Living the dream

I have not put on “real” clothes once this week. I can’t tell you how much I love getting changed after practice in the morning into another set of yoga clothes for teacher training during the day! It’s really been an exhausting, but amazing week so far.

On to business, the David Swenson experience thus far. Saturday and Sunday I did mysore with him in the mornings. It was a very small group on Saturday, perhaps 10 or 12 of us, and only a few more on Sunday. David did the opening chant in call and response style and we all got to business. The fact that there were so few of us meant everyone got his attention and he gives a wonderful, firm adjustment. It was nice to get attention in poses that usually never get adjustments at my home shala, like parivrtta trikonasana and shoulder stand. He came over as soon as I stood from my last urdhva dhanurasana and sat in from of me holding the backs of my upper thighs. He told me to drop back slowly and he brought me back up as soon as the heel of my hand touched the floor. It felt great and forced my heels to stay on the floor. His insight on the heel lift was regarding my short achilles tendon possibly being the cause. He told me he has them too and that his heels do not stay on the floor in pasasana because of that (!).

I took two of the Sunday workshops: Ashtanga’s Greatest Hits, which was a by request class where we broke down any pose people in the class needed help with or were curious about. The majority of the class were not ashtanga practitioners so there were no crazy poses. The most fun for me were nakrasana and mayurasana, which I came close to getting with David’s tips. The second workshop was Backbending and Inversions. Lots of group work happened and it was ok. For me the best part of both classes was David’s story telling and humour.

Teacher training began on Monday. There are eighteen of us, which is more than I anticipated. Most of the group does not have a regular ashtanga practice and there are only four of us have traditional mysore style practices. I was also surprised about that. We got right into teaching on the first day and everyone taught the whole class one surya namaskara. I was nervous, but it does break the ice. David talked about teaching and adjusting; things like prioritizing the corrections that make the pose safer, rather than just more aesthetically pleasing. We learned adjustments for downward dog and the beginning of standing on the first day. The following two days have been similar schedules. In the mornings we partner up and teach the sequence as far as we learned the previous day, adjusting in every pose. Then we learn the next few poses with the adjustments. We’ve done the standing sequence, jumping forward and back, then closing sequence (all but the last three poses so far). He says tomorrow we’ll finish up to navasana. I can’t imagine how difficult and overwhelming this must be for the people who have little or no experience with ashtanga. They are having to memorize the sequence, including Sanskrit names, and be able to teach it (no Sanskrit counting, just breath cues). I’m happy to only have to stress out about teaching and remembering all the adjustments, I don’t think I would be enjoying myself nearly as much otherwise. He is a patient teacher, and answers every question fully. He somehow still manages to be a bit firm and no-nonsense sometimes though, and I appreciate that. He even took time to help me with my jump backs at lunch today.

We get a two-hour lunch break and afterwards David sits at the front and tells stories and answers our questions, sort of conference-like. He speaks of Guruji often and tells funny stories about his experiences with him, both in Mysore and the US. Today there were a couple of questions about Mysore (whether a practitioner should aspire to going and whether or not he still goes). This set him off talking about what the experience of practicing at The Shala is like and lots of very funny stories about going to India. He often mentions David Williams and does a wonderful impressions of people. Yesterday he addressed someone’s question about whether ashtanga practitioners should just expect to get injured at some point. He told us that he has never had an injury from yoga (or “the yoga” as he calls it), despite having been a faithful practitioner since the early 70’s. He keeps driving home the point that ashtanga is only as hard as you make it. It’s ok to modify poses and you should do whatever you need to be safe (although he says props are only a last resort). We also discussed ladies’ holiday today. He says it is 100% personal choice, and doesn’t buy into the rule that women absolutely should not do practice, or even not do inversions during that time. Everyone should listen to their own body. David is very humble and has a wonderful way of making practice seem light. He regularly refers to it as a tool for life. He treats each persons practice as equal, regardless of how proficient they are with the asanas. I love that. He says that yoga should be fun and should build your prana, not deplete it.

Here are a couple of the nuggets of wisdom I managed to record in my notebook:

-“An adjustment creates a memory in someone’s body.” I thought this was a powerful way to think of it. I imagine most teachers want to create positive memories in someone of their experience in a pose.

– “There are fears that keep us alive and fears that keep us from living.” This came up when we were working on headstand and talking about the fear of inversions. He told a wonderful story about his wife’s experience of taking her first driving lesson and having her fear validated. I hope this is something I would already do, considering my field of work, but his demonstration with one of the participants was great.

I’ve been up around 5:30 every morning to get my butt to practice, then bus way out to the shala in the suburbs where the training is being held. It makes for very long and tiring days, but it has definitely been worth it. I can’t wait for tomorrow!



So, I may have failed in my plan to make it a six practice week. I missed Monday morning, for no good reason other than being exhausted and totally unable to leave my bed. Otherwise, it’s been a great week. My hips are taking longer to loosen up and my knees are complaining, but jump backs are coming along nicely and I’m landing bakasana B every day (although perhaps not on my first attempt). I’ve been trying not to itch for my next pose but, as I have admitted here, I have been. Today my teacher grabbed me on my way out and told me to start eka pada next week! I feel like there is a lot of opportunity for injury in this pose(s), but I think my body is ready for the challenge. Another exciting thing is that I’ll be starting eka pada on the weekend, but not at AYO. Saturday starts my nine days of David Swenson! I’ll be doing mysore with him this weekend as well two of the workshops on Sunday. The rest of the week is my primary series teacher training. I’ll be practicing at AYO in the morning, then taking the bus out to Swenson-fest for 9-5. I was so sad about missing out on the David Robson training, but I’m hoping to have a great week this week to make up for it. Led tomorrow morning, then I’ll be sure to post about my experience of mysore with the legendary Swenson. 🙂

David’s visit and always more to work on

It has been a satisfying and eventful past week of practice at AYO. For starters, the magical David Robson was here for a week long primary series intensive, which I wasn’t able to participate in (work interfering with yoga, again!). Mysore practice was opened up for drop-in participants for two of his mornings though, so I was able to get a chance to practice with him. I was still sick and struggling to get enough oxygen, so perhaps the timing could have been better, but I still feel I had a couple of good take-aways from my time with him. The main thing is my tendency to lift my heels in drop backs, both going back and coming up. I have attributed this to my tight psoas, but David said my pelvis is coming forward enough that I shouldn’t need to do it. The issue is actually that I’m not using my legs strongly enough. This is going to be a very tough habit to break. I’ve been trying to keep the heels down since last Sunday and I have yet to manage it, although I think it might be improving slightly. He had me come up to standing by just coming onto the finger tips and then straightening the legs. It has helped my stability for sure. David gave me a break on ankle grabbing on Sunday, but Wednesday we did it and it was intense. My back muscles objected afterward and I felt a bit fragile. I love that he keeps the windows closed and the room heated. Having a chilly practice space is the worst, so for me the warmer the better. I also really appreciate that David pushes students. He expects you to try to do the full expression of everything, only modifying if actually necessary. He tells me to do something, presumably because he believes me capable, and therefore I believe I can do it and viola! I do (even if it’s not on the first try). It points out to me places in the practice (garbha pindasana!!) where I am being lazy or modifying unecessarily. I got supta kurmasana a couple of times last week with no assistance, just adjustment and deepening once I was in it. David had me do it twice on Wednesday. His way of moving all your leg flesh to get you deeper into the pose is so helpful, I wish everyone had the confidence to give such a strong assist. No dice today, though. It was wonderful having a Friday moon day, although I worked overnight on Thursday so there was no sleeping in for me. I enjoy the two consecutive days of rest, and no led primary doesn’t hurt either.  😉

I’ve started running again as of last week. I just went out three times for 5km each, but I was impressed that yoga has maintained such good cardiovascular fitness. My already problematic hips are complaining though, and I think that the adjustment period is going to be tough for my practice.My goal is to run 10km by November, which I think is totally do-able and not such a long distance that I am doing damage to my body. I’m excited about it!

Today I was exhausted, but managed to drag myself out the door and onto my bike. It was a pretty pleasant morning, and I wasn’t as stiff as I had anticipated. I took my time, so I was about two hours, which was ok for a Sunday when there’s nowhere else to be. I pulled something in the front of my shoulder jumping through (of all things to injure yourself doing), so I was jumping back but stepping forward for most of practice. My right knee is still twinging as well, so no ardha baddha padmottanasana on that side, but the rest of the lotus postures I just did slowly. Will I get eka pada this week? If that motivation is what it takes to get my ass to practice six days this week, then that’s fine with me. I’ve been much for of a five day gal this summer and I want to get back to six.

I have a massage scheduled for tomorrow, which I fully expect to be painful but helpful. I’m almost healthy again and I’m looking forward to a good week ahead. Starting next weekend I’ll be practicing with David Swenson again!

Learning lessons the hard way

I have never been a person who was able to avoid heartache and hardship by listening to the advice of others. I think I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but I still have a nasty stubborn streak that often leads me to do things my own way. This is inevitably the more difficult path. I frequently need to learn life’s lessons multiple times, just to make sure it’s really solidified. As someone who lives mainly in the present, I can find it hard to keep hold of long-term goals or to consider something in terms of its future benefits. This sometimes translates as a need for not quite instant (but close) gratification. Planning for more than a few months ahead is something I find nearly impossible, and this is an aspect of myself that I would like to change (no problem, right?). This intro could totally lead me into a whole post about my struggles with aparigraha, but I’ll save that for another time. In fact, I could go on about my painfully human flaws forever, but what brought on this line of thought today is that I’m sick. Nothing life threatening, just a bad cold. No big deal, one might say, get rest and drink lots of fluids! I find this incredibly difficult for a number of reasons. For starters, I have missed the last three mornings of practice, which I hate. My body and mind suffer a little when I don’t go – I need my ashtanga fix. I get these ridiculous fears about my asana practice like, what if I can’t drop back anymore when I go on Sunday? I know this is silly, but the thoughts come regardless. Without that meditative time on my mat, I also miss out on the important, if brief, shutting down of all that mental chatter, even if I only manage it for a short time. I rarely consider the stresses of life while practicing, my mind may wander but it is usually always related to practice. It’s like hitting the refresh button and it helps me to maintain some sense of peace (or perhaps just keeps me from being a much crankier, more difficult person). Another thing about being sick is missing work. To say I am extremely tied up in my role would be an understatement. I believe my career chose me. It is a big part of who I am and how I identify my worth in the world. I love being in social work, and I care very much about the clients on my caseload. Missing unplanned days means I’m letting people down, not being able to be there when I’m expected or needed. I find that hard to live with, and I feel guilty. I could go on about that for pages, but I’ll leave it there. Finally, getting sick challenges my delusion of being invincible. It forces me to acknowledge that I push my body beyond it’s capacity to cope, and it tells me I need to slow down by getting this cold. This cycle has been going on for somewhere around seven years, but I have yet to actually follow my body’s directive. I do worry that sometime in the future I will get sick in some more serious way as a result of being stressed, over-worked, and tired, and should that happen I would have no one to blame but myself because it’s all self-induced. Ah yes, my first world problems are on display in abundance, and while I should be grateful for the wonderful life and general good health I enjoy, I do allow myself to wallow in a bit of “poor me”  once in a while. No matter what, I’m insisting to my self that I’ll be better by Sunday because David Robson will be here and I refuse to miss the opportunity to practice with him! And yes, I have learned the lesson about slowing down and taking care of myself this time 😉

On being a crappy yogi and teaching new students

I’ve been very lax about my practice journaling, but I just haven’t felt inspired to write. I’ve just been slogging away, as usual. There have been a couple of somewhat exciting things that have happened in my practice lately. On Sunday, I managed to get myself into dwi pada and lower down to bind for supta kurmasana, finally! I was excited, but it’s not as fun to be excited when there’s no one to share it with.

I want to believe I looked a little like this. That’s the beauty of not actually being able to see yourself during practice!
Taken from:

I also have been managing to jump into bakasana most days, which gets some sort of enthusiastic exclamation from me every time. I can’t seem to help it.  I landed it on my second attempt this morning, which was a record! Since coming back from the rib popping, kapotasana is a whole new experience. While I still find it a cruel and hateful pose in theory, the process of actually doing it is not the injury inducing, breathe holding awfulness it once was. I’m grabbing mid-foot now, and I think I could get heel, but I always just want to drop my elbows so that I can get my five breaths done and get out again. I know I should be taking more time to do it properly but it’s not the most pleasant of experiences. I don’t think it’s anyone’s most favorite posture. Drop backs have been feeling pretty great lately and I’m getting more consistent with my control. No ankle holding since Toronto, but I’m not anxious to do it again so that’s a-ok. I’m feeling pretty good about my asana practice, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t itching to get eka pada a little. I hate admitting it, but it’s true. I had this little thing in the back of my mind when I went for the first part of my YTT that I would be split by the time I went back for session two. No way is that happening, and it was crazy to even entertain the thought. I want to stop setting accidental asana goals (because yes, I am aware that the asana is not the point), but I’m not even doing it on purpose. I don’t even really want to do the next postures, they seem hard, and the only bonus would be having a shorter practice. Anyway, I guess I’m a crappy yogi, but I’m pretty sure only about five people read this, so just don’t tell on me guys, ok? 😉
In other news, I’ve been teaching (I’ll try not to leak my horrid non-yoginess into them)! I now have two students that I’m giving private instruction to every week. It’s been really fun so far and I love the one on one format. One of my students is a complete beginner in her early 60’s and the other is a good friend with a little yoga experience. It’s amazing to me the things I have retained over the years and I hear myself explaining something or giving a cue and I’m surprised. I suddenly feel more confident, now that I’m discovering that I’m not as clueless as I was anxious that I might be. The students I’m teaching are fairly straight forward, no serious physical limitations to work with, so I feel capable enough. It is driving me to learn more though, so I feel confident to teach anyone. Making money for doing something that I love so much is a great feeling! And obviously I wasn’t busy enough with my two current jobs, so I needed something to fill all that spare time I had!

I’m working tonight and won’t be off in time for led tomorrow morning. I’m cheating and meeting some yogi friends for post-practice tea anyway! Happy Friday!