Home Practice: 8/14/06

Wake with a burning sensation in both hamstring inserts. Not good. Home practice today–no Mysore, as Volleyball Guy is out of town.

As usual, the morning begins with coffee and some reading:

When a person faces the great doubt, before him there is in all directions only a vast and empty land without birth and without death, like a huge plain of ice extending ten thousand miles.
–Hakuin


Decide to use the space heater, to try to bribe my hamstrings with heat. Think this might be a bit crazy, seeing as we’re in the desert and all, but tough times call for tough measures.

Practice totally revolves around the pain. Poses of particularly excruciating note are: padangusthasana, padahastasana, parivritta trikonasana, and the most horrifying of all: the prasaritas. By the time I get to prasarita B, I decide to try bending my knees a bit. Seems to help. Not sure if this is kosher or not, but the pain to pleasure ratio of practice is starting to list hopelessly toward the pain end of the continuum, and bent knees are the only solution that comes to mind.

Plod along, making note of the “sensations” 😉 and trying to back off just a bit, until marichyasana C, at which point I finally start to feel some relief. Decide to really be diligent about icing four times a day for a while (I’m sitting on ice as I type this entry). How can I spread the stress of stretches throughout the whole hamstring? Why does everything seem to be converging at the inserts?

A quick note about the dinner party at The British Director’s house. It wasn’t such a big collision of worlds. I met The British Director’s boyfriend, who, like The Cop, is not an Ashtangi. I think by the end of the evening both he and The Cop probably felt pretty satisfied that we aren’t all members of a cult.

The British Director, I am very happy to report, is one of those people who reads cookbooks for pleasure. Gosh, can she cook! There was grilled salmon and a mango salsa, endive and avocado salad with mustard dressing, quinoa with corn (my favorite!), pasta with pesto sauce, and bread. And The British Director’s boyfriend, who will from here on in be called The Wine Connoisseur, chose and served some unbelievably good wines.

Also in attendance: Mr India and The European Beauty, Volleyball Guy and Sanskrit Scholar, Chanting Man and The Cat’s Mom, Crim Girl and her consort yet to be named. It struck me that The Cop might feel like he was in the movie “The Big Chill,” and I leaned over to whisper that to him. “What’s ‘The Big Chill’?” he asked. Never mind.

A lovely time was had by all. The Cop felt slightly out of his element, though he enjoyed himself. Perhaps like he was with a close group of hippie-ish friends. You know, like in “The Big Chill”? Okay, okay–never mind 😉

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Home practice: 8/12/06

My Gift’s rheumatologist said she should have a flu shot before college, so we are off to a flu shot clinic downtown when she finishes up her morning shift at Juicy Yoga Studio. No led class for me.

Wonders of technology side note: This week, My Gift was given contact info for her roommate. The two girls talked on the phone, then connected via their My Space pages. This morning, My Gift casually mentioned that she and The Roomie have been chatting via instant message. I’m pleased to hear this, because they’ll have a chance to get to know each other a bit before they’re thrown together in a couple of weeks.

So, home practice this morning. A really exuberant, happy practice. One where the vinyasas are just such a pleasure, and poses and vinyasas flow together seamlessly. Left hamstring is cranky, but not impossible. The most interesting thing, though, was this practice felt joyous, and really well-integrated. Somehow, it understood that it is not the point–though it is a means.

“Truth can be compared to the moon,” said Hui Neng, pointing to the moon with his finger, “I can use my finger to point out the moon, but my finger is not the moon, and you don’t need my finger in order to be able to see the moon.”

Tonight, dinner at The British Director’s house. I get to meet Crim Girl’s new partner in crime, and The Cop meets the Mysorians. What happens when worlds collide?

Practice notes in 5 minutes or less (8/11/06)

Mysore morning. The British Director, Crim Girl, Mr India and NYChick. A small turnout for a Friday. I miss Returning Guy. He is visiting with his son, and the shala just isn’t the same. He is always the first one in, surya-ing away as the rest of us enter the room.

Practice was good. Warm and a little ponderous, but not too bad. All of my energy is focused on the quad engagement, and my hamstrings are very happy for it. Additionally, my drishti stays on my nose/shins in forward bends–no looking at my toes. I miss them, and I miss the intense focus of that particular gaze, but my hamstring inserts are really feeling alot better with this small shift in drishti. I’m sure it’s because my lower back is rounding more, but hey, I’m one year into Ashtanga practice and I have to accept that it’s gonna take a while for those hamstrings to release. I need to cut them some slack.

Handstands have been particularly fun: Volleyball Guy has me holding my knees in tight until my hips are up, and then I extend my legs. It feels like swimming in air. Same dealio on the way back down to the next navasana: hold the crossed legs in tight all the way down from handstand.

Supta K was the usual: I get in, grab my fingers, scoot my feet. Volleyball Guy put his hand over mind, then pushes my feet closer. I don’t think I’ll get my feet crossed, because I am short and stubby. I think I’ll have better luck getting my feet cross behind my head.

Therefore the usual foot behind the head goofing around after backbends. If I just do it persistently, eventually it’ll happen.

Home practice 8/10/06

Home practice with Sharath’s CD, because I felt like moving along at a good pace. Kept the focus on quad engagement, which really seems to be doing the trick, hamstring-pain-wise.

After backbends, played with putting my feet behind my head instead of paschimottanasana. What fun! Wasn’t as heated up as yesterday morning, so I couldn’t straighten my back up once my leg was behind my head. Persistance, though, will do the trick. And as I said, it’s such fun that it doesn’t seem like work at all.

Savasana with Simon and Garfunkel on the iPod. Relaxed, lying in the sunshine of the yoga room, I had, suddenly, the strongest sense of uddiyana bandha that I’ve ever felt. Very cool. Interesting when these things happen, because I can chase the feeling (make a vow to consciously reproduce it in practice), or I can set it in the back of my consciousness, like a koan, and trust that it is developing. I guess this circles around to the thoughts I’ve been having lately about willfulness and the role it does, or does not, play in my practice. Those thoughts, too, though, have to be left alone a bit. They remind me of the seeds I planted in the front yard on Sunday. Left alone, they’ll sprout. (And then, if it’s anything like the seeds I planted two weeks ago, the rabbits will come and eat them one morning. LOL!)

Practice notes: 8/9/06

Yesterday The Cop and I drove up to Sedona, because my sister and her girlfriend were up there vacationing (they live in San Diego). We went up for lunch, and a short visit. The Cop laughed at me when I explained that today was a Moon Day, so I would take it a day early and then go to Mysore practice this morning. He is amused by my poor rule-following skills and my excellent rationalization skills.

This morning’s practice was all about quads. My poor hamstrings have been so tortured. I did some more reading in Gregor Maehle’s book and decided I would devote today’s practice to making sure my quads were mindfully engaged the whole way through. Heels pulled to the floor on sitting poses, feet flexed, the whole deal. This is, at least for me, a daunting challenge. I like to drift off into my yoga bliss, and sometimes that bliss doesn’t include quadriceps mindfulness. But I managed well enough. And sure enough, I remembered something Crim Girl told me months ago: she suggested I pull up through my arches, which seemed like a fine idea, but I had no clue how to do it. This morning, as I engaged my quads in down dog, those arches just popped right up. Nice.

Practice felt a little plodding at the start–perhaps because the air is rather humid here in the desert, and we aren’t accustomed to that sort of heaviness. But the poses and vinyasas were pleasant and I managed to keep doing the quad reminder.

Supta K went well–I managed to grab my hands, and then Volleyball Guy put his hands over mine to stabilize them while I tried to cross my feet, which at this stage in the game means I try to touch the soles together. “Close, very close,” he said. Volleyball Guy does not dole out lots of verbal feedback, so I was happy to hear this.

And this morning, I did normal urdhva dhanurasanas, instead of my usual ustrasana/dhanurasana combo. I asked Volleyball Guy if the switch would be okay, and mentioned I wouldn’t mind skipping adjustments, since his back has been sore. Of course, he couldn’t resist adjusting. I did a couple of urdhva ds myself and then one holding his ankles, where he then supported my upper back and had me take my hands off the floor and just open my arms like an airplane–well, a relaxed airplane, anyhow. It was a great adjustment! He reminded me to work my legs, and with him supporting my shoulders and pushing just a bit toward my feet, I could work into the backbend with my feet and legs and abs and really feel the form. All I need to do now is find a way to always subtract my concrete shoulders from the urdhva dhanurasana mix.

Then a few dropbacks, which felt great. As I sat down after backbends, I noticed The Other Dave (who was practicing second) showing The Cat eka pada sirsanana. Then they played around a bit with kashyabasana. I was nice and warm, and I’ve been messing around with yoga nidrasana in the evenings (in hopes it’ll aid my supta kurmasana), so I tried putting my feet behind my head. To very good effect. I managed to get first my left and then my right foot situated behind my neck. I don’t know why, exactly, but I sure do love those foot behind the head poses. They’re challenging and funny and scary and cool. And way more entertaining post-backbend poses than paschimottasana, which is usually just excruciating.

One From the Books

My own little koan of the past year: Are meditating while practicing Ashtanga and meditating while sitting zazen the same or different?

From “Sitting with Koans”:

Hakuin…emphasized practice in the midst of activity… ‘I am not trying to tell you to discard completely quietistic meditation and to seek specifically for a place of activity to carry on your practice. What is most worthy of respect is a pure koan meditation that neither knows nor is conscious of the two aspects, the quiet and the active. This is why it has been said that the true practicing monk walks but does not know he is walking, sits but does not know he is sitting.

For penetrating to the depths of one’s own true self-nature and for attaining a vitality valid on all occasions, nothing can surpass meditation in the midst of activity.’

Mysore practice was good this morning, though I couldn’t get my hands in supta k. It felt rather tragic for a moment, but then there was the next breath, and time to be off on other pursuits.

I ate fish twice yesterday–mercury…uh, I mean, tuna for lunch, and sushi for dinner. I generally don’t eat much animal food at all, so this was a big dose of it. My mind felt really pointed this morning, but maybe a little too hard, like its surface was steely, somehow. So I wasted some time thinking about my diet during practice. Maybe the supta k problem was from stiffness due to eating animals. *Sigh.* Like my thinking about it would change the situation. Not.

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about willfulness the past couple of days (most notably, yesterday morning while I washed the venetian blinds in the kitchen by hand). Willfulness is interesting: people love it or they hate it. I want to play around with some ideas, and then maybe write a bit about it. I think it may play strongly into my practice, and may even be a large part of why karma brought me to practice.

Happy Monday! (and yes, that’s sarcastic 😉

Plain old practice notes

Woke this morning with some sore spots (piriformis, most notably) and thought “Hmmmm, this must be from playing around with yoga nidrasana last night.” This playing around with yoga nidrasana is, of course, part of my attempt to understand supta k. Yesterday in led, supta k was terrific, at least the bind was. Still have some work to do on the hips (hence yoga nidrasana). Anyhow, the hand bind is getting very straightforward. Jody mentioned something in his blog about the set up of the hands, which I’ve found to be true. For a few weeks now, I’ve had to put a lot of energy into the correct set up of my hands, in order to have any hope of getting the bind.

When I first started practicing the pose, I would reach back with both hands–and with a huge sense of blindness and futility. The whole back body was just a vast uncharted expanse my hands/arms couldn’t possibly encompass. Then one morning, as I was flailing, Sanskrit Scholar said something about turning one hand in the opposite direction (I was reaching with both palms facing up). Duh! With both palms facing up, my fingers would occasionally brush, but I could never grab the other hand. One palm had to face down and one up in order to pull this off. So I started setting up with the right hand facing down. That was the key to the whole bind, that the right hand be extended as far across my back as possible (by scooting the right shoulder under my leg) and held in place as strongly as possible. I would feel with my fingertips and try to be sure that my fingers were past my spinal column (basically, that the right fingers were more than halfway across my back). Then I could reach my up-facing left hand across my back to look for the right. Basically, the right always waits in the same place on my back, in the ready position, and the left seeks it out.

This solution is somewhat unbalanced, as it plays directly to my strengths and my weaknesses. I had a rotator cuff tear on the left side a few years ago, and the left shoulder is my weaker link. I suspect it may be psychological, this perceived weakness, but I suppose that doesn’t matter. So I use the right side to be strong and still and “correct” in set-up, and then I use the left side to “find” the right and stretch toward it.

At the same time, I am also really focused on back bends these days. Finally, I am starting to understand the strange (to me) kinesthetics of backbends. I am all about forward bend consciousness: internal, quiet, intuitive, etc. (Last week, I was composing an email to Crim Girl, as we chatted about the energy of back bends, and I realized that I have all kinds of adjectives for the energy of forward bends, and pretty much no words for the energy of back bends.) So this business of turning my heart out is quite a project. Hampered, to the nth degree, by decades of weightlifting, where heavy squats were by far my favorite thing to do. Psoases of steel. Quads like stretched cables 😉

Slowly, slowly, slowly, the back bends are starting to come clear.

It occurred to me this morning that by focusing on supta k and backbends, I am working both ends of the spectrum of primary: supta k is the deepest expression of forward bending in the series, and backbends, well, the only expression of backward bending in the series. The image of a paper clip being bent back and forth comes to mind 😉 It’s kind of funny, but also an interesting idea: the bending has to be thoughtfully dispersed along the full length of the material, or else the whole thing eventually snaps. And it’s really interesting to mess around with the energies of forward and backward bending, to compare and contrast, to feel around in it, to (maybe?) try out a zen thing where they are different but the same, and both the same, and both different. And then, of course, just do it.