12.31.2009

Binding and Twisting into the New Year

Damn good practice today.  I did a lot of binding and twisting.  Bound side angle and bound triangle are a couple of my favorites.  They're wonderful for actively opening the hips, hamstrings, and shoulders.  I also did a couple of pigeon variations (king pigeon still eludes me), and hanumanasana to open up the hips some more.  My hips were actually pretty open to begin with, which surprised me a little after yesterday's practice, which did not include any deep hip openers.  I tried jumping into bakasana a couple more times today.  Close, but no cigar.  I finished up with a bridge, two urdhva dhanurasana (second one on the toes), seated forward bend, headstand (getting better!), child's pose, and a 5-minute savasana.  I would have liked to stay in savasana longer, but these days I get too cold to really relax once my heart rate slows down.

I'm off to work soon.  Duty calls:  The people must have their late night coffee and pancakes!  I'm sure it'll be a wild and crazy time, with all the festivities going on this evening.  Be safe tonight everyone, and have damn good New Year!

Dumpster Furniture of a Most Impressive Quality

Today I tried part III of the Ashtanga Primary Series at Yoga Today, led by Adi.  Following 5 surya namaskaras, the standing sequence was a shortened version of the standing sequences of the first two parts of the series:  it involved several standing forward bends, as well as warrior I, warrior II, extended side angle, triangle, and revolved triangle.  The rest of the class was an introduction to the finishing series.  It consisted of 3 backbends (1 bridge, 2 upward bow, though modifications and the option to practice a supported bridge were given), seated forward fold, shoulderstand, plough, ear pressure pose, matsyasana, and headstand.  Not too exciting, though I don't know what I expected.  It was the ashtanga finishing sequence (more or less).  I turned the class off before savasana and, true to my word, practiced jumping from down dog into bakasana about 6 times.  The first time I attempted the jump I surprised myself and came remarkably close, but it all went downhill from there.  I'm finding that my left big toe wants to come to the ground and prop me up, even though my landing feels stable enough to balance from.  With practice...

Most of my apartment is furnished with items that my boyfriend or I have found beside the dumpsters in my apartment complex.  This is not a result of an initial lack of furniture of our own.  We have been systematically replacing our shoddy plastic and metal furniture with beautiful, sturdy, and matching pieces of good quality dumpster furniture.  It's astonishing what some of my neighbors will leave behind when they move.  Taking out the garbage today, my incredible, edible boyfriend spotted an amazing roll-top desk laid by the side of the dumpster.  To be more precise, he spotted the top of a roll-top desk.  The desk has no legs, but it's gorgeous.  And enormous!  We carried it inside (heavy, but so very worth it), and set it in my office on top of what used to be our dining room table.  I now have what appears to be a beautifully handmade oak (or possibly walnut?  I'm no wood expert, contrary to what you may have heard) roll top desk at which to study and write.  I couldn't be happier.

Or maybe I could. This incredible find has spurred a chain of necessary rearrangement of furniture in order to accommodate the desk, and now the apartment is in total disarray (except for my new desk, which I have already neatly arranged to my liking).  Change is good, however, and I'm sure once everything has found its place, and order has been restored, the difference will be delightful.

12.30.2009

Balancing on a Bottle of Portuguese Red

Had another damn good practice today.  I did not try the third class of the 3-part Primary Series at Yoga Today, as I thought I might (tomorrow, perhaps?).  Instead, I spent two good hours on the mat, focusing on the breath and sweating my ass off.  I recently decided to add a humidifier to my yoga space to help combat the winter chill and dryness.  It has definitely made a difference, and I'm finding that the surprisingly loud whirring noise it makes actually helps to insulate my space and assists in maintaining my focus.

I did several standing balancing poses today.  I love the way they work into my hips and hamstrings, especially after a few warriors.  I felt strong, and took advantage of it.  Also, the jump throughs are apparently here to stay.  I nailed it on the first attempt today, and improved upon my form throughout the rest the practice.  It's difficult to understand, at this point, how the technique seemed so confounding just a couple of days ago.  Hooray for progress!  I have found that shortening my downward dog a bit before jumping through helps tremendously.
In keeping with the balancing emphasis for my practice today, I also threw in some damn good arm balances.  I've been tempted to try jumping from downward dog into bakasana for the past couple of months.  I'm pretty sure I can do it.  For whatever reason, I haven't tried.  That's it...  I've just decided.  I'm declaring right now that tomorrow I will indeed attempt to jump into bakasana.  I will attempt it at least three times!  Or you can call me Shirley (stay tuned! and please don't call me Shirley).

Inversions have taunted me since the beginning of my practice.  Shoulderstand often gives me a tension headache, so I don't practice it often.  Bridge pose with clasped hands sometimes gives me the same headaches, though not as often, and I practice it regularly.  I've always had a problem clasping my hands behind my back and straightening my arms.  It takes enormous effort from my triceps, and lately I've been noticing a pinching sensation in my right palm when in this position.  Only recently did I begin to approach this problem by working on opening my shoulders and chest.   Also, I learned just weeks ago that I should be practicing fish pose after shoulderstand.  I overlooked that one for quite a long time.  I should be more careful, but these are the risks one takes when attempting to teach oneself.  Anyway, I did shoulderstand, plough, and ear pressure pose with little discomfort and no lingering headache today.  I felt good, so I attempted headstand, which I have only just begun to incorporate into my practice.  I lifted up about 10 inches from the wall, since I tend to get psyched out and tuck my chin for a roll when I do it in the middle of the room.  After some bouncing my heels off the wall, and wavering about, I found my balance, pointed my toes, and breathed for about 1 minute.  It became very stable and rejuvenating.  I'll be off the wall soon; I can feel it.

At the moment, I'm enjoying some cheap but delicious Portuguese red wine from the Douro region.  It smells like red delicious apples soaked in cherry juice.  The initial attack is primarily bright red fruits, maybe even a bit of generic "red fruit flavoring," like that in candies, but the mid-palate is distinctly cola.  Coke, or maybe Pepsi.  What's the difference anyway, am I right?  The finish is earthy, a bit dry, and a bit short, but pleasant.  A nice cap to the evening.
Below is the sequence I practiced today.  Each pose was held for 5-6 breaths, unless otherwise indicated in parentheses.  I'd welcome any comments, criticisms, or suggestions.

approx. 10 minutes seated meditation, awakening ujjayi pranayama
4-6 cat-cows, moving with the breath.
2 surya namaskara A's
3 surya namaskara B's
warrior I
warrior II
triangle
half moon
vinyasa, repeat other side, vinyasa.
warrior II
extended side angle
vinyasa, repeat other side, vinyasa.
warrior I, back heel raised
revolved side angle (hands in namaste)
shift forward into twisted standing balance, back leg extended, hands remain in namaste, with elbow pressing against the outer thigh of the standing leg.
lower raised leg to return to revolved side angle (1 breath)
vinyasa, repeat other side, vinyasa
warrior I, back heel raised (2 breaths)
shift forward to warrior III
lower the left hand, revolve open to half moon
lower the right hand, twist open to revolved half moon
lower the left hand, fold forward into urdhva prasarita ekapadasana
exhale, lower raised leg, fold forward.
vinyasa (Took a brief child's pose here.  This bit can be pretty intense.  Mustn't go where the breath does not lead me.), repeat on other side, vinaysa
utthita hasta padangusthasana A, B, C (one breath), and D
vinyasa
inhale into warrior I with lifted heel, exhale the arms down into lizard pose
tuck left shoulder under left thigh (on an inhale)
exhale, lift into eka pada koundinyasana II (has anyone else heard of this pose referred to as the "albatross"?)
vinyasa, repeat other side, vinyasa.
cresent moon (knee to the floor, hands clasped, thumb and forefinger pointing up and back)
vinyasa
plank
chaturanga
upward dog
downward dog (three breaths)
side plank with tree legs, both sides, pushing back to down dog to rest for 3 breaths between.
push back to down dog...
jump forward to enter bakasana
jump back (more of a one-legged hop/lurch, really) to vinyasa
JUMP THROUGH (easy peasy) to seated.
wide legged forward bend
navasana, lift up, repeat. (3 times)
east stretch
vinyasa, jump through to seated
Marichyasana C (variation)
Marichyasana D (variation)
vinyasa, jump through to seated.
compass pose
lift up to eka hasta bhujasana (one breath)
shift forward into astavakrasana
shift back into eka hasta bhujasana (one breath)
repeat on other side.
bridge, arms clasped, pressing into the floor
upward bow (or wheel pose, as some seem to call it) (2 times)
roll forward, into seated forward bend B and C (5 breaths each)
shoulderstand (10 breaths)
plough
ear pressure pose
roll forward, vinyasa.
headstand (10-15 breaths, lost count.  too pleased with myself.)
child's pose
tolasana (10 breaths)
savasana (10 minutes)


Damn good yoga.

12.29.2009

Jump Throughs and Miniature Mice

My practice today consisted of parts I and II of the 3-part Ashtanga primary series led by Adi Amar at Yoga Today.  I've been thinking more about experimenting with the traditional Ashtanga sequences lately, and I thought Adi would offer a nice introduction...

On second thought, I suppose Ashtanga and I have been introduced... just improperly, perhaps.  My first endeavor into yoga began with a purchase about eight years ago, which consisted of a sticky mat, The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health, by Linda Sparrow, and David Swenson's Ashtanga Yoga, "The Practice Manual."  I reached for the Swenson first.  Needless to say to those of you who've seen it, as a naive aspiring yogini, I was intimidated by Swenson's book.  It was not at all what I had expected to see.  Nevertheless, I began at the beginning, with Surya Namaskara A.  It was hard.  And my mat was anything but sticky.  Downward dog was a nightmare.  I put both the books and the mat away for the next 5 years (Give me a break.  I was young, and fickle).

Back to my practice:  It was damn good yoga.  The classes with Adi were really fun, AND... I nailed my first jump through!  Not that my feet didn't brush the mat.  They did, but not until they were well through my arms and past my hips.  I lowered myself with control.  A few times.  I was delighted, but it was bound to happen, I suppose, with as many jump throughs as the class called for.  I don't think I've ever tried it that many times in one practice.  I hate to mess with the flow of the vinyasa, so I usually just give-it-a-go and be done with it.  Also, I don't normally incorporate as many vinyasas once I arrive at the seated portion of my practice (A fact that may indeed change after today.  I enjoyed maintaining a decent sweat throughout the seated portion, and I foresee that during my more poorly planned practices, it will give me time to decide what to do next, rather than sit there quizzically on my mat).  Each part was about 51 minutes long, and consisted of 3 Surya Namaskara A's, and 2 (or 3?) Surya Namaskara B's.  Then a standing sequence of triangle, revolved triangle, extended side angle, warrior I, warrior II, utkatasana, parsvottanasana, utthita hasta padangusthasana variations, and some prasarita padottanasana variations (though not in that order).

The seated portions were where these classes really shined.  Adi was persistent with the lift ups and jump throughs, and led me through some bound seated twists that really brought some good internal heat.  I had never done the supta konasana-rolling-forward-into-upavishta konasana transition before, and I must say, it was hilarious.  I'll have to work on that to bring down the hilarity level before I try that one in public (what am I saying?  I never go out in public!).
  Looking through the Swenson book now and comparing the primary series, I think she did a good job incorporating most of the standing poses, offering variations, and breaking down the series into three separate classes, though I have not yet tried part III... maybe tomorrow, though I think I'd rather lead my own practice tomorrow.  Perhaps I'll do both.

On a side note, I had a bizarre dream today about a swarm of miniature mice infesting my apartment.  They were really quite adorable, and not at all threatening.  They were, however, crawling on the walls and continually scurrying across my path on the floor, causing me considerable agitation at the thought of crushing the cute little buggers under my feet and getting blood and fur all over the carpet.  In response, I attempted with futility to gather all the mice into a large cup, flicking them gently into the mouth of the cup with my hand.  There were far too many to gather them all.  Finally, I thought it better to simply relinquish my home to the tiny mice and take my meaningless existence somewhere else.

12.27.2009

Welcome to My Life on the Mat

This is a humble and tentative offering of my daily home practice to the world.  This is an attempt to give, to balance the enormous gifts I have received in the solitude of ritual.  This is a word of encouragement to those who choose to practice at home, because of the privacy, or the lesser expense, or limited access to instructors, or whatever the reason, and wonder if what they do would be considered "real yoga" by real yogis.  This is my attempt to document the path I have taken for the use of others as I continue to poke and feel (or leap and bound!) my way through the often convoluted world of yoga.

This is also a cry for help.  This is the crumbling of the walls.  This is the result of three years of isolation and avoidance.  My daily practice has become precious to me, and I have selfishly and fearfully protected it from the world.  I was afraid that the wrong influences would destroy the foundation of my practice.  I feared the judgment that surely awaited me in a class.  I thought my practice was a fragile thing.  I was wrong.

After nearly three years of practice, beginning sporadically and now daily, I attended my first yoga class in October of 2009.  It was a Power Yoga class, which I hoped would be appropriate since my practice is Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar inspired.  I was very anxious, which was distinctly inappropriate right from the beginning.  I tried sitting quietly on my mat, eyes closed, awakening the breath, as I waited for class to start while others found their places.  I couldn't ignore the sounds of the other practitioners, some chatting, some stretching, some sprawled in savasana.  I opened my eyes and watched the room through the mirror.  The instructor was a laid-back, yet motivating gentleman, who offered strong cues, but little alignment insight.  The class was fun and dynamic, with lots of vinyasas, standing balancing poses, and even a good long bakasana.  Though I found all the yogis jammed in around me to be a little disorienting, it was also enlightening, inspiring, and amusing.  Before I knew it, I was lying in savasana, pleasantly drenched and exhausted.  Damn good yoga, I thought to myself, as I so often do in savasana.

After class, as I was leaving, the instructor approached me.  He told me that I have "a good practice" and asked if I was a yoga teacher somewhere in the area.  I was disarmed.  Rather than tell him I had actually never attended a class before, I simply smiled and said, "no."  Hmmm.  So I was correct that my practice would be judged if taken out in the open, though not in the way I had so anxiously anticipated.  The instructor's comment left me feeling conflicted; I felt vindicated, victorious!  Yet, somehow I also felt as though I'd been given a new burden to carry.

I have since returned to the studio many times.  However, I still prefer to practice at home-- alone.  My home practice is a meditation.  It's a ritual.  It's an offering to my body and my mind.  In the positive influence it has had on my life, it is an offering to the world.  And, apparently, it's real yoga.

This is me, having dipped my toe in the pool, and having found the water to be quite nice, diving in headfirst.  In the coming weeks and months, I intend to highlight some of my early and favorite resources, share some of my daily practice experiences, and perhaps other random musings.