Teacher Training: Week 3

YTT is really moving along. My days are completely saturated with yoga. It's fantastic.

Last week we read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. It's a Karate Kid-type tale. In other words, the story is a simplified introduction to Eastern philosophy. It's a little bit yoga and a little bit martial arts with a distinctly Taoist flair. The narrative is clumsy, and the characters are blaringly symbolic. I appreciated the central idea, but the delivery was less than eloquent. I'd recommend it for a younger audience. This week we're reading How Yoga Works, which, disappointingly, is another philosophy primer disguised as a novel. Irritating as this may be, I will try to remain open and positive, and absorb what I can.

The nutrition challenge this week is to cut all gluten from our diets. The refined sugar prohibition last week was no problem, but all wheat? This will be difficult. I really like my whole grain toast for breakfast in the morning, and I consider the sandwich in it's copious manifestations to be the perfect meal. I'm still chugging a gallon of water a day. At first this seemed like a lot, but with as much yoga as I've been doing, I've needed every drop of it.

The daily practice schedule is the assigned morning routine (30-40 minutes of tai chi, chi gung, and meditation), one studio class, and, most days, a home practice later in the evening. It's a lot, but rather than feeling tired or overworked, my strength level has gone through the roof. I am strong like bull. Even the ankle is healing rapidly. The bruises are already fading, and the swelling is minimal. The sprain has not affected my practice too much. Just a few modifications are necessary. The controlled motions of yoga actually seem to be good for it.

We had another energy workshop this past weekend. The purpose of these workshops is becoming more clear. They seem to be about developing one's intuition and honing the ability to project one's energy onto others in a positive way. Awareness -- this, I can get behind. We're also starting to get into the meat of pose specifics and sequencing, which I am glad of, probably because this is an area I feel comfortable in and very much enjoy discussing. I am an asana nerd, I can admit it.

We are not meeting for training this coming weekend because of the 4th of July holiday, so over the next two weeks I'm left to my own devices, though I do have lots of homework to keep me occupied, yoga and otherwise.


Tragedy Strikes!

Well, maybe not quite tragedy... more like misfortune. Last night I sprained my left ankle. I was walking from my car to the restaurant to begin a much needed money shift when I stepped on a rock coming down a little muddy hill. My clumsy, heavy, blister-inducing non-slip shoe went one way and my foot went the other. I heard/felt the stretch and crunch, followed immediately by a POP. Damn it! Teaching training! -- the first words to run through my head when I felt the unmistakable rapid swelling of a sprain, which I've experienced more than a few times... It's kind of funny. I've been mindful of tightening up my half lotus and lotus postures lately, bringing the heel into the hip crease to lessen the stretch of the outer ankle, with the prevention of exactly this sort of thing in mind. Apparently, my precautions were too late.

And just when it was all going so well. I've been continuing with my self-imposed two-practices-per-day challenge (the training calls for at least 1 class per day), and I am loving it. I'm really enjoying heading off to the studio every day for a class, then eating, resting, and doing a home practice to meditate and cement what I've learned. All this yoga is already producing interesting results. I'm definitely stronger. My jump backs have improved big time. My shoulders are more open. And I'm more able to relax into the rhythm of a class, any class, than I was just a week ago.

I'm still optimistic about teaching training, in spite of the ankle. I don't think this will put me completely out of the game. I'll just have to modify a bit and be careful. It feels like a mild sprain. I can walk pretty much normally already. I soaked it in epsom salt, and I've been icing for 20 minutes every hour, keeping the foot elevated. It just hurts to point the foot fully, and probably to stand on my toes, though I haven't tried it. We'll see how it goes this evening at the 5:30 class. Fingers crossed.


Double the Yoga, Double the Fun

Today was my first day of doubling up on the yoga: a class in the afternoon, and a self-led practice in the evening. Both were pretty damn good.

The class was packed. We were instructed to line up our mats no wider than six inches apart to accommodate everyone. There was an additional instructor walking around helping with adjustments. I received several good ones: a child pose hip squish, a downward dog pull, a really good active warrior II arm and shoulder adjustment, and some help with hip positioning in trikonasana. We did some interesting work with natarajasana during the standing sequence, transitioning from natarajasana to warrior III. It was a good strengthening class with lots of longer holds in plank and plank variations: one-legged plank, core plank, one-legged-one-armed plank... you get the idea. Again, there wasn't much of a seated sequence to speak of. We did some navasana stuff, but not even one seated twist. I'm beginning to wonder if they're just unpopular with students, so teachers at this studio don't teach them. These aren't beginners classes we're talking about here.

Going into my home practice later in the evening, I thought I might be tired from the class and decided ahead of time I'd head the restorative route if things felt askew. No need. I had an amazing full practice, including a really nice 20 minute meditation. I felt comfortably grounded, my shoulders were open, my hamstrings were long, and the jump backs were happening in slow motion with that little extra lift in the hips on the way back. I was feeling so good, I had a little chuckle during my practice when it occurred to me that this might be the secret: doing yoga before I do yoga. Constant rather than consistent asana practice. Sheesh. I hope not. Who's got the time?

There's just one thing that's bothering me. There's this twinge in my back. I've mentioned it before. It's this weird little thing on the right side of my lumbar spine that kind of clicks and/or crunches when I counter any intense backbending work with a forward fold. It is not painful, but I can feel something there when I explore the area with my hand. Again, there is no pain involved which, for some reason, I find especially worrisome. I need to feel it to understand it's nature... instead it just makes a strange noise when I enter paschimottanasana. It's all very mysterious. Some grand new opening, perhaps? Let's hope so.


Teacher Training: Week 2

The second weekend of training has come and gone. It's up to me over the next few days to practice what I've learned, attend lots of yoga classes, and get a whole bunch of reading done by Friday evening. We've been asked to attend at least one class a day. Now... I'm not sure if this simply means that we should be practicing every day, or that we specifically need to attend classes every day. I'm thinking it's the latter, so I'm going to try to do that, but I'm also going to try to continue my home practice, at least a few days a week. This will be tough, both physically and temporally. We'll see what happens.

The new nutritional challenge this week is to cut all refined sugars from our diets. After abstaining from dairy for a week, avoiding sugar will be a piece of cake (though not literally, of course). Honestly, I can't think of too many foods I eat that contain refined sugars... the occasional oatmeal cookie, perhaps. I'm sure as I become more aware of what I eat and drink throughout the week, I'll find I consume more refined sugars than I thought. The gallon-a-day hydration challenge has been difficult. It's just hard to remember to drink that much water, but I do feel adequately hydrated for perhaps the first time in my life.

I've been doing the morning routine we've been assigned every day when I first wake up. The routine consists of a series of tai chi movements, neck, wrist, shoulder, and hip opening movements, some chi gung, 3 sun salutation As, alternate nostril breathing, and a ten breath meditation. It's actually been really nice to begin the day this way. The whole routine warms the body and awakens the breath. The alternate nostril breathing is particularly soothing, and I'm liking the tai chi more and more. It's very meditative and pleasantly heating.

As an exercise in awareness, we have been given black elastic bands to wear around our wrists, which we are to move to the other wrist whenever we find ourselves arguing with reality by voicing negativity (not to be confused with criticism, by the way). This exercise has made me much more aware of my thought patterns, and is revealing to me the piddling, insignificant events to which I relinquish my peace of mind on a daily basis.

Beyond all of this, we (the trainees) have been on the receiving end of some general pressure to shape up and be good examples in the way we live our lives. I'm realizing now how much I'm being asked to commit to this training. There have been moments of doubt, but overall, I'm excited and hungry for more.


Talking the Talk in YTT

Teacher training has been great so far this week.    Yesterday and today we began the sessions with a class in the studio.  In a repeat of last week, the Friday evening class was difficult for me, but the class this morning was great.
Friday night I was feeling off balance.  The teacher's breath counts were very fast, so I had trouble finding my groove without falling too far behind the rest of the class.  It didn't help that I had a hell of time getting to the studio on time... unexpected road construction... isn't that always the case.  Grrr.  Anyway,  I had had a hectic day, and I needed a slower paced class.  Instead we were whirring through complicated standing sequences that lasted 20 minutes on a single side.  I'm not dissing the teacher or the method here -- I like her and the sequences were dynamic and creative --  it's just that I've worked hard to develop a long, slow breath.  It's frustrating that it seems to complicate my experience in a class environment.  I know that I should just go at my own pace, but then I end up having to completely skip poses to catch up with the class.

After the class last night, we reconvened downstairs and did more practice teaching, running each other through a series of setting up the breath, tai chi warm ups, and then a sun salutation A.  It went really well and I got to play with some different use of language, different ways of cuing the same movement for different results.  Very educational.  After the session, I got a nasty headache... maybe a delayed reaction from the stressful class.  I was trying to study, but my mind was so fuzzy that I couldn't focus for two seconds, so I rolled out my mat and did an hour or so of restorative yoga.... And voila!  Headache gone.  Let's all chalk another point up for yoga!

 Thankfully, the class this morning was much better.  Different teacher, very different class... though not so different in the nature of the sequencing.  It was her language that made the difference.  Also, longer holds.  We practiced relatively long holds throughout, really working the poses, so I was able to move with my natural breath and still have time to come fully into the asanas.  It was a dramatically different experience.  After the class, discussing with my fellow trainees, we were surprised to find that nearly all of us had had a very powerful experience in eka pada rajakapotasana (one-legged pigeon), even the normally open-hipped among us.  One person was brought to tears.  Personally, I was challenged by the sensation to find stillness in a way I have not been in a very long time, perhaps ever... which I found especially strange since I practiced a long stay in one-legged pigeon the night before during my restorative practice.  I figured I'd be nice and open.

After the class, we had the first of two anatomy workshops.  Basic stuff mostly.  We went over the major muscle groups, the best words to use to refer to them in a class, and we discussed the fascia and it's function.  Then we workshopped a few poses, discussing the sensations that arise and how to interpret them.  We also talked about directing the awareness of the students toward their sensation with word choice.  More language.  It's no wonder so many yoga teachers and students choose to write about their practice.  We're always searching for the right words.

It's back to the studio first thing tomorrow morning.  I can't wait, in part because the dairy prohibition will come to an end and we'll be given new nutritional challenges.  I intend to celebrate the occasion with a fancy cheese plate much like this one, with my favorite cheeses propped up on little pedestals.  I don't care what else they take away from me.  If I can have my brie and smoked gouda, I'll be just fine.


Asana of the Week: Ustrasana

This week's asana is Ustrasana, otherwise known as Camel Pose. Ustrasana is a glorious backbend that, when done correctly, targets the thoracic and cervical spine, which makes it an excellent pose for counteracting all the shoulder hunching and forward slumping we tend to do all day as we toil in our lives away from our mats.

The key to a good Ustrasana, in my experience, is keeping the legs active all the way down to the toes. Pressing the tops of the feet firmly into the mat provides solid grounding from which to bring the hips forward over the knees and distribute the bend evenly along the length of the spine, rather than hinging from the lower back.  Iyengar recommends achieving this action by "pushing the spine into the thighs, which should be kept perpendicular to the floor (Light on Yoga)."  Honestly, I'm not sure exactly how to push my spine into my thighs, but it sounds like it hurts.  I think he's telling us to tuck the tailbone and maintain length in the lumbar and sacral spine.  Leslie Kaminoff suggests in Yoga Anatomy that "a mild internal rotation of the legs is recommended to keep the sacroiliac joint stable," which also aids in bringing the hips forward and opens the front of the hips for a good stretch to the hip flexors.

I like to come into this pose gradually, taking a few breaths with the hands on the sacrum, breathing deeply into the expanded chest and slowly curling the spine back one vertebrae at a time before dropping the hands to the heels.   I generally warm up the back body and shoulders with a series of Shalabasana variations and a Dhanurasana or two, as per the Ashtanga 2nd series, but I find that Ustrasana is also especially nice as a counter pose to arm balancing poses, such as Bakasana, or any targeted abdominal work.

As with most of the big heart and throat openers, Ustrasana is not without its challenges.  Luckily, modifications abound for this pose.  One may modify by keeping the hands on the sacrum, pressing the hips forward with the hands and maybe stretching the head back, or by curling the toes under to bring the heels closer to the hands and assist in the action of bringing the hips forward over the knees.  One modification I particularly enjoy is bringing the thumbs into the armpits, which, though kind of gross if you're really sweaty, is a very effective position for opening the chest and bringing the shoulders down and back in preparation for the full pose.

When first learning Ustrasana, the hardest part for me was breathing.  My chest, shoulders, and throat were all very tense, and getting any air through that squished trachea was difficult.  As Kaminoff puts it:
"The thoracic structures are maintained in an 'inhaled' position.... This results in a decreased ability to breath 'normally.'  The trick is to find support from the deeper musculature so the more superficial efforts can quiet down.  Then it's possible to notice an interesting relationship between the deepest layer of superficial neck muscles (scalenes) and the breath movement in the apex of the lungs, which are suspended from the inner scalene muscles (Yoga Anatomy)." 
 Hmm... interesting relationships, eh?  Fascinating stuff.  But it's true, breathing well and maintaining a healthy position of the head and neck when practicing Ustrasana can be the trickiest part.  I know heart and throat opening asanas can be intense for many practitioners.  What's your experience with Ustrasana?


Gimme Some Cheese, Please

Magnificent practices yesterday and today. It was soooo nice to get back to my regular solo practice after completing the first three days of teacher training. And my body feels great after its breakdown last week. I'm feeling strong, supple, and balanced. The first couple of days of training were rough. The third day was better, but my conviction was shaken slightly. I worried I had made a mistake... I've been thinking about it for the past couple of days, and I've decided to just go with the flow.

I will listen to their theories about meridians and balancing polarities, and energetic healings by the waving of a skillful hand over the afflicted person's heart chakra *sigh* and I will be respectful. I will hear any evidence that is offered to me, but I will not oooh and aahh at what seem to me at times to be attention grabbing antics. Granted, I am a die-hard skeptic regarding all things mystical, so that door has already been closed for some time -- it's a bit stuck. We'll see if the folks from APY can grease those hinges and get that bad boy to open up.

Anyway, great practices yesterday and today. I'm so addicted to my personal practice I actually began to worry from those few days away from it that it would just fall apart. On the contrary, I'm finding myself really polishing things up, thinking more about doing things the right way instead of just doing things my way. I've gotten a lot of correction on the positioning of my shoulders, which are always tense, and the width of my stance in many poses. I tend to splay my legs when I jump back to chaturanga, so I move through a very wide legged vinyasa and come into a correspondingly wide legged downward dog, which feels good to me but is apparently not acceptable. "Hip's width apart" isn't as far as I thought it was.

I had a good handstand practice today after a not-so-good one yesterday. Five handstands, holding each for at least a few breaths. I had some very good balancing moments in there -- four full breaths with a clean exit on one attempt. It's getting easier, though finding my balance initially without the wall is still not happening very often... or at all, really. Sometimes I think I've got it, but I seem to reach for the wall to get a sense for my position in space out of habit. It's very frustrating, or it would be if I were attached to the outcome of my efforts or anything like that... which I'm not. Ahem.

I can say that my headstand practice has come a long way. I'm spending 25 breaths in sirsana A, then 5 breaths in sirsana B (legs parallel to the floor) near the end of almost every practice, barring days when the neck is feeling funny. I haven't used the wall in a good while, though I still practice my supported headstand near enough to the wall to prevent rollover if necessary. Makes for a more comfortable experience, since I'm there for five minutes or so. I'm also enjoying coming into a tripod headstand from prasarita padottanasana during my standing practice from time to time. It feels nice on the hips to bring the legs out and up and five breaths does wonders to refresh the legs at this point in the practice.

The next installment of teacher training begins this Friday, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the program progresses. I'm also looking forward to being able to eat cheese and butter again. I think I had dreams of baby swiss and sharp cheddar dancing around on little gourmet crackers last night. Mmmm... just you wait, my lovelies... three more days.


Teacher Training: Week 1

I'm well on my way to achieving the status of all natural certified organic yoga teacher. The first weekend of training has come to a close. I've been wanting to write about the training every day, but have refrained because of some conflicted reactions to the system and organization of the program. I don't want to be critical, it's still early, but I do want to be honest... so here it goes:

I was aware going into the program that there would be some tai chi and chi gong involved. I did not know there would be polarity testing and energetic healing... The very thought makes me cringe. It's not that I absolutely deny the subtle body, chakras, meridians and all that jazz... I'd just rather feel it than talk about it, if you know what I mean. The tai chi and chi gong are alright. I'm actually really enjoying some of the tai chi that we've learned. It's good breath work, and very meditative. Apparently, APY teachers begin each class with some tai chi as warm-ups instead of sun salutations because they're more accessible movements for most people, and it's difficult to overreach while practicing. While I'd prefer to begin with salutations in my own practice, I remember the first time I tried to do a sun salutation. As tense as I was, it was not a pleasant experience, and actually put me off of yoga entirely for a bit, so I can see why this might be a good alternative to begin a low level class.

But as for the energy stuff... meh. I'm just not into it. Thankfully, it seems to have been a brief segment, and we have moved on to the principles of instructing breath based movement. Whew! *wipes the sweat of impending regret from brow* That's more like it. I had no idea how difficult it would be to verbalize cues and lead breath based movements. I actually thought it might be easy, since I hear it in my head every day when I practice, but actually speaking the words in rhythm with the breath, articulating even just the most important points was a tad overwhelming at first. With just a couple days of practice, however, it's starting to come more naturally. I'm encouraged. Yesterday we instructed each other through surya namaskara A in a round robin set up, taking turns, doing one salutation after another, over and over for what seemed like hours. But it was fun, and we all got a lot better after just a few rounds. One frustrating point, however, is that we're being taught to lead the salutations with a different breath count than I normally practice. We're exhaling on the step/jump forward from down dog and then inhaling the spine long, where I (and most practitioners, I think) would normally inhale forward and extend the spine in a single inhale. Considering the thousands of suryas I've done this way, the habit is deeply ingrained.

Speaking of habits, I miss my home practice :( School (yoga and otherwise) and work have kept me from taking any extra time on my mat, but I've got a few hours blocked off for a good long practice this afternoon. It's been a long time coming... truly just a few days, but it seems like eons. Friday evening and Saturday morning we began the training day with a studio class. Fun, but not the same as a personal practice. The music in the studio was distracting, and the rhythmic, percussive voice of the instructor grated my nerves at first. He spoke very rapidly, so I had a hard time following him. The class on Friday was rough, difficult to get a flow going, but the Saturday morning class was better, though neither class had much of a seated sequence, and only one backbend toward the end. I missed the backbends and the seated twists, but there were other challenges, and lots of good shoulder opening. I do like the alignment instruction taught by this school. Lots of neck/shoulder cues. There also seems to be a good emphasis on keeping the joints soft to prevent hyperextension. All the instruction, as rapid as it may have been at times, was very safe and comfortable. I feel it's of the utmost importance that I learn how NOT to hurt people, so I'm glad to see structured and enforced alignment principles intact in the APY system.

For more on habits, we've been given two nutritional challenges this week. The first challenge is to drink at least one gallon of water per day -- this seems like a lot. As I recall, Yoga Gypsy published a post on water consumption and the importance of hydration not too long ago. According to the simple equation she provided, I should be drinking about 67 ounces of water each day, or just over half a gallon. I wonder what will happen if I double that. The second nutritional challenge is to cut all dairy from our diets for one week. My jaw actually dropped when we were given this assignment. I'm a Wisconsin girl, after all. I grew up on cheddar. I could live the rest of my life happily eating nothing but cheese, fresh bread, and tomatoes. This will be a struggle. I guess that's the point.

Physically, I am feeling a few notable effects from the training. The tai chi stance, which we spent a lot of time in on Saturday, is doing something nice to my upper thighs and glutes without straining the lower back at all, and the breath work is definitely strengthening my core, particularly around the ribs. All the hours of floor sitting are really opening my hips and knees, and I can feel the effects of the many, many salutations we practiced yesterday. My hamstrings are feeling nice and long from all the forward bends, but we're being forced to clean up our chaturangas, which is something I've probably needed for a long time. I can feel the difference in my shoulders, chest, and upper back. We've been given a morning routine which includes some movements to loosen the hips and shoulders, some tai chi, and some alternate nostril breathing. I went through the routine for the first time alone this morning right after I woke up. It was a little strange at first, but left me feeling pleasantly warmed and wide awake.

So, is the training what I thought it would be? Yes, and no. While I do find the energy workshops distasteful, the body and breath work so far has been good, and I'm glad that we're jumping right in with practice teaching. I'll take as much of that as I can get.


Asana of the Week: Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana

This week's asana is Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, otherwise known as Revolved Half Moon pose. This is an awkward standing balance with a twist that requires strong grounding through the standing leg and a very active extended leg to provide the foundation necessary for the twist.

Pushing strongly through both legs is important in this asana to keep the hips stabilized for the twist and allow for extension of the spine. I also find that by grounding strongly and twisting from the waist, I get a nice opening sensation in the outer hip of the standing leg.  Strong flexion of the floating leg is the key to balance and extension in this pose.  The more you push out through that heel, the more stable your pose will be.

Building the strength in the legs and core necessary to accomplish this pose took some time, and in the early days of my practice I dreaded it. Now, however, I enjoy popping forward into Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana any time I practice Parivrtta Trikonasana, by simply bending the front knee and grounding the hand 8-10 inches in front of the big toe, then inhaling forward into Revolved Half Moon Pose. It's a natural transition, mirroring the more common Triangle-to-Half Moon vinyasa.

I have two Revolved Half Moon sequences for you this week. The first sequence involves a good deal of twisting, and the second is more of a balancing challenge. Both are good core work and very effective hip openers.

Revolved Sequence
  1. Anjaneyasana (Crescent Warrior)
  2. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle)
  3. Parsvottanasana
  4. Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle)
  5. Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half Moon)
  6. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
  7. Vinyasa
  8. Repeat 1-7 on the opposite side.
Balancing Sequence
  1. Anjaneyasana (Crescent Warrior)
  2. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
  3. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
  4. Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half Moon Pose) 
  5. Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Splits)
  6. Vinyasa
  7. Repeat 1-6 on the opposite side.

How do you practice Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana?


YTT Anticipation

Teacher training is fast approaching, and the anxiety is building.  It's subtle, but definitely there, manifesting in a string of tension to the right of my spine and into my neck.  The first training session is this Friday -- that's two days from today.  My expectations are still bouncing wildly, leaving me drenched in attitudes ranging from solemn receptivity to simply hoping the program isn't stupid and a waste of time.  Either way, I'm looking forward to getting started, albeit with uncertainty.

I feel as though I should be preparing in some special way, but instead my practices have been meandering and restless.  I've been trying to work on some things that I haven't done much of lately -- deep hip openers and arm balances mostly, but it's been throwing me off, interrupting the meditative quality I need from my practice.  Yesterday's practice started out okay, but just sort of disintegrated after spending the standing sequence warming up to hanumanasana.  After hanuman, I just didn't know what to do, so I crawled through a gentle twisting sequence then spent a couple of minutes in a supported bridge pose with the palms at the sacrum (my favorite version of the pose), forgoing the usual set of urdhva dhanurasanas.  I was then interrupted during my handstand practice, skipped sirsasana because of the back/neck issue, and went right to a brief savasana.  Mediocre practice.  It happens.

I did manage to land a couple more jumps into bakasana yesterday, again interspersed between several failed attempts.  But when it happens, it feels good and light.  The right wrist has been tight.  Something strange happened to my right index finger while I was in Wisconsin... it swelled up suddenly, and felt as if I had jammed it against something, but I don't remember injuring it.  I thought maybe it was an allergic reaction, but it's been over a week since it happened and the finger, and the whole hand and wrist to some extent, is still swollen and sore.  It's a mystery.  I've had many irritating body issues in the past week:  blisters, headaches, sore back, swollen finger...  I think my body may be turning against me, and just in time for YTT.


The Yogini Has Landed

It's been a while since I've begun a post this way, so I'm pleased to announce that yesterday's practice was damn good.  Meditation began as a struggle... still working through some dark emotions... but rather than try to escape the struggle, I decided to face it head on.  I meditated on my pain.  I asked myself repeatedly, why am I in pain in this moment?  I could not find an answer.  All recognizable sources of my discomfort and grief were rooted in the past, and as we all know, the only thing to do with the past is to let it go.  I emerged from this meditation feeling quite free and unburdened.

In the spirit of this liberation, I practiced a completely different type of standing sequence, deviating entirely from the usual Ashtanga-based structure.  I enjoyed a nice warrior flow -- warrior I, warrior II, warrior II with a heart opener (hands clasped behind back), and then bowing down into humble warrior, a pose I almost never incorporate into my own practice, then inhaling back up to warrior I keeping the hands clasped behind the back, breathing fully into the chest.  For a bit of grounding, I stayed for ten breaths in a long, steady tree pose, then moved from there into natarajasana for the obligatory glory moment.
On my way to the floor, I decided to try jumping into bakasana.  As the most loyal of readers may recall, this is something I had been working on optimistically for a while, but never made any progress.   At some point I became discouraged and decided to let it simmer on the back-burner.  Yesterday, on a whim, I gave it another go.  Success!  I landed the jump into bakasana twice, and it felt entirely different than I remember.  I think all the handstand practice I've been doing has helped me develop the "quick grab" muscle necessary to land the jump smoothly, not to mention the mental fortitude to refrain from freaking out and tipping over once the landing is made.

As for the technique, I found that envisioning myself jumping up, and then setting the knees down onto the arms for the landing leads to a much more stable pose than trying to simply jump forward onto the arms.  Also, remembering to "grab" the upper arms with the knees by squeezing the inner thighs together helped me maintain the appropriate height in the hips, instead of bouncing down on the landing and then trying to lift back up, which always seems to result in a tumble.
The sudden success I experienced in my handstand practice while on vacation seems to have faded.  It has always been my hope that one day everything would just click, and henceforth forever and ever the perfect handstand would be available to me.  Unfortunately, this has not been the case.  While my strength has obviously improved, particularly in the stabilizing action of the lower core, I'm still not able to consistently catch the handstand without tipping too far forward and bouncing a heel off the wall first.  But it's happened before, and it will happen again, so that's good enough for now, I guess.  What's that bit of wisdom?  Oh yes... practice and all is coming.


My Painfully Open Heart

So I'm back in Texas, where I belong.  I had a really lovely time with my family, and the weather in the Midwest was unseasonably summery during my trip.  Sun-soaked yoga by the water and catching up with family and friends were good for the soul, but I have to admit, it's nice to be back.

The morning of my returning flight I opted for an extended meditation, followed by a brief, mostly restorative asana practice.  The meditation experience was very powerful.  It was a quiet morning alone in the house in which I grew up, where I have experienced so much joy and sadness.  I don't often play too much with the mudras in my meditation practice, but I was moved to form the lotus mudra and poured all my love and goodwill into that house -- for reasons upon which I will not expand, the residents there are in dire need of it.  The power of emotion that flooded me as I spread my fingers wide was overwhelming, and a tear or two made their way to the floor.  I have been feeling quite shaken ever since.

 I had my first practice today since my return in my familiar yoga space, and it felt so right.  Meditation was pretty much a stunted failure, as my mind has been a jolted jumble of emotions since I returned, but as soon as I began my Suryas, everything fell into place.  In the spirit of moving through these difficult emotions which have been simmering since that startling meditation experience, I opted for a heart opening practice leading up to a strong set of urdhva dhanurasanas, peppered with a few extended moments of forward folding surrender to reconnect and shield my vulnerable heart.  The practice itself was wonderful, but afterwards I felt completely and utterly exhausted -- depleted in every way.  I took a hot shower, made myself a sandwich, then laid down for an unsatisfying nap.  No sleep, just tossing and turning, sighing and sniffling.  I accepted defeat, dragged myself from the bed, and have been carrying on in a state of fuzzy fatigue.  Hopefully I can shake the haze before I head off to work tonight.
Tomorrow, I'll consider a more nurturing practice.  I think I need a bit of stillness to let things settle into place.