Sunday, January 30, 2011

Warm boots, crunchy numbers and an icy park

I woke early this morning but my LH was in full force, so instead of practising I cleaned out the bottom of my closet.

This is part of my continuing decluttering efforts. Clearing the closet has been a surprisingly emotional task, so I've been moving through it incrementally, shedding items in a trickle instead of a diluge. Seems like every few days, I accumulate a bag to take down to the clothing donation bin. It's finally beginning to come together!

There's an online group dedicated to wearing only 33 items of clothing for 3 months in order to reduce and maximise a wardrobe. I'm intrigued by the concept, though I'm not willing to go that far (and I wonder if it's even possible here in Canada, where layering is a necessity). Really, most of us only wear a tiny fraction of the clothing we own.

I don't tend to hoard clothing for three simple reasons: 1) I hate shopping 2) I have simple tastes which favour comfort 3) My main wardrobe consists of yoga pants and tops. Makes things easy!

I also tend to buy quality and keep stuff around *forever*, often for TOO long. My current winter gear is a great example. My winter coat is 5 years old and up for replacement (very soon! stay tuned!).

My winter boots have been with me since the last century. They're in such horrible shape that this winter, I started wearing another pair of boots, not intended for snow, which are already 6 years old. Enough is enough! On Saturday, I reluctantly treked to the mall and spent two hours trudging from shoe store to shoe store. But I found a wonderful half-price deal. I love my new boots!

The rest of my weekend was spent bogged down in tax preparation. I've made a promise to myself not to fall behind in my accounting this year like I did last. In that spirit, as soon as I finished with 2010, I moved right on to January 2011. Done!

When I completed my data entry tasks, Princess Fur and I took the new boots out for a walk in the park. The natural rink has been flooded for about a week now (I haven't yet been out to skate on it). The neighbourhood winter festival was in full swing as we passed by: Barbeque, neighbours and an obligatory hockey game.

Yoga practice was Restorative today (I finally unrolled my mat just before lunch). I followed the during-menstrual sequence from Bobby Clennell's women's yoga book. Tomorrow, I'm hoping for something a bit more active.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Warm heart, cold nose

Cutest thing ever: When Princess Fur sits on the floor near the window seat and begs to come up for cuddles. My heart MELTS. Also: there are few things more blissful than cuddling a warm, furry dog in my arms while sipping tea and gazing out the window at fluffy little snow flakes drifting around. The Princess is still up here, her head nestled against the instep of my left foot as I blog.


I'm well-prepared to soak up every blissful moment of this weekend. Yesterday, I woke at the usual time, but instead of doing yoga (I went to the evening Bikram class instead), I did the grocery shopping, cleaning, some extra laundry, prepped meals for the coming week and ran errands. With all of these tasks complete, I was able to sit around and read a book in the afternoon. And It feels good to move into the weekend with these mundane little tasks complete!

And thank goodness I cleared the time, becauseI have big plans for this afternoon: Tax preparation. *sigh* On the bright side, once it's done, it's DONE and I can pass if off to my accountant. I'm hoping to get through it today.

I have an excellent incentive. I can return to this book:

It's wonderful! I'm dying to see the film now...

A brief practice report, such as it is...

I heated the apartment this morning in preparation for my full Astanga practice then realised that my LH had arrived. Boo! So I did the Suryas, fundamental standing poses, my Intermediate poses, three Urdhva Dhanurasana and Padmasana. Then I put my legs up a wall and chilled. It was the perfect compromise!

My shoulder is feeling pretty good. Actually, *both* my shoulders are a bit sore right now, but that's to be expected (Hello,'s been awhile, hasn't it?).

There are a few postures that trigger the pain of the injury, mainly anything that introduces an intense inward rotation of the right arm while reaching my arm around my back (Prasarita Padottanasana C, most binds). Bhekasana is still not fun, but Dhanurasana is fine until I move into Parva Dhanurasana, which is VERY painful. I don't generally do it unless I've laid a blanket to the side as my 'shoulder landing zone'.

The next few days will be light on yoga and heavy on rest, but I'll keep in touch...

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Friday, January 28, 2011

No chocolate, no prana!

Wow. I believe that was the HOTTEST hot class I've ever attended.

On Friday nights, Hot Central holds a special community class by $5 donation. The room is packed, so I'm sure they make pretty good money on the deal. Pine Nut teaches it and I really enjoy his personality and the way he delivers the dialogue, so it's a sweet deal all around.

But it's *crowded*. And very, very hot. I actually had to sit down one or two times (I chose times when Pine was explaining something so I wouldn't miss any postures). And I drank my entire bottle of water (usually I only get through half). The dude in front of me had a water bottle the size of mine that he was topping it up from a HUGE litre jug of water. At point, I actually thought of asking him for a top-up on mine. :-D

But I had a good class, which I kind of expected, given that it was in the evening. My body was much more open. Holy hang back! I think I was almost horizontal to the floor during the standing backbend! During the pre-class preliminaries, I did three long Urdhva Dhanurasana and they were feeling pretty good! Hot class = easy backbends?

I'm planning to come to this Bikram class regularly and eventually start coming to the Wednesday class too. It balances out my Astanga practice nicely.

On the way to class, one of my neighbours gifted me with a gianormous chocolate bar. She couldn't remember how old the bar was, so there's a chance it might not be good (I have a feeling it's not). But still, it was worth the taking.

One KG of chocolate! This is remarkable on so many levels. Here are a few of them:

-I didn't know that chocolate bars of this size actually EXISTED! Somehow, my world a brighter place, knowing that.

-Someone gave her this GIANT chocolate bar and just she *gave it away* to someone else. Who gives away chocolate? What kind of crazy is that? Oh yeah, right...the kind of crazy I like!

-She had this thing sitting around her apartment for who-knows-how-long and she never once cracked it open. She just let it sit there, unopened and unloved. In my world, a big chocolate bar like that would have lasted a week, tops.

-And the timing: She gave it to me right before the new moon. You can see where this is going, right? My LH is next week. IT'S LIKE MY PMS WON THE LOTTERY!

Here's what's not remarkable: That I would eagerly accept this clearly non-vegan item. I think we've established that I'm a lousy vegan. I cheat regularly when it comes to certain baked goods and if I'm given food, I'll usually eat it (though I draw the line firmly at animal flesh and all the food I prepare at home is vegan).

As I sat down to write this entry, I received an email from one of my young students, a 9-year-old. She's currently working on dropbacks and going though many of the same challenges and pitfalls I experienced when I was learning them, including her latest challenge, the mighty *headwhomp* (I shared Susan's mantra with her: "STRAIGHT ARMS!").

She does yoga every day at home, because I told her that if she practised regularly, she would enjoy yoga more and make steady progress. She occasionally sends me a progress report at the weekend. This is what she wrote:

I am having so much trouble with my back drops you can not believe it, I just am having so much trouble getting my hands down on to the floor I know I have to PRACTICE!

Yup! :-) Practice and all is coming. Especially when you're working on 'back drops'. And 'up stands'. *ahem*

Lately, I've been allowing Princess Fur to come up on the bed with me for cuddles at night. Then she pretends to be asleep so I won't ask her to move. Here she is, peeking at me though a half-closed eyes. She isn't fooling anyone, but seems to get her own way nonetheless.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

That precious extra hour

Home practice is harder than going to a class because I have to find a way to coax myself onto the mat every morning, but I forgot about one of the big fringe benefits: time.

Going to Hot Central daily was time consuming! The commute was about 10 minutes (yeah, decadent, I know!) but in order to get into the class, get a good spot in the yoga room and a convenient shelf in the change room, I had to get there 20 minutes early.

Once class was over, I had no time for for Savasana because I needed to make a quick exit. I had exactly 15 minutes to get out of the room, shower, dress, dry my hair, slap on some makeup, pack my sopping wet clothes/yoga towel/mat into bags and jet for the subway in order to make it to my noon class on time.

Each morning was a frantic marathon and when I *finally* found myself on the subway, sipping Emergen-c and eating my oatmeal, I felt a tangible sense of relief. After dragging that knapsack full of wet stuff plus a heavy mat around the city for hours, I hauled it all home and dedicated another half-hour to bucket-laundry.

And then, I could eat lunch, maybe take a nap, tend to Princess Fur and head off to my evening classes.

I did this for 30 days. Phew!

Home practice has given me this: Less laundry to do and over an *hour* of free time in the morning to sip tea, eat breakfast, check email and blog. I sit in the window seat with my hands wrapped around my warm tea cup and gaze out at the morning light streaming over the city. I cuddle Princess Fur. I read. I day dream.

Then I finish my bucket laundry and carry on, business as usual. Such a small thing, but it feels so precious!

Day 2 of my full Astanga practice: My right shoulder is a tiny bit tender, particularly pressing back to Adho Mukha Svanasana from Urdhva Mukha. But it's not agonizing.

Headstand feels perfectly solid again. Urdhva Dhanurasana is uncomfortable, but I hold the backbends and breath, walk my hands in more each time. I'm toughing it out. My shoulder is a bit uncomfortable, but nothing dire.

Overall, aside from my vinyasas (I'm not doing jumps, but stepping my feet forward and back), my practice feels stronger than ever.

Tomorrow, I'm going to an evening hot class at Hot Central. I'm on the fence about Saturday. I may actually opt to do Astanga on that day. I'd like to try for a four-day week and see how it goes.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bhujapidasana, where are you?!

Well, THAT was interesting! It appears I owe a debt of thanks to Mr. Bikram for keeping my Astanga practice *completely* intact as I rested my shoulder.

I did my full practice this morning and was able to do every single pose to the full expression I was capable of, pre-injury. This includes *all* the binds in the Maris and Supta Kurmasana. In fact, my bind in Supta K is actually more solid than it was before! Keep in mind, many of these binding poses were impossible with the shoulder injury, so clearly some healing has happened.

I have a bit of a confession though: after my fourth or fifth Bikram's class, I noticed my hips tightening up, so I added a series of hip openers to my pre-class routine. I think this was really good for me and had the intended effect. Even Baddha Konasana was easy peasy.

Not surprisingly, I was solid as a lampost ("Unbroken! I have no knee!") in Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana and I'm now the World Champion of Lifting My Heels in Kurmasana (there was a lot of heel lifting going in those Bikram's classes).

But there were a few surprises, too. Navasana is *very* strong. Chakrasana is smooth and effortless. And I can pop right up into Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana and straighten my legs without falling over (this is NEW!). I was going to give my new-found Super Bandhas credit for this, but Uth Pluthi still sucks so I guess it will remain a mystery.

Headstand is solid, but I'm just a bit nervous in it. I can still hold the pose for a couple minutes, though, and half-bend wasn't a problem. I think the nervousness is my just brain being silly.

That terrific breathing-during-backbends habit I developed in Bikrams carried through to Urdhva Dhanurasana today, but I know I've lost strength and flexibility in the pose. That's okay, though - it will come back with some practice. I'm hoping the breathing will stick around and maybe the new openness in my back (developed doing hangbacks into Ustrasana every day) will eventually translate in the pose.

I also did my Intermediate series poses. They felt strong and effortless and I've actually gained some ground in Laghu Vajrasana. But I expected this, given the spine-strengthening component of Bikram's. Also: No knee pain in Dhaurasana!

In my entire practice today, there was only one pose that was a big 'fail' and that was Bhujapidasana. I came into it awkwardly and just barely managed to get the crown of my head on the floor. But even with the strength and Bandha awareness I had gained over the past month, this pose was a complete mystery to me. This makes me wonder if it's more about physical mechanics and 'getting the knack' rather than specific strengths. Of all the poses of Primary, this is the one that suffered the most for lack for practice.

My practice took just over 90 minutes this morning, which was also a nice surprise. I've decided to stick to more-or-less the same morning routine because it was really working for me. I'll get up at the same time and hit the mat by 8:30 a.m.

I'm planning to do my full Astanga practice again tomorrow, but on Friday I'll be heading back to Hot Central for the Pine Nut's evening class. I may do Jivamukti on Saturday and I'm planning a bit of Yin on Sunday. Back to Astanga on Monday. I won't be doing a six-day practice, but I will be trying to do as much Astanga as my body can handle.

The sky through my kitchen window, just after I wake at 7 a.m.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bikram Yoga Tips for Ashtangis

Today was Day 30 of my introductory Bikram's yoga package at Hot Central. I had a great month with the 'Mixed Nuts' and I'm full of gratitude for their passion, enthusiasm and professionalism. I literally never had a bad class in those 30 days and the studio was always clean, the staff welcoming and the experience consistent.

In 30 days, they won me over and this wasn't easy to do. My previous experience with Bikrams's was not too rosy. After these 30 days, I would recommend this studio, and hot yoga, to anyone. I do believe it's a therapeutic practice and it has (at least temporarily) cured my Ashtangi insomnia issues.

I don't know if my shoulder is really any better, but that's a story for another day.

I gleaned a few tips from my 30 day hot yoga experience that I wanted to share here, in case other Ashtangis are curious about the style and decide to take the 40C (105F) plunge.

Hydrate *before* you go to class. It's takes up to 40 minutes for the water you drink to benefit your body. Drink lots of water in the hours leading up to class, but stop a half-hour before you go in (or you'll need to pee halfway through).

You'll get used to the heat. After the first week, you'll only notice it if it's unusually hot or unusually cool. Otherwise, it feels just like doing yoga in a warm room after being drenched by a bucket of warm water. And the Bikram's people aren't making this part up: It feels GREAT afterwards.

Don't drink water during the standing poses, and drink as little as possible during the rest of class. As I was struggling through my first few classes, I found this great article by Mary Jarvis, talking about water and why you shouldn't drink it in a Bikram's class. We don't drink water during Astanga practice so I was open to the suggestion. I decided to experiment and see how water affected me. I was stunned by the difference it made, *not* drinking water, especially during the first half of the class. I felt less exhausted and dragged down. My balance and focus was better.

Every time you think you need to drink water, breathe deeply instead. I can't emphasize this enough: Breathe, early and often. I also found that visualizing sipping cool water as I stood in Tadasana breathing was helpful. Topping up your oxygen will benefit you more in the practice than water. Whenever you find yourself at a standstill between poses (or in Savasana), breathe, breathe, breathe!

Save your energy! Stillness is your friend! Don't fidget, or play with your towel, or moan (really, moaning won't help you feel better). It's hot enough in there as it is, any extra movement will just add to your body heat. Save your energy for the postures and transitions between them. Also, there are mirrors - if you're tugging at your clothing and pulling out your wedgy, or making sexy little hip circles while you admire yourself, *everyone* will see you doing it!

Many poses in Bikram's look the same but have different goals. Learn them! In Astanga, forward folds aim to lengthen the hamstrings. In Bikram's yoga, a great many forward bends are 'compression postures' that put pressure on the glands of the body, especially the Thyroid. For example, Parsvottanasana is called Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana (Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose) in Bikram's. Entering this pose, you must tuck your chin to your chest and keep it there as you place your forehead on the knee. If your hamstrings aren't long enough to accommodate this, the front leg is bent. The important part is the compression, not the stretch.

Learn to love sweat and don't bother wiping it away - it will just come back. I found sweat to be most annoying during the first 20 minutes of the class, then it got better. The simple truth is, the sweatier you are, the less you notice it. Towels and 'wipe rags' are frowned upon in Bikram's. Also, don't use a towel to hold your slippery leg in Pavan Muktasana. The teacher will laugh at you!

Know your 'resting poses', they'll help you survive the class! To me, these classes often felt like a series of 'sprints' between islands of calm. My 'resting poses' might not feel that way to everyone (hello, Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana) but I knew that if I could just get to one of the easier poses, I would have the space to breath deeply and replenish myself for the next series of more difficult ones.

And one last nugget of wisdom: At some point you'll probably think you need to pee. You don't! This always, ALWAYS happened to me during the spine strengthening series and it always caught me by surprise. Yet, I never once wet myself during Shalabasana. Well, not that I know of, anyway... (I'm KIDDING!).

I also found myself getting weird food cravings in class, but I'm not sure if that's because there was a breakfast cafe upstairs. I do know that water tastes terrific after a hot class (so drink lots of it), Emergen-C is addictive and my morning porridge has never tasted so good!

Above all, have fun! You won't die (though there will be times when you wish you could) and you're going to learn at least one trick that will be very useful in your Astanga practice: expertly and *quickly* flipping yourself into Savasana. ;-)

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts from the Sand Box

Wow, nothing like putting your heart on your sleeve to draw out all of the really nice people and also some of the not-so-nice ones. I appreciated the nice comments and emails. You guys are great!

But I guess I should clarify: I'm not necessarily quitting Astanga. I don't know *what* I'm going to do. I do realise that there's a culture of 'working through injuries' in this practice and I've certainly done my share of that with the hamstring injury. But this shoulder thing is a different beast all together.

I would have to love Astanga a whole LOT in order to suffer through the kind of pain and discomfort I've been experiencing lately on the mat on a longterm basis. I've spoken to other longtime practitioners and this seems to be one of those injuries that can be a permanent fixture. So it worries me.

Because I teach yoga for a living, I need to ask myself if I'm prepared to sacrifice my career for Astanga Yoga. I think the answer to that question is a rousing "NO". I think there are times when a line needs to be drawn. This is a classic 'overuse injury'. It's awful - I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

I've never sought to be the poster child for Traditional Astanga, so I'm sorry if I've disappointed anyone. But the bottom line is, this is about me. Me, me, me. And my life, my passion and my sole source of income. If the past month of 'yoga tourism' has taught me anything, it's that I can be happy without Astanga. My joy in life is not based on one particular style of yoga (though the jury is still out on whether I could be happy giving up yoga altogether).

Private to 'Anonymous':
The answer to your question is 'No.' Because this is a BLOG. Not the Bible, the Torah or any other authoritative guide. And I'm not your G-d or your mother or your guru. I'm just an ordinary woman on her own journey, who happens to share her thoughts through writing. If I decided to jump off a bridge, I'm certain you wouldn't consider doing the same. This principle also applies to the decisions I make about my Asana practice. It's time to put on your Big Girl Pants and learn to form your own opinions based on your own experience. A terrific place to being this journey is your own yoga mat. Good luck with that.

And this is for everyone:
I moderate my comments. This means that every single comment that is posted on this blog has to be approved by me *first*. If it's not nice or you're being a jerk, or you're trying to push your own agenda, I won't click 'publish'. I hope that as yoga practitioners and people of quality, we can play nicely in the sandbox with one another. But I won't host a flame war on my blog and I won't let anyone shit on me in my own space.

Please, let's practice some Ahimsa and be kind to one another. If our yoga practice isn't teaching us how to do that, I don't see what good it is.

Princess Fur, playing nice in her own 'sandbox'.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rocking my own boat

I'm moving into the final days of my 'Bikram Month'. All of the predictable things are happening: I can do toe-stand now. I can hold Floor Bow for a kazillion minutes without falling out (most of the time). I'm even occasionally bringing my forehead to shin in Standing Head to Knee Pose.

Other, non-predicted things are happening too: Dhanurasana has become a comfortable pose and I'm moving into it deeply. Instead of wondering if I can catch my heels in Ustrasana, I'm wondering if I can see my toes (no sightings yet...but I *know* they're down there!). And I'm starting to enjoy, yes ENJOY (it's not a typo!), the standing hangback. I'm pretty sure my flexibility in forwards bends has even increased.

But I'm also questioning nearly everything about my practice over the past year.

As much as it gave me a chance to heal an injury, this month also allowed me to delay thinking about where my practice is going in 2011. I've been able to bow out of all of speculation and drama, stop second-guessing and just practise *something*.

I missed Astanga, but I came to value the opportunity to step away from it, along with the culture and lifestyle surrounding the practice. I've been blogging less because I've been feeling pretty disconnected from the Cybershala (not the fault of any of you - you've all been, without exception, incredibly supportive).

Bikram's yoga forced me to do things a little bit differently. It shook up my routine and challenged some of my assumptions. I had to give up Vinyasa as a means of warming my body. And there was the HEAT! I had to adjust to constant teacher-chatter after years of a mostly-silent room. I had to move with someone else's instruction after years of a self-driven practice. I came to appreciate and even depend on those mirrors to self-adjust my alignment. I found a new use for the YogiToes towels that I bought and rejected last year (they're absolutely *super* in the hot room; I swear by them). I modified my sleeping schedule.

I think it's been good for me, all of it!

Christina recently posted a quote from Richard Freeman which deeply resonated with me:

“Do not get lost in your own practice or school of practice… Do not isolate yourself in your micro-isolated community where everyone agrees with you.”

(Interestingly, this led to a discussion in the comments about whether it's possible to 'safely resist change'. I would argue that it's not because no one can escape from the impermanence of life. Change is all around us and our only security is in embracing it).

I'm not sure what I expected from my month-long experiment with a different yoga style, but the end result has opened my eyes. Specifically, I'm wondering whether a traditional Astanga practice is healthy for my body. 2010 was my 'Year of the 6-day Week'. I practised every day in January and continued practising on a traditional 6-day schedule for the remainder of the year (until December 27th). I did Yin or light Hatha on the 7th day.

In 15 years of yoga practice, I've never had a serious injury. In 2010, I had *two* of them.

I believe I've been a bit lost in my Astanga practice, focused too much on progressing in the Primary Series. And it's not all yoga-related. In the space of a couple years, I went from being an intentional outsider to a part of a supportive community. Suddenly, after years of sitting by myself in the cafeteria I was welcomed at 'the cool kids' table'. I didn't want to let go of that, even when I was pretty sure my body was failing me and I needed to back off.

I think I hung on to the 'six day' thing longer than I should have because I really wanted to live in a microcosm where the rules were clear and everyone agrees. I'm also a creature of routine and I was loathe to invite change into my life. The daily round was difficult, but it was predictable. It offered a sense of consistency and safety.

But change is a given. Anything else is an illusion. There is no safety found in stagnation. And in the end, this is *my* yoga practice and *my* body. I'm a yoga teacher. I know better than anyone else what works, what is harmful and what I need.

I just need to clear my head and figure it out.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bringing it back

The other day, I wondered aloud 'what would Guruji do' with my hibernating Astanga practice and gimpy shoulder. As it stands, I've taken a 20-day hiatus, my strength is diminished and I've fallen out of the routine of this practice. As soon as I asked the question, I knew the answer: start over again. Surya Namaskara and the fundamental standing poses.

On Saturday evening, I unrolled my mat and gave it my best shot. But instead of stopping at the standing, I went right into my 8 Intermediate poses, then did lots of backbending (as much as I had time for) and closing.

It was an interesting practice because it was SO different from my practice 20 days ago. I wasn't in any pain at all! It felt novel and fabulous to practice without the throbbing pain in my shoulder. I could move my arms around without discomfort and the bind in Baddha Padmasana was accessible to me. I also noticed that my body is open in new and different ways.

The biggest boons:
-My hamstrings: The gimpy hamstring is history. I have full flexility back in all forward bending poses, including Parsvottasana and to a certain degree, Krounchasana.
-My neck: It's bendier! Sarvangasana felt awesome and my knees were on the floor in Karnipidasana. I'm going to give credit to Bikram's Sasangasana for that one.
-Balance: ROCK SOLID. I've really gained some mad skillz in this area! I did Uttita Hasta Padangustasana for fun and I didn't fall over once (but I also couldn't hold my leg up at the end (strength FAIL).
Backbends: Urdhva Dhanurasana was not as deep as it was 20 days ago, but I come into it from the floor without shoulder pain and I can stay there endlessly because I'm actually breathing! Deeply! I can feel my lower ribs puffing in and out as I hold the pose.

I could write a whole post about the Bandhas. I thought I would lose my connection to my Bandhas during Hot Yoga Month, but to my surprise, I'm more aware of them. In hot yoga class, there are a few cues that are repeated often. One of them is: 'Suck in your belly!' Each time I heard this, my brain registered: "Oh! You want me to engage my BANDHAS!" And I did. With good results. It's amazing and it makes me want to do it *more*.

Overall, my first Astanga practice in 20 days felt great. I felt all happy and floaty afterward! I was excited to repeat the experiment on Sunday, but alas, it didn't go quite as smoothly. The soreness from Saturday practice was already setting in.

I know what you're wondering and it was on my mind too: what does my gimpy shoulder think about all of this vinyasa-ing? To be honest, I don't know yet, because EVERYTHING about my shoulders hurts right now. I've lost considerable strength. I can still *do* everything I could do before, it's just harder and I tire more quickly. I'm back to following up my practices with long salt baths to sooth my tired upper body.

I practised again on Monday and I was definitely feeling sore. I could detect some sensation in the right shoulder, near the area of the injury, but that's not completely unexpected.

I'm easing off on the Astanga practice for the next few days. This will give me a chance to recover from the initial soreness and get a better sense of the state of my injury and my overall level of fitness for Astanga.

On a mental level, I'm vacillating between elation that I can *do* my practice again and anxiety that the injury will still limit me in significant ways. I'm genuinely worried about my planned visit to D&J's Shala in March. Part of me wonders if I should even bother, given the poor state of my practice. But another part of me is certain that this in itself is a GOOD reason to go: I need the advice of these teachers now more than ever. I need help with alignment to prevent re-injury. I'm certain that D will know what to do.

More than anything else, I want to keep Astanga sustainable over the long haul. I love this practice. I want to return to it and keep doing it in the years ahead. This injury was a good wake-up call: I no longer care if I EVER have floaty jumpbacks. I'll be happy with smooth, efficient, pain-free vinyasa.

I'm scared, but I'm hopeful.

On a lighter note, I have a new 'injury' to report.

Last Saturday, hot class went over by more than 10 minutes and I was at risk of arriving late to my noon class. In my rush to get there on time, I stupidly sprinted across a street and when I stepped onto the sidewalk, I landed HARD on my right knee. I didn't notice anything was amiss until later on in the afternoon when I saw this dark maroon bruise.

The knee is fine and the bruise hasn't affected my practice at all - it's just a surface ache. But it's oh-so-colourful with a new kaleidoscope of hues emerging daily.

Pretty! ;-D

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Committed and Diligent

I was sorting through more papers over the weekend, scanning and recycling and occasionally perusing the stuff as it passed through my hands.

I spontaneously decided to scan some old 'running logs' because at the time, they were the only 'journal' I was keeping. I didn't only write about running. I wrote about the sites I was working on (I was a professional field archaeologist), parties I attended, friends, current events and the things I noticed on my runs. I was a careful observer of the people I saw out and about in my neighbourhood, renovations, roadwork. All of the changes. The logs remind me a bit of what I do here, on this blog.

They've also reminded me that although I'm 15 years older and the cells in this body of mine have regenerated two-fold, my core personality is much the same. The space in my life that yoga now fills was once occupied by running. I often ran daily (with one rest day - usually Sundays). I had a steady routine, covered the same routes, mused over my progress (speed, mileage mostly) exactly the same way I do in my yoga practice. I set goals. I was committed and diligent.

Before that, it was music. I went to university on a music scholarship (Jazz) but for fun, I played the Sousaphone in the marching band. I didn't have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument from an early age like most people because I grew up on a boat; there was no space for instruments. Instead, I had to pick up musical skills quickly as a teen but I was adaptable and I practised daily in order to match my peers.

I was never a *great* tuba player, but I was a enthusiastic average one. And I was relentlessly reliable. I learned and memorised the music, committed the marching sequences to memory (I was always a good marcher, competent at anything that required me to move my body around in space) and I always knew where I was supposed to be in relation to those hash marks. I never missed a rehearsal and was always on-time. Even if I wasn't a Sousaphone Supertalent, I could always be counted on to play my part.

These are all qualities I like about myself and I'm glad I've retained them, expanded upon them and grown my yoga practice through them. When I arrived for my very first class at Hot Central, I'm sure the Mixed Nuts never thought I would be there steadily and reliably for 30 days (I think they might just figuring it out now).

It's not a '30 Day Challenge' for me. It's just the way I roll.

Why, yes! I did, in fact, do some Astanga over the weekend. Full report on that, along with some Bikrams practice reports AND an account of the colourful bruise on my knee coming tomorrow.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Rinse and Repeat

Has a week really passed since I last blogged? Almost! I feel negligent, but I really haven't had much to say. You don't believe me, do you? Wait until you read this post. It's BORING.

There's absolutely NO DRAMA at all in this Bikram's yoga practice. Nothing to report. Nada! It's kind of awesome, but it makes for some very dull blogging. "I got up, went to the hot room and did my practice. Then I showered. Then I left." Repeat. Daily. *yawn*

No one at this hot room cares if I'm suffering enough! If I get The Lazy and sit down, the class just goes on without me. In fact, I can take breaks whenever I want to (but I rarely do). If I decided to take Savasana smack dab in the middle of a pose, no one would say a word. Not only that, but if my back feels cranky and I decide to go easy on the hang-backs after Ardha Chandrasana, no one yells at me. Of course, by the same token, If I'm being all awesome and heroic in Ustrasana, no one says "Good!" either.

It just is what it is.

On Monday, I fell out of Sasangasana. If you're not laughing, you should be! This is a pose where I'm literally curled up in a ball on the floor. It was quaintly ironic, given that I managed to stay perfectly upright in all four renditions of Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow; similar to Natarajasana in Astanga). But Almond said mildly: "That's fine", and told me to come back into the pose. No biggie.

Really, these teachers seem happy if I do the following: 1) Show up. 2) Stay in the room. Everything else is icing on the cake.

Of course, I'm exaggerating a little bit. On Wednesday, Peanut was teaching. If there's drama anywhere, it's in Peanut's classes, but it's mild drama at best. And Peanut is such a sweetheart; you've gotta love him. He likes to pick on the teachers in the room! I haven't told the Mixed Nuts that I'm a yoga teacher, but I guess they finally Googled me. This week, when Peanut started in on the teachers, he included me in the bunch. It was kind of fun, and I had a great practice that day. For the first time, I lowered my forehead to my shin in Dandayamana-Janushirasana (Standing Head-to-Knee).

Pistachio was teaching on Thursday. This is the day that I finally nailed the balance in Padangustasana (Toe Stand) on the first side, hands in prayer position. It's also the day that the room was cooler than usual. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wasn't HOT enough. I've finally gotten to the point where I don't notice the heat unless there isn't enough of it.

In Walnut's class today, I fell out of the first side of Padangustasana but nailed the second. The room was hot enough and I was completely invisible again. I feel like I could have sprouted wings and flown around the pillars and no one would have paid any attention to me.

My shoulder is feeling better, I think, but there's still some lingering sensation there. I'm not sure if it's truly from the injury or if it's just imagined pain, an imprint of trauma. I haven't done Astanga in 19 days, but I do teach Astanga and demo in some of my classes. I've noticed lately that Downward Dog feels completely comfortable and on Wednesday, I demo'ed the transition from Up Dog to Down Dog. It felt fine.

The devil that lives on my left shoulder is whispering in my ear. She wants me to give the Primary Series a try sometime this weekend. I miss my practice. But the angel that lives on my right shoulder is also offering advice: give it a rest and wait 11 more days and ease into it slowly.

I'm wondering, what would Guruji do?

Susananda's Bhairava, hopefully on his way to London. She may need his wrath to get through passport control! Let's keep our Cybershala fingers crossed!

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Monday, January 10, 2011


Okay, jig's up! That State-of-the-Backbend photo? It wasn't me, of course. Those of you who thought it WAS get a gold star for having such faith in me. And I absolutely *loved* the comments! :-D I'm thinking that we may need to start an entire line of backbend-enhancing fashion accessories, starting with shiny pants.

For those of you scratching your head, this was a bit of a Astanga/Cybershala in-joke. My Urdhva Dhanur-doppleganger is none other than our lovely Susananda, from London, UK. She was visiting family in a nearby city and took the train into my burg (in a big snowstorm no less) to spend the day with me.

We had a SUCH great day! What do two Ashtangis with a bit of 'Mysore envy' do on a snow day? Why, go to Little India, of course! From the train station, we hopped on a streetcar and travelled eastward to my fav South Indian restaurant. We ate a yummy lunch, followed by hot chai, and talked and talked and talked. Then we did lots of shopping. When we'd had our fill of yoga books, statuettes and Indian kitsch, we went back to my 'shala' so Susan could meet Princess Fur.

By the way, that amazing backbend of hers was done COLD with hardly any preparation. Literally five minutes before, she was curled up on my blue futon, drinking tea and eating muffins! When she easily stood up (from the backbend, not from eating muffins), I was all gobsmacked, but of course that's just Susan, being AWESOME!

Of course, in keeping with the current meme, we had to take photos of our Indian food!

We started with Idly and Medhu Vada:

I had the Onion Masala Dosa (and in the background, you can see Susan's Mixed Vegetable Uthappam):

Half-way through our meal, we realised that we had neglected to EAT MORE CHAPATIS! so we asked for two:

The waiter came over and asked if we wanted chai after he had refilled our water jug for the second time. We had been sitting there for so long talking, I'm sure he wondered if we were ever planning to leave!

The only thing that could have made the day more perfect was the company of sweet Owl, but she's in Mysore (probably eating lots of Chapatis!). Next time, for sure.

Practice reports...I'm still doing Bikram yoga. My shoulder if feeling much, much better. I'm hoping to add some Astanga this coming weekend. I miss the Primary Series!!!

Sunday: Cashew was teaching. Now that the holidays are over, there appears to be an actual schedule at this studio; I'm starting to see the same instructors on the same days. This is the second class I've taken with Cashew and it was crowded (I guess Sundays are busy after all!) And it was HOT in there. I seem to have adjusted to that, though. I was hot, but the heat didn't slow me down. I think I've learned to pace myself in these classes.

I had an epiphany in Shalabhasana. We're instructed to keep the hips down and press onto the shoulders (the pose is like Viparita Shalabhasana in Astanga). It sounds simple, but whenever I tried, I just pressed my shoulders down which didn't help a bit. But if I shift my weight, kind of slide my chest forward as I push my hands (which are underneath me) back, more weight shifts to the front.

Monday (today): Almond was teaching and the class was full, but didn't seem as crowded as the weekend. I like Almond for his consistency (he times the poses well and keeps a good pace going, with a minimum of chatter) and his feedback. When he gives a specific cue, he'll sometimes say "Nice adjustment' if it's carried out correctly. I've found this helpful because I'm not always sure that I'm doing what they want me to do.

Today, Almond kept calling the class 'team' (in Savasana: "Nice job, team!"). It made me giggle because it reminded me of hockey (and there's nothing further from an icy hockey arena than a hot yoga room!).

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The opposite of a plateau

I think I've completely made the rounds of the various teachers at Hot Central. Today, I *finally* had a repeat: Macadamia. I really like her! She's newish, so her dialogue is so *sincere*. When she says "Lock your knee!", her tone is very earnest, as if she cares really deeply about my knee. She's also quite enthusiastic, which is contagious *pompomshake*.

I had a good practice today! I feel like I'm on a roll this week and improving rapidly. It's kind of the polar opposite of having a plateau in my practice and to be honest, it's a little bit disconcerting. There have been small shifts in nearly every single pose. I'm finally starting to understand the physical mechanics of these postures and even the more subtle aspects. Trippy!

Oh, and I hate to admit this, but the 'Lock the knees' directive really is helpful in the balancing poses. Yeah, I still have an Ashtangi-eyerolling-moment whenever a teacher says: "LockTheKneeLockTheKneeLockTheKneeLockThe KNEE!!!" But I have a feeling my Uttita Hasta Padangustasana is going to be loads better when I complete this 30-day experiment.

All of the backbends are getting easier, but Ustrasana was particularly fantastic today. And this had me *really* curious about where my Urdhva Dhanurasana is these days. I was out with a friend in the evening, but when I got home I unrolled my Manduka, did a few experimental backbends and shot a State-of-the-Backbend photo to gauge my progress.

Holy smokes! My hands are mere inches from my heels! My hips and shoulders have opened a lot. My back is actually bending. This is incredible!

Not only that, but it appears that Bikram yoga has turned my hair a lighter shade. I seem to have picked up a slight British accent *and* I'm suddenly MUCH better looking (and my fashion sense has improved exponentially)!

This is powerful stuff! ;-D

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Mad Skillz!

Dare I say it? I'm actually getting used to these hot classes. The heat doesn't bother me very much anymore and I'm even making discernable progress in some of the postures!

This morning in the toe balance, I brought my hands together and didn't fall on my tush! I guess this is the part where my Ashtangi audience grunts a collective "Huh?!"

This is Toe Balance:

Since I started, so much of my energy in these classes has been devoted to not passing out. It's a nice surprise to discover that I'm actually developing some Mad Skillz! :-D

I still have good backbending days and bad backbending days (today was a good one) but lately Ustrasana has been my absolute favourite pose - it's the one I look forward to for the entire class. I can't really tell, but I think my back is opening up! I would need to do a State of the Backbend photo to be sure.

Another huge development for me: Once I'm comfortably settled into Ustrasana, I'm able to breath deeply, pulling in huge lungfuls of air. It's the most blissful feeling! I almost can't describe it; I genuinely enjoy hanging out in this backbend. I could stay longer than the time we're allotted.

Walnut was teaching today. She has a motherly air and is very encouraging. As we finished Standing Bow, she asked me my name. I got all flustered because I was so busy trying to be invisible. My name came out of my mouth like a child's hesitant peep. She complimented me on my standing bow, even though I had fallen out of it about a kazillion times and my form was sloppy. Maybe she was appreciating the fact that I kept trying?

I received some feedback today on the Kapalabhati pranayama at the end of the class. Walnut pointed out that the exhalation is through the mouth, not the nose. I truly didn't know and no one else had pointed it out to me. Doing it this way felt awkward, as I've always exhaled through the nose for Pranayama.

And's Princess Fur Friday: cuddles on the bed. She enjoys the blankets and the body heat in the cold season. I enjoy the comfort of her presence during my grumpy season.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

They're all nuts!

I'm having an exceptionally weird week.

My LH came on the New Moon, right on schedule for a change, but for some reason (denial?), I hadn't been expecting it. It was such a shame because I was feeling great, eating healthy foods, doing hot yoga practice every day. Then, all of a sudden - BOOM! - I turned into this Giant Basket Case, complete with emotional roller coaster rides, chocolate binges, gut splitting cramps, paranoia and tears-at-awkward-moments.

The new session has started for my pre-registered classes and I was all excited about it. I put together a great schedule, with fresh new sequences and playlists for my Hatha classes, a new approach for my Astanga classes. But my numbers are inexplicably low (which feeds neatly into LH-induced paranoia: why am I suddenly a BAD yoga teacher?).

I feel like a little kid, cringing in a corner because no one came to my birthday party. Then I messed up the Sanskrit counts in my Astanga class and stumbled over my words in the Hatha class and felt like a big loser. So I went home and ate a pile of chocolate.

And it's only Wednesday. *gulp*

But I've been practising!

Ironically, it's the one part of my life that's entirely angst-free, which is a nice change. Every day, I go to Hot Central, lay out my mat and move through the 26x2 postures. I feel invisible because nobody knows me and there's refreshingly little 'teacher drama' because I have yet to practice with the *same* teacher twice. I've been amusing myself by giving the teachers nicknames based on different kinds of nuts (I'm running out of nuts!).

On Monday, Almond was leading the class. This is the first time a teacher has paid the slightest attention to me. I was surprised he knew my name! He was very positive, dropping little alignment tips and encouraging me to go a bit deeper (I tend to hang out in my comfort zone a bit too much).

On Tuesday (the new moon), my LH arrived and I was *miserable*. But my shala buddy, Cabbage, was planning to join me and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to practice with her. So I toughed it out and honestly? It was pretty awful. On the bright side, every subsequent class has seemed easy peasy by comparison. Pecan was teaching that day and she gave me some great feedback in Ustrasana.

I think Cabbage enjoyed the class! I warned her hydrate ahead of time and to bring water. She arrived with an entire suitcase! Full of mushrooms! No, no, no, not THOSE kind of mushrooms! After class, Cabbage headed off to cook up some fabulous mushroom dumplings. Me? I slept! All afternoon! (I think Cabbage wins this round!). Stay tuned...she's coming back on Sunday!

On Wednesday, Peanut was teaching. He's lively and funny - I enjoyed his class. At least a third of the class was Bikram teachers, so the ' in jokes' were practically bouncing off the mirrors. My backbending, which was so awful yesterday, bounced back and I had a great practice.

(When all else fails, retreat to the window seat!)

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Buried in paper

I'm kind of astounded by how easily I've adapted to a later schedule. This morning, I slept until the alarm and got up groggily at 7 a.m.! I now walk the dog at the same time I always did, but now I'm walking her *before* I do my practice instead of *after*. Everything is topsy-turvy!

I've discovered that if I'm not exhausted from rising early, I can be marvelously productive at night! The hours between 7 and 10 have been busy and energetic. The past two nights, I've been up past 11, working on 'Project Paperless'. I started this in the Fall and I thought I would be finished by the New Year.

Ha, ha, ha!

Clearly, I underestimated how much PAPER I've collected over the past 40 years! Although I've made substantial progress with it (I just
gave away my two-drawer filing cabinet!), there's still loads of stuff to sort through and scan, including 20 years of paper Journals, boxes of photos and possibly my tax records (still checking to see if scans are an acceptable record for those).

The work is strangely satisfying. When I dump my recycling in the big blue bin off the loading dock after a weekend of sorting and scanning, I heave a huge sigh of relief and I feel lighter.

I went to the morning class at Hot Central this morning. It wasn't a huge class, which surprised me (I thought Sundays would be busier). I'm hoping that these morning classes continue to be a bit smaller. The room is always less oppressive with fewer bodies.

The temperature was absolutely perfect! I was hot. I was sweating buckets. But I didn't want to DIE.

The instructor was really good. She's a relative newbie to teaching, but she delivered the instruction clearly and with added alignment information, which I appreciated. Sometimes these Bikram instructors spit out the dialogue (they teach from a memorised 'script') like an auctioneer. It was nice to be able to understand exactly what was being said.

I didn't skip any poses today and my backbends were much, much better. I guess I'm going to have good-backbend-days and bad-backbend-days, just like in my Astanga practice!

Yoga is yoga is yoga. Different form, same hangups! Who knew?

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hey, Sugar!

In the end, I had a quiet, inward-focused New Years. There were a few different options for places to go and people to spend the evening with, but I opted for the space to think about the past year and the year coming. It was a good night!

The other reason I chose to stay home is alcohol. I don't have anything against it and I used to enjoy wine, even at home. But in the past year or so, I've started to notice the effects of alcohol in a rather intense way. Perhaps it comes with age (I turned 40 this year) or daily yoga practice (when you're on the mat every day, you notice stuff about your body).

When I drink, I feel ill and I observe a stagnant feeling in my body for days afterward. To be perfectly honest, if I really enjoyed alcohol, that wouldn't stop me (I feel the effects of sugar too, but that never seems to be a deterrent). It seems that I've developed a strong aversion to alcohol. The smell, the taste, even the sight of it makes me a little nauseous.

So being around a bunch of people drinking a LOT has very little appeal. I don't mind small parties or dinners but pubs, for example, have lost their magic.

This isn't my first aversion. I can't drink coffee and no longer crave it. I was addicted to chai for a very long time, but the black tea caused an inflammatory reaction in my body. I started to gradually taper off my chai consumption and now I don't drink it, don't crave it.

My hope for 2011 is that my daily yoga practice will work its magic on my sugar cravings. Keeping my fingers crossed!

I wasn't able to practice until 2:00 today because that was the early class available to me. I'm starting to see the same people from class to class and get to know individuals. It's fun!

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this soon, but it's a completely different 'yoga culture' from Astanga (Look at that! My Anthropology background is popping up again!). There are many similarities too, though, enough that I feel pretty comfortable at this studio.

The heat was a bit less intense than yesterday, but it was still very hot. I skipped a pose for the very first time. I did the first Ustrasana (In Bikram's, each pose done twice), but by the second one, I was feeling woozy so I sat it out. I generally try not to do that, but I also didn't want to pass out cold in a backbend!

Starting tomorrow, I'm on a steady morning schedule: 9:30-11:00 every day. There are no Moon Days! Cabbage might join me for a class on the Tuesday Moon Day. That will be fun! I can be crazy in the Hot Room with another Ashtangi. We'll wow them with our Man Arms! ;-)

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