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?

Dedication and progress

Every morning the little voice in my head (or perhaps the little devil on m y shoulder) whispers that I should stay in bed because there’s no way I can possibly get through all those poses today. This week has been a tough one for shutting that voice up. I’ve been so happy that I’ve made it to practice once I’m done, but I’ve fought myself to get up even more than usual. I know that if I miss a day the Ashtanga police will not drag me away to a never-ending Bikram class or anything, but I know I let myself off the hook with excuses in other areas of my life regularly and it’s not a part of myself that I like. Commitment to my practice is important to me, and I see it as having broader implications than just getting on my mat.

All that being said, I’ve had an excellent week of practice. Every now and then it seems I pass through another door, and I feel like I did that this week. My transitions have improved in a big way, I’ve been efficient. I’ve cut out any extra stretching and finishing in record time (for me). I’ve been putting more emphasis on using my bandhas, and I think it’s helping me. I’m noticing huge improvements in poses that have been a struggle, specifically janu C and parivrtta parsvakonasana. My lotus is getting a little easier all the time. I’ve really been sweating so much more the last couple weeks. I know I’m working hard but I’m not sure that explains it entirely. I haven’t been getting much in the way of adjustments. Some tips for parsva dhanurasana yesterday, which was helpful, and supta kurmasana Monday and Tuesday. I had great drop backs both yesterday and today. I’m feeling so much more confidence. My assisted back bend was absolute crap yesterday but today I had really excellent help and it was great. I think it’s improving, although of course I can’t see it. I was able to walk in quite far today while still managing to keep my heels down. It made me think that stretching out my psoas isn’t going to be the trial that my hips have been. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I am thrilled with my practice in the warmth of the afternoon sun, I know that those extra two hours of guilt-free sleep tomorrow morning will be absolute bliss. No fighting that little voice for the greater good tomorrow! Happy moon day!

 

Chugging along

This week I’ve been playing with the jump into bhujapidasana. That shit is hard. I’ve done it twice – once playing around last Saturday, and then at Sunday practice on my third try. When I have managed to land it, I’m way too far down my arms, making it tough to lower my head and bring my feet through. I give myself three tries per practice to avoid frustration. Thus far, that’s working out just fine. I haven’t figured out the gravity defying secret yet, although people say bandhas. I am squeezing the life out of those bandhas in my jump, but I’m not sure I’ve put it together. Regardless, I’m having fun with it.

Today’s practice was such an improvement over yesterday. I went in with low expectations since I’m still feeling like shit and everything was tight and paining me. I bumped into another sicky on my way in to the practice room and for some reason I felt comforted by that – like, I’m not in this alone, other people are not putting out their best either and that’s ok. Pasasana was pretty good today, the best I’ve felt in the pose ever, and I got kudos from my teacher, which is always nice. I think I’m really getting a handle on it, and maybe my Achilles will let my heels drop this lifetime. I also got a pose today! Welcome to the repertoire, krounchasana.

Intermediate!

This morning I got pasasana and I was happy about it. I had a pretty solid practice, and when I saw my teacher walk over during my prep for urdhva dhanurasana, I knew I was going to start intermediate today. I think it was ok. I can bind fine, but my heels are pretty far up. Those with long Achilles are blessed for this pose. I’m hoping to cruise along after this. Bekasana is tough because it’s awkward to get into, plus the sweaty hands and feet make it challenging to hold on, but otherwise the whole first section of intermediate is totally manageable. We’ll see.

Setu bandhasana is going fine. I’m getting it slowly, feeling around and taking my arms across for about three breaths now, just working my way up to the full five. Drop backs are still slowly improving. Both practices yesterday were fairly decent. Just the stand up from UD is tough. No falls though. This morning my teacher told me that they’re looking very strong, so that was encouraging. I had a super practice at “fun ashtanga” last night. We did primary through to navasana and then worked on intermediate. I had two of my previous teachers beside me and it was nice to feel like I had a little cheering squad during backbends.

I have spent quite a bit of time analyzing my desire for more poses, curious if this was just an ego thing or what. I have nailed it down to this: yes, it is a little bit ego, but more than that it is the desire for a new challenge. I was very content in my practice when I got drop backs, regardless of whether I got the rest of primary right away or not, and that was because I had something I could really work on and see improvement. I have many postures that need improvement, but those are the long-term projects that involve increasing flexibility (mainly in my hips) or strength. What I really enjoy is having something to work on that I can struggle with but slowly gain confidence in. I hope to be there soon. Heading into practice with a little bit of nervous anticipation is fun.

Emotional roller coaster

It was a roller coaster ride of a morning on the mat today. I’m usually fairly focused and not thinking enough to have an emotional response to my practice but today was a new animal. I had periods of my usual calm, then feelings of total despair – as in “I may never get this” and “I could work on this for years and years and still not be able to do it” and “I’ll never be good enough to move on to intermediate.” Wow. Definitely not self-talk that supports my plan to be my own biggest cheerleader. I fought it off, but it came and went through the parts of primary I struggle with. My knees were feeling not quite painful, but tender today, which was a big part of the problem. I was frustrated with still not being able to take half lotus with ease. I thought about the possibility that I may never be able to do garbha pindasana without modification, and was totally depressed about it. I felt like all the work I’ve been putting into my hips has done nothing. I also got angry at my thunder thighs and generally non-typical yoga body. How much easier would it be to do everything if only there was less meat on my bones? While supta kurmasana was actually pretty great today, I still thought about how effortless my bind would be with less to bind around. Total negative mind-set. I fell trying to stand from my first drop back, but the good thing is that I’m not fazed by the falls anymore and I got right back at it. My next three were almost perfect and I got some recognition from my teacher for it. I took a nice long, soothing savasana today and I felt great after.

I’m fluxuating between totally content with the poses I’ve got, which gives me lots to improve upon, and the desire to move on. I know I shouldn’t be striving to get more poses and start the next series, but there are days that’s how I think. Sometimes the eyes drift to other mats and it’s hard not to compare my practice to others. Today was of course one of those. I guess the word is out, I’m not perfect.

I’m going to give myself credit for sticking with my practice today despite the chatter in my mind. Not everyday can be perfect calm non-attachment. There’s always tomorrow…

Committed

I watched an ashtanga documentary this past summer and there was a specific part that stuck with me. The interviewee said something to the effect that you can’t flirt with the ashtanga practice for very long. Due to the demanding nature of the practice, you either commit or you move on. I have definitely found that to be true. It took until the last few months for me to become dedicated enough to do my practice six days a week, before that I still had one foot out the door. For me, it was partly due to my huge fear of failure. If I really committed to the practice and admitted that it was important to me, what would happen if I couldn’t do it? That was scary. I didn’t want my pride to be wounded. There is also the challenging aspect of the hour that it is necessary to be on the mat. Mornings are not my thing and my work schedule can make it difficult to keep a routine. I have gradually found myself more often scheduling work around yoga. I still fight myself to get out of bed when it’s -30 outside and my cats want to cuddle. The key is to not think, just do, much like the practice itself. I still congratulate myself on making it onto my mat each morning. I’m trying to be my own cheerleader, which I think is important.

The practice week started off well for me today. The decreased feelings of stress and the lack of time pressure on Sunday is a magical combination. I got to AYO in time to get my most favorite spot in the room and do the opening chant with everyone. I didn’t forget any poses. I got some lovely assists today and my body was cooperative. Supta kurmasana is really coming along. I’m no longer trying to squeeze and shift into position from kurmasana, but rather sitting up and adjusting my legs before coming back down and crossing my feet. I think Tuesday I am going to actually try to cross my feet behind my head before coming down. I played with it at home his evening and could do it on my couch, so we’ll see how that translates on a cold morning. I finally got my arms through in garbha pindasana today, which felt like a great step forward. I couldn’t hold it to roll because my lotus is still not there. I think I may have arm bruises, but it was worth it. Back bends were great today. Drop backs are getting more and more stable and I’m gaining confidence. I actually got my fingers up my heels today in my assisted drop back, which was both sickatating and awesome. I couldn’t get my heels quite to the floor, and my breath was somewhat laboured. I need those psoas to stretch out to take the pressure out of my back a bit and make it possible to straighten my legs more.

New moon tomorrow means no practice tomorrow. I am thrilled at the prospect of an extra hour and a half of sweet sleep!

Cold morning primary

I was at practice a little earlier than usual because of my hectic work schedule today. One thing I love about the winter mornings is the dark. I absolutely love getting to practice before the sun is up and the dim, warm escape from the cold. It’s been freezing here, in the realm of -20 to -30 in the mornings, which makes it tough to work up a sweat even with the heaters going. I miss being sweaty and the openness in my muscles. My hamstrings were tight today and the muscles down the middle of my back are sore. Despite that, I plowed on.

It was a nice morning on my mat. I tried not to take too long getting into each of the standing poses, but I also didn’t want to rush. I’m working on directing my focus to the strength and stability of my standing leg in utthita hasta padangusthasana, rather than trying to get height in my lifted leg. I read somewhere that would help. We shall see. I did lots of hip stretches between lotus poses, as well. No knee pain, so I’m hoping that continues. I was feeling a lot better in setu bandhasana already today, yesterday I don’t think I quite knew what was happening. I’m using my hands next to my head for support until I get it together to avoid neck issues. I totally skipped chakrasana and sirsasana today because I was having some strained neck issues. Maybe I’m the poster child for the NY Times article with all my yoga related body pains. I was feeling good in my backbends today and there was no falling at all, very little stumbling even. I took about one step for most of the times I stood up, but I did manage two that were totally solid. I got an awesome squish today from the assistant, which was amazing.

I have a feeling I’m not going to be moving on to intermediate for quite a while, and after looking over the series again last night I’m not too sad about it. One word – kapotasana (and that’s just the first scary pose). Eek, my psoas’ just shivered in fear.

Primary series? Check!

This morning I was given the last pose of primary series, setu bandhasana. I’m pretty happy about it. I know there are five other series’, but I feel pretty proud of all the work I’ve done so far. It was also a reminder that this journey is unending. The completion of primary does not mean I am finished with primary and probably never will be. There will always be something to improve, and right now there is a lot to improve! The next new challenge is starting intermediate, which I hope will be just around the corner.

I got to practice a little later than usual this morning, but I decided it would be ok to get to work a little late so I wouldn’t have to rush. My breathing was nice and even today and I tried hard to match movement to breath. It was helpful, I felt steady and calm. I didn’t try to put my arms through lotus in garbha and I don’t think I will again for a while. I think I just need to wait until my hips are more open first so that I can safely tighten lotus. I’m very nervous about the knee issue. I had a  good supta kurmasana today, without adjustment. Feet touching, head to feet, fingers of both hands at the sides of my spine. My weird hamstring thing popped again, which was helpful. I have no trouble balancing in the other roll up postures nearing the end of the series, but for some reason urdhva mukha paschimottanasana won’t balance, I always have to give it a second (or third) try. My first few drop backs were rough again today, but I stuck with it, and my teacher gave me some help, reminding me to stop thinking so much. I did about five or six  and the last couple were great. I have to take it slow from navasana to supta kurmasana – my core is still weaker than I would like and those jumps from bhuja and supta k take a lot out of me. I also need a break after standing from urdhva dhanurasana, (it’s tough!) but my stamina is improving.

Looking forward to practice tomorrow, as usual. My first day with the whole first series!

Sunday Funday!

Another wonderful Sunday practice today. I felt focused, my drishti was much better than usual and my hips are starting to open up. I got a  juicy assist in down dog today, which doesn’t usually happen and felt great. I still can’t get my heels to the floor on my own, although I’m close, so the assist is a great stretch for my achilles. With a little push, I had hands to floor in prasarita padottanasan and that felt awesome in the tight places from yesterdays shoulder work. I also got a nice assist in baddha konasana and almost had my chin to the floor. I had a little breakthrough in supta k today when the weird painy tight spot in my left hamstring popped (in a good way)  and my legs opened up. No hand clasp, though, but I think I could have really gotten a lot farther with assistance. I’ll keep telling myself that. I didn’t try to feed my arms through in garbha, but I think I might tomorrow. My lotus is really coming along again, and my knees felt fine during practice, but are a bit stiff now. I need to remind myself to still be careful, I realized a few times I was being really careless with my joints when trying to tighten up lotus. I would hate to get yet another knee injury. I laughed at myself a bit this morning because I had difficulty remembering the series, for some reason. I didn’t miss any poses but I definitely caught myself almost skipping a few times.

Back bends, oh sweet back bends. I had a little adventure today with those. I got up from UD without much drama, but I had struggles getting up from my drop backs at first. There were a few false starts. My Wednesday night teacher was next to me and interrupted her own practice to give me encouragement and reminders. I did lots of drop backs and they got better. Some duds, but also some winners. I even got up twice without a single step or stumble. I could tell I was dehydrated because I was getting headaches.

I absolutely love the vibe of Sunday. I can take as long as I want to in savasana and when I get up, I can even sit and watch the other practitioners for a few minutes, no hurry. I love getting to come home after practice for a leisurely afternoon with my fam. I am going to curl up with a good book and numerous purring felines and relax. What luxury!