Friday, June 17, 2011

Building a Better Band-aid (or pose)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit: Bikram Yoga Dallas)

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Bounce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I climbed back on and rode to work.

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

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

After that, the day just kept getting weirder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I returned home and the Princess was HUNGRY.

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

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

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

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

I feel like such an asshole.

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

I think I'll just go to bed.

(near the scene of 'the bounce')

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plank Pose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga works in mysterious ways.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Busy, Dwi Pada and P-Fur Paws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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