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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