5.29.2010

Dairy Air

There must be something special in this crisp, clean Wisconsin air.  I'm beginning to suspect some mysterious airborne steroidal particles are wafting about that cause one to feel light, strong, and floaty.  I just don't know how else to explain the sudden and consistent handstand success I've been having.  During yesterday's practice, I landed four handstands, WITHOUT THE WALL.  The day before that, I landed two.   And this morning, another four handstands toward the end of my practice, balancing effortlessly, weightless and steady.

I know I shouldn't try to stare down a gifted horse... or something like that... but I don't understand it.  Maybe it's practicing outside in the sun -- perhaps the sun's rays are actually fueling me directly, as if I were just another blade of grass.  I don't know, but my practices have definitely felt different since I arrived in the Dairy State.  And it's not just the handstands.  The jump backs have been slow, smooth, and controlled.  I'm getting considerably more height in my lifts, and the jump throughs have been quite lovely, as well.  It's weird.  Great, but weird.

Apart from the practices themselves, I've spent much of my time here evangelizing the practice of yoga... trying to quantify and summarize the many, many benefits of the practice and all that it's done for me.  The other day, I got down on the floor and did some restorative yoga with my precious grandmother at her apartment while we chatted it up.  It was very nice.  She asked what kind of yoga  I would recommend for a 76 year old lady, so I started with some very subtle movements and gentle hip openers, but she completely blew me away with her flexibility and strength.  She's quite the silver star.  I'll take that as a good sign for my future -- the matriarchs on both sides are incredibly strong and resilient.  I only hope to be so vibrant when and if I reach my seventies.

5.25.2010

Homeward Bound

I'm off to the airport this morning, headed to the great state of Wisconsin to see the family for the first time in a year.  I had been doubting how much time I'd have for yoga while I'm away, but it's suddenly looking like this might turn out to be a very yogic vacation after all.  Both of my parents are working full time all week, all but two of my five siblings are away, and the two youngest who will be home are still in school... so I might be spending a lot of time alone at the house.  That's fine with me.  That's precious alone time just begging to be filled with luxurious hours of yoga.  The mat, towel, sunscreen, and more than a few pairs of stretchy black pants are packed.

The house is on a lake, man-made, but large and peaceful.  The lake is bordered by tightly packed houses, which are mostly uninhabited except during the peak of summer.  In the past, I've practiced on the lawn by the water while staying there, and it's always been special.  Living in an apartment with no lawn to speak of, I don't often have the opportunity to practice in the sun, with my fingers and toes in the grass.  I'm excited to do it again.

For reading material, I'm taking Yogabody, by Judith Hanson Lasater, with the intention of brushing up on my anatomy, and Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson, for a non-yoga alternative.  I'm looking forward to the week away from work, and of course, I can't wait to see the family, but I'm going to miss the boyfriend and the dog.  Hopefully, they can hold down the fort okay without me for eight days.  We shall see.

I am not looking forward to the flights.  I hate flying.  Every time a plane takes off I have a moment in which I acknowledge quietly to myself that if anything goes wrong, I will almost certainly die.  But I brave it, because I can't afford the time or the money it would take to drive the 1,500 miles or whatever it is up there.  I've done it before.  It's a long, straight, boring drive up Highway 35, take a right at the Twin Cities.  I'd never make it alone.  I'd probably end up in Kentucky somewhere with a new life serving fries at a roadside diner for ten years... or something weird like that.  I need to get there quickly, or I might not get there at all.

I should be in the Midwest by five o'clock this afternoon, if all goes according to plan, which it almost never does.  I've already decided that whatever happens is fine.  I've got my books, some tunes, and some almonds packed.  I'm determined to enjoy myself.

5.22.2010

Asana of the Week: Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana


This week's Asana is Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana, or Compass pose.
How much do I love Compass pose?  A whole lot.  It's a fantastic asana for tight hips and hamstrings, with the added bonus of a nice side stretch that runs all the way up through the shoulder.  Hip and hamstring openers have been a recurring theme here, and that's because they are areas of constant tension for myself and many others.

When first learning Compass pose, my hamstring and shoulder tension were my biggest obstacles.  Occasionally, I still experience some intense sensation in the shoulder when practicing this asana, so I would suggest when practicing Compass pose to be mindful of how much you're pushing through the foot against the pull of the arm.  You'll notice in the picture that my elbow is fairly bent to ease the stretch in the outer shoulder.  The same principle applies to the leg if the hamstrings are tight.  Keep a slight bend in the knee and focus more on bringing the knee high onto the shoulder.

Compass pose is excellent preparation for the leg-behind-head postures as it develops that same mobility around the hip joints.  Aside from the physical benefits of practicing Compass pose, a long stay in this asana makes me feel like a work of art.  It's gloriously opening and statuesque, with beautiful asymmetry that leads up to a single point in the extended foot.  I'm not much of a dancer, but the beauty of the practice never fails to amaze me.

Readers:  what's your experience with Compass pose?

5.19.2010

How I Came to the Practice of Yoga: Part 2

*This is the second part of a 2-part series.  Find part 1 here.

My home practice evolved slowly for the first couple of years. I practiced a series of poses nearly every day, gradually incorporating new asanas as I moved along and learning to follow the breath. But the two actions seemed disconnected. The practice was fragmented. It lacked grace and flow. It lacked the meditative quality I needed from the practice.

Enter the vinyasa, via the calm, encouraging voice of Adi Amar at Yoga Today. I found Yoga Today and promptly subscribed in June of 2009. This was a major turning point for my practice. Prior to the Yoga Today classes, for reasons which I have yet to understand now privy to the wealth of knowledge available online, I did not approach the internet as a yoga resource until I had been practicing for about two years. I had never watched a yoga video, or listened to a sequence. I had never seen the practice in motion. I worked exclusively from books.

Yoga Today changed this. I devoured Adi's vinyasa classes at a rate of three per week, applying what I learned in self-led practices the rest of the week. Her deft, seamless sequences, loaded with graceful flows, daring balances and longer holds, inspired me to consider the creative possibilities within the asana practice, and soon I was applying them on my own, more in tune with my body, and practicing according to my own needs. Suddenly, I had my own practice.

Practicing in this way, free from plans and lists, demanded a new level of presence, a deeper focus in order to be able to intuit the type of practice I that needed on any given day, and discipline to keep the flow going. I fell in love with the grace and heat of the vinyasa practice, and this love propelled my practice into a whole new realm. I began to spend more time on my mat, often two hours a day, sometimes longer on my days off, for the sole purpose of exploring and learning as much as possible. It was around this time that I mustered the courage to finally go to a studio class. It was a good experience. More than anything else, I left that first class with the realization that my practice was still my practice, no matter where I laid my mat.

It was also around this time that I noticed the practice seeping into my day to day life. Physically, I was moving differently. I felt light and strong, balanced and stable, using my body in the right way. My health improved. My tension headaches decreased, and the migraines completely disappeared. Emotionally, my stress reactions began to transform. I became less reactionary, better able to observe myself in the present moment and act accordingly. Of course, I have had my weak moments, and will continue to do so, but hopefully, with practice, these moments will continue to dwindle.

Recently, I wrote about how I feel I have taken what I can from Yoga Today. I cancelled my subscription in April because the classes became more of a crutch than a tool. My practice continues to grow and evolve. I am currently inspired by the Ashtanga Primary and Intermediate series, though I continue to draw from varied resources and approach my practice with an experimental, even playful attitude.

The next chapter begins with the yoga teacher training program I will be attending this summer. I hope to come away from this experience with a wider scope of knowledge from which to deepen my own practice, and maybe some day I will teach this powerful practice to others.

How I Came to the Practice of Yoga: Part 1

I was sixteen, insecure, body-image obsessed, and searching for something to identify with, from which to build a sense of self. Always a perfectionist, even at a young age I put a great deal of pressure on myself to do well and, of course, to be thin. As a result, I suffered debilitating stress migraines beginning at the age of nine. Stress was turning my body into a mess of tension, nothing helped my migraines, and after a series of futile medical and chiropractic visits to address the pain, I didn't know where else to turn.

For my sixteenth birthday, I asked for a yoga mat, a pair of blocks, and two books: The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health by Linda Sparrowe, and David Swenson's Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual.  I knew next to nothing about yoga; all I knew was that it was supposed to feel good and reduce stress – both things that I wanted.

I began with Swenson's book, and though I didn't know Ashtanga Vinyasa from Kundalini, I recognized the eponymous Downward Facing Dog when I saw it.  The black and white photos of Swenson himself demonstrating the foreign series of postures was intimidating. I decided, wisely, to begin at the beginning, with Surya Namaskara A. It was hard. Downward Dog was nearly impossible on the slick new mat, and my shoulders, hips, and hamstrings screamed through the motions of the vinyasa. I came back to the mat a few times in the week or two after I received it, experimenting half-heartedly with some of the sequences in the books, but ultimately became discouraged, rolled up the mat and put it away for a long time.

Fast forward five years of running, lifting weights, and waiting tables at turn-and-burn restaurants, and my health and range of mobility were rapidly eroding. I was too young to be so sore and stressed out all the time. I had reached a point of desperation – tension headaches every day and hip pain that kept me up at night. Something had to give. I remembered my mat tucked away somewhere, and toyed with the idea of giving yoga another try.

It was around this time that I made one of my bi-annual trips to visit my parents in Wisconsin. I had taken an enormous camping duffle with me with the intention of retrieving some more of my clothes and books from the house. Sorting through the books, I came across the two yoga references I had abandoned so long ago. I put them in the bag and began searching for the mat. I found it, rolled up and covered in dust on a shelf in the basement. I wiped it off and threw it in with the books, feeling tremendously wise for bringing such a large bag.

When I got the stuff home, I poured over the books in a way that I had not had the patience to do before. I read about the importance of the breath and sequencing, about modifications, how to use them, and why the practice might feel strange to the body at first. This time around, I was better prepared and determined to stick with it. I humbled myself to the realization that Swenson's book might be best saved for later, and began with the first sequence in The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health, the "Woman's Essential Sequence."  This was a nice hatha sequence that took the body through its full range of motion and included many of the foundational postures, with an emphasis on forward bending. It was hard, but I kept at it.

After a few months, I began to alternate the Essential sequence with the next sequence in the book, the "Woman's Energizing Sequence," which introduced some bigger backbends, like Ustrasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana. The intensity of these postures blew me away. My throat and chest were so closed that I could barely breath, but their power intrigued me. I kept working at it, lifting into a trembling Urdhva Dhanurasanas at the objection of my back, shoulders and wrists, or barely breathing in Ustrasana. Even Upward Dogs were difficult, but improvement came slowly, with regular time on the mat.

The practice was sporadic at first, with bursts of daily practice spliced between intervals of once or twice weekly sessions, but even so, my body responded quickly. First, my strength increased, then my posture began to improve, and shortly thereafter, my hip and back pain began to diminish. I wanted more from my practice, or perhaps I wanted to give more of myself to my practice.
In either case, I bought a few more books, and began to increase my reading. I started meditating before my practice each day, and began to get the hang of ujjayi pranayama. Initially, just five minutes of quiet sitting was aggravating and uncomfortable, emotionally and physically; but with practice, I began to look forward to the sitting, and found myself meditating for longer, chooser to linger just a little bit longer each day before beginning my asana practice.  I began to introduce new asanas to my sequences, building on the two sequences from Sparrowe's book. I started experimenting with order and flow, picking out asanas that appealed to me, mostly from The Yoga Bible, but the practice was choppy, aimless. There was something missing. I wanted a seamless practice, a moving meditation.

*This is the first part of a 2-part series.  Read part 2 here.

5.15.2010

Standing Sequence for Open Hips and Hamstrings

Damn good practice today. I decided to play with the triangle variations to give my hamstrings some love. They've been in need of some extra attention. This standing sequence was really effective in opening up the hips and hamstrings, so much so that decided to go the route of a bird of paradise from baddha parsvakonasana and topped it all off with hanumasana. I haven't touched either of these asanas in a little while, and both were nice. It was also great preparation for some serious forward bending during my seated sequence. Marichyasana A was especially good.

For your perusal, and perhaps a little hip and hamstring opening of your own, today's standing sequence:

- Warrior I
- warrior II
- trikonasana (triangle)
- ardha chandrasana (half moon)
- inhale to standing and revolve to the left
- exhale to parivritta trikonasana (revolved triangle)
- parivritta ardha chandrasana (revolved half moon)
- inhale to standing, revolve right to face forward
- exhale to samasthiti (equal balance)
- vinyasa
- repeat on the other side.

- Warrior I
- warrior II
- utthita parsvakonasana (extended side angle)
- baddha parsvakonasana (bound side angle)
- baddha trikonasana (bound triangle)
- exhale to baddha parsvakonasana for 1 breath, then step the left foot forward near the right
- bird of paradise
- exhale leg down, inhale to plank
- vinaysa
- repeat on the other side.

- Anjaneyasana (Crescent moon pose, left knee on the floor) - 5 breaths with hands clasped overhead, thumb and forefinger pointing up and back, then 5 breaths binding the left foot with the left hand, fingers forward.
- vinyasa
- from plank, inhale right knee to chest for 5 breaths then exhale knee down
- eka pada rajakapotasana (one-legged pigeon) - 5 breaths folding foward over the right leg, then 5 breaths with the left foot in the left elbow crease, hands clasped behind head
- vinyasa
- repeat on the other side.

- bakasana (crow)
- vinyasa
- ardha hanumanasana (half splits)
- hanumanasana - (Monkey God pose, splits) 5 breaths with hands clasped overhead, thumb and forefinger pointing up and back, then 5 breaths folding forward over the right leg
- vinyasa
- repeat on the other side.

5.14.2010

Finished


It is finished.  The semester is over.   I am now free to look forward to teacher training in June with giddy anticipation.  Plans for the coming week are as follows:  sleep and yoga.  The next week, I'll be flying to my Midwestern homeland to visit with the family (I intend to take my mat, but practice will likely be limited.  They might get concerned if I spend most of my time there doing headstands on the lawn).  Then I come back, and it's right back to the grindstone with classes, work, YTT, and personal practice.

I'll be able to maintain my home practice in the midst of all this, right?
RIGHT??

I've been struggling with some doubts about my stamina for the jam-packed summer ahead of me, but if there is one thing that the practice of yoga has taught me, it is that my doubts are irrelevant and, therefore, to be dismissed.  Still, I can't imagine life without my home practice, but I need to be honest with myself:  unless my classes are incredibly easy, my home practice is likely going to be the sacrificial lamb this summer.  I still haven't been able to negotiate a different schedule at work that will allow for a sufficient sleep regimen.  It's sort of an awkward situation; it seems, at this juncture, that either someone needs to quit or someone needs to get fired in order for me to be able to get the schedule I need.  Such is the dog-eat-dog world of food service.  But there's time.  It'll work out.  It always does.

In the meantime, my practice has suffered.  This was the first week in about six months that I have gone two consecutive days without my regular asana and meditation practice.  That is not to say that I haven't been doing yoga:  there was plenty of pranyama and restorative practice to be had during finals week -- think victorious breathing and headstands in lieu of naps.  On the bright side, my back is feeling better, perhaps from the relative "rest," or inactivity, and of course the massage the boyfriend doled out yesterday was immensely helpful.

But, as I said, the plan, beginning with today, is sleep and yoga.  I'm off to bed soon after a good dinner from the restaurant and a couple glasses of wine -- an Australian shiraz, if you must know.  I haven't had one of these in a couple of years... too showy for my taste, but I was feeling bold and liberated last night when I bought it, so I'm enjoying it's unabashed oaky bigness now... though I maintain it's a little jammy.  Needs food.

Anyway, as regular readers may have noticed, the Asana of the Week has been absent for the past two weeks.  Do not fear.  The feature will return, with a vengeance.  With the boyfriend suddenly working again after a long stint of unemployment, I forget that he's not at my beck and call to do a photo shoot whenever I get the inspiration, so we have not, as yet, been able to coordinate this.  But we'll manage, or I'll take the damn photos myself.

5.11.2010

Hibernation Tendencies

It's finals week. The very thought of it exhausts me, but it also means I'm almost, just about, very nearly at the end of the semester. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I'll only have two weeks off before the summer semester begins, but that's enough. It'll have to be. Then two weeks after that, teacher training kicks in. Oy. Thinking of it all, I just want to curl up for a good long nap.

It's been tough getting my practices in. I'm often torn between studying and practice... on the one hand, I need to study and complete my projects and just get this stuff done, but on the other hand, if I don't get my asana and meditation in, I might just hurt someone, badly... probably myself, by way of red wine, pizza, and pastry. But I was good today. I went to class, did the laundry, finished most of the work for one of my projects, and got a good, long practice in. Then I had a light dinner of watermelon and bananas accompanied by sprouted wheat toast with red raspberry and pomegranate jam, followed by some mint tea with local honey. Very nice.  Speaking of local honey, what's this about consumption of local honey as preventative treatment for seasonal allergies?  I've been buying the local stuff for the past year and half or so, and I've had no allergies to speak of, in enormous contrast with previous years.  I realize this is not exactly empirical evidence, but I wonder if it hasn't helped.

The air here is still thick with moisture, so I had another torrential sweat going on during my practice today. I love breaking a good sweat, but I hate that same sweat seeping into my eyes and nose. I especially hate it in the nose, but there doesn't seem to be any way around it, so I end up in downward dog after a strong sequence, breathing my own sweat. It's gross. I do keep a towel handy for wiping the old brow once in a while, but I don't let myself grab it until I complete the vinyasa. Maybe I'll get used to the sweat someday. I have often been amazed at what I find myself adapting to after time, though I suppose I shouldn't be. It's human, it's what we do.

Standing practice was good today, though the humidity was bothering me at first. Once I started sweating, it was alright, but it felt downright oppressive until then. I had a few more good jump backs, and a really strong and stable bakasana-tripod headstand-bakasana-jump back sequence. The seated twists were also good, as my hips were nice and open, and I hadn't eaten a whole lot throughout the day before my practice. My back is still making a little noise. It's starting to feel like a bruise, just sort of a dull, warm sensation. The first urdhva dhanurasana was interesting, accommodating this seemingly hardened ridge along my spine. During the second and third urdhva dhanurasanas, it was alright. It felt better, actually, if a little tired after the backbends. I'm hoping it will pan out to be some sort of revelatory opening/strengthening breakthrough, but for now, I'm being cautious.

Update on the plantar wart battle: They seem to be succumbing to the awesome power of Dr. Scholl's. The huge one on the ball of my foot is much smaller, so much so that it doesn't bother me to put pressure on it anymore. I'm optimistic that the salicylic acid siege will win out in good time.

5.10.2010

Damn Good Practice

Thick, hot humidity and the feeling of being deprived of yoga last week made for a damn good practice today. I worked hard. I was focused, but not hurried, and my clothes were completely soaked when I peeled them off afterward. It felt good.

Today's practice asked a lot of my wrists, forearms, and shoulders. I spent long holds in downward dog between sequences, and sometimes even between sides within a sequence, lengthening the breath and spine. I managed a few good jump backs, and several good jump throughs. I worked on side plank, bakasana, parivritta bakasana, and an arm balancing sequence consisting of jumping into firefly (or trying to anyway -- I still can't land those jumps into the arm balances. I suspect it's a mental block), to an arm pressure balance, to firefly, to bakasana, and then jumping back. I'm learning to find lift by squeezing the thighs together against the upper arms and shoulders. This action adds a good deal of height and stability in the arm balancing postures, especially during the transitions.

I practiced some longer holds in my handstand practice today. I'm getting stronger, more comfortable adjusting my center of gravity and finding balance in the air. I usually practice a few half handstands, or donkey kicks, before going for the full handstand. This helps me to get a sense of the action and placement of the hips as I come forward onto the hands, making for a smoother, slower lift of the legs. I did not land any jumps into handstand without the aid of the wall today, but I did, at one point, balance away from the wall for three full breaths. Not too bad.

I was careful with my backbends today. I've been noticing some soreness along my lower thoracic and lumbar spine. I don't feel anything when in motion, but it feels a bit sore to the touch, right along the spine and slightly to the right. I warmed up with 6 breaths in a nice bridge pose, but the first urdhva dhanurasana was tough. My mid back was really tight, so I proceeded with caution, taking a wide stance at first and shifting my weight slowly back and forth, breathing into the tension. It loosened up considerably by the second UD attempt, so I went on to walk the hands in a couple of times, and practiced eka pada urdhva dhanurasana for my third attempt. All went well, no tweaks, and paschimottanasana was perfectly delicious afterwards.

Sarvangasana and sirsasana practice were both good today. After 25 breaths in sirsasana A, I practiced moving into sirsasana B for a couple of breaths and then back a few times. This was good bandha practice, really bringing the awareness into the pelvis.

After that, ten breaths in tolasana, and a damn good savasana. As adorable as the loris was, I think my practice won out as the highlight of my day.

Adorable Loris for Laughs

So far, this has been the highlight of my day:

5.05.2010

Today's Practice: Backbends Galore

For today, I'll just give you my practice.   I decided to focus on backbends, and worked in quite a few.  I haven't practiced natarajasana, or cosmic dancer pose,  in a long time, so I threw that one in.  I noticed I was able to go significantly deeper into the pose.  My back was strong, my hips flexors were more open, and my standing leg was steady.  It's always interesting to revisit a pose I've neglected for a while.  The effects of my practice make themselves known.

I started with 20 minutes in seated meditation and pranyama, working up to inhale and exhale retention cycles
6 cat-cows
child's pose
downward dog, incorporating any movement that feels good
ragdoll
3 surya As
3 surya Bs
warrior I
warrior II
extended side angle
trikonasana
ardha chandrasana
ardha chandra chapasana
inhale back to warrior II
vinyasa
repeat on the other side.


tree pose - 5 breaths with hands in prayer position, five with arms up
natarajasana

inhale to uttitha hasta padangusthasana D with arms overhead
exhale to warrior III for five breaths
inhale back to UHP D, exhale to release
repeat on the other side.


Vinyasa
anjaneyasana - high lunge variation, with back leg straight and strong, really working the backbend here
revolved side angle - 5 breaths with hands pressed together in prayer position, elbow pressing into the outer thigh, then 5 breaths with the bottom hand to the outside of the foot and the top hand reaching straight up
lizard pose

eka pada koundinyasana II - 3 breaths
exhale to jump back
vinyasa
repeat on the other side.


intense side stretch
revolved triangle
utkatasana
vinyasa
inhale knee to chest for five breaths in a one-legged plank
exhale leg down for eka pada rajakapotasana - 10 breaths folding forward, then five with the back foot tucked in the elbow crease, hands clasped behind the head... I'm loving this backbend/shoulder opener
firelog pose
vinyasa
repeat on the other side.


bakasana
tripod headstand
lift into bakasana to jump back
vinyasa to seated.


upavishta konasana - 10 breaths
baddha konasana - 10 breaths
vinyasa



marichyasana A
marichyasana C
ardha matsyendrasana
vinyasa
repeat on the other side.


navasana, lift up - 3 times
vinyasa



inhale to plank, exhale to stomach
shalabasana- 5 breaths with arms extended, then 5 with hands clasped behind the back
ardha bhekasana

bhekasana - variation with the fingers pointing down the tops of the feet, drawing the elbows together...  I can't figure out how to swivel the fingers forward on both sides at once for the final hand position
dhanurasana - 3 times, 5 breaths each

vinyasa
ustrasana - 10 breaths
child's pose

vinyasa


arm pressure balance
firefly pose - 1 breath
exhale to bakasana - 1 breath
exhale to jump back
vinyasa


bridge pose
urdhva dhanurasana - 10 breaths, lifting each leg for a few breaths, then a few breaths walking the feet toward the hands.  Yesterday, I saw my feet in this pose for the first time... my left heel to be exact.  It was wonderfully disorienting.
vinyasa
paschimottanasana - 10 breaths, gradually lengthening
vinyasa
shoulderstand - ten breaths
halasana
matsyasana
vinyasa.


handstand practice - I got one without touching the wall!  It didn't last very long, one exhale, maybe, but I was happy.
child's pose

headstand - 25 breaths
vinyasa
tolasana - 5 breaths each way
savasana - 5 minutes.

5.04.2010

Fun with Inversions

I had a damn good and much needed practice today.  I worked into all the shoulder tension I've built up this week with lots of binds, and stretched out the hips with a whole lot of warriors and twists.

Standing was good.  I opted for some longer holds in the standing balancing poses, especially ardha chandrasana.  I get such a nice stretch in the inner thigh and groin area from this asana, especially when I move into ardha chandra chapasana (the name of which I just learned, thanks to Emma at The Joy of Yoga).

 I've been practicing the utthita hasta padangusthana sequence religiously this week, A, B, C, and D.  C is the one that kills me.  In the past, I've only spent one exhale in this posture, but I'm currently working on extending that to at least one full breath cycle.  It's tough, what can I say?  The knee of my standing leg needs to bend a little to sustain this version of the pose, and the heat comes quickly.  I've always saved my strength for variation D, with the leg extended straight ahead, hands on the hips, but I think I'm ready to build on C a little more.

The seated twists were grueling today, but I needed to be wrung out, so I went through the usual set of marichyasana A, counter twist maintaining the bind, marichyasana C, and ardha matsyendrasana.  Jump backs were pretty good today.  My determination has increased since I've learned that I can, in fact, do it.  Sometimes the motion is torturously slow, but if I stay focused, I can do it.  Today I found myself grunting a little during the more extended jump back attempts... not very attractive ;).  I  need to relax in the throat, but it takes so much strength in the chest that my neck and throat tense up in the spirit of the effort.  They're trying to help, I think, but it's just getting ugly.

I practiced several inversions today.  I came into a tripod headstand from prasarita padottanasana A during my standing sequence, then a brief bakasana, then back to a tripod to return to prasarita padottanasana.  I did another set of bakasana to tripod headstand transitions later on my way to the floor.  My headstands are really coming along.  I still practice my extended supported headstand close to the wall, but the tripod headstands are usually spontaneous, and just five or six breaths, so I don't need the wall for these.
I practiced shoulder stand, which felt especially good today; all that shoulder opening must have helped.  Then about 15 minutes of handstand practice, which is getting better.  I'm gaining control, and learning to lengthen through the tailbone, learning that this action is all bandhas.  After handstands and a child's pose, I spent 25 breaths in a supported headstand, which was very nice, indeed.  Lots of time spent upside down.

There are just two weeks left of the spring semester, so I'll have a two week break between the spring and summer semesters at the end of the month.  I intend to spend a great deal of it on my mat, in preparation for teacher training.  Already, I'm finding myself observing my practice in a different way, wondering how I would communicate all the many little points and motions I use to move from one asana to the next, and to keep my mind focused on the breath, and even if these are things worth communicating.  These, of course, are pointless thoughts.  All I need to do for now is practice, and wait.

5.03.2010

The Big Announcement Post

Okay, here it is... the big announcement:  I'm in!  After some email exchange with Kurt Johnsen, the founder of APY, he assured me that the training will indeed be going forward, and that it's looking like the class will be full.  I signed up this afternoon.  The session begins June 11th, and I'm excited.

I have a feeling this experience is going to shake things up a little bit, life-wise.  I've been working the same schedule for the past four years, but I'll need to negotiate different hours at the restaurant in order to accommodate the teacher training, school, work, and sleep.  I was thinking this was going to be difficult, but last night I was asked if I'd be interested in moving to a new location the company is opening as part of the "opening team."  This move would allow me to essentially choose my schedule for the summer, which would solve the "no time for sleep" dilemma.  It's tentatively looking good.

The reading list for the training course is fairly light:  The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, How Yoga Works, A New Earth, and  the Tao Te Ching, but of course, neither of the translations that I currently own.  I was pleased to see the Tao on the list, though.  Apparently, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a novel (?), which, according to the Amazon.com review, appeals to "certain male readers" who "especially appreciate the coming-of-age theme, the haunting love story with the elusive woman Joy, and the challenging of Western beliefs about masculine power and success."  Anti-machismo masculinity?  I could get behind that, I guess.  Amazon customer buddha18 says of the book, "part jedi, part ninja -- all awesome."   Anyone have some more insight on this?

I asked about the anatomy component of the course during the open house question & answer session, and he said we'll have two workshops with a physical therapist.  I would have liked to see an anatomy reference in the reading list, but I suppose I already have a couple of those.  I've done some reading, and the books I have are very good, but I haven't taken an anatomy class since high school.  I hope the workshops are thorough.

I stayed behind to ask Kurt a few more questions after the Q & A.  He was very receptive.  He spoke of teaching one's own practice, which I found reassuring.  I asked him a vague question about the lineage of the asana practice he teaches, and got an appropriately vague answer.  But I've been doing my research, and I've watched some videos of his practice and teaching style, and, based on what I've seen, I look forward to working with him.

5.02.2010

All Things are Temporary

Whew!  Am I ever glad that week is over.  I managed to finish both of my projects for school without having to take an extra day off of work, and made it to the teacher training open house at the studio on Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately, it was not the decisive affair I had hoped it would be.  The studio is relatively new, it opened for business about a year ago, and though the classes I've attended have usually been crowded, the open house was pretty scarce.  Apparently, the training will not be going forward unless they have ten students who wish to enroll (though no more than twenty will be accepted), so things are currently in limbo.  Not a good sign, really.  We'll see what happens.  Sorry I don't have any big announcements for you...  Oh, wait!  I do have one: the boyfriend found a job this week.  HOORAY!  I'm so relieved.

As for my practice, it's been hurried and compromised for the past several days, and I'm aching for a good long session on the mat.  I had only five days of practice this week in order to get my school work done, and practice on Thursday was just the essentials:  suryas, hip openers, and headstand.  Thankfully, tomorrow should end this trend and leave me with ample time to practice.

While I prefer not to be rushed, I do find that time constraints keep my practice especially focused.  When I need to limit my time on the mat, I scan the body closely and go right for what it really needs.  Headstand practice has become absolutely essential.  It wipes my mind completely clear by demanding every last bit of my concentration.  My awareness is recruited entirely into the present.  I wonder if this will continue to be true as I find more ease in the asana... I hope so.