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! ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Megan Walker said...

Hooray! It's so nice to see this change in tone. I'm happy for you and glad you've found a teacher to work with you, not against you.

On a side note, I've noticed the teachers where I've been attending mysore classes are flabbergasted when I respond verbally to their instructions (asking questions, explaining my modifications, etc...). It never occurred to me that students are discouraged from speaking. Hmmm... that explains it. Oops.

Kaivalya said...

Yeah, I got the same reaction at the first shala I practised at. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, necessarily. It just doesn't work for me. I'm realising that I need to be able to ask questions and understand what's going on.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's fabulous news! Nothing like lovin' your practice again :)

I was wondering whether I could ask you for a small elaboration on what your teacher said about the upward dog that helped you so much (if you have the time and inclination)? I've been slowing down my vinyasas lately, picking it apart and trying to deepen it (I used to rush through...), and have been trying to figure out updog, trying to understand/feel the backbending aspect of it but I'm not sure I'm getting anywhere, so would love to hear what you learned.

Thank you for a great blog and for providing so much useful info and tips for other lonely home practitioners! :)

susananda said...

I'm so glad you're having fun again. And it's not normal that students aren't allowed to ask questions!

BTW Nobel's most recent post has a piece by Kino about the periods of boredom where we feel like quitting the practice...worth a read if you haven't already.

Keep up the good work :) :)

Kaivalya said...

DT is asking me to access more of a bend in my upper back (thoracic spine) rather than just my lower back (lumbar spine).

Here's something to try: From a standing position, bring your hands in front of you, palms face one another, fingers point up. Your thumbs now point toward you, bring them into the creases of your armpits, then point your elbows down (this is sometimes called 'Bankers Pose'). Pull your thumbs UP while simultaneously drawing your shoulders BACK. Lift your upper chest UP as if to bring the flat of the upper chest parallel to the ceiling.

However (and this is key!!!), do this by activating the muscles of the upper back. You'll know you've found the action if you feel the elbows draw back slightly and towards the centre line of your back.

As soon as you find this activation, you can begin to arch back, as if you were lifting your chest and then draping your upper back over a beach ball behind you (keep your legs firm).

Next, come to the floor on your belly and with your hands in place for Upward Dog (mid-torso), peel the chest off the floor, finding that same activation of the upper back. Draw the armpit 'corners' (where your thumb were before) back and up, shoulders move back, as you lift your chest and start to straighten your arms, then press up onto your feet.

If you feel more sensation in your *upper back* you'll know you've nailed it. I hope this helps! Feel free to ask followup questions if needed.

Kaivalya said...

A 'no questions' policy is not uncommon in some rooms. I've heard of it before. Maintaining the silence, etc. I guess it's up to the teacher to establish the atmosphere they want and the students to figure out what methods work for them. I'm one of the chatty ones who needs to ask questions!

I don't think I was bored with my practice as much as I was bumping up against the limits of what I could do on my own, feeling frustrated and resigned. I think this officially means that V 'told me so' because I'm pretty sure she's the one who said I needed a teacher in order to tackle second series properly (or was it you who said that?) ;-)

Anyway, I've always known that I valued community as an essential element of my practice, but these past few months have highlighted that need. I'll probably write more about this soon.

Hope you're well! *hugs*

Heather said...

I had a wicked mid-back injury about two years ago. I held onto the "zippy" way I practiced nonetheless. And I wasn't enjoying myself any longer. Delia totally changed that. She's amazing. And now, an hour into my practice, I'm still on standing series some days. And I love it.

Globie said...

That's wonderful to read about your practising taking off. I love Supta K too.

It's great also to find a teacher on your wavelength who can make it understandable

Yay for you

Christine said...

So happy for you Kai!! Enjoy! :)

Arturo said...

Dear Kai
that's nice that you have found revived enthusiasm. Yay. i have found out that there is a second authorized teacher in my city, but because of work situations she is not able to run a mysore program the way she is supposed to, and, crazily, they change the teacher every day of the week for the mysore class. the other teachers don't have her training from the Jois family. i think it's better to work with one teacher, but here they think it's going to engender attachment to a teacher. if that happens, the studio directors think the students will follow that teacher elsewhere if he or she leaves to another location. weird.

i understand your feelings about your home practice but i'm trying to draw inspiration from Grimmly and kickstart mine (without injuries - poor guy)


Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you for the updog explanation, that really helps! I've been wondering how to access that upper back bend in the updog and now I know what feeling I'm looking for - great! :)

Flo said...

Sounds like an amazing week and in that you have a teacher you are gaining alot from! Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Wow.Just Wow. I'm benefiting from PA's tutorial. Loved, Loved reading this post. So Generous, Thanks Kai.