Primary Friday: Rich Little Warriors

This is more like it.  I made it through the full practice week with all my Intermediate postures and without a chorus of reluctance assailing me every time I thought of stepping on the mat.  It didn't hurt that Tuesday was a moon day.  I hope this means I'm over the hump.  In any case, I better get over it soon because the 3-week Swenson intensive is naught but a week away.

Yesterday's practice was really good.  I worked hard.  And not because of an obligation to achieve, but because it gave me joy.  At the onset, I knew it would be a good practice.  Every little joint in my body, from knuckles to spine, cracked so loudly and freely through the Surya Namaskara that I might as well have done the salutations on bubble wrap.

Standing was solid.  As I came to Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, it occurred to me that I used to regard that posture as some kind of a sick joke, awkward and demeaning.  But now, I look forward to it and wind myself up with gleeful abandon.  After the second side, I step to the top of my mat dressed in a whole new body.  Utthita Hasta was shaky.  There was some dancing and hopping about, rare but comical.  Ardha Baddha was a lovely stretch.  And the Warriors...

Oh, the Warriors!  If there's one clear and obvious way that Ashtanga Vinyasa has changed my relationship to the asanas, it's in the evolution of my relationship to Virabhadrasana I and II.  They are the chocolate on my Primary pillow.  What once were confrontational are now comfortable, soft and even sweet.  Warrior II is my new favorite hip opener.  Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I'll stay for 6 or 8 breaths instead of five, just because it feels so damn good on my chronically short adductors.  The very same adductors which, by the way, seem to be opening up since I left the couch behind for a floor pillow situation in my living room.  My back and hips have thanked me.

All the elusive binds were back in business yesterday, with Marichyasana D, Suptka Kurmasana, and Pasasana accounted for.  In fact, not only were the binds accounted for, but they were as deep as they've ever been.  Strange. Very strange.

Intermediate was interesting.  Like I said, Pasasana was bound with a full four-finger clasp on both sides.  I managed to swing into Krounchasana in a single breath.  Shalabasana felt strong and Bhekasana was deep.  Dhanurasana is feeling quite deep as well, but Parsva Dhanurasana has announced itself as my new nemesis pose.  I'm trying hard not to hate it, but I am no longer amused by the antics of the posture and grudgingly bide my time through the infinity that is 15 breaths.  Of course, it's never quite as bad as I remember and, eventually, this aversion will pass.

Ustrasana was heavenly.  I had a strong impulse to close my eyes and go to sleep in the posture -- that's how comfortable I was.  I don't think I've ever before had the urge to nap in a backbend.  Laghu was the usual thigh-burning grind.  Kapotasana, though not yet to the heels, has proven to be surprisingly untouched by lack of practice.  I might even venture to say that I have more mobility in my thoracic spine now than I did before I took a break from the backbends.  It's clear in the drop backs, as well.

And since this is a Primary Friday post, I suppose I should remark on my Primary:  I haven't done it yet.  My practice has settled into a nice midday groove.  I step on the mat around 12:30 or 1pm, and it's working for me.  There's actually a good, diet-related reason for this timeslot, which is fodder for another post in itself.  Stay tuned for a post on why some of us shouldn't practice on an empty stomach.  (Cue suspenseful music.)


The Scenic Route

Sunday has emerged as the clear winner in the race for my favorite day of the week.  I don't teach any classes, have the whole day to myself, and, since Saturday is rest and oil bath day, Sunday practice is always a treat.  The rest gives me an energy boost such that, at times, I feel almost weightless, and the oil bath rubs out any war wounds from the previous week.  To take full advantage of this freshness, I make a point of doing my full practice on Sundays, meaning full Primary plus my Intermediate postures.  It's often the only day of the week that I have that kind of time.

And since I do have all that time, I'm free to really dig into the details and set the tone for clean, productive week.  Yesterday's practice was especially lengthy.  Primary alone, pre-finishing, took 90 minutes.  Then with Intermediate tacked on plus finishing and a good, long Savasana, I was on my mat for two and a half hours.  But what I've come to realize is this:  full Primary plus Intermediate is a lot easier than half Primary plus Intermediate.  Sure, it's longer, but the second half of Primary is just the afterparty to the first half of the practice.  All the Konasanas lounge around in the late hours, smoking exotic cigarettes, sipping cocktails and laughing at the antics of the Marichy gang, tisking and shaking their heads with sweet fatigue at the memory of Bhujapidasana and Supta Kurmasana... those postures like to party hard.

But when you cut out the cocktail hour of Primary and head straight into 2nd from Navasana (or Supta Kurmasana, which I tend to do), you eliminate a good, long little break spent mostly on the back.  The core and thighs don't get that recovery period, so the heat just keeps building and by the time you get to Laghu Vajrasana, you're dripping and using every ounce of strength just to hold on to your breath...  Or maybe you aren't, but I am.  So I love that long, luxurious practice with all it's hills and valleys.

Binding is a new problem.  Marichyasana D has been difficult since I took those two weeks off, but now Supta Kurmasana and Pasasana have followed suit.  I'm not sure if I've gained weight, lost flexibility, or some combination of the two.  I suspect the recent addition of a more regular practice of pull-ups might have something to do with it.  I stopped doing so many around the time I started Ashtanga, and that was a large part of the reason for cutting back:  they make binding difficult and sometimes painful.  Marichy D and Pasasana don't worry me too much.  It's understandable that the bind might disappear from time to time because it's only ever been just within reach, but the trouble with Supta Kurmasana caught me off guard.  I don't know why I can't seem to bind the pose anymore, but I'd venture to guess that my festive lifestyle as of late is catching up with me.  It's the sign.  Time to scale back on the snacks and booze.  Hehe.  All good things... yadda yadda yadda...

Another sneaky little issue I've been having is what I like to call the Curse of Bhujapidasana.  Occasionally, I go through a phase where I have trouble with the exit from this pose.  I don't know what the problem is.  It's not a regular issue, usually I just push and it happens, but sometimes I get completely stuck with no way to bail out.  There really is no alternative exit from Bhuja.  Once you're down there with your chin on the floor, the options are limited to up-and-out or tuck-and-roll, the latter of which involves some body sacrifice.  I used to think I had it figured out, that the trick was to keep the weight back as the sternum reaches forward, but now I'm not so sure.  It seems now that if I keep the weight too far back, I have to slide my face in toward my hands and give myself an awkward push.   I really don't like struggling with this maneuver because there is a very high "face plant" risk involved and, quite frankly, I just don't want to bust my shnoz.   I hope to troubleshoot the exit once and for all this week.

I'm looking forward to a shorter practice today (though, as we discussed, not necessarily an easier one).  And tomorrow's a moon day!  So... hip hip hooray!  Happy moon day, everyone!


Asana of the Week: Nirlamba Parsvakonasana

I love the standing balance postures.  I love to teach them and I love to practice them.  Not only do they develop total-body strength and train our use of the three primary tools of asana: breath, bandhas (energetic/muscular locks), and drishti (gaze).  More importantly, they help us build confidence and focus to carry with us through the rest of our practice and, indeed, far beyond.

Truthfully, the Sanskrit name I've given for this pose -- Nirlamba Parsvakonasana --  more accurately refers to a sequence of postures otherwise known as the Side Angle Pose sequence.  The sequence begins with Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), then the arms bind around the thigh in Baddha Parsvakonasana (Bound Side Angle Pose), then the front leg straightens in Baddha Trikonasana (Bound Triangle Pose), and finally the back leg lifts and the body folds into this balance, the peak posture of this little flow, for which I have not uncovered a proper Sanksrit title.

This is a challenging posture for a number of reasons.  Most obviously, it is a precarious balance with the arms bound behind the back.  Binding not only makes the balance more difficult, but with the hands not quite available to offer fast protection from a fall, the practitioner is called upon to summon up a sense of boldness.

Physically, this pose lengthens and strengthens the hamstrings and inner thighs.  It tones the feet and ankles, opens the groins, strengthens the glutes, and trains the core to work in detailed coordination.  And, like any posture in which the arms are bound behind the back, this posture opens the chest by working the upper back to pull the shoulders down.  This opening of the chest calls for active extension of the spine which, in this forward bend, presents a challenge to both flexibility and strength of the spinal extensors.

While nothing but practice and patience will give way to the necessary strength and flexibility this posture demands, the real trick to standing balancing postures is drishti (gaze).  Fix your eyes on a single point before you come into the posture and keep the gaze there as you make the transition so that your attention, rather than darting around the room, is directed inward to watch and control all the little tweaks and adjustments that need to take place in order to remain in the posture.  And don't forget to breathe.  Steady breath and steady gaze make for steady balance.


Primary Friday: Bait and Switch

So far, so good this week with the practice plan.  Not that I've stuck to the original plan, exactly, but rather have simply allowed the plan to evolve into something that looks more like this:

  • Sunday:  Practice
  • Monday:  Practice
  • Tuesday:  Practice
  • Wednesday:  Practice
  • Thursday:  Practice
  • Friday:  Practice
  • Saturday:  Rest
I like this plan much better.

Yesterday, I had to coax myself to the mat with promises of a Vinyasa practice full of open twists and juicy hip openers, but once I found myself standing there at the top of my Manduka, all I knew to do was Ashtanga.  That damned Ashtanga cult!  My mind has officially been hijacked.

It was a nice practice, though.  Primary to Supta Kurmasana and 2nd to Kapotasana.  Yes, you read that right, my friends:  Kapotasana is back!  And my oh my, does it turn me on!  I am beginning to realize the profound effects that these mega-heart openers have upon my world view.  During the no-backbending period, I really and truly felt squelched and a little bit hopeless.  Uncomfortably restless and trapped.  Now, this week as I've reintroduced the bigger backbends into my practice, I leave the mat feeling downright giddy.  There is a deep, sweet soreness that lingers in the space between the ribs where a certain re-opening is taking place.  Every single breath exploits this sensation to make the arc of it's microcosmic life clearly known.  

There is something so freeing in that expansion of the chest, the rib cage unfurls like a flower and there is warmth and breath and space where, previously, there was none.  The heart is presented like a jewel, the silks removed for a special viewing, an offering of our most precious, fleshy gem.  And it's not just the big backbends.  With all the pike pull-ups I've been doing, every single Up Dog feels like pure heaven as my tight low abs are given a subtle stretch, a sensory reminder to uplift the heart and pause in that space at the top of the inhale for just long enough to smile at the sky.  Such simple bliss.

As for today, while the plan is Primary, I am admitting right now that it may or may not happen.  I'm teaching five classes all day, and while, technically, there will be time to squeeze in a quick Primary between my mid-day teaching stretch and the evening capper, I am more likely to wrap myself in a blanket and huddle in a corner, snacking on fruit and nuts like the shy little primate I am, than to unroll my mat and do my practice.  We'll see what happens.  If Primary doesn't happen today, I'll just do it tomorrow and call today my rest day.  Deal?  Deal.


Best Laid Plans...

If you've been reading the blog lately, then you know that I've been having some trouble getting back into the rhythm of a 6-day per week practice.  I have many excuses:  my work schedule has beefed up, I had minor surgery, I went on vacation, etc... But most of all, I just can't get out of "celebration mode."  First, there were the results of the biopsy (negative in the most positive way), then my birthday, then a much-needed visit home to my family and best friend in the world, and the list goes on...  Every day, in every way, I feel like a medieval queen, shaking my skirts about and shouting, "More food!  More wine!" As I hoist a bronze goblet above my head.

To combat this ongoing revelry, I've been thinking about trying to design some sort of a weekly practice plan for myself to keep things manageable and straightforward, with a couple of shorter practices built in so I don't have to feel guilty when I don't have the time or energy for a marathon practice.  But then again, I have to ask:  why create even more expectations?  Why try to reshape the box when I can just eliminate the box entirely?

Allow me to field my own question:  Because it's easier than being honest with myself and assessing my own unique needs and energy level on any given day.  So, while I am wary of imposing further boundaries on something as ideally free and unfettered as the practice, I think perhaps that these simple reinforcements will help me stay productive as I transition from this EPIC introspective summer to the social, structured nature of the fall.

The first draft of my practice plan goes something like this:

  • Sunday:  Full Primary + Intermediate (whatever my current Intermediate chunk may be)
  • Monday:  1/2 Primary + Intermediate
  • Tuesday:  Primary to Supta Kurmasana + Intermediate
  • Wednesday:  Full Primary + Intermediate
  • Thursday:  1/2 Primary + Intermediate
  • Friday:  Full Primary
  • Saturday:  Rest

Now, at this point it's only Tuesday and already I've flown off course.  Yesterday was an incredibly busy day from morning to night.  I was barely able to squeeze in 1/2 Primary alone, much less add the Intermediate on top.  Nonetheless, it was a pleasant practice.  And (good news!) I got my backbends back!!  Friday I played with a bent-arm expression of Urdhva Dhanurasana.  Sunday, I did 6 rounds of Urdhva Dhanurasana with straight arms, but no drop backs.  Then, yesterday, I managed 3 straight-arm backbends PLUS 3 surprisingly smooth drop backs, all without any pain.  Huzzah!  So glad to be dropping back again.  It just feels soooo good.

Should be able to get back on track with the practice plan today.  I've got nothing but time this afternoon and the weather has been just perfect for turning off the A/C, opening all the windows, and sweating myself clean on the mat.  


Asana of the Week: Kurmasana

"This asana is dedicated to Kurma the Tortoise Incarnation of Vishnu, the maintainer of the universe.  Many divine treasures had been lost in a universal flood including amrta (nectar) with which the gods preserved their youth.  To retrieve the lost treasures the gods entered into an alliance with the demons and jointly undertook to churn the cosmic ocean.  Vishnu became a great tortoise and dived to the bottom of the ocean.  On his back was mount Mandara for the churning stick and round the mountain was twined the divine serpent Vasuki for the rope.  The ocean was churned by the joint efforts of the gods and demons in pulling the snake and twirling the mountain.  From the churned ocean emerged amrta and various other treasures including Lakshmi, consort of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and beauty." -- BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga
Kurmasana (Turtle Pose) is one of the more memorable floor postures of the Ashtanga Primary series with it's distinctive shape and sneaky strength.  Kurmasana tones the abs, spinal extensors, and quadriceps as it stretches the hamstrings and opens the hips in preparation for Supta Kurmasana, one of the prerequisite postures for moving on to the Intermediate series.

To enter Kurmasana from Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), step or jump the legs around the upper arms and lower to the floor.  Take a moment to work the knees even further up the triceps, then walk the hands back at an angle equal to that of the legs.  Straighten both the arms and the legs as you take the chest and chin to the floor.  If the chest comes down without any discomfort felt in the back, flex the feet and press the legs straight until the heels lift from the floor.

Lifting the heels requires a surprising amount of strength from the quadriceps and hip flexors.  This flexion may put stress on the low back if there is not sufficient abdominal strength to maintain extension of the spine.  Be sure to lead with the heart and turn the gaze forward to encourage this extension.  Actively press the palms into the floor, engaging both the triceps and the biceps to prevent hyperextension of the elbows.  If pressure is felt at the joint even with the arms engaged, bring the hands forward to the level of the shoulders and slide the thighs a little further up the arms.  Those with any history of hamstring injuries might consider pointing rather than flexing the feet here to avoid pulling too hard on those tight hammies.

Primary Friday: Flying Solo

Yesterday's practice was reluctant.  Very nearly didn't practice at all, but made the final push at last and got my Ashtangi buns on the mat for Friday Primary.  As always, once I settled into the meditation, all was right with the world.

It was an especially focused and fluid practice compared to much of what I've done lately.  These past few weeks, I have been uncharacteristically distracted on my mat.  Not turning off my phone, letting emails distract me, walking off the mat for a drink of water, taking bathroom breaks... all those little things that steal the momentum of the flow.  I am trying to be more available, more in this world and less in my own head, but the demands of this seem to deplete everything I love about the practice and, indeed, everything I love about my life.

I have taken to this lone wolf lifestyle like a salamander to a stream.  I've been living alone since June and I love it.  I love the quiet.  I love staying in all day, practicing for three hours in the afternoon with no one to scoff and wonder.  And I love going out at night.  Alone.  It is both illuminating and emboldening to simply drop myself into the mix and see what happens...  sometimes it's not much, sometimes a whole hell of a lot.  This town is full of fascinating characters and will always be dear to me for that reason.

But all of this is neither here nor there.  It's about the practice.  And the practice was good.  I've been good and sore from the Intermediate work this week.  My calves, thighs, and abs especially, so Primary yesterday was perfect for stretching out the calves and hammies, but the abs just keep getting tighter and tighter without the bigger backbends to open them up.  Although, yesterday I carefully reintroduced a bent-arm expression of Urdhva Dhanurasana, just testing the waters.  It feels a little better, but there's still some strangeness at the left hip crease and underarm which I can feel pulling across my pelvis and chest.  Not only can I feel it but, at it's worst, I can see some sort of fascial pattern under the skin across my front ribs where the pulling is strongest.  It's strange and a little bit scary, but I'm confident that patient attention will take care of it eventually.

A wave of humidity has taken over the air after a long spell of arid heat, so practice yesterday was the sweatiest in a while.  It felt just like old times, sweating from the forehead by the Prasaritas, swollen beads of moisture dripping down my shins in all the forward bends.  I hadn't realized how much I've missed this part of the practice.  I was also reminded that there are a few months of dry and drafty practice not far ahead of me when the Texas winter weather kicks in, so I'd better enjoy this while I can.

Today is a rest day.  I'm teaching a class at noon, then heading home for an oil bath, followed by a date with my dog for a nice, long, leisurely walk.  Blessed is life.


YMX Giveaway: And the winner is...

Lil Ndn Priya!

She (or he?  We don't discriminate here at Damn Good Yoga) hit the nail on the head with number 37!  That's right, folks.  37.

Lil Ndn Priya, stand up and take a bow for displaying a clarity of perception far beyond the average yogi!  Then send me an email at megan (at) damngoodyoga (dot) com by next Friday (9/23) and I'll hook you up with the details of receiving your swag.

Thanks to all for playing!  If I don't hear from the winner in a timely manner, I'll move on down the list.  So stay tuned!


YMX Apparel: It's a Giveaway!

Yoga thuggin' in my Koi print apparel by YMX
A few weeks ago, I received a nice email from a representative of YMX by Yellowman asking if I'd like to review an outfit from their collection of athletic apparel.  While I've never published a product review here before, I have been sent many offers, mostly for products I don't use.  So when YMX offered to send me the Koi Hoodie and Koi Performance Leggings, CLOTHING that I can USE, in exchange for a review, I said, "of course!"  Followed immediately by: "I'm a size small!"

Rocking the EPB in the Koi Performance Leggings
The first thing that struck me about the items when they arrived, aside from the beautiful, brightly colored Koi design, was the fabric itself.  YMX performance apparel is made from a material exclusively designed for YMX by the name of MadKool.  And they are not kidding:  MadKool is cool.  It's paper thin but super strong with a satiny tactile feel.  Moreover, it seems to be the perfect texture for Ashtanga yoga.  The material is somehow both rubbery in its grip and smooth in its slide.  Arm balancing and binding were a breeze in the Koi Performance Leggings.  Even the sweaty jumps into Bhujapidasana and Kurmasana were landed effortlessly because of MadKool's unique feel.  Not only that, but throughout my practice in these pants, I noticed that my legs were consistently the coolest part of my body.  Every little breeze washed a wave of soothing cool over my lower half.  I'm not sure how it works, but these leggings are cooler than shorts without the struggle of binding or gripping with sweaty, slippery limbs.

The only drawback of MadKool is also one of its strengths:  the material is very thin.  To clarify for you just how thin, let me say that I could see the texture of my two-day stubble through the fabric.  I am aware that the question on the mind of every inquiring yogini in the market for a pair of leggings is this: "Will they obscure my lady bits?"  The answer is no.  They are sheer.  Down Dog is a peep show.  And with the white spandex woven into the fabric for stretch, they appear to be even more see-through than they actually are.  So...  will I wear these for home practice?  YES!  Will I wear them at the shala or in the studio?  Sadly, no.  Though it's tempting because the fit is so nice and the design is really striking.  Maybe for a candlelit class?  With one of those trendy little athletic miniskirts over top?  Or teaching, with a tunic?  Maybe.

The Koi Hoodie, on the other hand, is very nice and I expect to wear it often.  The large print on the back is beautiful.  The material is still lightweight, but more substantial than the leggings and it provides more warmth than you might expect based on its thickness.  It is also worth noting that the Koi Hoodie provides UPF 50+ against harmful UV rays, so I look forward to donning this zip-front hoodie for brisk bike rides to and from the studio without having to worry about slopping on the oily SPF.

In the interest of total honesty, I'll remark on the price of these items.  The Koi Performance Leggings are currently listed at $89 per pair and the Koi Hoodie sells for a whopping $119.  As my long-time readers will know, I don't spend a lot on yoga apparel, as much out of principle as for necessity.  I don't believe that yoga should cost a lot, and these items are well beyond what I consider to be reasonably priced.  That being said, these are really lovely and functional pieces of clothing.  If money were no object, I would purchase more of their beautifully printed tops.  But fortunately for you, dear readers, YMX has generously offered to give away a pair of the Koi Performance Leggings with matching Koi Hoodie to one of you.

So here's the deal:  I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100.  Use your yogi mind-skills to intuit that number, then leave it in the comments.  One chance per person.  If no one has guessed the exact number by noon on Friday, I'll select the closest guess and announce the winner in a post.  Good luck!


Jumping the Hump

Even though it's been over a month since my relatively minor surgery and, indeed, all the turbulence that came with that experience, I am still dealing with the repercussions.  It has been a struggle to find my groove again, both on the mat and off;  always watching and waiting for the slightest sign of discomfort at the sites of the incisions and taking extra rest days to attend to some long-neglected areas of my life.  I have enjoyed the change of pace, but I try to maintain an ever-present memory of the 6-day practice week, keeping that feeling fresh in my mind so it's not such a shock to the system when I manage to get over this hump and hit my stride again.

Yesterday, I practiced Primary in spite of the moon day because I couldn't bear to miss another practice.  Today, I took it up a notch and did full Primary plus Intermediate to Laghu Vajrasana.  Primary was lovely, but the lack of Intermediate practice is starting to show.  My thighs quivered by the seventh breath into Shalabasana, and Laghu Vajrasana was noticeably more difficult than I remember.  I'm still omitting the finishing backbends, but rather than skip them altogether I've been substituting 3 rounds of Setu Bandhasana (the variation commonly known as "Bridge Pose," not the Ashtanga variation) in order to keep the thighs and glutes strong for my eventual return to the bigger backbends.  All in due time...

And yet, the Swenson Adventure 2011: Part Deux is right around the corner (Yes, I like to give tedious, official-sounding names to events in my day to day life.  What of it?), and I'd like to be in top form to take the most from that experience.  I had hoped to have at least the LBH and Tittibhasana sequences under my belt by the time this training rolls around, but the biopsy certainly put a damper on that.  As it stands now, I'll be lucky to get Kapotasana back in time for teacher training.  Not that it really matters, especially since this is Swenson we're talking about:  that guy is so sweet and laid back about the practice that he makes Ashtanga seem like a day at the playground.

In the meantime, I'll be working on my core and quad strength.  And doing pull-ups, lots of pull-ups.


Asana of the Week: Eka Hasta Bhujasana

This fun little posture is a great introduction to the world of arm balances.  It strengthens the abs, arms, and adductors, all of which are essential to the concept of "internal lift" that makes hand balancing possible.

To prepare for this posture, spend a little time warming the shoulders with a few Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations) and then hit the floor for some light hip opening such as Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose) or Akarna Dhanurasana (Archer Pose).  When you're all warmed up, come to seated and begin to work your right knee as high up onto your shoulder as you can.  Squeeze your upper arm between the calf and thigh and hug your knee against your shoulder.  Then plant your hands beside your hips and press down through the palms as you lift up from the belly to hover your hips above the mat.  Push into the hands and present the heart forward to avoid sinking into the shoulders.  Point the toes of both feet as you float your left leg above the floor.  Stay for 5-10 breaths and repeat the posture on the other side.

As with all arm-supported postures, be sure to distribute the weight evenly across the entire surface of both palms and grip with the fingertips to strengthen the hands and support your wrists.  If it is too much to float the extended leg, you may practice the posture with the heel resting on the floor, but try to keep the foot active to ensure that the leg is engaged.  Advanced practitioners may like to transition from this posture to Eka Pada Koundinyasana II by tucking the extended leg under the body and swinging it back while the front leg stretches forward as shown below: (try to ignore the noise rock in the background.)


Primary Friday: The Forbidden Arc

(Photo credit:  Rebecca Gallagher)
Had a nice mid-afternoon Primary today to wrap up a packed little week.  I flew home on Tuesday and hit the ground running.  Feels like I've been out and about non-stop since the landing, trying to gather up the slack from my week away.  Fortunately, tomorrow is a rest day and I'm all caught up with the daily grind, so next week should be of a more mellow flavor.

As you may recall from my last post, I waded back into the Intermediate pool for the first time since my surgery while visiting family in the Midwest.  The practice felt good at the time, but there have been some worrisome delayed repercussions.  Though the incisions have healed well enough, there is a distinctive sensation of tissues tearing if I try to bend back too far, followed later by swelling and the sensation of bruising but without the color.  Clearly, more recovery time is needed.  I wonder why this hasn't kicked in until now...

Backbends, especially those involving shoulder extension (a la Urdhva Dhanurasana and Kapotasana) are completely out.  So I've been sticking with Primary minus the finishing backbends and supplementing that with the occasional Vinyasa practice to give me a little more freedom in the front-body opening options.  I'm also taking this opportunity to work on strengthening the core a little more in the interest of finally getting those handstands and pretty floaty things under my belt.  As many of you know, I do pull-ups and chin-ups from time to time to keep my shoulders safe from all the Chaturangas.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I started doing pike pull-ups, with the legs lifted parallel to the floor for the duration of the set.  The first time I tried it, I could feel my body grabbing in all the right places, all the spots I try to access when practicing handstands and pikes and the like.  Today's Primary revealed that they are indeed making a difference, and I'm excited to see how much this supplemental practice can help.

It's hard not doing the backbends.  Everything about Primary makes my body simply beg for it, not to mention the fact that backbends, especially the drop backs, have been instrumental in managing the two bulging discs in my low back.  In this past week alone, I have noticed an increase in the compression I feel around the spine and that old familiar "crunchy" feeling in the early forward folds.  Not good.  Must bend back.  A compromise is needed.  For now, Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose) and Ustrasana (Camel Pose) will have to suffice.


Return of the Intermediate Monster

Eek!  2nd series is scary...
Practice has been irregular lately as I've worked around my wounds and tried to get back into the swing of things after a two-week intermission.  Last week, my first week back to both teaching and practice, I started slow with a slightly modified Primary and watched as my strength and mobility returned little by little each day.  Friday, I packed up the Manduka and dragged myself to a Mysore room for the first time since the Swenson adventure in June.  Saturday, I took rest, and Sunday, opted for a nice long Vinyasa flow that turned out to be one of the best practices I've had in a long while.  There was no time for practice on Monday as I taught three classes and buzzed around all day making final arrangements for my absence this week.  Tuesday, I arrived in Wisconsin after a suspiciously seamless air travel experience and here I sit in my parents' lake house enjoying the clean, green, mellow scene of late summer in the Midwest.

Practice yesterday was lovely, alone in a big house with everyone away at work, the sun flickering off the water producing otherworldly patterns of light and shadow on the walls, the breath and breeze the only sound.  I approached the mat with no plan, not even sure if I would go the Ashtanga route or indulge in something freer.  As usual, I started with the Suryas and simply listened, let my body speak for itself.  It asked for Ashtanga.  I practiced Primary.  It was light and strong, warm but not overworked.  I reclaimed the wrist bind in Marichyasana C and bound Marichy D for the first time since my return to Ashtanga.  When I arrived at Setu Bandhasana, I felt neither hurried nor fatigued, so I continued on to Pasasana.

I had wondered how my reintroduction to Intermediate might go and, quite honestly, feared the intensity of the practice, so I'm delighted to say that it was absolutely wonderful.  Pasasana was bound on both sides, Krounchasana was not as acutely vivid (read: painful) as it can be, and the backbends -- to my astonishment and with the exception of Kapotasana -- seemed no less deep than before the biopsy and subsequent break.  Rather than overwhelm my body with the monstrous practice that is full Primary plus half of Intermediate, I stopped myself after Kapo and carried on to finishing.

As surprisingly untouched as the Intermediate backbends seemed to be, I really felt the work in Urdhva Dhanurasana.  Drop backs were creaky and cautious, and I forwent the half-backs and final backbend altogether because I had begun to feel some unfamiliar sharpness in the left pectoral that I suspect may be a result of scar tissue from the incision in my underarm.  There's a similar sensation of bruising that stretches up from the site of the incision at my groin and over the left hip bone, likely also a result of the backbending practice pulling at the scar.  I'll have to be watchful of these areas so as not to aggravate anything too soon, but better to keep up the practice, I think, and prevent any further stiffening than allow them to harden up and have to do the work later.

I'm about to step on the mat again but will probably opt for a shorter practice today, maybe half Primary with a bit of flourish for the fun of it.  I am on vacation, after all.  And if you, my darling readers, do not hear from me until next week, I wish you all a happy holiday weekend and an easy transition into autumn.

(image provided by Brad Fitzpatrick at http://www.bradfitzpatrick.com)