Sometimes it pours…

And here we are just chugging right along. Vatayanasana could be awhile. That shit is hard!!

Just when I thought it might never happen…

Once again I prove to myself that my body is capable of things I once thought impossible. Yesterday I got nakrasana. This was the longest I have ever worked on a posture; Mayurasana was a toughie! I’m not one of those waifish yoga women without too much lower body to lift!

Mark Darby, photo from Ashtangapictureproject.com

Mark Darby, photo from Ashtangapictureproject.com

All Is Coming (back)

Yesterday I was given mayurasana. That means I am now back to the last pose I was working on before I left for India last year. It feels like an accomplishment. For me it represents some kind of victory. A victory over myself, over my habitual negative thoughts and behaviours. My dedication to my practice defies many things I’ve always thought to be true about myself, such as being lazy and a quitter. It has been extremely challenging getting my practice back after the lengthy hiatus I took after Mysore. When I got back to my mat in May I couldn’t get through the vinyasas of primary series. Urdhva dhanurasana was incredibly uncomfortable and drop backs were a fantasy. My bandhas were non-existant. I’m still not back to where I was in terms of strength and flexibility, but it’s coming. Slowly and with effort, it is coming.

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? 😉 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?

Just Do It Already

I felt a little inkling of frustration today. This is an extremely rare occurance for me, I am not the emotional-on-my-mat sort of yogi. It was just a wee bit, but there were definite ripples in my usual relative peace and calm. It was during pincha (surprised?). What got my goat? My inability to just do it! Not necessarily land the pose but to just try, really try, without the safety net of the wall or a spotter. It’s not even conscious. I pep talk myself (“you can do this”, “falling would be no big deal!”) but to no avail. It makes me mad at myself! If I could just fall a few times, I’m sure I’d get over the fear and maybe have a shot at getting the pose. Today’s assistant (conveniently the same one as Wednesday) told the other that I “need to fall” when he came to help me. They only caught me as I was going over, and I actually landed it myself a couple of times but couldn’t hold on for long. I need to dig in and find the courage to just jump up there, no crutch, and I think that will be the turning point. No one did just let me fall, I had spotters, but I know he’s right. I was reminded of this post by Kino and it takes on a new meaning now that I am actually working on the very pose she is referring to. Isn’t it in these very challenging places that we make change within ourselves? Easier said than done. There’s always tomorrow, right?

Doing it

Hi friends. It’s only been (not quite) seven days, but so far I have a heavy duty crush on 2013. Have I been working a lot? Yes. Have I been tired? Yes. But somehow the magical shine of newness has managed to stay intact through the past week. How are the resolutions going so far, you might wonder. Here’s the rundown:

  • I epically failed, almost immediately, on my resolution to stay adequately hydrated every day.
  • I am making plans to do a yoga photo shoot in the spring, just to document my practice for my future self.
  • I have started another Whole 30 (my second).
  • Perhaps most exciting, I am in the dreamy, far-away eyes phase of planning a trip to Mysore this year, and potentially (hopefully) more of India.
  • In the meantime, I have totally been going to practice everyday. And what practice it has been!

While our space is quite chilly with its drafty windows and high ceilings, I am still managing to get through it. Today was a bit warmer with the addition of a new heater and some plastic to cover the windows (it was amazing the difference in my body). I’m getting through it in just over an hour now, which seems crazy short. Every day when I get to my last pose it seems to have come so quickly and I have to review to see if I skipped something. I’m getting more fluid with intermediate, not as much stopping to collect myself. Ok, kapotasana is still a definite stalling point, but no one’s perfect. The whole section from eka pada to pincha is killer, in my opinion, and I’m kind of wiped when I get to my knees for my pincha attempts. Pincha is actually going really well, and I think I’m close to getting it. Today I kicked up into it without the wall but couldn’t  hold on for the five breaths. My second attempt I overshot and one foot used the wall a bit, but then I was able to find balance for at least five breaths. I left it at that because I had very limited time, but I’m definitely starting to gain more control as the slight panic about the whole experience recedes. It’s close! I grabbed my ankles in my assisted back bend yesterday (ick, a feeling I don’t love) but today it was just not going to happen. There was no way that second hand was going to safely make it in for the grab. In another exciting development, I have gotten into urdhva padmasana without the use of my hands three days in a row- a first for me! It reminded me again to never say never. There was a time I thought my body would never be capable of at least half of the postures I’m doing now. If you’ve read other posts, that amazement seems to be a frequently repeated sentiment, but it is renewed all the time so I can’t help writing about it! The body is amazing.

Happy practicing this week! Hopefully you’re having success thus far with whatever resolutions you may have made for 2013!

 

Starting the new year as I hope it continues

I am pleased to say that while I missed Monday practice (I’ve been working like a fiend and was exhausted), I did go both new year’s day and today. It was so important to me to start the year off on a positive note on my mat. One of my resolutions for 2013 (yes, I make resolutions!) is to get my lazy behind to practice six days a week all year, obviously excluding extreme circumstances like illness. This doesn’t mean I have to slog through my whole practice every morning, sometimes that’s impossible with my work schedule, but I need to do at least the minimum of 3 A, 3 B, 3 closing postures. I think this is completely do-able.

In exciting asana news: pincha is coming! It seems a touch miraculous, but with the confidence I’ve gained having the wall to catch me I’m finding that I’m actually starting to not need it. Today I was able to actually kick up into the pose and balance for a breath. It’s a start! It is dang hard and my hands totally slide together, but it’s fun! The rest of practice is good. Good as in feels pretty good, not as in Yoga Journal cover ready ;), which is just fine with me. Today was a day when I was loving the practice and my little community here and feeling great. Yay for 2013! Yay for ashtanga! I’m perhaps a touch delirious with sleeplessness (I worked overnight last night) but I have really excited and happy feelings about what this new year has in store. I hope you all are enjoying some positivity in your worlds as well!

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!

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

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