My Body is a Wonderland

Hi team! If you’ve been following along, you know what a terrible ashtangi I’ve been (and if you haven’t been, I guess I’ve just outed myself). Bad lady! No benefit! In the interest of keeping this blog honest (I’m at lease trying to keep to my yamas!), I’ll admit I haven’t exactly been strict with myself about practice attendance since my last post either. BUT I did go three out of five days this week, and that’s an improvement over one day last week and ZERO days in the numerous weeks prior. I was anxious about starting on a led day, which means Sunday and/or Friday at this shala, because I’m a pusher and, hello, rushing-induced injury, so I waited until Monday to go back. What about home practice, you ask? I have many reasons (read: excuses) for why I can’t seem to get a home practice going, but the main ones are my lack of dedicated space and the four furry creatures I share 1000 sq feet with (no, this does not include my husband). Anyway, all this to say that I am starting to find my body a little bit. My bandhas are still ridiculously weak and I can’t get through a full primary’s worth of jump backs/throughs, BUT I managed to get into every pose in led this morning on a reasonable count, AND I think I might be ready to start dropping back again on Monday. As a great lover of backbends, I have been missing them. Don’t ask me how long I held uth pluthi. I’m thinking another two or three weeks of straight primary and I’ll be ready to start adding some of those early intermediate poses. That’s when my stamina will really be pushed! We have chanting at my new shala before Friday led and I loved chanting classes in Mysore so I went this morning, despite the need to be at the shala an entire half hour earlier. Doesn’t Sharath say that we should only take 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night? πŸ˜‰ Ha! I’m out of the loop, not knowing the chants here, but it’s easy to pick up when it’s done 108 times. I love the calm and quiet mind that comes from this practice. It was a nice way to start my day and I’m sure to be a regular. It’s so wonderful to feel a part of this world again, I had such a warm, fuzzy feeling post-practice this morning. I even managed to exchange some words with fellow practitioners in the change room so maybe I won’t be lonely in this city forever! Perhaps there are other animal-loving ashtangis who will want to dog walk or drink hot beverages after practice on Sundays. The only sad thing about having such a close knit community in my old home is that it set the bar pretty dang high! And I miss them. I have hope that I will have that again here, and if it doesn’t exist already for me to butt in on, I will create it. Happy Friday!

Oliver

Aren’t cats the ultimate yogis?

Beginner’s Body

I finally did it! I went back to practice yesterday. Back to who I think of as “my people.” It felt amazing. My new shala is lovely. I’ve visited before when on vacation here in my new home, so I knew it was a good fit already. I was pretty concerned about what my body was going to be capable of because if I’m completely honest I haven’t properly practiced (beyond a few sun salutations) in about two and a half months. I’ve never gone that long without practicing in the years I’ve been doing yoga, even before my mysore days. I’ll tell you my two take-aways from the long slog that was my practice. One: primary series is physically demanding, which you lose sight of when it’s just something you do everyday. Two: the body remembers. Urdhva dhanurasana felt horrific, so I didn’t attempt to stand up for drop backs just yet. I was weak and stiff (for me) but I got through all of primary with the only modification being no arms through in garbha. That’s not bad at all. It’s going to be a long road back, I think, but I’m sure I’ll get there and I’ll have fun doing it. Man oh man, those one million vinyasas may kill me in the meantime! I am so sore today!Β It’s a serious struggle to lift my arms! I guess this is a good reminder of what it’s like in the beginning; it’s hard! If you don’t think you have an ego about your practice, take a few months off and try going back. It’s humbling. I saw people doing intermediate and was slightly envious, thinking of how I once did those poses with relative ease. Now I’m giggling through the terrible jump throughs/backs (my core strength/bandhas have gone to shit) and trying to hold uth pluthi for more than five fast breaths. Regardless of my struggles, I am so happy to be back with the cult! πŸ˜‰

Now to retrain myself for the early mornings. That’s a whole other challenge!

Patience and lessons

I have been plagued by so many injuries the last little while. Between my messed up knees, my SI joint constantly popping out of place, a badly bruised foot, my smasming piriformis, and blah blah blah I’ve been struggling a lot. I think I’m finally on the mend and I’ve been doing straight up primary (modified to accommodate my mess of a body) with no drop backs for the last week. I think the magic of primary is working and I’m starting to feel better. I’m actually able to start putting my right leg into half lotus for the fist time in over a month. It requires a lot of patience for me, but at the same time I’m finding it soothing. It sometimes feels nice to take care of yourself, to be a little more forgiving and gentle. These aren’t easy things for me. Ashtanga has taught me a lot, and it has definitely brought into sharp focus mant things about my personality, such as my A-type drive and perfectionist tendancies. I don’t bring this out in every aspect of my life, in fact I can be a seriously lazy slacker sometimes, but on my mat I push and I really give it my all every day. I don’t mean that in a braggy sort of “look how hard I work” way. It has actually been a negative, like the pushing and not listening to the feedback from my body. And here I am, injured again. I really struggle with the fine line between “sensation”, which it’s ok to breathe through, and the kind that is actually hurting me, leading to injury. I guess it’s going to continue to be trial and error, sorry body! Part of the problem is that I love asana! It’s so fun to push the body to do things you never imagined yourself capable of! Before this round of knee problems, I was actually making progress on karandavasana. I could get my legs into lotus (and then fall onto my butt), something I absolutely never thought I’d do. I’m mourning the fun a tiny bit, in all honesty, because the process of healing isn’t so much of that. It is giving me the opportunity to work on my jump backs/throughs, though! I don’t think I’ll ever be someone with one of those effortless floaty practices, but I work on it anyway.

In other news, I put in a request for my leave of absence from work for MYSORE! My plan has been to go for the month of November with a few others from my shala, then travel for two months, including a few week stop in Goa to practice with Rolf. My leave is approved, but the dates were denied. I’m planning to appeal the decision, but I may have to do some readjusting of my plans and go later. It’s a bit intimidating to go on my own for the first trip though, and I’m afraid of not making friends and being lonely. Is this silly? Regardless, I’m committed to going to India this winter at some point and I’m very excited about it. Stay tuned for updates, and if you know nice people who are going and would like to hold my hand through the experience, please put us in touch!

 

Marathon practice

To say the last two days of practice have been intense for my body would be a serious understatement. Both days were a solid two hours from opening chant to savasana and included primary and intermediate up to yoganidrasana. Holy crap. I motored through and it was that long, imagine if I was really taking my time! My knee is sore-ish but otherwise I felt great. It may not be much to look at, who knows, but my practice has felt really solid this week. I finally have a firm grasp on supta kurmasana, I haven’t flubbed it a single day since Toronto! I also managed to take my chin to the floor in bhujapidasana yesterday and today which is a woo hoo! The leg behind head postures are definitely hardcore for my neck and back. They use new muscles, which are a little achy, but I’m doing it. Even lifting myself up in my hunched dwi pada, something I really thought looked impossibly hard and a bit crazy. The body is amazing! Drop backs have been super fun. My heels are still lifting, but I feel like I’m getting more consistent with a solid stand up. That being said, you never know what the next practice holds, so I’m just enjoying it while it lasts. I’m doing lotus for supta vajrasana, but no other poses. Even that might be a bad idea. I’m carefully entering and it doesn’t hurt while I’m in it but it does when I straighten my leg after. I guess I should start skipping it again? I’m concerned that there isn’t any hip opening in second besides that pose. It’s tough for my knees when it’s just bam! full lotus with no work up before. That’s one of a number of concerns about saying goodbye to primary series before intermediate. Getting ahead of myself again, as usual!

I didn’t miss any days of practice this week, which I feel good about. I’m really looking forward to led primary tomorrow when I get to be lazy and have someone else count my breaths!

Sure, no problem, Kino!

Nap time

Happy Friday, yogis! I am extra thrilled this week because the adoption of our rescue dog will be finalized this evening and I’ve been dying for a sleep-in (Saturday morning- I love you). I totally dragged my ass out of bed at 5:30 this morning and got to led, thanks to a shala mate who is picking me up Fridays. It was, as always, nice to be practicing in unison with everyone. You just get swept along like a little yoga automaton, not even needing to count your own breaths. My favorite moment is obviously when our teacher says “savasana” and we lay down on our mats and cuddle up with blankets like pre-schoolers having a morning nap.

Have a wonderful Friday and enjoy the luxury of Saturday morning! I know I will πŸ™‚

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

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: http://mayalassiter.com

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.Β  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? πŸ˜‰
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!

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.

 

Peace peace peace

Let’s not dwell on last weeks shortcomings, both physically and mentally, let’s move forward into this bright shiny new week. Historically it is much easier for me to be in a positive frame of mind about my practice on a blissfully relaxed Sunday, but I want today to set the tone for this week. I had such a great practice this morning, I felt focused, but easy in my body. I took full, slow breaths. I didn’t push anything that felt potentially painful. No missed poses. Not that there weren’t struggles, but just the expected ones (utthita hasta padangusthasana, I’m looking at you). I was careful through seated, but my ribs were feeling much better, so I attempted jumping back/ through. It went better than I would have anticipated. I bound marichyasana D without too much discomfort. I even kept my feel off the floor for the lifts in navasana, and my ribs only complained slightly. No jumping back from bhujapidasana or the kurmasanas yet, I don’t want to push too hard and have a setback. Supta kurmasana was quite good today. I played around before getting into it, doing some stretches and yoganidrasana. I hate to go back to this slightly sick and dangerous thinking, but it would be so much easier to do the pose if my legs were less fleshy! My neck was bothering me today, so I only held setu bandhasana for three breaths before putting my hands down for support. Pasasana was tough to bind and balance today, and I got a shoulder opening assist because I think I was kind of hunching towards my knees. Dhanurasana and parsva weren’t nearly as tough as usual. I focused on bringing my knees closer without dumping into my lower back. I was really concentrating on bandhas and bringing the pubic bone forward. I used a block for ustrasana, laghu vajrasana, and my first urdhva dhanurasana. Huge help! It made laghu so much harder! I’m usually splaying my knees out on the lift up. Back bends felt amazing today, so I decided to try to stand up, and I did it. Since I’d gotten up, I figured I may as well try a drop back, so I did three. They felt so fun! I wasn’t as controlled going back as I was a few weeks ago, but coming up was good. I did one assisted and didn’t worry much about walking my hands in, I just focused on my bandhas and internal thigh rotation and all those good alignment points that I was ignoring pre-SI joint injury.

We have a new room for closing at the shala, which I was skeptical about at first, thinking we really didn’t need it. I’ve changed my tune after using it last week. It’s so nice. It faces the back of the building, where no traffic noises come in, and it’s cool and quiet and peaceful. I really took my time in the closing postures (even uth pluthi today!) and then did my closing chant, which I always follow by repeating the end in English to myself (may all being everywhere be happy and free, om peace peace peace) and after each repetition of peace I focus my energy towards someone/thing. The first “peace” goes out to the world, the second to my friends and family (with special emphasis visualizing those who need it most), and the third I wish for within myself. The visualization that came to me when I first started doing this was wrapping a cozy blanket around whatever I was sending those peaceful, loving feelings towards, so that’s what I still do, even the planet. Is this a little weird? I’m fine if it is, it’s a wonderful way to end my practice and it sets me up for a meditative savasana.

I’m off to shower and get ready for a baby shower this afternoon, before work tonight. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

 

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