November

Well, not quite November. But time for new poses for the new month. Navasana and bhujapidasana. Honestly, as far as bhujapidasana goes, I can’t imagine ever getting my feet through without scraping them on the mat. But perhaps it will feel more possible after a few weeks of practicing…

And the results of yesterday’s experiment (Can I go to the gym and do cardio and not feel any negative repercussions in practice?) are in: No. No, I can’t do the treadmill and bike and not feel something about it in practice. I was actually just fine ’til we got to backbends. I’m a sketchy backbender to begin with–and apparently if I spend time doing repetitive motions that tighten up my hips, I pay for it the next day. So backbends stunk. Oh well. Lesson learned. I can’t believe I managed to stay away from the gym for as long as I have (4 months). Cancel the Gold’s membership.

As has been the case lately, newer people at Volleyball Guy’s: The Returning Guy was there this morning, and The Beautiful One (I stopped to watch her bhujapidasana, since she was going into it just as I was leaving the shala–ah, it looks so easy!) and the gal who sat with most of her butt on my mat in samakonasana one morning. I think I’m gonna have to come up with a better name for her 🙂

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Un-minding

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned a passage in Namarupa. It’s right at the beginning of Meditation in Kashmir Saivism II by Swami Lakshmanjoo. I’m not going to quote from the text, because I don’t think I can be subtle enough to take it out of its context and keep its power. But check it out, if you can get hold of a copy of the magazine. It’s a couple of paragraphs on turya–the fourth state (wakefulness, dreaming, and deep sleep being the other states). Fascinating stuff in relation to the meditative state of practice.

I will post a quote that Lakshmanjoo cited in his text–it’s from Netra Tantra:

When during meditation you experience the divinely produced, internal, subtle elements, pass through them, un-minding your mind with great awareness, and enter into the supreme state of God consciousness. This is pratyahara.

Alrighty. Now it’s time to get on with Sunday errands: laundry, maybe look around at a few open houses, the gym (I’ve been avoiding the gym since I started practicing 6 days a week, but The Cop loves it and we used to spend quality together-time there almost every day–I wonder if other Ashtangis have gym habits, or if it’s considered counter-productive? If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear).

Yesterday, The Cop and I looked at a few open houses. We want to move into a new house right after the new year. He wore a dark tee shirt with “Tactical Division” printed on the front and “Scottsdale Gun Club” on the back. And I had on my bright blue tank top with “Peace and Love” and huge flowers painted all over it. Very amusing.

Mind games

Can it really be possible that just thinking about relaxing your hamstrings makes a significant difference? Or did I just have a particularly bendy practice today? Led primary at the Starbucks of Yoga studio. The one class Volleyball Guy regularly teaches there per week. Their commitment to Ashtanga is not so strong (understatement).

Anyhow, I had the idea that perhaps my psyche affects my hamstrings. It makes a kind of intuitive sense–if I spend all day at work storing anxiety in my muscles, then go to sleep without releasing it, wouldn’t it follow that the tightness might just stay there, all stored up and ready to torment me in practice? Who knows. But I consciously spent some time relaxing (or, more to the point, thinking about relaxing) my hamstrings. In addition to the stretches I do to try to relax them physically.

So how’d it work out? Great, actually. Usually in prasarita padottanasana B and C, I can’t get my head to the floor like I can in A and D. On B and C, I am usually happy if I can just feel my hair barely touching the mat. Today, no problem getting the top of my head down to the floor. In kurmasana, I was quite surprised to find my face smooshed on the floor–usually it’s just my forehead barely touching, at best. My legs are getting straighter and straighter–with considerably less stress on my shoulders and arms. And in upavishta konasana, my head was on the floor. No, not my chest–that’s still a bit much to ask for.

I was kind of in and out, focus-wise. Not nearly as deep as in Mysore, but at least a constant state of calm–and I was able to send myself back into myself any time I noticed I was drifting out and around.

So practice is done and now I can spend a nice, relaxing Saturday with the Cop. Maybe the library, then dinner out. Our usual activities. Tomorrow’s a day off, so I might as well enjoy some margaritas!

Sounds of Sigh-lence

Lots of new folks at Volleyball Guy’s this morning (at least new to me)–a fellow recently returned from India, a fellow returned from a multi-year lay-off, and the two Bikram gals.

Bikram Teacher was next to me. This morning she taught me why Mysore practice is silent. Throughout her entire practice, she made comments about her performance (which she was not particularly pleased with), about the poses (many of which, she feels, are awkward or difficult), and about the practice in general. Nothing awful, just a leaking out of her internal monolog. Volleyball Guy made a couple of jokes about how we don’t say, “this hurts,” but, rather, “this is interesting,” which brought a few chuckles.

Bikram Teacher also sighed and moaned a lot as she moved through her practice. Pretty much every move. Which made me realize we don’t usually hear too much of that. Usually it’s a grunt here or there, or a bit of a moan if someone is sore or coming off an injury–but it’s generally confined to a pose or two–not a running sequence of noises or comments about how hard things are.

Yes, I felt irritated. But also interested from the perspective that the practice really does work (eventually, I hope, in this case) to silence the mind. All of the thoughts about difficulty, pain, pleasure, etc., are eventually subsumed by the breath, bandhas and driste. You realize that all of that good/bad, pain/pleasure business is draining energy from the practice itself. And by rights, my irritation with all of Bikram Teacher’s noise ought to be something I can work through and past. While her practice will likely bring her to new places, mine ought to get me past all this, too.

All that said, it was a great practice. Faster than when I work at home–and the speed gives some insight into the full scope of the movements, of the whole shape of the practice. Managed to keep some of the improved breath- and bandha-awareness that I’ve worked on in the past couple of home practices–which is heartening. Seems like it’s a process of learning things at home/bringing them to the shala, learning things at the shala/bringing them home kind of deal. I’m good with that.

Stickin’ with the program

No practice yesterday. I moderated a global focus group–via webconference–so I was at work at 5:30 AM, logging on to meet with our European participants. I hate public speaking, even via web, so I was anxious and woke at 1 AM, worrying, “What if no one talks during the focus group?!?!” I considered, for a moment, getting up and practicing, since I knew I wouldn’t have time in the morning. But it seemed pretty obvious that I would have a practice distracted by worry, and probably a good idea for me just to get some sleep. None of the worrying was necessary in the end, of course. Everything went beautifully. But it was very strange to sit in a conference room at 5:30 AM, feeling all jangly with nerves, really wishing I was at Volleyball Guy’s, practicing with the others. Hmmm, dim, warm room with other people practicing yoga nearby, or fluorescent-lit conference room with disembodied voices via speakerphone? Yeah, pretty hard not to have a preference.

So today back to the mat–my refuge. Good practice–breath seeming to take precedence over bandhas today. It used to happen in zazen, where there appears an empty place between the exhale and the next inhale. A still point. I fell into that little pause after exhale early in my practice this morning, and stayed with it–it is so peaceful and pleasant–until Marichy C, where I fully realized how constricted my breath is in C, and again in D. What can I say about that, though? I can’t imagine it isn’t normal, the constriction, especially for beginners like me. So something to work through.

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that if you cultivate the pause at the end of the exhale, it relaxes the system–and if you cultivate the pause at the end of the inhale, it invigorates the system. Personally, I’m pretty attached to calming practices–but I’ll have to play with the other sometime.

Bandha, driste, breath

The Cop left the heating pad out after tending to his ankle last night. Since I needed to practice at home this morning, I decided to heat up my back a bit before I began–so I sat on the couch and warmed myself and read some of the new Namarupa. Which rocks.

Practice was quiet. Bandha, driste, breath. That’s where I tried to focus. As always, it is fascinating to see what happens in meditation. Moments of grace, where time slips away, and moments where all I can hear is my ongoing internal monolog. Which is always shockingly critical.

One moment of grace occurred in ardha baddha padmottanasana, which is a bit strange, as it is a pose that I don’t feel at all attached to. It is tough for me, but I never expect to really enjoy it, so it’s never particularly disappointing, either. But my mind went still in the midst of it.

It’s a curious state–I was reading in Namarupa this morning (and of course I can’t find that paragraph now) of the mind states of waking consciousness, and dreaming consciousness, and deep sleep; and how the still mind is actually suspended between those states. It explains it very well–and when I find that passage again, I’ll post it.

I did find that I could stay pretty focused on bandha, breath and driste until I got to the Janus. I often seem to hit a pocket of suffering there. Not sure why. And I slowed down tremendously at the Marichys, which I love. Something about their complications–or, I suppose I should say, subtleties–always absorbs me. I wonder if I can find a similar way into the Janus…

Anyhow, home practice this morning was very rewarding. So many things one can hear in the stillness, in being alone. Interesting, too, how it takes some courage to be alone, how it’s easier to have others around. For the distraction, I suppose–for the human comfort. Being alone is so revealing; so why is it sometimes so hard to choose?

Silver lining

Today, Volleyball Guy had the space heater on. Guess it’s officially autumn. I reminded him about the strain I sustained in practice on Saturday, and he reminded me to go easy.

Practice was actually quite satisfying. My mantra was “mula bandha, mula bandha” and “John Scott knees.” Mula bandha to try to help shore up my back, and John Scott knees to try to find a more pleasant way through all the hamstring tightness I’ve been feeling lately. In his book, Ashtanga Yoga (which I read as I sat with a rice sock on my back all day yesterday), JS seems to set up all forward bending poses with the knees a little bent. Then once you are aligned, you press into the knees. It really helps in padanguthasana, the prasaritas and paschimottanasana–all of which have been killing me lately.

So instead of straining to move forward, today’s practice was about bandhas and cutting my hamstrings some slack. Not quite so much forward momentum, practice-wise; not quite so much striving. It was really nice. I enjoyed every moment of it.