Pins and Needles

Now that classes are in full swing, any free time I had has dwindled to essentially nothing. My infant blog has been whimpering at me pathetically from a dark corner of my mind this week, and even as I write this I can't shake the thought that I should be doing homework instead. But the practice itself, in spite of this, has been going strong. In order to accommodate my studies, I've been forced to limit my practice to 60-75 minutes on days that I have to go to work, and am attempting to balance this by extending my practices on days that I don't work to about 2-2.5 hours. My body seems to be responding well to this alternation of 4 days of quick yoga, and 3 days of intense work (yoga work, that is). My balance in both standing and arm balancing asanas has been especially steady, maybe because my muscles are less fatigued, though I do miss the long, leisurely sessions I took every day during winter break, and hate having to watch the clock while I practice.

Last night's practice was pretty damn good. I spent the first 25 minutes in meditation, which is a long time for me. During the meditation, my right leg fell asleep. Fortunately (or not, I haven't decided), I didn't notice this until I straightened my legs afterwards and tried to roll out my ankles. The right leg was completely numb from the ass down. I stood up, thinking it would get the blood moving more quickly. Wow, but PINS AND NEEDLES! I stood there helplessly, trembling and trying to put some weight on the dead leg.

The focus of my practice last night was opening the front of the body with asymmetrical backbends. I tried bending the extended knee and grabbing my foot for a backbend after five breaths in ardha chandrasana, something I have been prompted to do in studio classes but have never attempted, and it felt great. The balance strengthened the outer side of the standing leg and hip more than the traditional pose, and I was able to stay for five steady breaths on both sides. Very cool! I'll probably be working that into my practice more regularly. I need more backbends toward the beginning of my standing sequences. They really elevate the energy level.

I continued opening the front of the hips with a long crescent warrior, followed by revolved side angle with hands in namaste, then back up to cresent warrior for one breath, lizard pose, then lifted into albatross for five, then a vinyasa to repeat on the other side. Also practiced crescent pose with the back knee on the ground, arms reaching up, hands clasped, thumb and forefinger pointing up and back to broaden the shoulders. Toward the end, I threw in some pigeon variations, working on opening the fronts of my hips and thighs, getting closer to binding the foot in my elbow. I am feeling some significant tension in my right hamstring today, though, from all the compression yesterday, so it'll be forward bends for today's practice, I suppose.

Full lotus is getting more comfortable with my regular tolasana practice. It always feels fine while I'm lifted, and I try to keep it tight, but when I sit back down the pressure on my ankles can be a bit much, so I usually just sit for 3-5 breaths there. Maybe it was my long sit in half lotus during meditation, but last night I was able to sit comfortably in full lotus after tolasana for ten long breaths, and my ankles felt fine when I came out. Progress.

Headstand is coming along. I'm more comfortable feeling out my balance without touching the wall, and trying to approach it as Iyengar suggests, by "watching from moment to moment," and feeling out the "subtle adjustments." I mentioned reading this in my last post, and as I thought more about the phrase, I realized it applies to every asana, and really every moment in life. He is simply saying to be present, and aim for stillness of mind so that one may react to any situation appropriately. Isn't this why we practice yoga? To come closer to achieving our highest potential by living in every moment?

Speaking of potential, my handstands are getting better. I'm still not kicking up reliably, but I can always get up to the wall three or four times. Last night I tried looking down (or up?) between my hands, and it seemed to help with my shoulder positioning and sense of balance overall. I haven't done shoulderstand in a while. I should probably work that one in tonight. I wouldn't want to become unwittingly ill-tempered (isn't that the ancient wisdom? Too much headstand and not enough shoulderstand makes one cranky? La Gitane? If you're out there, I know you've got this one).


  1. Pins and needles! I love it. My right leg always falls asleep.

  2. "Isn't this why we practice yoga? To come closer to achieving our highest potential by living in every moment?" - Well said Misanthropic!! Lovely insight.

    Re Headstand and Shoulderstand, wow, I'm flattered that you thought of me!! But I will refer to a serious Guru on this one: H. David Coulter, author of "Anatomy of Hatha Yoga", one of my yoga "bibles".

    Shoulderstand and Headstand are traditionally complimentary, called the "Queen and King" of asana, respectively. Coulter explains why: "the former nurtures the body and the latter celebrates power and consciousness." He goes on to say about shoulderstand (which means 'all limbs posture', referring to the engagement of the entire body that is required): "the posture [...] requires muscular effort throughout the body. This gives it an entirely different character from Headstand, which is a balancing pose." In Shoulderstand, the entire body must be put to the effort of the pose, wheareas in Headstand (eventually!), one relaxes the body at the apex of the pose, balancing effortlessly.

    The most important anatomical difference is in the action of the neck: "the neck acts to support the headstand, and is acted upon by the Shoulderstand." Shoulderstand lengthens, stretches and strengthens the neck, which is valuable preparation for headstand... Maybe that's where the crankiness comes from - from a crick in the neck! In addition, shoulderstand and its variations combine an inversion with an element of forward bending (especially in plough which is a valuable prep pose for paschimottanasana), which is why it is traditionally practiced right after the backbending sequences.

    Yoga is all about balance and these two postures certainly balance each other out. Or you could just take Iyengar's word for it: "[Shoulderstand] is one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by the ancient sages."

    :) I don't know your particular history of the pose, but there are lots of variations and ways to use props to explore the different elements of this pose. But the wisdom of the ages would certainly be urging you not to give up!!!

    Namaste :)