Practice, practice, practice

I wanted to spend the past week or so just focusing the blog entries on practice notes. I kinda liked it, but it is repetitious. Practice is, after all, essentially the same thing over and over again, day after day. The only way to get some variability is to hyper-focus on details. Not sure how helpful that is. Need to think about it a bit.

LOL! It is very tempting for me to write about this morning’s practice, but I think I will restrain myself.

Lunch blog

Mysore this morning. A few really cool things. For one, marichyasana D. This morning was the very first time that I really felt the work of the lotus foot in the abs. It was quite intense, the combination of the twist and the deeply pressing foot. Up ’til now, my marichy D has been all about containing centrifugal force as my limbs tried to spring out of the pose. Today, though, it was all centripetal energy, and it totally rocked. Kind of like a marichy B feeling on steroids.

Next good thing: kurmasana. Heels up and no pain. There’s a big fear factor, still, because I think this pose (well, actually, my bullheaded attempts to get into this pose) is where my hamstring drama started.

After kurmasana, I was flailing for supta kurmasana and Chanting Man asked me if I wanted some help. He gave me a great adjustment–hands bound really tightly, and soles of my feet together quite painlessly. At the end, I said, “Thank you. That was good.” He said, “I read your blog. I know your issues.” I laughed and said, “It’s my cry for help.” LOL!

Baddha konasana: Volleyball Guy draped two sandbags on my back and I managed to get my forehead to the ground after about 7-8 breaths. Woohoo! I still am thrilled by this pose. I especially like the cracking sacrum sound effect.

Savasana involved a lengthy fantasy. First, I thought about the upcoming rope wall in the yoga room (which The Cop claims I am obsessed about). It occurred to me that if we were going to have hooks on the wall, we could easily install some climbing holds. But just straight up climbing? Booooring. Wait a minute, the ceiling slants up rather nicely from the yoga room into the livingroom, where it makes a sharp peak. It’s a big open space with a half wall/fireplace separating the two rooms. You could cover the whole thing with holds and it’d be a climbing dream. I thought about our couch and chairs and end tables and TV all surrounded by walls and ceilings of climbing holds. The Cop is handy; he could do this. Oh wait, we’ll need anchors for belays–but that’s do-able. And rebar grids to reinforce all the walls…hmmmm, maybe this is not quite so simple as my savasana dream…

I told The Cop all about it when I got home from practice. He shot it all down with a “diminished resale value” argument. Right, like the heavy bag he installed on the back patio is an upgrade, but my climbing wall interior would be a problem 😉

I’m gonna keep the dream alive. Maybe one day it’ll manifest.

Bowing and praying

Nansen asked Joshu, “Have you a master of your own or not?”

Joshu said, “Yes, I have.”

“Where is your master?”

Joshu replied, “In the middle of a severe winter, I bow and pray that the Master may thrive and prosper.”

Nansen realized that Joshu was a vessel of dharma and permitted him to become his disciple.


I love the master koans. I use them often at work, and now, with My Gift moving, I am bowing and praying in a severe winter.

Yesterday, after led, Crim Girl and I went to lunch. We got to discussing Iyengar ropes. I’ve never tried them, but I’ve seen pictures, and they seem like such a good idea now that my practice is at the point where I want to really try to open my shoulders for backbends. Hip opening has come along really nicely over the past year, but as my hips open, it makes my shoulders seem even tighter by comparison. Gotta focus in on the shoulders for a while.

The Cop is uber-handy and I have a devoted yoga room, so last night I ordered the ropes. Can a home climbing wall be far behind? 😉 Yes, secretly I just want to hang upside down like a bat for fun. But I can use the ropes for yoga purposes, too.

My cousin wrote to me today, and sent me a link to a shaman woman. My cousin’s daughter, who is in her late 20s, has been trying to find herself, but kind of spinning her wheels for a long time now. My cousin wondered if I thought this shaman might be able to help. This is a really interesting question to me. For one thing, I am amused that when people in my family see or hear something that seems wacky to them, they turn to me. How many times has one of them said, “It’s a really weird [book/movie/place], you’d probably really like it!” LOL!

In this case, though, I am out of my element. I know next to nothing about shamanism, But I do have the feeling that it would be good for my cousin’s daughter to find some sort of spiritual system that might offer her perspective on life. This side of the family, though, is famous for being entrenched in their idea of reality. They are heavily invested in rejecting anything that isn’t familiar.

I have no idea if Cousin’s Daughter will be able to suspend her disbelief long enough to find whatever she might need in a shamanistic experience. People often feel like they have to either totally buy into, or totally reject, belief systems.

What I told my cousin is that maybe her daughter would find something–a kernel of personal truth, a metaphor, anything–that would be useful. And it may not be immediately useful, but something that she needs later on. Who knows. At the very least, a new experience with an unfamiliar belief system is always enlightening on some level (even if not conscious). Cousin’s Daughter has struggled for years, trying to find some inner peace. Maybe this will be a teeny step in some direction.

Oh, the practice report: Led class yesterday was good. Volleyball Guy’s son, Muscle Man, taught. He gave me a really interesting adjustment in ardha baddha padma paschimottansana, which involved the turn of the binding shoulder toward the extended leg’s hip. Haha! This sounds like one of those, “my aunt’s husband’s stepson’s daughter’s boyfriend” kind of explanations. Suffice it to say, it was a nice, subtle adjustment that gave me something new to think about.

My hamstrings, which were entirely pain-free on Friday, felt a little hinky on Saturday. No great surprise, I suppose. And they weren’t all that bad, so I can’t really complain.

To my right during class was a very languid practitioner. A teacher of a different style of yoga. Her Ashtanga practice was interesting to me, because it seemed super languid. It made me think about styles of yoga (yin immediately comes to mind) where you get into the pose and then kind of go limp.

I hurt myself pretty much every single time I try yin practice–not serious injury, but tweaks–so I am very suspicious of this idea of totally letting go in poses. In terms of the Middle Way, there’s the stiff-as-a-board mode (Volleyball Guy calls it being “a yoga statue”) and the floppy mode–and somewhere in the middle is the engaged mode, where the inner experience of the pose modulates with the breath and the mind.

Anyhow, the floppy practitioner seemed pretty tired at the beginning of class and utterly exhausted by the end. I was wondering why I felt fascinated by this observation–what the lesson was–and then I thought about Mysore the other day, when I had my super-adrenalized, speedy practice.

Okay, fair enough. So whether in the middle of a speedy practice, or upon observing a floppy practice, I will bow and pray that the Master may thrive and prosper.

Crackpotting

Sometimes I wonder if practice makes me more sensitive, and other times I wonder if I’m just a crackpot with an obsession.

Mysore this morning. I was running a little late, and when I got there, there were three new people! What?! Actually, one was a guy who comes to Saturday led quite regularly. Then there were two women I’ve never seen before. One of the new people was just to my right. It didn’t take me long to realize she was doing “yoga improv.” How did I know? Well, the sequence, of course, but also the fact that she turned to her left and faced me on some of her poses. LOL! I felt like a kid in a classroom, when the person in front of you keeps turning around to talk to you during class and you want to tell them to knock it off and face in the right direction.

Does practice make OCD tendencies worse? 😉

Practice felt great right from the very beginning. Is it because I’ve been icing my hamstrings twice a day and always after practice? Or is the extending from the spine (hereafter referred to as the “Jody Maneuver”) helping? Or am I just finished with whatever realignment was going on over the past few months? Who knows. And who cares? All I know is practice felt wonderful.

Strong and flexible and a little over-adrenalized–I think because I’ve been eating meat (well, fowl and fish) again. I’m also kind of aggressive lately, but that’s a story for another entry. Anyhow, I rolled along at a very good pace. Maybe more than a good pace–I think I was actually a little speedy. For some reason I felt like I wanted to hurry up. But for what? Here’s the crackpot part: I felt like my over-adrenalized feelings were coming from The Improvisor. Like I was getting a jolt of nervousness from her. I had the impression that she was giving off “What do I do next?” vibes and I was caught up in them. Even though I knew what I was going to do next–I do the sequence almost unconsciously at this point. All of a sudden, though, I had this feeling like I had to move along quickly because if I didn’t I would forget. Weird, huh?

Whatever. When I got to kurmasana, my legs felt totally relaxed and pain-free, so I just lifted my heels up and it felt totally effortless and light. It’s been a looooong time since my legs felt okay in kurmasana, so I was psyched. Volleyball Guy always keeps an eye on me in kurmasana and supta kurmasana these days, and as per usual, when I got to supta k, he let me grab my hands, then stabilized them and got my feet together. The feet dealio is coming along.

On ezBoard there is discussion about supta k and the length of people’s legs and arms and backs and whatever. In the end, of course, we probably all can do the pose, provided we patiently persist for however long it takes.

Baddha konasana was terrific. Usually I grab a sandbag and put it on my back in this pose (usually I have one pose where I stop and take time to set up and try to really work it–and currently baddha k is that pose). I was doing pretty well (my back seems to be “getting it” finally–for a long time, the very idea of deeply folding forward in this pose has seemed so weird and undo-able) when Volleyball Guy came over and draped a second sandbag over my back. It was just enough to help me touch my forehead to the floor. This is a really big deal, because I am not a natural baddha konasan.

What’s next? Well, I often dream of doing durvasana. Of course, in my dreams, it is very, very easy.

Home Practice: 8/17/06

Take-away from today’s practice: I know I need to extend more through the spine, particularly the lower spine, but this morning I realized that I tend to be slightly afraid of extending this way, that I kind of contract my lower back a bit to “protect” it–in part, I think, because I grew up among people who had lower back problems (which is quite common in America), and in part as a remnant of weightlifting days, when I protected my lower back by flexing the muscles. This slight ongoing contraction, or pulling back, is pretty much unconscious–it’s just the way I hold myself, and I never really noticed it because it is so “normal” for me. Anyhow, I have to work this through. This morning, with some extra attention, I managed to extend more from the sacral area, which felt quite good physically, though a little scary psychically. The extension takes some of the stress off my hamstrings, and when I do it, it seems kinesthetically “correct.”

And there was a side bonus for my sore hamstrings: instead of blindly cranking my quads to protect the hammies, I focused in and applied quad tension with more discrimination. Tried to modulate it to work with the stuff going on in my sacrum. Seemed to help.

So many things to focus on while I’m not thinking 😉

These days, I feel nervous as kurmasana approaches, so I just tried to breathe through the nervousness and pay attention to how the hamstrings responded. I’m not going for perfection on the pose, not trying to work around the left hamstring, but just trying to feel it out. Hopefully the relaxed approach will, at the very least, get me past the bad association (kurmansana = strain & pain) that I’ve established. Then when my hamstrings are healed, the pose can be a newer, gentler kurmasana 😉

Here’s a quote from Hakuin. (Editorial note-to-self: the “valiant heart that presses forward” is not equivalent to the hamstrings that press down in kurmasana.)

Such knowledge as originates from outside yourself can never assist your arriving at a great Satori, the big Awakening. Whatever you do, you must once see for yourself the fact that that buddha-nature you sought for was always yours from the start–there is nothing more important than this.

How can we see for ourselves this fact that buddha-nature was originally ours?

The Buddhist teachings have assumed various forms in the course of explanation: sudden and gradual, greater and smaller vehicle, revealed and esoteric, indeterminate, and so on. But in the realization of the Buddha Way, the most important thing is to evince a valiant heart that presses forward and never falls back. Until you can taste the joy of great Satori, the big Awakening, never fall back–it is in this spirit you must enter into practice.

Practice Notes: 8/16/06

Another quick debrief as I gulp down some lunch then run to the next meeting. Work is a madhouse lately. Very exhilarating, but also daunting–multi-tasking is definitely the devil’s invention. I won’t even get started about the logistics of getting My Gift relocated for college, never mind the emotional energy of letting go. And hey, I’m a manager–wouldn’t it make sense if I actually had some time to talk to my team? Oops, had to stop to take a call from the orthodontist My Gift will be transferring to. Oh wait, I have to book boarding for the cat for the nights we’re delivering My Gift to college… Okay, you get the idea.

Thank God for Mysore this morning is all I can say. My hamstrings actually felt pretty darn good, especially considering I actually thought about skipping practice on Monday because they hurt so much. I’ve been icing three times a day–though who knows if that’s what’s making the big difference. Maybe it’s Jody the Yoga Star’s advice about extending through the spine more. I’m actually too crazy busy to think about why things are happening, which may actually improve my practice 😉

The only place where I felt particularly nervous was in kurmasana. And again, with his uncanny perceptiveness, Volleyball Guy came over and helped at the most painful part of my practice. I was going easy on my hamstrings, trying not to use my legs to squish myself flat, when he picked up my heels, nice and gentle. My thought? Oh, I’m supposed to extend through the hips and legs to get my feet up, not just crank my muscles until my feet pop up. Okay, that’s a good lesson for today.

Quiet morning: British Director, Other Dave, Mr India, Chanting Man, Cat and NYChick. Lovely practice buddies all. I hope Friday practice is a nice, crowded, raucous one. I think we’re about due for that kind of fun.

Oh crap, I forgot about my sister’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Lynnie!

Home Practice: 8/15/06

Woke up worried about my hamstrings. I think it’s interesting that my system can hook onto things and kind of mull them over at night while I am unconscious. It makes the whole idea of keeping a clear, positive mind very compelling: I know I stabilize and solidify belief systems during the night. Some of it is physical in the gross physical sense (e.g., my hamstrings are sore these days), and some of it is energetic (e.g., I can invest emotional energy into the underpinnings of the gross physical aspect). And all of it can happen as I sleep. Uh oh, it’s probably too early for thoughts like this.

I considered a day off today, after yesterday’s practice and subsequent attempts to help the poor hammies with ice, but My Gift told me she was going to wake up at 4:30 so she could go help a friend move into her dorm. There are so many kids moving in that there is a schedule, and My Gift’s friend got a 6-8 AM slot. Anyhow, I figured if My Gift was getting up, I would just go ahead and get up with her. That way we could have a little coffee and I’d see her on her way.

As I said, I woke with worry about my hamstrings. I expected them to be really sore, but as it turns out, they’re not too bad. My half-awake (half-aware? 😉 musings during the night last night pinpointed the hamstrings as a repository of fear/anxiety, and the insertion points as the strength I mount against fear/anxiety. Oh great, a pulling in two directions. No wonder they hurt.

Jody suggested yesterday that I try for more extension through my spine, so that was my focus this morning. Seemed to work pretty well, too. I know my focus has been really deep in the hammies for the past few practices, which is, I suppose, a reasonable response to pain, but today I tried to pull the center of my focus up into uddiyana bandha and then extend up from there. Makes for a nice, light practice.

I figure all of my quad engagement efforts may have been too unyielding (in essence, I tried to just “lock” the quads on every pose to cut the hammies some slack), but I guess (duh!) my response is going to have to be more subtle. No matter what, I’m going to have to back off on the left side, while ratcheting up a bit on the right. I have to give the right side a chance to open up more: the imbalance in openness on the right and left sides are likely at the root of a lot of this.

Good news of the day, though, is that marichyasana D is finally settling down. I’ve been able to bind my hands for a good while now, but only by putting a lot of my weight forward onto the foot that’s flat on the floor. Initially, I had to lean way forward, to the point of taking all of my weight on the foot. It was the only way to get compact enough to bind my hands. So then I’d have the bind, but at the expense of being a crunched up and twisted little person balancing on one foot. No extension through the spine whatsoever. I started leaning back more and more after I made the bind, which seemed to open my hips a bit and give me more space for my back, but I always had to start the pose off with my weight far forward. Today I managed to build the pose from the floor–with bent leg foot, knee of lotus leg, and lotus leg sitting bone making a tripod on the floor. On both sides. Woohoo!

When I got to kurmasana, I backed off on my legs and just worked my back/chest. I am surprised to find how much I drive that pose through my hamstrings, and pretty much forget about my back. Like I can flatten myself using my legs and totally leave the back/abs out of it. Yeah, um, but only at the expense of your hamstrings, Karen. Another duh! moment. For supta k, I just bound my hands and then breathed. Left my legs alone entirely.

As Jody pointed out in his comment yesterday (quite rightly, I think), a lot of this hamstring stuff may be coming out of the kurmasana/supta k work. I tried to barrel through it, but it seems I’m going to have to double back and be more sensitive. If there’s fear stored up in those hamstrings, I’m probably not gonna be able to steamroll my way through.