On being a big (sore) wuss

What’s been going on in my practice during the last week, you might ask. Here’s the update, friends:

Thursday I totally wussed out doing pincha and used a wall. Lame. A crutch that will never help me to gain balance to enter the posture. That old friend fear definitely reared its ugly head.

Friday came along and I slept in, skipping led. Sometimes you just need to stay in bed with your cats; don’t judge. I made up for it by going to the Saturday morning mysore at AYO. Super fun! I did primary with no drop backs, just like it was Friday. Ah, sweet, gentle, friendly primary. My body rejoiced. I feel like second is strengthening parts of my primary practice. I also noticed how not having to do all that half lotus everyday has helped my knee. I’m sure the leg-behind-head stuff is probably helping my hips open in a different way as well.

I was in Toronto for practice Sunday and Monday. AYCT is the hottest, sweatiest practice room of all time. My body loves it! David was away on Sunday, but that was fine. I loved being back there and noticed such a difference with the heat, in dwi pada especially! We’re barely breaking a sweat in the cold room at AYO these days. It’s a big room with lots of windows and there just isn’t that many of us. AYCT is pretty much the exact opposite. I took it slow because it was so sticky hot in there that I got nauseous a few times. Tittibhasana is possibly improving, but my legs are still hating me for it. The burn!! I got to pincha and, despite talking a big game beforehand about going solo in the middle of the room, I asked an assistant for a spot. Monday David was back, so no messing around. He adjusted me in trikonasana, which made me notice how lazy I can be in the standing postures. I totally got called out for my usual pre-kapotasana psych-out. It was good though, because it forced me to just do it with minimal mental chatter. I even got a little praise when I found my own heels (I will except ego strokes whenever I can get them!). David was busy when I got to tittibhasana so I didn’t get the help with jumping in that I had hoped for. He also spotted me for pincha, but perhaps with a slight eye-roll at my wussiness. I may have whined slightly as I made excuses about how recently I had gotten the pose. I got some good pointers regardless. I had to grab my shins (which I quickly slid down to my ankles) in my assisted back bend. Ouch, it felt terrible. My back just didn’t want to release at all. David says I should be doing it with my teacher everyday because my body is capable, but to be honest, I’m pretty glad I don’t because it’s just about the most uncomfortable thing ever. It makes kapo look like a cakewalk.

Back to the home shala yesterday. AYCT, I already miss your heat and intensity. Work interfered with practice in the morning so I had to go to evening mysore Tuesday. It was nice. Not many of us, which actually helped me focus on my breath because it was so obvious when I let it go. I got some really excellent pincha help and took my first steps into solo, wall-less attempts. It was a good practice (I love evening body!) but I was feeling a bit sore.

This morning work was also cutting into practice time, but I did make it. I was hurting. Perhaps something is out of place in my SI region, because there is extreme discomfort. I also have a little hamstring pull,  which is getting harder to ignore. I basically felt achy and a bit awful, so I took it very easy. I really half-assed kapo, just touching my toes, and skipped supta vajrasana (there was no teacher/assistant and I didn’t want to interrupt anyone else’s practice). I ended after eka pada because I was out of time and my body was definitely slamming on the brakes. I need rest. Practice tomorrow may be a fiasco. I can guarantee you I will not be asking to grab my ankles in my back bend.

I should be getting my MRI results tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed.


Break through

Having the chance to practice with Laruga was definitely a great opportunity to challenge myself, but so was practicing with David Robson at mysore on the Sunday morning. He had lots of great help for me in a number of poses, but most importantly spent some time talking to me about my pesky left knee and an observation about the way I am torquing it when going into lotus. I was moving my ample leg flesh out of the way not realizing that the way I was doing it was actually further taking my shin out of alignment with my thigh. I’m still hurting and the tension the injury is creating in my hip is not doing me any favors, but between what I got from David that morning and what Jeff gave me in Victoria, I really feel like I will mend eventually and then work the flexibility back in my hip safely.

In happier news, since coming back from Toronto I think my practice has taken a step up. I am now able to get completely bound on my own in supta kurmasana everyday, even at led last week. I also have gotten my heels on my own in kapotasana every practice since my back bending workshop with Laruga. I’m thrilled with these latest developments and I think the noticeable improvements in some areas have helped offset the frustration with the limitations dictated by my knee. I really feel like I’m gaining noticable strength and building confidence. Actually, even eka pada seems to be improving a bit. Yay, ashtanga! I won’t mention all the asanas that are not accessible right now because of my busted up left knee (anything with lotus, janu b & c, blah blah, whine). Let’s keep it positive! I’ve been super fast this week, which was mostly due to necessity the last two days because I got up a little late. Sometimes a time limit works in helping me elinimate the extraneous movement and keeping me focused.

I had a little chuckle this morning while on my mat as my neighbour got to kapotasana. I was thinking about what a mind f@*% that pose is and how hilarious it would be (ALERT: yoga nerd moment!!) to watch a montage of people getting to kapo. I think practically everyone at my shala does it, including me, so I’m sure it’s very common. You arrive at downward dog, jump to your knees and then stop. Maybe you look behind you a few times, maybe you sit for a minute, maybe you stretch a bit first, maybe you do all of those things. Regardless of what is happening, I know it is definitely not correct vinyasa. I have to give myself a little pep talk along the lines of ” it’s only ten breaths, it wasn’t so bad yesterday, you can totally do it!” And then I do.

I’m going through another of my high on yoga phases and it makes me happy. I’m thinking about yoga trips for 2013 already. Here is my current short list: Goa with David Robson in March/April, a long weekend in Miami with Kino, Greenwich with Sharath in April, MYSORE in October or November. I have to limit it because, as we all know, money doesn’t grow on trees and this is a pricey addiction. So fun to think about though!

Could 2013 be my year?

Laruga and growth

It has been about a week and a half since my Laruga Glaser workshops at AYCT and I think the take-aways have really solidified in my practice and in my body. It was truly a fantastic weekend of yoga and if you ever have the chance to study with Laruga, do it. She is much more than just a beautiful practitioner. She is experienced and knowledgeable, and has had her own challenges with the practice, which I always find comforting. She speaks a language I understand, if that makes any sense. I always got what she was saying and could at least try to apply it.

The three workshops I took with her were intermediate series, arm balancing, and back bending. It was incredibly fun! I got to have my mat (at the very front, of course) between my favorite yoga pal, my sister-in-law, and a lovely fellow AYO yogi. We worked hard, but we also played, we laughed, and we generally brought the lightness that ashtanga can occasionally lack. I will try to outline some of the stuff that really spoke to me and that I’ve brought to my own daily practice.

*In pasasana it is ok if the knees and feet aren’t even as you work to get the heels down. I may never get my heels to the floor because I have very tight achilles, but it is much easier for me to find a nice stretch and get closer if I’m not stressing about staying totally aligned through the legs. It helps the balance. She also says to stay low, do not life the hips too much to try to get the heels to touch. Use the wrapping arm to pull the top shoulder back, opening up the chest more and deepening the twist. You know these already? Well, I didn’t and they’ve been mega helpful in practice this week.

*Jump directly into krounchasana with the lifting leg straight. As you come to seated, use the back of the hand on the foot to stabilize and help you lift the leg the rest of the way into position. You might be shocked that I wasn’t always doing this, because it is correct vinyasa, but we all have our lazy habits and one of mine was to jump into triang mukha, then bend the leg, take the foot, then lift to the full position. No benefit. I’ve been doing it correctly since Sunday practice, and I surprised myself that I actually do have the strength. It’s silly how we limit ourselves.

* In bhekasana, Laruga makes a “barbie foot” by pressing into the ball of the foot and flexing the toes. She says this helps keep the ankle strong and aligned. It also conveniently helps keep the hands in place when you’re super sweaty, as I am by this point in my mega-long practice. I asked about knee alignment. Laruga says that the knees should stay on the ground rather than lifting, if possible, but that it is totally ok for the knees to splay out. Just let them go where they feel comfortable.

*Laruga regularly talks about treating the body as one whole unit and the importance of getting to the posture in the simplest way possible. This comes into play in places like bhekasana, where you should grab for both feet at once, then turn both hands at once. I have been trying hard to always think of this since and have noticed the places where I was taking extra steps (dhanurasana, for example, grabbing for one foot at a time). It is always one breath, one movement, not one breath, three movements or whatever. Always a good thing to remember, we can all get lazy or sloppy in our vinyasas.

*In dhanurasana, keep the inside of the foot together, knees can come apart. I had been told toes and heels together, which seems like a small difference but it has really changed the way I approach the pose and my leg alignment. I had also been told knees come together, but Laruga says knees can go wherever is comfortable.

*In arm balances we worked on bhujapidasana, a pose that is fairly difficult in primary. I have never really understood how to go chin to the floor rather than forehead. Laruga explained that you look forward, chest proud as you lower. What a small point, but I had never had it explained to me in that simple way. Another huge difference. We also worked on the transition back to bakasana and I realized mine was so awkward because I wasn’t allowing myself to tip forward enough to bring the hips high. Lightbulb moment # 100 for the weekend!

*In urdhva dhanurasana, Laruga has her students get hands and feet in position, raise the hips, come to the top of the head, then “plug in” the shoulder before lifting up. The arm comes back fully into the socket before the press up. It feels great. She applies the same principle in kapotasana, which has helped me to eliminate whatever was causing the pain in my left shoulder when I tried to walk my hands back.

*Lots of talk about tailbone pointing down rather than scooping in any of the front body streching poses. This was a new experience for my lower back. The scooping I was desperately trying to accomplish was creating tension, especially in my glutes, which I was trying to fight. This lengthening is creating space. Something I’ve probably been told before but have only just gotten a handle on.

*In drop backs, Laruga challenged us to drop back with hands over head and to work towards doing it on the breath (exhale down, inhale up, exhale back down, inhale up, etc). So fun! I’ve been trying to do it on the breath somewhat this week and it has been great.
For me, workshops are money well spent. A fresh perspective and a new way of explaining the poses are invaluable. I always feel that I come away with something meaty (pardon the phrase, my vegan friends). This weekend, I felt like I got more than just one or two things, I got a lot. It was extremely worthwhile and really refreshed and re-motivated my practice.

Thank you, Laruga!

Laruga and I after my final workshop of the weekend

A much needed getaway

What an amazing weekend! It is currently after 1am on Sunday night (Monday morning, if you want to get technical) and I am getting through an overnight shift at my part-time gig. I’m cruising through it on the leftover happiness from the last four days. My husband and I rented a car on Wednesday evening and ran away to spend time visiting some much-loved friends and family. First we went to a cottage for two nights and stayed with old friends of mine who now live in Bangkok. It was so relaxing hanging out on the dock, swimming in the lake, sitting around with a glass of wine (a very rare occasion in my life!). I even did my Friday primary on the dock and my husband took a few pictures.

Friday primary by the lake.

We left the cottage on Friday and spent that night with another group of old friends of mine from college. We shared a nice meal and laughed until our faces hurt. It was fabulous. After Saturday brunch we left for Toronto to see our sister-in-law and niece. Another wonderful evening. We got up this morning (Sunday) and went to practice at AYCT, my favorite!

Heading to Sunday morning mysore practice at AYCT

What an intense practice I had today! In a good way. It was crazy hot, as usual, and I was kind of distracted by all the awesomeness happening around me for the first 10 or 15 minutes. I got into a groove at some point and had a pretty typical day with primary. I was a bit disappointed not to get any assists, because usually someone will come over and give a little love, maybe even just a foot cross in supta kurmasana (still no dice on that one), but not so lucky today. I started to feel a bit awful during second. I was nauseous and shaky, probably a combination of low blood sugar and my ridiculous sweaty messiness. David even asked if I was ok, because I had to stop and collect myself or risk dry heaving. I was in kapo B when David came over and took my hands to my heels to do it again. It’s amazing how easy it felt when he did that. I’m not sure what it is about him, but right from the start there has been total trust. I just surrender to whatever position he puts me in and do whatever I’m told. He also did supta vajrasana with me and he squeezed my lotus super tight and held my hands to my feet, which I normally find pretty impossible. I was shaking through bakasana and sweating like mad, so when I got to B I had little hope that I would land it (especially since I haven’t actually accomplished it once). I tried a bunch of times, then David came over to give me some pointers. He had me take my regular down dog (not the shortened, cheaters version I’ve been trying to jump from) and bend my knees, sinking my hips low and pressing my chest forward. I just jumped straight forward from there. I actually landed it on my third or fourth try! I couldn’t believe it!! David gave me a few words of praise as well, which was nice. I struggled through the next couple of poses and then did back bends. My first drop back felt pretty good, but the next two I stumbled a little, which I’m chalking up to being tired. David came to finish up and grabbed my ankles from the air on my assisted back bend, which didn’t feel nearly as awful as taking my ankles from the floor. He was impressed by how much my practice has changed over the last year and mentioned my hard work, which was pretty good to hear. I do work hard and it’s easy to lose sight of how much my asana practice has changed because I’m so in it and there is still so much that I need to work on. My sister-in-law and I had been playing the night before and I did eka pada, then told her I was going to do it at practice the next morning and cheat. When it actually came down to it, I was in no shape to do more poses then what I’ve actually been given, so much for cheating! Anyway, it was another inspiring practice at AYCT and I can’t wait to go back. David is doing a 40 hr ashtanga intensive at AYO next month and I don’t have the money or the vacation hours to do it (so sad!), but I am looking forward to having mysore practice with him everyday for a week! It’s always sad to leave Toronto and I wish I had a yoga partner here the way I do there. I also often think that my practice would be different if I lived there because the expectations at AYCT are different, much less live and let live and more adherence to a “traditional” ashtanga practice. But then again, who really knows. I think the atmosphere at AYO has been very nurturing for me and I’m grateful for that.
So, a fabulous weekend wraps up and I’m starting to look ahead to my week. After tonight it’s back to the regular 9-5 of my full time gig. I hope work goes a little easy on me, but even thinking that is just asking for trouble.


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.