I was planning to pay special attention to led class today, since it would be my last practice of 2006. As it turns out, though, yesterday was the last one. Both The Cop and I have been fighing some kind of cold or flu — and I finally felt bad enough to take the day off. I guess it’s kind of pathetic that I didn’t want to take a day during the work week. There were too many people on vacation, and I couldn’t resist being in the office and getting lots of work done. Even managed to get through most of the performance evaluations for my team.

I really like writing performance evaluations: they feel like the most useful thing I can do as a manager. They also force me to sit down and really think about each of the individuals on the team, and to think about our team as a unit. Usually we are so busy with doing our work that I don’t have time to mull over individual contributors. I mean, I recognize when someone on the team does a great job with a project, etc., but basically, I pretty much default, in the midst of business, to assigning folks according to their respective strengths. Now, though, I can think about each person and try to re-evaluate my perspective: perhaps someone who generally gets assigned to lower-stress projects would benefit from more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants projects, etc. It’s interesting to think about people’s potential, and their interests, and how work might offer a chance for creativity and confidence and, well, a kind of freedom.

Today, though, I am at home. Start of a three day weekend. My Gift made it back from Colorado last night — there was some concern that she might get stuck there due to more snowstorms — and we ran errands this morning, including picking up the cat from the vet, where he’s been boarded since our plumbing adventure began.

And the adventure goes on. Right now the house is pretty much full of plumbers. With power tools. Drilling through walls. The cat and the dog are taking all this upheaval pretty well. The Cop? Not so much. He’s out in the garage now, which is one of his favorite places. He’s putting a lift and big tires on my Cherokee.

Okay. I’m wondering how led went this morning. Time for you to start a blog, Sanskrit Scholar! 🙂

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Shala was packed today. Barely a place to park. What’s the dealio? New faces (at least to me), though I don’t think there were beginners (i.e., New Years resolutioners). Or maybe it was experienced Ashtangis who decided to turn over a new leaf and practice at the shala? Either way.

Volleyball Guy was super busy with adjustments and with photographs. One of the occasionally-visiting folks (referred to in the past as a moaner, but she seems to have cut back since last she joined us) does third series. Ah, durvasana. What a beautiful pose. I can’t stand it. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but durvasana is a pose I’ve always done in my dreams, even before I started practicing yoga or knew that it was an asana.

Practice this morning was good. I had a thought as I was driving to the shala: I didn’t feel so great last night; I wonder if I have energy to do this. I started thinking about the series and how long it is, and then I just put the whole train of thought down. In the end, this may be the biggest sign of “progress” in my practice. I can put thoughts down. I just have to remember not to put everything down during meetings at work, when I get bored or irritated. But you know, lately it’s seemed like a good idea to knock off all the over-thinking, all the stressing, all the fussing over stuff that’s entirely unnecessary. Haha! I start to scare myself. On the way to work, I thought: Practice is the most important thing I do each day. Practice and my relationship with The Cop and My Gift. How easy would it be to put everything else down?

I have my scribbled post-practice note:

    Prasaritas — toes
    Emptiness on UHP
    Kurmasana/Supta k
    Baddha konasana — yikes

Volleyball Guy adjusted me in prasarita A today, which is, I think, a first. He’s a prasarita C kind of guy. Anyhow, the adjustment reminded me that I’ve been playing with the weight in my feet, and that that’s probably a good line of questioning for the prasaritas. I’ve got the uddiyana bandha thing going on for my spine (or, as Richard Freeman would say, “the cave of the sacrum”), and the quad flexing for a deeper fold, but I’ve been wondering about shifting my weight forward more on my feet. Almost that weightless thing you get just before your feet rise off the floor in headstand. Volleyball Guy’s adjustment this morning suggested that I’m on a track that might lead to some discoveries.

Utthita hasta padangusthasana. It only works when your mind is empty. It may be that my body sometimes aligns in a particular way that I’m not quite conscious of, but all I know for sure is that the pose is strong when I have no thoughts. As soon as I think or my eyes wander, the pose is doomed. It is absolutely the pose where I most feel/hear the emptiness of my mind. I also occasionally remind myself that I tore the fascia in my left arch years ago — and every time I remember that, the pose goes to hell. Mind/body connection at its most accessible.

Kurmasana is, joyfully, my friend again. Pulling my heels up is a pleasure. All the fear is gone. If I wasn’t afraid of jinxing myself, I’d say my hamstrings seem to be healed…

Supta kurmasana. I’m still leery and have been trying to balance my effort/ease ratio. Or, in other words, lately I’ve been slacking. Once I got the hand bind regularly, I decided to back off and let that be my only criterion for success. Surely if I just keep at it, more space will open up in the pose. Used to be that I could walk my feet together and just touch my toes. Now I can go sole to sole. There’s probably going to have to be a concerted effort to really focus on getting the ankles crossed. Not sure if it’s time yet to push on that. It wasn’t too long ago that this pose made my heart race and my shoulders ache.

Baddha konasana — totally dependent on my mood. Sometimes I really want to push like crazy, and sometimes it just seems like too much effort. Today I used a single sandbag and put my head right down to the floor. Saw, duh!, the relationship between marichyasana C and baddha konasana. I think of it as the weird chicken wing rotation of my legs. Good thing I don’t actually try to teach students. Goodness knows how I could explain the chicken wing thing 😉

UFC fight tomorrow night. Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz. God, it feels unyogic to love ultimate fighting. I need to probably make a point to smoke and drink and eat pork rinds while I watch, just to get a full dose of badness. Um, I mean, bad-ass-ness. It’s a thin line.

Propfest 2006

What’s gumming up my practice, what’s keeping me from being exquisitely graceful, are my shoulders and upper back. Okay, that’s a ridiculous statement. Still, though, it’s time for me to do some work (physical and psychic) on the shoulders and upper back.

To that end, practice this morning was a huge prop fest, as I tried to listen to what’s going on in my shoulders and thoracic spine. I’ve ignored them for years (or forced them to do my bidding), and now I’m paying the price.

Shoulders: tight, probably got some scar tissue from rotator cuff tears, and if there is a link between emotions and physicality, shoulders probably bear the scars of many psychic battles. I always saw them as my “weak link” when I was lifting weights for hours every day. They were never big enough.

Then came climbing. I immediately took to climbing with my legs, or used flexibility. Learning to use my upper body was a longer lesson. The brute strength of upper body. I am small, so my strength to weight ratio worked out well for climbing. As per usual, I threw myself in with abandon. Getting stronger? Well then, do some dynamic moves (moves where you let go between holds and kind of fling yourself at the next handhold). Yay! Time to climb overhangs! Must learn to lead climb! Ah yes. And throughout it all, every time I fell, I grabbed with an arm or two to arrest my fall, and often yanked the hell out of my shoulders.

Yesterday, at Mysore, I saw myself in the mirror on the back wall. Waaaah, my shoulder muscles are all gone because I’m just doing yoga! I thought. A little while later, Volleyball Guy demonstrated a little shoulder stretching exercise I can do with sandbags. Caught another glance in the mirror: God, my shoulders and traps are too freaking thick! Yeah, okay. Body dysmorphia! None of this has been helped by my liking to play so-called “guy” sports. Why am I weaker? Why are my shoulders so small? Oh yeah, right, because the other players are, um, men. Duh.

Next up: thoracic spine. What’s up there? No idea. I’ve ignored it completely my whole life.

Sigh.

There’s some work to be done. I’ve bullied my shoulders and ignored my back. Alrighty, then. So this morning was “Intro to Body 101.” Back bending and shoulder opening. It was pretty nice, though I feel like a novice: I have no idea about how to be graceful or “successful” with these poses. Which is kind of nice. I also don’t know how to process information I’m getting back from the poses. It’s like when you try to do an inverted padmasana the first time: it’s impossible to figure out where your limbs are and where they’re supposed to be.

The best thing was backbending through a folding chair. Usually, that kind of backbend involves putting your feet through the opening in the back of the chair. This, though, was about threading my arms through the opening in the back of the chair, lining up the bottom of the thoracic area on the front edge of the chair, and then lowering my butt toward the floor. The back of the chair holds your arms down as you keep lowering. It feels quite good, except for the fact that I don’t think I like the way backbending feels. I’m not sure, of course, because I have never really paid attention to things like that. I was busy climbing and trying to force my shoulders to be muscular.

Haha! I am realizing that all the busy-ness of my life has gotten me exactly to where I am now. Will I use Ashtanga practice as another busy-ness, another blindspot-inducing habit? Or maybe I can try to be a little more sensitive? A little more connected to the moment? A little more open?

We’ll see. If I immediately devise an aggressive, regimented plan for backbend improvement, we’ll know I’m not on the right track 😉

Sluggish practice this morning. With that whole “in a moment I’m going to wake up in bed, amazed by what a vivid dream this was” feeling. Driving to the studio, I suddenly thought, “I wonder where I really am right now.” As if what I was perceiving as conscious reality wasn’t actually on target. There are people who would suggest I was astral projecting, or perceiving an alternate reality. I don’t know about that, but I definitely felt like my consciousness was on two channels at the same time.

Obviously, feeling like I was in two places at the same time made it hard to focus on practice. Luckily the sequence is pretty much hard-wired at this point. I just set aside my discombobulation and went on.

Sluggish practice, as I mentioned. Why would that be? I thought back to what I ate yesterday, sleep quality, what’s coming up for the rest of the day (work at a post-Christmas, pretty much empty office). Nothing too radically different from yesterday and the day before and the day before — when I had particularly good practices. So there’s no explaining it. Fine.

Volleyball Guy gave me a great adjustment in bhekasana. He pushed down on my shins, which gave me the leverage to really get my upper body up off the mat. I try not to think about bhekasana too much, because I think it would induce hallucinations of my kneecaps bursting from under my skin and shooting across the room.

In the end, though, I think it’s parsva dhanurasana that’s making my knees feel taxed. The rolling over part makes for an unstable kind of pulling on the knees. I guess I need to try to stabilize my core more, so the tension is equal throughout the whole roll-over.

Spacey though I was, I had the good sense to run away before backbends. Geez. I spent time yesterday trying to make friends with urdhva dhanurasana, and here I am this morning, needing a swallow of water so very badly that I had to leave the room for a few minutes. Yeah, I know, a transparent attempt to avoid the inevitable.

And sure enough, after the heavy, unfocused practice, backbends felt just fine. There’s no telling with urdhva dhanurasana and me. I was dreading it, and it was a piece of cake. Finally finally finally, my breathing is sorting itself out. Not so suffocating and uncomfortable. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

Showering and preparing for work took place at Starbuck’s of Yoga. Usually I go home and get ready for work, but the plumbing project has begun and we have no water. Poor Scott the cat is being boarded at the vet, since workmen will be in and out of the house. Keep your fingers crossed that this only takes two days. I’m hoping we’ll be back to normal by Friday…

Holiday after the holiday

Boy, I sure could get used to this no working thing! Another late wake-up, another leisurely cup of coffee, another morning where I actually woke up before I started practicing 😉

The Cop is off to the auto parts store. He was really jonesing for the auto parts store. He’s putting a lift on my Cherokee, and big tires, and he only found out, just as the holiday kicked in, that he needed different U bolts for the back axle. So he’s happily on his way to the parts store now, with visions of U bolts and new shocks dancing in his head.

I had another practice with the dog. Usually she sleeps in with The Cop in the morning, so I am not accustomed to her help. She likes to adjust me, but not my body so much as my attitude. When I am upside down, she thinks I need to be comforted, and so licks my face. It’s best not to ask her to stop, because she is a persistant teacher, and if I stop to try to move or correct her, she feels she has to start from scratch again with me. So I accept the face-licking adjustment, and then she can settle down and just watch.

I put my zabuton in a sunny spot next to my mat, right in front of the heater. She thought it was an excellent idea, and sat her butt on the zabuton and put her front feet on my mat. Not quite what I had in mind, but I didn’t want to go back to the face-licking portion of the practice, so we went on. I just had to be conscious of her feet as I jumped back.

I did a modified practice today: standing, then the second series poses to ustrasana, then a big urdhva dhanurasana festival. When I start feeling too much aversion to a pose, I like to wait for a day when I feel happy and then spend some time kind of playing with the pose. In hopes that my attitude will be adjusted. I did urdhva dhanurasanas with my forearms against the wall, and some over the kitchen stool, and some plain old normal ones. It may be that I tend to put my hands too close together. The big issue is that I can’t straighten my arms. Which is primarily about shoulder tightness. I think. So I did gomukhasana for a while, and then hung on the ropes. And then a few more udhva dhanurasanas. By this point, the dog, bored with my obsessions, had retired to the couch.

I had music, too. Coldplay. Best Ashtanga music ever.

I have nothing else I have to accomplish today.

Freedom!

Practicing with an old yoga soul

Lovely to wake without the alarm, have coffee at my leisure, and then start practice when I felt like it. As I finished up the vinyasa that precedes pasasana, I was joined by a fellow yogini, who was looking for a good spot for a comfy winter savasana.

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You’ll note that she managed to get into the spot of sunlight AND directly in front of the heater. Nice work.

I rolled out another mat and did pasasana through ustrasana, then wrapped up with some of my patented crappy urdhva dhanurasanas, followed by a bit of hanging out on the rope wall.

The Cop and I had planned to get new fixtures for the master bathroom, as our Christmas gift/project. As it turns out, though, we had a plumbing leak on Thursday. On Friday, the plumber spent hours jackhammering through the tile floor of the bathroom (there is something really weird about hearing jackhammers inside your house), shoveling a pile of dirt onto the floor to get to the pipes (also weird to have a pile of dirt in your master bathroom), and repairing the pipe. Only to discover that there are likely more leaks.

The choices were to keep chasing leaks around (with attendant jackhammering of other spots on the floor), followed by digging and repairing — or we could just cap off all the underground pipes and re-pipe the whole house so the plumbing runs through the walls instead of the ground. Choice 2 is now our official Christmas gift to each other.

Today will be a nice, quiet day: dinner here and then a movie later on this afternoon. The Cop was lobbying for “Black Christmas,” but I’m not a fan of horror movies. I’m going to vote for “The Good Shepherd.” Then I will indulge in my traditional holiday jello shots and some chocolate! Woohoo!

Everyone ought to check out Russell’s entry on Christmas Eve in Mysore. It’s really quite humorous and also very touching.

Pre-Christmas Led

Today was the most physically comfortable practice I’ve ever had. I pushed to the edges, so it’s not like I didn’t feel any pain, but somehow the whole series seemed very… well, comfortable. I didn’t feel particularly light or particularly bendy or especially twisty or anything like that. But somehow, my physical being felt very clear — like there were no resistances. It’s rather frustrating, trying to put it into words. I guess I am familiar with the feeling of transcending my body in practice — whereas today was more about… Gah! Inability to explain! Okay, let’s just say it was all one — body, mind, the whole dealio. Sigh. That’s what I get for trying to explain it.

Is it possible to have too much pratyahara? That’s been my question over the past couple of weeks or so. I am a master at retracting my senses, but I wonder if sometimes it’s too much. I remember being absorbed in things (generally drawing) when I was a pre-schooler. It’s lasted my whole life. My Gift has it, too — the ability to go inside the self. It can be turned to pratyahara practice quite easily. But what about when you are an introvert? When does it turn into a method for protecting the self from external things? When is it a defense mechanism? The question was driven home this morning at led, when I called out the count for surya B. I know the numbers in Sanskrit, and I sometimes count them in my head when I am practicing alone. It was SO hard, though, to say the numbers aloud. I was super-conscious of the membrane between internal and external. And so I realize (again!) that I’m much more deft at the internal side of things.

I suspect some of these questions are arising as a result of embarking on intermediate. The new poses have intersected with a busy time at work and the holiday season to create a perfect storm. On the one hand, my nerves are being revved up more by second series and the external events of work and holidays; on the other hand, having new poses always throws me back inside myself (which is where I go when I have something new to process). So I guess the vibration between inside and outside is probably higher than it’s been in a long while.

Okay, so led today. Some familiar holiday faces (folks who now live elsewhere but once upon a time practiced with Volleyball Guy) are back for a visit. And it seems like each week we are getting a few new people. So far, none of the new people from December have returned — Ashtanga isn’t being asked out for any second dates 😦 Oh well.

This morning, Volleyball Guy came over and adjusted me in ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana. I was a little nervous at first, because I can fold up well in the pose, and the thing that is my “edge” is the amount of pain my ankle bone feels when it is crushed against my hip bone. I figured if Volleyball Guy squashed me any more, the only thing that would result, since I can’t fold any flatter than I am, would be for me to have a nice excruciating pain in my ankles, and maybe some bruises later on my hip bones.

I decided a long time ago that I would always try to not resist Volleyball Guy’s adjustments, so I just went ahead and folded up and waited for his adjustment. He pushed me forward, as well as pressing down on me, and it was a really interesting little electrical feeling in my hip sockets, sort of like there ought to be a soundtrack making little pinging noises to indicate the energy that kind of crackled around in my hip joints. No idea what all that was about, and I didn’t have time to think about it much, because as I sat up, he told me to put my other foot into padmasana, then hauled me up so I could do the jumpback from lotus. Some day, when Volleyball Guy quits because his back is ruined, we can all think of this day. I appreciate him demonstrating the motion to me, but gosh, it’s a physically challenging lesson, to actually drag a student’s body through it. And since I’m not particularly kinesthetically apt, I was mostly just a dead weight — sorry about that, Volleyball Guy! I’ll try it out more during home practices.

The other pose of note was baddha konasana. Where, for the first time, I put my head on the floor all by myself — no sandbags, no squish from another person. Woohoo! It took almost ten breaths, and I was pulling like hell with my arms/shoulders, but hey, it’s a start! I’m psyched, because it is the pose that seemed most physically impossible for me. At this point it’s 150% shtira — mostly it’s a “damn the torpedoes!” kind of deal, meaning I pull my feet in close, turn the soles up to the ceiling, and then press them into each other as hard as I can, meanwhile forgetting about the owie, owie, owie! feeling in my hips. Yup, sukha level = zero. Some day (haha! I can’t even write this with a straight face!) I will no doubt gracefully lower my head to the floor in baddha konasana. But that day is rather a way off.

After class, a few of the Mysorians were chatting outside the room, when Sanskrit Scholar presented us with Caroline Klebl Ashtanga calendars. I tried to order one last week, but the vendor was out of stock, so this is a very sweet gift! She also told me my blog wasn’t functioning correctly, which shook me out of my blog-neglect mode. Well, kinda shook me out. Instead of fixing it, I just republished in a new presentation format. Slacker!

It was nice to see the yoga folk before the holiday. Good people. They help me keep the faith.