6.27.2011

Sadness in Practice

 It's been nearly a month since my long-time partner and I split up.  Since that time I've been extremely busy.  I spent the two weeks following the split subbing classes like a madwoman, which was great because it kept me focused and out of my head.  I kept up with my daily practice, which I looked forward to and took much comfort in.  But, with so much change, so many realizations settling in, the practice itself became easy.  Too easy, as though I were numb, not entirely there.  My body was light, flexible, strong without force.  Everything was effortless.  With such a massive shift came so much upward energy, so much prana.

And now the cycle, as it must, has taken a downturn.  I am grounded.  Heavy.  Lumbering through my practice, weighted down with a knotted, gnarly mess of sadness and sensation.  Every morning in the dark, the Surya Namaskar are an expression of my sorrow, but this is not to say that the practice has not been deep, healing, and good.  The asana are like poetry: great joy and great pain are equally powerful inspiration.  In my soreness, I am more connected to my body.  It sends me constant feedback.  I listen and respond accordingly with subtle, even imperceptible adjustments, always looking for that energetic epiphany that comes when every little thing lines up just right.

I'm glad things worked out this way.  I mean that in every sense, but most immediately in the sense that I consider it fortunate that my practice is in a more challenging and real place during these two weeks studying with Swenson.  Had things continued to be so uncomfortably effortless, I don't think I'd be as present in the room or as receptive to David and Shelley.  Working with them has been wonderful.  I feel as though they are truly invested in my practice, not just correcting but encouraging, fine tuning, and guiding me deeper.

I am also glad to be alone.  I feel so blessed by the way things unfolded.  Not only was I released from a doomed relationship that I might never have had the guts or heart to really end (I tried many times but could never hold my ground faced with so much sadness) but I was also completely set free from wishing things had worked out otherwise.  We both changed so much over the years, but I could never see it for what it was until he appeared in a completely different light.  He behaved in such a way during the breakup that I harbor no doubts or lingering desires for what we had.

The good times were good, but when he tried to hurt me, I let go of regret like a scalding hot plate to shatter on the floor and splatter bits of beans and rice and sauce from floor to ceiling.  A bit messy perhaps, but immediate relief.  I'll always be grateful for that.  As unfortunate as this may be for the men in my life, I am more romantic about separation than I am about relationships themselves.  Had he been civil, had we been kind, I might have spent a long time in the dark wishing for a different outcome, wasting the light of consciousness on regret.  It's better this way.

But it still hurts a little to think back on the origins of our love and see the drastic change from that instant chemical bond to the bitter loneliness and aversion of later years.  The early mornings seem to bring this stuff to the surface, tender moments past, made even more painful in the soft glow of recollection, whereas in the bustle of the day these pangs are more easily subdued.  There are only four more days of morning mysore with Swenson.  I am sad for the impending end, but also looking forward to the chance to withdraw to my home practice and absorb the life-changing experience that has been June 2011.  I have much writing to do.  I can feel it amassing, pressurizing, just about ready to pour out.

6.24.2011

Primary Friday: The Swenson Adventure Continues

Hooray for Friday!  I've never been so glad to move from Setu Bandhasana to Urdhva Dhanurasana without all that Intermediate in between.  I'm exhausted and my back is begging for a break.

The sleep directive continues to be ignored.  Last night, hoping to get to bed nice and early to catch up on rest after a long but wonderful week of early morning Mysore with David Swenson and Shelley Washington, I was given the opportunity to sub a really great late evening class that I just couldn't pass up.  The class was great.  The students amazed me with their strength.  But, once again, I crawled into bed just after midnight already psyching myself up for another pre-dawn wakeup after yet another painfully short night.

In spite of all this sleep deprivation, practice has been pretty good.  How could it not be with such excellent teachers and a great group of people to practice with?  The energy in the room is evolving as everyone settles into the routine.  What began as a heavy and heated atmosphere has become vibrant and light.  There is no shortage of laughter and though the days are still sultry, as is to be expected, the early mornings have been breezy and comfortably cool.

After asana practice and a short break, we all reconvene for group pranayama followed by open discussion.  The pranayama is perfect right after practice and it makes me wish I had time to do it every day (I'll have to work on that).  David leads us through three rounds of rechaka kumbhaka (exhalation retention), three rounds of puraka kumbhaka (inhalation retention), three rounds of puraka rechaka kumbhaka (inhale and exhale retention), and then three cooling breaths with inhalation retention.  It's very introductory, brief but powerful.  It is notably more difficult to keep the mind still during retention when someone else is leading the practice.

Just now I'm off to a media presentation and lecture about the early days of Ashtanga.  I can't wait to see pictures of Swenson, David Williams, Nancy Gilfgoff and the gang back in the day.

Speechless

When I realized at 3 minutes into this ten-minute video that my mouth had been agape the entire time, I decided to share.  Ashtangis, yogis, join me in awe at this young woman's astounding capabilities.

6.23.2011

Asana of the Week: Virasana

Virasana (Hero Pose) is a simple yet powerful seated posture, perfect for meditation, pranayama, or any seated activity.  Sitting in this position supports proper elongation of the spine and openness of the chest.  It is one of the only postures recommended for practice after a meal because it helps to alleviate fullness and aids in proper digestion.

Virasana, if practiced safely with appropriate support, is therapeutic for the knees and may help to alleviate arthritic pain in the joints.  The complete flexion of the knees lengthens tight quadriceps and the extension of the ankles stretches the front of the ankle and shin.  This posture also increases blood supply to the feet, softening hard heels and lifting the arches.  Virasana may be useful as preparation for a safe lotus position if one experiences discomfort in the knees and can free up the quadriceps and psoas to allow for deeper, safer backbends.  Five to 15 minutes per day in this pose will quickly release short quadriceps and boost the health of the knees. 

To practice Virasana, come to a kneeling position with the knees together and the feet slightly wider than hip width apart.  If possible, sit the hips down onto the floor between the feet.  Ensure that the heels point up and the feet extend straight out from the lower leg, rather than turning in toward one another.  If you experience discomfort in the knees or are unable to sit all the way down, place a block or folded blanket under the sitting bones for support.  If the quadriceps are shortened, the knees will tend to move away from one another.  In this case, a strap or belt may be used around the thighs to keep the knees together so that the adductors need not be overused.  Be sure to drop your tailbone and lift the belly to elongate the lumbar spine and reduce compression in the low back.  Keep the heart lifted and the shoulders back. 

Sensation in this position can be intense at first.  Be sensitive to your own needs and come out of the posture if you experience pain.  Though it is recommended that one spend several minutes at a time in Virasana, it is a good idea for those with tight quadriceps or sensitive knees to begin with a one-minute hold and build up to an extended stay over a period of weeks.  Always release the pose slowly and enjoy the rush of fresh blood to the knees.

6.22.2011

Swenson Adventure: Days 3 & 4

Whew!  It's been a rough four days getting used to these 5am wake-ups.  I have never been an early riser, much to my regret.  My hope is that these two weeks of morning practice will help me develop a nice routine or, at the very least, lessen my aversion to the "early to bed, early to rise" mentality.  As it stands, I can't seem to get to sleep before midnight, which is fine when I don't need to wake up until 8 or 9am.  It's not so fine when I need to be up and on my mat before the sun even thinks about starting it's day.

I had feared that crack-o-dawn practice would differ significantly from my usual mid-day time on the mat.  Most seem to say they are stiffer in the morning, have a tough time getting the blood flowing, feel more prone to injury, but beyond a little stiffness in the first couple of Suryas, I haven't noticed much difference in flexibility or strength.  In fact, I really like doing practice first thing.  My mind is quiet, my body is light, and my sweat, though a deluge, seems somehow cleaner than in the afternoon.  Plus, the absolute joy of a good shower and a big breakfast after practice is something I have grown to appreciate already.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sharing a post-practice meal with the esteemed Patrick of Ashtanga Yoga and Stuff who happens to be in town for the full two weeks of Swenson.  Meeting my first blog buddy in person?  How exciting!  We had a great time chatting like schoolgirls over coffee about yoga and blogging and blogging about yoga.

To be honest, I don't remember much about my practice the past couple of days.  Ruminating on ideas for this post, I recalled jotting some things down in my notebook last night.  Hoping to find a wellspring of remembered observations, when I checked my notes, I found all I had written down was "Swenson Day 3. Good practice."  Ha!  Maybe it's the lack of sleep.

I do know that I haven't been adjusted in Kapotasana since Monday, but I have gotten those perfect Supta Kurmasana adjustments every day.  They make it seem so easy, so comfortable and secure.  My back has been a little resistant to the deep backbending these past couple of days.  My low back is sore, which is rare.  I'm sure it has to do with insufficient sleep.  Nonetheless, I've been able to take hold of the mid-foot in Kapo A and even Kapo B wasn't too shabby this morning. 

Today I signed up for two additional workshops I'd had my eye on that Swenson is conducting while he's here.  Instead of rest on Saturday morning, I'll be at a guided exploration of Intermediate.  Then on Wednesday night, there's a workshop entitled "Through the Eyes of the Teacher," which will apparently involve some hands on adjustment instruction.  Looking forward to these!

6.20.2011

Swenson Adventure: Days 1 & 2

Days 1 and 2 of the two-week Swenson adventure have come to pass and I have just one thing to say at this juncture:  I'm pooped!  The practice room is a hot, steamy mess of beet red faces and slick, sweaty mats.  The first day was really rough.  With my heat sensitivities, I thought I might die right there on my Manduka, but somehow I survived and went back this morning for more.

Yesterday's practice is sort of a blur.  I do remember that I was dripping sweat by the first Surya B and praying someone would open a damn window.  When I finally arrived at sweet Savasana, I put a towel over my face and I cried.  That's right --  I was so happy to be at rest that I CRIED.  Tears of joy in Savasana.  That's never happened before.

I received several helpful adjustments.  Both Shelley and David came to me in Downward Dog to have me step my feet a little wider and root more strongly into the heels, something I tend to forget to do when I'm hanging out in Adho Mukha.  David gave me yet another instruction to tuck my floating ribs.  That makes... what?  Maybe the hundredth time I've been reminded about my flaring ribs and I still forget.  It's a long-term project. 

He came by to ask me about my knees in Marichyasana D, must have seen the procedural, deliberate nature with which I enter the lotus postures.  When I said they were "both a little dodgy," he told me not to bind unless the lotus knee was completely comfortable.  That was kind of a bummer because I've grown to love the solidity of that pose when it's all bound up -- everything secured in it's place.  But, of course, I'll take his advice.  Shelley advised me in Supta Padangusthasana B to "make it more about the hip, less about the hamstring" because Primary is so full of hamstring stretches and the adductors need to be released for safety of the lotus postures.  She didn't say that last bit about the adductors, but it makes perfect sense.

Surprisingly, I received no adjustments in my Intermediate poses except for a repositioning of my head in Parsva Dhanurasana. If you've been reading recent posts, then you'll know I had been unsure of how far to take my practice in Swenson's presence.  I decided to take it to Kapo for the first week, unless, of course, David or Shelley nudge me forward.  Wouldn't that be exciting?  Next week I might try to go to Bakasana and see what happens.

I am pleased to say that this morning's practice was considerably less brutal.  Still hot, but the energy of the room was much calmer, more orderly. And I was mentally prepared for the heat.  David came by to adjust the width of my stance in various standing postures, shorter in Parivrtta Trikonasana, longer in Virabhadrasana I.  He gave me a fantastic assist in Supta Kurmasana.  My feet stayed behind my head for the first time all the way through to a clean exit and I have no idea how he did it.  I had plenty of time while I waited for the assist to work my torso through my legs and get my spine nice and long, so that may have helped.  I don't usually wait more than a few breaths for an assist.  Normally, I hate to lose my rhythm but in that kind of heat, I'm happy to take a little break.

The highlight of today's practice was Kapotasana, hands down.  I went into it once on my own before David appeared and asked if I'd like to try it again.  Glad for the opportunity, I repeated the posture.  He assisted by grabbing my wrists on the dive and took my hands directly to my heels!  It was so incredible that I gave a little yelp!  It must have worried him because he asked a few times if I was okay.  My back always cracks in an unsettling way when I break new ground in my backbends.  It's scary and exciting, but not painful so I take it as part of the process.

This post is getting long, so I'll have to elaborate on the pranayama practice another time.  I just want to say that my impression of David in person is exactly that of my impression of him through his work.  I felt immediately as though I'd studied with him for years.  He and Shelley both conduct themselves in a beautifully energetic yet grounded manner.  Their adjustments are light but assertive, and their relationship with one another in the mysore room is a pleasure to experience.  Shelley has an eye for detail, David is a problem solver, and their affection for each other colors the room.  I'm so happy to be a part of this.

6.18.2011

Fantastic Saturday Practice

I shuffled heavy-footed to my mat this morning to make up for my missed practice on Thursday.  Though it began with a slow start, somehow I managed to have a great time!  I had all day today, no classes to teach or homework to do, so I didn't hurry, took it slow.  The entire practice rounded out at two and half hours.

Standing was really nice, no twinge in the back during Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, which was a great relief.  That pinching in my back was beginning to worry me.  Last week, J told me to bring my chin to my shin and start looking up toward the foot in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana rather than forehead to shin and gaze to the floor as I usually do.  At first, I had my reservations. I thought it might make it harder, but in fact gazing up seems to make my balance rock steady.  It's especially helpful in the transition between UHP A and UHP B because I don't have to move my gaze as I stand up from the fold.

The seated sequence was interesting.  Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana was curiously deep on the second side.  As gross as this visual may be, I probably could have licked my right foot if I wanted to.  My left heel was wedged way up into my abdomen.  Good thing I practiced in the morning before any sizeable meals.  I can only imagine... ugh.  The Marichyasanas were great.  Marichy A was an effortless fold and Marichy C on the second side came with a very strong opening sensation in left outer hip.

I stopped at Supta Kurmasana to indulge my recent craving for hip openers by exploring the Dwi Pada Sirsasana entry.  I failed.  Miserably.  But I did relish in the preparations:  rock-the-baby, archer variations, compass variations... all the good stuff.  I know I keep saying this, but it's clear that I'm going to need to spend some extra time freeing up my hip joints if I want to progress any further in Intermediate.

Speaking of Intermediate, my chunk of 2nd series was great today.  Shalabasana was light and strong.  I slid into Bhekasana without any hangups in the knees or shoulders, and Laghu Vajrasana was so deep that my head touched down close to the hairline.  Kapo A felt good.  Kapo B, not so good.  I landed Bakasana B on the first try, even in my sweaty legs and tiny shorts, though it took some valiant effort to stay afloat.

Things were going so well I decided to record my finishing backbends again to have a look at the evolution of the drop back.  For the past few weeks I've been working on not pausing or rocking between drops or stands:  exhale hands to the floor, inhale to standing, and exhale right back down again.  It's on and off, but most days I manage to get at least three in a row before stumbling or needing an extra breath.  Today I think I managed 5 in a row pretty smoothly before calling it quits.  I still feel rushed dropping back in a single exhale and often don't land in a short enough stance to make the standing part easy, but it's coming along.


After practice, I took an oil bath followed by a delicious, hearty meal.  Tomorrow morning is my first foray with Swenson.  I'm looking forward to it and hope I can manage to get to sleep at a reasonable hour so as not to be creaky and weak in the morning.

Primary Friday: Growing Pains

(Strange image found here.  What's Nemo doing in Mysore?)
 I had a good Primary practice yesterday, though T continues to ignore me.  It's not her fault.  She's had lots of newbies showing up and they keep her pretty busy.  I suspect I may have outgrown T's room, but I keep going because, well, it's free and there is a chance that I might get some help crossing my ankles in Supta Kurmasana or a firm push in Baddha Konasana one of these days.

It's a bit awkward at times, though, because there are so many beginners and they spend a fair amount of time standing on their mats, bewildered and wide-eyed, watching those of us who know the practice (which is often myself and maybe one or two others).  And now T has rearranged the room so that the beginners congregate in a group behind the experienced practitioners, so it really feels like we're performing.  I know I shouldn't mind, but it makes me feel strange to know I'm being watched.  Of course, it's entirely possible that it's just my imagination, but I don't think so.

The weirdest part is when people compliment my practice afterwards or express that they wish they could breathe/vinyasa/balance or whatever like I do.  I never know what to say.  The teacher in me wants to give a mini-lecture on how all of that is beside the point and that strength and grace only comes as a by-product of years of dedication to the practice... but I know that's not what they want to hear so I usually just smile and say, "Thanks."

The past couple of practices, I've felt an unfamiliar twinge in my lower back on the second side of Parivrtta Parsvakonasana.  It's a sharp and hot sensation that comes when I first move into the twist, but fades after a couple of breaths.  I'm still healing an unnamed lumbar spinal injury from YTT last year (probably bulging discs) that I originally feared might prevent me from practicing Ashtanga, but in fact seems to have been nearly healed by the practice.  I think this sharpness in the twist may have something to do with this injury finally firming up.  It does not reappear in the later twists, so I'm not terribly concerned.

Marichyasana D has become my new favorite pose, so confronting and powerful.  I'm still binding by myself, in spite of the fact that I think I may have picked up those few pounds I shed during the move.  I can't be sure since I left the scale with he-who-shall-not-be-named, but it feels like my lady-pooch is back in full effect.  My right knee has begun to express reservations in the second side of Mari D.  I've been practicing the full pose anyway, just very carefully with a keen awareness of sensation in the knee joint.  There's a fine line there between what feels like a good stretch and what could become another injury.  Must be diligent in my observation so as not to cross that line.  Last night I spent some time on the floor giving my knees and hips some love.  First, several minutes in Virasana which was painful at first but slowly turned to sweet release.  Then Mandukasana, Upavishta Konasana, and Baddha Konasana.  Strong stuff.  I should practice longer holds in these postures more often.

Since I did not get to practice on Thursday and practiced Primary-only yesterday, I'll have to break with tradition and throw down for a full practice today.  I'm still not sure how far to go in my practice with Swenson in the coming week.  Should I just keep going until he stops me or I should ask before I move into Pasasana?  I seem to recall Patrick saying something in the comments a while back about practicing Primary only on the first day.  Is this customary?  I've never worked with such a senior teacher before.  Though my impressions of Swenson are of the kindness and compassion of his methods, I am feeling intimidation at the depth of his experience setting in.

6.17.2011

Asana of the Week: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana, otherwise known as Downward Facing Dog, is perhaps the most famous of yoga poses and my personal favorite.  When time is short and I need to practice, five minutes in Downward Dog followed by two minutes in Balasana (Child's Pose) suits me just fine.  Downward Dog is both relaxing and rejuvenating, restful and invigorating all at once.  It's benefits are many.

This pose strengthens the wrists, arms, shoulders, upper back, abdominals, and quadriceps.  The spinal extensors are released and the hamstrings and calves are lengthened.  The extension of the shoulders opens the chest and expands the rib cage to allow for deeper breathing.  The placement of the head beneath the heart lowers the blood pressure.  Indeed, this pose bestows many of the benefits of conventional inversions such as Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Sirsasana (Headstand), or Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), and may serve as a suitable substitution for any of these if one prefers to keep one's feet on the ground.  

Beginners are often surprised to learn that Adho Mukha Svanasana is meant to function as a resting pose within the context of a vinyasa practice because of the upper body strength required to hold the pose comfortably.  It may take what seems like a long while to build that strength, but the shoulder stability that comes from spending time in Downward Dog is important in protecting the joint during the repetitive motion of the Plank-Chaturanga-Upward Facing Dog transition and in preparation for arm balancing and full inversions.

In the meantime, in order to avoid feeling as though the entire weight of the body is dumping into the shoulders, employ uddiyana bandha (navel lock) and engage the quadriceps strongly to lift the weight up out of the shoulders and press it back and down into the heels.  Ideally, the heels will reach the mat, but this is not true for many.  Tight calves or short achilles tendons may prevent the heels from ever reaching the floor.  However, if the heels are more than 1-2 inches above the mat it may be necessary to shorten the distance from hands to feet.

The most common misalignment I see in Downward Dog is overuse of the trapezius by internally rotating the upper arms and bracing against the floor.  This destabilizes the shoulder joint and contributes to tension in the neck and jaw.  It is important to find some degree of active external rotation of the upper arms while grounding through the inner side of the hand in order to engage properly around the shoulders, spread the scapula across and down the back, and release the neck completely.

6.16.2011

Gearing up for the Swenson Adventure

Last night I used my last studio class pass to practice with J one more time before the Swenson adventure begins on Sunday.  I had planned on taking the moon day, but realized my class pass was about to expire, so I decided to skip it.  For those of you just joining us, I'll be practicing with Swenson bright and early every morning for the next two weeks!  I'm super excited, but wondering how my body will adjust to the jolt of 6am practice, six days a week

A very coy Triang Mukhottanasana
I am not at all sure what to expect from Swenson or Shelley and have no practice goals in particular for the next two weeks, though J suggested that this would be a good time for me to work at grabbing my ankles for Triang Mukhottanasana.  J also suggested that I should ask David about my rapid progress through Primary and Intermediate.  To recap, I began to practice Ashtanga regularly in late February.  I spent about one month with a daily Primary before T and S started laying Intermediate on me and once it started, it didn't stop.  S bestowed postures on me at a relentless pace until Yoganidrasana, and it only ended there because she left.  All the while, I felt as though my head were about to explode from the massive energy release of Primary and my spine might just melt from the endless openings of Intermediate.  J showed up just in time to temper the flames and ease me back into a manageable, practical practice. 

My practice now consists of full Primary plus Intermediate to Bakasana with Primary only on Fridays, and it's just now getting nice and comfy.  Primary feels like a warm-up.  The series of Intermedate backbends that used to sap me dry are no big deal, and I look forward to playing with Bakasana before Urdhva Dhanurasana.  The only problem, and it might not be a problem at all, is that students are generally made to practice Primary for a full year before moving on to Intermediate.  I've also read, I think in Maehle's books, that a MINIMUM of three months of Primary should be completed with proficiency before adding any of 2nd series.  I just want to know, energetically and practically, if it's okay for me to carry on with Intermediate so soon.  J has said in the past that I can go as far as I like into Intermediate as long as I don't drop any of Primary until next year, but I'd really like to get Swenson's take on it.

I've been tempted this week to start working on the leg-behind-postures again.  My hips have been pretty open and the lotus postures are still feeling good.  It's almost as though my body craves Eka Pada Sirsasana.  I can feel it vicariously,  deep down in the hip joint whenever I think of it, but the thought of extending my practice further makes me a little anxious.  These past couple of weeks have been such a blur.  I've been teaching a lot and summer classes have begun, so I'm also busy with school, not to mention the recent move.  I hesitate to add any more to the pile just now, no matter how much my hips may desire it.

Today is another busy day.  So busy, in fact, that I'm not sure when I'll be able to do my practice.  As soon as I finish this post, I'll jump in the shower, then head off to teach my first class of the day.  After that, I'm teaching straight through until 7pm.  I know I'll be exhausted this evening, but I don't want to skip a practice after my 3-day practice week earlier this month.  Fortunately, I have two days completely to myself coming up this weekend before the Swenson adventure begins.  I intend to unwind, have a nice Primary on Friday, and then rest on Saturday in preparation for the next two weeks.

6.11.2011

Primary Friday: Back to the Grind

In the midst of all this sweeping change, love lost and liberation gained, my practice has been sweet and very much necessary.  Last week, during the break-up and subsequent move, I managed to get on my mat just three times due to a variety of factors: my LH on Tuesday, then the moon day on Wednesday.  Friday, my practice was not on the mat, but packing and unpacking.  Loading and unloading.  Over and over.  Gathering up, picking through, and redistributing my life.  It was the first time I've taken more than one consecutive day off, and more than two days off in a week, in about three years.  But those three practices were special, and since then, every practice has been amazing.

On Wednesday, I figured I could use a little extra self-care, so I took my first castor oil bath.  The next day, I had the lightest, most fluid and graceful practice of my life.  I felt weightless yet grounded and effortlessly powerful.  My hips and shoulders were open and my creaky knees were like new.  That oil bath business is no joke!  I am completely hooked.  In fact, oil bath #2 is on the docket for later today.  I'm making it a weekly event.  I wonder if the second will be as potent as the first.  We shall see.

In conjunction with this life cleansing, the shedding of emotional weight, I have lost a few actual pounds.  I might not have noticed except for the fact that I am now binding Pasasana and Marichyasana D with the leg in half lotus on my own!  I never saw that one coming.  Just two weeks ago, binding Marichy D with the leg in half lotus seemed completely impossible, as in "not in this lifetime."  Then J helped me bind the full pose for the first time on Monday, and suddenly, there it was.  It's been totally available and within reach ever since.  Funny how that works.

This release of weight, both emotional and physical, has also affected my jump backs and jump throughs.  Where my jump backs had been feeling especially labored over the past several weeks, now they are floaty and smooth.  I've continued to play with alternating the straight-leg and cross-legged jump throughs, using the straight-leg variation for entering symmetrical poses and the cross-legged jump through for asymmetrical poses.  This has been a lot of fun and it keeps me from checking out during the vinyasa.  My cross-legged jump through is still not as smooth as the straight-leg variety, and I tend to scratch my forearms with my toenails as I swing my feet through (ouch!), but they're getting better.  I appreciate the extra opportunities to practice the half-handstand hover, which is still eluding me within the context of the practice.  Must be a mental block.

Backbends have been great.  Kapo is going nowhere fast, but that's alright since it's not terrible as it is.  I am finding it much easier to move through the Intermediate backbends without pausing for rest, at least until I get to Laghu and Kapo.  Both still demand a couple of breaths on my knees in preparation for the deep surrender.  Drop backs are going extremely well.  I've begun to practice dropping and standing in a single breath.  It's coming.  Thursday, I managed two sets of three, exhaling down, inhaling up, and then exhaling right back down again.  Yesterday, however, without the Intermediate backbends to open me up, it was a little bit harder.  After 6 or 7 slow drops and stands, I managed to do a couple without the pause, but they weren't as nice as the ones the day before.

While I think the extra rest was good for me last week, coming back full force this week with a daily practice has left me with sore hamstrings and tight sides.  Hopefully, the rest and castor oil bath today will take care of it.  I might even throw in some tennis ball massage and make it a whole day of self-maintainance.  I recommend you do the same.  Kick back, relax, and do something nice for yourself.  Happy Saturday!

6.10.2011

Question

I heard this poem on the radio this morning and it spoke to the yogi in me.  Thought I'd share...


Question
by May Swenson (1919-1989)

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide? 

6.09.2011

Asana of the Week: Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) is a super-powered strengthening posture for the whole body.  The wrists, arms, shoulders, upper back, and chest stabilize the upper body and bear the weight of the pose while the abdominals engage strongly to support the spine and the thighs firm to straighten the knees and stabilize the legs.

Chaturanga is generally only practiced as part of the so-called 'vinyasa,' or series of flowing postures which link one pose to the next: Chaturanga, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog).  Because of this, there is an unfortunate tendency to flow through the pose rather quickly and neglect to refine the posture which robs Chaturanga of its strengthening benefits.  Also, because we flow through Chaturanga so repeatedly in a vinyasa practice, poor alignment in this pose has the potential to lead to shoulder injury down the road.

Therefore, it is important to take some time in this posture to explore proper alignment and efficient use of our musculature to effectively align the shoulders and support the spine, not to mention build the power we need to flow through our vinyasas with grace and ease of breath. Keep the hands shoulder-width apart with the middle fingers parallel to one another and the elbows close to the sides.  Draw the shoulders back and shine the heart forward.  Do not bend the elbows further than 90 degrees and try to keep the forearms perpendicular to the mat, with the elbows stacked directly over the wrists.  If the core muscles are weak, the hips will tend to sag to the floor, or we might overcompensate and poke the sitbones up to the sky.  Use the bandhas to hold the belly firm and engage the glutes to counteract the tendency to tilt the pelvis forward.  Active thighs will stabilize the entire body and bring lightness to the pose. 

If you are working to build strength for arm balancing, inversions, and the like, I recommend spending at least 5 breaths in Chaturanga at least once per practice.  Over time, add breaths until you can easily remain in Chaturanga for 10 deep ujjayi breaths without sacrificing the alignment of the pose.  Remember your Chaturanga mantra:  Strong belly, strong thighs.

6.08.2011

Buy 1, Get 11 Free!

Sometimes life takes me for a ride so long and winding that I forget how to open the door, get out of the car, and walk on my own two feet.  But I'm learning, slowly remembering the little truths that were always there, buried away in the endless compromise that defines cohabitation.  Much has transpired since my last post.  My partner of 7 years and I have split.  I've moved into a new apartment, which means I'm living alone for the first time since I left my family's home.  It's exciting.  The pain of separation is still there, but rather than the violent surges of ecstasy and agony which swept me to and fro, my heart has settled in a place of peace.  I am energized by the shift, liberated by the lightness of aloneness and gloriously open to the possibilities of change.

Last week, just prior to the quake that created this divide, I'd had a revelation during my practice which I made a note of in my journal:  "detach." 

Of course, the idea of non-attachment is nothing new to yogis.  We aim for non-attachment all the time, but sometimes these ideas are merely smeared over the surface of the mind and not entirely absorbed until the heart is made porous and soft in preparation.  I remember the moment:  It was near the beginning of my practice.  I'd had very little sleep the night before and had just enough time between teaching classes to squeeze in my own practice.  I was creaky and tired with a long practice and a very long day ahead of me.  I wondered how I'd ever make it through.  Then it echoed through the chambers of my mind with a resonance so pure that it could not be ignored:  detach. 

And I did.  I let go of my attachments to performing the asanas well.  I let go of any standards or expectations I held for my practice and simply allowed the breath to carry me through.  And, suddenly, this long and sometimes gruelling practice of pose after pose -- the endless chain of chaturanga, urdhva muka, adho muka, jump! -- became a truly effortless and joyful expression of my being.  Nothing more and nothing less.  It was a beautiful realization, and it could not have come at a more appropriate time.

That little word -- detach -- has been ringing like a clear bell in my head and heart all week.  It brings me peace.  And it reminds me that my life, just like my practice, can be beautiful and effortless, an expression of my inner light in spite of any shadows cast over the mind.  The title of this post is a sign I saw at a fireworks stand on the highway out of town, huge and handpainted in red.  I laughed well and hard at the truth of it as I drove past.  Sometimes all you want is a little spark, but you get the whole sheBANG!