Showing posts with label props. Show all posts
Showing posts with label props. Show all posts

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Astanga

Okay, confession time: I’ve not been having an easy time with my new, longer practice and I haven’t been adjusting very well to the realities of a home practice. If I were to choose three words to describe my practice at the moment, they would be: Long. Difficult. Lonely.

I kind of muddled through for the the first week-and-a-bit, limping along forlornly, trying to keep a brave face. Then circumstances rescued me by providing brilliant and entirely valid excuses not to be on the mat (Moon Day! Lady’s Holiday!).

But all valid excuses eventually come to an end.

On Saturday, I happily did a led Primary, for fun. But as I faced a return to my longdifficultlonely Primary+Intermediate practice on Sunday, I faltered. And my ever-helpful Brain lobbed onto a great alternative: Shala Central’s monthly led Primary! It was scheduled for this Sunday. I could go as a drop-in student! I absolutely *love* the led Primary class at the Shala. I could visit my friends! I could do a warm, cozy safe (easy!) Primary Series practice surrounded by shalamates and led by a Sanskrit count. I could geek out over Astanga during the after-class discussion. And eat muffins!

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to do this? Particularly when the alternative is a difficult 2-hour-plus practice, alone in a quiet apartment, punctuated by endless backbends and humiliating attempts to stand up from them.

I was all ready to go, bolstered by a million reasons this was SUCH a good idea. Then I stepped back and did a reality check. And I realised the *only* reason I wanted to go to led Primary at the Shala was to avoid my longdifficultlonely practice at home.

And that’s not a very good reason.

So, in the end, I decided to stay home, put on my Big Girl Ashtangi Pants, and do my practice.

Not that it wasn’t a struggle. I woke to the 5:30 alarm, remembered my practice, rolled over and went back to sleep. Woke again, remembered again, avoided again and again until 7, when I couldn’t put it off any longer. I took a salt bath, heated up the apartment, unrolled my mat and started my practice.

And you know what? It wasn’t THAT bad. In fact, I had a really nice practice.

Last week, I had a couple breakthroughs which seem to be sticking around so I’ll mention them:

- Very smooth and controlled lotus jumpbacks. I’m still doing that cheaty Mayurasana thing with my arms, but now I can lift up and hold the lotus there before the jumpback.

- Successful exit from Kurmasana to Bakasana and jumpback! No toe-to-floor-cheats! The key to this seems to be pushing down through my hands as I swing both feet around at the same time. It’s not a pretty Bakasana, but it’s solid enough for the jumpback. (I’m still not nailing the exit from Bhujapidasana because my legs are not far enough up my shoulders).

And I had two HUGE breakthroughs in today’s practice.

In Laghu Vajrasana, I’ve been lowering my head to a block, set on end - vertically - then coming back up. I do this over and over again until I’m tuckered - usually 10-15 repetitions. Today, lowering to the vertical block was too easy-peasy so I set the block horizontally and tried that a few times. That was pretty easy-peasy too, so I laid the block on its side and tried that.

Okay, that wasn’t *exactly* easy-peasy, but it was still do-able! I lowered and came up several times until the movement felt smooth and controlled. Skippetty’s advice (for standing from a backend, actually, but it’s well-applied to Laghu), ‘lifting from the belly button’ has been really helpful to me. I find it’s better if I just pretend that I have no solid body above my mid-torso, then work on bringing my hips and belly forward. As I come up, I allow my chest/shoulders/head to roll up floppy-ragdoll-style.

Since it was going so well, I decided to raise the bar even further. I looked down at the block, looked at the floor and thought, “Hey, why not?!” I shoved the block aside and tried lowering my head all the way to FLOOR. And I came back up!! It was challenging, but with a big inhale it was do-able. I repeated this a few times. Yay!

Here’s where I raised the bar a little bit *too* far. I wondered if I could lower my head to the floor, then *hold it* there for a couple breaths and come back up again. Nope! Ha, ha! I ended up collapsing into Supta Virasana, then laughing as I struggled to sit back up.

But still, this is a LOT of progress in this pose!

Then I worked on backbends. *sigh*

I did three warm-up Urdhva Dhanurasana from the floor, bringing my head to the floor for a one breath rest in between each. In these warmups, I focus on keeping the weight in my heels while relaxing the gluteals and breathing (!). The biggest challenge seems to be straightening the arms. As soon as I think about my legs, I forget about my arms. I also walked my hands in a bit each time to deepen the backend.

Next, I started playing around with hangbacks and dropping back to the wall. I placed two cork blocks at the wall, set vertically, and walked my hands down the wall to the blocks. I thought this little bit of height might help me stand up. Nope. No dice. I didn’t feel stable.

While reading through Grimmly’s notes about standing up/ dropping back, I recalled that he used his sofa as a prop. I decided to drop back to the futon and try standing up from there. The futon gives me about 30 centimetres of height.

I dropped back to the edge of the futon very easily, then rocked my hips forward a few times. It felt awkward. I decided to approach the action *exactly* as I do Laghu Vajrasana. So I exhaled completely, pushed my hips forward and applied Skippetty’s advice about ‘lifting from the belly button’. I kept my attention on my hips and belly, tried to relax my head and shoulders, ignore the fact that I have arms (for some reason, the arms always throw me off).

Then I rocked forward and stood up! It happened so smoothly, I thought it was a fluke! So I dropped back again. I stood up again. I did this about 8 times. I just couldn’t believe I was standing up from *anything* resembling a backbend! But I was!!! I was doing it!

Keep in mind, though, my hands were 30 centimetres from the floor. But it’s a good start!

From here, I can work on developing muscle memory for the action and gradually move to a point closer to the floor (dropping to the futon frame will be my next goal). I’ve been through this whole song-and-dance with dropbacks. It’s all a matter of taking baby steps. I can do this!!!

Funny aside: My arms *really* do take on a life of their own when I’m standing up, especially since I’m pointedly ignoring them. I’m not sure what they were doing the first time I stood because I was so excited that it actually happened. But the second time, they sort of flapped around like Mermaid Arms. The next three times, they did this whirly thing like airplane propellers (as if THAT’S going to bring me to standing *eyeroll*). After that, they were doing a combination of propeller-hands and jazz-hands.

Sheesh! I’m going to have to regain control of my crazy arms if I ever want to stand up at a shala! I’m pretty sure jazz-hands aren’t part of Astanga yoga! I’ll never hear the end of it! ;-)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Day 41

I had a sleepy, sluggish practice this morning. At one point during Prasarita Padottanasana, I caught myself thinking: “Wouldn't child's pose be nice right about now?” But I persevered.

Lately, my least favourite pose, Purvottanasana, has been feeling really good. I've also been doing a nice modification for Setu Bandhasana using a block and really enjoying that posture. These are the small moments that help me love this practice even as I'm hating it. ;-)

Using a strap for Supta Padangustasana has been making a huge difference in Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. I'm able to bring my leg up higher and I'm definitely becoming more flexible in the pose. Now I just need to work on balance, since I've taken this pose back to the wall while I worked on the flexibility part of it. This 'one step back in order to take two steps forward' approach is something I of ten do with my students. I often use props to make aspects of a pose easier in order to work on specifics.

Shoulderstand, which was feeling great last week, is not feeling so great this week. Ditto for headstand. I could barely come up with straight legs today and I felt unstable in the posture. My back was cranky too.

I didn't do my evening yoga practice last night (I told myself that I was 'too tired'). I'm wondering if that has anything to do with my sluggishness this morning?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Day 26

Last night, I did a short yoga practice before bed and woke up hours later, curled up happily on my Mysore rug, snuggling with a yoga brick. Yep, I fell asleep on my mat!

I slept in this morning because, clearly, I was wiped. So it was a mid-day practice for me today and to be honest, I didn't find it any easier or harder than a early morning practice. Perhaps I'm adjusting to this routine?

Some practice notes:

Parivritta Parsvakonasana: I continue to struggle with this pose. I can do the whole hands-in-namaste version with no problem. I'm working toward version with bottom hand flat on the floor. Trouble is, when I do the pose this way, it just feels wrong, like my body is collapsing. Today, I put my hand on a block and that felt a bit better, so I may work that way for awhile and see how I progress.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana: No more blocks, hallelujah! Not only that, but when I brought my fingertips to the floor, I was able to place my hand flat on the floor. All the issues I was having with balance just faded away and I folded forward even more deeply. It felt lovely!

Utthita Trikonasana: In Anusara, the bottom hand is placed on the floor to the outside of the front foot in this pose. In Ashtanga, proper form is to grab the front big toe. I find that the 'big toe grab' allows for more extension in the spine, while the 'hand to the floor' brings stability and a sense of lightness in the torso. So I'm torn. Today, I put my hand on the floor.

Bujangasana: I'm in a holding pattern in this pose. I can come into it, but I can't lower my forehead to the floor, so for now, I'm hanging out in the balance. In general, I’m finding that all my arm balances are becoming stronger. I was working on arm balances for my yoga-new-years-resolution last year, so it's nice to see continued progress this year on the foundation I built.

Supta Kurmasana: I never thought I would hear myself say this, but Supta K is feeling better! I came in deeper today than I ever have before.

The Marichyasana Diaries: I can easily bind wrist in A, B (Mari B is becoming my very favourite pose in the whole world!), bind to fingers in C. I bound to my fingers on the left side in D today. I seem to be switching back and forth between right and left sides in terms of binding in this pose, which is interesting. Could the day be that far when I can bind on both sides in Mari D? *crosses fingers*

Sirsasana: Today was a sad, sad day for my transverse abdominus. I could barely come into headstand with bent knees. Poo!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Day 21

The medication I'm on has an array of side effects. I've been lucky enough to have avoided most of them, but I am experiencing some joint pain. Perhaps because I'm very body aware, I notice the pain very specifically, in context to specific joints (my sacro-illiac joint and I have become quite intimate as of late...) and because I'm very active during the day, I feel achy mostly at night. I've tried various strategies to combat this pain (sometimes so intense that I can't sleep), including resorting to Tylenol before bed.

Last night, I spontaneously decided to go for a long walk in the evening and since yoga after my walk is a habit, I practised an additional half-hour of gentle yoga right before bed. I slept like a baby! And as an additional bonus, my morning ashtanga practice was incredible. My back hasn't felt this healthy in a month! Of course, it could be a fluke, but I'm going to repeat the experiment tonight. What do I have to lose?

I spend Sunday mornings volunteering at the soup kitchen and since this afternoon was supposed to be very hot and muggy, I was up very early to walk and do my yoga practice. When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., it took tremendous will power to get out of bed, but the beautiful, cool morning won me over - complete with a glorious sunrise and a waning crescent moon. I enjoyed every moment of my walk.

I started my practise at 6:30, but felt none of my usual early-morning stiffness. The first two sun salutations were rough (I had fleeting thoughts of 'Why am I doing this thing?!'), but the heat kicked in during Surya Namaskara B and I started to feel good. I had some moments where I completely lost my focus and a few times I actually became disoriented, but for the most part, the practice just flowed.

I'm coming to a point where I'm curious about my alignment in some of these poses. I'm familiar with the alignments from the traditions I teach and study (Hatha and Anusara), but I understand that Ashtanga is different. For example, I'm finally putting my foot flat on the floor in Parivritta Parsvakonasana (previously, I was on the ball of the foot). I feel more stable, but I can't come into as deep of a twist. I'm not sure how far the shoulder should be in front of the knee and I also seem to be hyperextending my elbow which just doesn't feel healthy to me. I'm thinking that it may be time for me to visit a led class down at the shala, in order to get some guidance and have some of my questions answered.

I tried Garba Pindasana today. Hilarity ensued.

Backbends felt good. I've been using blocks against the wall to come into Urdhva Danurasana for the first two repetitions of the pose (then without the blocks the third time). Today, I tried not using the blocks at all and found it rough going. I could get up, but the backbend wasn't as deep. I'm amazed by how much those props support and deepen the pose.

Meditation was great, but a bit unusual. This weekend is the 'Grand Prix' and I can hear the sound of the cars all the way in my neighbourhood. I tried putting on my noise reduction headphones, but I could still hear (and be distracted) by the unearthly whine. Finally plugged the headphones into iTunes and listen to an ocean soundtrack and had a fabulous, serene meditation. At least I could pretend that I was sitting on a beach!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 10

Surya Namaskara B flowed like a river of prana today. I literally felt like a dancer as I moved from one posture to the next. That was the full extent of sukha (ease). Everything else felt like I was made of lead - in fact, I nearly quit halfway through today. I only stuck it out when I noticed that the primary series was nearly over.

As it was, I skipped some things and modified others. My low back was cranky, so I turned Paschimottanasama into an Supta Padagunsthasana with a strap and skipped Supta Upavista Konasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasama entirely (though I did do shoulder stand).

I'm finding all kinds of clever uses for blocks, but I didn't use them for jump throughs today because I wasn't doing jump throughs. Too tired. And my arms hurt - I was feeling the jump throughs in my back, probably because my arms were tired. My arms are still achy (I was really feeling it while teaching a corporate class today).

By the way, Tolasana with blocks? Rocks my world! I feel like an Amazon Goddess when I do that pose.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day 7

Very cranky low back today. I didn't do any extra Surya Namaskara and I stopped the DVD halfway through to do a supine twist to sooth my back.

In Ardha Baddha Padma Padottanasana, I've been using a block as a prop and that's been working out really well. Today, for the first time, I felt like I was really doing that pose.

Replaced Janu Sirsasana C with Sphinx and a backbend over the balance ball. Did one Urdhva Danurasana then supine twist during the next two instances.

In Supta Padagunsthasana, my outer left hamstring cramped up when I brought my leg out to the side. My hamstrings were tighter than usual. I walk for an hour every day and I'm still figuring out how to time my practice in relation to my walks.

Shoulderstand felt difficult today. I'm still working out how much blanket I need for a prop or if I want to use a blanket at all. Using the blanket makes all the variations awkward.

Sirsasana was amazing today. I felt really good until I brought my legs half-way down, then my low back felt sensitive so I went into Balasana.

My full lotus was good today and yes, I did manage three breaths of Tolasana too!