Bandha Mania!

When I got to Volleyball Guy’s this morning, he handed me a couple of photos. Volleyball Guy loves to take photos. And then he gives you the ones that you’re in. Which gives us all an opportunity to be very self-satisfied (my pincha mayurasana photo is on the fridge–I know, I’m a dork) or rather horrified.

Today I received pictures of me in utthita hasta padangusthasana B. My form looks pretty good, but my leg is just at 90 degrees. Now, I am not terribly attached to UHP, in general. I don’t dread it and I don’t love it. It just is what it is. But now, after seeing the photo, I know I’m going to be eager to push on how high I get my leg. Okay, fine. So be it.

The other photo was of me in ardha baddha padmottanasana–with my bad knee in lotus, no less. Is my head down, and my back extended? Oh, hell, no! Nope, I’ve got a seriously curved back as I try not to press into my knee, and the whole thing looks laughably tentative. But I’ll hand it to him–Volleyball Guy’s photo shows me exactly where I need to go to work this pose properly (once my knee is a little more healed up). He’s kind of an evil genius, I think.

Again today, I jumped to ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana after dandasana. And then, as usual, I realized it and went back to paschimottanasana and purvottanasana. Maybe Guruji would be willing to change the sequence if I ask nicely? 😉 There are probably psychological assessments that can be made about people according to which poses they forget or get out of sequence.

Navasana was good today. As I rolled up into handstand (with a spot, Jody!), I felt my bandhas engage in a way I have never felt before. It was like the bandhas were running the show on their own. Much easier than momentum or brute force, which are my usual methods. And the bandha mania continued. Whereas I usually poop out after the first handstand or two, today I managed four very solid roll-ups and roll-downs, and I even managed to stick each handstand at the top quite solidly (usually I’m shaky after two), with Volleyball Guy counting on the last one and slowing down his count and stepping back away from me in order to drag the whole thing out.

Bhujapidasana is bhujapidasana. Meaning, I get my feet through without touching and then I fall on my head. But the fall grows increasingly…uh, graceful… 😉 Seriously, though, I can imagine finally not falling on my head. One of these days. And kurmasana is coming along very nicely. It doesn’t happen every single time, but often lately I can feel my lower back opening and relaxing in this posture, whereas before, it was always pretty stressful on my lower back.

My Gift from the Universe is at home from school with a headache she’s had since last night. She works at a retail clothing store, and I stopped in after work last night to see her. I saw her leaning across the counter to help a little old lady who was picking out a wristwatch for her granddaughter. My Gift was totally engaged with this little lady, and so sweet and helpful. She reminded me of my favorite zen monks–how they are always so engaged with what is before them, and their spirits so sweet and shiny. A pleasure to see in the midst of the holiday shopping. I was very proud.


Winter practice

Home practice today. The Cop is kind and turned the heat up when he got up, about 20 minutes before me, so the house was nice and toasty. We had a bunch of paperwork to look after this morning–a few last details that need to be addressed for the new house, so by the time he left, I was feeling a little scattered. Not really focused for practice.

So I turned the heat up even more and put on Sharath’s CD. If I couldn’t take myself through practice, I figured Sharath could. And what I learned this morning is that I tend to turn the end of each sitting pose into the start of the jumpback. Sharath counts so that you finish the posture on the fifth breath, then inhale back up to sitting, exhale, then inhale to start the jumpback, exhale to chaturanga. Left to my own devices, I tend to inhale back to sitting/start the jumpback, exhale to chaturanga. No exhale/inhale in the middle.

I tried to pay attention to the way Sharath was counting the breaths, even though I spaced out and did the transitions my usual way a few times. I figure I’ll keep this in the back of my mind tomorrow at Volleyball Guy’s and see if I can make some adjustments. I suspect that extra exhale/inhale would give me more energy for pulling up for the jumpback.

So I’ll see how it goes tomorrow, and perhaps use Sharath’s CD for home practice for a bit–let him teach me a thing or two.

In other news, the sleeping-without-curling-up-to-see-if-that-relaxes-my-hamstrings experiment has been declared a success. These days, my hamstrings feel comfy after just one or two suryas. Now I’m going to see if I can relax my upper back more as I sleep. Sleep Your Way To Better Backbends. I think I have a winner there. It’s weird, to think I have to try to relax as I sleep, but there you have it. I’m a tight sleeper, I guess.

End of vacation

Well, my week off flew by, and now it’s back to work. But first, practice at Volleyball Guy’s.

It was freezing this morning. Okay, maybe not freezing like places where it snows, places outside the desert–but for me, it’s freezing. Like 36 degrees or something. And the garage door wouldn’t open. So I called The Cop, who was driving to work, and he talked me through turning off the automatic release and just opening the garage door the old fashioned way. Which was kind of cool–it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. You know, all these “conveniences,” like automatic garage door openers, really do allow people to live almost completely sedentary lives. Maybe not such a convenience, ultimately.

So anyhow, I traveled from the freezing dark morning to the warm confines of Volleyball Guy’s place. Where I was greeted by Returning Guy, Sanskrit Scholar and The Other Dave. That’s it–just a few of us today. And everyone a more advanced practitioner than I. Which was great. Everyone went along on their own, and there was not the usual crowded room full of people learning, of people striving.

As has been my recent habit, I forgot paschimottanasana and purvottanasana in my subconscious desire to face off with the dreaded ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana. I realized it at the end of trianga mukhaikapada paschimottanasana. No! I wasn’t going to miss purvottanasana again! So I doubled back and started in on paschimottanasana. “Uh, Karen…?” I heard Volleyball Guy say. I explained my strange sequence, he nodded, and on I went.

Today was a “pay attention to breathing” day. I really held out for a relaxed breath every single time. Which made me realize that I tend to start building up a head of steam (i.e., breathing faster and less deeply) once I hit the Janus. So I practiced a little discipline and slowed them all down. Which left me not feeling queasy for once when I got to backbends.

And I stuck with the insistence on calmness throughout backbends. Which makes them much more pleasant. So now my plan is to practice great calm as I return to work. Any anxiety I manifest at work is entirely useless and pretty damn unpleasant. I think I will give it up.

I had a message from my publisher last night. Everything is set to get the third book out at the beginning of the year. The other poets (3) who the press will publish in 2006 are all people whose work I respect, which feels really good. I had great plans to do a lot of writing this past week, and as it turns out, I managed to get a new book underway. It is hard to be patient when poems are kind of percolating inside–I always feel like I want to force the issue. But I waited it out, and by the end of the day yesterday I found that I am in very good shape, writing-wise. Once again it is demonstrated that I don’t need to exert my will, that if I just am patient and open, creativity will manifest. Duh. How many times, I wonder, will I need to learn this lesson? 😉

Festive Saturday Led

So I had this bright idea that I would do Mysore this morning, instead of led. Uh, yeah, that was the plan, until I slept in until 8. Alright, led it is.

Class was packed. As I was going in, Volleyball Guy came over and gave me a big hug. It was nice. Welcoming. And surprising. He’s not a terribly demonstrative guy.

Practice was very hot, due to the crush of practitioners. I had a little trouble focusing at first–everything felt so festive that I kept glancing around. It seemed like the fun thing to do. I was thrilled in prasarita padottanasana B and C to be able to get my head on the floor, no problem. But then my glancing caught up to me, in prasarita C. Suddenly, everything started to spin. Oh great, I thought, I’m gonna faint. So I tried focusing my drishti properly and tuned in to my breathing, and everything got back to normal. I wondered how I’d fare in parsvottanasana, which for some inexplicable reason is a pose that almost inevitably makes me feel woozy, but apparently I’d used up all my swooning potential on prasarita C.

From there on, practice rocked. One of those warm, easy practices, where every bind is a cinch, all forward bends are easy and feel great–you know, the way practice should always be 😉

My knee feels kind of crappy. Achey and not resilient, but I’m trying not to focus on that too much. It’s something that’s just going to have to play itself out.

Dropbacks are coming along nicely–I’m not hating backbends as vehemently as I was a few weeks ago. I think I may have a love-hate relationship with backbends as I continue my practice. I can easily imagine times when I will be psyched to practice them and find lots of pleasure in them. Conversely, it’s pretty easy for me to dread and hate them. For now, though, I am learning more and more how to contract my quads to pull myself up from urdhva dhanurasana (with a spot, of course). This way of working my quads is not at all like anything I’ve ever experienced in weight training, running, martial arts, cardio machining, climbing, or any other sport or activity I’ve ever done. It’s like a weird contraction that happens at the inserts, rather than the belly of the muscle, it seems. I have no idea how to conceptualize it, but I imagine if I keep practicing it, I will eventually “figure it out.” Maybe not with my mind, but with my body. Not my usual MO, but hey, it’s always good to try something new…

Just another morning Mysore

Nice warm, crowded practice this morning. A bunch of folks from Volleyball Guy’s went to Bikram yesterday, as a holiday treat. I can’t seem to get psyched up for that. Not sure why. Well, I could say it was because I was busy cooking, which is true–but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t want to go anyhow. Apparently I have a prejudice against Bikram. I’m a bit perplexed by my close-mindedness.

I had a fun holiday practice yesterday, though. A practice of things I just enjoy doing–primarily inversions. But first off, some favorite poses I don’t get to play with these days, like vasisthasana and astavakrasana. I practiced the navasana to handstand transition, then did a bunch of “timbering,” which I find highly entertaining, but which the dog seems to find quite alarming. Then the seven headstands from second series a few times. Pincha mayurasana. All the favorites. It is very strange to do a practice of all poses one likes. It’s rather like eating too much sugar–delightful but a little cloying.

So it was nice to get back to regular practice this morning. Chanting Man brought his daughter, who looks to be about 8 or 9 years old. It’s apparent that she practices a good bit. She stayed focused through her whole practice, kept up with her Dad, and Volleyball Guy spotted her on handstands, which was quite charming.

I, on the other hand, forgot dandasana, paschimottanasana, and purvottanasana. I was disappointed when I realized I’d done it, because I particularly love purvottanasana. I think I was distracted by feeling kind of weird in my tummy–no doubt from eating rich food yesterday–and also because I was dreading ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana. I totally blew off the forward bend in ardha baddha padmottansana, so I knew I was gonna be hurting in ABPP. My knee isn’t painful like it was when I first hurt it, but it feels achey and congested. So I’m not feeling good about the idea of cranking on it. *Sigh.*

Happily, though, bhujapidasana, which I swore I would never be able to pull off without dragging my feet on my mat, is now do-able. I even manage to slow myself before my head hits the ground. It’s not pretty, but I’m not concussed, either. I have to use butt momentum to get my head back up off the floor, but these are just details that will work themselves out in time 😉

And now kurmasana is added to the mix. It’s going to take some practice before I get my legs straight, but hey, it seems possible, so that’s something right there.


the cop
my gift from the universe
fat cat and pushy dog

my best friend in CA
my family

seung sahn
dae bong

volleyball guy and the yoga gang

my team at work

om shanti

Self doubt

Today’s practice was racked with self doubt. Just looked up “racked” to make sure I was spelling it right (wondered if it might be “wracked”) and find that the word derives from the Swedish dialect for “wreck,” and there’s a definition of the original term: “a wind-driven mass of high, often broken clouds.”

Yup, that was my mind this morning, a mass of broken clouds. Why? I have no idea. It started right in, though, as I began my practice. It was a rather forlorn experience, and made me feel alienated from the other folks practicing. A little test of my faith, I have come to decide. A little taste of my own ignorance.

Before I went to Volleyball Guy’s, I read this in the Yoga Sutras: In the Upanishads, ignorance is compared to a veil of illusion that covers the truth and confuses the mind so that it cannot discriminate between reality and appearance.

So I had that bit of suffering today, where I felt all worried about my practice, and mostly about how it appears. I wondered if I should ask Volleyball Guy how I am doing, I wondered if my practice looks awful. I have no idea what got that whole thing going, but it was not very constructive.

And then again, it wasn’t terribly destructive, either. I did my practice, I noticed my knee is feeling pretty darn good (thanks to castor oil and heat, I think), and I absorbed and wasn’t too shaken by my self doubt. Ardha baddha padmottanasana is still out of the question, and the second side of Marichy D is sketchy, but for all intents and purposes, my injured knee is coming along beautifully.

The main lesson seems to be that I have to renew my faith in my practice every so often–that I will have my moments of doubt, of being caught in appearance, and all I can do is ride it out and try to remember that my practice is my own, that it works from inside me. And the appearance stuff, well, I guess it may never go away completely. But I can make a point of keeping it in perspective. Because being inside my practice is a hell of a lot more rewarding than watching it from the outside.