Thursday, September 30, 2010

Astanga

I taught three back-to-back classes last night until 9. I was so wired when I got home, I wasn’t able to get to sleep until 10:30. True to my resolution, I set the alarm for 7:30 and woke up just minutes before it went off (9 hours. Crazy! I used to only need 7!). Nothing says ‘enough sleep’ like waking before the alarm. It was actually kind of nice.

My noon class cancelled so I wasn’t in any particular rush during my practice. I took some photos and a few videos too. On Saturday, check this space for a new State-of-the-Backbend photo and State-of-the-Dropback video!

Dropbacks are actually looking pretty good! I was surprised. I shot a clip of my attempts to stand up from the futon and it was instructive. If I were to sum it up in one sentence, it would be: “There needs to be more UP.”

The best part of the day by far was hopping on my bike and running errands around the city. Some of the trees are changing and these early ones are always particularly beautiful: vibrant reddish-orange maple leaves. The day was overcast, but not too cold - perfect weather for zipping around on my bicycle. I cut through neighbourhoods as I ran my errands, enjoying the colours, the cool breeze and the feeling of fall in the air.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Astanga

I appreciate all of your comments and I’ll respond to them as soon as I can (probably on Friday when I have some breathing room in my schedule). It’s good to know that I’m not alone, struggling through this and I’m not completely crazy.

I decided at minimum, I should make sleep a priroity. Last night, I set the alarm with the goal of getting 9 hours of sleep (rather than getting up at a consistent time as I normally do). It definitely made a difference. I wasn’t exhausted in the morning and I made it through the day without napping.

A friend asked me if I was still riding my bicycle. I am, and that’s a good point! I ride upwards of 30 kilometres a day. In October, I usually buy a subway pass and start using public transit instead. This will give me time to rest and remove some physical exertion from my daily round.

I also remembered something my friend ELP said regarding breathing and Astanga. She once practised with a friend while chatting at the same time and was exhausted after. She observed that the practice depletes energy if the breath is shallow or incorrect. During these first few weeks of classes, I ‘demo’ in my classes much more than usual, usually doing so while talking my students through the vinyasas. I wonder if this is depleting my energy levels?

My practice today was good. These days, my Primary series is always very consistent. Where I notice the most variation is in my Intermediate poses and backbends. I was surprised to find that my backbends were not as comfortable as yesterday! It took forever for me to start my dropbacks and standing up was difficult again. Apparently, ‘falling down exhausted’ is good for backbending!

Laghu is getting better every day. I now lower my head down to a block (10 centimetres), hold for five breaths and come up. I repeat this three times. I know it’s benefitting me because my quads HURT! ;-)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Astanga

I’m exhausted. How exhausted?

Well, this morning, I woke with the alarm at 5 a.m., then got up to do my light therapy and some writing for a half-hour. Next, I started to make the bed in preparation for my practice. I dropped on my tummy for a moment while pulling the bottom sheet off the futon. And I woke up three hours later, dazed and confused. I was *still* tired.

I got up, took a hot bath and sat down to meditate, but I was still sleepy and also stressed out over some financial stuff (SO typical for this time of year. After months of a very slow teaching schedule, by October I’m usually searching the sofa cushions for toonies in order to make rent). I decided to go to the bank and run some errands to wake up myself up a bit.

It was 10:30 before I actually stepped on the mat and I was STILL tired. To my surprise, I didn’t have a bad practice. I wasn’t sure I would even get through Primary, but I did. Then I wasn’t certain I would do any Intermediate. I did Laghu three times and it was my best Laghu ever!

I decided to cross the backbending bridge when I came to it. When I did, I just shrugged and did my best. And my backbends were terrific! Urdhva Dhanurasana didn’t feel frantic, I had three fantastic dropbacks, and I stood up from the futon on every single try, smooth and evenly. I think I was too tired to fuss; I just wanted to do it and be finished.

Yet, the entire time I was practising, I felt tired. It was a bit like an out-of-body experience: I was watching my body do stuff that I was pretty sure I didn’t have the energy for (jumpingback, jumpingthrough, jumpingback, jumpingthrough...I feel exhausted just writing that!)

The exhaustion hasn’t faded. I wrote the first four paragraphs of this blog entry and I was so sleepy I had to lay down - and immediately fell asleep for an hour.

It makes sense that I would be a little bit worn out. Yesterday, I taught three led classes (two Hatha, one Astanga). But it’s only the beginning of the week! I still have four more days of this. I’m teaching three classes again today and I’ll be teaching *four* classes on Wednesday and Thursday!

Clearly, I need to think this through. Until the end of June next year, I’ll be teaching 3-4 led classes a day, five days a week, plus one or two classes (or more) on the weekend. As I was soaking in the tub and feeling overwhelmed, it occurred to me that I’ve never done this schedule before with the level of practice I’m currently doing.

This is the heaviest teaching schedule I’ve ever had and the hardest practice I’ve ever done. Yes, I know, I know - it can and will get harder. But for now, it’s difficult and I’m trying to figure out how to sustain this given my workload.

I pushed the rewind button on my blog and did a little bit of reading.

October 2009: That was the year I was doing a varied practice with more Vinyasa and Hatha style in addition to Astanga. During the first weeks of the October, I slowed my home practice waaaaay down, opting for shorter durations and easier sequences.

October 2008: I was recovering from a major illness and hospitalization, and I hadn’t quite worked up to my full Primary yet. There was a lot of half-Primary and Swenson ‘short forms’ that month. Quite honestly, I don’t know how I got through that. I had just come off of bed rest and I was so weak!! I couldn’t do Chaturanga!!

October 2007: No comparison. I was teaching half the class load I am now and my practice was shorter (I wasn’t practising all of the Primary Series most days).

I’m not going to get a split anytime soon and I’m not going to make any progress with these Intermediate poses (or my backbending) if I’m not practising.

I’m not sure what to do. In a couple weeks, D&J will be in town for workshops and I can talk to them. I just have to tough it out until then.



Monday, September 27, 2010

Astanga

I have to admit, it’s *really* nice to be back in a regular routine again. I woke at 5 a.m., did my light therapy and salt bath, did 10 minutes of mediation. I took Princess Fur out briefly, got her breakfast and I was on my mat by 6:30. It wasn’t painful at all.

For some reason, practice feels less overwhelming when I do it early in the morning and there’s something very soft and meditative about the pre-dawn hours. I forgot how nice that is.

I had a space cadet moment in the middle of Primary! I totally forgot about Bhujapidasana/Kurmasana/Supta K. I was already onto Baddha Konasana, wondering why it felt so easy, when I remembered and went back. Then I repeated Garba Pindasana and Baddha K again, since I love those poses anyway. Lately, I’ve been popping right up into Kukutasana from Garba. That’s such an amusement park ride of a pose! So much fun!

I worked hard today! Gone are the days when my practice felt ‘easy’. By the time I get through my Intermediate poses, I’m already feeling tired and then I still need to work on backbending!

Dropbacks and standups were better today. I’m thinking these through a bit more. For the dropbacks today, I opted for slightly wider feet (they’re off the mat again, but literally flush with the edges), and I’m trying to keep the heels from swivelling inward as I drop. I’m also maintaining the ‘hang’ for as long and deep as possible before I finally drop to the floor. This will be my work in dropbacks for the week.

I’m still dropping to the futon to stand up. This week, my focus is threefold: deep inhalations while rocking forward, getting a feel for how far forward my hips need to be to smoothly come up, and engaging the legs strongly to come to standing.

Today, I stood up three times. The first one was bad (I didn’t come up evenly), the second was better (it was just sloppy and I took a few steps forward) and the third was pretty good (smooth and controlled)!

Susan commented yesterday that my painful knee in Parsva Dhanurasana could be due to a tight IT band on the outside of the left leg. I did a Yin ‘butterfly’ as a preparation before Dhanurasana and I think it helped. I had no pain my knees during Parsva Dhanurasana until the very end (so I aligned my legs hip width apart for that last hold).

The 4 minute hold in Sirsasana was a bit too much for me this morning - I had to come down. I checked the timer and I did manage to hold for over 3.5 minutes, so that will be my goal for the week. Maybe next week I’ll be ready for the 4 minute hold.

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When I first set up the Facebook Page for the Reluctant Ashtangi, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do with it. I spend a LOT of time online and most of it is spent reading or researching. I regularly come across amazing stuff. The FB page has taken shape as a means to share the links and resources I find on the Internet and to recognise some of the amazing bloggers I read on a daily basis.

My posts from that page also appear on my Twitter stream, which also appears on my blog page, so there are multiple ways to view the links. I hope they’re useful to readers of this blog.

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I know some of you have been pining for the 70s Yoga Ladies. They miss you too! This week, Kareen is back with us to demonstrate a series of postures guaranteed to ‘increase your bust’. I know that’s a concern top of mind for all of us!

And not just the ladies...there’s some benefit for the gentlemen too! According to Kareen, this series of postures “builds the bust for ladies and expands the chest for men.” (italics are hers)

Also “firms and reduces a “layered” tummy.”

A few of the poses may look vaguely familiar if you practise the Primary Series. I know! All this time you’ve been doing Prasarita Padottansana C and I’ll bet you never realised that you were actually ‘augmenting’ your assets. Yoga Chikitsa for the win!!!

The Bust Builders:


“DO it often if you are concerned about your bustline!”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Astanga

Today was my last completely unscheduled day before the whirlwind of my fall schedule hits. Now, you might think I would spend this day productively, getting ready for the coming week...

Ha, ah! Fat chance!!!

I’ve done diddly-squat! I slept in (11 hours of sleep - I think I’m officially ‘caught up’ from my night of insomnia). I practised. I went for a walk and ate lunch. My body wants to take a nap right now, but reality is now sinking in. I have work to do and an early bedtime ahead of me.

Oh, that 5 a.m. alarm tomorrow is gonna HURT.

I had an unexpectedly good practice this morning. After a three-day break from the Intermediate Series, I was worried about those backbends. They were actually pretty good! I was tired, but rolled through them. Primary was excellent. All of my usual wrist-binds were present and accounted for. Supta K was solid.

An issue has come up in Dhanurasana. I’m currently doing the pose with my legs and heels together. That’s going pretty well, actually, given how *impossible* that felt when I first tried it. Parsva Dhanurasana is still a ‘weird’ pose for me, but I’m doing it and it feels okay.

However, as I was coming back up from the second side of Parsva D today, I felt a sudden sharp pain on the outside of my left knee. It was intense enough that I came out of the pose to check things out. The knee felt fine, so I continued and did the five breath hold in Dhanurasana to complete the sequence, but I did it with my knees and heels hip distance apart because it hurt my knee to keep them together.

I know what you’re probably thinking and I agree: If a specific alignment hurts, I should modify. Got it. But does anyone out there know what could be causing this weird knee tweak? Is it something I’m doing in correctly? This is the one pose I didn’t receive a huge amount of guidance on the last time I saw D&J. I’m feeling a bit lost.

I’m raising the bar in Laghu Vajrasana. Today, I removed the block. I tried to come as close to the floor as I could, hold for five breaths and come up. I repeated the pose three times successfully using this method. My head is *very* close to the floor now, less than 10 centimetres.

Backbending: Urdhva Dhanurasana felt fine and my dropbacks were smooth and light. I’m still modifying the distance between my feet (wider than the regulation ‘hip distance’) for the dropbacks and my toes are always turned outward by the time my hands hit the floor. I feel like I’m stuck in a bit of a rut here. If I try to bring my feet closer together, I *really* turn the toes out and almost roll onto the side of my feet as I drop back (but, amusingly, my heels stay on the floor).

Standing up: I did three dropbacks-to-standups from the futon, but standing was a bit dodgy today. Not as dodgy as last week, though.

It’s all just a process, I guess - a two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort of thing.

My three-minute Sirsasana felt easy-peasy today. It may be time to bump that up to four minutes.

I’m still meditating in the mornings too. I’ve bumped that up to 10 minutes, but I think I’m going maintain that until I adjust to my new, busier schedule.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vinyasa

I more than made up for my productivity yesterday by doing * absolutely nothing* today. I mostly sat around and moped. I’m in ‘a mood’, as my sister used to say.

I think it may be time to bring out my artificial sunshine for the season. For almost six years, I’ve been using light therapy in the winter months and it’s made a *huge* difference in my mood and energy levels. I was raised in the tropics, closer to the equator, so I didn’t grow up with these dark, ominous winters. The days are getting shorter and I can actually feel it in my bones.

The light therapy is really effective. I was initially skeptical, but after a couple years of regular use, I don’t get S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) at all anymore. Often I can feel the effects of the light therapy within 24 hours of starting it. I usually begin during the first week of September, warding off S.A.D. completely. I’m a bit late to the party this year but I’ll perk up quickly.

I’ll need to get up 20 minutes earlier to accommodate the therapy. I usually take my daily dose of therapeutic light right before I meditate, but I’ll have to figure how this fits now that I’m taking also salt bath before my practice.

On the plus side, I can return to my morning habit of daily journaling. Last winter, I was writing free-form in a notebook for the 20 minutes, making the whole experience therapeutic on multiple levels.

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I practised for a half-hour today. I did the Suryas, the fundamental standing poses, Sirsasana and the three closing Lotus poses. Simple and easy, just to keep the prana moving. I did my practice at the gym before teaching.

Usually, I enjoy the change of scenery but today, it was busy and LOUD. I can usually tune out the bedlam, but I felt very crowded by the traffic. I may start doing my simple practice at home from now on. I’d hate to get knocked out of my headstand by a weight-lifter!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Astanga

I was struck with ‘Full Moon Insomnia’ around 2:30 a.m. last night. Rather than stare at the ceiling and suffer, I turned on the light and read for awhile (I’m finally reading Mohan’s biography of Krishnamacharya and it’s *amazing*).

When it became clear that I wasn’t falling asleep anytime soon, I gave up on sleep and got up. I did all of the cleaning, walked the dog, took out the trash/recycling, and did the laundry. I finished all of this up by around 5:30 a.m. Then I did my practice (and went grocery shopping after - my entire day was complete by 8:30!)

I had a great practice. I did a led Primary with Sharath’s CD and didn’t add any extras (though I did rest for a long time after). The apartment was so warm I didn’t need to turn on the heater (we’re having an autumn heat wave today). I was sweating buckets! I didn’t feel sleep-deprived at all. I felt strong and energetic throughout my practice and I wasn’t particularly tired afterwards either.

I’m still wired. I tried to take a nap this afternoon and couldn’t fall asleep. I’ve been getting a huge amount of work done though, so I’m just rolling with it.

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I think I’ve taken about a thousand photographs of Princess Fur sleeping. I know my sleeping dog is probably “sooooo cute” mostly to me, but I thought it was adorable the way she had her legs stretched out here. She was just waking up (trying to ignore my all-night antics).


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Yin Yoga

Last night, I was trying to justify an Epsom salt bath even though it was 9 o’clock at night and I had done my practice hours before. Besides, I wasn’t really *sore*.

Or was I?

I experimentally starting moving my arms around. Actually, my triceps were sore and I had a bit of soreness in my abs. Then I moved my legs one at a time and discovered that my hamstrings were a bit tender and my quads definitely sore. And OwMyHipFlexors. And so on... I was sore almost everywhere.

Apparently, my entire body is in such a state of constant ache from my practice that I don’t even notice it anymore unless it’s particularly dire. I think this is absolutely hilarious! So much for developing mindfulness!

(And, yes, I got my salt bath)

My hip flexors have definitely been an issue this week. Actually, they’ve been achy since I started Intermediate. My body-gremlin, Nitara, is happily settled into my left psoas too. I’ve taken to doing some Yin Yoga in the evening - hip openers specifically - to keep my hips from cramping up. It’s been really helpful. I’m starting to warm up to the Yin Yoga.

Yin Yoga was my practice this afternoon, for the Moon Day. Just a half-hour of hip openers on the floor to keep the Prana moving. A little bit of gentle backbending too...that’s all. No, really!

Okay, okay, I ‘fess up! I did Laghu Vajrasana a few times. It’s amazing how much easier Laghu is (and how much stronger I am) when I haven’t done an *entire* practice prior to working on it. I think I’m very close to the full pose (with a hold!) now and I just need to push myself a little bit harder in the context of my regular practice. That was a good discovery!

I did miss doing my practice this morning, but I have to admit, it was great sleeping in and lazing around too. Moon Days are such a treat!

I’m looking forward to Primary tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Astanga

I’m SO ready for the Moon Day. Due to a scheduling hiccup, it looks like I’m going to have nearly an entire day off tomorrow (only one class to teach!). I can sleep in and have The Lazy all day If I want to!

But I don’t know if I really want to. To be perfectly honest, I’m ready to be busy again. Late summer is a notoriously slow time for yoga teachers. Sometimes I wish I could just bottle up all this free time for use in the winter months, when I’m endlessly busy and trudging from class to class through enormous piles of grey slush (and I would also like to bottle up some of the money I make during the winter months so I could go shopping NOW!).

Also: I seem to manage my time much better when I don’t have a lot of it. Anyone else have this problem?

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I had a good practice this morning, once I got around to it. I woke up reasonably early but there was no hot water in my building (AGAIN! This is a recurring problem. Argh). I was out of Epsom salts anyway, but I really wanted that hot bath before I hit the mat. I waited around hopefully, thinking perhaps the problem would resolve itself, but it never did (Read: cold bath after practice. Brrr!)

I finally unrolled my mat at 8:30 and got started. I was feeling a bit off-kilter today, like my body was out of balance. This feeling didn’t ease until I started Intermediate postures (though Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana was strong and stable - go figure).

Something is going on in Supta Kurmasana. The wrist binds are solid in my Marichyasanas, but lately I’ve had to really squiggle around to bind fingers in Supta K. And my ankles are not crossing easily either. This is a big mystery to me. Am I getting too plump? Are my hips tightening up?

Lately, I’ve been doing some hip openers in the evening - Yin Yoga - to counter some of the stiffness that’s probably being caused by Laghu Vajrasana. I was hoping this would help. Nope!

I had a re-epiphany of sorts during backbending today. I did my three Urdhva Dhanurasana, dropped back three times and then dropped back to the futon and tried to stand up.

*sigh* I was really struggling. After a particularly comedic crash-landing back to the futon, I sat down and thought it though.

I was pretty sure part of the problem was my breathing. When I’m struggling with something, I go into a panic state and I start breathing very shallowly , especially my inhalations.

Solution: Take some time after the dropback to find a deep and steady breath - especially the inhalation - and co-ordinate the breath with my rocks before trying to stand up.

I also observed that I seemed to have lost my connection to the ‘mechanics’ of rocking. I was just throwing myself forward randomly and not specifically moving *my hips* forward. As a result, I was kind of ‘flailing’ as I stood up and often twisting around and falling backwards. I needed to focus more on leading with my hips and engaging that same connection with my legs that I make when coming up from Laghu Vajrasana.

I put it all together and dropped back, took five slow, deep breaths and started rocking my hips forward, engaging my legs strongly on every inhalation. The really beautiful thing is, it actually WORKED! I stood up with grace and control. Hooray!

This is definitely one of those times when I had to take a step back from my practice and become my own teacher. I needed to analyze what wasn’t working then find a solution, with the right cues to talk myself through it. This is hard to do when I’m feeling panicked and miserable, worried that I’ve lost something that was easy just days before.

I literally had to ‘shut off’ the irrational, whiny part of my brain, then ask myself “If one of your students was having this same problem, what would you look for? How would you troubleshoot the action? What would you tell her?” This stuff is really hard to do in the moment, but I think it makes me a better teacher as well as a stronger practitioner.

This is one of the reasons new yoga teachers are always told that it’s essential to maintain your own practice if you plan to teach others. I fully agree. I’m a better teacher because I’m on the mat every day. My practice is part of my teaching and my teaching is part of my practice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Astanga

It’s almost a shame, because I was actually getting into being ‘emo’ this week, but I *didn’t* have a bad practice this morning. In fact, I had a pretty good one! Finally, I’m feeling a bit more like I belong in my body again.

I think a huge part of this is simply an adjustment to the longer practice, the new poses and all of the weirdness percolating in my body as a result. When I was given Intermediate Series, a friend offered a few tips her teacher had suggested to smooth the transition to second series.

In a nutshell: drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, eat for fuel.

Guess what I’ve been doing? Drinking water by the gallon, for a start! I’m constantly thirsty. My stainless steel water bottle has become my constant companion.

And sleeping!!! I used to get by on around 7 hours of sleep per night, 8 on weekends. My body has now decided that even 8 hours of sleep is inadequate. I’m averaging more like 9 or 10. The insomnia, which I was dreading (and experienced during the first week of my longer practice) has not been a problem. My body wants to sleep, sleep, sleep. So I’m letting it. This morning, I turned off the alarm and slept for an extra hour!

And I’m hungry. All the time! So I’m eating when I feel hunger pangs and trying not to stress about it. Yeah, I’ve put on a few pounds, but I’m actually surprised at how well my body is absorbing the increased caloric intake. I’m trying to eat healthy snacks - fruit, trail mix, energy bars.

I’m not sure how I’ve managed this, but my practice is actually getting shorter! Yesterday, I buzzed through everything in 1 hour, 40 minutes. I thought it as a fluke, but I did the same today. And that was with two sets of five ‘Pigeon Pecks’ in Laghu Vajrasana (with a break in between), three Urdhva Dhanurasana, three dropbacks, some hangbacks at the wall, and three dropbacks at the futon, trying to stand up (I got two out of three today, not bad!). Oh, and a three-minute headstand!

There’s been much discussion elsewhere in the Astanga Blogosphere about cutting down on ‘fussing’ during practice. I can definitely relate to this. When I futz around, it breaks my flow and slows my practice, making it even longer. My practice is long enough as it is! It makes sense to stick with the vinyasa counts and keep towel-futzing, extra-breath breaks, Princess Fur ear-scritches and ‘laying on the mat and staring at the ceiling’ to an absolute minimum. I’m trying!

A note on my backbending: Last week, I was easily standing up from Urdhva Dhanurasana after a dropback to the futon, but it felt absolutely impossible yesterday. I was mystified! Today, I realised I was probably dropping back too far from the futon. I started my dropbacks closer to the futon and found it far easier to stand up. This totally makes sense. I’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Astanga

And the ‘week of agony’ continues.

Sorry, guys. I really did try, but no matter how much hope and optimism I brought to the mat this morning, I was still faced with this heavy-feeling, lethargic body and a twitchy brain (not to mention a back that does NOT want to bend).

I was so sleepy as I started my practice I’m pretty sure I could have stopped in the middle of the sun salutations, crawled off to the futon and fallen asleep almost immediately.

But I didn’t. I kept going. I followed the breath like a path of stepping stones. Correct vinyasa is a lifesaver when I’m feeling like this. No need to worry about getting through the entire practice, I just needed to make it through the next inhalation. And exhalation. And so on. The vinyasa pulled me through.

Astanga really is amazing. There’s a lot of ground to cover in the Primary Series but (if you’re smart) you’re not thinking about that. Instead, you’re maintaining a smooth and even flow of breath. You’re holding a Driste. And, if you’re a total rockstar, you’re also engaging your Bandhas. In other words, there’s not a lot of room for thinking about anything else, which is kind of the point.

One of my students once confided to me, “I’ve never been so BUSY doing yoga!”.

It’s true. If you’re doing Astanga right, you’re too busy to think about how hard it is.

Melita posted this quote today and it immediately resonated with me:

"if we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking."

~ proverb

One foot in front of the other. One breath and the next and the next after that...I’ll be back on the mat tomorrow.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Astanga

Uh oh. I fear a ‘bad yoga week’ may be in the works.

I had a VERY angsty, distracted, unhappy practice this morning. I can’t put a finger why, though. I was definitely feeling lethargic and my back was tweaky (I’m blaming *that* on the 10 hours of sleep I had last night. Seriously! TEN HOURS!! I never marathon sleep like that! Intermediate series is driving me into a coma!)

Also: Backbending was *dire*.

Often when I have a bad practice, I can’t get it out of my head, so I’ll think through it pose by pose, trying to troubleshoot. Seen from this lens, my practice was actually pretty good. I was doing all the stuff I usually do, binding to wrist in all my Marichyasanas, binding and crossing ankles in Supta K. Pasasana had a solid bind to fingers (my recent ‘Twisting Epiphany ‘has made this pose easy-peasy, except for the heels part, which I’m still working on).

I had my best Bhujapidasana *ever* (this silly pose is becoming one of my favourites!): smooth controlled decent to the floor, to my chin. Yay! Plus, I nailed the Bakasana exit! Lately, I’ve been pushing into my hands, focusing on using my bandhas and trying to swing both legs back at the same time. This worked the first time I tried it, but it’s been sketchy ever since.

The video clip of Kino teaching the transition has been floating around the AstangaBlogosphere again. I reviewed it and noticed that Kino suggests leaning to one side to bring one leg around and then the other side and then *staying* with the Bakasana, even if it isn’t a ‘pretty Bakasana’ (and mine never are). This morning I combined my method with her one-leg-at-a-time tip and it totally worked for me!

So, why so glum? Backbending. Stupid, impossible backbending! Urdhva Dhanurasana was uncomfortable, which should have been a warning. Then dropbacks were horrible. I did them - just three of them - but with many last-second-bailouts and angsty fussing. I nearly wimped out completely - the only thing that kept me going was a firm ‘reminder-to-self’ that this stuff isn’t ‘optional’ just because I’m practising at home.

I also tried to stand up three times (on the futon) and ended up collapsing into a Pity Puddle (also on the futon). Thank God for the futon, or I’d probably have a concussion!

I can’t remember the last time I had this much trouble with backbending. Is it the two-day vacation I took from dropping back? The avocado sushi I ate on Friday? Too many vegan cookies on Saturday? Too much sleep? It’s a mystery. I just hope it’s not one that plagues me for the rest of the week.

I didn’t get a State-of-the-Backbend photo last week. I put it off, thinking I could just take one today. Ha, ha!

So...this is what my backbend looks like when I’m angsty, uncomfortable and near tears.

It looks almost *exactly* like last week’s backbend.

I know there’s a lesson here someplace, but I’m too busy stuffing my face with peach muffins to look for it.

Tomorrow is another day!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vinyasa

I slept in this morning and stayed in bed with a hot cup of tea and a book. I’m finishing up ‘The Subtle Body’ this weekend so I can tackle one of the many other yoga books languishing on my desk. I have so many! But I think Krishnamacharya may be next. Sorry, Michael Stone, you’ll just have to wait a few days.

I only had a half hour to burn this morning before teaching my noon class so I did the Suryas, the fundamental standing poses, a three-minute-headstand and three lotus poses to finish. No backbends! It felt like a holiday! I was grateful for the opportunity to stretch, though.

Now, I’m doing laundry.

A sign that you may be an Ashtangi:

There’s a bucket full of yoga clothing in the bathtub. Every. Day.

And there are hangers with drying yoga pants, yoga tops, Mysore rugs, wipe rags...hooked everywhere.

Anyone else out there decorate their bathroom with the stylish and appealing ‘Mysore Rug and Lulu’ motif? Please tell me I’m not the only one...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Astanga

This morning, I slept in...until 7 a.m. *politeapplause* Yeah, I know. Decadent of me!

I meditated for five minutes, then did a led Primary Series with Sharath’s CD. I love how the count in this recording feels ‘too slow’ and ‘too fast’ depending on what pose I’m in

Marichyasana D: Too fast.

Uth Pluthi: Too slow.

And (this is a first)...

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana: Just right.

I can’t seem to balance Utthita Hasta if I’m in a Shala, but I have no trouble doing it at home. Weird.

And Sirsasana? I could have easily held it for another 15 counts! Apparently, all of the looooong holds I’ve been doing this week are having the desired effect: I’m getting stronger. Yay. Now I need to apply the same discipline to Uth Pluthi!

In celebration of my second six-day week of Intermediate Series practice, I took myself out for a sushi lunch this afternoon, then wandered around the neighbourhood shops.

I’ve been looking around for a good stainless steel travel mug because I’m trying to banish plastic from my life. You would think this would be an easy find, but I’ve had no luck so far. I’m looking around online too. I’m very picky! I want something durable. It can’t leak. Bonus points if it’s orange.

I also stopped at the India store to see if they had a small brass Patanjali. No luck. She hasn’t had one in for months. Oh well. The posse will have to do without him.

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Princess Fur Friday

Ever since Princess Fur had her front teeth extracted, she’s had a bit of a ‘tongue problem’. Apparently, those teeth were keeping her tongue contained!

Now, it sticks out.

I think it’s kind of cute!

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I created a page for this blog on Facebook (you'll see the link in the left-hand sidebar).

For the first few hours it was up, I had NO friends. It felt just like high school. In fact, I was feeling too insecure to even 'like' myself! (and that's *exactly* like high school).

But then a friend in Montreal saved me from the horrors of unpopularity by being the first to 'like' my page. So I decided to 'like' myself too and now a bunch of other people like me. Well, okay, just three...but still!!!

It's starting to feel more like university! Maybe I'm not such a loser after all! Maybe I'll get invited to a party! ;-)

I'm not sure what I'm actually going to *do* with this page, but for now, it's just nifty and fun.

It feels so serious and official (I love how the box says "Find us" as if I had a split personality or was running a political campaign).

Don't worry, I'm not going to run for mayor or anything. I promise!





Thursday, September 16, 2010

Astanga

I woke up with the alarm this morning, made the bed, swept the floors and ran my salt bath. And then I was struck with an attack of allergies so intense I could hardly breath. I was out of medication, but I dug through the cupboard and managed to conjure up a baggie with two allergy pills. I couldn’t tell if they were the ‘day’ pills or the ‘night’ pills. I decided to gamble.

BUZZ! You’re not a winner. Thanks for playing. They were the ‘night’ pills. *sigh*

By the time I got out of my salt bath, I was almost comatose (those pills make me extremely drowsy). I stumbled to the futon and passed out cold for three and a half hours. I’m lucky I woke up in time for work! So there was no yoga practice in the morning. My Manduka mat looked sad and lonely sitting there all by itself as I rushed off to teach my classes, but it was waiting for me when I got home.

When I miss a morning practice, scheduling gets tricky. There are not many 2-hour holes in my day when I’m teaching 4 or 5 classes! Fortunately, my night classes haven’t started yet so I was able to skip lunch and practise in the afternoon, shifting my big meal of the day to the evening after I got home from my late afternoon class. It all worked out and I had a fantastic practice from 2-4 in the afternoon.

Today, my silly brain finally got the memo about Pasasana: This pose is a twist!. Who knew? ;-) I’ve been trying to bind in Pasanana without really twisting very much. No wonder it’s been such a trial!!! Today, I worked on coming into a deeper twist before going for the bind and I was able to grab my entire hand! Okay, I finally get how a wrist bind might be possible!

For fun, I also tried to do the pose with feet flat to the floor, but I fell over backward. I still need a towel under my heels.

I’ve been struggling a bit with Dhanurasana and particularly, her evil twin Parsva Dhanurasana. In Hatha yoga, we do this backbend with the knees, legs and feet hip distance apart. It’s different in Astanga, though the specifics vary from source to source.

I’ve read ‘legs together’ but also ‘feet and heels together, knees slightly apart’. At Shala North earlier in the week, I spied on my Intermediate Series neighbour. She kept her legs together in both Dhanurasana and Parsva Dhanurasana, so I’m assuming that’s how DR teaches it. The teachers at Shala Central taught it that way too, so I’m trying for that. It felt impossible at first, but I’m discovering that I *can* do it, my backbend just isn’t as deep.

Parva Dhanurasana is an silly, evil pose. Every time I roll to the side I feel like I’m crushing my pelvic heads to smithereens. Ouch! As I linger there on my side, I feel like I’ve capsized and I’m scanning the skies for rescue. But help never comes. Instead, I find myself back in Dhanurasana, wishing it was over. By that point, my knees feel tweaky.

Hate, hate, hate. There! I said it! I hate this pose. Does anybody like it? Given that I had 8 new poses to deal with, I guess it’s not so bad if I hate just one of them.

I didn’t spend as much time in Laghu as I usually do, but I tried (and succeeded!) holding the pose for four breaths with my head on the block, then came back up (with difficulty - I’m definitely pushing my edge here).

My dropbacks are getting better. Today, I managed two genuinely strong, controlled dropbacks with a long ‘hang’ before lightly coming to the floor. Today, I tried dropping back to the futon and standing back up again without pausing to ‘rock’. Exhale down, inhale back up again (with a little push). It’s a bit scary, but do-able.

And one final note: I learned the hard way that ‘cold dropbacks’ are not accessible to me. I tried dropping back for fun while teaching a youth yoga class this afternoon and ouch!!!. I came down hard on my left wrist and it was smarting for a few moments. I was furious with myself, but it was fine. However, I won’t do THAT again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Astanga

I was back at home for my practice today, but I’m starting to feel much better about it. In a few days, it will have been a month since I left the Shala (already!). Perhaps the passage of time is easing the transition, but I also think my practice is deepening as I adjust to the new postures. The longer practice is starting to feel like ‘my practice’.

I meditated for 5 minutes, then started. It took me two hours to move through it. No big surprises today.

The capris-length yoga pants have solved my slippery legs problem, but now I’m having a ‘slippery arms’ problem in Marichyasana D. Lately I’ve been wrapping my wipe rag around the non-grabbing arm so the wrist won’t slip out of my grip during the bind. It makes it harder to bind initially, though. I have a feeling this issue will ease as it gets colder and my practices become less sweaty (both a good and a bad thing, I guess).

Laghu was amazing today. I did my many, many repetitions of lowering and coming up (Owl calls them ‘Pigeon Pecks’) to a vertical block, then a horizontal block. On my last go, I decided to hold for a few breaths, implementing Helen’s advice. The other day in the comments, she advised me to ‘hold the lift’.

In other words, I need to do an Oscar winning performance in a role as ‘The Ashtangi who is resting her head on a cork block’ when in reality, I’m *hovering* my head barely in contact with that cork block while engaging my legs like mad.

It worked! (Thank you, Helen!) I managed four breaths and came back up.

No wonder everyone looks so anguished and uncomfortable while they’re holding this pose!! Another big Astanga Mystery solved!

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Today, I felt The Shift.

All summer, I’ve been inwardly focused, very much ‘a student’, and very caught up in my own projects. I’ve had the luxury of sitting around in the afternoons stewing in my own juices, wrapping my brain around big questions and trying on different answers (mostly by writing about them in my private pages).

If something pissed me off, I hopped on a ferry to the beach and threw rocks in the lake until the feeling eased. I went for long walks. I read. I devoted hours to researching minute aspects of my practice. It was really an incredible summer - I had the luxury of time.

That ended this week. This afternoon, I had a machine full of voicemails, piles of emails and the knowledge that in a few hours, I would be headed back out to teach back-to-back evening classes. I was still teaching over the summer, but on a very light schedule with small classes.

Now, it’s starting: The Big Busy.

And it feels like I’ve made this overnight transformation from ‘student’ back to ‘teacher’. Instead of being the person with all the questions, I need to be the one with all the answers. Putting on the mantle of authority feels like trying on a jacket that had been packed away in moth balls for the season - slightly awkward but at the same time, familiar. I’ll adjust - to both the role and the time crunch. But for now, I’m squirming uncomfortably.

My experiences over the summer have honed my awareness of my power as a teacher and the different layers of meaning in the student-teacher relationship. I’ve never been so keenly sensitive to the trust that my students offer me when I walk into a room and share this practice with them. Once again, my perception of this role is deepening. The months ahead will be interesting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Astanga

I practised at Shala North this morning, the late shift so I was there at 9:30. It was nice to be in a hot, hot, steamy room again! The whole place is hot, not just the Mysore room! While chatting with Owl in the changeroom before practice, I had to dig out my wipe rag to mop away the sweat. I was already dewey!

The room was moderately crowded (at North, this means around 20ish people). I found a spot in the middle back row). There lots of space on either side of my mat so I didn’t feel too crowded. I did my full Primary (no Intermediate, because it’s verboten for me in that room) and had a good, focused practice with minimal futzing and no Space Cadet moments!

I wondered how Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana would play out in this different context. It’s been so stable and solid at home, but I was shifting around so an assistant came and rescued me. I was glad for the help. I have a much deeper experience of that pose with some assistance. I probably need to work a little bit harder there when I’m doing it on my own. Noted.

I received a small adjustment in Marichyasana C, with helpful hints for deepening the posture.

For backbending, I just did my ‘thing’. I did my three warm up Urdhva Dhanurasana, then got up to work on my very mediocre dropbacks. Actually, I didn’t overthink them at all, just did them. As I was preparing for the third, it occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever dropped back in an actual Mysore room (I wasn’t doing my dropbacks at Shala Central). That’s kind of ironic.

DR wasn’t there (and there was no futon to drop back against), so I skipped the standing-up part and just finished.

I received a fabulous post-backbending Paschimo squish, rare in my world. :-) As always, the assistants at North were terrific. Thanks for your help, guys! :-)

I held Sirsasana for 40 breaths. I *think* that’s about 3 minutes. It certainly felt like it!

My gimpy hamstring felt fine throughout the practice. My hips are feeling particularly tight this week, though. I mostly notice this when I’m *not* practising. My quads are very sore. It was glad to have a one-day holiday from Intermediate to allow some of that to pass.

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After practice, I hopped in Owl’s car and we drove a few blocks south to feed at my favourite Indian buffet. Delicious!

It goes without saying: Owl has a lovely practice (glimpsing her beautiful vinyasas has inspired me to get back to work on those lift-ups, now that the tweaky shoulder is feeling better).

But you should see this woman DRIVE! Holy!!!!

She developed her madskillz-behind-the-wheel in Los Angeles and she *owns* the road. She’s so decisive, all the drivers around her look tentative by comparison! I’m not accustomed to seeing someone new to my city navigate it so confidently.

As she whipped the car in a quick uey to grab a parking spot, I could almost see the thought bubble floating around the driver in front of us: “WHOA! I’m not messing with HER!”

On a more serious note, we had a lovely visit - it really made my week! It’s always fun to sit around and geek out over Astanga with someone who is so passionate about the practice. I enjoyed our conversation so much and I’m feeling all optimistic and inspired about my Intermediate again. Owl has that effect on people. Hang out with her for a few hours and suddenly you’re all “Astanga is AWESOME!”.

This was *exactly* what I needed to feel connected to the community and confident about the direction of my practice. Thanks, Owl!

I’m hopeful we’ll see a lot more of her up in these parts, now that she’s only five hours away by car (that’s probably 7 hours for the rest of us; Owl levitates in an automobile!).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Astanga

Ow. My. Quads.

Yesterday’s fun in Laghu translated into *very* sore legs today during practice. I also have a sore elbow, an injury mostly unrelated to yoga (I banged it on a wall while I was putting on my knapsack, in a hurry, because I was late to teach a class. DUMB!).

I had a bit of the The Lazy getting to the mat this morning too. I loafed around in bed for a while, dozing, then laid around in my salt bath for a while, surfing the ‘net. Finally started my practice around 7 a.m.

At least I got up!

I’m getting back to my meditation practice this week, after a long, long hiatus. I stopped meditating in late March, right around the time my relationship ended (and I started going to the Shala regularly). I think I lost the thread of my routine and just never regained it. I’ve had the idea of meditation rolling around my head for a while now, but I wasn’t ready to do anything about it. Today, I felt ready.

I sat for five minutes. I’m keeping it simple and easy for now. I’ll increase the time as I feel comfortable. I’m integrating my meditation with my existing morning ritual of candle-lighting, incense, chanting and offering.

I still occasionally make a food offering to my Spiritual Posse. It’s not a big deal - I don’t do any kind of formal Puja. It’s more like “Here ya go, guys. Chow down!” and I toss something yummy into the bowl. This morning it was an apple slice. Yesterday, they got some really awesome trail mix. Sometimes they get cookies! Or a muffin! Or chocolate!

As I completed my meditation today, I took a moment to think about all my friends who are out there in Shalas and rooms around the world, doing their practice. I sent good wishes and love to all of them. I can’t do much about the ‘long’ and the ‘difficult’ parts of my practice, but I’m hoping this little morning ritual will help me feel more connected to the greater Astanga community and less lonely as I step on my mat each morning.

I don’t know if it was the meditation, but I had a strong, focused practice this morning. All together, it spanned two hours and it was good!

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is one of the poses I really worried about when I left the Shala. I *always* had assistance for that one. As a result, I’d totally lost the knack for balancing by myself. For the first few weeks at home, I supported myself against a wall. This week, I’ve been holding the pose on my own and it feels stable.

It’s a mystery to me how I’m managing to bind the Marichyasanas these days. I’m so chubby! I haven’t yet lost the ‘pasta weight’ I gained while on holiday in Montreal. I’ve been eating like a horse since I started practising Intermediate, so the pounds are not going away anytime soon. I can still bind to wrist in Mari D! Amazing. But I’ve been struggling for the bind in Supta K.

Pasasana surprises me every day! The bind is getting easier and easier! I don’t think I’m any more flexible - there’s definitely a knack to this one. The positioning of the arms is important. The towel beneath my heels is also getting ‘thinner’ by the day. I’m hoping very soon to have my heels on the floor.

I suspected I would probably ‘backslide’ in Laghu today because my legs are so tired and sore. And I was right - I couldn’t come to the floor and back up, so I used the block. I came down to a horizontal block three times, then moved the block to vertical and came up and down until I was tuckered (about six times). I always know I’m done when I get stuck and can’t come up again!

I’m ‘raising the bar’ a bit for Sirsasana. This pose is easy for me, but I haven’t been doing any long holds lately. It bothers me that I struggled with a relatively short duration hold at DG’s led Primary last week. Today, I set a timer for 3 minutes. It was challenging, but not overly difficult. I’m going to stick with this duration for a while, then bump it up a minute at a time. It’s a good way to build strength for inversions.

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I really enjoyed this post from Astanga Yoga Brighton, offering some thoughts on ‘becoming proficient at asana practice’. When Kino asked Guruji how long it takes to become proficient at a posture, he answered ‘you take it 1000 times!’ (and later added ‘1000 time, correctly!’).

For me, this is a good reminder that new postures and new skills are developed through dedicated practice and repetition. It’s okay to move slowly and allow things to unfold gradually. There’s no rush.

After my success dropping back and standing up from the futon yesterday, I was *so* tempted to try it from a point closer to the floor right away. But if I move too fast, I know I’ll just get frustrated.

For now, I’m dropping back to the floor three times, then dropping back and standing up from my futon. I’ll practice this every day and when the action feels easy and stable, I’ll know I’m ready to try it from the floor (or maybe a point slightly closer to the floor).

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Tomorrow, I’m taking a mini-vacation from longdifficultlonely and heading up to the Mysore room at Shala North. I’m going to hang out with the lovely Inside Owl, who is visiting the city for a couple days. We’ll practise, then find some lunch.

I’m really looking forward to this! It’s perfect timing because I really need a break from my home practice. It will be really great to see everyone at North (sadly, I won’t see DR and S, who are in Europe). And I’ll be practising in a hot, crowded room again.

Yoga! With people! I can’t wait!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Astanga

Okay, confession time: I’ve not been having an easy time with my new, longer practice and I haven’t been adjusting very well to the realities of a home practice. If I were to choose three words to describe my practice at the moment, they would be: Long. Difficult. Lonely.

I kind of muddled through for the the first week-and-a-bit, limping along forlornly, trying to keep a brave face. Then circumstances rescued me by providing brilliant and entirely valid excuses not to be on the mat (Moon Day! Lady’s Holiday!).

But all valid excuses eventually come to an end.

On Saturday, I happily did a led Primary, for fun. But as I faced a return to my longdifficultlonely Primary+Intermediate practice on Sunday, I faltered. And my ever-helpful Brain lobbed onto a great alternative: Shala Central’s monthly led Primary! It was scheduled for this Sunday. I could go as a drop-in student! I absolutely *love* the led Primary class at the Shala. I could visit my friends! I could do a warm, cozy safe (easy!) Primary Series practice surrounded by shalamates and led by a Sanskrit count. I could geek out over Astanga during the after-class discussion. And eat muffins!

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to do this? Particularly when the alternative is a difficult 2-hour-plus practice, alone in a quiet apartment, punctuated by endless backbends and humiliating attempts to stand up from them.

I was all ready to go, bolstered by a million reasons this was SUCH a good idea. Then I stepped back and did a reality check. And I realised the *only* reason I wanted to go to led Primary at the Shala was to avoid my longdifficultlonely practice at home.

And that’s not a very good reason.

So, in the end, I decided to stay home, put on my Big Girl Ashtangi Pants, and do my practice.

Not that it wasn’t a struggle. I woke to the 5:30 alarm, remembered my practice, rolled over and went back to sleep. Woke again, remembered again, avoided again and again until 7, when I couldn’t put it off any longer. I took a salt bath, heated up the apartment, unrolled my mat and started my practice.

And you know what? It wasn’t THAT bad. In fact, I had a really nice practice.

Last week, I had a couple breakthroughs which seem to be sticking around so I’ll mention them:

- Very smooth and controlled lotus jumpbacks. I’m still doing that cheaty Mayurasana thing with my arms, but now I can lift up and hold the lotus there before the jumpback.

- Successful exit from Kurmasana to Bakasana and jumpback! No toe-to-floor-cheats! The key to this seems to be pushing down through my hands as I swing both feet around at the same time. It’s not a pretty Bakasana, but it’s solid enough for the jumpback. (I’m still not nailing the exit from Bhujapidasana because my legs are not far enough up my shoulders).

And I had two HUGE breakthroughs in today’s practice.

In Laghu Vajrasana, I’ve been lowering my head to a block, set on end - vertically - then coming back up. I do this over and over again until I’m tuckered - usually 10-15 repetitions. Today, lowering to the vertical block was too easy-peasy so I set the block horizontally and tried that a few times. That was pretty easy-peasy too, so I laid the block on its side and tried that.

Okay, that wasn’t *exactly* easy-peasy, but it was still do-able! I lowered and came up several times until the movement felt smooth and controlled. Skippetty’s advice (for standing from a backend, actually, but it’s well-applied to Laghu), ‘lifting from the belly button’ has been really helpful to me. I find it’s better if I just pretend that I have no solid body above my mid-torso, then work on bringing my hips and belly forward. As I come up, I allow my chest/shoulders/head to roll up floppy-ragdoll-style.

Since it was going so well, I decided to raise the bar even further. I looked down at the block, looked at the floor and thought, “Hey, why not?!” I shoved the block aside and tried lowering my head all the way to FLOOR. And I came back up!! It was challenging, but with a big inhale it was do-able. I repeated this a few times. Yay!

Here’s where I raised the bar a little bit *too* far. I wondered if I could lower my head to the floor, then *hold it* there for a couple breaths and come back up again. Nope! Ha, ha! I ended up collapsing into Supta Virasana, then laughing as I struggled to sit back up.

But still, this is a LOT of progress in this pose!

Then I worked on backbends. *sigh*

I did three warm-up Urdhva Dhanurasana from the floor, bringing my head to the floor for a one breath rest in between each. In these warmups, I focus on keeping the weight in my heels while relaxing the gluteals and breathing (!). The biggest challenge seems to be straightening the arms. As soon as I think about my legs, I forget about my arms. I also walked my hands in a bit each time to deepen the backend.

Next, I started playing around with hangbacks and dropping back to the wall. I placed two cork blocks at the wall, set vertically, and walked my hands down the wall to the blocks. I thought this little bit of height might help me stand up. Nope. No dice. I didn’t feel stable.

While reading through Grimmly’s notes about standing up/ dropping back, I recalled that he used his sofa as a prop. I decided to drop back to the futon and try standing up from there. The futon gives me about 30 centimetres of height.

I dropped back to the edge of the futon very easily, then rocked my hips forward a few times. It felt awkward. I decided to approach the action *exactly* as I do Laghu Vajrasana. So I exhaled completely, pushed my hips forward and applied Skippetty’s advice about ‘lifting from the belly button’. I kept my attention on my hips and belly, tried to relax my head and shoulders, ignore the fact that I have arms (for some reason, the arms always throw me off).

Then I rocked forward and stood up! It happened so smoothly, I thought it was a fluke! So I dropped back again. I stood up again. I did this about 8 times. I just couldn’t believe I was standing up from *anything* resembling a backbend! But I was!!! I was doing it!

Keep in mind, though, my hands were 30 centimetres from the floor. But it’s a good start!

From here, I can work on developing muscle memory for the action and gradually move to a point closer to the floor (dropping to the futon frame will be my next goal). I’ve been through this whole song-and-dance with dropbacks. It’s all a matter of taking baby steps. I can do this!!!

Funny aside: My arms *really* do take on a life of their own when I’m standing up, especially since I’m pointedly ignoring them. I’m not sure what they were doing the first time I stood because I was so excited that it actually happened. But the second time, they sort of flapped around like Mermaid Arms. The next three times, they did this whirly thing like airplane propellers (as if THAT’S going to bring me to standing *eyeroll*). After that, they were doing a combination of propeller-hands and jazz-hands.

Sheesh! I’m going to have to regain control of my crazy arms if I ever want to stand up at a shala! I’m pretty sure jazz-hands aren’t part of Astanga yoga! I’ll never hear the end of it! ;-)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Astanga

I practised today. With the Moon Day and my Lady’s, I had enjoyed quite enough time off, thankyouverymuch. I really missed doing a led Primary yesterday so I did it today instead, with Sharath’s CD.

It was great! Fun and fast and easy-peasy. I love how ‘just the Primary Series’ has suddenly become comfortable and simple (in contrast to ‘the Primary Series and all those backbends, and some more backbends and dropping back and trying to stand up from those backbends’. By the time I get through it all, I’m usually too tired to properly enjoy the finishing poses.

Doing a led Primary after a week of long practices is sort of like running a 5K after you’ve been training for a Marathon.

But I can still remember (clearly!) when the Primary Series seemed very long, tedious and difficult. Now it’s just fun! It gives me hope...

I’m looking forward to a time when I can feel that way about *backbending*.

It’s been four days since I’ve done any serious work on my backbends. That’s quite the vacation! Tomorrow will be interesting. Back to my Marathon practice and trying, trying, trying to stand up. I’m glad it’s on a Sunday so I have lots of time to work. And maybe take a nap afterward!

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I shot the State-of-the-Backbend photo on Tuesday. I think this was the fourth take. It took me that long to figure out that I could walk my hands in a wee bit further and still straighten my legs a bit more and still press down through my heels to bring the weight into my feet.

I got a bit carried away, in other words.

Didn’t make a lick of difference though.

This is the *exact* same backbend as last week (I did a side by side comparison).

Drat. Looks like I’m stuck in a holding pattern. *boredomwhistle*

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, September 10, 2010

Vinyasa

I did a short vinyasa practice this evening: three Surya A, a few Hatha-style hip openers, then Supta Hasta Padangusthasana, Baddha Konasana, the three lotus poses and I took rest.

I was surprised by how deep and comfortable my forward bends are. Seems my little vacation from Astanga practice might have been good for my still-slightly-gimpy hamstring. Oddly, my jumps were also stronger.

It felt great to get on the mat. It was a good reminder of how much I do enjoy my practice (I sometimes forget this when I'm tired and struggling).

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! If I wake early, I may do a led Primary with Shararth's CD. I'm feeling like I've had enough of a break.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Restorative


As it turns out, this was a 'three day' yoga week for me. My Lady's Holiday followed close on the heels of the new moon, so Tuesday was my last full Astanga practice for the week (I'm happy it was a good one, and I'm really glad I did that extra back bending on Tuesday night!).

I won't get back to my full practice until Sunday.

I can't remember the last time I had a four day break from my Astanga practice! It's not unwelcome - I can use the rest. I'm just a bit anxious about Sunday, though. I have a feeling it won't be easy to return to 'the routine'. My schedule hasn't been consistent in weeks.

But at least I'm caught up on sleep!

Today, I did a light restorative practice mostly consisting of hip openers and supported backbends. It felt good and I was surprised by the deep feeling of relief that passed through my body as I lay down on my Manduka. I had a rough day. The mat is a safe space for me and I felt better immediately - no actual yoga required (though it was certainly welcome).

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A few weeks ago, there was a some buzz surrounding an advertisement in a recent issue of Yoga Journal. The ad, for yoga socks, features yoga teacher Kathryn Budig demonstrating a yoga posture in the nude (except for the socks, of course!).

(Photo Credit: Jasper Jahal)

A highly respected senior teacher, Judith Hanson Lasater, wrote a pointed letter to Yoga Journal's editor, objecting to the ad and, in particular, the use of nudity (read: sex) to sell a product. She questioned whether the ad had a place in a magazine dedicated to yoga practice. The letter was published in this month's issue of YJ.

As the debate raged on, I reserved judgement. To be honest, I was patiently waiting for a voice I found absent from this conversation. I was curious how Kathryn Budig felt about posing in the nude for an advertisement.

Today, I found my answer.

In this blog post (from Yoga Journal's website), Kathryn Budig offers her perspective:

"...it dawned on me that I was being given an opportunity: I could show others how the practice of yoga, when stripped down to it's simplest form, is a radiant projection of the soul. I went ahead and shot the photos. After seeing the beautiful results from the talented Jasper Johal--who has the ability to make even a harpy look beautiful--I knew we were onto something good.

To me, the photo is a lovely example of what happens when you blend strength and surrender, because this particular shoot required extra doses of both. I summoned up my strength, shed my fear (along with my clothes), trusted in the vision of a talented photographer and company, and channeled the depths of my asana practice, my sacred feminine, and my soul.

Then there was the surrender--I had to embrace my authentic self in it's raw form, to allow my image to be seen in magazines, and to offer my heart and intention to each and every pose."


This debate, and Kathryn's response, grabbed my attention for a special reason: I modeled in my teens and 20s and I have posed nude for art shoots.

I can confirm that those first few moments in the buff are definitely awkward! But a nude shoot quickly descends into the mundane and becomes like any other as the shots are set up and the photographer works. After a while you kind of forget you're in the buff.

Seriously, it's *really* not a big deal!

I'm actually impressed that Kathryn found the inner sources to 'channel her sacred feminine' while holding yoga postures for a photographer under the glaring lights of a studio environment. Good on her!

Personally, I wasn't offended to find Kathryn's nude image in Yoga Journal. I thought the photography was respectful and incredibly lovely. To me, it reflected the intention of the model and the photographer.

Just don't get me started on those silly socks! ;-)


For some other perspectives on this issue:
A spirited defence of KB ( which includes full text of Judith Hanson Lasater's letter to Yoga Journal)
Brooks Hall is a fan of Kathryn and Tara!
Rosanne Harvey's interview with Judith Hanson Lasater

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vinyasa

Today is the new moon, so I didn’t practice Astanga in the morning. When the alarm went off at 5:30, I turned it off, rolled over and went back to sleep.

I was having a fantastic dream that I was driving a luxury RV through a dessert. Don’t ask. It had nifty cup holders and a good sound system. There were tumbleweeds rolling past! And I was eating Smart Food, which technically I’m not supposed to eat because I’m a vegan.

At least, I’m trying very hard to be a vegan. The slippery slope just became a lot steeper.

It’s much easier to be a vegan if you can eat soy products. There are so many good vegan things to eat that are soy based, many of them excellent replacements for things that vegans can no longer eat (like milk and cheese).

Alas, I’m rediscovering that I can’t eat soy in some forms. I have bad reactions to it. It all came to a stunning conclusion this past weekend when I recognised the same symptoms from the last time I went through this. My bad reaction to soy isn’t a new thing; I knew it was a problem. I was in denial. I faced these same issues when I first became vegan years ago (and it was one of the reasons I gave up and went back to being a garden-variety vegetarian).

This morning, I biked to the store and returned the yummy vanilla soy milk, the soy yoghurt that I love so much and the soy creamer I was using in my chai.

And I replaced the soy milk with rice milk. I was curious to see if any significant improvements has been made in rice milk technology over the past ten years. Nope. It still tastes like sugary chalk-water. Next time I’ll get the almond milk (which is actually pretty good).

I also bought...*sigh*...organic dairy creamer.

I know, I know! But chai is one of the great joys of my life. I’m NOT going to give it up. And there doesn’t seem to be an easy alternative. So I’m a very bad vegan, but this time I’m not going to give up because of the slippery slope. I’ll do the best I can. For now, this is it. I’m going to do some cream research. If I have to buy it, maybe there’s a cruelty-free-super-organic alternative.

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I did a 45 minute practice today at the gym before teaching a class. I really love doing this! Today, I had the entire room to myself. I shut the doors and put some fun music on the stereo. I did the Suryas, the fundamental poses, then moved into some hip openers and light backbends.

I worked on Laghu for awhile, my new favourite pose. I love going up and down! :-) I’m still struggling a bit to find my ‘edge’, to keep it challenging without being impossible. If I cross that line into ‘impossible’ I just fall back into Supta Virasana and then I need to haul myself up with my arms. Laghu FAIL.

It bugs me a bit that I’m never sore in my quads after these marathon Laghu sessions. I feel like I should be *feeling* something, maybe I’m not working hard enough. The pose is gradually getting easier though, so I guess that’s progress.

I’ve switched up my strategy for working on ‘standing up’. I’m dropping back against a wall, as far down the wall as I can. Then, pushing against the wall with my hands, I push my hips forward so they’re over my feet and I stand up. Well, sometimes I stand up. Often, I fall back again and need to walk my hands up the wall a bit further. I’m trying to develop some muscle memory around the body mechanics and the positioning of the hips.

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Monday was my iPad-iversary. On Tuesday, I called Bell and cancelled my DSL Internet service. I’ve successfully transitioned to my iPad for email, scheduling, Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and blogging. I rarely use my laptop anymore. I take my iPad with me everywhere.

I love it! It’s been useful in ways I never imagined. For example, I used the GPS and maps function as a roadmap to get to Quebec and then to find my way around Montreal and Quebec City. The iPad trumps the ‘TomTom’ because it pinpoints your position on the map, a bit like Harry Potter and the ‘Marauder’s Map’. It’s a boon for insomnia: I can’t read in the dark with my Kindle, but the Kindle app on my iPad gives me that option. I also have a large collection of photos on my iPad. I’ve enjoyed showing these to friends. It’s reawakened my interest in iPhoto and my photo collections.

And one day, when I was sick to death of being stuck indoors on a beautiful afternoon, I took my iPad to the beach and for an entire afternoon, I used the beach as my office!

I’m totally sold on this idea :-D

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Astanga

The 5:30 alarm was painful this morning. I guess I've adjusted to a later schedule.

To be honest, the lack of a steady routine is making me a little bit batty. It feels like life hasn't stopped churning unpredictably since I left the Shala.

One weekend was the yoga festival, the next I was travelling and this last was a holiday. Tomorrow is a Moon Day and my Lady's is imminent, so it may be Sunday before I'm back to my Astanga practice (I'm hoping I'll be able to squeeze Thursday in under the wire).

With this in mind, I was determined to have a solid, strong practice today and I did. I had one Space Cadet Moment when I skipped Baddha Konasana, but otherwise it was all good.

I'm back on track with my back bending. I did three really deep Urdhva Dhanurasana, walked my hands in far, lifting up through the hips. I'm not sure if the hip opening stuff I've been doing is having any effect at all (but it hasn't been a week yet, so I'll keep at it for now).

I'm still trying to keep my stance shorter for dropbacks (feet on the mat) even though it feels *impossible*. At one point, my brain was saying "You can't drop back like that! Your back isn't open enough today!" but I recalled my deep backbends from the floor moments before and pushed through.

And it was fine. 'The body is flexible, the mind is stiff'. These were not graceful, pretty dropbacks, but it's all a process, after all. I have the flexibility, I just need the muscle memory and the body mechanics. And I need my brain to shut up!

I also worked on rocking up to standing, but standing up feels as far away as ever.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, September 6, 2010

Astanga

When the 5:30 alarm sounded, I shut it off and went back to sleep. I slept until 8:30!

I was on the mat by 9:30 and moved quickly through my practice. Because of the late start, i was already hungry. By the time I got through my Intermediate poses, I was afraid I might roll over and eat my Manduka for breakfast! So I skipped dropbacks, did just three Urdhva Dhanurasana and finished.

Without the supplementary work I usually add for backbends (prep, hang backs, rocking), my practice took just 1 hour, 45 minutes.

To be honest, I probably had a little bit of The Lazy too. This is one of my fears about doing a home practice. As dedicated as I am, I never seem to work as hard at home as I do at the Shala with a teacher's eyes on me. Slacking off is an option at home and sometimes I take it.

Without a teacher, I'm feeling a little bit adrift these days. I don't feel accountable to anyone but myself. While this is a good exercise in self discipline, it's a problem when the inevitable low energy day pops up.

I spoke too soon regarding Laghu. Apparently yesterday was just a Good Laghu Day. While it's nice to know that those actually exist in my world, today I was back to the higher block, set vertically. Up and down, up and down. It's difficult, but for some reason, I really like this crazy pose.

I don't like Parsva Dhanurasana. This pose makes me feel like a beached whale, or an animal in a trap. Every time I come into it my brain says, "What are we doing HERE? We must escape!!" I have no idea what my problem is. It's not an impossible pose, just a very odd one.

I'm hoping that it will play out like Garba Pindasana did: it will grow on me and I'll someday love it.

This Labour Day has been gray and cool. No plans, so I'll be spending my holiday baking muffins and reading the Guruji book. Exactly what I need: Comfort food and some good stories to stoke my inner fires.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Astanga


Well, that was a relief! I was really worried that this week would be a repeat of last, with sluggish, difficult practices that dragged on interminably. But apparently, afternoon naps make everything better! Hooray for adequate sleep!

I was up at 6:30, bright-eyed and energetic and my practice was great!

I’m having some fabulous Hamstring Moments these days. Near the end of last week, I stepped things up a bit, but I was initially worried when I noticed some soreness in my left hamstring. It wasn’t anywhere near the site of the injury, but rather in the body of the muscle which is TERRIFIC news! This means that when I ‘push the edge’ in my forward bends, I’m maintaining the stretch throughout the muscle (rather the attachments which could stress the injury site).

Poses are continuing to ‘come back.’ My knees are now only a tiny bit bent in Kurmasana. I’m able to do the Supta Konasana exit with straight legs all the way to the floor (instead of the bent-knee landing on my heels).

I can once again roll up to Ubhaya Padangusthasana with straight legs. Ditto for Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (and I can even come up holding the edges of my feet). Now that UMP is more-or-less back, I’m revisiting the old struggle to balance on my bum. Darby gave me some good advice while I was in Montreal. He told me to pull my arms in and elbows down as I fold. This is such a fun, but frustrating pose. I always get SO close to the full expression, only to roll onto my back!

Yesterday, I braved the Saturday crowds at our downtown mall and went to Lu. I wanted to pick up some capris (they’re now called ‘crops’...whatever). I quickly found what I was looking for and requested a second pair in my size. While Chirpy Sales Associate #1 checked the back, I chatted up Chirpy Sales Associate #2. Before I knew it, I was getting a substantial discount for being a full-time yoga teacher. I verified my ‘status’ by displaying my website and schedule on my iPad. Technology!!!

I was kind of hoping the capris would solve my ‘slippery arms’ problem in Bhujapidasana by making my legs less of a slip-n-slide. Wouldn’t it be nice if new yoga clothes could fix all the trouble spots in the practice? I figured if *this* worked, I would go back and buy the ‘Stand Up From Urdhva Dhanurasana’ yoga top.

Alas, the capris were definitely not the magic bullet I hoped, but it was easier. There was no slipping today - in fact, I was surprised by the side effects of my newly ‘sticky’ legs. I kept catching my legs on my arms in jumpthroughs!

I was worried about Garba Pindasana, but it was fine. I needed a bit of water on my arms to get them all the way through (I didn’t roll my pants up as I’ve seen shalamates do). Kukutasana was full of awesome!! My legs stayed above my elbows instead of sliding down. I felt VERY tall in that pose! :-D

I spent a lot of time on backbending today. I did three Urdhva Dhanurasana from the floor, walking my hands in each time until it was slightly uncomfortable. Five hangbacks to the wall, coming back up and focusing on using my legs to initiate the movement. Then: more Urdhva Dhanurasana with some rocking.

Globie posted his notes from Kino’s recent workshop in London and this bit of advice jumped out at me: When rocking, Kino told him “not think about trying to come up and being disappointed because it never happens, but instead to try and rock and bounce the hands. She said eventually it will come.”

I did three dropbacks and though they were not fabulous, MY FEET WERE ALL THE WAY ON THE MAT! I’m finally losing that cheaty wide stance. I’m sure dropbacks will feel a bit weird for a while, but at least I’m making progress towards better alignment. I think the hip opening work I’ve been doing is helping!

Ending on an even happier note: The best part of my practice today was Laghu Vajrasana! Yeah, really! Surprise :-)

I feel like I’m finally understanding the pose and I’m enjoying it. Yes, it’s difficult, but now that I get the action of coming up (using the legs, leading with the chest, coming up on a strong inhalation and the head comes up last), it’s kind of awesome! Going down is even better. I can’t really explain why - it just feels good.

I set my block to the horizontal position today because it was becoming far to easy for me to come back up. The floor is now less than 10 centimetres away! Soon, I’ll be lowering all the way down. What seemed inconceivable just a week ago is now easier. I love how this practice changes my notions of what’s possible!

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More than once on our holiday, my mother implied that maybe I had chosen to be a vegan ‘just to be difficult.’ I assured her that no, my food choices had nothing to do with a hidden, malicious desire to make life impossible for people around me (read: my mother).

But then again, she might have a point.

Exhibit A: Bag containing a veganized burrito from my favourite little neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall.

No! No! No! No! No!

But extra guacamole? HELL,YEAH!!! ;-)

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Nancy Gilgoff recently visited Halifax, Nova Scotia and offered a series of amazing workshops. Even a hurricane couldn't stop Nancy - she taught through Earl! :-D

A cybershalamate carefully transcribed her notes from the workshops and I'm linking to them here. They are incredibly detailed and informative (and have further fueled my desire to someday study with Nancy - what amazing wisdom about the practice!).

Workshop Day 1

Workshop Days 2 & 3

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Vinyasa

Best Saturday ever! I slept in and spent the morning in my jammies, reading in bed for two hours while sipping chai and cuddling with Princess Fur (who couldn’t believe her good luck. UP! On the bed! And attention! Yay!).

Before teaching my Saturday class, I did a low-stress, just-for-fun yoga practice at the private gym I work at. This venue has mirrors. I wouldn’t want to practice with them on a daily basis, but they’re nice for an alignment check every once in awhile.

It’s weird to see myself in the mirror. I don’t tend to spend time a lot of time looking at myself, so it’s always a shock. I’ve aged!!! And I look far different from how I perceive myself. Odd.

I warmed up with some Suryas and the fundamental poses, plus Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Then I moved into a series of hip openers (mostly lunges), quad stretches (a long, luxurious hold in Virasana) and hamstring stretches.

I spent a lot of time in variations of Eka Pada Raj Kapotanasana, trying to balance the stretch between my quadraceps and iliopsoas group.

Laghu Vajrasana was next. I used a sloped bench as the ‘stopping point’ for my head and came up and down about ten times, experimenting with the positioning of my head and shoulders and focusing on coming up with a strong inhalation, something I tend to fail at a LOT. I’m starting to feel more comfortable coming up.

My big Light Bulb Moment of day was head position coming up in Laghu. I’ve been leading with my head instead of my chest, which was making the pose awkward and impossible. The head needs to come up last. Duh. I knew that. Sort of. Well, now I do! And yes, I know that needs to happen when I’m standing from a backbend too. All of these puzzle pieces are gradually coming together...

Then I moved into backbends. I did just one Urdhva Dhanurasana from the floor, walked my hands in and held it, then moved over to the wall for hangbacks. I did several, trying to drop my hands as far down the wall as possible so I could practice coming back up again. Then I did three dropbacks to the floor.

The third one was the charm: my hands lightly plopped to the floor. It was SO awesome. I stopped there so I could end on a ‘high note.’ I’m finding that the more I can move my hips forward as I reached my arms back, the lighter my dropbacks become. When I can find that ‘hang’, the magic happens!

My feet were mat’s width distance today, which I think is the right distance for me. My biggest challenge these days is keeping my toes from pointing out as I drop.


Question for my reading-audience: How far apart are your feet when you’re dropping back? Is a slightly wider stance allowable?

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I’ve become slightly obsessed with my hip flexors lately. Over the past few days, I’ve started taking little ‘lunge breaks’ throughout the day to stretch everything out. I’m feeling huge movement in this area of my body. I’m a bit sore, actually, but in a good way.

These opportunities for Quality Time With My Psoas seem to pop up everywhere. Here are a few of my favourites:

-Waiting for the elevator

-While riding in the elevator

-In the Dog Park (Princess Fur sniffs, I stretch; we’re a good team!)

-Before teaching a class

-Waiting for water to boil in the kitchen

-After a bike ride

-In the line-up at the library (didn’t even raise an eyebrow; they get too many crazy people in there)

At home, I’ve added ‘hangback breaks’ as well. This is particularly convenient while I’m in the kitchen. Hang back, go stir the vegetables. Hang back again, go check on the rice. Hangback, go prepare the tea.

Whenever I’m sitting for an extended time period, I make a point to stretch after I get up. Since I’ve been doing a lot of sitting around this weekend (reading), there have been many, many opportunities to counteract The Lazy with some light stretching. It feels good!

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Here’s this week’s State-of-the-Backbend.

Slightly less deep than the week previous, but I’m bringing more weight into the feet in this rendition, so it’s toss-up. Given how exhausted I was that day, it’s a pretty good showing. Hopefully, next week will show more opening in the hips?

I wish I had thought to bring my camera with me today. I would be interested to see what my backbend looked like after the hip openers I was doing. Maybe next week...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Astanga


Hooray! I’ve made it to the end of the six-day week! It’s my very first practising Intermediate Series and doing the dreaded Long Practice.

Friday is Led Primary day. I haven’t always followed this tradition, but now that my regular practice is longer, I’m all ‘HOORAY! LED PRIMARY! MY FAVOURITE!’ :-D

In that spirit, I decided to forgo practising my led at home (with Sharath’s CD) and do some Yoga Tourism instead. I visited Shala East.

Yes, there’s a Shala East. It’s the close cousin of Shala South, but reportedly a tad more on the traditional side. The teacher, DG, has been authorized by Sharath - something I wasn’t aware of until this week.

I’ve long been curious about this Shala and since DG leads a Primary Series every Friday, I figured it would be a good opportunity to try out the room. With a slightly less traditional focus, I thought it might be an option for me if I decided that I needed a teacher’s eyes on my Intermediate poses.

Back in high school, a favourite teacher of mine used to say: “It’s not bad, it’s different.” I think that definitely applies here.

It was different.

The commute was a bit long - almost an hour, most of it on ground transportation. This isn’t a total deal-breaker: I’m starting to realise that I’m willing to travel for a good teacher in a traditional room.

It’s a beautiful space. It’s on the second floor, with changerooms and a shared washroom, but no showers. The Mysore room has pretty wooden floors and a big picture window to the sky. There are lots of props and people use them.

Yup! Just like Shala South, this studio is a bit on the non-traditional side.

The style was very, very different than I’m used to. Though the class was led, it wasn’t led in Sanskrit counts (a least, not entirely) and there was no opening chant (but we did do the closing chant). There was more variation in the room than I’m used to seeing, in terms of alignment and the way students approached the postures. I saw very few adjustments, though I’m certain that there would be more during an actual Mysore class. Music was playing as we ‘took rest.’

And there was air conditioning! It came on about an hour into the practice after I had already worked up a good sweat. The room was initially warm, but not terribly warm when we started but I was *freezing* by finishing. I must have been in the drafty spot because I could actually feel the ‘breeze.’

To be honest, I felt a bit out-of-place in this room. I might go back for a Mysore class just to get more of a feel for the teacher, but my initial impression is that it’s a poor fit for me. Apparently, I’ve been become very traditional in my approach to Astanga! I’m more comfortable in a traditional room (in light of that, it’s a shame I didn’t develop more of a rapport with the Shala Central teachers; in that respect, their teaching is superb).

This is all pretty ironic, given the dialogue unfolding in the comments section yesterday and the direction of my practice in recent weeks. I may be ‘traditional’ but my practice is colouring me outside the lines right now. It’s given me some food for thought, but I have no regrets. I have a strong sense that everything is unfolding as it should.

I think the Universe is telling me to stop being such a whiny baby and just do my practice, so that’s what I’m going to do. And I’ll do it at home for now.

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While I was finishing up some work for a freelance web client this afternoon, I cleaned up this website and ‘moved the furniture around’. The site has a new look! For those of you who read via the RSS feed, you may want to pop over and have a look around.

You’ll now find tabs at the top of the site leading to my Links Pages, the famous Vegan Muffin recipe and my About Page. I’ve also added a gallery of photographs for my State-of-the-Backbend dating back to 2008. It includes a ‘slideshow’ which is pretty funky and makes it look like backbends can deepen over the course of a few minutes (always a good diversion if you’re feeling discouraged!).

I’ve also added a ‘Best of...’ Page with links to some of my favourite all-time posts, as well as a few that receive frequent visits from readers. If you have a favourite that I haven’t listed, get in touch. I’d love to add it to the list!

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This week’s Princess Fur photo:

Waiting at the Bed & Breakfast for ‘Grandma’ to make an appearance.


I didn’t manage to give my mother any grandchildren, but she did get a cute schnauzer out of the deal!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Astanga

I did a yoga double-header today. I’m pretty wiped!

In the morning, I did my full practice, battled my way through the Intermediate poses, then did some deep backbending (repeating Urdhva Dhanurasana over and over again, walking my hands in as far as I could and holding for five breaths). After my three dropbacks (with some unsuccessful rocking-to-standing), I finished my practice, in just over two hours.

Whew!

Then I dashed off to teach a class, ate my lunch, walked my dog, and headed out for some more yoga fun.

During the recent yoga festival, I ran into one of my first teachers in this city, H. She was one of my main teachers for years and led my YTT. I realised that it had been at least two years since I attended one of her classes, so I promised that I would come by for a visit soon.

H was very cute about it, warning me that her Vinyasa classes are pretty ‘hard core’ now. I reassured her that I’m pretty hardcore now too! Then she laughed and said “I know! I know! I’ve heard! That’s why I mentioned it - you’ll be challenged!”

Aw, the yoga community grapevine...it never lets me down! I wonder who she’s been talking to? :-D

While it wasn’t the most difficult yoga practice I’ve done lately (she’s up against some very stiff competition, given my current practice), I certainly broke a sweat in the class. And there was a tripod headstand that was a bit tricky (and unexpected - I didn’t pull it off very gracefully). The rest of the class was pretty easy going for me.

No complaints, though. It was very, very fun! She taught some unusual variation on Surya Namaskara, lots of vinyasa and standing poses, Vriksasana to Virabhadrasana III, Natarajasana to Ardha Chandrasana, a few lunges and deep hip openers, a Krounchasana variation and some peaceful forward bends near the end. I enjoyed it. I would have liked to see an inversion in the finishing, but I savoured the long, long child’s pose.

Her style has shifted back to a more vinyasa-flow dynamic since the last time I took a class with her. It reminded me a lot of the led classes at Shala South, which makes perfect sense given that H trained there and still studies with one of the senior teachers. She’s a master at teaching to different levels in a class. At the beginning, she encouraged us to find ‘freedom’ in our practice, and find variations that best resonated in our own bodies.

I’m glad I went. It was an the opportunity to do poses that are not normally part of my practice. There’s a chance I may be able to attend her class next week as well. If I can do it, I will. Mid-month, things start to get crazy. I’m back to teaching full-time and I won’t be able to attend classes again until December at the earliest.

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I knew it would happen eventually, but I didn’t think it would happen this quickly: I’m getting bored and just a bit lazy in my home practice (I lasted what? All of two weeks? I guess I really *do* like being at a shala)

I miss practising with a teacher, with people around me. I miss having a community and a place to go for practice in the mornings. A friend was concerned I might be considering a return to Shala Central, but no. That’s out of the question now - for many reasons, but chief among them, the teachers would never support my Intermediate Series practice.

Unfortunately, this also takes Shala North out of the running. DR is very firm that his students must stand up from a backbend in order to move on to Intermediate Series.

Again, I’m not going to get into the politics of this (and it’s a tinder-box issue, to be sure). In the Astanga community, there’s a huge divide between teachers who follow the ‘stand up’ rule and those who go by the older standards. I honestly don’t know which method is the best (I’ll let you know six months from now).

I only know that I came by my longer practice very honestly: I was given these poses by a certified teacher. I didn’t ask for Intermediate (in case any of you were wondering). I feel like this series of events unfolded for a reason.

My gut is telling me to follow this thread, but I also need help with my practice.

So I’m considering all my options. I’ll let you know what I figure out.