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


Assisting and ankle grabbing

Progress on getting back to my six mornings routine? I was this close to being successful in my goal last week. Dang led primary is my downfall. I was running late by ten minutes, which wouldn’t have mattered any other morning, but I couldn’t go in late, so I stayed home. Full disclosure: I should also be at practice now, but after working last night I would only have had an hour between jobs and I was just plain too tired to manage it today.

In other personal practice news, yesterday was grande. I had a hot, energetic practice that I really enjoyed (no surprise – Sunday). I think I’m making progress on my jump backs and certainly attempted, with gusto, in every transition. I hope one day it will just happen. Maybe tomorrow, right? 😉 Another biggie – I got into supta kurmasana with only a foot cross needed from the assistant. I was pleased, maybe there is light at the end of this long tunnel.  Still just doing up to laghu vajrasana and, even though I’ve been wanting to add back in the other poses, I know I should follow the advice of my chiropractor and wait until I’m fully healed before trying to pretzel myself into kapotasana again. That being said, my teacher did take my hand to my ankle in my assisted back bend. I was supposed to bring the other one back myself, but I could only hopelessly slip off my foot. It was intense, but ok. Actually, let’s be honest here, I was excited and thought it was awesome!

Eoin Finn, who I am doing my YTT with, was here doing workshops this weekend. I waffled about whether I would attend or not because, as we all know, this yoga thing does not always come cheap. I skipped the Friday evening, but decided to ask Eoin if I could come assist him during the five-hour workshop on Saturday. It happened! It was a really cool experience. There were a lot of teachers there, which was a tad intimidating, but people who don’t know me just assumed I knew what I was talking about. It gave me a lot of confidence. I think it went ok. I did my best and got my hands on lots of people and answered questions during the small group activities. It was such a different experience watching people practice. It was kind of hard to not be joining in the fun, so I was glad to give up the opportunity to assist again on Sunday and practice instead. I was a bit tired after going to AYO right before and having quite an intense physical practice (what, Ashtanga physical? No way!). The flow we did with Eoin was super sweaty and fun. We did some handstand and pincha and core work and lots of hip openers. Three hours later, I was exhausted! I am feeling it today! I had the opportunity to talk to some of the newer yoga teachers there and pick their brains a bit. It was comforting that everyone basically said the same thing – teaching gets easier every time you do it. It made me enthusiastic about organizing some more opportunities to teach. Stay tuned, I’m sure this is just the beginning of this new road on my yoga journey.

Four more days to get my butt out of bed and get to practice this week. I will make it to led!


YTT Day 1

I haven’t done my own practice for the last two days, and I’m missing it but I’m also so glad to have the healing time for my poor torn up ribs. I’m a bad lady! I was travelling yesterday and there simply wasn’t an opportunity. I did have a little practice this afternoon, a vinyasa flow with my fellow trainees. This afternoon was the start of my non-ashtanga yoga teacher training. My husband and I are in Ucluelet, British Columbia and to say that it is beautiful here would be a huge understatement. We have a  cabin in the woods with a little electric fireplace and a full kitchen; it’s very cozy. The other folks doing the training with me seem really lovely so far and I think this is going to be a memorable experience. Today was mostly introductory stuff, but tomorrow we’re going to start getting into the meat (pardon the expression). I’m pretty nervous about the idea of practice teaching!

Are the ashtanga police going to hunt me down for skipping kapotasana today and substituting hanumanasana and other poses not prescribed?

Renewed love and Darby

For starters, what an amazing practice today!! The room was humid and I think we all got extremely sweaty. I took my time and counted through each breath, which made everything smooth and fluid. It draws attention to all the places I rush or dawdle. I somehow skipped four poses of standing, trikonasana to parivrtta parsvakonasana, which is a section I don’t think I’ve ever skipped before. My hands are reliably making it to the floor for prasarita padottanasana C, which is fun. Am I supposed to flip my hands the other way now? I’ve heard this a few times, but I’m going to wait for my teacher to tell me. I got an assist in utthita hasta padangustasana today, for the first time in ages. How nice! I decided to make an effort to jump back properly for every vinyasa today and it went pretty well. I certainly can’t lift up and effortlessly float through, but I think with time (lots and lots of it) it may come. I got into supta kurmasana today, almost unassisted!! All my teacher did was cross my feet and I was in the full pose myself – bound AND crossed! I was elated. I think I let out a “woo hoo!” while squeezed into that awkward posture. Pasasana was much more balanced than usual, making it possible to try to push my heels to the floor. I’m a long way off. The pain in my ribs on the left side has been fluctuating daily and today was a bad day. The section of intermediate from ustrasana through supta vajrasana was especially painful. I did kapo but didn’t push myself to get my heels. Jumping into bakasana is really improving. I get onto my arms now, but I can’t “stick the landing” as I keep saying. It’s really challenging! I had great backbends today, too. I’m getting batter at letting those upper butt muscles relax, so the pain in my SI seems to be improving. I almost got to my feet (I think) in my assisted back bend. Overall, a really great day. My head was in the right place, I felt focused, my body was playing along, the room was hot. A practice that renews my love of ashtanga.

On a whole separate note, I did two workshops with Mark Darby yesterday. I had never met him before and went into the day not even really knowing what topics were being covered. I ended up really enjoying it. It was definitely worth giving up my rest day for. We spent a lot of time with the basics: breath, breath, breath. Always a good topic and there is no end of things to learn. We also spent time on toe spreading and engaging bandhas and even down dog alignment. It was pertinent for me because of the injuries I’ve had lately and many of the issues he brought up repeatedly are things I struggle with> I often try too hard in practice, which brings tension, for example. We spent the afternoon on opposition in the body – so things like pushing into the floor instead of pulling on the toes to get deeper into a forward bend. I incorporated many of the things Darby suggested into my practice today and I will slowly work out what does/doesn’t serve me. I definitely enjoyed his suggestion to count through each breath and I’m going to try to use that from now on. Or at least try to.

Two sleeps until I leave for BC!!

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!

Extracurricular aches

I may have missed Friday morning practice, but that did not stop me on Friday evening, Saturday, or Sunday. I did a weekend of acro yoga this weekend and it was a blast! My sister-in-law came from Toronto to play with me. We did lots of crazy stuff throughout the weekend and I’m so glad we went. I am so sore today, though! My shoulders and lower back are pretty tight.

I did still manage to do my own practice both yesterday and today, despite my aches and pains. I had an awesome practice yesterday. I was fast for me, and super focused. Pasasana was good, one arm through in garbha but no luck with #2, pretty good back bends. Today was a little slower and shakier. I was feeling pretty crappy, thanks to this virus I’m fighting off, plus the tired body. I had about 5 seconds where I thought I was going to get krounchasana, but no dice. Maybe tomorrow? I’m not doing any extra classes today or tomorrow and hopefully my muscles will feel less awful. Maybe I need to take another sick day today and go back to bed…