Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Yoga for the 100%

Maria recently posted a summary of her yearly yoga expenses, which captured my attention (way to flush me out of hiding, Maria - nicely done!).

Her post was in response to a post of Claudia's which responded to a Bloomberg article claiming that a 37-year-old woman living in New York City can expect to spend over $10,000 per year on yoga expenses if she 'goes all out.'

I believe there was also an implication that you need to 'be in the 1%' in order to practice yoga with any seriousness.

$10,000?! Seriously? *eyeroll*

So I decided to do my own yearly breakdown of yoga expenses over the course of a year. The results are itemized below.

You'll see that Shala fees are my biggest expense at the moment. During those years that I home-practised exclusively, my costs were much, much lower. I probably spent no more than $500 per year on yoga in my practice then - and this even factors in clothing, videos, a retreat and an occasional class.

In 2003, I attended YTT, $3000. In addition, I've done at least 700 hours of advanced YTT over the years, $3,500. That stuff does add up, but the average practitioner doesn't need to do YTT in order to learn yoga, so I won't count it.

Let's just focus on this year and for the sake of simplicity, let's pretend that the shala opened in January and I've been attending regularly there all year.

All prices are in Canadian dollars. Context: I live in a large Canadian city, with the highest cost of living in the country. Most costs are comparable or more expensive than NYC (with the exception of rent - geez, no wonder you people live in eensy weensy closets, sheesh!!!).

Here's Kai's Yoga Budget 2011

Yoga Instruction: Mysore style instruction.
$1,800 = 1 year of shala fees

Clothing: I keep it simple. I own two full sets of yoga practice clothes (I don't factor in the clothes I teach in). I hand-wash them each day after practice, hang them to dry. I buy good quality because these clothes get hard use.
$160 = Lu crops x2
$80 = Lu yoga bra x2
$18 = Simple black tank top x2

Mat and Rug: I've been using the same Manduka mat daily for the past four years. It's in perfect condition, but let's assume that I need a new one every four years and prorate that. I buy a new Mysore rug once a year.

$25 = Manduka over four years
$20 = Mysore rug

Grand total yoga costs for one year: $2103

The shala I practice at is open six days a week, year-round, including Moon Days and I keep a very consistent 6-day practice (read: I haven't missed a day since the shala opened). So, for a six day week, my daily cost would be $6.74 per day.

But...the plot thickens. My teacher also offers a led class on Saturdays, which I attend regularly. Factoring in that class, my daily cost goes down to $5.76.

That's around the price of a specialty coffee drink at the local Starbucks (according to this article, the cost of a Grande Carmel Macchiato recently went up to $5.03, before tax).

So it comes down to this: What would I rather do? Drink a sugar-and-caffeine loaded drink with an excess of 270 calories (more if there's a dollop of whipped cream)? Or do my practice?

Which would you pick? (no judgement here if you choose the Macchiato - I hear they're very yummy...)

To be clear, I simply don't see this as a matter of rich vs. poor or 1% vs. 99%. I'm not wealthy by any stretch (anyone who tells you that an average person can get rich as a full-time yoga teacher is trying to sell you something - and that something is very likely a Yoga Teacher Training...lol).

I'll concede, coming up with monthly shala fees is not always easy. But if I needed to, I could home practice. There are wonderful resources available - books and DVDs available from the library, free online yoga classes, free and PWYC classes, 'energy exchange' arrangements with studios...the list goes on.

For me, on my very tight budget, it's a question of priorities. 10 years from now, will I remember that frothy Stabucks Drink? Will the burrito I bought at the little cafe on the corner really matter to me?

Will my practice matter? Yes, I believe it will. And I'm willing to put my money on that.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011


Today is my last post, at least for a while.

I don't want to be one of those bloggers who leaves in a huff and is back five minutes later (and is gone again with the next half hour). That's not what this is about, anyway.

There's no drama around this decision, just an acknowledgment that my relationship with this blog has changed, my practice has changed and I'm not longer at ease with chronicling it here. I feel like I have my hands full with my practice without worrying about translating the experience into words.

I'm keeping the archives up, in hopes that they'll be helpful to other 'reluctant ashtangis' on the path. I also want to leave it open, as there's a chance I might pop in from time to time with a quick update, so keep me in your RSS reader if you want to follow along.

This blog was born out of rough practice notes as I stumbled along teaching myself a style of yoga I knew next to nothing about. I was amazed and delighted when an entire community of practitioners opened up to me. You've all inspired me, offered encouragement and advice, and I doubt I would still be doing this without you. I've made true friends, had my 15 seconds of fame in Yoga Journal, won a handful of awards, and connected with people around the world.

It's been absolutely awesome. And it's been a privilege to be a part of this community. I want to thank you for reading, commenting and helping me feel so at home in Astanga. My practice will, of course, continue.


P.S. If you'd like to stay in touch, I'm still on Gmail. My handle is 'reluctantashtangi'.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

There's a fly in my lemonade

As finished taking rest this morning, I gazed out at the blue sky and two words came to mind: Beach! Weather! I decided right then that I would ride the ferry to the island and zoom around on my bike, eat a picnic lunch, then go to the beach. I stopped at the downstairs cafe on my way out of the shala to buy a vegan muffin, then turned the corner to fetch my bike.

Something wasn't right. Some idiot had nicked the seatpost and seat! *argh* Seriously! The great irony is, these parts have NO resale value. The bike post only fits one obscure brand and model of bike - mine. My seat was the same ugly generic one that came from the factory and it was battered and torn from five years of hard use. This stuff has value only to me, but it appears that some addled drug addict in the neighbourhood didn't get the memo.

Once the thief realised his error, he probably chucked my stuff in a dumpster. *sigh* Meanwhile, I had to take public transit down to the bike shop and cough up a hundred bucks to replace it all. If I'm going to be all 'making-lemonade-with-my-lemon' about it, here's the positive spin: The new post is nicer and it wasn't that expensive. I upgraded to a *superbly* comfortable gel seat and bought a special cable to lock the whole thing to my bike. And I picked up a nifty orange 'JelliBell' for my handlebars. They gave me a 'compassion discount'. I count myself lucky that they had the part in stock and my transportation is secure. I rely on my bike to get around.

From now on, I'm carrying my bike up the stairs to the shala, though. Sheesh!

The beach was awesome! It was a *perfect* day. I couldn't spot a single cloud in the sky! The ferry took me to the far end of the island and that's where I ate my picnic lunch. It's quiet and green there. I laid under a tree reading and eating for over an hour. Then I rode my bike across the islands to the beach and spent an hour by the water. The water was perfect for swimming though a bit chilly (not that this stopped me!). I soaked up lots of sun, gazed out at the blue water and watched the boats. I took the 4:30 ferry back, came home and took a nap and now I'm killing time before my hot class at 8.

Practice was good this morning! With the combination of the moon day, Guru Purnima and Guruji's birthday, I didn't have the balls to break out an illicit Intermediate so I did Primary again, with some under-the-radar Pincha against the wall at the end of my practice, a million UD and a full closing sequence. I've worked hard at my Primary this week and I'm feeling it!

I seem to be back to where I started in my vinyasa-quest. I'm using the blocks for the whole thing, but breaking the vinyasa down into different phases and holding the floats (or trying to). During one of my first jumpthroughs, DT caught my hips on the way up and said "Hold it here!" (of course, I stayed because she was holding my hips!). One thing I've noticed since going back to the skinny blocks is my jumpthroughs are more solid now.

With all of this extra work in the vinyasas, my practice took over 2.5 hours. I didn't want to waste a single transition because it's back to Intermediate on Sunday. I know I'll be focusing on other things.

A report on my Supta Kurmasana project: Last night at vinaysa class, I arrived early and goofed around with LBH, curious to see where I could go with those poses with very little warm-up. I can do them, but it took me three tries to get a deep enough to find the fingerbind in Supta K. This was instructive! It demonstrates that a deeper LBH may be the thing that helps me get my wrist in that pose. So there may be hope after all!

The evenings have been spectacularly beautiful with rosy sunsets and the full moon. Happy Guru Purnima and Moon Day :-)

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm not floating, I'm floundering

Today was an ordinary day in which many nice things happened to me.

I had a good practice, Primary Series, strong, solid and fun. My mother phoned. I rediscovered a resistance band that I won last year and promptly forgot about (am now happily looking up resistance band YouTubes for building upper body strength). A personal trainer friend showed me a neat exercise using a balance ball to mimick floating forward and I'm loving it.

As the day went on, the good kept coming...

I got a great haircut. I spent an hour in a downtown cafe eating a tea biscuit and surfing the web to my heart's content. A good chunk of unexpected money appeared in my account. Fresh cherries were on sale at the grocery store. I treated myself to Larry Schultz's "Rocket II" DVD (I hope it's good! Have any of you tried it?).

And, most profoundly nice, a senior yoga teacher who has been one of my teachers for nearly 10 years asked me to sub one of her Intermediate classes while she's away later this summer. I was so flattered and honoured, I almost lost my words for moment. It's deeply meaningful to me that she asked - and that she trusts me to cover her class (she also a fabulous teacher - those are very big shoes to fill!).

I'm still on my LH, so my practice is still modified. Today, I focused a lot of the vinyasas. I've amended my 'floaty vinyasa gameplan' again: I re-added the skinny blocks to my jumpthroughs. I can get by without them, but... I figured out that if I'm not fussing with those blocks, I can make a continuous flow out of the whole thing: jumpback, vinyasa, jumpthrough. It's rough-hewn, but it all starts to come together. I lack grace and I fall on my face a lot. I'm not floating, I'm floundering, but it's a start!

At the end of my practice, I added a prep pose for Pincha Mayurasana - Pincha arms with legs in downward dog. I was looking for a way to work on strength since I'm not doing the full inversion right now. DT stopped by and made a few very specific adjustments, explained what she was doing and I clarified by asking questions.

End result: Pincha ephiphany! I'm curious to see if this helps at all when I'm back to the full pose again.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keep away!

Today's practice was Primary Series, sans inversions. I had a good practice - in fact, it was really great given that I'm on my LH. I'm genuinely looking forward to working on my Primary this week. It's a nice break from Intermediate and all of my anxiety and *whomping* in Pincha Mayurasana. On Sunday, I can come back to that project with a clearer head.

To jazz things up a bit this week, I've set a small goal for myself: I'd like to grab my wrist in Supta Kurmasana. Now that I can enter the pose through Dwi Pada, this seems like the 'final frontier.' In order to do it, my Dwi Pada needs to deepen and I'll need to figure out how to get my right shoulder under my giant right calf muscle. *oof*

One of the things I really appreciate about DT is the way she switches things up and encourages us to work with familiar postures in new ways. She has told me several times: 'Don't do a pose exactly the same way every time.' From her perspective, every pose in Primary has the potential to be a powerful preparation for a pose or transition in another series.

Today's theme was engagment of my legs and my outer hip. She was pointing it out all over the place - in the Prasaritas (which suprised me, and wow, the Prasaritas have *never* been so challenging), Chaturanga, Upward Dog and yes, in backbending.

She put a block between my thighs in Urdhva Dhanurasana and said "Don't let me take it!" Hey, 'keep away'?! I'm just stubborn enough to rise to a challenge like that! I squeezed that block like hell. After a few seconds, DT casually took it away from me. Sheesh!

If anyone was watching, I'm sure my facial expressions must have been entertaining. That was *hard*.

On my second go, I kept the block for longer, but I'm not sure this was through any strength of my own. It reminded me of playing chess with my dad when I was a child. He would let me think I was doing really well then, all of a sudden, checkmate! ;-)

I've never had so much fun in Urdhva Dhanurasana! And I can't believe I used the words 'fun' and 'Urdhva Dhanurasana' in the same sentence!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Whomp Moratorium

DT has put a moratorium on my Pincha *Whomps*. I knew it was coming after my disasterous attemps to come into that pose on my own yesterday (I didn't stick the balance even once). I'm at the point now where I need to either go up and stay up, or not go up at all (unless I'm doing a long hold against the wall). DT doesn't want falling to become a pattern and she's got a point: If falling out of Pincha was the full expression of the pose, I'd have that one in the bag!

Today, instead of trying to go up, I set up in the middle of my mat, walked my feet in and stayed on my tippy toes. I may add lifting one leg. I'm actually moderately competent at balancing with one leg up, the other leg in a pike, so I may try that too.

Alas, all of this planning is a moot point as of today because my dreaded LH is here. No inversions for a few days! :-( I'll be practising a low-key Primary or less for the rest of the week, though I might squeeze in some Intermediate on Friday.

On the bright side, this gives me a chance to work on my jumpbacks and jumpthroughs. Today, DT offered some additional instruction for the jumpback. The second or third time I tried it, I was able to find the 'lift' to jump back (it was probably just a milimetre of lift, but it felt huge to me!).

I'll have plenty of opportunities to explore this in the coming week, if I'm feeling up to it.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

I need more arms!

If Sundays are my 'superhero practices', Mondays are my 'reality check practices'. Today wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.

I struggled with nearly everything that felt easy on Sunday. Laghu Vajrasana felt impossible, so of course I couldn't repeat yesterday's success in Kapotasana either, and Pincha was just plain hard. Hard and scary and *whomp* and get up and try again and *whomp*.

While I was at the wall, DT came over and helped me stay in the balance, nudging my legs in one direction and then the other as I swayed like a wet noodle in space. I was determined to stay up for as long as she was willing to stand there, but eventually I started to faceplant and had to bail. I asked her about gazepoint and she said definitely the floor - not the hands. I'm relieved. It's so much easier!

The only thing that didn't feel particularly difficult today was the leg-behind-head poses. Surprise! Last week, LBH was pure misery, which I dreaded every day. My complaints this week are mostly logistical. In Dwi Pada, I can get my left leg behind my head fairly easily, but when I go for the right leg, my right calf suddenly seems HUGE and there's no easy way to wiggle it over my shoulder.

I know, I know! These crazy first world problems! ;-)

If I had the balance, I could extend my right arm and push my lower leg over my shoulder with my left hand. Of course, I'm still struggling to balance in Dwi Pada and even if I could, I'm pretty sure that manoeuvre would completely throw me off.

I think it might be helpful to have more than one set of arms. Is this why some Indian deities have eight arms? They could sure come in handy...

I'll bet Goddess Durga has *no* problem with Dwi Pada Sirsasana, ya think?!
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Sunday, July 10, 2011


Sunday practice is always a break in routine because our shala hours run from ten to noon, much later than I'm used to. But lately, I've been having these awesome, epic practices on Sunday. They set the tone for my week.

I had a breakthrough today in my vinyasas. I'm now putting the skinny blocks aside for jumpthroughs. Last week, I realised that most of the time, I can jump through with my feet clearing the floor, even with hands are on the floor. Jumpbacks are another story (the blocks are staying for that part).

Last week, with DT's encouragement, I started working on the second part of the jumpthrough. I can now Lolasana and bring my feet through my arms. Then I touch my toes down. DT wants me to bend my elbows and shift my weight forward and lift up, into a sort of Lolasana-in-Chaturanga.

It's hard, seemed impossible when I first tried it, but during my Primary on Friday, I started to find it. I'll be working on that this week. DT has also cracked down on my Padmasana jumpbacks. No more lazy! I need to work harder on those.

Other progress to report: I discovered last Thursday that I could come back up from Kapotasana, using blocks. Today, I tried to go back into Kapo using the blocks and was then able to come back up again. This is huge because it means I'm starting to access my upper back to come up. I need this action to stand up from Urdhva Dhanurasana.

I didn't have help in Pincha today. I did it three times against the wall, then I moved to the middle of my mat. I'm developing some real finesse in my 'drop-and-roll' technique - I barely make a sound when I fall over now (not sure this is a skill I want to have!).

But! I came up and held the pose for two breath cycles. That's something. I can build on that.

Eka Pada Sirsasana? :-)

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Clear waters

A hard drive crash is the digital equivalent of a house-fire - you lose absolutely everything and realise that most of what was lost wasn't essential. Good backups are like insurance - you're able to replace the stuff that really matters.

After a weekend spent restoring, clearing out and catching up, my virtual house is in order. I even cleared the extraneous flotsam and jetsam off of my iPad. It feels like a clean slate!

Saturday is my day off Mysore-style practice, but I do a lot of yoga. In the morning, I practised for a half-hour, just to get my body moving and prepped for a morning of teaching classes. I attended an afternoon vinyasa class (the one that always kicks my ass) with my teacher.

Then I went to a shalamate's garden party and enjoyed an afternoon of good conversation and easy laughter with a group of brilliant spirits. There was guacamole! And flourless chocolate cake! Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

My desktop is now pristine!

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Life injuries

I seem to be doing a pretty good job avoiding yoga injuries these days. And when something pops up, DT is usually able to sleuth it out and help me modify my practice to avoid aggravating it.

A couple weeks ago, that weird cramping pain around my right shoulder blade returned. It's been haunting me on and off for at least four years. After I mentioned it, DT probed the area during my Paschimottanasana squish until she found the cramp and applied some pressure, which helped a lot.

I was amazed that this shady chimera of mine was something real and tangible that could be poked and identified. "You can really feel it?" I asked in astonishment. "Of course!!" DT replied. This is one of the fringe benefits of having a teacher who is also a massage therapist!

DT made some suggestions for my Chaturanga and I've also worked on improving my posture on my bicycle. Whatever it was, it's gone now.

I seem to be having more trouble with 'life injuries' than 'yoga injuries'. It took over two weeks for the wound on my left elbow to heal and the bruising has only just started to feel less tender.

This morning, I opened the front door into my foot and smooshed my second toe. I managed to limp through Primary Series this morning by avoiding rolling over my toes, but when I got home, I could barely walk.

I'll need to wear open-toe shoes for the next few days.

Dr. Kitty is helping me feel better!

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

A shift

I haven't been doing a very good job of writing short, concise posts, have I? Here's one.

Beyond the daily intensity of Pincha Mayurasana, I have a lot going on. My hard drive crashed this week, but my glass is half full: I'm seizing this opportunity to start fresh and clean. I replaced the drive, restored my data from backups and all is well (almost done!). It's been time consuming, but kind of fun.

Cat sitting season is in full swing! I'm visiting with two lovely kitties twice a day and I absolutely *heart* them. The gray one loves belly rubs, the brown one likes to play. I'm having a ball tending them.

Those LBH poses are rocking my body boat. The left hip has always been my 'tight' side. There's been a shift - the right side is tighter. Over the past few days, I've been receiving intensely deep adjustments in Eka Pada, especially on the right side. Agony, but the good kind.

Tomorrow: Primary Series and hopefully, a long, satisfying nap.


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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gravity is friendly!

I'm so glad I decided to write about my nervousness with inversions. Judging from the comments and emails I've received, many of you are facing or have faced a similar struggle.

For those of you who are still learning the pose, take heart. It felt impossible to me for a long time, but now I feel solid and comfortable in the pose - anywhere. I demo it in my classes and carry on a non-stop monologue while I'm upside down. I have conversations with my friends in headstand, I listen to CBC radio in headstand. If I could figure out a way to read a book in headstand, I'd probably do it.

I love the pose - but it took me a while to get there.

My first headstand came at a yoga retreat in 2000. I had been doing home yoga practice for years, with an occasional beginners Iyengar class but I never seemed to explore the inversions, or I managed to avoid them.

At the retreat, I looked around slack-jaw at all of these people standing on their heads, legs floating serenly. Someone at the retreat offered to teach me (brave woman!). It required two people and a very solid wall to get me into the pose and I lasted mere seconds. I hated it.

I didn't revisit the pose again until 2003 when I started yoga teacher training. Learning Sirsasana became an urgent project; I didn't want to be the only one in YTT who couldn't do a headstand! I taught myself using the wall and near the wall I stayed. I only started moving away from the wall after I began Ashtanga practice in 2007.

Within a year, I was able to come into the pose kicking up one leg at a time (or lifting my very bent knees). But I could do it in the middle of the room! The key to this breakthrough was learning to fall. I did this at the park and forced myself to fall out of the pose every conceivable way.

It took another year to learn the straight-leg entry. Only in the last two years has the pose started to feel completely comfortable to me. These days, I'm pretty happy holding Sirsasana for up to 10 minutes if I'm not already tuckered out from a long practice.

As I was reading through my blog archives trying to piece together this chronology, I stumbled across a post praising David Swenson's tips for Sirsasana A & B in his book. His comments on Sirsasana B were the Rosetta Stone that helped me come up with straight legs. Coming up with straight legs was the key that helped me feel truly confident doing the pose away from the wall. When kicking up, I had no control, but lifting up allowed me to find my centre and keep it.

Here's the snippet that triggered my lightbulb moment:
"In order to lift the feet from the floor, it will be necessary to transfer your weight behind you. This will actually create a momentary unbalancing. This unbalancing is what will draw the feet upward. The trick is to bring the hips back to the centre line as the feet rise."

See? Gravity is your friend! When you shift your hips slightly past your shoulders, the legs become light and coming up is easy (but then you need to shift the hips back). I discovered that if I moved slllloooowly and with care, I could regain my centre after the lift.

Today, as I was scanning Swenson's comments for Sirsasana A, I found a description of my precise problem in Pincha Mayurasana. For those of you who are curious about my alignment quirks in that pose, this sums it up nicely: "There is a tendency to push the ribs forward and collapse in the lower back..."

Swenson suggests recreating the pose while standing, keeping the ribs drawn in, the sit-bones dropped and the legs working. I might try this tomorrow.

(Angry Samurai doesn't like inversions either! Photo taken at our local history natural history museum)

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I have a confession. No, make that *two* confessions. I got a new pose last week, Pincha Mayurasana. And it's scaring me to pieces.

I don't have a amiable history with inversions. It took me 10 years to learn headstand, 10 years!!! During the first five years of my yoga practice, I simply refused to do it! And handstand still scares the daylights out of me, even at the wall (away from the wall, it *really* freaks me out; I had a mini-meltdown in the Darby's workshop last October when Joanne insisted that I do it).

When I started Intermediate Series last summer, Pincha loomed menacingly on my horizon but still seemed far away. When I split Primary last month, it went from being a 'someday thing' to a 'any time now thing'. The thought of doing the pose in the middle of the room was terrifying.

So I started working on it at home, at the wall, trying to immune myself to The Fear. A few weeks ago, I started doing it at the shala - adding it with the handstands I scare myself with every day before Bakasana. I'm glad I brought it to DT's attention because I really needed help with alignment.

Last week, DT officially added Pincha to my practice. I wasn't expecting it, in fact, I was resting in child's pose that day because Tittibhasana had wrung me out and I was feeling sluggish. When DT stepped to the front of my mat and said "Pincha Mayurasana! Let's go!", I was kind of in shock.

I did the pose, but I was a basket case. My arms were sliding all over the place, I was fuzzy-brained and my body felt like a wet noodle waving around in space. I spent the rest of that week in a tizzy. I couldn't stop thinking about how afraid I was. DT was spotting me every day, but I knew there was an expiration on that kind of help.

So, mid-week I took Pincha to the park. In the same soft grass I learned to drop back on, I came into Pincha Mayurasana, then I fell. Over and over again, I fell out of the pose. I fell until falling didn't make me weak with fear, until my brain realised I wasn't going to DIE. I even mastered the whole 'drop-n-roll' thing and started to feel little less anxious.

On Sunday, I set up in the middle of my mat and came into the pose without a spot. Of course, I fell. DT looked up and shrugged. "It happens." I tried again, and I fell. Pincha, flip, *whomp* Repeat as necessary! The third time, I was physically shaking but I gave it another go. I hovered for a nanosecond, then I fell again. *Whomp*

DT came over to assist. She had me come up a second time and told me to lotus my legs and lower them. Karandavasana! I faceplanted. *groan* I tried again. I faceplanted but she helped me lift back up. Then I collapsed into anxious heap on my mat. I'm under no illusion that I've been 'given' Karandavasana. What I've been given is a memo telling me that I'm far, far away from being strong enough to do that pose! Holy smokes, that was HARD.

DT is interested in two things: alignment and long holds to build strength. So I'm working at the wall every day, holding the balance for as long as I can (it's not very long). I try to take Pincha away from the wall at least once during every practice. Today, I *whomped*, but I also had one magic moment when I hovered perfectly in balance and came back down.

It's interesting how this new pose adds a completely different flavour to my practice. I used to dread Tittibhasana. Now I drag my heels through Tittibhasana because I'm dreading what comes next. My nervous system has been absolutely *fried*. I've had some trouble with insomnia and I've been sleeping fitfully.

But here's what really boggles my mind: I'm going to get up tomorrow morning and do it again. And the next day too! I'm not brave - where is this coming from? Is it my stubborn steak? Is it faith? I think this stuff may be making me stronger in places far deeper than muscle. I think I'm learning to say 'no' to the part of my brain that says "I can't".

And that's scaring me a little bit too.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Accidental Hiatus

Summer was seductive and elusive this year. She approached coyly, dancing just out of reach, then finally swept me up in a tight embrace. I found myself instantly smitten, dizzy with heat and honeysuckle and the intoxicating glow of day lilies.

I've been so distracted! I think I'm in love :-D. This is my season! I adore the sun, I crave the heat and luxuriate in the slower pace of the summer months. I even love the humidity (you can take a girl out of the South, but I guess you can't take the South out of the girl!).

I haven't been blogging because I've been busy soaking up sunshine under flawless blue skies, snacking on fresh-picked mulberries along endless afternoon walks and spending my evenings on the balcony with friends, watching sunsets paint the skyscrapers pink.

I've also been doing a LOT of yoga. During the last weeks of June, my teaching schedule trickled to part-time. On most days, in addition to morning Mysore practice, I've been going to other yoga classes. A dear, longtime friend of mine is visiting from abroad. He loves hot yoga so I've been going to as many hot classes as I can fit in. I've been revisiting some of my favourite teachers at Hot Central and it's been so much fun! I've also been attending a couple of vinyasa classes each week and filling in the gaps with some fun home practices.

I should also come clean about something: I haven't been writing because I really don't know what to say about my practice.

I'm in the first months with this new-to-me teacher in a new shala with rules that I'm still trying to figure out. Practising in this room sometimes feels like a game of Whac-a-Mole. You know the one I'm talking about? At carnivals?

The player holds a big, soft 'hammer' and the 'moles' stick their heads out. But as quickly as they appear, they disappear. One appears in a corner and you think you've nailed it, but another one pops up just as quickly in the far corner. Then another, then another, all in different places. It's disorienting. You can't keep up with them!

Photo credit: Filched off the Internet. If it's yours, let me know and I'll credit you.

I've been bombarded with a lot of new information over the past three months, which I'm slowly trying to integrate into my practice. But whenever I think I've finally figured something out, another thing pops up. I think DT is sometimes frustrated by my seeming inattention to the details, but I really *am* listening to her. It's just a lot to process. My practice has changed ten-fold in the past three months. I think my brain is still catching up with my body.

Sometimes, I feel a bit lost.

After years of practising Primary, I'm facing Intermediate on my mat every day. I never thought I would be here. I used to insist that I would never get to second series. Only very recently have I started to feel like this is *my* practice, the work I'm supposed to be doing. For a while there, I felt like an interloper, doing someone else's yoga practice. Intermediate is challenging and awesome, but I still snuggle back into Primary on Fridays, feeling like a child sheltering under a favourite blanket.

I've made new friends at the new place. My new-favourite-shala-buddy practises right next to me - we share jokes and commiserate over LBH together and she's SO full of awesome. I enjoy being in a room where people support one another and laugh out loud during the funny moments.

But the majority of my shalamates share this common history, having followed DT from her last room. I'm one of a few who came from elsewhere. There are moments when I feel like stranger and wonder if I'll ever really fit in with this crowd.

My practice continues to evolve. Laghu Vajrasana is no longer the FML pose. I can come down to the floor and stay for five (very short) breaths before coming up again. I'm trying to build strength and endurance to stay in the pose longer and come up stronger. I'm also trying to translate the action into the Kapotasana exit.

The leg-behind-head stuff vacillates between 'awesome' and 'agony'. But swinging my legs into Dwi Pada Sirsasana is so natural now, it's hard to believe it ever felt impossible. During my weekly Primary, I regularly Dwi Pada into Supta Kurmasana, lower down, and then do the full exit when I'm done. It's one of the most satisfying moments of my week. :-D

I will try to write here more often. I might take a page from my friend Serene Flavour's book and write shorter posts. I know I'm going to feel like a moving target when I blog about getting new poses, but the reality is, I'm doing Intermediate for real. This is my practice now.

I'm still smarting a bit from the criticism that was lobbed at me when I split Primary (it wasn't the anonymous jabs that stung the most - the real hurt came from people I considered friends). I'm still feeling alienated and wary of the Cybershala these days. I email with a few people and follow a handful of blogs, but I'm not on Twitter much anymore and I've withdrawn into the 'real world' which isn't such a bad thing, actually.

But I've cultivated this web-space with such care and honesty over the years, I'd like to maintain it. So I'll take a stab at posting daily this week and see how it goes..

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 17, 2011

Building a Better Band-aid (or pose)

I learned a great many things this week, but here's a biggie:
Road rash and Astanga are a nasty combination. Gee, we can send a man to the moon and produce shoes that fasten with velcro (and, in fact, these two things are interelated), but apparently we can't make a band-aid that doesn't immediately detach as soon as sweat enters the picture.

Also, as careful as I try to be, it's amazing how many different ways I can knock my body into the skin of my delicate, injured elbow. Particularly exquisite 'agony moments' include: Garba Pindasana, Baddha Padmasana and the exit from Tittibhasana to Bakasana (because I can never seem to get my knees far enough up my arms, though the cranky elbow offered a special incentive...).

A shalamate who works in the food industry and brought me a special gift of heavy-duty, vibrantly coloured band-aids. They definitely worked better than my wimply generic drugstore band-aids. Bonus: when one fell off, it was immediately evident because of the glaring neon hue (this is important for chefs because if a band-aid falls into the souffle, you kinda want to know about that; another new fact I learned this week).

A few of you wrote to ask how I was doing - thanks! It was a tough week. Over the weekend, I was not only dealing with the pain from the accident, but I also had a little bit of a cold so I wasn't sleeping well. Thanks to yoga, I'm long accustomed to parts of my body feeling sore pretty much all the time, so it surprised me how much the raw skin and bruising bothered me. I couldn't sleep on my left hip and my elbow throbbed at night. But it's all healing up now. The cold lasted a day-and-a-half (and my allergies are back with a vengence).

I practised through it all. I managed to squeeze in Intermediate on Sunday and Monday before my Ladies Holiday hit me like a tonne of bricks on Monday afternoon. Then I was utterly miserable for nearly two days, could barely get out of bed at times. It hurt to WALK. On Tuesday morning, I limped into the shala with a big, fluffy bolster and proceeded to shock all my shalamates by doing a restorative Iyengar practice for two hours. I was just glad to be there (and grateful that DT supports the option) and I felt a hundred times better afterward. Yoga really is magic! And DT even taught me a new trick for using a strap in Padmasana, which was very cool.

I taught a few classes on Tuesday night and as I was heading home, I abruptly realised that I was feeling MUCH better and I lept out of bed on Wednesday morning absolutely stoked to do some Primary Series. I had a terrific practice! My LBH poses have really been coming along in the past week. I've long sinced moved away from the wall for Dwi Pada. For a while, I was putting a rolled up blanket behind me to provide a wedge, then I would struggle along until DT came along to rescue me (we had a good system going - she usually tossed the blanket aside for me).

The blanket taught me something important: in order not to fall over backward, I kind of need to *lean* backward. It helps keep the left leg in place behind my head while I wrangle the right leg into place. I've roughly Dwi Pada'ed myself before, but Wednesday was the great day that I managed to come into the pose deeply *all* by myself. AND I lowered myself into Supta Kurmasana without losing my legs down my head, AND lifted myself back up with the legs still in place, AND I lifted up and nailed the Bakasana exit. And THEN (warning: TMI), I ripped my tender left elbow skin apart and cussed out loud. There's a 'win' in there somewhere, though. ;-)

I managed to repeat this feat on Thursday, though it took me a few tries. The first time I went in, DT swooped over. The second time (by myself) was a 'fail', but the third time, I managed to repeat Wednesday's success! I was having such a great practice that day (and the shala was a bit quieter - no one was waiting for my spot) that I went ahead and did the first eight postures of Intermediate too. Wow, Pasasana is SO much easier with all of that warmup. DT suggested I start working towards binding to wrist in that pose, but it still feels impossible to me. I had a good mid-hand grip going on my strongest side, though, without adjustment.

This morning (Friday), with my LH over and two days of Primary behind me, I decided to go ahead and do my Intermediate. I repeated Dwi Pada three times. I was getting into it just fine, but I was having trouble bringing my hands to prayer position and balancing there (without 'weebling'). DT instructed me to 'use my legs', which sounds kind of funny since they're tucked behind my back, but I know what she means. I need to engage my hamstrings.

It always comes back to this and this important lesson came up again and again in practice this week. In Laghu Vajrasana, DT swung by to talk to me after one of my failed attempts to hold the pose on the floor and come up again. I can get to the floor and back up most of the time if I dip (and I usually do a few 'warm up dips' using my skinny half-block). But I haven't yet found that magic alchemy to allows me to stay down there for five breath cycles and then come back up.

"You can't let go, you need to keep it all engaged", DT told me and she pointed out that this is true for every pose. In fact, I believe it's one of her pet peeves about me - it drives her nuts when I take a pose and then I 'flop' into it, especially the ones where I can rely on my flexibility.

This point was most clearly illustrated today during my weekly hot class. I went to the noon hot class because my meditation group meets in the evening. As I was waiting for my class to start, I noticed the person to my left taking a few warm up poses. Not everyone does this, most just lay in Savasana. But this woman was doing *fabulous*, deep backbends, one after the other and I was pretty impressed (and trying not to be too obvious about watching, but WOW).

I immediately assumed that she would have a fabulous practice and I was looking forward to seeing it. Keep in mind, in a hot room, there's less of an emphasis on strict Driste - in fact, you're somewhat encouraged to follow what the people around you are doing, especially if you're new. I also find that while the 'dialogue' is useful, it's kind of awesome to practice next to an advanced practitioner because you can pick up little things from visual cues that you might not grasp from the verbal ones (today, my neighbour to the right was one of those people, and I was learning a LOT from observing her form). Basically, you're allowed to look around a bit and it's not a big deal.

So, the class started and sure enough, my neighbour pulled off beautiful sidebends and her hangback went nearly to the floor and I was impressed and a little envious. But as we moved into subsequent poses, I was surprised. She would come into a pose, sometimes with surprising depth, but then almost immediately come out. This pattern repeated throughout the practice, especially in the standing balances, some of which are held for a minute at a time. Something about this was tickling the edge of my brain and I realised what it was: it was reminding me of *me*, only I do it in backbends.

And it reminded me of something DT says all the time: "You need to build the strength first." DT made this point when I first added handstands to my practice. So you can come into a handstand, big deal. Doesn't mean a thing if you can't hold it. Instead of coming in and out of the handstand, DT wanted me to come into handstand and stay there until I reached my limit of endurance. DT is also fond of pointing out that I'm 'flexible enough, just not strong enough' for certain poses.

Back to the hot class: I'm holding standing-bow (a standing backbend) for the regulation minute and gradually trying to deepen my pose by kicking my leg higher, while still maintaining my balance. By the end of the second set, I noticed something: as I held the pose for a minute and kept kicking up, kicking up, kicking up, I was attaining almost exactly the same depth as my backbendy neighbour. It just took me longer to find it.

I'm not naturally backbendy at all, but it felt as if the depth was coming from the strength of the pose. The stronger I kicked back and the stronger I made my standing leg, the more aware I was of the structure holding the pose together, and the easier it was for me to find the deeper backbend (while still maintaining my balance).

I'm finding more and more that if I don't have the strength, I don't have the pose. All of these poses that I thought I had 'in the bag' because of the length I've developed in my hamstrings (I'm talking Primary Series here), are the very ones that DT is on my case about because I'm not using muscle engagement to hold them together.

I need to take this awareness that I've cultivated very naturally in my hot practice (mainly because the dialogue provides a constant reminder) and apply it to my Astanga practice, especially Intermediate Series, because I don't think I'll find depth in these poses without it.

(photo credit: Bikram Yoga Dallas)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Bounce

When I have a bad day, it's *really* bad. Just like everything else, I like to do my 'bad' thoroughly ;-)

It started before I even woke up. I suffered through a night of restless sleep, punctuated by weird dreams. By morning, it was clear that my body was fighting off some kind of cold bug - my allergies generally don't include a scratchy throat and pounding headache. I rallied my defences (ColdFX, Oregano Oil, Vitamin C), and mixed my special sinus-infection-fighting neti pot potion. Then I set out to walk the dog.

Half-way through our walk, it was clear something wasn't right with Princess Fur's...er...'output'. After the fifth bag, the output issue was *really* dire. 'Great,' I thought, 'Now we're BOTH sick.'

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as the problem got worse. When we returned home, I did a consult with 'Dr. Google' and decided not to take the 'emergency vet' route, opting instead to withold food for 48 hours to see if it cleared.

With my luck taking such an ominous turn, I left for my morning class early to give myself plenty of time to ride very carefully. I've never had a bike accident in 12 years of riding in this city, but there's always a first time. *helpfulforeshadowing*

I stopped by the farmer's market and picked up my chocolate cookies without incident. As I pedalled east, I kept my eye peeled for hazards and sure enough, a car door opened in my path. This happens a lot. We even have a cute little name for this phenomenom - we call it 'being doored'. I had enough forewarning that I was able to expertly veer into the middle lane, over the streetcar tracks and, luckily, not into the path of a speeding car (the traffic wasn't too heavy). There was a car approaching behind me though, so I veered right as soon was I was in the clear.

And that's when it happened. I'm pretty good at navigating the streetcar tracks that criss-cross this city, but the tracks were a bit slippery from the misty rain and I felt my front wheel slide, turn and fall into the groove of the track. I couldn't control it and I was already moving at a good clip. My bike stopped suddenly and tipped to the right.

And I was flying. I had one moment of total Matrix awesomeness when everything just stopped. In that split-second, this is the thought that popped into my brain: "Like HELL I'm going to reinjure that damned right shoulder again!" So I twisted my body and landed on my left side, breaking the fall with my elbow and sliding between two parked cars.

It was a pretty neat trick and I'm still not sure how I pulled it off.

The next thing I remember, I was standing by a curb, staring into the startled eyes of a posh-looking woman who stood frozen, hand poised to feed a toonie into the parking dispenser. Her eyes were wide, her mouth was hanging open.

"OH. MY. GOD. Are you *okay*?" she gasped. I looked down at my body, moved my fingers and arms, shook my legs one at a time. I checked my clothing: miraculously, there wasn't even the tiniest snag in my uber-expensive Lu crops (which is a relief, since they cost me approximatley a kazillion dollars). My elbow ached, but my spring jacket was undamaged.

"I think I'm okay", I reported.

She shook her head in amazement. "That's the most incredible thing I've ever seen. It's like, you BOUNCED! And then you landed on your feet!" I looked down at my feet and noticed my wristwatch dangling loosely on my wrist. The clasp was broken (must of caught on the bike). I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at that thought and I looked around frantically for my bicycle. When I found it, it was still on its side, near the track. There was no noticeable damage.

So I climbed back on and rode to work.

I didn't have time to really take stock until after I finished teaching. I chatted with the front desk staff and plastered myself with little band-aids. My left elbow is badly scraped and the emerging bruise will be colourful. The outside of my left hip is very achy. I have roadrash on my left knee and ankle and a very small, but juicy bruise on my left foot. There are a few other scrapes and scratches.

I'm SO lucky!!! It could have been much, much worse.

After that, the day just kept getting weirder.

After teaching, I rode to DT's afternoon vinyasa class. Being on my bicycle felt a tad surreal after the accident. It seemed like every car on the road had an ominous ulterior motive. Obviously, I was still rattled.

I turned up the street into the shala neighbourhood and found myself surrounded by naked people on bicycles. They were everywhere!!! There were men and women and they didn't have a stitch of clothing on. Nada! (and, er, ouch!) They were moving as slowly and amorphously as an a large, fleshy amoeba. I found it impossible to get around them. It was equal parts fascinating, repelling and frustrating.

Damn it. These naked people were going to make me late to yoga!

When I finally arrived at the shala, I felt relieved. I laid my mat by the window and glanced out in time to see the naked bike people streaming by. After alerting my shalamates, I stepped out to fill my water bottle. I told DT "There are naked people riding by on bicycles!"

She tilted her head, looked at me skeptically. "Nooooo! No way!"

"Really!! There are!" I told her. "Go look!"

She shot me a bemused glanced over her shoulder and walked into the practice room. Then I heard her shriek. :-D

Then DT started class. As we moved through the sun salutations, my body heated up and I began to shed little band-aids *everywhere*. I felt like I was depositing a new one for each vinyasa and I started to accumlate a pile of them next to my mat.

Through the yoga haze, I dimmly hoped that I wasn't bleeding on my Mysore rug or I'd have a LOT of explaining to do. In the excitement over the naked people on bicycles, I sort of forgot to tell DT that I took a spill on my own bicycle. I secretly hoped she wasn't planning a lot of arm balancing. The first pose was Bakasana. There was quite a bit of arm balancing.

I tried almost everything except for one tripod-headstand variation that made my elbow throb in warning. For the most part I felt perfectly fine except for a few moments of exquisite agony when roadrash met salty-sweat skin. But the class help me confirm that I wasn't really hurt, per se, just bruised up a bit.

Then I returned home and the Princess was HUNGRY.

"Withold food for 24-48 hours" It sounds really simple, doesn't it? Not if you're Princess Fur's 'primary nourishment provider'! Fur doesn't understand the logic around fasting for health. At first, she thought I was being forgetful, so she helpfully hovered around her food bowl, gazing at it intently. She even patted my leg to get my full attention, walked to kitchen and waited there patiently. Surely, I would get the message!

By suppertime, she realised that something was amiss, especially as I apologetically ate my own meal without offering up the kibble for hers. *guilt* The look of betrayal and confusion on her furry face ripped my heart open. Nothing emphasizes this power dynamic between us so starkly: I'm the keeper of the food. On some level, I was curious how she would react if I didn't fulfill my duty to provide it.

After an entire day of hunger, a certain hopelessness has overtaken my dog's demeanor. She's given up. But she's attached herself firmly to my side, just in case my Grinch's heart turns golden and I decide to fill her bowl after all.

As I write this blog entry, she's curled up next to me in the Fetal Position of Canine Misery. Her back is to me (she refuses to look at me, even when I speak to her gently). Her legs twitch as she dreams. I'm almost certain I know what she's dreaming of: kibble.

I feel like such an asshole.

Also: My elbow hurts. My head is throbbing. And it's chilly and gray outside.

I think I'll just go to bed.

(near the scene of 'the bounce')

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plank Pose

I don't what region of Delusion-land I was inhabiting when I thought that June would be a 'less busy' month. In June, my regular sessions finish up and my summer sessions begin. A few of these classes overlap, which requires some fancy footwork and scheduling trickery (since I can't clone myself or be in two places at once). And there's a huge amount of administration involved in the summer classes.

On top of that, I'm suddenly biking *everywhere*. And then the weather decided to instantly be a kazillion degrees and humid. It's been an interesting week.

But there have been some adventures! Last Friday, I found myself in a most unexpected place: the local lumber yard. As I stood in the line-up to pay for a two metre long pine plank, I felt decidedly out of place in my yoga tank and shorts. I was sandwiched between the the contractors in their steel-toed-boots and the manly-house-holders purchasing home-improvement and yard supplies. I stuck out like a tall, skinny sore thumb.

I walked into the warehouse with my receipt feeling a bit nervous about the whole thing, feeling silly about buying one little plank. But a competent, generous employee in a dusty t-shirt and jeans treated me like his most important customer of the day. When I explained what I needed, he enthusiastically dug through piles of planks to locate the very best one. Then he used the finest saw in the house to reduce it down to eight 23cm blocks. He helped me find the right sandpaper and packed it all onto my bicycle. I made a new friend!

I spent the afternoon sanding edges and voila! I now have 8 half-blocks to aid in my 'learning-to-float project'. I could have ordered something online, but why would I want to do that when I could pay $12 and share the love? Two sets now live at the shala and I'm keeping one set at home for home-practice. Another set needs a bit of trimming with the special saw. It's a good opportunity to visit my new buddies at the lumber yard.

Practice has been touch-and-go. Sunday was a great practice. Nothing special about it, just a lot of fun. Monday was just 'okay.' Tuesday was one of those practices that physically hurt - and my body felt like lead. I didn't think I would make it through all the poses, but I did (but it was the quickest backbending and finishing sequence in history). I spent most of it wanting to cry. The morning was so bad that I came home and collapsed into a coma-like sleep for two hours. I'm sure this was part of the problem: I was running on six hours of sleep. Bad lady!

After the trauma of Tuesday, this morning's practice loomed, making me nervous. But it was good and I was relieved.

The other day, I was tryingtryingtrying to land Bakasana B and DT told me not to obsess over it. She patted me on the shouler reassuringly and said with certainty, "It will come when the float comes!" I imagined 'the float' sitting across the street at the Pie Shop, calmly enjoying an espresso, biding its time before deciding to join me on the mat. DT seems SO sure that 'the float' is on its way. I wish I would share her confidence. I *still* feel like my bum is made of lead.

Of course, after that Bakasana B talk, the pose mysteriously became easy. The past few days, I've been getting it on the first or second try.

Yoga works in mysterious ways.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Busy, Dwi Pada and P-Fur Paws

I thought The Busy was going to kill me this week. I'm not done yet, but as of early next week, I'm officially part-time for the summer (I'm teaching a full schedule on Monday). It's funny, my upcoming schedule is full of yoga classes I want to go to, people I want to see, things I want to do, so it doesn't feel very different from the past several months. It's just a different kind of busy. Fun busy!

The weather here has been awesomely erratic. We had an Extreme Heat Alert on Tuesday, but by Thursday morning, it was *freezing* and I needed a coat for my bike ride to the shala. The days have been really nice, though - sunny and mild. I've been going for long walks every day and, since my subway pass expired, I've been biking everywhere.

If I had a ten bucks for every person who's asked me "But doesn't that tighten up your hips!?", I could pay my shala fees for the next two months. Yes, it tightens up my hips a bit, especially during the first few days that I ride. Then, like everything else, my body adjusts to it and I'm fine.

Tuesday was an agonizing LBH day (seriously, it was painful; I reintroduced prep poses) but by Wednesday, it was better and by Thursday, I didn't need to prep - I just moved right into Eka Pada. I've been consistently holding the leg behind my head, hands-free on both sides (I have to support the left leg a tiny bit entering and exiting the forward bend; that's my 'bad' side).

On Thursday, I Dwi Pada'ed all by myself for the first time. It wasn't pretty, but I was able to hold it and lift up (didn't get the bum balance - next time!). These LBH poses are consistently improving.

Also on Thursday, DT observed me for a moment in Laghu Vajrasana, then swooped down and took away my block, the one I had been lowering down to. And *then* she moved the block all the way to the front of my mat, so I couldn't use it. SNEAKY! :-D

I've been working my way down to the lowest level of the block - about 10cm (4 inches). Going to the floor is harder, much harder - that little bit of space makes a huge difference. I kept getting stuck and DT kept rescuing me. All she had to do was place her finger tips on my back ribs to get me to started. Clearly, I have the capacity to do this, I just need to find the action.

Supta Vajrasana is getting better and better. It took me awhile to figure out this pose. DT and I haven't really discussed it a lot, short of some feedback about lifting up from the back ribs and supporting it with my arms. The adjustment is part of the pose and that's the context I'm learning it. I think I may be getting the knack. This week, I noticed that I'm coming up and down more on my own power (rather than hanging onto DT's hands for dear life).

The process has been interesting for me because it's one of my first experiences learning a pose in a Mysore room. I came into Mysore-style already knowing full Primary. Most of the poses of Intermediate are already familiar to me. But now I'm getting into some of the really Astanga-specific poses that I've never worked on before. Supta Vajrasana is one of them. The same can be said of the LBH poses. It's fascinating - and deeply satisfying - to observe myself learning these poses, progressing in them.

I was really looking forward to doing my Primary today. There's a lot of Lolasana in the first part of Primary! The other day, I asked DT if I was doing the whole Lolasana thing right - I don't really feel like I'm making much progress with it. She confirmed that I'm working correctly and encouraged me to continue. It needs six weeks! So, in another month, I'll re-evaluate.

DT and I also chatted about lotusing the legs while inverted. I explained that I was practising this in shoulderstand. She suggested I try it in headstand. For some reason, that sounded harder to me - it made me nervous. Today, after Setu Bandhasana, I came into a tripod headstand near the wall. I surprised myself. Not only was I able to get my legs into a decently tight lotus, but I lowered the lotus to my arms, then lifted up again! It was fun! I repeated it three times and on the third go, I was lifted and lowered my legs over and over again. WEEEEEE! (yes, easily entertained).

And, not so easily entertained, but certainly well-rested: Princess Fur slept through most of the writing of this blog post.

Sometimes, you need to look VERY carefully to spot Fur when she's napping! Awwww, PAWS!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, May 30, 2011


If I were to pick one word to describe yesterday's practice, it would be 'bendy'. Today's word: 'tired'. On Sundays, I start practice at 9:30 in the morning so I've had time to walk the dog, drink tea, and loll around a bit. Also, the shala was like an *oven* yesterday. It was awesome! This morning, I started at my usual time, 6 a.m., and it felt like every muscle in my body was aching a little bit. I didn't have a lot of stamina.

In my long-winded practice report on Saturday, I made a significant ommission. I forgot probably the most important part: Laghu Vajrasana. I've been Laghu Vajrasana-ing like crazy lately. Early last week, DT suggested that I come down and come up at least 5 times in a row. I've been doing that, then repeating until I can't do it anymore. So five 'chicken pecks' (As Owl likes to call them), then a short rest. And again. And again. I do about three sets of five. By that point, I'm so exhausted that I'm shaking a little bit, then I go on to do Kapotasana like a good little masochist.

Every practice is hard right now, but there's almost always an 'easter egg' hidden somewhere in that two-hour time frame. Yesterday, the egg was in Laghu. I had just finished going up and down and up and down for the kazillionth time (okay, the 9th), when DT stopped by said: "That's good! It's looking much better!" Somewhere in my fuzzed-out Laghu stupor, I acknowledged her, then continued chicken pecking.

It was a great moment, because DT almost never does that. If she observes that I'm getting the hang of something or a pose has reached a new level, she just gets busy making it harder for me.

Today's 'easter egg' was Bakasana B. I've been landing it fairly consistently on the third or fourth try. When I filmed it last Friday at home, I observed that when I jump into it, I always *have* it, but I don't *keep* it. Same thing happened today. I jumped into it, then popped my toes to the floor.

I've learned something important in hot yoga, from practising standing balances. In Bikrams, these balances are long holds and I realised that once I *have* the balance, I need to make a decision to *stay* for the duration.

In other words, I need to decide that I'm NOT going to fall out. No matter what, no matter how much I wobble or how silly I look.

So today I decided: no matter how ugly my Bakasana was, no matter how unstable I felt, I would jump into Bakasana and I would STAY. And I did. And I nailed it. Oh yeah, it was ugly, but I was there for five breaths and *that* part was beautiful!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Look ma! No hands!

I had a very good yoga week, but for some reason I didn't have much to say about it. I was doing a lot, thinking a lot, but I didn't feel like writing.

I glanced through my private practice notes to form a bigger picture and realized that I covered quite a lot of ground over the past week. Here's an overview...

LBH: This week, I started consistently getting Eka Pada Sirsasana on the right side hands-free. Near the end of the week, I was able to come back up from the forward fold without the leg slipping at all. The pose is slowly coming on the stiffer left side and by Thursday, both sides of the pose were hands free. The exit is also getting stronger. Lately, DT has been holding off on the Dwi Pada Sirsasana assist, letting me flail around a bit before coming in at the very last moment to help me get the right leg back. Because my left side is stiffer and that's the leg that goes behind my head first in Dwi Pada, it's a bit tricky. I end up rolling onto my back a lot.

Kapotasana: For awhile, I was taking the traditional entrance into this pose and dropping back to the floor, but it was getting to a point where I felt I wasn't going anywhere with it. This week, DT suggested I go back to working against the wall for Kapo and walk my hands down while trying to deepen the bend/lift in the upper back. I'm working on finding muscular support from below (to help me lift my hips up and forward).

Backbending: I used those fancy, expensive 'Health Bridges' twice daily for almost a month, but wondered if they were really making a difference. So I stopped using them for about two weeks and realised that they really *were* affecting depth of my backbends and my ability to connect with that part of my body, especially the upper back. So I'm using them again and working up to two sessions a day. Mid-week, DT suggested I practice UD with my feet closer together, hip width. I tried this and I like it - I feel a stronger connection to my legs. I shot a State-of-the-Backbend photo after practice on Friday. Given that I wasn't practising Urdhva Dhanurasana for almost four months this winter, it's looking pretty good. I'm nearly back to where I was pre-shoulder-injury.

Headstand: Sirsasana is one of my stronger poses and I deeply enjoy it. I've been trying to hold it longer, but feeling shy about using my iPod alarm at the shala so I'm not sure how long I've been going. DT has hardly adjusted me at all in that pose, but this week, she encouraged me to lift my head off the floor to build more strength in my arms and back. She didn't say why, but I'm thinking this is a good prep for Pinca Mayurasana. She also talked to me about building strength in my neck, alluding to the 'seven deadlies' at the end of Intermediate. That's far, far away for me, but no reason not to get started.

Lolasana: I've been diligently doing as much of this as I can in my practice. On Friday, I filmed my Lolasana to see what it looked like and it was pretty disapointing. I don't seem to be getting any stronger. I'm going to film every Friday to measure my progress.

Other stuff: In the Saturday class, we workshopped Mayurasana a bit, using blocks under the shoulders to come into the pose, trying to get the lift in the legs. It's hard, but I had one absolutely magic moment when everything activated and my legs floated up.

So that's a wrap! Onward to the new yoga week!

Though our spring has been damp and cold, summer is waiting in the wings. It's forecast to be July-hot next week. I only have one more week of my full-time schedule - As of June 7, I drop to part-time. With evenings free, I'm looking forward to doing a second practice on most days. I plan to work on extracurricular stuff that will supplement my morning practice. I'm also adding another weekly vinyasa class with my old teacher HS and maybe an additional hot class.

As my attitude towards my practice has shifted, my goals have shifted too. My main goal for the summer is to build strength. Every week, I'm sore somewhere. The week before last, it was intense in my hamstrings and my core. This week, it was a general soreness around my torso and upper back and my legs were tired. I'm connecting with all these muscles I didn't know I had (or had never communicated with before).

Each time I hit a brick wall in my practice, DT says: 'That's because you're not strong enough.' So for now, I'm focusing on getting 'strong enough' and curious to see what happens when I do.

State-of-the-Backbend, May 27, 2011
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Impossible things

My attitude about my practice has taken an enormous shift since I started practising in DT's room. Suddenly, I want - REALLY want - to master all of these complicated, difficult things in my practice, the stuff I avoided before. Mainly it's because she makes everything look easy and fun and seamless, but also because she always comes up with a good answer when I ask 'why' (and I'm allowed to ask why, something I didn't feel comfortable doing in the more traditional rooms I've practised in).

Floaty jumpbacks always seemed like window dressing to me, but after that workshop on Sunday, I finally *get it*. Floaty vinyasas, in of themselves, are not important, BUT the strength and control required to achieve them is. Because the strength balances out all of the flexibility. Because the vinyasa linking each pose is like a glue, holding everything together. And because this balance keeps the practice sustainable, helps prevent injuries and is an important preparation for Advanced (if I ever get there...).

So I'm taking Lolasana way more seriously, doing it as often as possible in my Intermediate practice and holding it for as long as possible. I'm now looking back at all those wasted years of Primary Series with regret - I could have been *rocking* all of that vinyasa! That's okay - I'll make up for lost time on Fridays! :-D

I'm also spending more time in handstand. I usually do three handstands against the wall, right before Bakasana. Yesterday, DT wandered over and pointed out that I'm bringing too much weight into the heels of my hands. When she corrected it, my entire balance shifted forward and my body slammed into the wall. BLURG.

Today, she wanted me to lift out of my shoulders. She demonstrated, coming into a handstand herself, mimicking what I was doing, then doing it correctly (it was actually pretty funny - I was cringing at the demonstration of 'my handstand'! Yeesh, am I really THAT floppy?!). I finally got it, though. It's kind of a lengthening of the inseam of the legs upwards, as if the feet were going to stand on the ceiling. DT said, "It's Tadasana, upside-down!" It *did* feel lighter and more controlled..

Later on in the day, I was on the floor playing fetch with Princess Fur when I suddenly had this 'OMG-handstand-epiphany'. We've already established that when I bring the weight into my fingers, my weight shifts toward the wall. And whenever I do it, I have this disconcerting feeling that I'll fall over backwards. I remembered that I used to feel *exactly* the same way about headstand, but I had to get over it because that shift is what makes it possible to lift the legs into a pike.


I tried it and it totally works in handstand too! I've been trying to lift my legs into a handstand for *years*. I always knew it was possible, but I couldn't figure out how it was done. For me, 'bringing the weight into the fingers' is the missing piece of that puzzle.

So I've been doing handstands all day like a silly kid! :-) Beautiful day too - sunshine and blue skies. I wonder if I'll be able to drudge up the courage this summer to start working on handstands away from the wall, maybe on the grass in the park? Hm...

This photo is from yesterday - scary skies over my city as the thunderstorms moved through.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

I know! Let's blow ourselves up!

This is *not* a happy time of year to be Princess Fur.

It's Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada. For those of you not familiar with our odd canuck customs, here's a primer: In theory, this holiday commemorate's Queen Victoria's birthday. In practice, it's just another day off, usually reserved for 'opening up the cottage' if you're lucky enough to have one. Those who don't tend to congregate in various city parks, parkettes, parking lots and back yards, get drunk on cheap beer and blow themselves to smithereens with cheap fireworks.

It's a tradition, eh?

It would be nice if everyone limited these actitives to the actual holiday (which, like many Canadian Holidays, is on a Monday), but usually the entire weekend is one huge orgy of beer, barbeque and Big Loud Booms.

Poor Princess Fur spends most of it hiding - either in the back of my clothes closet or jammed behind the toilet in the bathroom. She shakes and cries and if I'm moving about, she hugs my ankles like an alarmed toddler and won't let me out of her sight.

Last night, the weather cleared and it was a beautiful night. I think many people used up their fireworks because rain was forecast for Monday night. So I was up until the wee hours, cradling my terrified dog. She was shaking like a leaf and cowering in a corner until well after midnight.

I rolled into the shala this morning after five hours of fitful sleep. I'm realising more and more that I simply MUST get enough sleep. I can't do this practice if I'm tired. The first part was okay, but I was seriously dragging by the time I hit LBH and I thought Tittibhasana was going to *kill* me.

By the time I finished and staggered out of the room, I was already in the full throes of a full-scale energy crash. I don't know how I made it home. As soon stumbled in the door, I crawled back to bed, still dressed in my sweat-soaked shala clothes and passed out cold for two hours. I woke up cranky, disoriented and shaking with cold.

So, it was not a great morning, but there was some fun in applying the stuff I learned in the workshop yesterday to my practice. And between the morning nap, the afternoon nap and the Bikram class I just got back from (Peanut was teaching so I couldn't resist - he's one of my favourite teachers) I'm feeling perkier.

After hot class, I went to the Absurdly Expensive Gourmet Pizza Place and picked up a 'Vegan Magic' pizza for supper. In a few minutes, I'll join Princess Fur in the bathroom, where she's hiding from the thunder. A line of storms just moved through the area AND it appears some idiots are already collecting in the park between rainshowers so they can continue blowing themselves up. When Canadians do Crazy, they do it with gusto!

I had high hopes for an early bedtime tonight, but I'm not holding my breath.

Happy Victoria Day!

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Sunday, May 22, 2011


I had the nicest lie-in this morning. I woke around 6:30, ate breakfast and did some reading, then I went back to sleep since Mysore didn't start until later. I was groggy when I arrived at the shala so I wasn't sure how practice would unfold, but it was actually great! My Intermediate is flowing a bit better and I finished up everything in an hour and forty minutes.

I went home to get cleaned up and headed right back for the workshop. The workshop was so helpful - and challenging. DT covered the basics of jumping back and jumping through, with lots of Lolasana, a bit of handstand and some detailed discussion of precisely what type of strength must be cultivated to master a 'lift' (hint: not just the core). Most of my questions were on that topic and I wanted to know very specifically how I could work on these things in the context of my practice.

I can lift up into Lolasana, which is an improvement from what I was able to do last year at this time (and I'm actually pleased with my progress, given that my shoulder injury prevented me from working on this stuff for nearly 6 months). But I can't nail the second part, lifting my hips up and floating my feet back. Actually, this shows up everywhere in my practice and whenever I bump up against some 'impossible thing,' strength is usually at root of it.

The only way to find this action is to keep working on it and keep trying, so I'll carry on. Patience! That's how I got Chaturanga 8 years ago. Around the time I started YTT, I couldn't do Chaturanga at all. My first eight years of yoga study had been Iyengar-style and vinyasa wasn't part of my practice at all. But I kept at it, doing a silly belly flop day after day until eventually, I found the missing piece that allowed me to lower down smoothly.

At the time, I would watch other people do Chaturanga and I couldn't understand how they made it look so easy. When I was finally able to do it, it didn't seem difficult at all.

That's the faith I'm hanging on to. Whenever I get too frustrated with things that seem impossible (and look like magic tricks when other people do them), I remind myself of Chaturanga and carry on...

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Waiting for the Rapture...

I had a rough practice this morning, which I capped off nicely by falling sound asleep while 'taking rest'. I've never done that before in a shala! I woke up disoriented and realised I'd been at the shala for nearly two-and-a-half hours by that point. Good thing I didn't have anywhere I needed to be (and the room wasn't particularly crowded).

After practice, my back felt tweaked out on the right side. As soon as I got home, I rinsed off, put on a fresh set of yoga clothes and headed back out to Hot Central. I figured a Bikrams class might iron things out a little bit and it did - I felt better. The area is still a little tender, but nothing a few minutes rolling around on a tennis ball won't solve.

I'm not certain what brought this on. I do know that I've been using mucles differently in a several postures of my Primary. And Intermediate has been causing all sorts of sensation to emerge in my back too. I'm keeping an eye on it all and being mindful.

Taking that earlier Bikram class fit my schedule perfectly! I couldn't go to the 'Gong Show' hot class tonight because I met up with my meditation group and we all went out to eat afterward. Nothing like Buddhist meditation and Indian food to cap off the last day before the Rapture! I needed to confirm my status as a heathen so there will be no question tomorrow when the Angels of Mercy descend from On High to scoop up the Righteous! Me=Not Righteous!

Is it selfish to hope that the Rapture doesn't carry off my Mysore teacher? I was really looking forward to that workshop on Sunday! I also hope God doesn't carry off the people with floaty vinyasas and deep backbends (I'm looking at you, Susan) leaving the rest of us behind to fend for ourselves!

Also, given that these are the End Days, I'm thinking it might be fun to finish up Intermediate Series by the time the world implodes permanently in October. Do you think I'll be able to pull it off in between earthquakes, plagues and floods? Those seven headstands might be kinda hard to nail if the ground is shaking...

(It boggles me that any God in His right mind would destroy a world that's looking so pretty...!)

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The sun is out...now

Practice was Primary again today. I'm relishing this opportunity to spend quality time with my Primary. The only extracurriculars I'm adding are the LBH poses and I'm making some progress with them.

Yesterday, I immersed myself in the LBH section of Maehle's book and today applied some of his advice for Eka Pada Sirsasana. Result: I'm now able to hold the pose, with hands in prayer (praying, of course, that the legs doesn't slide out from behind my head!) on both sides AND lower into the forward fold without losing my leg.

I might've Dwi Pada'ed myself again too, but DT came over to help. With her adjustment, I lowered to the floor for Supta K and my feet didn't slide down the back of my head to the floor! I kept them there! YAY! I couldn't keep the pose together for the exit, but it's coming.

Outside of practice, I've started lotusing my legs the opposite way (left foot first) so I can get used to it. Yesterday, I noticed that the inside of my left knee was feeling a little bit tweaky. I asked DT about this, showed her how I was coming into it and she told me exactly what I needed to do to keep the pressure off that part of my knee.

I'm still trying, trying, trying to find that elusive opening across my upper chest, lifting those back ribs UP. In my deep backbending against the wall, I'm struggling to straighten my arms. When I ask DT, the answer is always the same: It's not about flexibility, it's about strength and alignment. In this case, I'm just not grasping the action needed to straighten my arms.

*Sigh* I remember when I first started practising, yoga was about putting a foot here, an arm there and YAY! A pose! Now, it's more about engaging this thing and pushing inward while simultaneously pushing outward and engaging something while releasing the adjacent thing and externally rotating this while internally rotating that and THEN creating length in another place while restraining other parts that are just *dying* to jut out. And in this roundabout way, finally building the action required to do the thing you actually wanted to do.


It never gets any easier because yoga is this all-you-can-eat buffet of progressively more complicated skill sets. After 16 years of this stuff, I *still* feel like a beginner - in part because I've been fortunate enough to study with teachers who keep it all fresh for me by constantly raising the bar. There's always a new layer to explore. It's exciting!

News flash: the sun is shining, intermittently, but shining. It was shining yesterday too - for five minutes. Such a shame it's been so lousy out - I'm missing the peak 'Pretty Flower Season'. Instead of hunkering down under an electric blanket, I *should* be walking around the city, smelling brightly coloured growing things.

Last night, as I was coming in from work, I spotted some practically new freebie patio furniture sitting on the loading dock. I grabbed two chairs and a table and I've set up a nice little garden area on my balcony. I have a feeling it will become my new-favourite-place as soon as the weather warms up. All I need now is a fake grass carpet and I'll be set! In the elevator this afternoon, I had a chance to thank the neighbour who gave the stuff away (he had literally just set it out when I nabbed it). He made my day, I made his!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rain and more rain

My 'ladies holiday' kindasorta started this morning, not with a bang, but more of a whisper. I decided to take it easy and just do Primary. That's probably what I'll be doing for the rest of the week.

I had the nicest practice! The downpour waited until I walked into the warm, dry shala, with little pitterpatters on the roof and windows. Then, a serene quasi-dark fell over the room while the storm moved over us. I savoured my forward bends and watched water drip down the big picture window in front of me. I basked in the feeling of being warm and safe and happy.

The highlight was when I managed, for the first time, to 'Dwi Pada' myself and lower into (an extremely sloppy) Supta Kurmasana. The LBH poses seem a lot easier in the context of Primary Series!

Lately in my Primary, I've been working on vinyasas and transitions. Last Friday, the theme was getting the right kind of exit and entrance in the various poses (like the Marichyasanas, for example). I suppose the operative word here is 'trying'. It was a bit of a 'fail' but fun.

The healing of my shoulder has been a slow process, but last Friday's practice confirmed what I already knew: my shoulder is completely back to normal. All of that lifting and jumping and experimentation didn't leave me sore or re-injured. I've been backing off from this part of my practice for months and it helped me heal.

But I think the biggest help was having a teacher around to watch out for me and correct my quirky Chaturanga. The modified vinyasas were not hurting me, but I think I was straining my shoulders (both) by collapsing them forward each time I lowered down. I'm not doing unasssited dropbacks on right now because I land too hard (during one of my hard landings, I swear I could feel DT cringe from all the way across the room).

Today, I worked on simple jumpbacks and jumpthroughs. Prior to the injury, I had a decent jumpthrough, jumpbacks were coming along. For now, while I work on form and building strength, I'm using blocks. The handful of ashtangis I most admire, who have controlled, floaty vinyasa transitions (my teacher among them) learned this way. I'm going with what works. DT mentioned that I will probably need shorter blocks (closer to the floor) soon. She's going to look for some.

I spoke with her before I started practice today to confirm that I was working in the right way. She made a few changes. I need to jump through with crossed legs part of the time, alternating legs so I don't develop a imbalance. I can alternate those jumpthroughs with straight-leg jumps (which, oddly enough, I find much easier!).

The timing couldn't be better: DT is teaching a jumpback/jumpthrough workshop on Sunday from 1-3. I'm really looking forward to it. I think it will help a lot.

DT has given me some new backbendy things to do against a wall. She's beginning to emphasize extension of the hip flexors more with me now. Today, she showed me a backbending exercise facing the wall (while standing and hanging back). It's wickedly difficult, mostly because it requires me to reach my arms overhead and back while pressing my quads flat to the wall. I feel like I'm going to fall over backwards (or die) which, of course, means I'm not strong enough. ;-)

But yay for narrow hallways! I have one at home so I'll work on this with two walls until I can build more strength. I've been cheating on Astanga a bit lately. I teach classes at gyms, so whenever I have the opportunity, I've been using the Magic Hamstring Machine and doing some exercises to build core strength. When I add stuff like this to my routine, I do it in the spirit of experimentation. If I don't see any benefit to my practice, I move on to other things. Time will tell.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bakasana and Dancing Blue Turds

I clearly remember rushing out to buy Gregor Maehle's 'Intermediate Series' book when it was first released. Then I looked through it and thought, "What the hell am I doing with this? When am I ever going to practise Intermediate Series?" I put it on the shelf and sulked off to do my endless forward bends.

Now, that book is my BIBLE. I even purchased the Kindle edition so I can carry it with me everywhere and it's really the best thing ever! When I find a spare moment, I open it on my iPad and geek out on the minute little details of the poses I'm working on.

Yesterday, I was reading the section on Bakasana B while stuck on a delayed train in a tunnel somewhere in the vast underground of the city. I must have laughed out loud because the woman next to me glanced over and said: "That must be a *great* book!" I nodded. "I'm learning how to turn my armpits into a vacuum using my inhalation." She smiled at me nervously and scanned the train for another open seat.

I felt bad for scaring her. Obviously, the Crazypants is leaching into my leisure time.

The Armpit Vacuum has been on my mind ever since. This morning, I gave it a go and successfully (and lightly!) landed Bakasana three times. Armpit-suctioning-madskillz really work! Who knew? The fact that this feat was repeatable is encouraging, but in order for me to successfully land in that arm balance, I've learned that the following conditions must be met:

1) My suctioning armpits must be turned on.
2) My Driste must be far, far forward - like across the street.
3) I can't even *think* about starting my inhale until I'm actually preparing to take the leap and that's probably too soon.
4) Under NO circumstances can my teacher be watching me do it! ;-)

Too bad Kapotasana isn't this straightforward. In describing the entrance into *that* pose, Maehle explained: "There is an entire universe in this movement." No kidding! *sigh* Clearly, I have my work cut out for me...

So I know a few of you are scratching your heads and wondering, isn't it a Moon Day? Why yes, it is. My new shala is open on Moon Days and when the shala is open, I'm there, no question. After my long teacher-drought, I'm not willing to miss a single minute of instruction.

At first, I thought I would miss the day off but I actually don't mind at all. In fact, it's easier to just stay with my routine. I love my practice so much these days, that I'm just happy to be in the shala.

The weather is still gray and cool here, but at least it's not raining. I didn't teach at noon so I ran errands instead. Princess Fur needed dog food and I also bought a box of fancy 'poo bags'.

These bags are special! They are hand-shaped, kind of like a baseball mitt. I guess this will come in handy when Princess Fur suddenly developes high-velocity projectile pooing abilities.

The instructions on the box are pictorial and very helpful

Here's a translation:

Step 1) The dog has a great idea! *exclaimationpoint* *helpfularrow* The dog will eject feces from her anus at high velocities for the human to catch! (Cue: Mula Bandha).

Step 2) The human uses the specially designed Scoopies Poo Mitt to catch the Dancing Blue Turds as they fly across the park. (Cue: Happy Dance!).

Step 3) The Dancing Blue Turds then board their shuttle craft to rendezvous with the Mothership for their return to Planet Dog Poo. The dog waves 'Bye-Bye'. Planet Earth is safe for humanity once again (Cue: Dramatic space-themed soundtrack).

Seriously, I can't wait to try these out! Princess Fur is thinking deeply about Mula Bandha. I'm thinking deeply about my failed baseball career.

I'll let you know how it goes.

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