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!

 

November Blues

Some people experience their winter depression in January or February, I have mine in November. The anticipation of the dark, hatefully cold months ahead is more than I can bear, and the memory of gentler weather is still too fresh. By December I have generally sunken into a sullen acceptance and will whine my way through the next few months without major lows. All this being said, dear internet, as an explanation (excuse?) for my practice delinquency last week. I managed Sunday and that was it. Every other morning I turned my alarm off and gave the world the finger as I rolled over and pulled the covers a little higher. I fought through work (a job I love) every day. The irony is that going to practice actually makes me feel better. It helped me get through the dark mornings of last year and I know it will again, if I can just drag myself out of that warm cocoon.

Last Sunday the shala was closed for Remembrance Day, so we had a little pop-up shala at the home of one of our AYO community members. How fun it was! There was much support and laughter and general amazingness in the room. No one was attaining enlightenment that day, but there were definitely other benefits being experienced. I hope we do it again! It was my first day of being split, and it was an amazing no-pressure environment with lots of “you can do it!”s from everyone. A perfect place to test the waters of my new practice.

Photos courtesy of a shala-mate!

Four of the six of us

We even assisted each other!

My favorite pose 😉

We won’t talk about what happened from Monday to Friday, let’s just put that behind us and move on to this week. I was actually a bit nervous about practice this morning. My body was feeling tight and achy and my knee was extra painful. I got on my mat and did something I so rarely do, I stretched a little. It felt great to ease my body back into the flow. I did extra sun salutations, both A and B. Not a lot, but enough to really feel warm and ready. Doing just second has a whole other energetic life that is going to take some getting used to, not to mention the incredible demands it places on the body. From the intensity of kapotasana to the hunching strain of dwi pada – such extremes for my back are challenging. I got through it though. I allowed myself to take my time, to pause for extra breaths and do whatever weird twitches I needed to. I think it will pare down naturally with time, the same way primary did. My body will let me know when it’s ready (then I will just have to conquer my mind!). My teacher came after yoganidrasana to give me pincha, forgetting that I wasn’t doing the tittibhasanas yet. I reminded her. She said we’ll add them next week, so more new, big challenges ahead!

MRI on my knee tomorrow evening. Send it your healing energy, if you have any to spare!

This weeks goal (every weeks goal) is to make practice all six days. November, you may have my optimism and all my good moods, but you cannot have my practice!

Still at it

Hello world! It has been a dog’s age since I posted and I’m wishing I had made more effort because there is so much to catch up on: the rest of my David Swenson training, my latest injury debacles, the second half of my YTT with Eoin Finn, and as always, my practice. I’m going to take it slow, because that feels a bit overwhelming. I hope to post in more detail about at least the trainings but I’ll give a one or two sentence wrap up of the important stuff now.

David Swenson: I adore him and his easily digestible approach to Ashtanga. The training was a great experience, mostly because of his amazing story telling about Guruji and his own fascinating life.

Eoin Finn YTT: I met some truly incredible people while I gained the skills and (almost enough) confidence to teach. I’m certified, y’all!

Injury report: Knees = F@#%ed (LCL left knee, MCL right knee), slightly bulging disk thanks to trying too hard with eka pada (these are self-diagnosed because god forbid I seek medical attention). Frustration level is being managed but it’s a bit hard.

Practice: No way I can keep this to two sentences. My practice and I went back to casual dating for a few weeks because my knees were so painful, mainly my left one. It was ugly. I wasn’t sure I could even manage a modified practice because even walking hurt. I gave it a bit of time. It is slowly, slowly feeling a bit better. I decided I was ready to re-commit this week and I did practice every day. I’m starting to do lotus again with the right leg. The left will be quite awhile longer, I fear. The biggest issue is how the knee problems effects my hips. My hips are one of my numerous struggle points in this “yoga of no” and to lose the flexibility I had gained in my rotation is a tad infuriating, but I suppose there is a lesson here. The knee stuff was scary for me and it’s forced me, more than ever, to practice mindfully. I was so happy to be back in the routine this week. I got to the shala early everyday so I wasn’t forced to rush to get my full practice in. It feels good to take care of yourself. I spoke to my teacher yesterday and she wants to give me more postures and split me when my knees are feeling up to par. Exciting/scary.

So that’s the basic rundown of the last six or seven weeks. Coming up tomorrow I have a super fun yoga weekend in Toronto. I’ll be at AYCT for three workshops with Laruga Glaser. If you haven’t read her blog (http://peaceloveyoga.blogspot.ca/) or seen her practice, you really should. She’s pretty super-human and mind-blowingly amazing. The workshops are on intermediate series, arm balancing, and back bending so I predict there will be challenges and laughter. I also get to do mysore at AYCT on Sunday morning, my most favorite thing. I’m tingly with excitement as I wait for my husband to pick me up from work!

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!

First steps, failure, and feeling good

Yesterday was my first time teaching a yoga class! Yes, it was informal, and yes, it was only my husband and two close friends, but it was still teaching. We went down to the park together and set up on the grass in a nice shady spot. It was perfect weather. I was surprised that I didn’t feel nervous, I wasn’t totally relaxed and calm either, but no butterflies. I think it went pretty well. I wanted to do this little class with “safe” people before I reach out to a broader group for more practice. I’m going to try to do this regularly through the summer and hopefully my comfort level will increase and my teaching will improve. Yay for being brave!

I’ve had a very hard time getting back into my morning routine since coming home from my teacher training in BC. I will admit publicly that I’ve only gone to morning mysore three times each week for the last two weeks (this feels like a huge failure on my part, and I alternately feel very silly for feeling like a failure). A number of factors are contributing to this, such as not getting to bed early enough and work being incredibly stressful lately. I am determined to make a better effort this upcoming week. There is a moon day this week, so it’s a good week to commit to practicing all prescribed days because I get a freebie. I started things off right, by getting on my mat this morning.

Lo and behold, a new assistant at AYO! Very exciting, I must say. I love having someone new around, teacher or assistant, because it’s so helpful to have a fresh perspective on your practice. It was the busiest I have ever seen it today, so there wasn’t much time for lots of personal attention, but I did still get a really great assist in marichy D. She opened my shoulders further and supported me while encouraging me to drop the raised hip as close to the floor as possible. It felt great. My left ribs are still uncomfortable when twisting to the right, but not like they were. Today was the first practice in ages, possibly months, when I really felt like I had my body back. I made the attempt to jump back properly in every vinyasa and it was probably incredibly awkward looking, but it felt amazing to try again. I jumped back from bhujapidasana and supta kurmasana with no fuss. I lifted without touching my feet down between navasanas, and I even held uth pluthi for ten full, calm breaths. Drop backs were fine, not awesome, but I’ll take it. My assisted back bend was the best I’ve had in ages. I don’t want to rush back in to doing kapotasana, but I wanted to do it so badly today! I’m going to wait until after this weeks chiropractic adjustment and then ask my teacher about doing my full practice again. Am I being to ambitious? I truly don’t want to injure myself again. I might be getting carried away because it’s so nice to be able to do everything again. It’s more than two hours post-practice and I’m still feeling fine, so I don’t think I worsened anything today. I can’t wait until my ribs and SI are completely properly realigned again, then I’m sure I’ll feel even better.

It’s easy to be in love with my practice when things are working!

Next time I’ll listen, body, I swear!

I had my first ever visit to a chiropractor today. I went with trepidation because I have always had this image of what happens in those appointments and it wasn’t pretty, just scary looking. I just knew that the couple of massages I’ve been to over the past few months didn’t fix the problems I’ve been having. Enough was just enough, time for to look at the issues through a new lens. I had an assessment and went through my list of physical complaints. My main focus was this stupid rib pain, but I also talked about the SI issues I’ve had since April. He poked and prodded and made me bend and twist. He told me that nothing serious is wrong, I’m fairly symmetrical and basically ok. Phew! He also told me that it looks as though I popped a rib out when I first hurt my ribs, (I wish I could remember how he explained that this is even physically possible), but my body has done its best to repair itself. Stuff is still not quite right on the left side of my rib cage and the rib isn’t quite in its proper place yet, so he adjusted that. It was weird and intense. I think my eyes almost bugged out of my head when he did the adjustment. It didn’t hurt, but it was startling. He also told me that my left SI joint is out of wack too, probably since my initial injury in April. He did another adjustment there. Again, woah! I am supposed to go back for about three more sesssions, starting in a week. I am so glad I saw him! I went to practice right after (an “ashtanga” class at the studio downstairs from the clinic) and I already felt much better! I’m so excited about feeling less pain (it still hurts a little when I sneeze) and I can’t wait for practice in the morning! The chiropractor told me to still take it easy until I’m totally fixed, but I’m happy to know what’s been wrong and that it’s going to be better soon. Yay for new healing experiences!

 

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!

 

Re-evaluating

I have always been someone who is pretty self-aware, and I think this has helped me to become the reasonably well-adjusted woman I am today, but sometimes I am reminded that I do not always have the clearest view when judging myself. This came up today when I was reading Paul Gold’s blog post “The Obsessing Ashtangi” (http://paulmitchellgold.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/the-obsessing-ashtangi/), which was an extremely timely piece of writing for me. I have been mentioning over the last six weeks or more that I have been suffering with a number of (minor) injuries, and some of them have improved or healed but not everything. I had just finished practice on Thursday and went to discuss some pain with my teacher and a friend. My left ribs have been bothering me for over a month and have only improved slightly (I can breathe without excruciating pain now). I am unable to jump back/through to/from seated (actually anything involving lifting the lower abdomen like uth pluthi), twists are uncomfortable, back bending poses are painful, and jumping into bakasana is difficult (who am I kidding,  it’s not happening for me yet regardless, but now even trying is painful). I have continued to do my practice, only modifying as absolutely necessary. My friend suggested that the pain is stemming from bending too deeply in my upper back in kapotasana, which makes sense to me. My teacher’s prescription was to stop at laghu and not do drop backs until I heal. While this is the bare minimum of what I should be leaving out, I felt like I had regressed in my practice and it was frustrating. On Sunday, my teacher wasn’t there and I thought about doing my full practice, drop backs and all, regardless. I had been hoping to get eka pada soon, and was angry at myself for telling my teacher about the pain because now I won’t get another pose for a while. But so what? Why does this matter to me so much? Who is paying any attention to which pose I’m working on, besides me? How ridiculous is it that I was willing to hurt my body to get my next pose and what narrative was I buying into that made this ok for me? Looking back, I have definitely approached my practice from the obsessive standpoint that Paul describes. I wouldn’t say I’m a type A personality about everything in my life, but I can be a perfectionist (I’m a virgo, I come by it honestly ;)). The fact that I couldn’t safely manage a lotus when I started mysore practice was a huge hurdle for my ego. I stretched my poor hips endlessly – in front of the tv, at my office, in bed. It didn’t come as quickly as I would have liked and I still don’t have an effortless lotus. There are things in the practice that have come relatively easily but there are things that I have struggled with, as with most practitioners. On an intellectual level I know that the asana is not the point and there are days when this resonates fully and my practice is meditative and lovely (maybe 50% of the time), but I know that I haven’t hushed my ego at all. I have no feelings of competition with anyone but myself but I’m still goal oriented and it is so hard to totally detach from that. I’m thankful for this moon day of reflection and I”m reminding myself of the old adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day. My mysore practice is still new, not quite a year old yet, and I have the rest of my life improve on my imperfect humanity.

Slump

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit like my body is rejecting my practice. My hips have tightened up again leading to tender knees, I have a pulled muscle in my right forearm, pulled intercostal muscles on my left side, very sore sacrum area on both sides, AND a slight pull at the connection point of my right hamstring. I honestly don’t feel as if I’ve been pushing extra hard or practicing differently, but my body is struggling. I actually took yesterday morning off to give myself a day of healing, but it just wasn’t long enough. With moon days falling on Saturdays this month, I’ve taken it upon myself to just add in a few extra rest days. I feel fine about it, Ashtanga police be damned. I think I’m listening to my body and doing my best to take care of myself. That being said, I have every intention of seeing a massage therapist in the next week for a better assessment of the situation with my sacrum. Today I had some extremely uncomfortable feelings in my assisted back bend, which made me nervous. I have no interest in whatever lessons a back injury could teach me.

From my first surya namaskara to savasana takes me about an hour and three quarters right now but I’m finding the length manageable most days. In fact, I’m really enjoying practice. There’s a little bit of everything now: forward bends, twists, back bends, an arm balance, etc. I have enough to challenge me and keep the practice from feeling boring or even allowing my mind to wander. It’s a beautiful thing, this practice, and I’m so grateful for what it has brought to my life.

On an extra happy note, I leave for my first installment of teacher training two weeks from today! I feel vaguely sick when I think about actually teaching a class, but I think I could get over that and it would be fun. I also think the training will have a positive impact on my personal practice. The plan was to do this YTT course with my cousin, which was 90% of why I chose this particular course, but she bailed and now I’m flying solo. The training is with Eoin Finn on Vancouver Island. He practices a vinyasa flow style of yoga, and has a great vibe. He is a former ashtangi, which I’m interested in talking to him about. Everything I’ve read about the training gives me confidence that it will be a worthwhile program. At worst, I hope I’m going to have two weeks away from the daily grind geeking out on yoga. I’m doing a 40 hour ashtanga teacher training with David Swenson in August as well, so I’m keeping my bases covered.

Ok body, three more mornings to go.

Patience

I dragged my aching body to practice this morning. I just couldn’t stay away! It wasn’t awful. I was feeling ok, still in quite a bit of discomfort though. I did a lot of surya As to test things out. I didn’t push into my forward bend as I usually would, and no jumps at all. The step backs and forward was surprisingly difficult for me, I wanted to jump every time. I did about four surya Bs and virabhdrasana was pretty uncomfortable in my injured hip. I did standing poses until prasarita B, which was too much forward stretch for right now so I skipped the other three. Utthita hasta padangustasana was too much as well, so I decided that was enough for today. I just did three seated closing postures, but not in lotus, and then savasana. It was good to be at practice, but frustrating to not be able to do what I usually can. Patience can be a big challenge at times, but I know that’s what I need to have in order to heal. I’m heading to New York City on Thursday for the Yoga Journal Conference and to practice at AYNY and I want to be able to get the most benefit possible from the experience. That means taking it slowly this week and maybe not practicing at all, if that’s what my body tells me. I’ll be how I feel as the day progresses and judge tomorrow based on that.

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