Friday, April 29, 2011

Droppity Drop

Aaaaand dropbacks are back! This morning, I was waiting for assisted dropbacks but the room was pretty busy, so I amused myself by doing hangbacks as I waited. I was hanging back, thinking: "Gee, the floor doesn't seem SO far away this morning." So I dropped. And again, and again.


The landings were light enough that my wrists didn't hurt and best of all, my right shoulder felt fine! It's been better and better this week. I'm doing vinyasas between poses again and adding various transitions to my practice.

During assisted dropbacks, DT let me drop all the way down to the floor, full weight in my hands and stay there for a breath before coming back up. It's harder to stand when I stay put for any amount of time, but really nice to feel the deep backbend.

Also of note, my left hamstring is fully recovered from the injury last July. I'm no longer limited in any forward bends, Krounchasana included. It's still my less flexible side, but that was always the case.

I suspect the dropbacks came back because I'm now doing the 'traditional' entrance into Kapotasana, dropping my hands to the floor (when I first added the pose, I was pressing up from the floor, from Supta Virasana).

I haven't talked a lot about Kapotasana. I've been doing it for two weeks. There's really not much to say about Kapo. It kind of falls into the same category as root canals and getting your fingernails ripped off with plyers. It's really, really hard and I'm really, really bad at it. I'm getting better, for sure, but it's abysmal, really.

The other 'big event' this week was the Dwi Pada entrance into Supta Kurmasana. I've been getting help with this every day. But again, the room was busy on Thursday, so I tried to come into it myself. I didn't quite get it, but close! I gave it a few tries, then came into Supta K my usual way and damn, it's deeper than I remember! This morning, I used the wall to steady myself and I got it! I lowered into Supta K and even lifted myself up for the exit!

Considering that I pretty much had to force myself to go to practice on Monday (I was feeling miserable that morning), this yoga week has been pretty epic!

Since I'm blogging more regularly, I thought I would reimplement 'Princess Fur Friday' and feature a weekly dog photo. Here the Princess, snuggled with her favourite toy, which she picked out herself at the petstore when she was a few months old.

She slept through the royal wedding. And I think I was probably in the middle of the Surya Namaskaras as Kate walked down the aisle. *bigyawn*

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Return of the Dropbacks

Holy smokes! I did assisted dropbacks and stood up today! This is a *really* big deal for me! And it wasn't planned at all. DT spotted me doing hangbacks (which I started doing yesterday on my own, thinking it was a logical step towards regaining my dropbacks) and asked me if I wanted some help.

It's probably a *good* thing that I didn't see it coming. Longtime readers will recall that I've had a troubled history with this stuff, *especially* with standing up.

~begin historical recap~
At Shala Central (my old shala), dropping back wasn't taught until a student stood up (or at least, that's the way it went for me). I experienced a lot of fear and drama around learning to stand up from a backbend. Eventually, the teachers gave up trying to teach me and I gave up trying to learn. I felt like the shala 'problem child'. The whole experience left me bit traumatized and overly cautious.

I believed it simply wasn't do-able, even with help. During a workshop at Shala North, DR took me aside and encouraged me to try. With his assistance, I stood up easily from Urdhva Dhanurasana. Couldn't believe it! But I couldn't manage it on my own.

I was very keen to drop back though. Last summer, I taught myself how to drop back by working against a steep hill in my favourite park. I sealed the deal by dropping back to the 'scary floor' in one of DR's backbending workshops a few weeks later. For awhile, dropbacks were a regular part of my practice (and I was standing up from the futon for spell too).

After I was given Intermediate Series in August, I found out that D&J don't teach dropbacks in their shala until a student masters Kapotasana, so I shelved the whole project and decided to focus on deepening my backbends for awhile. Then I injured my shoulder and it became a moot point.
~ends historical recap~

I explained to DT that it had been about 6 months since I dropped back on my own and I'm 'not very good at standing up.' This was the Understatement of the Year. As far as I'm concerned, I'm the poster child for 'not standing up'!

DT proposed using a strap, which is new to me, but I decided to trust her and give it a go. I mean, what's the worst thing that could happen? Fall on my head? Done that! Make an ass of myself? Old news! Crumple into a miserable heap! I'm a pro! I figured that anything that didn't involve me crying in Savasana would be a 'win'.

DT helped me drop back very lightly and helped me stand up three times. No drama, no fear, no problem! (I know, I know! All that build-up and it turned out to be so...undramatic).

So I've been floating around in a happy backbending bubble all morning. All the other 'home practice people' will nod sagely when I say this, but here it is: practice is SO much easier with help! Daily help, not occasional workshop help. Getting consistent daily feedback and assistance is amazing. It *is* possible to learn these poses on your own (that's how I learned the Primary Series), but it's much harder and slower and more painful.

I'm so very grateful for the help!

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holidays and Epic Naps

I've been in 'holiday mode' for the past several days. Still practising and even teaching a bit, but everything downshifted for the combined Jewish Holidays and Easter.

Easter Friday/Monday is a big deal in this town. Most business are shut down, though the restaurants and movie theatres do a brisk trade. With Passover, there was a nice convergence of holidays, which meant 6 days off my regular schedule.

I spent much of it baking and taking marathon naps, sitting in the window seat reading (I read four books) and taking Princess Fur on epic walks around the neighbourhood (the weather was beautiful on the weekend). I also ate more chocolate than was probably good for me, had a couple good lie-ins, and even watched television!

And I practised. On Friday, I was still on LH, so I did full Primary without the closing inversions. I felt sluggish, but happy to be there. I just took everything at a slower pace. My practice took a full two hours, despite skipping Intermediate.

DT decided this would be the perfect day to crack down on my sloppy Chaturanga (and she's got a point - my Chaturanga needs work). She walked over just as I was doing a lotus jumpback and proceeded to 'bootcamp' me.

First, she showed me what I was doing incorrectly. I went through the paces in a regular Chaturanga, trying to clean things up. Then I applied this new-found information to my lotus jumpback.

Hilarity ensued: I couldn't even lift up! I managed to shove my legs behind me with a mighty grunt, then I flopped gracelessly on my stomach. DT and I had a good chuckle and now I'm back to doing lotus jumpbacks pretty much the same way I was before (baby steps!). I think my Chaturanga must be evolving though, because my triceps hurt in a new way.

On Saturday, I went to DT's vinyasa class again. This class is turning out to be very good idea. I look forward to it because it's challenging. I'm really the slow kid in this class!

When DT teaches something new-to-me (and she seems to each week), I always give it a go. Then, I rest on my belly (or my head, or my arm - whichever part I've just crash-landed on) and watch almost everyone else hold the pose gracefully for a full five counts. There's a whole world of arm balances that I'm not yet able to do and for some reason, this is very reassuring to me.

During my holiday, I managed to do just one productive thing: clip Princess Fur. She looks great, but it took hours of cuddles afterward and a few strategic treats to get her out of her grump! Here she is, mid-clip:

The Princess is MOST displeased!
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Energy Crash

In the middle of practice yesterday I had what can only be described as an 'energy crash'. Once minute, I was fine - cruising through the first half of the Primary Series and the next, I felt like I wanted to curl up and go to sleep.

I rallied for the Marichyasanas, skipped Navasana entirely and went right into Bhujapidasana. I took a short break to stretch my legs and started my mid-practice 'LBH festival' (for the non-ashtangis in my reading audience, LBH=Leg Behind Head). I can't believe I got through it, but I was determined!

Then I totally checked out and took child's pose for about three minutes. DT came over and gave me a sympathetic squish. I decided, right then, that I would skip my Intermediate poses and opt for something more restful. So I finished up Primary and closing, then put my legs up a wall in Viparita Karani. I practically fell asleep taking rest!

It was my stupid LH! Argh!!! It *totally* snuck up on me. With daily yoga practice, subtle changes in energy levels can seem huge. Usually, I can pinpoint the *exact* instant those nasty LH hormones started coursing through my body. But this time, it was like someone suddenly opened the floodgates and BHAM!

The last time I was practising regularly at a shala, I dreaded my LH because it meant that I was stuck at home for practice. I always felt out of it and out of my routine, and a little bit like an outcast. One of the AWESOME benefits of this room is that I don't necessarily have to do a strict, by-the-book Astanga practice all the time. I can do a modified practice!

That's what I did today. I dropped DT a note to let her know what was up and arrived at my regular time. I went through the suryas, then did the fundamental standing poses, skipping the twists (but repeating Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana two times). I did Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana then moved into some seated poses including the non-Astanga Eka Pada Raj Kapotanasana. I did a few restorative/Yin poses, put my legs up a wall for a bit, and took rest. It took about 90 minutes.

I moved through this practice at a more leisurely pace, especially the standing poses. I was approaching the poses Iyengar-style and taking longer holds. On a typical day, I've buzzed through my standing poses by the time DT comes in to start teaching. Today, she had a chance to give me lots of alignment feedback and it was great! These poses often don't get a lot of 'love' from me. Today I was truly enjoying them! Before taking up Astanga, I practised this way (Iyengar-style) for almost 12 years. It was like coming home to a comfortable place in my practice.

It gave me some food for thought. I enjoyed this so much and I felt SO good afterwards. I'm now wondering if I should designate one day a week to be a 'slow practice day' so I can focus more deeply on my standing poses and breath and maybe add a few restorative poses at the end. Friday might be a good day for that, if I stuck to Primary only.

I left the shala completely blissed out and happy, even though I was feeling rotten physically.

I have some time off this weekend for the Easter/Passover break. My holiday actually started yesterday afternoon and my regular schedule doesn't kick in again until Tuesday evening. So far, I've been sleeping a LOT and catching up on reading. I have a pile of books I'd like to get to, more 'Little House and the Prairie' to watch, plus Princess Fur needs a hair cut. I'm teaching two classes, planning to go to a couple too! It will be a fun weekend.

Enjoy yours!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flying Pigs, Flying Partridges

I'm starting to feel very settled into the new shala. I feel like my new teacher has become familiar with my practice and is prioritizing adjustments to help me learn. I feel comfortable with the people practising around me. I've developed a new routine and getting up early doesn't feel like torture anymore.

I'm finding SO much joy in having shalamates again! Because talking is allowed in this shala, there's more noise, but also more laughter. There's a genuine sense of connection and fun in the room. This was rare in the last shala I regularly practised at, but it's become common in this one and I like it!

Because the shala is new, we've all had a role in creating its 'culture'. Of course the teacher sets the tone and DT has set a nice one. More than one shalamate has described the atmosphere of this room as very nuturing, almost 'motherly' (in the best sense of the word). I look forward to going there. The presence of my shalamates and their bright energy makes the difficult parts of my practice feel more do-able.

I think DT has done a good job of supporting the wide variety of practitioners who have walked in her door. Diverse practices are welcome, but she's very respectful of those of us who are more traditional. She makes suggestions, but she never pushes. More than once, I've sensed a 'thought bubble' over her head that read: "Gee, this pose could really use a prop!" But I rarely use props, and she always asks before she uses them with me.

During my first days, I had a little bit of fun adding and changing poses in my practice just because I *could*. There was more than a little bit of rebellion at work there, I suspect. ;-) Once the novelty wore off, I started adding poses more strategically. Although I came in the door determined to retain my traditional practice, I've definitely become more open as time has passed.

During the first week, I added Supta Virasana as a preparation for Bhekasana. I lost that pose during my shoulder injury and needed to lengthen my quads. It worked - I'm able to do the pose now and DT has started giving me the adjustment to go deeper.

My adventures with the Dwi Pada entrance into Supta K have been fun, but sometimes difficult. Early last week, it occurred to me that it might be easier to do Dwi Pada Sirsasana if I did a little bit of Eka Pada Sirsasana *first*.

DT spotted the change, and the next day, she adjusted me deeper on each side and helped me hold for five breaths. Then she encouraged me to do the forward fold and after I came up from that, she helped me do this thing where I lift my extended leg and try to push up onto my hands. I wasn't sure what was up with that, but it turns out that it's Chakorasana from the third series.

Photo credit:

Cool! Oddly enough, now that I kind of know what it looks like, I'll probably have an easier time doing it. I looked up the English translation. According to Matthew Sweeney, it's the 'Patridge Posture'. Not to be confused with the 'Patridge Family' (though that DIDN'T stop me from scouring the internet for photos of the Partidge Family doing yoga. No dice.)

So LBH poses are now a daily part of my practice and I love them and hate them simultaneously. I kind of dread Supta K now, but once I'm there, it's exciting and challenging, developing new skills for my body to do this new thing.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Buying Bridges

The Yoga Conference was this past weekend. I'd love to have a little chat with the genuis who thought that a FULL MOON weekend would be a great time to bring together 800+ yoga practitioners, pack them into small, irregularly-shaped rooms for 6-8 hours a day, while doing intensive yoga practices that many of them are unaccustomed to.

People were BATSHIT CRAZY! The teachers I studied with were warm and enthusiastic and I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I attended. But by the end of the weekend, I was ready to *strangle* a few of my co-participants. After the last workshop on Sunday night, I couldn't get out of that convention centre fast enough!

The weather didn't help. On Saturday morning, the cold driving rain was such a misery that I ditched the early afternoon sessions in favour of a hot bath at home. On Sunday, I biked to the convention centre in SNOW flurries because the subway wasn't open.

In the past, I've sourced a free ticket to the Yoga Show and attended free classes in the 'yoga garden'. These classes are brief - 30 minutes - but many Yoga Conference workshop presenters are represented. This was a good strategy for 'shopping' around for teachers I liked. This year, I ponied up the money to attend a few workshops and a 2-hour class at the conference.

The class was with Vinyasa Yoga's Goddess of Awesome Hair, Seane Corn. 'Shakti Flow' was billed as an Intermediate/Advanced class and I give huge props to Seane for honouring that. It was a fast-paced, challenging class and I really enjoyed it. I found Seane's teaching clear and intuitive. Sometimes, 'conference teachers' can come across as self-absorbed assholes. Not Seane. She had great energy: open-hearted, humble and funny. I got the impression she would be a pleasure to chat with over coffee. Bonus: She taught the vinyasa exit out of Vasisthasana so effectively that I was able to do it practically on my first try. Her demo of it was beautiful!

The workshops I attended were all with Natasha Rizopolous. When I sampled her sessions at the 'yoga garden' over past years, I struck by how well-organised and knowledgeable she was. I *always* came away learning something new about teaching. She was able to present a coherent and useful 'mini-class' in 30 minutes which is really no small feat in that chaotic venue. I was also touched by her generosity - she spent significant time chatting with me last year about some issues that had come up in my teaching and her advice was very helpful.

I signed up for three of her workshops, specifically geared toward teachers. Though the workshops were very basic in the level of the asana covered, the information was invaluable for my teaching (particularly the workshop on sequencing). Because our teaching styles are similar, Natasha's cueing and sequencing ideas deeply resonated with me. She uses language masterfully! I scribbled many of her cues verbatim into my notebook because I absolutely love the way she puts words together. Her cues are clear, simple and effective.

She's also an incredibly lovely person, as energetic and genuine in her last workshop as she was in her first. Plus, she quoted the yoga sutras (in Sanskrit), which is like the awesome icing on the awesome cake! ;-)

I also did quite a bit of shopping at the show this year, mostly for clothing, which I desperately needed. My favourite find was silk wrap-around skirts made in India from old saris. Perfect to wear over yoga crops, which I pretty much live in on a day-to-day basis, but cute enough to wear out on the town too. I've long been a fan of Halfmoon's Bambusa Stoles. I wear the black one I purchased last year almost daily. I bought two more in pretty colours this year.

After three years of casting a covetous eye as I passed the Health Bridges booth, I finally broke down and bought myself a set. It was a HUGE purchase for me. I normally don't spring for stuff like this. These 'backbending bridges' target different areas of the back. They're beautifully constructed out of Canadian hardwood and came highly recommended. So far, I'm *loving* them.

The second morning I tried them (I'm using Bridge #1 for 10 minutes and Bridge #2 for 5 minutes), I sat for meditation afterward and my entire spine was *tingling*. After two days of use, my back is achy in a wonderfully good way. Bridge #1 already feels like a good session of restorative yoga (last night, I fell asleep on it) but Bridge #2 makes me twitchy after five minutes. I can *really* feel it in my upper back.

I'll be sure to report back if these have any measurable effect on my backbending.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Groundhog Day

As the days pass, my shalamates and I are falling into comfortable patterns of practice. I know that I'm on schedule if I'm starting my second series as another shalamate is moving on with her finishing. From my Urdhva Dhanurasana, a shalamate behind me is taking Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Driste drift, but it keeps me on course).

And if I finish taking rest by 8:20 and leave the shala by 8:30, the following events are almost guaranteed to unfold, with graceful regularity:

-As I turn north on a residential street near the shala, an old Italian lady is walking her white maltese on leash, heading south. Both look slightly rumpled, but eager and happy.

-As I ride up the side street next to the grocery store, I will see one of my youth yoga students waiting on the sidewalk. Her mother coaxes her little brother out of his booster seat. The child cranes her neck around, looking for my orange mat bag and grins when she spots me.

-As I turn east into my own neighbourhood, my two gaybours with their young twin sons are walking west to school. Each man holds a child's hand and the little boys skip, swing and hop their way down the sidewalk, crackling with energy.

-When I approach my front door, the fourth floor neighbour is walking out with his bicycle. I hold the door for him, then he holds the door for me. We nod politely to one another.

-And finally, Princess Fur and I go to the park for our morning walk. We always see the white-haired lady wearing a denim shirt, walking her golden retriever.

For the past three days, these events have occurred, one after the other, so predictably that I'm a little freaked out by it. But I'm also comforted.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Figureheads and Frogs

Nice practice this morning. I felt a *little* less like I was frozen in carbonite. ;-)

One of the many joys of the past week-and-a-bit have been the adjustments in Intermediate Series. These poses were given to me after I left Shala Central and returned to my home practice. I wasn't in Montreal long enough to really 'settle into' the new stuff, so I didn't get any intense adjustments there.

As my shoulder has continued to heal, I've reintroduced elements of my practice. It's been a couple of months since I did full Bhekasana. I've been doing the pose one side at a time. Last week, I started flirting with the full pose and yesterday, decided to go full throttle.

And I got the adjustment, OMG the adjustment! Intermediate Series friends gave me the heads up this one. I don't what it LOOKS like, but I can now tell you that it FEELS just like this:

Cue: Angels singing. "LAAAAAAAA"


Other things that made me smile today:

-Taking not one, but TWO naps today. My noon class cancelled, so I even had time for a long walk. And tonight, I'm going to bed on time. I'll get 8 hours sleep. The awesomeness!!!

-The guy standing near me on the streetcar tonight. He was having an animated conversation with Jesus. Oblivious to the stares from the uncomfortable cloud of commuters around him, he closed his eyes and continued to fervently make his case. Loudly. He was still at it when I exited at the subway station. Hey, if you're gonna fly your freak flag, then wave it PROUD!

-The way Princess Fur's ears flop up and down when she runs. Reminds me of when she was a puppy and my heart melts a little bit every time.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

I need a shoe horn

I always emerge from my Sunday 'day off' feeling stiff and gummy. Today, I felt like this:

I'm *not* going to blame the Indian buffet I went to on Sunday. Nope! No siree...

Practice was two-and-a-half hours this morning. I tried to move through the first part of my practice more efficiently, aware of the inevitable slow-down starting in the Marichyasanas.

The Maris are now *work*. Hard work. There is SO much to think about in these poses. I can bind to wrist throughout, even on my 'bad side' of Marichyasana D (okay, with help - the shoulder is still a bit cranky). But...I'm now trying to wrap my brain around muscle engagement, energy movement and *lift*.

Today, as I moved into Mari C, I made a mental note to reread Blakey's book, 'The Body Has a Mind of Its Own.' This book explores the brain-body connection and explores the neurological dimensions of muscle memory.

I tried the Dwi Pada entrance to Supta K on my own today. 'Tried' is the operative word here. The reality? *legflail*

I think it was good for me to flop around a bit and see how far I could get on my own before DT swooped in for the rescue. The first challenge is getting my left leg to STAY while I coax my right leg behind my shoulder. The second obstacle is my HUGE right calf muscle, which always gets in the way. DT shoved it aside for me today and the image of a shoe horn suddenly popped into my head.

I was stiff all over today and my practice reflected this. Hopefully, things will loosen up as the week goes on.

In my second week back at the shala, I'm continuing to adjust to the 5 a.m. wakeup call, the longer practices and some *dramatic* post-practice weariness. A new weekly routine is starting to form, with afternoon naps on the days I teach late into the evening and meals coordinated around my practice.

By the end of last week, I was exhausted. On Friday, I came home from teaching my last class of the day and passed out COLD for two-and-a-half hours. Then I got up and went to the 8pm Bikram Karma class (the one I like to call the 'Gong Show'). Macadamia was teaching and it was good fun. After a week of intense practices, Bikram's felt like a good massage!

On Saturday, I returned to my home practice in the morning, doing a light Primary Series. It felt so strange to be back in my own space! DT offers a level 2 vinaysa class in the afternoon and it's included in my monthly pass. It was interesting to see DT teach in a different context. She teaches a great led class, I really enjoyed it.

Princess Fur is not adjusting to this new routine willingly. In fact, she is *incredibly* offended that I've taken my yoga practice off-site, where she's unable to properly supervise! When I walked in the door this morning, she greeted me stiffly, then marched to her little basket, turned around three times and decisively curled up with her *back* to me.

I'm a bad lady! ;-)

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Best yoga week EVER!

This was not the easiest winter for my practice, as some of you may have gathered from my infrequent and sulky posts. I was not enjoying Astanga.

All winter, I've been mentally toying with the idea of quitting. Not quitting yoga entirely, but quitting Astanga. But while I was thinking about it, I kept practising. It often felt like I was just going through the motions, but until I came up with a better option, I just continued doing my practice.

To say that the new shala opened in the nick of time isn't an exageration. I was a heartbeat away from signing up for another 30 days at that Bikram studio (they're having a '30-day challenge' this month and that tickled my competition bone). A senior Anusara teacher I used to study with opened his own studio, so I was investigating a monthly option there too. I was just fed up with my home practice, weary of struggling along on my own, feeling uninspired and disheartened.

The first few days at Shala Local, I felt cautious. Nearly everyone else in that room had some connection with Shala South and I've had some negative experiences there (to be clear, my feelings of caution had nothing to do with the other *people* in the room; I just needed to shrug off the patina of my own past experiences). By day two, I was warming up to my shalamates and by day three, I started to feel genuinely comfortable. My new shalamates are awesome people, every last one - friendly and welcoming. There's a supportive, nurturing energy in that room.

During my first days, DT offered a few adjustments, but mostly she stepped back and observed my practice. This was fine because I was orienting myself and getting my head wrapped around the idea that I'm actually allowed to TALK and ask questions. DT must have wondered if I was mute the first day or two, because I barely spoke in the Mysore room, even if spoken to (this is an old habit from Shala Central, where we were discouraged from speaking).

By day three, I was interacting more fully in adjustments and even asking questions if something confused me. One of the awesome things about DT is that she has a strong background in anatomy because she's an RMT. She speaks my favourite language: 'Anatomy Geek'!

The first time she told me to engage my gluteus medius, my jaw dropped a little bit. I've never had a Mysore teacher (apart from D & J) be SO specific (And it totally worked, too!). The next time she adjusted me in Marichyasana C, instructing me to move from the side body, I asked her which muscle group was involved. The paraspinals! Hurrah! Everything started making sense. Now if something is unclear, I just ask. Easy!

By day four, I wasn't going limp like road kill whenever she approached me for an adjustment. Once I'd figured out that she wasn't just going to 'balloon-animal' me into a posture, I became more involved in the process. It feels like a team effort with DT, and since I understand what's going on, I'm more likely to try to replicate it on my own the next time I do the pose.

After just a few days of observing me, she totally zeroed in on the weak areas of my practice and was offering specific instruction and adjustments. *cough*backbending*cough* She gave me a mini-tutorial on Upward Dog that has totally changed the way I approach the posture.

I'm *finally* connecting with the actions needed to open up my upper back. I notice it everywhere now, from hangbacks to Matsyasana. I'm learning so much! It sometimes feels like I'm getting my own personal workshop! My Chaturanga needs some serious help too and I have a feeling DT will be the one to finally fix it.

She also recognises my strengths and has been helping me move deeper in a few specific postures. Supta K is now the *highlight* of my practice. After a couple days of epic adjustments that felt AWESOME, she asked me if I had ever tried coming into the pose from Dwi Pada (Inspired by my friend Boodiba, I played around with that last year, but gave up because I wasn't getting help).

I pulled my left leg behind my head and she helped me deepen that, then supported me while I got the other leg behind. When I cross my ankles behind my head it was the *weirdest* feeling!!! Then I lowered down and was able to get a good bind right away.

I'm still shaking my head over this. It was amazing! This is what I've been missing - the feeling that Astanga is just the *coolest thing ever* because the impossible becomes possible. In that moment, as I lifted myself out of Supta K for the exit, every cell of my body was grinning.

And this pretty much sums up my week!

Last week, I was flying through my practice, trying to break new speed records ("Hey! I clocked in under 60 minutes in the Primary Series! WHOOSH!"). By the end of THIS week, I had slowed WAY down. My practices now take up to 2-and-a-half hours because I'm spending more time in Up Dog in vinyasas, repeating some of the second series backbends and taking more time for Urdhva Dhanurasana and hangbacks. I've added a preparation pose for Kapotasana. I can feel my body responding to the work I'm doing.

But to be honest, it's also taking longer because I'm loving my practice again and I don't want to leave the room. I'd much rather practise than surf the web, or sit in the window seat reading a magazine, or watch DVDs. This is a huge shift!

I realise that this flush of enthusiasm will likely fade with routine and repetition, but for now, I'll take it. Because right now, I'm about as far away from quitting my Astanga practice as I could possibly be. I'm back in the cult! ;-)

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Ouch! New teacher, new places to feel sore. I'm really feeling it in my quads and also in my core/obliques in a big way. DT focuses a lot on the obliques in twists. I've been getting a lot of feedback and adjustments in the Marichyasanas.

I was able to bind to wrist on both sides of Mari D again today. It's so much easier with help! There's a lot going on in my shoulders. The cues are interesting for this one. DT asked me to drop the shoulders while simultaneously pulling the elbows down and toward the centre line. The twisting action originates from the sidebody (specifically, the side furthest from the bent leg).

It's a different way of working, but it works, it gets me there. I'm growing accustomed to staying in these poses for a LONG time while she works with me.

DT's approach to adjustment is interesting. I feel like I'm a piece of clay being shaped and smoothed, pushing and releasing specific points (rather than a balloon animal being twisted and moved around). Usually in an adjustment, I hold still, breathe and try not to get in the way of the teacher, it's a more passive experience. But DT's adjustments invite - even demand - participation.

I'm not saying it's better or worse, it's just different. She seems to focus on muscular actions, rather than body positioning.

There's a magic in being in a Mysore room, an alchemy of group practice. I'm doing all sorts of things I had sort of backed off from in my home practice: chest and chin on the floor in Upavista Konasana, lifting heels in Kurmasana.

The Supta K adjustments have been spectactular. I never received very much help in this pose during my stint at Shala Central, but I always loved the 'calf roping' routine at Shala North.

DT's adjustment is lighter, but just as effective. I even bound to wrist for a brief instant today! I don't think I've ever come this deep in Supta K before! DT brought both legs behind my head and I was able to lift up for the exit. I can see how this pose is an important preparation for 2nd, developing skills towards the LBH poses. I'm glad I'm getting help with it.

I realised today that I had skipped Ustrasana yesterday. As I practised it today, DT encouraged me to bring my hips further forward in the pose. She said I should be able to lift my arms out to the side and hang there.

I decided to use my 'criminal powers' constructively and I did some extra hip and shoulder openers before working on my backbends. The preps were helpful. I feel like I'm using my legs more in UD. I walked in my hands twice in each backbend, held each for 6 deep breaths, coming down to rest in between.

I'm not feeling ready for dropbacks yet. I'll know when I am. It's not fear this time - it's the sense that my back isn't open enough. I think I need to do some extracurriculars, like laying over blocks or hanging off of the bed, to get my back opened up. I'm definitely feeling energy moving in my spine these days.

My practice took 105 minutes. Not bad! I want to start arriving closer to 6, when the doors open. That's my plan for tomorrow.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

First Day

Sheesh. I make a few slight modifications to my beloved routine and POOF! My brain turns to soup! I'm feeling completely disoriented. I even forgot to bring my yoga pants to work. I had to teach my noon class in jeans!

It was SO strange getting up early this morning and going to the shala. It's not a new experience - I did this last year for over five months - but now I have to adjust to it all over again.

To be honest, part of me misses my old routine. I liked the sleeping-in part a LOT and there's so much stuff that just goes better *before* yoga, seated meditation in particular. I need to figure out a way to make meditation work after practice (or fit it in before practice). I only sat for 15 minutes this morning and it was awful. My brain was turning cartwheels.

I had a great practice. I moved through it efficiently. From the first surya to taking rest, it was about 95 minutes. It felt a bit disorienting after months of home practice. Even though the space is familiar (and it was wonderful, being back in this room!), we were facing an opposite direction than I'm used to. My dyslexic little brain was wimpering. I'm surprised I didn't skip any poses!

The teacher, DT, was warm and very welcoming. She spent a lot of time with me and offered feedback on my postures, good adjustments, lots of alignment tips. It was lovely getting an assist in Supta K! She deepened the bind and helped me get the exit. In Mari D, she helped me move deeper into the twist and I was able to take my wrist on the right side for the first time in months (the shoulder injury has prevented this lately).

I did three long UD and then some dropbacks against the wall. Using the wall was kind of fun and felt deliciously criminal, since it never would have been allowed with the previous teachers. My back wasn't feeling very open today but I received some help with alignment. Regaining my dropbacks and deeper backbends will be a 'process' I think.

I also learned that my lack of flexibility may be making Laghu Vajrasana more difficult. DT helped me come in and out of the pose while keeping my hips further forward but arching back more deeply. She also helped me root down through the shins so I was using my quads more. I'm mentioning this because I already feel sore!

All in all, it was a good experience.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shala Local

Mini Practice Report: I did my full practice on M/Tu/Th, went to Bikram Yoga on Wednesday and enjoyed a Primary-only Saturday. Friday was my day off, since Sunday was a Moon Day.

I'm gradually adding the jumps back into my vinyasas. After months of stepping-forward-stepping-back, I had forgotten how much *work* it is to jump around. Sheesh! It makes me SWEAT! Amusingly, it appears that I've forgotten how to jump. The ol' muscle memory isn't kicking in very well at all. I might have to watch tutorials on YouTube to regain the gist.

I did a few easy dropbacks to the futon this week. I've also been holding Urdhva Dhanurasana for a loooooong time (I'm up to eight long breaths), since I can't really deepen it any other way without brushing past the edge of sensation in my shoulder.

I've been waking up incrementally earlier all week in preparation for a return to a crack-of-dawn schedule. It worked. Today, when I was supposed to be having a lie-in, I was wide-eyed awake at 6 a.m. Drat!

Tomorrow, I'll wake at 5:45 with intention: I'm returning to a Shala for the first time in seven months. Another Astanga teacher has taken over the old Shala Central space for a four month stint (the old teachers moved to another location).

I love this room, with its east-facing windows, shiny wood floors and sweet energy. I've studied with this particular teacher once too, when she was teaching at Shala South.

She's not authorised by Command Central which allows her to be more flexible in her approach. She's more alignment oriented than most Mysore teachers I've studied with and less fussy about the nitty gritty rules of Traditional Astanga (but open to traditionalists practising in her room).

Currenlty, she's the only Mysore teacher in this city who will allow me to practice my Intermediate poses, so when I found out she was starting a morning Mysore, in a space I already love, I was pretty chuffed. I have a feeling I'll also be able to sneak in a few of the third series arm balances I've been playing with too. Maybe even get some tips!

She's promised to help me with my backbends.

The best part about this room is that it's in my neighbourhood, easy commuting distance via public transit and 10 minutes away if I ride my bike. I'll call it 'Shala Local'.

I'm going to have to stop naming the shalas of my city after the cardinal directions because there are getting to be too many of them! I think this is a *good* thing. We need more shalas, more variety. Shala Local is filling a niche: Mysore for people who aren't exactly sticking to the rules.

I like it!

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: Primary Series Blastoff

I was excited and a bit surprised when I received a review copy of the new Richard Simmons "Primary Series Blastoff!" DVD in the mail. I didn't even know that Richard Simmons offered Astanga yoga!

On the back cover, it mentions that Simmons studied yoga with Pattabhi Jois in the late 70s, even visiting Mysore several times. Simmons credits Jois with inspiring his unique approach to fitness, saying: "Aerobics is the western Vinyasa Krama!" The liner notes show a photograph of Simmons with Jois, both wearing athletic shoes and hot pink scrunchy socks.

I eagerly popped the DVD into my computer to practise with this morning, figuring Friday is the ideal day to do the Primary Series with Richard Simmons. This practice isn't long - it's a 34 minute 'short form', comprised of Richard Simmons' favourite postures from the Primary Series. The Simmons Shala is a brightly lit room with funky mirrors and a solid wood floor.

Shala students are all using the brand-new Manduka product, 'Invisible Mat Pro' and they're wearing exciting 80s fashions from the brightly-coloured Lululemon 'Retro-line'. The students in this shala come from a variety of levels of practice - everything from I'm-too-lazy-to-lift-my-arms to *fistpump!huzzah!*

I love how Richard Simmons offers alternatives to the more challenging postures in the Primary Series without using props (except for athletic shoes, of course). For example, in Virabhadrasana A, Simmons instructs students to keep their arms at waist level in order to conserve energy for the seated poses. He calls this pose variation, 'Sumo Warrior':

Check out Simmons' unique take on Parsvottanasana. Students are encouraged to wiggle their hips and sing along to the pounding 80s music in the background:

Between postures, Simmons offers his own unique take on vinyasas. The class moves back and forth on their mats, showcasing fancy footwork and doing elaborate arm movements like 'pull it in' and 'push it out' (it reminded me of Bollywood dance moves) as well as 'the harvest' (an aura-cleansing arm-sweep) and - my favourite! - 'cross your heart'.

During the 'cross your heart' vinyasa, Richard Simmons croons encouragingly, while gazing deeply into the camera, "Be good to you! I LOVE YOU!"

Damn, I've never heard my shala teacher say THAT!

In the closing credits, Simmons recognises his shala students by name with brief descriptions of how the practice of Astanga Vinyasa Yoga has changed their lives. Here's a smattering:

- 'Tammy P. in Cinncinati OH' released 30 pounds and became a raw macrobiotic organic vegan.
- 'Melody R. in Richmond, VA' developed man arms and no longer spits at her co-workers.
- 'Alan B. in Lawrence, KS' now has a six-pack and installed a Shiva Lingam in his back garden.
- 'Laura C. in Seattle WA' stopped leaving anonymous mean comments on other people's Astanga blogs and no longer surfs the web at work.

Other practitioners mentioned obsessively buying statues of Indian deities, developing an urge to sit in Padmasana at work, becoming bold enough to wear tiny-yoga-shorts to the grocery store, and taking up dog walking.

I was uplifted by these stories of tranformation. Clearly, Simmons is a powerful and inspirational teacher. I was quite taken with his teaching style. As Richard Simmons gazed into the camera, dewy-eyed and sincere, I knew he was looking at ME! Throughout the practice he told how well I was doing, Not just saying 'good', but using whole, complete sentences, like: "You're doing GREAT!"

I truly enjoyed this DVD. The upbeat 80s tunes paced my Ujjayi breathing. The unique moves helped me to connect with my Bandhas in a new way. The clothing of my onscreen 'shala mates' was so bright, I had no choice but to avert my eyes and find my Driste (or wear shades).

I would heartily recommend this DVD to yoga practitioners in need of inspiration and a bit of colour. Thanks, Richard Simmons, for making me feel good about my Primary Series practice again!

Up next: A review of Paul Anka's new kirtan album, "Hanuman Swings".

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