3.31.2010

Novel Asanas and Mild Success

Practice has been great this past week, in the sense that it's been very nurturing. Friday, during my standing sequence I felt a wave of exhaustion come over me, an unsettling feeling of depletion that felt unfamiliar on my mat, something I haven't experienced in a long time. I noted the sensation, and finished the practice I had planned, but Saturday's practice was meditation only, thirty minutes. My daily meditation practice has become very rewarding, and I'm finding that I'm drawn to additional brief meditations (5-10 minutes) throughout the day. I don't use any special mantras or visualizations. I just close my eyes, focus my gaze on the third eye, begin ujjayi pranyama, and watch the breath, listen to the breath, focus on the breath. To be honest, I haven't read much on the topic or done any guided meditations beyond the brief sessions in an asana class, but my interest has been piqued.

I've been really working the backbends for the past week or so, paying close attention to the upper spine, both in the bends and the twists. After a couple days of strong backbends, I gave eka pada urdhva dhanurasana another try.... and whadya know? Success! (note: I am conflicted by my own use of the word "success" regarding my asana practice, but isn't it important to have certain goals in mind? And keeping the breath a priority, of course, having arrived at these goals, what do we call our arrival if not achievement?) After playing with just lifting the knee and experiencing the initial shift in weight onto my shoulders, I went for the full extension. I found that bringing the grounded foot toward the center of the mat before lifting the leg aided in the stability of the pose. Bringing the knee of the lifted leg across the body initially before extending the leg made things go a little more smoothly, and arching the head back to look at the floor behind my hands also seemed help me maintain lift and focus while supporting the extra weight of the lifted leg. I think the key here is essentially drawing everything in toward the center line, particularly the core, inner thighs and shoulders.

My jump backs are coming along. Some days are better than others, which is also still true with the jump throughs, but consistency is developing. I've been bringing my hands a little closer together for the jump backs, though still not quite beneath my shoulders to allow space for my feet to swing through. I still need a little extra push from my toes once I get the feet through before jumping to chaturanga most of the time, but I have been able to do it in one motion on a few separate occasions, albeit landing in a very wide-armed chaturanga, so I know it can be done. My jump backs from the arm balances are fantastic, though. I've been playing with gaining height in the hips for effortless propulsion into chaturanga. If not always beautiful, they are always a hell of a lot of fun -- I smacked my chin on the mat pretty hard putting a little too much flare into a jump back from bakasana the other day. Luckily, with the Manduka, it's no big deal -- just a nice, gentle ego buster.

Today I practiced my first forearm stand in a Yoga Today class called "Non-harming Ahimsa" with Sarah Kline. I had toyed with the idea in the past, even coming so close as setting up near the wall, but it just felt so strange on the back of my shoulders that I never felt comfortable kicking up. I've done a lot of work on inversions since then, and overcome a few mental blocks in the face of perspective-benders, so I felt ready to give it a try when the instructor suggested it. I moved my mat to the wall, of course, and walked the toes in, mindful of the bandhas. It took a few awkward kicks, but I made it to the wall, and actually felt pretty okay once I got there. I took my feet away from the wall for a couple of breaths, and it was alright. Just to seal the experience, I paused the class and practiced it one more time, with a little more control. New asanas are fun, but I'll have to be careful with this one. I can still feel the effort in my upper back and shoulders. I think a little more preparatory practice is in order.

3.30.2010

Asana of the Week: Baddha Trikonasana


Bound triangle, or Baddha Trikonasana, is a pose that I don't see in many of the books. I was introduced to this asana during a Yoga Today class several months ago. I remember the first time distinctly: the instructor cued us while in a bound side angle to straighten the front leg while keeping the bind. My hips and hamstrings balked. I thought, she must be joking. But I gave it a try, and in the process was reminded of the importance of humility on the mat (and in life, damn it!). The tough ones seem to have a way of growing on me, and Bound Triangle has been no exception.

I always enter this asana from Bound Side Angle, apparently also known as Bound Warrior in some circles. In my experience, the key to the twist is to keep the chest open and reach up toward the ceiling (or the sky, if one were so fortunate as to be practicing outside) as you straighten the front leg.  I recommend keeping the knee slightly bent if you're feeling any tension around the knee or hip joints. This is a very deep active stretch.

Below is the rear view of the same pose, done on the other side. I noticed when I saw the photo that I grabbed with the wrong hand. Mistake! That's probably why it looks a bit less open on this side. I wondered, at first, why my left elbow was so bent until I saw my binding error.


Don't do that, folks. Just remember, "the wrapper is the grabber!" (Swenson, Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual). In other words, the arm that wraps around the leg is the same hand that grabs the wrist, or the fingers of the other hand, or a strap, or shirt, or whatever you can get a hold of comfortably.

I like to practice bound triangle in a flow as follows:
  1. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1)
  2. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)
  3. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)
  4. Baddha Parsvakonasana (Bound Side Angle)
  5. Baddha Trikonasana (Bound Triangle)
  6. Return to Baddha Parsvakonasana (Bound Side Angle)
  7. Bird of Paradise Pose
  8. Release on an exhalation and step back to Parsvakonasana
  9. Vinyasa
  10. Repeat on the other side.
(Leave out the bird of paradise if you're not into it. Just inhale back to warrior II from bound side angle before taking a vinyasa, and it's still a great sequence.)


Where have you seen Baddha Trikonasana, and how do you incorporate it into your practice?

3.26.2010

Free Classes and Presidential Posturing

Just a quick post to link a couple of things I think you, the phantom reader, might enjoy.

First, I happened upon these three absolutely FREE full length Vinyasa Flow and Baptiste Power Yoga classes. There's a 60 minute, a 75 minute, and a 90 minute audio class, just waiting for you to snatch up. I have not taken the classes, so I can't yet vouch for the quality, but hey, they're free. So if you're strapped for cash and hard up for a few classes, here you go.

If you're full up on classes and just looking for a laugh, take a quick peek at Bush Yoga. You'll chuckle between the painful winces of remembrance. I promise.

(update: Good news! Bush Yoga is back up and running. Check it out.)

3.25.2010

Spine-curling Goodness

First of all, I'd like to direct your attention to the bad-ass new header, and send a big thank you to La Gitane, the good soul behind Yoga Gypsy. She recently offered her services as a graphic designer for free to three lucky commenters on her blog whose own blogs needed a little more panache. Her awesome designs can also be seen at Yoga with Gailee and Suburban Yogini.

Secondly, I got back on the Yoga Today wagon this evening after my long solitary practice yesterday. I took a class entitled "Improving circulation through backbends," led by Adi. Yesterday's practice involved a lot of backbends, and the back was feeling a little sore today, in a good way, so I was curious to know how it would feel going through another backbend-heavy practice right away.

The standing sequence was slow and deliberate with a few longer holds, and the slower motions actually built heat very quickly. There were some binds thrown into the standing sequence to open up the shoulders, which felt really nice and kept the core heated. The seated sequence offered a few jump through opportunities, and Adi led a brief exploration of jumping into a pike position from the knees and landing in chaturanga. I haven't been able to do a good pike yet. And I've tried, plenty of times. More bandhas, I know, but I'm definitely missing something.

The backbending sequence turned out to be almost exactly what I practiced yesterday: a few shalabasana variations, ardha bhekasana, and two dhanurasanas. Go figure. Then we came through a vinyasa to the knees for ustrasana, which was absolutely brilliant after warming up the back so much. I really don't practice ustrasana enough. It's such a great heart opener; a feel-good pose, and an excellent opportunity to work on keeping length in the lumbar spine while backbending. If I'm compressing in the lower back, I can always feel it and know when it's been corrected in ustrasana. Push the hips forward and stretch the tailbone down!

After the class, I practiced a couple of hip openers and twists, then worked on my inversions for a long while. Handstands, headstands, and even a shoulderstand, which, fortunately, is not tormenting me so much these days. I spent a lot of time trying to polish my jumps into handstand, stretching out my sore knees in hero while resting between bouts. Twice, I found a point of balance and hovered for a breath before touching the wall. That's what I've been looking for! It's finally beginning to happen.

Before staying in headstand today, I practiced coming into and out of the pose smoothly, without the wall -- almost, that is. The wall was about two feet behind me, so I could prevent rolling onto my neck if necessary, but not close enough to use as an aid in lifting up or interfere with coming down. I never used it. This was a big step for me. I felt very comfortable, and didn't panic when things started to sway a bit. I'm beginning to think that with the inversions, it's all about commitment and confidence. I must decide to be steady, and I must know that I have the ability to do so.

After a good rest in child's pose, I gave the dreaded shoulderstand a try. I stayed for twelve long breaths, then lowered to a plough pose, even clasping the hands and stretching them back to the floor. To my astonishment, it actually felt good. All the shoulder openers are paying off, big time. It might be time to scratch salamba sarvangasana off of the asana black-list.

3.24.2010

Practice Breakdown

No music during practice today, and no Yoga Today classes. Just me, the breath, and the mat. After a nice twenty minute seated meditation, I went on to have a beautiful practice. Let me break it down for you:

4-6 Cat-cows
downward dog (pedaling out the feet, swaying the hips a bit to stretch the sides, and coming onto the toes to loosen up)
rag-doll forward fold (clasping opposite elbows and beginning with the knees slightly bent, slowly straightening the legs with each inhale. Spent about 2 minutes here)
side stretches, interlacing the last three fingers overhead, pointing up and over with the thumb and forefinger for five breaths on each side).

3 Surya namaskara As (I included some high to low lunges in the first two, feeling out the hips)
3 surya namaskara Bs.

Note: as usual, the following asanas were held for 5 breaths unless otherwise specified.

Padahastasana
uttanasana with hands clasped behind back
vinyasa.

Warrior I
warrior II
utthita parsvakonasana
inhale to warrior II
exhale to vinyasa.
Repeat on the other side.

Warrior I
warrior II
trikonasana
ardha chandrasana
inhale to warrior II
exhale to vinyasa.
Repeat on the other side.

Utkatasana
crescent warrior
warrior III
ardha chandrasana
parvritta ardha chandrasana
urdhva prasarita eka padasana
exhale to uttanasana
vinyasa.
Repeat on the other side.

Uttita hasta padangusthasana A, B, C (one breath), and D
Repeat on the other side.

Parivritta trikonasana
parsvottanasana
vinyasa.

Anjaneyasana
vinyasa.

Plank
chaturanga
urdvha mukha svanasana
adho mukha svanasana
inhale right knee to chest, shifting weight over hands (hold five breaths)
exhale right leg to the floor for eka pada rajakapotasana (10 breaths in a forward fold, 5 with a thread-the-needle twist, and 5 with the back foot in the elbow crease)
firelog pose
lift up, jump back (just about got it!), vinyasa.
Repeat on the other side.

Bakasana (after the first five breaths, I moved through a few bakasana to tripod transitions, holding each position for a couple of breaths)
jump back, vinyasa, jump through to seated.

Upavistha konasana
baddha konasana
marichyasana C
ardha matsyendrasana

vinyasa, jump through to seated.

Navasana, lift up (three times, 5 breaths in each navasana)
vinyasa, lower to the floor from chaturanga.

Shalabasana (5 breaths with tops of hands on the floor, 5 with hands clasped behind the back)
ardha bhekasana
dhanurasana (twice, 5 breaths each)
vinyasa, jump through to seated.

Paschimottansana (10 breaths).

Rock-the-baby
compass pose
inhale to eka hasta bhujasana
exhale to astavakrasana for 5 breaths
inhale back to eka hasta bhujasana
exhale to eka pada koundinyasana I for 3 breaths
jump back, vinyasa, jump through to seated.
Repeat on the other side.

Bridge pose
urdhva dhanurasana
vinyasa, jump through.

Paschimottanasana (10 breaths)
vinyasa.

Handstand (lots of kicks, lots of play -- caught a couple of good jumps and stayed for a few breaths without touching the wall. I'm rapidly getting more comfortable with this upside-down thing.)
child's pose
Headstand (three minutes)
child's pose
vinyasa, jump through to seated.

tolasana (8 breaths, then switching the legs for another 8 breaths in tolasana)
Damn good savasana.

3.23.2010

Asana of the Week: Urdhva Dhanurasana

I've decided to start a new weekly feature which will focus on a particular asana-- whatever is challenging, inspiring, or requiring some exploration in my practice each week. The first Asana of the Week is Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Urdhva Dhanurasana has become one of my favorite asanas. I have grown to love the intensity of the stretch, the deep opening across the front of the body, and the sense of weightlessness I experience afterwards as my heart pounds its way back to a normal rhythm. I also love the play space in this position. The options are so many: walk in the hands, walk in the feet, or both. Look down and back between your hands, or gently hang the head. Straight legs. Bent knees. Lift one leg. Drop back. Stand up. There are just so many places to take this asana, and there's always another variation to aspire to.

My love for Urdhva Dhanurasana stems from a long and troubled relationship. I have been practicing this asana, or trying to, since I first began rolling out my mat on a regular basis almost three years ago. It was included toward the end of the sequence I practiced from Linda Sparrow's The Women's Book of Yoga and Health, so I tried it every time I practiced, in spite of the pain and fear.

Early on in my yoga adventure, I had a tendency to think that every struggle I faced on the mat was the result of a lack of strength, be it physical or mental, so I muscled my way through many postures that I should not have attempted at that point in my practice. I was not ready for Urdhva Dhanurasana, and it was not because I was weak. It took me far too long to realize that much of my trouble in UD was due to tension in my shoulders and chest, and because of this, I strained, slipped out of the pose, and hurt my right shoulder a few times before I figured it out. But, alas, I did figure it out. I have been slowly and carefully working on opening my shoulders, and the change in my Urdhva Dhanurasana is enormous.

These days, I practice two or three Urdhva Dhanurasanas every time I hit the mat (with the exception of restorative days), and it's always one of the highlights of my practice. Just in the last couple of practices, I've played with lifting one leg. I haven't tried fully exentending the lifted leg -- I'm still just feeling out where my support is going to come from, but I'm hooked on the energy build of the backbends, and nothing electrifies the entire body like a big backbend.

3.20.2010

More Yoga Today

In the spirit of my plans to absorb as much Yoga Today knowledge as I can in my remaining month of membership, I took two classes this afternoon. The first was called "A Twist in Perspective," a "yogi" level class led by Adi. It was a really good ashtanga-based class, starting out with I think 8 surya namaskaras, which I appreciated. I need a lot of time to warm up, and really miss the salutations when they are foregone or abbreviated in a class. Lots of twisting, as the name suggests, and I needed it. I've been partaking in some less than honorable foods this week, and my gut has not been appreciative. One thing to note, though: the class was incredibly fast paced at times. Easing my way into a pose on a good long exhale, I found Adi was already cuing the next asana before I had reached full expression in the previous one. I may have been moving slowly, though. My hips hips were especially tight, so I was proceeding with more caution than usual.

The second class was a "guru" level class also led by Adi entitled "Hip Openers," going after that tension in my hips a little more. This was a really fun class, which I've taken before. It includes a prasarita padottanasana to tripod headstand to bakasana and back through tripod to prasarita padottanasana flow, which is an interesting challenge during the standing sequence. During the seated sequence, there is a compass to astravakasana to eka pada koundinyasana II flow, which is something I've worked on a bit since the first time I took the class. I am pleased to report that I was able to tuck my foot under and flow into EKP II without touching the floor on both sides. It's the symmetry that I obsess over most. If I can't do an asana on either side, it can easily be dismissed for a while. If it's just one side that fails, I just can't leave it alone. The class ended with two repetitions of bridge pose, about 5 breaths each, which was good because the first class had no big backbends, come to think of it.

Both classes offered plenty of opportunities for jump throughs and jump backs. My jump throughs are getting pretty smooth, and the seated jump backs I've been practicing with the wide arms are really coming along. I can't believe the progress a few practices have made. I might actually be able to do it right one day.

Overall, it was a good practice. Coming back to another standing sequence after spending some time on the floor in the first class was a different kind of challenge, but it was fun to mix things up a bit and take an experimental approach.

3.18.2010

Yoga Today, but not Tomorrow

Prior to joining Yoga Today, I had never really seen anyone do yoga, at least not in action. I had seen it as the media presents it -- a sensual, relaxing, blissful, blonde group meditation with a sexy instructor -- but that wasn't anything like my practice. My practice was one pose at a time, struggling to breath through my nose, trying to deal with the tension, and resting and wondering what was wrong with my body between every pose. As I became more comfortable in the breath and sought more fluidity in my practice, I sort of intuitively began to use something like a vinyasa. I would take a forward fold, and then extend the back for a few breaths after each standing asana before coming back to tadasana, because it felt right, but I didn't really know what a vinyasa was, or how to use it. Adi Amar at Yoga Today taught me how to move with the breath, and more importantly, to allow it to guide me. She taught me to use downward dog as a home base, to make it my resting pose, my happy place. In short, her classes transformed my practice.

Last night, I canceled my subscription to Yoga Today. It was a sad affair, thinking back on all that Adi's vinyasa classes have done for my practice. She is the type of instructor who can safely guide you into an intimidating asana in spite of yourself, but I think it may be time to move on. Each time I've gone to the site to scope out a class over the past couple of months, I've found myself thinking that I can do better on my own. Maybe it's just arrogance, but the longest classes are just over sixty minutes, Adi's classes are the only ones that I enjoy of the three instructors, and I've already taken all of hers that interest me, many of them two, three, or four times. Admittedly, I haven't given the other two instructors on the site, Sarah and Neesha, a fair chance. I think I've taken two of Neesha's anasura classes, and two hatha classes with Sarah. Both of them talk a little too much throughout the practice, in my opinion, and their sequences are never quite as fluid as Adi's. I'm sure it's just a style preference.

However (and this is a big one), when I canceled my subscription last night, I was informed that my membership would be active through the 18th of April. A whole month! So I'm thinking of taking as many classes as I can to soak in as much instruction as possible before I completely let go of the hand of Yoga Today. I noticed while I was at the site yesterday that they've just started posting some new studio classes, as opposed to all the previously made classes which take place in various enviable outdoor settings. They've also begun updating a "Scheduled Releases" page, which announces upcoming class debuts. I'm curious how the studio setting will change the nature of the classes, if at all. I admit I could easily be convinced to stay with Yoga Today if they added a little more variety and some new classes more often than once or twice a year. I joined the site in June of '09, and I've noticed maybe 2 or 3 new classes since then. But it appears as though they may be picking up the pace. We'll see what happens over the course of the coming month. In the meantime, it's classes for me. Maybe I'll start taking two each day. That might be an interesting challenge.

I began my class-taking endeavor this afternoon with one entitled "Balance, achievement, and freedom," with Sarah. This class was pose-specific, building up to salamba sirsasana twisting variations. I'm not sure why I selected this class; I'm not ready for that. I think I meant to play a class called "Supported head and shoulder stand," but I got mixed up somehow. I just practiced my good ol' regular salamba sirsasana away from the wall as a challenge for me instead of the twisting variations, working on lifting up smoothly.

After the class, I prepped for shoulderstand with a bridge pose, then practiced salamba sarvangasana for 10 breaths, followed by five breaths in plough. After a brief fish pose, I went on to work on my handstands for about 15 minutes. Lots of kicks of all kinds: one leg on my strong side and weak side, and with both legs together. I also tried coming down from handstand with straight legs to build more control in the core. Lots of good balancing today. This was easily my best handstand practice yet. There were a couple of holds where I was steadily balanced for 3 or 4 good, long breaths. I've been moving gradually away from the wall to allow myself more space to try to catch my balance before my feet touch, but success has been limited. My feet still bang the wall first every time. But I'm getting there, and, once up, I'm finding my balance much more quickly.

A little high on the inversions, probably, I practiced one more headstand before calling it a day. I set myself up about a foot and a half from the wall, so that it would be there, but not unless I reached for it. The lift up was good, slow and steady. I didn't tip backward. Definite improvement.

I ended my practice with a twenty minute seated meditation instead of savasana to counter all the inversions. The orange afternoon sun peaked in through the curtains. It was a damn good practice.

3.17.2010

Hip Opening -- with Pictures!

I finally had a day off of work again yesterday (maybe I'm just lazy, but a 5 day work week seems like a little much), and I celebrated with an appropriately luxurious practice-- long holds and alternative flows, keeping things interesting. My practice seems to have fallen into a deeply worn groove, consisting of essentially the same sequences every day, and my time spent on the mat has swollen to almost three hours at at time. Yikes!

This would be fine -- great even -- if I didn't have other things to do. Unfortunately, I need to study subjects other than yoga and even work for a living, sometimes. The problem is that once I start to like a certain asana or flow, I don't want to go one practice without it. Silly of me, I know, and very much failing in non-attachment, so I've been trying to pare things down and mix them up a little more.

After practice yesterday, my sweetheart was kind enough to take some long awaited yoga photos for me! (As you may or may not have noticed from the new profile pic.) I've never had anyone take pictures of me practicing asana. It was an interesting experience. All of my practices are spent completely alone, with the exception of the few classes I have attended, so it was a little strange to have a spectator. But he did an excellent job, of course, and was very patient with me (envision me in a flying pigeon growling why aren't you taking pictures?! while he tries to figure out the flash). I think they turned out quite nicely. Here's one of the eka pada rajakapotasana variation with the foot in the elbow that I've been writing about lately:


Looks okay, right? The left hip could come down a little more, and I guess my shoulders could be more square to the front, but this is a new pigeon variation for me, and I must say it looks almost as beautiful as if feels-- the form of the asana, that is. The front of my hips are finally starting to open up, as the much-improved hanumanasana below will reaffirm:



and setting up on the other side (weak side)...

Trying to maintain the inward rotation of the right leg here. Does it look turned out to you? Or splayed out to the side? It feels very different on my weak side, though vastly improved from just a few months ago.

Finally, here's an eka pada koundinyasana I for you... 'cause it's fun! And just for the hell of it:

Open hips and yoga pics! Oh, happy day!

3.15.2010

Tiny Breakthroughs

Today's practice was an epic three hours on the mat. I guess I needed it after my "rest day" yesterday, which means no asana practice but a very long night at work. Some interesting things are happening in my practice lately. My hips and shoulders are opening in ways I didn't know were possible for me. I'm moving beyond the walls. And the core strength I've been developing has turned my practice into a whole new animal.

My standing sequence today was filled with balancing poses, which I ordered differently than I normally do to spice things up a bit. I also tried some longer holds whenever I felt like it, taking an extra 2 or 3 breaths here and there when I found a sweet spot or something I wanted to explore in a pose. My left knee has been talking to me for the past week, so today I really focused on not hyper-extending, keeping a microbend in the knee and the muscles around the joint fully engaged. I never thought I was a hyper-extender, but I'm beginning to see it happening in the left leg because of laziness in the thigh. Gotta watch that.

Parivritta trikonasana has been pretty okay my last couple of practices. Definite improvement, though still not an agreeable position for me. I've been taking a few breaths to come into the pose, first squaring the hips, then working the forward fold and grounding into the feet, and only then slowly twisting at the waist with my top hand on my hip before reaching up, if I reach up at all. Baby steps.

I've been spending lots of time (10-12 breaths... is that a lot of time?) in eka pada rajakapotasana with a forward fold, allowing the hips plenty of time to open up. Also still working on the variation with the back foot in the elbow. Today I reached back with the my opposite hand to manually secure the foot in the elbow, and it was worth it. The pose was much more stable without having to worry about the foot slipping from the elbow crease, and I was better able to square my shoulders to the front, though there's much work to be done in that regard.

There was a tiny breakthrough with my seated jump backs today. I tried placing my hands wide, each hand only halfway on the mat, to see if I could get my feet through this way. Success! Sort of. Yes, I was able to swing my feet back through my very wide hands. I did touch down for a second before jumping back, but I didn't use my feet to assist with the jump back. It wasn't pretty, but it was educational. I felt what needs to happen in my core, specifically with uddiyana bandha, and the roundness in the back.

I brought inversions back into the mix today after a few days of no inverting, and I must say... my handstands were a little rusty. I made it up, but my elbows kept bending, and my feet came to the wall hard every time. Maybe I was tired. It was toward the end of a long practice.

My headstand, on the other hand, was quite excellent. I stayed for probably 4 minutes, though I didn't have a view of a clock, so I can't be sure. But it was comfortable, and pretty stable after a few seconds of wobbling when I first lifted up. I kept my core fully engaged, and boy, was I feeling it. You could have cracked a coconut on my stomach when I came out of that headstand (well, probably not... No, definitely not, but it felt that way at the time).

3.11.2010

More Practice

I had a strong practice today after an easy day yesterday. My thighs, hips, and lower back were unusually sore, and my wrists and elbows have been giving me the business this week, so I omitted all arm balances and handstands from yesterday's practice to give them a break.

I began my practice this morning with a supported reclining bound angle. Aunt Flow came to town, which probably explains the soreness I was feeling yesterday, so this was a nice way to start by opening the pelvis. The breath was very long and loud, almost resonant, like a hidden reserve in my lungs had opened up for the first time. The inhales seemed to go on forever. Very interesting.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel once I got moving, with the residual soreness and all, but was pleased to find that I was feeling strong and especially well grounded. I took advantage of this by working through a challenging standing sequence that went a little something like this:

Warrior I
warrior II
extended side angle
vinyasa.

Warrior I
warrior II
trikonasana
ardha chandrasana
ardha chandrasana, grabbing the foot
vinyasa.

Crescent warrior
warrior III
ardha chandrasana
parivritta ardhachandrasana
urdhva prasarita eka padasana
vinyasa.

Uttita hasta padangusthasana A, B, C, and D
vinyasa.

Utkatasana
crescent warrior
revolved side angle, hands in prayer position
revolved side angle, with the bottom hand to the floor outside of the foot, the other reaching straight up to deepen the twist
vinyasa.

Parivritta trikonasana
prasarita padottanasana
vinyasa.

Revolved triangle and revolved side angle are still a bit troublesome. I've started practicing revolved triangle on my weak side with the hand just to the inside of the foot, rather than the outside. Obviously, the twist isn't as deep, but it is helping me to square my hips a little better. I'm still not able to ground through the back heel on this side. It's very frustrating. Stay down, already! Revolved triangle on the other side is coming along quite nicely, however. Feels stable, good breathing, no tweaks in the hips, and the right heel stays nicely grounded behind me.

I've been working toward bringing my legs back through my arms for seated jump backs. I came closer than I ever have today, but still, it's not quite happening. I have enough height, I just can't seem to keep my knees close enough together to fit through the opening. Maybe more rounding in the back could help. And more in the bandhas, no doubt. It just needs to be tighter. I did manage to jump back from eka pada koundinyasana I and II today. My landing from EPK-1 was a little crooked, but not too bad, really.

Urdhva dhanurasana was big and round today. Walking in the hands as well as the feet is making an enormous difference. I never thought to walk the hands in until recently, probably because I used to worry a lot about slipping in this pose, but it really brings the curve into the upper spine and opens the chest. I've been thinking about the direction of the breath in urdhva dhanurasana, and other asanas where the chest is fully expanded. It's difficult to direct the breath into the chest and maintain a long inhale, but I'm beginning to feel that it's possible. Though, admittedly, bandhas, which are used to direct the breath, are often the furthest thing from my soaring mind in urdhva dhanurasana.

No inversions today. I'll probably take a couple more days off from the upside-down stuff to let Aunt Flow do her thing. I go back to work tonight, and I'll be working an extra day this week, so I'll have to try to keep the practices relatively short for the next several days. Maybe an hour, or an hour and a half? Can I do it?

Sheesh... the yoga addiction is really kicking in.

3.09.2010

Just the Highlights

I had another damn good practice this morning. I won't bore you with the whole sequence this time. Here are the highlights:

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana:
I was about to practice my usual variation, pressing the back foot down with the hand, and swiveling the fingers forward to open the shoulder, but I had a sudden compulsion to try a deeper version of the pose. I put the rear foot in my elbow crease, and reached up and back to touch the fingers with my opposite hand. This was a first for me! I remember trying it once in a Yoga Today class long ago, but being utterly denied, so I was quite pleased that I was able to enter the asana with ease. With the right leg forward, it was really quite nice. I was comfortable, and it was elating achieving a new position. And such a beautiful one, at that. The second side was less nice. My right front hip was clenching a bit, pulling me off balance, but still, it was not terrible. I'll probably try to work on this for the next few days to feel it out and polish it up.

Hanumanasana:
Practiced this a few days ago, and experienced some trembling and tension. Today was different. Hanumanasana was very stable, and after one breath with hands in prayer position, I reached the arms up and gazed up for 5 breaths on each side. The imbalance in the hips today was much less pronounced than it had been on Thursday. I felt really good about this one.

Ustrasana:
I used to practice ustrasana quite a bit, but it seems to have been edged out of my practice by more novel asanas. I've been bringing it back, however, over the past couple of weeks. Today, I pressed my hands into the sacrum, pushing my hips forward, dropping back as much as possible and bringing my awareness into my upper back before lowering my hands to my heels. What a difference! The backbend felt very deep, but without the compression in my lumbar spine. I'm guessing all the shoulder opening I've been doing has helped me with this one, as well.

Bakasana to Tripod:
I've been practicing taking bakasana, then lowering to a tripod, and coming back to bakasana three times in a row, holding each position for 3-5 breaths. It's an excellent strengthener for developing focus, coordination and control in the core. I know I want to be moving slowly and paying attention when lowering onto my head. Protecting the brain case is a good motivator for controlled movement.

Adho Mukha Vrkrsasana:
Really starting to get the hang of this handstand thing. My jumps are bolder and more graceful. I'm starting to catch my balance before my feet come to the wall, and then just lightly bouncing a heel to regain my balance every breath or so. The deeper understanding of the bandhas I've gained from my handstand and headstand practice has begun to seep into my vinyasas. Jump backs are getting more floaty and less hoppy. Hang time is happening. My body feels light. All good things.

3.08.2010

My Morning's Practice, For Your Pleasure.

Had a nice, long practice this morning. I started with a 20 minute meditation. It took quite a while for me to reach a point of focus, and even then, I had to settle for quiet resolve instead of nirvana, but I sat quietly and upright, breathing the whole time, which is enough most days. After my meditation, I decided to turn on some music, which is not something I've been doing much lately, but it was fun. I even decided to listen to some Nick Cave instead of the instrumental stuff that I usually prefer for my practice.

On the mat, I started with a few cat-cows, and a long adho mukha svanasana, bending the knees one at a time, lifting onto the toes, and generally loosening up. And then...

3 surya namaskara As
3 surya namaskara Bs
tadasana, eyes closed, hands in prayer position (10 breaths).

(note: the following asanas were held for 5 breaths each, unless otherwise specified.)

padangusthasana
padahastasana
uttanasana with hands clasped behind back (still working on those tight shoulders).

Vinyasa
warrior I
warrior II
extended side angle
vinyasa.

Warrior I
warrior II
trikonasana
ardha chandrasana (5 breaths with extended leg, 5 grabbing the foot for a backbend)
vinyasa.

Warrior I (3 breaths)
warrior II (3 breaths)
extended side angle
bound side angle
bound triangle
bird of paradise
vinyasa.

Garudasana
inhale to utthita hasta padangusthasana D with garudasana arms (1 breath)
exhale to warrior III with garudasana arms
inhale back to utthita hasta padangusthasana D (1 breath)
bring ankle of lifted leg right above the knee of standing leg, reaching arms up
exhale forward to ardha baddha padmottanasana variation (unbound, 3 breaths)
flying pigeon
vinyasa.

Parsvottanasana
parivritta trikonasana (getting better!)
utkatasana
vinyasa, jump through to the floor -- actually, I fumbled the first jump through badly, but decided to keep trying until I got one I was satisfied with before moving on. It took me four attempts.

Upavishta konasana
baddha konasana
janu sirsana
lift up, vinyasa, jump through.
marichyasana A, C (unbound), and D (unbound)
lift up, vinyasa, jump through.

Navasana, lift up (5 times)
vinyasa, jump through.

Bridge (8 breaths)
urdhva dhanurasana (3 times, 8 breaths each)
paschimottanasana (10 breaths)
vinyasa.

Plank
chaturanga dandasana
vinyasa.

Eka pada koundinyasana I
vinyasa.

Handstands by the wall (six jumps, made it up four times. The first time was quite nice.)
child's pose
vinyasa.

Headstand by the wall(2-3 minutes)
child's pose
vinyasa, jump through.

Savasana.

3.07.2010

The Magic Dumpster



The bed in my home has been a foam mattress on the floor for the past six years. My man and I have always loved the bohemian simplicity of the mattress on the floor, the freedom it allows, and the silence. Why would anyone want a big, bulky bed frame? What's the point? I had always wondered. Well... I wonder no more.

I washed our bed sheets and blanket last week, and decided to take the opportunity to flip the bare mattress, which I do a few times a year, and lo and behold, beneath the mattress, what did I find but HORROR OR HORRORS! MOLD! I felt violated, shocked, disgusted, appalled, and mortified. How did this happen? Will it make us sick?? Strangely, the floor beneath the surface of the mattress was cold and damp. We still don't know why the floor is damp, but it seems to be coming from the bottom up, not from the top down.

So that's why people have beds.

Upon discovering the growth beneath the mattress, we cleaned and disinfected the floor, then turned on a fan and laid the mattress against the wall to let things dry out. I decided immediately that we would need to get a bed. Anything, really, to elevate the mattress a bit, to get us off that damp, cold floor... but I'm a thrifty gal. Money is tight right now, and the last thing I should be throwing my funds at is furniture.

As I've mentioned before, most of our apartment is furnished with dumpster finds. We live in a fairly large apartment complex in an evolving urban neighborhood, and people are constantly moving in and out. Fortunately for us, a thriving furniture exchange has developed, which means there is often a nice lamp, sofa, or sometimes a whole living room set lain out carefully on the lawn behind the dumpsters.

It always happens so conspicuously: every time we need something for our home, it appears behind the magic dumpster. Among the items that have been provided by the dumpster are:

matching sofa and loveseat
two coffee tables
three side tables
two storage chests
recliner
two desks
two desk chairs
two floor lamps
big gong
3 wooden storage bins
two book shelves

And the newest dumpster find... (drumroll please!)... a bed!

That's right. Wednesday, we needed a bed. By Saturday, we had one. It had been carefully disassembled, with all the planks and drawers (yes, 6 drawers beneath the new bed. Hooray for space-efficient storage!) in organized piles, with all the screws in place. Awesome. I roused the man from a deep sleep to help me carry it inside. I put it back together, and everything fit perfectly. It's very nice. And free!

Thank you, Magic Dumpster.

3.05.2010

Practice Notes

Had another damn good practice before work last night. I treated myself to a quick 10 minute pre-practice meditation in a supported reclining bound angle, which is always a nice way to ease into my practice when I'm not feeling so gung-ho.

I took an hour-long nap before hitting the mat, and stiff shoulders and low blood pressure made the transition into my asana practice a little rocky. The first few down dogs were labored and heavy, and my hands felt like they were slipping, which doesn't happen much anymore now that I practice with my Manduka e-Qua towel on my mat. But, as usual, I felt fine-- better than fine, even-- by the time I got into my surya Bs.

I had a nice, sweaty standing sequence, paying close attention to the alignment of the hips in the virabhadrasanas, still looking for the imbalance that's been giving me trouble in twists. Facing these knots around my hip joints has become an obsession. The sensation is changing. It's evolving from a painful wall to more of an intense but not entirely unpleasant heat that spreads and softens from deep within the hip. I worked on opening the front of the hips and thighs in some pigeon and crescent moon variations, incorporating a few shoulder stretches by bending the knee, grabbing the foot, then swiveling the fingers forward and pressing the foot down. My intention was to prepare myself for hanumanasana, which I have neglected to work into my practice, as of late.

Hanumanasana felt pretty good. The difference in sensation between the two sides is diminishing, and though I didn't feel that reaching the arms up for the full expression would be appropriate, I stayed for 6 long breaths on both sides with hands in prayer position, lifting through the chest and keeping the legs active. I read Grimmly's post yesterday about entering hanumanasana by setting the front heel first, then walking the rear foot back into position. I tried entering the pose this way, and liked it very much. I think it allowed me to be more precise in the positioning of my hips.

I practiced gomukhanasana on the floor before my urdhva dhanurasanas, and it was a very good prep for opening the armpits and front of the shoulders. I practiced three urdhva dhanurasanas for eight breaths each, and allowed myself only three breaths to rest between lifts. The progression of mobility in the shoulders and spine was obvious from the first to the third backbend, but the full expansion of the chest in the final UD made breathing a little more of a challenge.

Jump throughs have been coming and going. I never use blocks, simply because I don't want to bother with them, and sometimes I just can't find the lift I need to get my legs straight through without brushing the floor. But that's alright. It's coming, with practice. I seem to be able to best jump the legs through when I don't think about it too much, just exhale into a downward dog, then lift and float through on the inhale. If I settle into downward dog for a few breaths to rest before jumping, the odds that I make it through without crashing are greatly reduced. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe my down dog gets longer as I settle into it, making the jump through more challenging. Or maybe I'm just over-thinking it when I give myself time to do so.

Handstands have been really good this week. Since I switched to the donkey kick method, I'm finding full extension in the legs and sometimes, my balance, before my heels come to the wall. I seem to lift up instinctively this way, sometimes finding a handstand when my intention was simply to practice quickly balancing on the hands with the legs tucked. I've been playing with the distance of my hands from the wall before kicking up, gradually moving further away to allow myself more space to play with balance and discourage me from using the wall. I'm already tempted by the idea of trying a handstand in the middle of the room. But I'm not quite ready. Very tempted to try it, but not yet.

My headstands have been feeling very stable, though 'rooting' through the tailbone is proving to be a challenge. I find my balance is greatly aided by practicing with a "flointed" foot, or pushing through the ball of the foot and flexing back through the toes. This foot position keeps the legs very active, which in turn seems to stabilize the hips. I may, in fact, be ready to start practicing headstand away from the wall, at least once in a while, so I don't get too dependent on it. I'll try it soon.

3.04.2010

Yoga Mouth

What do you do with your tongue when you practice? Do you relax the tongue down and away from the roof of your mouth? Or do you touch the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth to open through the palate? I have been instructed to do both of these seemingly contradictory things by various teachers and, lately, I've been experimenting with the position of the tongue in my practice.

Having spent several weeks exploring the effects of tongue positioning on the breath, I have arrived at the opinion that the correct positioning depends on the shape of the asana. I find that touching the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth can open the throat for more efficient breathing and assist in a louder ujjayi to help maintain focus during more intense sequences. During backbends, however, especially urdhva mukha svanasana, I've found that releasing the tongue down softens the jaw and opens the front of the neck, allowing for dramatically more curve in the upper spine. In moments of surrender, I prefer to let the tongue relax and settle, allowing the breath to swirl against the roof of the mouth, cooling the palate.

This mouth and throat yoga concerns me because I hold a lot of tension in these areas. In an effort to battle this tendency, I have been beginning my pre-practice meditations by focusing on releasing the tongue and throat on exhalations, and "opening through the top of the head," which I equate with softening the palate, on the inhalations. By consistently breathing in this manner, I seem to have developed a strong physical association with moola bandha in the mouth and throat, sort of a reciprocal reaction occurs that has carried into my asana practice. Now, whenever I engage moola bandha, my jaw and throat systematically release, and my palate softens. I find this new habit really interesting, and actually quite beneficial to my practice in the overall softening effect it has.

I perused my yoga anatomy books, and was surprised to find nothing on the subject of ideal tongue positioning, or the effect of the position of the tongue on the throat and palate, and therefore, on the breath. Is this an area that you think about when you practice? Or do you just let the tongue do its own thing?

3.02.2010

Parivritta Trikonasana: The Most Hated Asana

Damn good practice today. My hips were knotted and tight, but I was feeling resilient, so I worked a few high lunges into my surya namaskaras and practiced some long holds in warrior I and II, extended side angle, trikonasana, and ardha chandrasana (first five breaths with leg extended, then another five with a backbend, hand clasping the foot). Then crescent warrior to revolved side angle (variation with hand to the floor outside the front foot-- not binding yet in this one), and utthita hasta padangusthasana A, B, and then with a twist, grasping the outside of the foot with the opposite hand and extending the leg. I did all of this work with one asana in mind: parivritta trikonasana.

Revolved triangle. Oh, how I despise you, the way you brutally illuminate every asymmetry in my body, from shoulders to hips to ankles, then try to steal the breath away from me while I am distracted, struggling to find balance. But I know your game. I'm onto you.

The game, or the way to revolved triangle, I am learning, is other twists. Surprise! I know... so obvious. Sometimes I wonder where my mind is, but it's just so easy to fall into a rhythm of favorite asanas... the blissful ones that make me feel like my practice could go on forever, just riding the breath into stillness. But I have gained a new appreciation for twists after revisiting the ashtanga primary series, first in a set of Yoga Today classes, then in Swenson's Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual, specifically the marichyasanas. So compact, they produce some good heat from deep within the core. They have also revealed to me sensational knots in and around my hip flexors. I've been practicing marichyasana A, C, and D (wrist binding in A, not binding in C or D), and it seems to be helping. The hard knots in my hip flexors are gradually softening, and I'm sensing that this tension I'm facing in the seated twists is the root of the problem in parivritta trikonasana. Not to mention, my core is much stronger because of the navasana sets and jump throughs, which I also picked up reviewing the primary series, allowing me greater length in the spine.

It's still not exactly blissful, but today's revolved triangle was not horrible. I stayed a couple of extra breaths trying to solidify the correct positioning in my hips, tucking the front hip under. On my weak side, which in this position is with my right leg forward, I'm still not able to really ground through the left heel, and because of this I feel as though I'm tipping forward. Perhaps it's weakness in the left leg coupled with tension in the outer right hip. I don't know, still working on it... but the point is that I am, in fact, working on it, instead of relegating revolved triangle to the dungeon of undone asanas.

Hmm... what else is down there in the dungeon?