Keeping the ego in check

I had a lovely weekend with two actual days off; unheard of! My husband and I went to visit family and friends out of town, so I was at another shala for Sunday practice. To say that I love practicing at AYCT would be an understatement. It’s a magical combination of factors that that just seem to bring out the very best. It’s hot and steamy, a bit dim, there are lots of observant assistants, my sister in law is always in the room with me, I’m surrounded by dedicated practitioners, and it’s always busy. I had my best practice for ages yesterday. My sister in law and I had spent the evening before playing around and I even did kapo (although I got freaked out and came out immediately), so maybe that contributed to my body being so open. My hands easily went to the floor in prasarita C, utthita hasta padangusthasana was light and balanced, my hips felt pretty open, and I bound everything with ease. I even got an assist into supta kurmasana with my hands clasped and feet crossed behind my head for once! I thought about “cheating” and doing kapo, but I was a little weak and shaky (needing some food) so I went straight to back bends. I got my legs into lotus for every pose and my headstand was fairly steady for once. All in all, a focused and flowing practice. I was elated afterwards.

Back home last night, so back at AYO this morning. I was working with a whole different body in a totally different environment. In case my ego got out of hand yesterday, it definitely got a reality check. The weather has been warm the last week or so, but today it is down below zero again. I felt it. I was stiff and slow and heavy. I had a tougher time quieting the mental chatter today with the extreme difference I felt in many poses, but I suppose that’s part of the process. I got an assist in supta kurmasana, but there was no way I could get hands bound and feet crossed at the same time. My hips were tight, my knees were sore. Every half-lotus was a challenge. I had held a little flicker of hope that I might get kapo today, but I was glad I didn’t in the end. Back bends were the only good part of practice. I felt steady, stable and controlled. I stuck the stand up all but one of the 5 or 6 times I did drop backs. My assisted back bend was good, I kept my heels grounding and was solid on the way back up. I did no inverting (ladies holiday, or just inversion holiday), so I closed quickly and took a long savasana.

I didn’t get too fussed about the less than stellar asana performance this morning. I did my best and I got through it. I’ll just hope for a more cooperative day with my body tomorrow.

Long absence

It’s been a week of ups and downs in both practice and life. I missed led last Friday due to complete and total exhaustion. I needed a self-care time out. I did go to a workshop that evening with Hart Lazer, which was excellent. His Iyengar approach to the primary series was really perfect for me. I love all of that precision in alignment. We barely got through any of the primary series in the two hours, but it was very worthwhile. I also attended his back bending workshops the following day. Let me tell you, five hours of back bending is a lot. I loved it, but the sore muscles the next day were intense. The biggest take away for me was that if I want to have longevity in my practice I need to work on my back bend alignment. My feet have a tendency to angle out, especially during standing from drop backs, and Hart says that over time that will damage me. I certainly don’t want to be deteriorating the health of my spine through my practice.

My hectic and slightly insane work schedule meant missing Sunday and Monday practice, which I had enormous guilt over. Silly, I suppose, and I know it’s a life long practice and that missing one or two (or more) mornings is not the end of the world, but I always feel as if I’m really letting myself down. I was thrilled to be back on my mat Tuesday morning. The hot temperatures here this week made for very sweaty practice, my favorite. My back was still very tense so I was unsure hour drop backs would go, but they were great. I actually had a nice practice both days, Wednesday was similar. It’s always interesting to see how the body responds after a few days off. My hamstrings and hips felt tight, but other elements of practice were much more effortless. I’m finding laghu vajrasana to be less frustrating this week. I think I’m just thinking less about it and just doing the pose. My overly analytical mind can be a killer in certain postures. I’m feeling less and less intimidated and more ready for kapo, whenever that joins the party.

Off to bed shortly so I can be fresh and ready for those speedy transitions tomorrow morning!

New challenge

I was tired this morning. In fact, I almost didn’t go to practice because I slept half an hour later than I should have. I eventually dragged myself out from my warm cocoon and went to the shala. As always, I was so glad. I had a couple of moments during the standing poses when I thought “this is going to take forever” but that passed. I touched the floor with my pinkies in prasarita padottanasana C on my own, no assistance, which was a bit cool. I still have knee anxiety so I’m not doing the bind and bend forward in ardha baddha padmottanasana yet, although I suspect I could now. Guess who skipped purvottanasana again? My goal for the rest of the week is no skipping anything. I’m hating marychiasana a&b lately, but I’m getting through them. Supta kurmasana was ok today. Today’s assistant came and got my hands bound, which I held, but no foot crossing. My neck is feeling much better and, while I still didn’t do chakrasana today, I did hold setu bandhasana for all five breaths with my arms crossed. Improvement. My intermediate poses felt pretty good. I got some help from my teacher with the tension I was holding in my hands and arms during krounchasana, and also with bhekasana, which I still find quite challenging. Both Dhanurasanas were very hard today and my legs were visibly shaking during the final hold in parsva. I did ustrasana with no issues, then my teacher gave me laghu vajrasana. I did it twice. The first time was basically just mechanical instruction and I came right up, the second time I held it. I think it went well, of course it was very challenging. My thighs were pretty achy but it wasn’t as rough as I was anticipating. Hopefully it will help me feel more ready for kapo, which (as it made clear by my frequent references) I’ve been dreading. My back is feeling tender post-practice, but I’m energized. A new pose always gets me excited for the week.

Imagephoto from my-asanas.blogspot.com

Bending and belonging

This morning was set up to be a bit of a shaky practice. I went straight from an overnight shift and was feeling nauseated and totally exhausted. I went in with the attitude that whatever I could manage to do was enough. The vibe on Sunday is so lovely, everyone is relaxed and the earlier arrivals, like myself, set up and chat while we stretch before we do the opening chant as a group. One of my fellow practitioners (who I see everyday but whose name I don’t know) told me to just breathe and take it slow today, and I followed her advice. I have skipped purvottanasana every practice (besides led, obviously) since last Sunday and not even on purpose. I did it again today and realized much further along when I saw someone else do it. I had to laugh at myself because while I dislike the pose, I haven’t been leaving it out intentionally. I actually had a great practice. My sleepless state left my body pretty open. It took the strength and balance a while to come, but I got into a rhythm and was feeling pretty great. Sundays assistant is not afraid to be really hands on with everybody, so I got a little attention today in a few poses, which was nice. Supta kurmasana update: I rocked it today. I was able to come up and get my left leg behind my head. I didn’t really try to get the second leg back there, but did make an effort to get the feet crossed at the top of my head before coming down. I was able to get my fingers clasped, but they were too sweaty to fight the pull of my thighs and they let go. I think with assistance I would have totally had it this morning. I have high hopes for tomorrow! Moving on, my pulled neck was feeling ok today, but I’m still giving it a few days before I re-introduce chakrasana. I did all the other neck involved poses without difficulty. My intermediate poses flew by, until dhanurasana. My hip bones were really digging into the floor more than usual for some reason. Ouch. I was hoping to get laghu vajrasana today (I know, I know) but no dice. Maybe tomorrow? Drop backs were great today! Standing was so awesome and I had a nice deep assisted back bend with heels this close to getting to the floor. I was so tired that I was dozing in savasana, so home I went to “take rest.” I was so happy that I went despite how crappy I was feeling beforehand.

Something basic in our human nature longs to belong somewhere, and the Ashtanga community certainly provides that sense of community. I’ve often referred to my practice as my “secret morning club” because it is a fairly small group of us who choose to wake up before dawn to go contort our bodies into strange and unnatural positions before rejoining the rest of the world for the day. I’ve lamented to fellow practitioners the lack of a secret handshake and laughed about how, from an objective, outside perspective, the whole mysore thing is pretty dang strange. There’s something about that that’s appealing to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. When I first started going to AYO, I was intimidated and didn’t know anyone else. Fast forward seven or eight months later, and I may not know most of the people by name, but we’ve exchanged pleasantries and shared some challenge/encouragement at some point. I experience the comfort of familiarity and a supportive environment now, which I never expected to happen that first week. I no longer think that any of the feelings/frustrations I encounter are novel, or even unusual. I love that. All of these things contribute to what keeps me coming back day after day, and loving it.

Dedication and progress

Every morning the little voice in my head (or perhaps the little devil on m y shoulder) whispers that I should stay in bed because there’s no way I can possibly get through all those poses today. This week has been a tough one for shutting that voice up. I’ve been so happy that I’ve made it to practice once I’m done, but I’ve fought myself to get up even more than usual. I know that if I miss a day the Ashtanga police will not drag me away to a never-ending Bikram class or anything, but I know I let myself off the hook with excuses in other areas of my life regularly and it’s not a part of myself that I like. Commitment to my practice is important to me, and I see it as having broader implications than just getting on my mat.

All that being said, I’ve had an excellent week of practice. Every now and then it seems I pass through another door, and I feel like I did that this week. My transitions have improved in a big way, I’ve been efficient. I’ve cut out any extra stretching and finishing in record time (for me). I’ve been putting more emphasis on using my bandhas, and I think it’s helping me. I’m noticing huge improvements in poses that have been a struggle, specifically janu C and parivrtta parsvakonasana. My lotus is getting a little easier all the time. I’ve really been sweating so much more the last couple weeks. I know I’m working hard but I’m not sure that explains it entirely. I haven’t been getting much in the way of adjustments. Some tips for parsva dhanurasana yesterday, which was helpful, and supta kurmasana Monday and Tuesday. I had great drop backs both yesterday and today. I’m feeling so much more confidence. My assisted back bend was absolute crap yesterday but today I had really excellent help and it was great. I think it’s improving, although of course I can’t see it. I was able to walk in quite far today while still managing to keep my heels down. It made me think that stretching out my psoas isn’t going to be the trial that my hips have been. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I am thrilled with my practice in the warmth of the afternoon sun, I know that those extra two hours of guilt-free sleep tomorrow morning will be absolute bliss. No fighting that little voice for the greater good tomorrow! Happy moon day!