous person who is passionate about her work. The fact that she’s so willing to offer knowledge freely in a public forum (YouTube) is impressive to me. I’m going to check out her videos.

As always, Natasha Rizopoulos was dynamic, funny and informative. I really enjoy her because our teaching styles are very similar - I always take away some great cueing from her sessions. This year, she talked about twists and how to bring the work of a twist into the thoracic spine (she observed that this opening carries over into backbending as well). If I was going to pay for a workshop, I would fork over the big bucks for Natasha’s (Sheesh, how many pages of notes would I take with *two hours* of Natasha?). Maybe next year.

Bo Forbes absolutely blew me away with her short presentation on the Bandhas. This was one of the few sessions that I actively participated in. We spent the entire sequence laying on the floor, isolating Mula and Udiyana Bandha, eventually bringing movement and breath into the mix while engaging the Bandhas. It was *brilliant*! This was the one session applies directly to my own practice.

My favourite session was a Canadian: Ottawa-based Yin teacher Mark Laham. I was lucky enough to enjoy a 90 minute session with Mark. I took pages of notes and learned a few new tricks that I can apply to the classes I teach. He focused on hip opening which is perfect because my students love it and I need it!

I’m attending a few sessions tomorrow and that’s it. I already did my shopping. I bought a much-coveted bamboo stole from Half-Moon and a bamboo headband from Respecterre (I’ll see how it works. If the headband concept is useful for me, I may shell out for the Halo). I also bought a new bag for my Manduka, one with a side zipper. Since I’m schlepping it around town, I needed a better bag and one that is user-friendly.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Astanga

Mysore Astanga: Day 5. Yes, five days! I survived and now I get a day off. Of sorts. I’m thinking of doing a vinyasa practice at home tomorrow. It will be fun to revisit my home practice space after a week ‘away’. I think Princess Fur has really missed spending that daily 90 minutes with me. She usually gets a lot of attention.

That Chakrasana is a slippery fish! I worked on it for a half-hour yesterday afternoon, trying to bring all the elements together (with mixed success). This morning, I struggled with the transition yet again. And apparently, Chakrasana gets ‘three strikes’ before you’re ‘out’. I was instructed to take regular vinyasa after three tries didn’t produce a roll (it was the Chakrasana right after Urdhva Dhanurasana). I think my body was in rebellion after those backbends. I managed a very nice post Sarvangasana roll, though.

Yesterday, the teacher observed that I was wiping away sweat often enough to break my flow. This is a tough one for me, since I sweat buckets in the Shala (only moderately at home, but it isn’t as warm). Much of the sweat comes from my head. It flows into my eyes, making them sting, tickles my face. I *know* it’s just sweat, but it’s distracting.

So today, I channeled Baron Baptiste and wore a bandanna on my head. A few years ago, I learned to tie a ‘doo-rag’ when I was dating a girl from Trinidad. There’s a whole technique to it and if done correctly, the bandanna stays snug on your head (and bonus: you look like a biker chick!). Fortunately, for the doo-rag newbie there’s a website that breaks it down, step-by-step: Unleashing The Doo-Rag Tech (on ‘BikerNet’, of course!)

The doo-rag caught some of the sweat, but not all. By mid-practice, I was wiping the sweat out of my eyes. Plan B: the Halo headband, recommended by a cyclist friend. If I wore it low on my forehead, it might work.

Who knew sweat could be this complicated?

I received a surprise in the mail yesterday. My Kino DVDs arrived! I was skipping all the way to the post office! Last night, I held a ‘Kino MacGregor Film Festival’ on my futon, with a burrito for me and a Greenie for Princess Fur. Good times! I watched the Primary Series disc carefully. It’s so helpful to see this series practised by a graceful and competent practitioner!

Already, I’ve picked up good things from it. For example, I was never quite sure what to do with my arms after Parivritta Trikonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana. Kino brings her top arm down to the floor, untwists, then reaches up through her other arm to come up (me? I just flail around!). I applied this new knowledge to my practice this morning and it was very useful, helped keep my flow going.

This afternoon, I’m teaching one class, then I’m off to the Yoga Show, which I’ll be attending off and on through the weekend. I’m much more organised this year. I’ve figured out which sessions I want to attend, specified breaks for meals and walks with the Princess. This will be fun!

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Princess Fur’s favourite type of yoga is the kind where I’m giving her attention, even if it’s just a stroke on the head as I’m reading the Maehle book!

Here she is, in her happy place!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Astanga

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
If an posture is forgotten and the teacher doesn’t see it, does is create a huge cosmic void in the Mysore room?

Apparently not. I didn’t even notice that I had missed something until about three poses later. I could have added it in, but by then I didn’t feel like drawing attention to myself. The lost pose was Parsvottanasana, by the way, which is odd. I hardly ever miss that one!

Today, practice felt easier for some reason. Less adjustments, perhaps? I’ve definitely noticed that the adjustments add a deeper dimension to poses. When I’m being assisted, I work twice as hard.

I crossed my ankles by myself in Supta Kurmasana today. The back is very rounded in this pose, though there’s a fine balance to be struck between curling up and losing the bind. Somehow I found it. I managed to wiggle my right ankle over my left, curled deeper into the pose, then crossed the ankles.

My jump-backs are coming along nicely. Today I focused on lifting and pulling my feet back. I’m still not mastering the elusive ‘hip lift’ that would allow me to jump back properly. My jump-throughs were atrocious until I remembered something that Teacher IM said a few weeks ago. I need to draw my hips back and lengthening my torso before jumping forward. This action give me extra length, which translates into the height I need to jump through (or at least clear my toes when my ankles are crossed).

I’m very grateful for the Chakrasana tips offered in the comment section yesterday. I listened carefully to your advice and tried to apply it to my explorations of Chakrasana today. I tried Grimmly’s tip and engaged Jalandhara Bandha before the roll. I thought this might strain my neck, but actually, my neck felt better. I think my neck has been sore because I’ve been tensing it up as I go over.

Selina’s advice wins the gold star: Point the toes, engage the legs, kind of like when you’re holding your leg up after Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Push down strongly with your hands, as if pushing up into Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Previously, I had been working with bent knees. Engaging the legs seemed to be a magic ingredient for me! When they engaged, I also felt my Bandhas engage. I tried it both ways (bent and straight legs) today and managed a roll each time. But with the engaged legs (and pointed toes), I was able to lift and roll back, then lightly land in Chaturanga.

The first time I managed *that*, I was so gobsmacked that I forgot to continue with the vinayasa. I wish I had a picture of my face!

I searched YouTube yesterday for a good Chakrasana clip to show the non-Ashtangis. This transition is not well known outside of Astanga (though apparently, it’s common in gymnastics).

The beginning of this video shows a great demonstration of the backward roll. The teacher (and by the way, who IS this teacher? Does anyone know?)(Her name is Diana Christinson and she's the director of Pacific Ashtanga in Dana Point, California. She trained with Tim Miller and she's authorized by Guruji) goes on to offer some great tips for my nemesis, Setu Bandhasana, and advice about coming in and out of headstand. For Ashtangis, it’s worth watching in it’s entirety.



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Referrer Thursday

This week’s referrer is Helen. She’s an Astanga teacher in Liverpool. Her blog is called ‘Astanga Yoga in My World’ and it’s a recent addition to my daily reading list. Her practice reports are lively and interesting. I appreciate her recent discussion about the emotional landscape of the practice. Her thoughts about the death of her father were very moving.

My favourite Helen quote is short and sweet (and wise). It comes from a post in which she talks about sharing her Astanga practice with her boyfriend.

She says: “This is an inner practice, it doesn't matter what it looks like.”

Yes!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Astanga

Inhale...Chakrasana!

It only took one day of Mysore style practice to ditch the capris and fancy-schmancy yoga top in favour of my usual: spandex shorts and a sports bra (covered with a tank top, of course - no one needs to see my belly rolls). I thought I would be shy wearing those shorts in public, but no one is watching me (except the teacher and he’s just watching my transitions).

Besides, the whole Internet has seen me in my yoga shorts (via my weekly State-of-the-Backbend photos) so what am I being so shy about? Silly ego!

I was SO much more comfortable yesterday with less clothing to deal with. My Garba Pindasana was 100% better. Today I was grateful not to be wearing that heavy cotton-blend top because I was sweating buckets. This afternoon, I’ll stop by Old Navy and buy a few more of those tanks. I’m not a fashion plate yogini - I really don’t give a hoot what I look like. I just want to feel comfortable and be able to MOVE.

Today was the first day with the substitute teacher, M. He’s a friendly guy and I immediately felt at ease with him. His adjustments are different - some of them are more forceful and others are less. I like the fact that he offers some direction while assisting. I’ve never had some of these adjustments prior to this week, so I’m sometimes unsure where I’m supposed to be moving or releasing. The cues are very helpful to me.

He also told me: “You’re strong and flexible and light.” The last adjective was very satisfying. Bandhas are a bit ephemeral to me. I’m never sure if I’m doing them right or I’m doing them at all. It’s nice to get some feedback that my Bandhas are progressing. Yay, Bandhas!

I did some strategic eavesdropping while M was assisting another student with Chakrasana. The key points I picked up:
-The transition does require a bit of momentum. If your hips are up and you’re still not going over, you’re probably not going to.
-Legs come up at the same time as the arms come back; one movement!
-Even though it feels counterintuitive, it’s very important to inhale into the roll.

With these tips, I managed to complete all of my Chakrasanas (there were four) without assistance and on the last one, I landed in a very, very sloppy Chaturanga, balls of the feet on the floor. Hurrah!

I found that it was easier if I laid down, exhaled completely and then inhaled deeply as I lifted my legs and brought my arms back. And then, I visualized my bum filling with helium. Float, bum, float! And roll! :-D

I asked about the soreness in my neck and M laughed: “The soreness will move somewhere else” That’s so true! My neck already feels better today.

M also gave me some feedback on my jump-throughs. So far, I’ve been jumping into a seated position, crossed legs. He showed me how far my feet are actually off the ground and suggested that I maintain the lift, straighten my legs, and *then* lower to Dandasana. Yes! I can do this!

It’s such a relief to have a teacher offer feedback on where I *should* be, given my strength and flexibility. One of the tough things about home practice is all the guess work.

My jump-backs are also coming along. Of course, the blocks are history because there is no way I would be allowed to use them in the Shala (no party favours allowed!). But I’m now lifting as high without the blocks as I was when I was using them. Today, just once, I managed to bring my feet through my hands and jump back with just a little brush of the toes along my towel!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Astanga

I’m accustomed to yoga studio visits being a once-in-a-while treat. Last night, as I prepared my things for the shala, my brain asked “Already?” and even now, I’m thinking about tomorrow: “Again?” Yes, again! (and the next day too!)

I’m VERY tired. Getting up in the early hours is becoming easier, but I need to find a way to go to bed earlier because it’s not happening. Thus: sleep deprivation. I *look* like I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m. to go to a yoga class and it’s not the bright eyes or bounce-in-my-step that gives it away. I just look haggard.

Tonight will be early to bed and tomorrow I only teach one class which will give me a break in the afternoon (read: nap). I’m glad I’m starting this Mysore thing now, when my teaching schedule is light.

Today’s forgotten pose was *drumroll*...Navasana! Ah, it was bound to happen eventually. I’m beginning to figure myself out: I don’t like being watched. I get performance anxiety. Teacher P scrutinzes my transitions because so many of them are sloppy. It’s important that my Ujjayi breath be audible because that’s how he knows that *I* know the breath counts.

The Chakrasana project is going well. Yesterday afternoon, I unrolled my mat, did a few Surya Namaskara A’s and then practised Chakrasana over and over again. I managed to figure out how to lift my hips so I could roll. Afterward, my neck and upper back were sore, but not in an injured kind of way, more like a ‘breaking-new-ground’ sort of way.

This morning at the Shala, I managed to get one Chakrasana on my own. It wasn’t pretty, but it was mine! Teacher P helped me with the others.

And aside from that, nothing new to report. I’m doing my practice and trying to break a million small habits that I’ve picked up that are apparently not kosher. I’m taking careful notes. If my yoga practice wasn’t a mindfulness exercise before, it certainly is now!

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A side note about the Shala and this blog (in the event that anyone from Shala Central is a reader here and is wondering). I have a firm policy regarding blogging and the yoga classes I attend and it’s this:

This blog is about MY experience of yoga. This means that I blog about my own practice and no one else’s. I may share insights and describe the help and advice I receive from my teachers (in hopes that this is useful to others in the ‘CyberShala’). Basically, anything that happens on my Manduka mat is fair game for the blog. Outside of that boundary, I won’t write about it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Astanga

Last night, I woke up at 3 a.m., heart pounding. I had forgotten something. I went through the mental checklist: fed the dog, locked the door, stove is off, alarm is set. And then it came to me: during my practice yesterday, I forgot to do Navasana.

I know what you’re thinking, but no, I didn’t get out of bed and do three repetitions of Navasana. My craziness apparently has boundaries.

This morning, as I was getting ready to head to the Shala, I remembered my late night realization and decided to let go of any expectations. I figured I would miss something. And I was right: I forgot Purvottanasana. My brain and body will often collude to ‘miss’ that pose if I’m not paying attention. But it was fine. Teacher P reminded me, I did the pose, I moved on. I *did* remember Navasana this time.

But in the final moments of my practice, I enjoyed a small rebellion: I skipped Uth Pluthi. :-D

Shhhh! Don’t tell the teacher!

So....if I had to use just one word to describe my experience at the Shala this morning it would be this: DISORIENTING

It wasn’t just the new place, but the whole sensory overload that did me in: the early hour, the new place, shiny lights on the ceiling, heat, teacher watching me like a hawk, adjustments coming out of nowhere, the sound of many bodies breathing (I’m beginning to think I don’t breath loudly enough), movement of others around me, my own sweat.

As I started the standing poses, I had to stop and take a few cleansing breaths, then mentally place the contents of my apartment into the Shala. The wall next to me? That’s my desk. The mat cubby is the door to the balcony. That heater? It’s actually Princess Fur, sleeping in her basket. The dude behind me is my futon. The big open space is where the bookshelves usually are. Thus reassured of the cardinal directions of my Manduka, I stepped into Utthita Trikonasana.

The room is relatively small, but this is not a crowded Shala. There’s a LOT of space. And it was WARM! Toasty, Sauna warm! (Boodiba, you would love this space, lots of heat and lots of room to move around).

“So, Kai....” (the audience asks), “...what did you learn at school today?”

Wellllll, I learned that my bottom toe needs to be pointed in Supta Padangushtasana and I learned how to do the backward roll. That’s right, Chakrasana has finally found me and we’re not friends yet (but we may get there by the end of the week).

My take-aways from this morning were mainly small things that are challenging to change because they fall into the realm of habit: a toe should be pointed here, elbows dropped there, placement of feet and relaxation of various Kai-parts (head, hand, shoulders). In terms of vinyasa and moving through the poses with breath, I have some work to do, particularly in the seated poses.

I was very curious to see if I might be ‘stopped’ somewhere in the Primary Series, but I wasn’t. This wasn’t a huge surprise since I can do all the poses. But there will be no Intermediate poses for me until I learn to stand up from Urdhva Dhanurasana. Funny, Teacher P didn’t say anything about *dropping back*, just standing up.

In Urdhva Dhanurasana, he was encouraging me to move my weight into my feet, but I might as well have tried to grow a tree out of my belly button because it felt THAT impossible.

I’ll need to work on that. Great, there’s a project for the century! :-D

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And on that note, here’s a photo from the last century. More 70s Pranayama:

'Stimulated Breathing'

Sometimes, this stuff just writes itself.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Astanga

Today was my last chance for home practice this week - starting tomorrow, I’m practising at the Shala. I’m a bit nervous and uncertain about it. Nervous, because up to this point, my Astanga practice has been a one-woman, solo show. And uncertain because I won’t be the one ‘calling the shots’ on my practice, the teachers will.

I know a handful of my readers are non-ashtangis. You may want to visit this page which gives a decent overview of the Mysore approach to Astanga practice.

In a nutshell: a Mysore style class is a self-practice at a yoga studio (called a ’Shala’) in the company of other students and with the assistance (usually hands-on adjustments) of qualified teachers. Students move through a series of poses, usually starting with the sun salutations and additional poses are offered by the teacher over time, as the student progresses.

I’m somewhat of an ‘Astangi Rebel’. Rather than learning the series incrementally in a Shala, I taught myself from books and DVDs. From the beginning, I practised the entire Primary Series all at once. I used modifications and props (blocks, straps) in poses that were not yet accessible to me (something that would rarely be allowed in a Shala). I also spent a lot of time laying on my back thinking: “Man, this is HARD!”

Because I’m a yoga teacher in my professional life, this approach to the practice wasn’t such a leap for me. I already knew all the postures from other styles of yoga, and I had taken many studio-taught Astanga style classes. Someone who is brand-new to yoga would be wise NOT to follow my example. It’s important to work with a teacher in the beginning, because many aspects of the practice are best conveyed through physical adjustments and observation by a teacher.

That said, I remain a HUGE supporter of home practice. Very few of us have the time or money for daily led yoga classes or Mysore sessions. Yoga is most beneficial when it’s practised every day and by practising at home, you take ownership of your own experience of yoga. This process can be powerful and life-changing. I treasure my hours spent at home on the mat.

So you can understand why I’m feeling a little bit sad about uprooting my home practice, getting up in the wee hours to travel to a Shala where I don’t know the teachers or the other students. I’ll be the new kid in class. The one who learned her practice from a DVD. *gulp*

This week, I’ve been listening to Sharath’s CD, reviewing the Vinyasa counts for each posture and jotting them down in my yoga notebook. It really helps. I know all the poses, but I wasn’t sure about the counts. My practice flows more smoothly when I know the counts.

In preparation for my Shala week, I woke up very early and did a self-led practice. I did the full Primary Series with the first five Intermediate postures, three backbends and the finishing poses. It took me exactly 90 minutes from Surya Namaskara A to Savasana. Not bad!

When I practised self-led on Thursday, I fumbled around a bit, almost forgetting poses. Not today. Everything flowed very smoothly. I had a good, sweaty practice, binding everything that binds and doing lift-ups (without the blocks) for each vinyasa.

Tomorrow, I hit the road!

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Lately, I’ve been a bit obsessed with David Newman’s recording of the Hanuman Chalisa, ‘Leap of Faith’. I heard David perform at the Yoga Show last year and jotted down his name in my notebook, but didn’t investigate further until recently. I bought his Kirtan album ‘Lotus Feet’ and liked it so much, I sprung for ‘Leap of Faith’ on a whim. This recording of the Chalisa is so lovely: melodic, rhythmic and repetitive in a really good way. It’s been on repeat play since I bought it.

On my way home from teaching in the west end today, I stopped to return a DVD and decided to wander down to my favourite India shop. Oddly enough, we have a really great little Indian import place right here in the neighbourhood (most of them are clustered in Little India in the east end).

The Ganesha-in-the-window I had been jonesing over was gone. Sold! *heartbreak* He was too big and expensive anyway. But I wandered into the store to see if they had anything new and spotted a beautiful brass Hanuman. Often, the detailing on these little statues is very shabby, but this one was fantastic. The shopkeeper and I had some fun haggling over the price.

Hanuman has now joined my spiritual posse, sharing the altar with Shiva and the small plastic travel Ganesh (who’s filling in while I look for a nicer brass statue).


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And finally, it’s time for...
The Internet Asks: Interesting Searches in My Access Stats

(The searches are in bold, my responses below)

who is the travelling ashtangi
Oh, that would be Skippetty! Four countries in five weeks and now she’s temporarily settled in Amsterdam, which is so full of awesome that I’m jealous! (and in Amsterdam, Mysore practice starts at 6 p.m. instead of 6 a.m. Decadent!)

how do you know you are an intermediate ashtangi
1) your practices get really long
2) you’re suddenly doing a LOT of backbending
3) then exhaustion sets in *snore*

right nutrition for ashtangis
CUPCAKES!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vinyasa

I enjoyed a leisurely 2-hour practice this morning, with many starts and stops, a full pot of chai tea and lots of note-taking. I was reviewing Seane Corn’s DVD. It was the perfect, lazy Saturday morning!

Seane Corn’s Vinyasa Flow DVD is clearly intended for those who are brand-new to yoga, as in: ‘never done a sun salutation’. For this level of practitioner, it’s a great introduction. In the instructional section, Seane covers almost every relevant aspect of Vinyasa practice, including a great introduction to Ujjayi breathing.

Her instructions are clear and she moves at a gentle pace, occasionally bringing the vinyasas up to speed after offering a slower walk-through of the poses in a sequence. For a raw beginner who is moving toward an Astanga practice, I can’t think of a better introduction - this is excellent. But this is NOT a practice DVD for a more intermediate to advanced practitioner. Even an advanced beginner will be a bit bored. Anyone who practices Astanga will definitely find it too basic.

However, for teachers, it’s a GOLD MINE of great alignment, anatomical and cueing information. Seane is a terrific teacher! Her instruction is clear and detailed. Her pacing is spot-on. I took pages of notes and I know I’ll be applying some of these cues and concepts to my own teaching

The interview on the CD is definitely worth listening to, even though it’s a fragmented collection of sound bites. Seane is down-to-earth and big-hearted. Her love of yoga and passion for sharing it really shine through in the interview; despite the choppy format, she comes across as very ‘real’. She’s the kind of teacher I aspire to being.

I flew through the postures in this DVDand took lots of notes, stopping the DVD every so often to jot down a particularly interesting cue or observation. Afterward, I was still craving a practice, so I popped in the Rodney Yee Advanced Yoga DVD and chose the 25 minute hip-opening sequence.

This sequence is from Rodney’s own practice and there are is some good stuff in there, but I’ll repeat my criticism of his ‘Yoga Burn’ DVD: everything moved WAY too fast. I’m a valiant Protector of Knees. Every Baddha Konasana, Janu Sirsasana and particularly, any half-lotus posture is approached with great mindfulness - both in my own practice and in the classes I teach.

There was WAY too much random, quick, thoughtless Baddha Konasana in this sequence. There was also a forward fold happening in Ardha Baddha Padma Padottanasana without a bind to the big toe (the bind stabilizes the knee in half-lotus). And other half-lotus weirdness that didn’t feel right to me. I took note of a few good hip openers that were new to me, but I won’t be using this sequence again.

This week’s State of the Backbend photo was taken way back on Tuesday because I knew my Lady’s was imminent. At the time, I felt like my backbend was worse than usual. I felt heavy. It doesn’t look too bad, though. In fact, it looks a lot like the previous week’s backbend, which seems to happen a lot. ;-)

Arturo has commented that he notices very little change in these photos from week to week. To make things more interesting, I’ve added three objects to the photo this week. Actually, two of them were in the frame already, and I added a third.

If you click on the photo below, you’ll be taken to a larger version of the photo, which makes it easier to spot the changes.

Have fun!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vinyasa

Rodney Yee’s ‘Yoga Burn’ did not heat me up, but it offered a gentle yoga practice. Today, that’s all I needed.

The style on this DVD is coined ‘slow vinyasa’ and it definitely crawled along. Most poses were repeated three times. Though this sounds like a great idea in theory, the poses were not held for *very* long (in some cases, not even held for a single breath cycle). It was hard to settle into anything and tune into the sensations of the body.

The opening movements and standing poses didn’t heat my body. By the time forward bends rolled around, I wasn’t sufficiently warmed up to feel comfortable in them. I think a few opening Sun salutations would have helped.

The positives: The slow, deliberate pace allowed me to really focus on my breath. Movement in and between poses was so slow and measured, it would have been easy to add an additional focus - say, Bandhas or engaging the abdominals. I liked the format of the DVD. For the same video sequence, there were two different soundtracks: One with full instruction and one with poses only. It was nice to be able to choose a quieter practice that was still led.

For beginners who are new to vinyasa yoga, this DVD provides a gentle introduction to the concept of breath synchronized movement. Anyone who practises Astanga or has a more advanced practice is probably won’t enjoy this one, though it’s a nice practice if you’re feeling under the weather.

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I heard back from Shala Central. They have room for me, so I’m good to go for Monday (through I may try to start on Sunday with their led Primary). The main teachers will be out of town for the last part of ‘my week’, but I’ll get a few days in with them before meeting the sub.

I’ve already started setting my alarm earlier to adjust to the new, earlier-than-early, schedule. Note to self: wash the Manduka.

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Thanks to several long. long walks in the spring sunshine, Princess Fur is finally speaking me to again (despite last week’s grooming debacle). But, as you can see, she’s still not sure she wants her tender, pink belly displayed all over the Internet.

Tough beans, kid!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Astanga

I managed to sneak in a practice this morning, with Aunt Flow practically pounding the door as I finished the closing sequence (sans inversions). The temperature was 18C today, bright and sunny - incredibly, record-breakingly balmy for this time of year. But instead of romping around outside in the park with Princess Fur, I was hunkered down indoors, feeling broken.

Yuck.

Now I’m feeling a *bit* better: camped out with a pile of books and DVDs (more on this in a moment) and a honkin’ bag of Hershey’s chocolate kisses. :-D

Today, I wanted to practice the Primary Series entirely self-led. Usually, I practice with an audio recording because it helps to keep me focused. Well, I was astounded by how focused I could be without that crutch. In fact, I worked *much* harder in some poses, since I had the extra time to get into them. And I sweated. A lot! Another surprise!

My self-led Primary Series, without the inversions, took about 75 minutes, which included a break to photograph Urdhva Paschimottanasana and Setu Bandhasana. I remembered all the poses (another concern of mine, should I decide to practice at the Shala) and their names, the drishtes and most of the vinyasa transitions between poses too.

Today, I contacted Shala Central regarding a one-week trial in their Mysore room. I’d like to start on Monday, if possible. This would give me a week to experience it before diving into a full month in April, if that’s what I decide to do.

In the meantime, I have three days of Lady’s Holiday to endure (Sorry, ‘Red Tent’ enthusiasts: I find no joy in this female ritual). Last week, I conducted a serious search of my city library’s DVD collection and placed a hold on every single promising DVD. Three have already arrived. For my viewing pleasure tonight:

Sean Corne: Vinyasa Flow Yoga
Yoga Burn: Rodney Yee

and the enticingly titled:
Advanced Yoga with Rodney Yee

The last DVD carries this colourful WARNING! label:


Nothing, and I mean NOTHING makes me want to crack open a DVD with gusto like a good cautionary label. Bring it ON! :-D

WARNING!

If I’m feeling better tomorrow, I’ll probably give one of these a shot for my practice. Probably not the WARNING! practice, though. At least not for a day or so. ;-)

Referrer Thursday

This week, I’m sending some love Arturo’s way.

I’ve been following Arturo’s blog, Cronyogitect, for so long, I’ve kind of forgotten when I started reading, but it’s been at least three years. Back when I was practising CRON seriously along with Astanga, Arturo’s writing provided a rich source of inspiration and information for me.

I’ve really enjoyed following his adventures in China over the past year. His photographs make me want to visit that country someday! His accounts of daily life there are a fascinating glimpse into the experience of an expat living and working in China. Here’s a tidbit:

“what struck me first was that there where people everywhere! and cafes, and shops and a bank, and tire repair places, all around. and despite the hustle and bustle of the city all around, it does not feel noisy in the apartment, not like my old apartment in San Francisco on Market Street where i heard the ratatat of the trolleys and the clanging of the tethers of bus of line 21, which tended to lose their connection daily while making a right turn. but certainly there is the similar life there was in San Fran right outside the building. “

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Astanga

Today, I went to the class again and it was nice, but I have to admit, the fun is starting to wear off. Now that Teacher IM has seen my practice and ironed out some of the more obvious wrinkles, he’s making fewer suggestions. I must have tapped out my Fabulous Squishy Adjustment Quota because I didn’t get a single deep adjustment in this class.

Still, I didn’t leave empty handed. Here’s what I learned:

1) In Parivritta Trikonasana, the hips need to be squared to the end of the mat AND the sacrum should be level to the floor. Both! The action of the legs keeps the pelvis stable. I’ve been doing (and teaching!) this differently for years, so I’ll need to experiment with it.

2) I’m still pulling my shoulders up and over-utilizing my rhomboids in Chaturanga. Darn it! I thought I had solved this problem, but no. Teacher IM observed it last week and forgot to mention it. He must have seen my look of dismay because he asked: “You’ve heard this before?” and I nodded. Teacher D pointed it out last summer. When two teachers notice the same thing, it’s definitely a problem.

I think part of the problem is that I don’t roll over my toes coming in and out of Chaturanga. I’m contra-indicated for roll-overs because of nerve damage in my feet (a legacy of my first career, archaeology). As a result, I don’t track my shoulders far enough over my wrists. When I lower down, it’s harder to lengthen the spine and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Also, my latissimus dorsi is probably a bit wimpy - need to work on that!

3) This action of drawing the shoulder blades down the back is something I need to work on in other contexts too, like Parsvakonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana (my top shoulder, with the extended arm, never seems to be positioned correctly in these poses).

4) I received more tips for my jumps. I tried to go without blocks today. It was difficult, but I think I may need to move forward in this fashion or I’m never going to get anywhere. For jump-throughs, Teacher IM suggested that I draw back and lengthen my front body before lifting up into the jump (this makes sense; it creates space for the legs to go through).

Funny moment in Marichyasana C:
When I bind to my wrist, I briefly lift my back sitbone as I make the bind. Teacher IM came over as I was doing this.

Teacher IM: You need to drop your sitbone! Why do you keep lifting it? (tone implied: You’re brighter than this, what’s going on?!)
Me: You always come over and say that when in the process of grabbing my wrist! I’ll get there! (tone implied: Be patient! God isn’t finished with me yet!)
Teacher IM: *sheepish* Sorry. Next time I’ll wait until you’re in the pose.
Me: *grin*

I’m nothing but grateful for all of the help he’s given me, particularly in the Marichyasana poses where I’ve seen my greatest improvement this month. Still, when my class pass runs out, I don’t think I’ll be continuing this particular class. There are a few reasons for this.

The biggest issue is that I teach a class right afterward and the commute is very tight. Today I arrived late to my class, which I HATE doing. I was held up in public transit, but that’s no excuse. My own students take priority.

Also - and I hesitate to say this because I don’t want to sound like I’m full of myself - but I think I may be too advanced for this class. No one else is coming into the full expression of the poses, just me. I can’t expect Teacher IM to stop the world to adjust me in an advanced pose when the rest of the class is trying to get half-Lotus. He always tells me to go ahead with Urdhva Dhanurasana, but’ I’m on my own’, which is fine; he’s busy, as he should be, helping the other students come into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana safely.

But, boy, would I *love* some help with my Urdhva Dhanurasana.

So the ‘Shala idea’ has once again percolated, particularly now that the weather is pretty and I could cycle down there in a little over 10 minutes. I’m pretty sure that I’ll get LOTS of feedback and good instruction. And the early morning time slot works perfectly with my teaching schedule.

I’m thinking of doing a ‘trial week’ of Mysore before the month is up. Then I’ll decide if it’s something I want to do in April. Keep in mind, I’m just rolling the idea around in my brain; no decision yet.

On to more important topics. I know you’re all wondering how I fared with my Orangutan Hair today. I’m happy to report that I’ve come up with a solution to tame it. It requires a bit of time, but not too much. And it’s simple: dry the hair straight and apply hair product before I head to class. It’s naturally curly, but the blow dryer seems to tame it enough that it doesn’t go completely crazy in class:


Thank goodness! I thought I was going to have to start going to yoga classes at the zoo!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Astanga

I love how unpredictable and inexplicable this practice can be.

Today was the day Marichyasana C came easy . For the first time ever, I scored a mid-hand bind on both sides of Marichyasana D. And in Garba Pindasana, I did that thing where the fingers frame the face, chin resting neatly in the heel of the hand (I was so excited, I forgot to roll!). In Krounchasana, my shin and my chin finally came together and the pose suddenly started to make sense.

And yet, my bind in Supta Kurmasana? Gone!

It’s like the universe was saying, “Sure, go ahead and feel good about your practice, but not TOO good.” That Sleeping Turtle is like anything else in this life. It comes and goes, expands and contracts, emerges and withdraws. Change, change, change.

I had a surprisingly good practice, given that yesterday was a Moon Day AND Hockey Day. We played a late game against a particularly brutal team (at one point, they had two players serving penalties simultaneously - in a league where penalties are rare, this was a special moment). We lost, of course. I didn’t even look at the score.

Brutal or not, I’m determined not to miss any more games this season because after mid-April, my hockey career is over. My Hockey Buddy is also taking a break. We’re both ‘clearing space’ in our lives (My space filled rather too quickly - I’m teaching two new classes the week after the season ends).

I’ve noticed that ice hockey hardens and closes up my body in subtle ways, as if the body armour I wear on the outside wasn’t enough to protect me. My muscles fuse into barricades. I believe my occasional SI joint issues are related to weekly games (all of that twisting and turning on the ice), as well as my tight left hip flexors. Each week, everything starts to soften, then I play a game and my body hardens. Whenever I struggle with backbends, like I did today, I always wonder about the other stresses that I put on my body in other areas of my life.

So this is an experiment, but it was a difficult one to choose. Hockey Buddy and I are already pondering a possible comeback.

(caption reads: Sure protection helps keep wetness and odour in check.
So it gives you what everyone wants - an outstanding defence)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vinyasa

Moon Day! No Astanga today, but I did do a sweet vinyasa practice in the spirit of my ‘Month of Tapas’ (and also to keep my ‘Yoga Streak’ going).

I’ve already done the ‘Yin’ portions of Sarah Powers’ ‘Insight Yoga’ DVD several times, but the ‘Yang’ sequences remain unexplored. So that’s what I did this morning! There are two Yang sequences: a 40-minute sun salutation practice and a 55 minute Vinyasa sequence. I practised the latter.

Sarah Powers’ voice is soothing and well-suited to the Yin practice. She brings this same calm and mindful pacing to the Yang sequences. I found it slllllloooooowwww. Compared to, say, Sharath’s led Primary Series *ahem*, the sun salutations move along at a CRAWL.

But I was kind of digging it! It felt good to savour each part of the vinyasa and I had time to really squeeze all the juiciness from my Chaturangas. I even came back to Chaturanga Dandasana after Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, pressing up to high plank before moving onto Adho Mukha Svanasana. The reduced pace put an emphasis on quality, no quantity, so each Chaturanga was deeply and mindfully felt.

My favourite part was a Virabhadrasana I based vinyasa sequence done with one hand placed on the sacrum and the other reaching upward. This vinyasa included Virabhadrasana I, a lunge, Parsvottanasana, Parivritta Trikonasana, and a strength variation with the extending arm reaching forward, torso hovering over the front (bent) knee. Then, in standing, the upward arm was reached back and forward in a big circle, gently exploring the rotation of the shoulder.

I liked the sequence because it worked the core in a very subtle way and it made me EXTREMELY aware of the alignment of my pelvis in those poses.

There’s also an incremented Shalabasana sequene that’s nicely presented. Great preparation for me in my practice of Shalabasana in my Intermediate poses.

After it was finished, I did Sarah’s 10 minute Savasana. She includes some light pranayama in the opening minutes and I’ve been struck by how effective it is, even though she only leads three rounds.

It was enough that I took the Richard Rosen Pranayama book off the shelf and started to re-read it (In searching out the Amazon link, I discovered that he has a follow-up volume). I bought this book about 9 years ago, when Teacher K got me turned on to Pranayama. Alas, I promptly lost interest! I think my interest may have just re-ignited. Perhaps this is another growth project for me!

And even better, there’s an ap for that! (Thanks, Grim!)

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For my 70s yoga offering this week, here’s another image from the Joan Gould book. If you recall, the last time we visited the ladies, they were doing breath retention.

In today’s photo, they’re practising their routine for the Rockettes (‘Yogettes?’)

Love the mats! And the tights! Point those toes, ladies!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Astanga

Happy, lazy Sunday! Losing the hour for Daylight Savings Time definitely gave me a pause, but it’s not too big a deal since I don’t need to be anywhere by noon.

My practice was low key; I felt a bit stiff. I noticed this particularly in Urdhva Dhanurasana. I probably wasn’t warm enough in the legs for the pose. I felt like there was an energy block in my hips.

I practised with Sharath’s CD today, taking a breather with Richard Freeman leading me through my five Intermediate poses, then back to Sharath for the closing sequence. I haven’t done Sharath’s closing recently (I often do a self-led closing). That Sirsasana is one long hold! I did it, but I was dripping sweat near the end. The lift-up work and Lolasana must be doing me some good because I was able to hold Utpluthi for 10 full Sharath-counts. My arms were shaking, but I did it. This is a FIRST! I never imagined I would be able to hold the pose for that long without touching down!

My main aim for practice today (aside from the Primary Series and my Intermediate poses) was to pay careful attention to Sharath’s Sanskrit counts. I kind of have this ‘fuzzy goal’ of being able to lead Surya Namaskara A & B with Sanskrit counts by the end of the month, when my one-and-only Astanga class starts back up. Learning this is not a big deal, except it kind of is, because I have deep, deep ’sun salutation’ grooves worn into my consciousness. I can pretty much teach a sun salutation on autopilot.

Come to think of it, shaking things up a bit is probably a very healthy exercise!

Since I was noticing the count more than usual, I was also noting all the quirks (and boy, are there quirks!).

For example, I never noticed before that Supta Padangustasana goes all the way to 28! Or that in instances where the count for Chaturanga falls on a different number, Sharath *still* says “Chatvari jump back!”. :-D

I noticed that Sharath’s word for the number 19 sounded MUCH different than what I learned (“navadasa”). In fact, he’s using a slightly different variation! It’s sounds like “ekona vimshatihi” and translates as “20 minus one”.

I’m still pounding away at the Sanskrit alphabet. To date, I’ve learned 14 letters. The vowels are behind me...I’m on to the consonants! First up: The Gutterals. These are sounds that originate from the back of the throat (see ‘Mouth Positions’ on this website). I’m also continuing to work on my ‘penmanship’ and memorisation.

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And now, it’s time for...
The Internet Asks: Interesting Searches in My Access Stats

(The searches are in bold, my responses below)

i finished astanga primary series in 6 months
And then you went back to your day job at the Cirque de Soleil. Nicely done, partner!
(Seriously though, how did THAT search land someone on MY website?! *shakes head*)

months of practicing ashtanga every day
Now you’ve got the right idea! And you’ve come to the right place! If last year was the ‘Year of the Yoga Streak’, this year may well be the ‘Year of the 6-day Practice’. Let’s see if I can sustain it...

poster of pattabhi jois
So all of Guruji’s fan-girls can put it up in their Shala lockers (believe it or not, it actually exists, $19.00 at Astanga.com)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Yin

Today: Torrential rains, winds gusting to 70 kph, temperature hovering around 5C. When I walked from the subway station to my class, I arrived soaked to the skin. Good thing yoga pants dry quickly (and good thing I’m not fussy, though I HATE this kind of weather).

Practice today was Yin: the ‘liver sequence’ from the Sarah Powers’ ‘Insight Yoga’ DVD. I took a bath right before I started so I was thoroughly blissed throughout. I really needed a break from my daily yoga routine. I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by my practice these last few days. I love the Savasana on this DVD. I just float and the music is lovely.

This week’s backbend photo was taken on Thursday, the day I was using my old mat, so the mat is colour co-ordinated with the futon cover!


Compared to last month, I see more openness in the shoulders and I’m clearly pushing ‘up’ more. Maybe this comes from the practice of walking the hands in?

I wonder where the openness in the hips manifests in the pose? How can I tell if my hips are becoming more open? My backbend is definitely shape-shifting!

Okay, back to my book. This is definitely a sit-in-the-window-seat sloth day. I don’t plan to leave the apartment again until tomorrow evening (with the exception of Princess Fur pee-breaks, of course).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Astanga

This is more like it: cool, rainy, windy and miserable. I’m definitely feeling the March vibe now.

I had a bit of a rough morning. I was feeling some anxiety shortly after waking up. This is definitely related to my upcoming Lady’s Holiday (UG!). I can almost feel the floodgates of hormones releasing. I did some Pranayama to smooth my emotions, then journaled for a little while. I keep a paper journal specifically for keeping tabs on how I’m feeling. This morning, I wrote a list of my top 10 worries. Reading through them, I thought: “These worries are not really worrisome.” (First world problems!) Everything flashed back into perspective again. By the time I sat for meditation, I felt calm and focused.

It’s amazing how subtle changes in my body become starkly evident when I’m doing the same sequence of postures day after day. Today, I felt tired and heavy during my practice. I decided to stick with the Primary Series and did the led Primary with Sharath’s CD. I love this CD because it’s simple and clear. If you pay attention, it’s actually possible to get through the entire practice with every single breath matched to a specific movement. I like practising my lift-ups with this CD because there’s time to move through each one, slowly and deliberately.

It felt disorienting to struggle through this same practice that I was joyfully bouncing through a few days earlier. I did a modified closing and skipped headstand. One practice note: Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana has been so much easier since Teacher IM assisted me on Wednesday. Something just ‘clicked’. Maybe it’s muscle memory, but ever since I’ve been feeling strong and stable in the posture which is saying a lot, because I usually roll over every time!

When the weather chilled off in February, I let Princess Fur’s coat grow out a bit. When her hair is long, she looks like a furry bear. Last week, I groomed her. I thought it would be interesting to do a before-and-after comparison shot.

Before:

After:


I love the surly expression on her face. Her eyes say: Do. Not. Like. And she really doesn’t. She’s pissed off at me for days afterward.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Astanga

No Manduka mat this morning - I left it at work yesterday. I pulled my old mat out of storage, my REALLY old mat. It’s almost 15 years old. I bought it through mail order, from Gaim, in the early 90s, along with two green foam blocks and a canvas strap. All à la Iyengar. At the time, I was practising at home with Patricia Walden’s ‘Yoga for Beginners.’

At the time, I thought the mat was an extravagance. I thought it would end up collecting dust, but it didn’t. Despite my ardent dislike of yoga, I practised daily and in time, my blue mat became a refuge from the swirl and confusion of my rapidly-changing life. I’m still very fond of it, but it’s not thick enough for an Astanga practice. I let out a surprised squeak when I rolled onto my head for Setu Bandhasana...OUCH.

I worked *very* hard during my practice this morning. I was focused, determined and WARM. The apartment was a tad cool when I woke, which starts to happen this time of year when the landlord dials down the heat. I turned on my space heater and the room warmed nicely. I worked up a good sweat. It was lovely!

In my sun salutations, I focused on weeding out the ‘flourishes’. I almost embarrassed to ‘fess up to them. We all have them and for the most part, they’re silly and unnecessary. Here’s one of mine: When circling my arms overhead, I do this thing with my hands, crossing them in front and only then circling them up. It’s very dancer-esque. I first noticed I did this when I saw my beginning students doing it. Of course, they were mimicking me! *cringe*

Now I start with arms at my sides, and coming back to Samasthiti, I bring them back down to my sides. Every movement is simple and purposeful - that’s my goal. No embellishments. Quaker yoga!

I’m also working my tail off on those jump-backs. Today, I experimented, trying a little bit of everything: blocks, no blocks, plain vanilla Lolasana, lifting up and trying (unsuccessfully) to jump back, lifting up then touching toes down *then* trying to jump back (better, but does it even count?!).

I even tried some jump-throughs. I can jump through with straight legs...with the blocks. In fact, I can do a fair approximation of a jump-back too...with the blocks. So what’s the secret here? Do I need more core strength? Is there a special Bandha Pill I can take to enhance my special yogic powers?

Or am I cursed?

(with a nod to Liz and her T-Rex...)
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Referrer Thursday

This week, I’m giving the shout-out to Christine at Ashtanga-Yoga-Gainesville. Christine has a strong home practice, supported by regular work with her teacher, David Keil. Every six months or so, she spend 5 days in David’s Mysore Room, getting feedback and ‘homework’ for her next stint of home practice.

Right now, she’s on Day 3 of her latest visit with her teacher, sharing her experiences and insights as she practises in Savannah, Georgia (I’m jealous, jealous, jealous! I *heart* Savannah).

Here’s a great quote from one of Christine’s recent entries:

“One of the things that I love about David is his attitude of total confidence that what feels impossible to me is totally possible (with time and practice of course!)
...and one of the things that I love about the Ashtanga yoga practice is that there is no end to confronting the impossible and learning that it really can be done! “

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Astanga

All week, I’ve been looking forward to the class with Teacher IM. In the morning, I took a hot bath and did Erich Schiffmann’s shoulder opener series while I drank my chai. I had plenty of time to loaf around - I didn’t want to feel rushed like I was last week. I arrived early and did a supine backbend over some blocks with a strap around my arms. Bliss!

I enjoyed the class! It’s such a relief to have a teacher’s eyes on my practice once a week. He picks things apart and puts them back together. This morning, he tried to tackle my arms in Adho Mukha Svanasana, but immediately backed off from that mission impossible: “Oh, you REALLY hyperextend. Go back as you were.” Yup! The expression “It is what it is” definitely applies to my arms in Downward Dog!

I got another great adjustment in Marichyasana C. I wish I had a better idea of what he does to me in that pose; it’s fantastic. It makes me feel like a spring that’s been wound up very snug. Then, ZING! Oh, to be a fly on the wall to see that!

I need a wider stance in Parivritta Trikonasana and I need to keep my hips square. Until I adjust to this change, I’ll need to come up onto my fingers to provide some height. In retrospect, I’m not sure if he meant keeping the hips square to the front of the mat, or the pelvis square to the floor. I’ll ask next week.

The class size was smaller this week so we covered more ground, including poses beyond half-Primary: Navasana, Upavista Konasana, Supta Konasana (I had the space to land it properly too!), Supta Padangushtasana, Ubhaya Padangushtasana, and Urdhva Mukha Pascimottanasana (Very nice adjustment on this pose; I understand it much better now). We also did the full shoulderstand series in closing, but no Sirsasana :-(

I had adequate time for experimentation in Urdhva Dhanurasana while the rest of the class did Bridge Pose. I worked on coming down to the crown of my head and walking the hands in (rinse, repeat). I think I did 5 backbends, though I didn’t hold all of them for a five breath count.

Teacher IM also gave me some advice and encouragement for my jump-backs. He says my lift-ups are very good. He suggested hugging the knees tighter to the chest, as if I was going to tuck the knees into the armpits and rounding my back a bit. This does give me more height.

My major hurdle with jump-backs at the moment is swinging the feet between my arms so I can shoot them back. Where does the strength for this come from? Bandhas? How? I DON'T GET IT! (but I’ll continue working diligently; ‘all is coming’).

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I have just one complaint about this morning’s class: I left the class with Orangutan Hair. I know, I know: It’s dire!


Since I was teaching a class right after, I brought my Orangutan Hair with me to class, to the sweet amusement of my students (and my own horror whenever I happen to glance in a mirror).

I’m not sure how to solve this dilemma, short of going back to the Grumpy Russian Guy and cutting it all off again. That’s probably what I’ll have to do. I definitely need tackle this before Kino’s workshop - it’s terrifying! I’ll scare all the other Ashtangis!

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An update on my Sanskrit/Devanagari studies:

I’m having so much fun! I’ve progressed into the long vowels now and I’m starting to practise writing the skaras in a little notebook. I feel like I’m about seven years old, practising my penmanship and it’s such a hoot!


Last night, I took out one of my Yoga books and started looking at the Devangari script, picking out familiar shapes in the words. I felt like a kindergartener looking through her big sister’s chapter books for the A, B, C’s. Reading is one of my great joys and was a hard-earned skill. This new project has unearthed sweet memories of learning to read as a child. It’s a joyful journey for me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Astanga

It’s another beautiful day out - I’m starting to feel spoiled. March is usually such a horrible month here, but this is absolutely delightful!

Last night’s ice hockey game was very late. I almost skipped it, but since my teaching schedule is light, I booked time in the afternoon for a long nap and made the 9:30 game. I’m glad I did (even if it meant getting to bed after midnight). We won the game, 7-1. I like these easy games because I don’t have to work very hard - I just loaf around on the ice and enjoy...lol.

As is always the case after a hockey game, I was very stiff on the mat the next morning. My hamstrings and hips were particularly tight. I eased through it and vowed to just enjoy every pose. Silly but effective: Before each pose, I said out loud: “This is my FAVOURITE pose.” It worked! Every pose was my favourite today.

I did a bit of extracurricular backbending with my balance ball and the chair. I’m finding that the chair is an effective rehearsal for positioning my arms for dropbacks and a huge confidence booster. Starting with my hands at my chest, I ‘pretend’ to drop back, bringing my arms up and back to the wall. I worked on going up and down, matching my breath with the movement, like a vinyasa. Since breathing properly in backbending is sometimes an issue for me, this seems like a good pattern to establish.

After I finished, I packed up my Manduka and towels, even an eye pillow. Tomorrow is my fun day at the yoga studio with Teacher IM. I’m looking forward to the break in routine.

I’ve launched my Devanagari studies. Here are the short vowels, or ‘swaras’:

Five down, 36 to go.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Astanga

I just got back from a walk in the park with Princess Fur and it’s so pretty out, I felt like skipping down the sidewalk and whistling ditties. When I checked the temperature on the Environment Canada website, I found out why: it’s 14C out. No wonder. I’m probably losing my mind, but that’s okay; entirely normal for a Canadian in March when the weather is this warm.

It felt almost criminal to come back inside, but there was a small inducement: wind. After an hour, even 14C feels a bit nippy if it’s windy enough. Still, I’m welcoming Spring with open arms (even if I spent this first spring afternoon taking a nap).

My practice was pretty good today. Lift-ups are back and I like them. :-) I was able to do Navasana, albeit with slightly bent knees, but the sore right hip flexor felt fine afterward (the crampy left one is still acting up, but it doesn’t affect my practice as much). I even held up my leg for a few breath cycles at the end of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.

My bind in Supta Kurmasana left for the weekend (skiing? a quick trip to the tropics? we may never know...) but it came back today and boy, was it ever grumpy!

I didn’t have time for any extracurricular backbending and I skipped the closing lotus poses in favour of a long Savasana. I was running late. Getting out of bed this morning was a terrible effort; I was sleeping so deeply. I’m not experiencing insomnia anymore. Now, I can’t seem to stay awake.

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In the shuffle of schedules and funds yesterday, I was forced to let go of a Sanskrit workshop I was looking forward to. As a yoga teacher, I know tonnes of Sanskrit, hours of chants and thanks to Teacher H, I can even pronounce most of it correctly. But I don’t know how to read Devanagari script and I’ve always wanted to.

I don’t know when I’ll next have a chance to take that workshop, but to be honest, what I really need to do is sit down and memorise the Devanagari script. I shouldn’t need the motivation of a teacher to do this.

And, as it turns out, there’s an ‘ap for that!’

Thank you, Technology Gods and the iPod. The application is called iStudy and it’s a Devanagari flashcard application. I also found a terrific online game for learning the characters, complete with the statistics of other Sanskrit-learning players to motivate me (the top player is named ‘Alfia’, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t *our* Alfia - this one lives in California).

This Sanskrit self-study course looks really terrific. I've poked around in the first lesson and it includes the Devanagari along with MP3 pronunciation guides.

This task feels a bit overwhelming so I’m challenging myself to learn a bit each day. It should take me about a month.

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Today, for my ‘70s Yoga’ feature, I thought I would offer a bit of 1970s Russian-style chanting. Just goes to show, if you’re chanting and you forget the Sanskrit, just hum along! No one will notice if you swing your hands around a little bit!

WARNING: Don’t listen to this ditty before meditation. IT STAYS IN YOUR HEAD (I’m really not kidding!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Astanga

Last night, I decided to look for Kino MacGregor’s Primary and Intermediate Series DVDs. After finding them online, I submitted a message through a generic contact form, asking about international shipping.

When I awoke, I found a friendly email from Kino MacGregor in my inbox. Wow, was I ever surprised! Hi Kino!

I think Kino got a laugh from receiving an email from a ‘Reluctant Ashtangi’. She liked the name! In her note, she mentioned that she would be in Canada this year. I had a look at her schedule and sure enough, Kino is coming to my city. Um...early next month!!!

A frantic flurry of schedule shuffling commenced.

When the dust settled, I was signed up for two afternoon workshops and an early morning led Primary Series with Kino. I’m very excited! (And I’m getting the DVDs too) Between the yoga conference, Kino and two other workshops I’m signed up for, April is shaping up to be my ‘Month of Svadhyaya'.

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I had a very mediocre practice this morning. I was feeling stiff and out-of-sorts, unmotivated. Taking a day off yesterday was fun, but it was hard to get back into the swing of things today.

My right hip flexor is almost back to normal, but I modified my practice again, just to be sure. I’m missing those lift-ups! It’s amazing how much heat they produce in my vinyasas. My body wasn’t nearly as warm with the modifications. I missed the added energy of the lifts. Maybe tomorrow?

Since I was feeling ‘blah’ about everything else, I decided to have some fun with backbends today. I found a few good backbending tutorials and videos on YouTube.

This one isn’t instructional, but I like the simplicity of her technique: Go up...come down...keep the feet planted and walk the hands in...repeat as necessary.



This next video is heavy on the ‘party favours’ (read: props), but a lot of fun if you like that sort of thing (read: Iyengar *grin*). I tried the chair thing and it’s AWESOME! (I also liked the one with the feet on blocks against the wall - it has the same effect as lifting the heels, bringing the bend into the thoracic back).



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And now, it’s time for...

The Internet Asks: Interesting Searches in My Access Stats

yoga toothpaste
I have to admit, I raised an eyebrow for this one. But there’s everything else yoga! I’ve found everything from yoga socks, yoga toe spreaders (I own a set), yoga paws (which has nothing to do with dogs) to yoga for dogs (which has everything to do with dogs). So why not? And incredibly, it actually exists.

is it okay to do vinyasa every day?
Gosh, I hope so. Or I’m in BIG trouble. I’ll let you know if I experience any long-term ill effects. Like a Bodhi tree growing out of my head. Or Birkenstocks (uh oh...wait a minute...)

reluctant ashtangi on twitter
I need another Twitter account like I need a hole in my head, but...okay.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hatha

Today was a well-earned light yoga day. I’m finding that when I’m working this hard during the week, I need the recovery day, so I took it.

I’m glad I backed off from the lift-ups and Navasana yesterday. The pain my right hip flexor is almost gone! I can even hold my leg up (à la Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana) if the knee is bent. To be completely honest, I’m relieved. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I’m glad it was just a sore muscle and nothing more serious.

As if to taunt me, as soon as that pain went away, another emerged. I’ve had this off-and-on cramping sensation around my left rhomboid for the past year-and-a-bit. Yesterday evening, I noticed the very SAME pain, except it was in my right rhomboid.

‘Same shit, different shoulder blade.’ It was *very* disorienting, actually.

Looks like the ‘Month of Tapas’ is going to beat me up a bit. That’s okay. I wanted this month to be about pushing my practice to a different level. If I’m a tiny bit sore, I’m moving in that direction.

But, back to Saturday sloth...This morning, I meditated for 15 minutes, took a VERY hot bath, did 15 minutes of Erich Schiffman shoulder openers, 15 minutes on the Accuball. And that’s it. I had some notion of doing a longer practice in the evening, but it never happened. I ate a burrito instead.

My shoulder is feeling better! But now my *left* hip flexor is cramping up again. Good times!

I wasn’t sure what my backbend would look like this week. I wasn’t really focusing on Urdhva Dhanurasana this week. But I wanted to debut my new futon cover, officially.

So here it is:


I compared this photo to last week’s and it looks like my belly button is a tad ‘taller’. Hm...onward!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Astanga

Glancing back at last week’s entry, I can hardly believe that 7 days ago we were buried in snow.

It’s all gone now, the sun is shining, the temperature is soaring above zero. While out walking, Princess Fur and I saw crocuses peeking through the soil of a south-facing garden. The coming week is forecast for sunshine and balmy (for us) temperatures.

And my yoga practice today sucked.

I knew that I would be a tad scattered when I hit the mat because my meditation was so icky. My mind was all over the place. Plus, I’m still struggling with a sore right hip flexor. I heavily modified my practice today in order to rest that area and, in really getting into the spirit of things, I was lazy. I didn’t work hard. I studied my fingernails. I skipped poses because I forgot they existed. I dawdled.

I skipped the lift-ups to rest my hip and instead focused on the alignment of my feet in vinyasas - particularly jumping back to Chaturanga and moving into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Teacher IM pointed out that I bring my feet together when I jump back and leave them there in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (they should be hip distance). Where did I pick up this quirk? I haven’t the faintest idea, but now it’s ingrained, part of my muscle memory. This will be hard habit to break (but I intend to break it by next Wednesday).

I was in a ‘mood’ for my entire practice. At the end, I decided that I wouldn’t bother doing my Intermediate poses - I would just skip them. But then I stood at the window, looking out on the city and feeling all glum because I was skipping my Intermediate poses. So I changed my mind and did them. I’m fickle, but they were fine, felt good actually.

And thus, with a ‘whimper’, concludes my yoga week. I’m SO ready for a day off!

While I was taking a photograph of Urdhva Dhanurasana today, Princess Fur decided to get in on the action. I’m allowing her to introduce the new futon cover. In this photo, she’s practising one of her favourite asanas, ‘Roll Over’. She loves my Manduka. She would totally sleep on it if I let her.


The cover is pretty, isn’t it? It’s fuzzy the same way a Manduka eQua towel is fuzzy. I like it! It really dresses up my shoebox of a city apartment and it sort of matches the bean bag chair too.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Astanga

Oh, ow. I’m so sore. Given that I only did a half-Primary yesterday and an hour of vinyasa in the evening, this is very weird. Keep in mind, I often teach 4-5 classes and I never feel this beaten up afterward.

It’s been years since I went to IM’s classes, but I think I remember now: he gently pushes you along and you don’t even realise how hard you’re working. The classes never seem especially difficult, but the yoga hangover? *Very* intense.

He only did one really physical adjustment (Marichyasana C), but he did pop by and make all these little suggestions, mostly telling me about how I could work harder in whatever pose I happened to be in. So, of course, I did!

Always a diligent student, I applied that advice on the other side of the pose (or even in other relevant poses). And I was definitely working a bit deeper than usual - the heat of the room and the energy of other practitioners always does that to me.

But OW! Let me count the ways: quad, shins, shoulders, biceps, tripeps, pectorals, most everything on my sidebody, abs and OW-my-hip-flexors. Especially on the right side. It’s so tender that I can’t keep my leg up in Navasana; I felt a cramping sensation around my hip crease. The left is also cranky, but not as bad.

Practice was a bit comedic this morning. I was sore, but I was also muscle-tired. I kind of limped through my practice like an old woman, but I got through it. I hope this hip flexor soreness fades by the weekend because I was hoping to visit Shala Central on Sunday for the led Primary.

But I’m not complaining - to the contrary: I’m happy that my body is working hard and I can feel the effects of my work.

Referrer Thursday

It’s once again Referrer Thursday. This week, I’m giving props to Claudia, her blog is called ‘On the Astanga Path While on Mother Earth’. Her posts are interesting, varied and always sincere. I’ve found interesting book reviews, product evaluations and many interesting posts exploring the ins and outs of the practice (my favourites are the more philosophical ones).

Her latest offering tugged on my heart. It takes a heap of courage to share so openly on the Wild, Wild Web. Thank you for your words and generous spirit, Claudia!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Astanga, Vinyasa

(Duke, one of dogs from the Yoga Dogs calendar.
Photo credit: YogaDogs/Barcroft Media
Find it at: Yoga Dogs 2010 Calendar)



Wow, being on a reduced scheduled is kind of awesome!

Today felt a little bit self-indulgent, like “it’s all about me” and “now, how about a bit more about me” and “let’s wrap this up with more ME!” MEEEEEEE!

I’ve been having a ball! I guess did get *some* work done, if you define the word ‘work’ very loosely. I taught one class. I did three loads of laundry. I walked the dog and ran errands in the neighbourhood. I wrestled a new cover onto my made-famous-by-Urdhva-Dhanurasana futon (which will debut in the weekly State-of-the-Backbend photo).

Then I had some fun. With all this time on my hands, I practised twice today. I wasn’t kidding about the Month of Tapas!

This morning I went to an actual Astanga class, taught by an old favourite teacher of mine. It was fun, if a bit periolous getting out the door. I’m good at propelling myself to my *own* classes on time, but with my routine disrupted I was floundering around and ended up running late. In my rush, I slammed my right foot into Princess Fur’s condominium and hopped around squeaking in pain.

Two and a half hours of yoga and what hurts? I have Dog Condominium Foot!

Hi, welcome to Kai’s House of Stupid. Can I place your order? *eye roll*

The class was fun. It’s an Astanga I/II and technically it’s too ‘easy’ for me, in terms of pace. We did the Primary Series to Mari C, then cut to closing. But Teacher IM encouraged me to come into the full expression of the poses and even walked over and gave me fantastic adjustments in Parvottanasana and Marichyasana C.

I’m still struggling with the reverse namaste thing in Parvottasana, but he did something with my arms and shoulders that brought my palms together and it felt wonderful! I was binding to wrist in Mari C, but he brought me even deeper and leveled out my shoulders. I thought my body was going to turn 360 degrees! Nifty!

And there were lots of suggestions and tweaks. My feet need to be still wider in Virabhadrasana I. Knee is directly over ankle in Marichyasana B. This suggestion brought a ‘two steps forward one step back’ element into that pose because I’m used to folding all the way forward and melting into a happy puddle (it’s my favourite ‘vacation’ pose). Now, I’m working harder. Drat! ;-)

After class, I ran to the subway and made it to my noon class with ten minutes to spare. Perfect timing, so I can keep attending this class. The adjustments are great, and it’s just fun to practice in a big room full of other people. I really enjoy this teacher - his cues and instruction are excellent. Listening to him and watching him work is good professional development for me as a teacher.

In the evening, I hit the mat a second time just for fun. I did a YogaDownload class: Power Yoga #5, 60 minutes with Jamie. Good sequence, though I hated the abdominal work. This is a good clue that I should probably be doing more of it. The apartment was warm and humid from drying laundry, which made for a sweaty hour.