Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Astanga

When I arrived at the Shala today, M was there! He lives in another city and periodically covers for R & P when they’re away. He was around during my first week at the Shala, while they were on holiday.

I was so delighted to see him! My whole face lit up and I gave him a big hug. And the poor guy looked so confused! For a few moments, I don’t think he had the faintest clue who I was. :-D Then he figured it out and thanked me for the warm welcome.

He gave me a really effective adjustment in Urdhva Dhanurasana that I really liked (I think Floss mentioned this one in the comments last month). He pressed his palms against my pelvic heads and encouraged me to push forward into them. I could really feel it in my legs!

I’m still not getting enough weight into my heels in Urdhva Dhanurasana - he noticed that.

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It’s been one week since the hamstring pull. I’ve upgraded its status to: ‘injury.’

It’s not just the gremlin - I know because Nitara has since moved on to other areas. She returned to my left psoas very briefly, then wandered over to the right for awhile. This was worrisome because I have my window seat all set up to allow my left leg to dangle off the side (to keep the psoas from cramping up). A right-psoas-gremlin would involve rearranging furniture.

But last night, she was once again on the prowl. She mysteriously moved into my right forearm. I was all worried about my vinyasas and Chaturanga today, but everything was fine. I’m sure she’ll figure out other ways to plague me soon enough.

Yesterday, R spoke with me at length about my hamstring injury and how I’m working through it in my practice. I’ve been moving right up to the edge of ‘sensation’ in my forward bends. R wants me to back off and avoid sensation entirely in order to allow the area to heal. This means lots of bent knees and some very heavily modified poses, especially the forward bends.

That sums up today’s practice: modify, modify, modify. I’m familiar with the ‘sensation’ of the left hamstring by now, so whenever I found it, I backed away. It made for a very interesting practice. Some of the poses were practically unrecognizable! It’s a good lesson in letting go of any expectation and quieting the voice of ‘ego’ in my practice.

Ice, arnica, patience!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Astanga

Feeling tired and stiff

But I practised anyway

I did not want to

I wasn’t joking about the Haiku! I’m in the throes of major ‘writers block’ at the moment. I think my brain is tired of being clever with words.

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Practice report:

I had one of those practices where I couldn’t seem to connect fully with my body. I recall R once telling me that when you’re in that kind of headspace, the best thing to do is just focus on your breath and it will carry your through, give you energy. So that’s what I did. Each time I felt my attention slipping, I brought it back to my breath. In the end, it wasn’t a bad practice. If I did only one thing right, I had a strong, steady Ujjayi throughout.

So as I was preparing for backbending, I was astonished when R walked over and announced that I was ‘breathing too shallowly.’ Seriously? There must have been a huge question mark dangling above my head given that I had just finished what I thought was a very breath-aware practice.

But she was talking about my backbending and, of course, she’s right. I *do* breathe too shallowly in Urdhva Dhanurasana. So that’s what we worked on today. No heroics, just the basics: inhaling up into the backbend, exhaling down, deep breathing throughout and a gaze to the tip of the nose (the bar is being set lower and lower, but I’m okay with that).

She did ask me to walk my hands in a few times, just to fulfill the bare minimum ‘suffering quota.’ Now I feel like I’m truly back at my home shala! :-D

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Audrey Hepburn lost her contact lens. Can someone help her out?

‘The Panther’?! I really don’t think this pose is part of the Primary Series (or any series)!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Astanga

Today is the final day of the Bindu Wiles writing-and-yoga challenge.

If I’ve learned nothing else in the past 20 days, it’s that writing 800 words can go relatively smoothly when there’s a lot going on. But on boring, ordinary days (which most days are), it can be VERY difficult.

There were so many days when I sat in front of my computer, glassy-eyed and seized with horrible writers block. I kept having flashbacks to the almost-daily writing panics I used to have in graduate school, when I was expected to regurgitate 50 pages of academic horseshit every other day.

On average, I write 383.7 words per day on this blog (that’s a real statistic!). During the past 20 days, I almost tripled that output. Somehow, by writing more words than usual, I created an expectation in my mind: If I’m going to write an ESSAY, well, it had better be a damned good one! I spent hours on some of these posts, editing them, re-reading them for clarity. And in order to write and essay, I needed compelling and interesting topics. I spent hours excavating my brain for topics that were compelling enough to write about.

Twenty days ago, it felt like my brain was full of interesting material to draw from, but that well is running dry. Stretching out ahead of me, I see a long, hot summer filled with ordinary, mundane, posts: practice reports, what-I-ate-for-lunch, testimonies of Princess Fur’s cuteness and an occasional meltdown announcement. And there will likely be backbending, lots of backbending.

I’m about to get boring again. Starting tomorrow. Just a warning...

Instead of writing anything of substance to cap off my participation in the challenge, I’m going to beg off with a lame recap of everything I’ve written over the past 20 days, with links. It’s an index of sorts:

Day 1: Gremlin report, practice report, and I had some kind of woo-woo experience in Baddha Konasana B

Day 2: A dinosaur invades my left big toe and my foot suddenly smells exactly like Italian food

Day 3: I reminisce about my first few weeks at the Shala and wonder why it took so long for my brain to join me there

Day 4: My visit to the Mysore room at Shala North and the discovery that DR has secret madskillz in calf roping

Day 5: This is the day I didn’t have a single coherent thought, so I regurgitated several incoherent thoughts instead (but there’s some good stuff on backbending)

Day 6: Reflecting on the perils of online writing, anonymity and sharing your Crazypants moments with complete strangers, online

Day 7: Exploring discomfort as part of my yoga practice

Day 8: Despite my love of discomfort, I discover that I’m not suffering enough

Day 9: Blogging suddenly gets complicated, so I muse about my first months doing the practice, plus Pingu makes a special guest appearance

Day 10: Adjusting to adjustments - learning to trust and trying not to lose my mind

Day 11: A few important lessons I’ve learned from my dog, the spectacular Princess Fur

Day 12: The Astanga community and why I think it’s essential to my practice

Day 13: In this post, I managed to build 800 words from insomnia, a boring practice report and a really excellent South Indian Thali

Day 14: I get all touch-feely and explore my relationship with tradition in context to Astanga vinyasa yoga

Day 15: I slay the dinosaur, give up SUGAR! and my gremlin moves into my left hamstring, then I lose my shit at the grocery store

Day 16: Salsa dancing with elephants and figuring out what to do with my gremlin, now that she’s really gone nuts

Day 17: My practice is ordinary, but my jumpbacks/throughs start to take off

Day 18: Second visit to Shala North, alien invasion of an Iyengar studio, indian food with April, and YogiToes gets the boot

Day 19: Riots break out in my city, my home Shala shuts down, while I sit at home and eat carob-nut clusters

Day 20: “The More I Teach, the Stupider I Get”, also: I take my practice to Shala North as a riot refugee, experience workshop awesomeness, and DR helps me stand up from a backbend

Looking back over the past 20 days, my life almost seems interesting! ;-) It goes without saying: I did yoga every single day (that was part of the challenge). Often, I did 1.5 hours or more. That’s the life of an Ashtangi! It’s not even that remarkable.

Final Writing Tally: 21,603 words over 21 days with an average of 1,028.71 words per day.

Phew! I think I’ll go write a haiku now.

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Practice report:

I felt happy to be back at my home shala after a weekend of refugee status. As I did my finishing poses at Shala North on Sunday, I started feeling really ‘homesick’ for Shala Central and my teachers. It was comforting to be back in that familiar space, with familiar people, my practice routine and the cheerful sunbeams flowing through the windows. I had an unremarkable practice - the very best kind! I got a great adjustment in Urdhva Dhanurasana. I blissed out a little bit in Savasana.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Astanga

As I walked out of Shala North at the end of the adjustments workshop, I could actually feel the seams of my brain bulging dangerously from all of the information I had just taken in.

It’s still digesting. *burp*

I’m not sure how much of it I can realistically convey here, given that the material was so experiential. Even as I took notes, I realised that they were, at best, a descriptive summary. The real work of processing this stuff will begin when I start using it in my classes and in sessions with my private students. Giving strong, confident adjustments is just as reliant on muscle memory and repetition as practising asana is. I just need to DO it, lots of it, and the understanding will gradually come.

And just when I think I’ve *really* got it, I’ll probably discover that I’m doing some of it completely wrong. Or my understanding will change in a way that makes it all seem brand new again. Full circle. Over and over again. Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel.

Here’s one: Today, I learned that I’ve been cueing Prasarita Padottanasana C incorrectly (and, by extension, adjusting it ineffectively; boy, I NEEDED this workshop!). I wasn’t doing it in a way that would hurt my students, but I certainly wasn’t helping them. So I asked lots of questions and took notes and futzed around with my arms and futzed around with someone else’s arms (Thanks, J). Next, I’ll apply this new understanding of the pose to my own practice and THEN I can begin the difficult work of learning to convey this to my students in a clear way. It will be trial and error - it always is.

And this isn’t new. There’s always something. Last year, I had a complete *facepalm* moment regarding how I teach Marichyasana C. I literally cringed when the gravity of What I Didn’t Know fully sunk in. So I spent hours on the mat experimenting and refining my understanding of the pose. I researched it in books and on the Internet. I had a chat with a senior teacher I trust. And I was SO relieved to finally have that one squared away! Phew!

C’mon...you KNOW what’s coming!

Today, I asked just a simple question and once again, everything I thought I knew about about Mari C has been effectively blown out of the water. There’s this deep rut in the floor leading to my metaphorical drawing board. It’s there because I spend so much time going back and forth, again and again.

I read and read and read and read some more. I study and practice and sink nearly every penny of my disposable income into conferences and workshops. I attend classes with teachers I admire so I can study them. I swap ideas with colleagues. I solicit feedback from my students. I devote hours to my own practice and analyze it looking for new clues. And the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.

It’s equal parts frustrating and wonderful. I’m excited that there’s so much to learn. I despair that I can’t know everything. But that doesn’t keep me from trying!

This evening after the workshop, I squatted on the subway platform and rested my chin on top of my Manduka, trying to still my churning brain. And I sighed. And I then marvelled that I’ve been teaching this stuff for over 8 years. Seriously?! That really IS amazing because I feel like I hardly know ANYTHING!

And this, my friends, is why I try not to overthink this stuff. I’d literally drive myself crazy.

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One of the highlights of the workshop today had nothing to do with the workshop itself. In the last half-hour, as everyone was busy practising adjustments in Urdhva Dhanurasana, DR spirited me away to a corner and gave me a quick backbending tutorial. He helped me stand up twice! He also helped me dropback once - very slowly and with lots of control (exactly how I would like to do this on my own; I want to be a feather, not a tree!).

It gave me hope that I’m on the right track with all of the extracurricular work I’ve been doing outside my Shala practice.

The ease I experienced standing up from Urdhva Dhanurasana today absolutely blew my mind!!! The first try was disorienting, but the second was kind of fabulous! It wasn’t remotely scary or difficult! I didn’t have to rock. I didn’t even walk my hands in very far (although I did walk them in). It was all about bringing the weight into my legs (or more accurately, it was DR bringing my weight into my legs for me). But once that particular puzzle piece was in place, I peeled up pretty easily.

I’ve been practising this a LOT at home and I’m sure it helped. The mechanics of standing up are now somewhat familiar to me. But to feel it all come together in the context of actually DOING IT was a real trip! I’m still kind of gobsmacked.

It was generous of DR to to take the time to help me. I was really touched, particularly given how much he has on his mind right now.

Poor guy! When I arrived at the workshop and saw him at reception, he looked disoriented - like he’d been teleported to Planet Zorg against his will. The new baby is reportedly as cute as button and as big as a sumo wrestler! DR and S have their hands full - but in a very good way! I’m really happy for them. :-)

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A brief practice report:

When I signed in, I told the woman at reception that I was a ‘refugee’ and she laughed. At least I practised! I briefly considered practising at home, but I’m taking this whole six-day-shala-practice thing very seriously. I haven’t missed a single day of shala practice since I started going to Shala Central in March. We’ll see how long I can keep it up!

The Mysore room at Shala North was busy this morning and it was steamy-hot. I sweated buckets. Except for a brief Space Cadet Moment during the standing poses (why does this ALWAYS happen to me in an unfamiliar room? I get so disoriented!), I had a very good practice.

I received a terrific adjustment in Supta K. Also, one of the assistants offered to give me a squish after Urdhva Dhanurasana. My hamstring was feeling pretty good, so I gave him verbal feedback on how much pressure to use. I was able to move right into the edge of the sensation.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hatha

Interesting day. This weekend, my city is hosting a meeting of International Big Wigs and the security here is unreal. A huge area of the city centre is enclosed within a 10-foot high fence, heavily guarded by police officers. I watched the barrier go up earlier in the week and it’s creepy looking. It reminds me of a war zone.

The soup kitchen I volunteer at is just outside of this ‘security area’ but we were forced to shut down for the entire week. We normally serve 6,000 meals to the hungry. Some of our guests rely on these meals and I wonder where they ate instead. All week, roving bands of riot-police-in-training wandered the streets, familiarizing themselves with our city. They conducted training manoeuvres and randomly shut down intersections to ‘practise’ for the Big Wig motorcades. I’ve never seen so many police officers in my life! They were everywhere.

Many people escaped the city for the weekend in order to avoid this. I didn’t have the option, but I figured that it wouldn’t be a big deal. This morning, I travelled via public transit into the downtown core to teach my Saturday morning class. It was a very fast commute because *nobody* was down there. The streets were literally deserted, clear of parked cars, and many of the shops had boarded up their windows. It reminded me hurricane preparations when I lived in Hawaii as a kid. It seemed a bit like overkill.

I had a bet going with a fellow teacher that I would have a full class this morning, and I won my bet. My students are troopers! I had a full room and one person travelled all the way from the west end of the city to attend. After class, I made it home in record time. The streetcar was filled with protestors. I rode along the northern boundary of ‘the fence’ and it was surreal. The war-zone atmosphere intensified at the subway station. There were 15 officers in partial riot gear crowded near the wickets going in and I counted 20 on the platforms.

I was relieved to get home! I ate lunch and read a book and didn’t pay much attention to what was going on outside my building, though I did notice the unusual number of helicopters.

In the late afternoon, I walked to the health food store to pick up some brown rice protein powder and noticed riot police guarding the intersection to my neighbourhood! That’s when I found out that a band of violent demonstrators were moving through the downtown area, smashing windows and setting cars on fire. “They smashed all the windows of the Starbucks”, the shop clerk told me.

They were headed north. At the peak of the violence, these protests were a mere 1.5km away from my building (southeast). It’s rumoured that the police were using tear gas to disperse them.

I beat a hasty retreat home and stayed put, with the radio on.

Just to give you an idea, here’s the street I walked through on my way to class this morning. At 10:30 a.m., it was quiet and still. By 4:30, it looked like this:

I guess the boarded up windows were not ‘overkill’ after all. The downtown core apparently looks like a war zone, with smashed windows, burning vehicles and vandalism.

My teachers just canceled tomorrow’s Mysore. The Shala is located well outside of the current ‘red zone’ so it’s just a precaution. But it means that I’ll be going to Shala North for my practice again tomorrow morning. Goodness, I’m spending a lot of time up there! I’ll head up as soon as the subway opens. Hopefully, this will give me enough time to do my practice. The adjustments workshop starts a couple of hours after that, so I guess I’ll hang out in that neighbourhood and get some lunch.

It will be a relief to get out of downtown, to be honest. I just took Princess Fur for a walk around our block and even though it feels like a ‘normal’ Saturday, with children playing in the park and people enjoying their barbecues, the city is still filled with the sound of sirens and helicopters are buzzing overhead. There’s a pall of smoke over the downtown core. It’s a weird scene.

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I more-or-less honoured the rest day/Moon Day and just did a little bit of Hatha to stretch a few things out.

My upper ribs and my hip flexors are aching today. On Thursday, I launched my new ‘secret project’. It will span a month and I’m hoping it will lead to great things, but for now, it’s just making me very, very sore. Ug. I thought I was using most of the muscles in my body, but apparently there are a number of them that have been sitting on the shelf until now.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Astanga

Psst! Ya wanna have some fun?

Try this:

After a sweaty, satisfying Mysore practice, head over to the Iyengar yoga school up the street. Let reception know that you’re waiting for someone. Prop your Manduka against the wall and settle into a comfy Padmasana on the floor, Starbucks cup in hand, near a group of chatty Iyengar students gossiping in the corner (under a larger-than-life portrait of the Great Man himself).

Then, with a conspicuous flourish, pull out your worn copy of Yoga Mala and start reading. Wait...for the conversation to trickle to a brief pause...then it starts up again.

It’s a stranger! From the outside! Ooooooooooooo!

That was fun :-D

When the class ended, I watched the students file out and greeted April. While she was in the change room, I oh-so-casually sauntered over to the classroom door so I could gawk at all the ropes and pullies and stuff on the wall. I’d heard about the wall gizmos, but it was never part of my experience when I was an Iyengar student years ago. Trippy!

I noticed that the Iyengar people all carry yoga towels - I was mystified. Later, I asked April what that was about. Do they actually sweat during the class? No, there’s no sweating. They place the towels over the blankets and props to keep them clean. Hm, interesting! It’s a different world up there...

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My visit to Shala North was loads of fun! As I suspected, DR wasn’t there, but his assistants are well-trained and fabulous; I felt well taken care of.

I wasn’t sure what to do about informing the assistants about the ‘thing’ going on in my hamstring. Usually DR chats me up beforehand so I can give him the scoop. I decided to start my practice and when the first forward-bendy-type adjustment was offered, I would decline and word would get around.

But that moment never arrived. When Prasarita C came and went without an adjustment, I just relaxed and carried on. I had a pretty good practice. The Janus felt much better today - the forward bend on the left side is getting deeper.The Marichyasanas were slippery but fun.

Then, along came Kurmasana. Aw, my poor crippled Turtle!!! Today, it actually felt *worse*. Since no authorised teachers were around to ‘bad lady’ me, I went into child’s pose afterward to rest up for Supta Kurmasana.

Since I can’t enter Supta K from Kurmasana anymore, I’ve been improvising: I sit up and take my left leg behind my shoulder, then lower down, bind my fingers, and cross my ankles. It’s not ideal, but it works. I was in the final moments of contorting myself into this pretzel when I heard an assistant hurry over. The assistant gave me a firm, efficient adjustment, bringing my legs further behind my shoulders as I curled deeper into the pose. The whole manoeuvre was done with care, but this assistant wasn’t shy about balloon-animaling me into the pose.

I was mystified. That was bold, given that I had just done an extremely modified Kurmasana!

A few minutes later, I received another deep adjustment in Baddha Konasana.

Those were EXACTLY the two adjustments I would have asked for. Not only that, but as I settled into my post-UD Paschimo, the assistants left me alone to fold over my bent legs in peace. There’s something going on...clearly, DR’s assistants have MIND-READING SIDDHIS!!

This is amazing! :-D I’m attending the adjustments workshop with DR this weekend. While I’ll admit I was genuinely looking forward to it, now I can’t WAIT!!! I want to learn these mind-reading siddhis too!

(On a more serious note: thanks, assistants, for taking such fine care of me and my pesky gremlin during my visit to your room; you guys were GREAT!)

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By far, the best part about my visit to Shala North this morning was meeting new people. I really appreciate all of you who took a moment to introduce yourselves to me. I’m finding that being a ‘blog celebrity’ is interesting for all of 3 seconds, but making real connections with awesome people is infinitely fascinating. I had SO MUCH FUN hanging out in the change room and chatting. I’ve said it before, but Shala North has an amazing community and I love how friendly and open everyone is. Thank you for making me feel so welcome!

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In other news, my shaky relationship with YogiToes towels is officially over. I received one for Christmas and bought two others on sale, figuring that I could switch out the towels every two days. Since hygiene is a big deal me (I even bring my mat home once a week to clean it), I loved the idea of freshly laundered towels. The YogiToes are easy to throw in the wash.

Trouble is, I *hate* them. The texture of the fabric is weird and they bunch up. They’re not long enough to tuck under the edges of my Manduka. Also (and I know this is irrational): I hate the ‘dot’. Stupid dot. What’s it for anyway? Does anybody know?

So I’ve come full-circle. I started my practice on a traditional Mysore rug. It was so pretty with all those different brightly coloured stripes. I loved, loved, loved it and was heartbroken when it wore out last summer (It literally had holes in it!).

Today, I bought two new Indian yoga rugs (DR must love me - every time I walk into his studio, I spend $$$). I used one today and it was great. I have a green one and an orange one - bright, happy colours to keep me alert and cheerful during my practice.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Astanga

I’m astonished by how ‘ordinary’ my practice is right now, despite this injury/opening/gremlin/whatever that’s happening in my left hamstring. I thought my Primary Series might feel very limited, given that it revolves around forward bending, but it’s just business as usual on my Manduka these days. I almost always tease the edge of my maximum in poses anyway, and today was no different. Now, I just feel the ‘edge’ sooner on my left side in most of the poses and the sensation is a tad more intense than I’m used to.

Overall, it felt better today! At times, I even had a feeling of ‘craving the stretch’ in my left leg, like it was okay to go deeper. I didn’t, though. I kept my knee bent and played with the edge. I’m not messing around with this one. I’ll give it a week of conservative practice and re-evaluate. I’ve heard too many horror stories about this kind of thing and though I’m not sure they really apply to my situation, it can’t hurt to be careful.

My intuition is that this is not a serious ‘thing’. I’m doing daily strength work for the hamstring, which feels fine - no sensation at all (except muscle fatigue from working the leg). I’m stretching and icing and arnica-ing. It’s all good.

I just love my practice and I’m relieved that I can carry on with it as I allow the ‘whatever-it-is’ to heal. I’m actually amazed at how adaptable this practice is to changes in the body, injuries, daily ebbs and tides.

One of my early misconceptions about Astanga was that practitioners plowed through injuries. I was afraid to go to a shala because I wondered what would happen if I got hurt. Would I be forced to practice in pain? I discovered early in my shala experience that there’s a lot of flexibility offered and care taken to ease through body-transitions, openings and injuries. And it’s absolutely possible to ‘do your practice’ every day and still honour your body.

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I’m shifting a lot of my focus to my jumpbacks/jumpthroughs right now, since so many of my poses are modified.

I know I keep saying this, but I’m so close! Last night, I was visualizing my jumpbacks. I can lift up into Lolasana easily now. It seems like it would be relatively simple to just shoot my legs back from Lolasana. I mean, they’re already there!! They’re hanging out in space! Why not? I imagined myself doing this over and over again.

But imagery and reality are obviously two different things. I’m sure P was wondering what I was up to with all of the wonky jumpbacks I was doing this morning. I kept experimenting with different actions and angles. I just can’t seem to lose that ‘touchdown’ before jumping back. I have a feeling that I need to lift my hips more, but I don’t know how to make it happen. Bending my elbows and tipping forward only gets me so far. I’m pretty sure I have the strength now - it’s down to the mechanics. If I can get my head wrapped around that, I’ll be able to nail it!

Learning this has been such a process, but it’s brought so much ‘lightness’ to the rest of my practice! I almost never ‘thud’ in my sun salutations or seated vinyasas anymore. I’m shooting for more Bandhas and more control in all of my movements, but particularly the transitions. I’m astonished by how much my breath (especially puraka, inhale) can create ‘lift’.

And the jumpthroughs are suddenly happening for me! Several times, I was able to bring my feet through and straighten my legs without touching the floor. Then I lowered my legs for the hover-craft landing. Sweet!!! It doesn’t always happen, but it’s coming more often.

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Tomorrow is a Moon Day at Shala Central, so I’m headed to Shala North for morning Mysore. My shala-buddy is coming with me, so I’ll have some company.

I’m so excited! I really do love DR’s room! It’s toasty, filled with nice people, and has good energy. Even though I won’t get a lot of adjustments due to my gremlin, I’ll be happy just to be practising there. The change of scenery will be refreshing and maybe I can see photos of the new baby (who finally made his grand entrance last Friday...yay!).

And my day will just keep getting better! My friend April is visiting town from the States. We had planned to meet for lunch and discovered, quite coincidentally, that she’s practising up at the Iyengar school in the same neighbourhood as Shala North. I’ll have time to shower and hang out in the ‘hood for a while before I pick her up. Then we’ll go chat yoga over sushi and I can tease her about how many blocks and straps she used in her practice, while she ribs me about my vinyasa sweatbath!

It’s all in good fun. We’re all the grand-kids of Krishnamacharya, after all! ;-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Astanga

I never thought I’d say this, but my practice this morning was FASCINATING. It was juicy. Uncomfortable, but juicy! I’m trying to think of a good analogy and struggling a bit.

Here’s one: Have you ever gone salsa dancing in a small room with a BIG elephant in it?

Okay, me neither! But work with me here... You’re dancing, but every time you turn around, that elephant is there! You can smell her and feel her presence. You keep glimpsing her out of the corner your eye, or you bump into her accidentally or feel the swish of her tail against your back. There are things you want to do, fancy moves you want to try, but you can’t because the elephant is in the way. She’s crowding you, making it hard to breath. Every so often, you forget she’s there and then she taps you on the shoulder with her long trunk and you’re all “WHA?! Oh... it’s just the elephant.”

That’s what it felt like.

This suddenly-tight left hamstring was a flashback to my yoga past. I wasn’t always very bendy. When I started practising Iyengar style yoga in my mid-20s, my hamstrings were so chronically shortened, I could barely touch my knees in a forward bend (I didn’t use a block, I used a CHAIR). Several years later, I could finally find the floor with my fingertips, but I still had the tightest hamstrings in my YTT.

One of the nice little fringe benefits I’ve gained from practising the Primary Series for so many years is lonnnnnng hamstrings. I don’t think I fully realised it until this morning, but I don’t really ‘feel’ my hamstrings anymore in most forward bends, particularly if I’m warmed up. This became starkly evident in the assymetrical poses. Left side: there’s a pull and some sensation. Right side: nada. The contrast was fascinating.

Poses that required the legs to open at a wide angle were inaccessible, with weird exceptions. Upavista Konasana was almost impossible, but Supta Konasana was comfortable (probably because there was less emphasis on a forward bend?). Kurmasana was GONE (requiring both legs to be bent), but Supta Kurmasana was absolutely fine, right down to binding my fingers and crossing my ankles! All of the Janus were limited, but possible. The Marichyasanas were fine, even A.

It’s not absolutely dire, but it’s definitely limiting my practice. It begs the question, is this an ‘opening’ or an ‘injury’?

I vote for ‘opening’ because:

a) I kind of saw it coming

b) It triggered some kind of released-emotion meltdown (I normally don’t cry at the grocery store - honest!)

c) It’s on my left side, which is my pissy psoas side; my left side has ‘issues’

d) The pain occurred when I was very warmed up, my hamstrings are already very flexible, and I was working in a pose that is normally accessible to me. In short, I wasn’t doing anything stupid.

At the time, I told R that it was “probably just a thing” and I still think that’s the case. It’s just a ‘thing’ I need to deal with. It came up for a reason and I’ll to work through it. No doubt I’ll excavate important lessons from it.

All the same, I like to do my research on this stuff.

After a bit of Googling, I was surprised to find that the most hysterical, pessimistic accounts of this type of pain can be found on the Astanga message boards. The EZBoard actually scared the daylights out of me and most of it wasn’t helpful. I had to remind myself that those accounts spanned different degrees of severity, experience in the practice and even types of injury. Astangis tend to get twitchy about anything that limits their practice :-D

Interestingly, the sites geared towards runners, soccer players - even weight-lifters - all had calm, reassuring messages. In a nutshell: ice it, stretch it, strengthen it, give it some time and you’ll be fine.

Along those same lines, I noticed that there are two schools of thought around healing this type of injury and they can be summed up neatly: “Stretch and Strength” and “Rest Completely” I found more of the latter in the wider yoga community (not Astanga-specific). The sports medicine folks seem to favour the former approach: physiotherapy, including targeted stretching and strength work.

The common ground on which everyone seems to agree: Ice, ice baby. And arnica gel/cream.

Here’s the plan:

-I’m icing the area several times a day for 20 minutes.

-I’m working on building strength in my hamstrings (Shalabasana, physio-inspired exercises and the ‘hamstring machine’ at the gym I teach at).

-Arnica gel during the day and arnica orally at night (the pellets make me extremely drowsy).

-I’ll continue my practice, stretching the area with great care.

-I’ll modify as needed: I’m comfortable with keeping my left leg straight in most of the forward bends, but in wide angle forward bends, I’ll keep the knee bent.

And today I gave the Ganesha on my altar some mango and part of a vegan cookie.

It doesn’t hurt to keep all my bases covered!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Astanga

It’s official: I’m growing weary of writing 800 word essays every day. Sorry, Bindu Wiles, but I miss those lazy days of succinct practice reports, a photo or link or YouTube link. My writer’s block has writer’s block. In the beginning, I was going to try for Daily Profundity, but I don’t have the energy for it.

I have to admit, though - this project has forced me to dig deep and write some things down that have been tumbling around my brain for months. It’s time-consuming, but it’s soul-enriching in a weird sort of way.

Today, I’m opting for a series of little newsy bits and bites, an update of sorts on the minutae of my life and practice and a gremlin update.

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The Slaying of the Dinosaur

When I last wrote about the paronychia (the infection in the cuticle of my big toe - a.k.a. ‘The Dinosaur’), it was a painful mess and I was desperately trying a number of natural remedies to combat the infection. My foot was getting regular epsom salt soaks and I was hobbling around in layers of band-aids to protect it from the elements. I was modifying my practice and trying to land ‘light on my feet’ in jumpbacks. I even stopped rolling over my toes in vinyasas (because it HURT!).

There were a few days when I was ready to fly the white flag of surrender and head to the allopathic doctor for convention antibiotics, but I decided to wait it out for 10 days before going that route.

I’m glad I waited. In the end, the winning combination was oregano oil taken orally a few times daily and frequent applications of 100% tea tree oil directly to the site of the infection. I opted for the tea tree oil when I realised that the infection was fungal (the epsom salts soaks were making it worse by introducing moisture into the infection site). It took exactly 11 days, but it’s all healed up now.

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No more SUGAR!

Around the end of April, I announced an intention to start removing sugar from my diet. This was a hugely big deal for me because I have an extraordinary sweet tooth - I could LIVE on cookies! I started jokingly referring to sugar as ‘SUGAR!’ (in all caps because consuming it had become an ongoing coping strategy).

It was touch and go for awhile, but my diet is now almost entirely sugar-free. I abstain during my ‘six day week’. On Saturdays, I’m allowed one ‘cheat’. For almost 8 years, I’ve been buying ‘Death by Chocolate’ cookies from a vendor at a farmer’s market near my Saturday morning class. Mike, the Cookie Guy, would be heartbroken not to see me, so I’ve continued this ritual as a reward to myself. I eat my cookies with tea in the afternoon and enjoy every bite.

Life without (much) sugar has been interesting. My sense of sweet has become greatly sensitized and I’m amazed by how ‘sugary’ something like a mango is to my palate. Raisins taste like rich candy! I now use one packet of Splenda for an entire pot of chai and it’s tastes just heavenly. I rarely have cravings.

Most of the time, I don’t miss it. Foods that contain refined sugar taste TOO sweet.

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It’s Hamstring Week!

Nitara, my gremlin, is on the move again and this time she’s in my left inner hamstring. It happened during Kurmasana this morning. I had a sudden oh-my-goodness-this-is-not-good moment as I lifted my heels in the pose. I can’t even beat myself up about this one because that’s one pose that I’m very careful coming into; I don’t rush it because I’m never sure if those heels are actually going to lift.

I immediately came out of the pose and sat up, stretched my leg out, trying to figure it out. It wasn’t a sharp pain, more like an angry cramping sensation. The upper hamstrings suddenly felt ‘ropey’ and tight. R noticed my futzing and asked me what was up. She instructed me to come back into Kurmasana, but to modify, so I did. I couldn’t even straighten my legs in the pose without sensation. Supta Kurmasana was fine, though and I continued on.

The only other poses affected were Supta Padangushtasana (bringing my left leg out to the side produced a uncomfortable ‘ropey’ sensation, so I modified) and, of course, Upavista Konasana.

I moved very slowly and carefully through the remaining poses, easing through each one. Backbends were not great, mostly because I was a bit freaked out by that point. I think I did two, came down, did three more with a rest in between each. It wasn’t a great showing, but I’m just happy I got through the rest of my practice without losing my shit.

I lost my shit at the grocery store instead.

Sitting on a bench in front of the store, I gazed out at the torrential downpour and despaired that I would ever make it home on my little bicycle considering the line of angry clouds marching in from the west. Big tears started flowing down my cheeks and I bit my lip. The woman on the bench next to me kindly ignored my Crazy. I popped 3 arnica pellets under my tongue (as instructed by R, who consulted with me as I left the Shala) and hoped like hell that my day would get better.

And it did. I made it home, smeared on some arnica gel and passed out cold for three hours. Long, morning naps make everything better!

It’s going to be a very interesting week, practising with a gremlin in my hamstring! I have no idea what awaits me on the mat tomorrow, given that forward bending is affected and most of the Primary Series is...wait for it...forward bending.

To be honest, I’m not terribly upset by this one. This is an ‘opening’ that’s been long in coming - that hamstring has been on the edge of wonky for months, pre-Shala. I’m glad I can finally work through it. This will be good for me. I’ve been getting lazy my in forward bends - now I’ll be forced to pay attention.

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This week, 70s Yogini, Joan Gould (a.k.a. ‘Beehive Lady’) offers this bit of timely advice. I’m going to keep this in mind as I move through my practice tomorrow:

Make haste, by all means, but do it SLOWLY!!

Okey dokey!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Astanga

Today, I want to write a bit about my relationship with ‘tradition’. I tread carefully around this topic, not because I’m resistant or disrespectful of it, but quite the opposite: it hits a bit too close to my heart. Sarcasm and cynicism are easy topics for me. I have no qualms poking fun at my own meltdowns. But I resist ‘touch-feely.’ When I venture into that territory, I’m bound to question my own authenticity. It feels weird.

Also, given the name of my blog and how I was drawn into the practice (‘kicking and screaming’ would pretty much sum it up), my views about Astanga vinyasa yoga as a tradition might come as a surprise to some of you.

I’ve only started to get my head wrapped around this in the past six months. Until recently, I had no reason to evaluate my own beliefs about the Astanga yoga system or articulate them in any way. In fact, for the past few years, I’ve just accepted the system at face value - though I did approach it with a spirit of challenge and inquiry.

In line with this, I tried to maintain as much consistency as possible when I first started, observing anything that came up. As much as possible in the context of a home practice, I practised the Primary Series of poses as they’re traditionally taught. I learned the opening and closing prayers and chanted them faithfully to open and close my practice. As much as possible (and admittedly, it was sometimes sporadic), I tried to maintain a six-day week. I even abstained from practising Astanga on Moon Days and Saturdays (though I often practised another style on those days).

Although it felt a bit like ‘going through the motions,’ I did this for a couple years. I watched things unfold. Initially, the changes were just physical. My body changed, of course; I could do things I couldn’t do before. This was a bit mindblowing to me given I already had 13 years of near-daily Hatha yoga practice under my belt. I wasn’t expecting the dramatic shifts in strength, flexibility, mental toughness (something I’m still working on) or the weight release (a juicy topic for a future post).

There was this stereotype I had always subscribed to: ‘Astanga yoga is a purely physical practice for the body-obsessed’. This was shattered as I experienced the practice over time (and started to teach it to students). Although the physical part of the Astanga seems all-encompassing, in eventually leads to deeper places.

The whole process unfolds with surprising subtlety. No Astanga ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ will come banging on the door. The deeper aspects of the practice wait patiently. Then when you’re ready, they gently tap you on the shoulder. Anyone who practices traditional Astanga will discover that it supports - even demands - certain lifestyle changes, which lead to changes in perspective. If you follow this path, you’ll find yourself meandering far from where you started, but completely of your own volition.

One minute, you’re on a yoga mat doing a few Suryas and the next, you’re foregoing Happy Hour in order to rest up for your practice the next morning. You lose your taste for sugar or coffee, or cigarettes, or meat - or all of these things. Late-night snacking stops when you hit the Marichyasanas ;-). You find yourself reading the Yoga Sutras on the subway because they go a long way towards explaining all of the weird stuff that’s suddenly happening in your brain. You start craving Pranayama. You discover that you love chanting. Meditation...happens.

I’ve written before about the radical changes that came to my life simply by adding generic Hatha yoga to the mix (divorce, shifting sexual orientation, a couple different careers, changed countries, changed citizenship, repaired family relationships - it just goes on and on). It’s all there: evidence in my own life that ANY kind of yoga is powerful and transformative.

I acknowledge this with gratitude - it’s the reason I’m a yoga teacher. You don’t need to subscribe to any particular tradition or method to ‘get the goods’. Just get on the mat - any mat - and do a practice, any practice.

But my experience of practising traditional Astanga yoga has brought all of these things into a deeper focus. The physical shifts that were already there have become more pronounced. I’ve become more aware of how my mental processes are affected by the subtle currents and changes in my body. My experience of yoga asana as part of a spiritual path has become more profound.

Coming from a place of cynical skepticism, my belief in the system and its benefits has emerged gradually. It’s the reason I finally sought out authorised teachers and I’ve stuck it out at the Shala all these months. I do believe in these teachers. I have faith in what they can offer me. They learned what they know from Guruji and that source has value to me. This faith is the reason I get up every morning and do my practice no matter how I’m feeling about it.

I’m far from an evangelist but the other day, when a visitor to the Shala observed our room and remarked: “I don’t think I could do those things...” I spoke up and said: “We all started where you’re at. If you do this practice, anything is possible.”

I’m aware that the origins of the Astanga vinyasa practice have been heavily scrutinized over the years (yes, I’ve read the Singleton book *eyeroll*). Quite frankly, I don’t care if the Yoga Kurunta is one big ‘fairy tale’. The point is, regardless of origins, the practice delivers what it promises and much, much more. It doesn’t matter to me if the Astanga vinyasa system has a deep, historic tradition spanning centuries or if it’s the genius creation of one brilliant man or men (Jois or Krishnamacharya, take your pick).

In the end, it comes down to a matter of belief. I choose to believe that Guruji was a brilliant teacher who experienced something profound in his own experience of yoga and dedicated his entire life to sharing it with others. Whatever the origins, I chose not to dispute the lineage of Astanga vinyasa yoga. I choose to believe that this practice has a profound spiritual logic because it’s changing my life. The framework of the tradition is valuable because it sets a path and creates a community of dedicated practitioners.

I feel a bit like I’ve discovered a treasure map that’s guiding me through some surprisingly difficult terrain. There’s something of great value waiting for me at journey’s end. I know this, because ‘X’ marks the spot.

I’m taking it on faith.

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Practice report:

Nothing new or remarkable happened in my practice this morning. Backbends were two sets of three. I think the hip openers I’ve been doing have been having an impact on the depth of my backbends. I’m feeling like I can move my hips forward more. This morning, Nitara vacated my left psoas and I felt an instant burst of ‘happy’. I don’t know where my gremlin is headed next. My right foot has been aching today, so perhaps she’s headed south for a few days.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Astanga

I was exhausted last night. For once, my brain was perfectly content to let go of Important! Thoughts! and just let me sleep right through the night. And that’s exactly what it was doing when I was awoken by an explosion, followed by sirens at 3:00 a.m. sharp. But I drifted back to sleep, only to be woken AGAIN by the sound of firecrackers (this sent poor Princess Fur into an tizzy - she retreated to the closet). But I rolled over and went back to sleep! And *that’s* when the car alarm sounded...and didn’t stop. For a solid half-hour.

I gave up. I poured myself a glass of coconut water opened a book. Eventually, the universe quieted and I could go back to sleep. But seriously, what are the odds?! I seem to be predestined to be awake every night at 3 a.m.!

At least I got eight full hours of sleep. That’s a first for the week! I’ve been averaging 5 hours per night, but not really feeling unusually tired. I’m usually fine during the morning and evening hours, but I hit some kind of wall in the afternoon when I feel exhausted. If I’m lucky, I can take an hour to nap. This is getting easier as my schedule eases off. Next week is my last really busy one for awhile. I’m looking forward to ‘summer hours’. Lots of me-time, yoga, books, and fun times with friends.

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The yoga week has started! This will be a six-day week for me, despite my home shala’s Moon Day on Friday. I’m taking my practice up to Shala North that day and bringing my shala-buddy with me. I’m looking forward to the change of scenery and the novelty of suffering through my backbends in a room full of completely different people.

Practice starts a bit later on Sundays. Today, it was much warmer than I’ve become accustomed to and the room was busier. Half-way through the standing poses, I was already dripping! I finally took off my tank top and tossed it aside. Modesty be damned! It was HOT in there!!!

My Primary Series is feeling really good these days and I find that it’s becoming very consistent from day to day. There haven’t been any big changes, but I’ve had a few small shifts.

Bhujapidasana keeps getting easier The exit isn’t always smooth, but coming into the pose with my chin on the floor feels natural and controlled now My feet are lifted (today, they were *really* lifted) and I feel almost comfortable for the five breath hold.

I still can’t believe my heels are lifted in Kurmasana. Every time I do it, I’m all “Wow, HOW am I doing this? This is AWESOME!” It was such a struggle for so long that I feel like throwing a little party every time it happens (Cake! Balloons!). I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually! :-D

I’m becoming hyper-aware of my Bandhas lately, everywhere in my practice. I finally figured out why I was finding Marichyasana A so bizarrely difficult. I wasn’t using enough Udiyana Bandha or abdominal strength to come forward! I was just sitting there, assuming that my bendy-bendy hamstrings would let me melt into that pose like butter. Nope! I simply had to work a bit harder.

And there’s something shifting in my jumpbacks. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but sometimes it feels like I’m being grabbed by the seat of my pants and lifted up just as I’m jumping back. Of course, it’s bandhas, bandhas, bandhas! It has to be! But I wish I could isolate exactly what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. Have you ever forgotten a name and had it on the very edge of your brain, but couldn’t conjure it up? That’s EXACTLY what this feels like. Every single jumpback, I’m trying to find ‘it’.

Backbends: I only did six (two sets of three), but I think I might have actually ‘suffered enough’ today. ;-)

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This afternoon, I decided I needed a break. I rode my little bicycle all the way out to Little India for some shopping and food fun.

I found a few really FUN books, stocked up on incense, and browsed around for about an hour. I was looking for a small, brass Durga to add to my spiritual posse. “One who can redeem in situations of utmost distress.” I actually saw an nice Durga a few weeks ago at the India shop in my neighbourhood, but didn’t buy it. Now I’m kicking myself!

So I’m putting it out there: Universe! Send me a Durga! I’m in distress! Especially in backbends!

I capped off the afternoon with a HUGE South Indian Thali at my favourite Little India restaurant. I ate it ALL by myself and now, I have a Buddha Belly. I hope I can still bind Mari D tomorrow!

Trust in Allah, but lock your bicycle!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Astanga

When I first ventured out of my little home-practice-cave into the larger Astanga world, I think a motivating factor was my hunger for a community. I didn’t really care about the adjustments (Hatha adjustments are so tame, I really didn’t know what I was missing!). Travelling to another space for practice definitely wasn’t a draw. I was happy with my solitary practice and had even found motivation for a six-day practice on my own. But my encounters in the Astanga Blogosphere piqued my interest in other practitioners and their experiences. It made me hungry for connection.

Because I love this practice, I enjoy talking about it with others. I’m a perpetual student: I love learning new things. Hearing about the experiences of others shifts my perspective, shakes up my convictions. These conversations are particularly fruitful when I’m talking to practitioners who are coming from a radically different place in their practice - whether it’s different teachers or different styles, traditions or methodology. And when asked to defend my own beliefs about this practice, I find myself digging deep, excavating my knowledge and conceptualizing it. I learn so much about myself in this process. I uncover the limitations of my understanding. I grow.

Also: We Ashtangis are a quirky lot. Many of us are vegetarian or vegan. We eat supper early, if at all. We go to bed early. We get up early. The commitment to our practice forces us to make tough choices about things like double-chocolate cheesecake, Too Much Wine and dancing ’til the wee hours.

I’ve heard all the ‘cult’ jokes, but there’s some truth to it! There’s a language around the practice (not just Sanskrit!) and a lifestyle that emerges from our commitment to it. My ‘civilian friends’ often don’t get why I would want to stand up from a backbend, or put my leg behind my head. The subtle and not so subtle changes that come from practising Astanga are better understood by people who also do the practice. When I went through my CrazyPants week a while back, my regular friends were mystified, but I found comfort and encouragement from others in the Astanga community who had experienced similar challenges.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected from my shala experiment, but my experience so far has been a mixed bag. Though there is definitely a sense of camaraderie that comes with practising near the same people day after day after day, we often don’t talk. We can’t! We’re practising! And then we’re leaving. I’ve genuinely treasured the few conversations I’ve had with shala-mates before or after practice, but they have been few and far between. I know that I hoped to make some friends out of this.

I love the idea of a ‘yoga community’, where people can practice together and also come together outside of the practice. I’m aware that there are two schools of thought around this. Some people believe the experience of our practice should remain private and not be talked about at length with others, that doing so may even be harmful. It’s been suggested that discussing the practice can fuel comparison and competition. Some teachers even discourage viewing YouTube videos and DVDs for the same reason.

But others view the practice as a catalyst for connection - both with other practitioners and the world at large. In terms of establishing a regular practice, there’s great value in community. I doubt I could have stuck it out for so many years without the encouragement and advice offered by readers of my blog. In a sense, my blog has become part of my practice - writing about it has helped me grow as a practitioner. I hope that my encouragement has helped others to grow their practice. This thing we do, six days a week, is not easy! Being in the ‘same boat’ with other practitioners is helpful.

In Yoga Mala, Guruji talks about the power of speech and says: “...it is not good to talk too much. By talking too much, the power inherent in the tongue decreases and the power of speech is destroyed. when the power is speech is destroyed, our words, too, lose their power...” But he also goes on to say that ‘speaking of spiritual matters increases the tongue’s power’.

I’m not certain that an all-or-nothing approach is useful. I think there’s a balance to be struck, a middle-ground between idly gossiping about our practices and finding comfort and inspiration in each other’s experiences. Genuine connection with other people is a spiritual act. It brings us together, connects us to the greater whole. Beyond the edge of our Mandukas, there’s a big, wide world out there. We have a choice. We can choose to leave the energy generated by our practice on the mat or we can take it with us out into the world. I believe a supportive community can help us do that.

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Today’s practice: Technically a day off, but I hit the mat for a ‘criminal’ second series practice. Primary through Marichyasana D, then Intermediate to Laghu Vajrasana and the finishing poses. Five backbends today and a State-of-the-Backbend photo:

Eek! My hips look *less* open. For awhile, I was making such fantastic progress opening my hips, I’m frustrated to find myself regressing. But I finally figured it out: cycling. I give up my monthly transit pass in the summer in favour of riding my bicycle to the classes I teach. My hips always get a bit tighter in the summer months; it’s a tradeoff. I’ll need to do more hip openers to counter this.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Astanga

I can’t remember the last time I was this exhausted on a Friday night, and this wasn’t even a six-day week for me (Lady’s kept me out of the Shala on Sunday). It’s not a bad tired, just a very complete tired and it’s probably aggravated by lack of sleep. Princess Fur kept me up for hours last night with a tummy-upset and vomiting. She’s fine now, so guess it was just one of those ‘dog things’.

Welcoming this little dog into my life is one of the smartest decisions of my 30s. It was a spontaneous decision, made while on the brink of some major life changes. I was in my early 30s, preparing to leave my last corporate job. I was fortunate that my decision neatly dovetailed with a round of corporate lay-offs. As I tied up loose ends around my office and handed off my responsibilities, I took the first steps towards a career shift into teaching yoga full-time. It was an exciting and scary time!

I’m still not sure how the seed was planted, but in my spare moments, I started thinking about dogs. I love dogs, but could never have one growing up. On a whim, I searched for miniature schnauzer breeders in the vicinity. I love this breed, probably because my family had a schnauzer when I was very small and my mom has had three different dogs of this breed. Their furry little bearded faces always tug at my heartstrings!

I located a breeder I liked and it all moved very fast from there. I rented a car and asked a friend come along. We drove to a rural community south of the city for a visit. The breeder had a few puppies available and I met them one by one, but all failed to pique my interest. They were all adorable and funny, but I didn’t feel any special connection. Suddenly, a much younger pup appeared from around the corner. She wandered up to me licked my hand. I looked into her somber, intelligent eyes and I was instantly smitten!

“Oh no! That one’s not for sale!” the breeder interjected. “She’s being reserved for show.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t interest myself in any other pup. I felt magically drawn to this delicate bundle of black fur with fiercely intelligent eyes - the pup I couldn’t have. I turned to the breeders and said: “Are you sure? I have the money to pay in full if you change your mind.” They went to the kitchen to discuss and returned just minutes later. They agreed to sell my puppy as a pet. The pup was too young to leave her mother so I returned to pick her up two weeks later. Given the timing of my ‘impulse purchase’, I’m glad I had a chance to prepare!

Having a ‘new baby’ at home was a shocker for a newly unemployed, career-changing, child-less 30-something! I brought her home in the middle of winter. The first night, my ‘baby’ woke me up at 2 a.m. and I had no idea what to do with her. But the books told me I should take her ‘out’ as much as possible. As I stood in my bathrobe, shivering in the -40C windchill, I wondered exactly what I had gotten myself into. She looked up at me and cried. I looked down at her and said: “Go potty!” We were at an impasse!

Princess Fur has been one of my most important teachers. I know, without a doubt, that I’m a better person for having her in my life. Here are a few of the important lessons I’ve learned from my dog:

1) Anger is a waste of time

When I was younger, I had a terrible temper. But tantrums and fits of rage are completely wasted on a dog. By the time a human finishes her ‘primate display behaviour’, a canine has already moved on to more interesting things, like a toy or the lingering scent on a blade of grass. My dog taught me that my anger has no purpose, except to fuel the dramas inside my own head. I started to let go of those ‘stories’ and remain calm when I felt the emotional storms brewing. I learned to take things less personally and express my inner turmoil in more constructive ways.

2) Holding a grudge is limiting

Because dogs don’t live in the past, they don’t hold grudges. They really don’t! If Fido chewed on your slipper, it wasn’t out of a revenge fantasty - it’s because that was a damned good slipper! More than few times when my puppy misbehaved, I scolded her, then I held the grudge. Of course, she forgot about it almost immediately. It was classic case of grasping the hot coal with the intent of throwing it, only to find that I'm the one getting burned. She wasn’t feeling the pain! I’ve come to admire and value my dog’s ability to forgive and forgive completely.

2) The very best moment EVER is the one we’re having RIGHT NOW

Dogs don’t live in the past. They also don’t live in the future. They’re always right here, in the moment, and they’re excited and happy in this moment. My dog has taught me to slow down and look around me for the joy that’s already there. Everything I need, right at this moment, is already here for me. One morning last week, I tugged on her leash impatiently, my mind already in the future. Princess Fur’s mind was right there, in the park, in the Best Moment Ever, which involved smelling a squirrel a few metres away. I dropped my attachment to future plans and unclipped her leash. Together, we stalked the squirrel, then chased it up a tree. We found some other squirrels to chase. We made a great squirrel-chasing team! It was GREAT moment!

3) Love is a dish best served unconditional

She loves me when I grumpy. She loves me when I’m distant. She loves me when I’m unkind or impatient. She never stops loving me. I can - and have - hurt my dog. And when I did, the same unconditional love was waiting for me. She makes no demands, she loves without expectation. I know that no matter what, there is one being in my life who adores me completely and without reservation. And as long as her heart is beating, her affection will be a constant.

4) Seize the day when you can, and let go when it’s time

Dogs have an expiration date. Princess Fur’s will come in the next 5-8 years. The first 8 years of her life have passed in such a blur, it’s difficult to comprehend that her life could be more than half-over. I have trouble believing that my dog is already moving into late middle-age, but already, she’s slowing down. Long walks that once left her unfazed now leave her exhausted. She sleeps more. She plays less. I’ve become deeply aware of each of her passing days. Suddenly, they seem numbered in a way they didn’t before and I’m eager to embrace each one. I dread the day that I will need to let her go. And I know that in doing so, my dog will once again prove to be one of my greatest teachers.

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Good practice today! Nothing new to report. Backbends were 3/3/2. I was reminded that I need to take shorter breaks in between sets of backbends.

I’m doing something new in Sirsasana, inspired by The Misanthropic Yogini: I’m holding the pose for 35 breaths and trying to hold the half-bend for 10. Today, I managed only 8 in the half-bend. I can see how this exercise will help me become stronger. Sirsasana is not a difficult pose for me, but by the time I finished, I was feeling it!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Astanga

I’m continuing from yesterday’s post - if you didn’t read it, you’ll want to go back and do so.

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The interesting thing about picking up the practice the way I did, without a teacher, is that I didn’t have adjustments. Instead, I observed my body and experimented. I read tips on forums (and blogs!), read books and watched video clips. No one was there to physically move my body in a way that would deepen my experience of a posture - I had to find that ‘edge’ on my own.

I did have the advantage of being a yoga teacher (with a better-than-average knowledge of anatomy and body mechanics). However, many of these poses were brand new to me and the deeper expressions of them were completely foreign.

Here’s the really cool thing: the poses still deepened, even without adjustments. The wrist binds eventually came in the Marichyasanas. Even Supta Kurmasana, which seemed like a cosmic joke of a pose, eventually became available to me. My hamstrings were tight, but after a couple of years of regular practice, they lengthened. Careful attention to lift-ups in my vinyasas helped me build strength.

I kept returning to the mat, doing my best. Practice and it *really* is all coming! I learned so much about myself and my body during this process.

I used audio recordings to learn the correct vinyasa counts for the poses. I think this was the area I needed the most help with when I first arrived at the Shala. It’s very hard to learn the Primary Series all at once as I did, and learn it properly. I thought I was doing okay in this department until my teachers started to clean things up. And eek! I’m *still* learning.

But back to adjustments. I was just a bit mystified by them. Having never had Astanga adjustments, I wasn’t sure what they were for or what I was supposed to do with them. This was brand new territory for me.

I also need to put this card on the table: For a few years, I practised in an advanced Anusara class and I had some horrifically bad experiences while being assisted by other students (a common practice in Anusara). I’ve been kicked in the face, dropped on my head, allowed to fall THUD onto my back during a handstand. As a result, I’m deeply wary of allowing anyone to ‘take control’ of what my body is doing in a pose. If I’m not initiating the movement, I start to feel out of control and frightened.

The very first thing I learned about adjustments in Astanga is that they’re not passive. I have a role in them, even if my role is simply to breathe. I quickly learned to breathe into the adjustments and allow my exhales to soften my body. Paschimo squishes were a terrific learning ground for this. They were probably the first adjustment I felt ‘at home’ in. Any type of forward bend was a good opportunity to soften into the pose with my exhalation. I also learned to deepen my Ujjayi breath by ‘breathing into the teacher’s hands’ (in those adjustments where the hands were placed on my back).

The next big revelation was that adjustments often make me work *harder*! I started to become aware of those moments when I allowed my teachers to ‘do the work’ of the pose for me. I tried to remain engaged during adjustments so this would not happen. At first, I found it challenging to follow the lead of an adjustment, while still supporting myself in the posture. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana was a daily lesson in this. I couldn’t allow the teacher's hand that was holding my foot to carry the entire weight of my leg - that’s my arm’s job!

Next, I started to learn how to use my body language to let the teacher know when I was ready to go deeper in a pose. The first time this actually worked, I was amazed! I was able to consciously work harder in my poses during the adjustment. I was starting to understand how they might be very, very useful to me!

And finally, I became more sensitive to physical cues from my teachers: the sound of breath, body language, and touch. For the first month or so in the Shala, my teachers literally had to talk me through adjustments. R would poke my leg a few times, then finally give up and say: “Straighten your leg.” The other day, I realised that we managed to get through Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana without a word being spoken between us. But there were lots of pokes and nudges and the sound of Ujjayi breathing.

Some of the best adjustments I’ve received in the Shala have been silent experiences where I’ve been so completely tuned into my teacher and my body that I lost myself in the moment. I think the reason I was so blown away by that simple Baddha Konasana B adjustment a couple weeks ago was because I was completely ‘there.’

I’m also learning to trust in the more forceful adjustments. Prasarita Padottanasana C is a case in point: R and I had daily battles in this pose for about a month. She would push, I would push back! She would tell me to relax and I would tense my shoulders. I must have been driving her nuts! It took some time before I learned to soften my shoulders and surrender to the adjustment. In fact, for a couple of weeks, I had to silently coax myself: “Trust R” (on every inhalation), “Relax your shoulders”(on every exhalation). It was the only thing that would get me through the adjustment without a lot of exasperated verbal cues from my teacher.

I’ve learned a lot and come a long way in my understanding of adjustments and my ability to trust. I think the big test was when I walked into DR’s Mysore room for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, so I fell back on what I had learned: pay attention to breath and cues, work hard in the postures, trust the teacher not to hurt me. I felt pretty comfortable and confident during those adjustments. It helped that I feel genuinely at ease with DR. When DR asked if he could take me deeper into Supta Kurmasana, I didn’t hesitate even for an instant, even though I didn’t have a clue what he was going to do to me! I softened my body and just waited for the cues to come, listened for his direction and moved where he asked.

Where I’m still struggling with adjustments is this whole ‘standing up’ thing. There’s a HUGE amount of surrender involved in allowing someone to help me stand up from a backbend. First of all, I’m upside-down and disoriented in space. I’m uncomfortable! I’m scared. I can’t really see anything because I’m supposed to be looking at the tip of my nose. My head is thrown back and I need to keep it here - I’m not allowed to ‘see where I’m going’ as I come up.

The first time I received this adjustment, it was a bit like being thrown off a cliff without warning; resistance didn’t have time to percolate. But the second time? The third time? My brain asked: “Where’s the net?”

It’s no wonder I’m struggling with standing up from Urdhva Dhanurasana and I’m experiencing so much anxiety around it! I feel a loss of control, I’m frightened and it doesn’t help that my trust in my teachers is a bit shaky right now.

What it boils down to is this: it’s a ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ scenario for everyone involved. I can’t get my head wrapped around the action of standing up because I have no muscle memory, no experience of the physical mechanics required to make it happen. But my teachers can’t help me learn this because the adjustment is so scary to my brain that I physically shut down when it happens.

It’s an interesting dilemma and I have no idea what the answer is.

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Practice report:

I have a shala-buddy this week! A new friend is joining me for six days of practice at Shala Central. It’s neat to have new energy in the room and someone to chat with after practice. Fun!

I had a good practice today, even though I started with a terrible head ache. I focused on my breath, which made it easier.

My Marichyasanas are incredibly deep right now. The wrist bind in D is starting to feel easy! I’m loving these poses :-)

Heels are still lifted in Kurmasana! I received an adjustment from P in this pose today, which was helpful. I’m starting to think of ways to deepen my Supta Kurmasana.

There’s something very interesting happening in my jump-throughs right now. Since I started lifting my hips higher on the jump, I’ve noticed a ‘micro-pause’ at the top of the jump. When I can find it, it’s easier to take my feet through with more control.

Backbends: 3, 3, 2 and I was done. I’m trying to lengthen my breath in my backbends. I’ve been Pingu-ing my hands in until I reach a ‘discomfort point’ in my back and holding there, moving my tailbone toward my heels and lifting up through my lower ribs. I’m keeping my heels on the floor, trying to keep the legs engaged. I have no idea where my hips are going in this, but I have a feeling they’re moving back instead of forward (wrong direction!). I have no idea how to change this, but I’m not worrying about it for now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Astanga

Once again, I’ve spent the day avoiding eye contact with my computer. This time, my procrastination is due to an internal debate over my own comments section.

This blogging thing has gotten a lot more complicated since I broke out of my home-practice-comfort-zone and found myself in a sticky world of people and relationships and loyalties and conflicts. I hate conflict! I try like mad to avoid it.

Sometimes I miss the days of my solitary practice and the five readers who stumbled upon my blog by happy accident. People actually read this thing now!

I appreciate every single comment (and email) I received yesterday - I read every last one. You were all indignant and rallied to my defence and I just love you for that! You offered some good advice about how to move forward as well as some really profound thinking about the practice and how we struggle through it. You offered gentle encouragement, which was something I needed this morning in order to get my tail to the Shala (in the cold, torrential rain; funny how metaphor likes to spring to life).

But a few of the comments were a shade critical of my teachers. I’m feeling so heartbroken and conflicted over this entire thing, I don’t want that responsibility thrown on my shoulders along with everything else that’s hovering here.

When I took my show on the road, I vowed to only blog about my own experience within the confines of my Manduka mat. That seemed like a fail-safe policy at the time. But it’s more complicated than that. I’m sharing the space with two people who I’ve come to care about, no matter what they say to me or think about me (and sometimes I’m pretty sure they rue the day I ever walked into their Shala). I don’t want anything said on this blog to hurt them.

I should have closed comments on that entry. My bad. For now, I’ve closed comments and hidden the existing ones. This is not to say that I don’t agree with some of you 100%, but I need to sort this one out on my own.

What I really feel like doing right now is crawling into a deep, deep hole and ordering a pizza. But I still have five hundred words to go and if you’ve learned anything about me from reading this blog, then you know how stubborn I am when I commit to something!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the past few years of my Astanga practice and how this all began. I’m the ‘reluctant ashtangi’ for a reason! My background was in Iyengar and I teach mostly generic Hatha. I didn’t even like Astanga! That was the whole point.

I started practising the Primary Series, on my own, for 365 days as a sort of masochistic experiment. I had 13 years of yoga practice under my belt. I thought I hated Astanga and I was intent on documenting exactly why before I pitched the practice unceremoniously to the curb. The first few months passed in a spirit of cynical (but curious) experimentation.

I was a woman on a mission! And Astanga yoga was happy to help me out:

This hurts.

This is impossible!

Sirsasana away from the wall? Fat chance!

My body doesn’t DO that.

I’m tired today.

This pose sucks. I’m gonna skip it!

Do Bandhas really exist?

Ujjayi breathing makes my throat dry!

How am I supposed to find these invisible leg-holes, stick my arms through, then touch my ears!!!?

SERIOUSLY?!!

Okay, THAT’S just nuts.

I’m supposed to do WHAT with my arms?

Why on earth am I doing ANY of this?

Ow-my-(neck/heels/back/wrists/shoulders/knees/face)

How do I wash this blood out of my yoga rug?

What kept me going were the small things. A bind. A deepening of my forward bends. Discovering that I can actually DO Urdhva Dhanurasana (true confession: up until a few years ago, I didn’t really do Urdhva Dhanurasana).

I moved my headstand away from the wall and taught myself to lift into the pose rather than kick. I learned to fall. I learned to lower to a half-bend. Shoulderstand became possible! I finally found the those invisible leg-holes and started to roll around, even though I felt incredibly silly doing it.

I got the blood stain out of my rug and kept doing Bhujapidasana, albeit with more care.

The one element of the practice that I never experienced was a room with a teacher in it. In my first two years of practice, I didn’t receive a single adjustment or any kind of feedback. It was funny, because I was making all of these Amazing Discoveries on my own, which were not really amazing at all.

It kind of reminds me of the time a young student showed me some Valentines Day heart candies she had ‘discovered’: “You’ll never believe this! They’re hearts! And you can eat them! And the best part is, THEY HAVE LITTLE MESSAGES ON THEM!”

OMG, you’ll never believe this, but if engage my Bandhas? I can hold my legs up in the air in FULL LOTUS! It’s AMAZING!

But to be completely honest, the idea of going into a Shala and trusting a teacher with my practice scared the daylights out of me. I had heard dire, dire things about adjustments, peppered with words like ‘crank’. It scared me.

To be continued, tomorrow...

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I was determined to get through this post without a practice report of any kind, but I did want to offer an update on my backbends: I did seven today. Three in a row, two in a row, two in a row.

Today, I made an important observation about Urdhva Dhanurasana: I think my shoulders must be opening up more, because it’s easier to keep my arms very straight. And when my arms are very straight and I walk my hands in, I kind of waddle more than walk.

And this totally reminds me of Pingu!


And I think Pingu likes epsom salt baths too!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Astanga

I’ve been avoiding eye contact with my computer all day, opting instead to do just about any task available in order to avoid writing about this morning’s practice.

It’s been great for my to-do list! I cleaned the entire apartment top to bottom, sorted through my desk and scrubbed Princess Fur’s food bowls. I rode my bicycle to the grocery store and stocked up on provisions, pedalling awkwardly home through traffic and construction, bags precariously strapped to my handlebars. I dusted the bookshelves. I swept the floors. I took the stinky trash out.

I cycled to the downtown core off to teach a few classes. In between, I sat in the sun and did some thinking. Now I’m ready to write.

I believe that I had a *good* practice this morning. Not because it was perfect (it will never be perfect!), but because I worked hard. I put my heart into it and I made a strong effort toward all of the goals I had set for myself this week.

Here are the things that I’m proud of in my yoga practice today:

- I was distracted and disconnected from my breath during the sun salutations, so I made an extra effort to deepen my Ujjayi in the standing poses and I found my rhythm again.

- My shoulders felt stiff this morning and relaxing them in Prasarita C was challenging. I used my exhales to keep them soft so my teacher could bring my hands to the floor during the adjustment.

- I worked on solid lift-ups in my vinyasas, trying to hold the lift for a ‘micro-pause’ (I’m discovering that my body wants to ‘swing’ there and I need to stabilize it somehow. Bandhas?).

- My jumpthroughs have been a bit choppy since I started lifting my hips more in the jumps. Today, I had a few very smooth jumpthroughs where my feet cleared the floor easily. Yay!

- I found all the wrist-binds myself in the Marichyasana poses.

- Heels lifted in Kurmasana for 5 breaths!

- I was able to bind my hands and solidly cross my ankles in Supta K. I lifted my seat off the floor while keeping my ankles crossed.

- Backbends: I did five in a row to start, breathing deeply in each, trying not to rush. I walked my hands in a tiny bit after lifting into each one. It was challenging to stay with it! After #4, I was really tired, but I just focused on getting through it, then I encouraged myself to do ‘just one more’ and came up for #5. I took a rest on the floor, then I did three more in a row, trying to walk my hands in even deeper. When I finished, my legs were all rubbery and my arms were tired. My back was feeling extra stiff today (I’m not sure why; my hamstrings were also stiffer than usual), so my backbends were not as deep, but I was definitely feeling the work in my legs.

When I got home, I felt completely depleted. I remembered some advice Helen had offered about taking extra time in the finishing poses to sooth my nervous system after backbends. I laid down for an additional half-hour to rest and I felt better.

This evening, I did another short practice focused on strength work and backbending:

- Core work and exercises to help with my jumpbacks/jumpthroughs.

- A variation of Laghu Vajrasana in an effort to build some strength in my legs towards eventually standing up.

- I did a few long holds in Ustrasana, focusing on relaxing my back body and softening into the backbend

- Shoulder openers, deep lunges to open my hips and some stretches for my achilles tendons.

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I was given some extremely negative feedback at the Shala this morning regarding my backbending. It was implied that I’m going ‘easy’ on myself, not working hard, not ‘suffering enough.’

Short of adding a cattle prod to my practice of Urdhva Dhanurasana, I’m not sure what else I can do to maximise my misery and I’m not sure I want to. Holding backbends until my legs give out is a pretty good indication that I’m bumping up against some kind of limit. I really am trying!

I continue to struggle with the dynamic between working myself into a puddle and learning to enjoy backbending. I do believe there’s a fine balance between these two things: tense bodies don’t bend well. There’s an element of surrender that I need to master and I think it will come more easily if I’m able to demonstrate kindness towards myself, so that’s what I’m focusing on right now. Since there’s more than adequate criticism coming from outside sources, I think can afford to cut myself a little bit of slack in the self-deprecation department.

So I’m not going to beat myself up about it. Tomorrow: I’ll do my practice and do my best.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Astanga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, Kareen is showing us her favourite Dristes!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vinyasa

It’s probably no secret to many of you that I strive to maintain a basic level of anonymity on this blog. I never mention the name of my city and avoid specifying identifying landmarks. I give the studios I practice at vague little nicknames. I refer to my teachers by their initials instead of their names. I never, ever discuss my shalamates or their practices. My dog even has a pseudonym.

If someone *really* wanted to know my location and even my identity, they could figure it out. I’m aware of that. I’ll bet most of my readers have a pretty good idea where I’m blogging from. A handful of you are my FB buddies. A few have met me in person. My aim is not to deceive, but to foil the search engines. I don’t want my blog to be searchable by certain details, specifically my ‘real life’ name and those of my teachers. I monitor my search statistics pretty carefully.

What I absolutely don’t mind are the general searches about Astanga vinyasa yoga, queries from people keen to try to the practice but unsure where to start, or those seeking out information about traditional Astanga or specific poses. It’s one of the reasons I do this blogging thing: to be useful and to provide information.

I’m a student of yoga, but I’m also a teacher. The teacher in me is humbled and awed by the opportunity to share my experience of yoga and to inspire others. This practice - not just Astanga, but Yoga in the larger sense - has flipped my life upside-down and inside-out a half-dozen times over the past 15+ years. I’m a better, happier person for it. It’s a gift.

A few weeks ago, during Crazypants Week, I watched my access stats go through the roof. There are different ways of looking at this. There’s the rubbernecking perspective: Hey everyone! Kai’s totally losing her shit over there! Let’s go WATCH! But there’s also the empathy perspective: Wow, I’ve totally been there! or even That’s exactly how I feel! You mean I’m not ALONE?

I choose to believe the latter. Did I pause before I hit the ‘publish’ button on some of those posts? Absolutely! (my biggest concern wasn’t for myself, but for how my words might reflect on my teachers. I tried to tread carefully while still being honest.) But if sometime in the future, one of those posts helps another Astanga practitioner feel less isolated and alone as they struggle with backbending, then it’s all worthwhile to me.

From a purely selfish perspective, processing these experiences through my writing has helped me figure things out and do the right thing. In the case of my backbending meltdown, I asked for help, I spoke up for myself, I stuck it out at the Shala even though I was scared. The comments I received here were amazing, as were the emails from those of you who had gone through similar challenges and soul-searching in your Astanga practice. It really helped!

I may have lost my shit, but the Cybershala helped me find it again.

A couple months ago, I did something rather naive: I mentioned my location in the comment section of a friend’s private blog. Little did I know, but I had just ‘outed’ my blog to people in my city, including a few who already knew me in some fashion. Oops!

I considered making the blog private, but I’m very aware of the consequences. Foremost: the lost opportunity to share with others. But also: if I made this blog private, I fear it would just morph into a gossip-after-practice forum. I doubt I could sustain it under those circumstances. To be perfectly honest, this blog has often been one of the things that keeps me on the mat. I have a consistent six-day practice because of my writing; it’s part of my process.

I started this blog as a ‘practice log’ and for a long time, I was astounded that *anyone* was reading. For months, I referred casually to ‘my five readers’ and I wasn’t being facetious - there were, in fact, only five readers! These days, I receive upwards of 500 unique visitors per day. Not a huge number by Big Blogger standards, but respectable for a humble little blog that’s in the niche of a niche.

So I carry on. Each time I hit the ‘publish’ button, I have an opportunity to reexamine my own boundaries and perceptions as I ascertain the strength (or weakness) of what I offer here. It keeps me on my toes and on my mat, and that can only be a good thing!

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Practice today:

5 Surya A’s

3 Surya B’s

Standing poses

Backbending, backbending, backbending!

I set the timer for one minute holds, working in a modified bridge pose to really work my legs (focusing on pressing down through the feet, as if I was pushing the floor away with them, and keeping the gluteals soft). I alternated this exercise with one minute holds in Urdhva Dhanurasana, focusing on the same. Then I added depth by walking my hands in.

This week’s State-of-the-backbend was my last attempt. The heels came up as I walked the hands in, but I was able to press them firmly to the floor as I held it. This was only a 30 second hold:

I have no idea if this is doing anything for me, but my legs feel all wet-noodle-y again and my shoulders are tired.