The Swell

Ocean Swell I by Deborah Dryden

My practice has entered a new phase of growth.  I have begun working with third series.  When second began to feel like home, it seemed right to journey on again.

I am practicing all of second plus the first several advanced postures.  Second series is a joy, but right around Chakorasana ensue the grunting and sighs.  The work is hard.  The practice is becoming larger, and it will grow much larger still before it snaps back on itself and I am left to start again.

Still, it's good practice for everything else.  Things are on the rise.  This fall I will finish my dual degree.  By January, I will have completed my 500-hour training.  I sense big things lurking in the distance.  If I squint my eyes, I can just about make out their shapes.  But I might get crow's feet if I squint too hard.  With my birthday fast approaching, I see my actual age and my felt age gradually becoming one.  As a child and into early adulthood, I behaved as a person much older than I was.  As young as twelve years old, I was routinely mistaken for an adult.  I used to have a sort of pride attached to my deceptively old persona.  Now, of course, I am less thrilled when others misjudge my years.  I feel younger and more free than I did when I was young, but as a well-meaning friend recently said, "You're 28 going on 50."

Damn.  It's true.

Meanwhile, my siblings are getting married and having babies.  It seems like every time I go up north to visit, there is one more smiling spouse or one more little pair of shining eyes.  The family is becoming larger, and it will grow much larger still.  This is a good thing, or not a bad thing.  But I am a far-off satellite in Texas, only occasionally pulled to home.  The faster the family grows, the fewer are the members of my own family that I know.  This is strange and alienating.  Like a new posture.  You mean, now I have to put my leg behind my head and stand up? Who is this new person?  How does this work?

And this is just the beginning.  The postures keep coming.  The family keeps growing.  Certificates are piling up.  The question is what do I do with this stuff?  With all these new additions, how do I make it work?


Ashtangi Self-Care: 5 Ways to Support your Practice

Ashtanga gets a bum rap for being an injurious practice.  I've definitely had my share of injuries on the mat and off, and while I don't believe Ashtanga to be inherently more dangerous than any other athletic endeavor, it does seem to be the case that this demanding daily practice draws a certain type of person.  Call them "type-A," intense, or just plain crazy, ashtangis who go all-in tend to expect a lot from themselves in every area of life without leaving any room for rest.

Unfortunately for these particularly driven folks, if not approached in a healthy, balanced way, the rigor of the Ashtanga method can provide a platform for self destruction, eventually resulting in fatigue, burnout, or even physical and psychological harm.  Fortunately, however, there are some simple things that we everyday practitioners can do to support our daily practice, prevent burnout, and restore balance to our lives.

1.  Castor Oil Massage

Weekly castor oil self-massage can do wonders for sore muscles, tweaked joints, and all those random aches and pains.  It can also help to remove excess heat and ama (the ayurvedic term for digestive sludge, the product of inadequate digestion) from the body, leaving you cooler, calmer, and cleaner from the inside out.

Castor oil is pressed from the seeds of the Castor plant (ricinus communis) which are also used to make the poison Ricin.  The presence of mildly toxic ricinoleic acid in castor oil, which the oil transports through the skin, stimulates an inflammation response -- the body's natural healing mechanism -- which increases blood flow and cellular regeneration in the affected areas.

Be sure to use high quality cold pressed, cold processed oil for your castor oil bath.  Follow the instructions for dry brushing and oil massage:  prepare the skin with vigorous brushing, then massage the oil through the skin from head to toe in long, firm circular strokes.  But instead of washing the oil off right away, lie down on a towel (preferably one you don't intend to use for any other purpose) and allow the oil to soak deeper into the tissues of the body.  Start with just 5 minutes of soak time and gradually work up to 20, 30, or even 45 minutes over the course of several weeks.  When you're ready, wash the oil off in a hot shower. 

2.  Foam Roller & Trigger Point Release

It is easy to convince ourselves that yoga is all we need, especially if we do it every day, but for many of us with persistent soreness or joint problems, our bodies vehemently disagree.  To this end, professional massage is wonderful, but the effects are short-lived.  Since few among us have the time or money to see a massage therapist every time we feel a kink, foam rollers and massage balls are great options.

A basic, firm foam roller is fabulous for massaging tight quadriceps, calf muscles, IT bands, and sides.  For trigger point release in the hips and back, use a tennis ball, your body weight, and breath to untangle knots and tension.  A golf ball or similarly sized massage ball works well for releasing hands, feet, forearms, and face.  

Just a few minutes a day on problem areas can make all the difference in your practice.  Immediately after practice when the muscles are warm and soft is the best time for massage, but before bed or any time on an empty stomach is good, too.  It is best not to do deep massage work during menstruation, but if you need to release a knot, it is my opinion that a bit of upper body trigger point release would be just fine.

(For more information on how to use your foam roller and massage balls, see my post on self-massage.)

3.  Epsom Salt Baths

Though the science behind why epsom salt baths work is murky, there is loads of anecdotal evidence that epsom salt baths alleviate muscle tension, soreness, and reduce joint inflammation.  One theory is that they provide the body with a boost of magnesium, an important mineral in muscular and nervous system functioning that can be difficult to absorb adequately through diet.

You can find epsom salt for cheap at your local health food store or pharmacy.  Just put 1-2 cups in a warm bath and soak for 15-30 minutes.  Feel free to add 10-20 drops of any essential oils that you like, and a tablespoon or two of bentonite clay if you know that your water supply is thick with heavy metals.  

I find epsom salt baths to be particularly helpful the night before my practice, as the warm water gently releases muscles and frees the joints without diminishing energy or muscular force.  

4.  Electrolyte Supplements

Electrolytes are essential minerals that regulate many important systems in the body, from nerve and muscle function to blood pressure and tissue regeneration.  Normally, we ingest electrolytes through our diet, particularly from fruits and vegetables grown in mineral-rich soil.  The kidneys and endocrine system regulate electrolyte levels, but when we sweat -- and we ashtangis tend to sweat a lot -- we lose electrolytes at a rate faster than the body can regulate effectively.

Coconut water is an increasingly popular choice among yogis for restoring electrolyte balance after practice, but if you leave puddles around your mat like I do, coconut water alone isn't going to cut it.  I take an all-natural, sugar-free powdered electrolyte supplement almost every day, and the difference it has made on my endurance is pronounced.

I like Hammer Endurolytes powder, but there are other options out there.  Just steer clear of sweetened, artificially flavored or colored sports drinks.  And for pete's sake, don't even think about drinking a 5-Hour Energy or Redbull... not even as a last resort.

5.  Rest

I know you think that if you miss one day of practice, all your hard work goes down the drain, but you're wrong.  Adequate rest is absolutely essential to a healthy, sustainable practice.  Rest on Saturdays.  Rest on moon days.  Take short practice when you need to.  There is nothing about the Ashtanga method that says you must do a full sequence every day.  On the contrary, a more-is-better attitude can be a great impingement to your progress.

And ladies, by all means, rest during your monthly holiday.  Your body requires rest.  If you give your body what it needs, it will give you what you want.  You want to be stronger?  You want to better backbends?  You want liberation?  Work hard, and then rest.

Final Thoughts

I share these restorative practices with you because it breaks my heart to know that this method that has been such a powerful force of healing in my own life can also cause such injury, distress, and pain.  Help me to share this practice by treating your own body with respect and by treating your practice as the precious thing it is.

I'll leave you with wise words from two of my favorite balanced ashtangis:
"Learn, also, to not practice." -- Matthew Sweeney
"When in doubt, take a nap." -- Kimberly Flynn



The official Damn Good Yoga anthem:

PS:  I am still waiting for Carl to claim his Gaya rug, so if I don't hear from him by Wednesday, I will select another winner.


Giveaway Winner Announced!

First, many thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful comments on what you'd like to see from Damn Good Yoga in the coming year.  I will consider your ideas and try to bring them to fruition in every way I can.

Drum roll, please...

The winner of the Barefoot Yoga practice rug giveaway is...


Congratulations, Carl!  Please send me an email with your name and shipping address and I will forward that information to Barefoot Yoga Co. to get your Gaya practice rug on its way to your door.

Thanks again to everyone for reading, participating, and sharing your thoughts on Damn Good Yoga.  Stayed tuned for more giveaways, Asanas of the Week, videos, and more!


Product Review: Barefoot Yoga Practice Rug (And a Giveaway!)

 I get several emails each week from company representatives asking me to review products on this blog.  I've been asked to review everything from sports drinks (gross!) to body-shaping undergarments (does this make my ass look... ass-shaped?),  but I only ever agree to review products that are relevant to my practice and yours.  So when a friendly rep from Barefoot Yoga Co. emailed me earlier this month to request a product review, I jumped at the chance.

Admittedly, I have used Barefoot Yoga's Mysore rugs in the past but historically have preferred the equa towels from Manduka for sweaty practice.  However, with my pitta fires greatly damped by 2nd series, the mat towels just aren't serving me as well these days, so I thought I'd give the Mysore rug another chance.

Barefoot Yoga claims to be the "original manufacturer and designer of the Mysore Practice Rug," and while I don't know if this is absolutely true, I do know that Mysore rugs are common among my students.  I've seen many of Barefoot's designs -- some more commonly than others -- and if you've spent any time in a Mysore room, you probably have too.  They tend to be woven with earthy tones and patterns, often dulled by years of sweaty hands and feet, but when I opened up the box from Barefoot and saw the new Gaya rug they sent me, I literally gasped with delight.

Gaya Mysore practice rug in its natural environment
This rug is beautiful.  It is tightly woven of 100% cotton in vibrant rose, coral, and black.  After a week of practice on this baby, I can tell you that it really does the job for which it is intended.  There are no ridges or seams, but the weave is course and highly absorbent.  With just a little spritz of water before the Surya Namaskara, the rug provides a perfect grip and, unlike microfiber towels, doesn't dry out before I manage to break a sweat.  It stays in place on my mat, even with a sloppy jump back, so there is no fussing with wrinkles or folds (and, consequently, no excuse to pause and adjust before confronting scary postures).

Rug pattern up close
I love the texture of the rug under my hands and feet, and appreciate that it doesn't stretch or leave little stirrup marks where my heels sit in Downward Dog like other rugs I've tried.  The colors are rich and inviting, and the stripes are nice for checking alignment and precision.  Most of all, I appreciate that even by the end of a sweaty 1st or 2nd series, I don't feel like I'm lying in a slushy mess.  The Gaya rug absorbs everything I throw at it without becoming saturated or feeling wet.

Bottom line:  Barefoot's Gaya Mysore rug is fun to look at, and it supports and simplifies my practice.  What else is there to say about a yoga rug? Not much.  

Giveaway Details

Like my rug? You can have one, too!  Barefoot Yoga Co. has generously agreed to give away a Gaya Mysore practice rug ($41 value) to one lucky reader.  All you have to do is leave a comment below with an idea of what you'd like to see from Damn Good Yoga in the coming year.  Do you want practice tips?  Philosophy?  More videos?  Natural health?  Be specific.  On February 26th -- one week from today -- I will randomly select a commenter to receive one of these fabulous rugs and announce the winner on the blog.  

Stay tuned and good luck!

UPDATE:  The winner has been announced!  Click here to find out if you're the one.