Not as good after practice

No coffee before practice today. How dreamy I felt, driving over to the studio. Literally dreamy — as in, Geez, I hope I don’t go to sleep.

Of course, I kind of screwed up my “what does practice feel like without coffee” experiment by going out last night (The Cop and I met Crim Girl and her fiance for dinner) and having two drinks and more food than I usually eat on a night before practice (including french fries). I am both an extremely poor researcher and a poor subject.

So the word is in: no coffee before practice helps the nausea-during-backbends portion of practice, but two drinks and fries kind of mucks up the whole deal. I was telling The Cop just now that I felt like the lime in my drinks kind of disagreed with me, and he said, “By lime, you mean vodka, right?” Okay, fine. Debauchery is not my thing any more, I guess. Sad, really. I used to be so good at it 😉

Um, and thanks, Susan, for reminding me, when I was all wound up about having to quit coffee, that I can just drink it after practice. I think it’s really funny that I couldn’t seem to figure that out on my own.

Gah!

Backbends, dropbacks. Sloooooooow assisted dropbacks, and urdhva dhanurasana for long holds. I felt like my guts were gonna shoot out from under my skin. What’s the dealio? Does anyone have any insights? I was breathless and had that intense stomach weirdness (not nausea, not an ache, but just a kind of bitter spasmy feeling) that you can get from overexertion.

In other situations where I’ve run into this, it was a feeling that passed after a few more workouts/bike rides/hard climbs. I’m assuming (as in, praying!) that this, too, will pass. Anyone else ever had it?

Don’t think. Do.

My cousin asked me about enlightenment. Well, not in so many words. She would think it was dopey to use a term like “enlightenment.” She’s looking for something, though. She’s looked in lots of places, too. Some spiritual; some not so much. So she was curious about yoga.

How to explain that it isn’t about the asana, it’s about the practice?

This leads to a thought about a question on the ezBoard about morning practice. The asker wanted to know about how people keep a morning practice. But he also indicated he couldn’t have one because he wanted to party late into the night.

How to explain that it isn’t about the lifestyle, it’s about the practice?

I guess in the end, you just can’t figure this stuff out with thinking (which Huang Po might, delightfully, call “delusory mental processes”). It’s kind of interesting, and seemingly contradictory, that I am currently reading (and thinking about) the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. So many ideas, so many concepts.

All of that is beside the point, though.

Practice prepares the body, mind and spirit for awakening. I am always curious about practices that just involve sitting. I suppose zazen is a kind of physical practice, but it seems a torturous practice, compared to asana practice. Just to sit, through whatever pain arises, without the preparation provided by asana practice? I suppose that produces a very strong mind practice, but I cringe at the idea of the body just getting dragged along for the ride. I’ve talked to zen monks about this, and some understood my wish for more physical practice, and some didn’t. Quite honestly, I don’t know what to make of the need for a physical practice. It makes perfect sense to yogis, of course, but it’s kind of a weirdo idea at a zendo.

My favorite zen master, though, keeps a personal physical exercise schedule, and always bemoans times when he is too busy to keep up with it properly. That particular school of zen (Korean) also has a tradition of “bowing practice.” It involves hundreds of full prostrations, which makes it like a very intense session of surya namaskars. It’s for people who need a physical practice.

Okay, so between reading the Yoga Pradipika and talking to my cousin, I’m feeling like lots of thinking, questioning, and seeking are just a kind of smokescreen — ways of avoiding getting down to it. Ways to keep the party going deep into the night. Entertainment. Looking for the absolute answer that will mean you’ve “got” it, and now you are finished and don’t have to actually practice. The Cliffs Notes of enlightenment. The siddhi without the sadhana. Or the siddhi as the point of the sadhana.

Sigh.

I know I’m meandering. Sorry.

You people still conceive of Mind as existing or not existing, as pure or defiled, as something to be studied in the way that one studies a piece of categorical knowledge, or as a concept — any of these definitions is sufficient to throw you back into the endless round of birth and death. The man who PERCEIVES things always wants to identify them, to get a hold on them. Those who use their minds like eyes in this way are sure to suppose that progress is a matter of stages. If you are that kind of person, you are as far from the truth as earth is from heaven. Why this talk of ‘seeing into your own nature’?

Okay, okay, Huang Po. I get it. I’ve got to knock it off.

We’re running a conference at work. We do a couple each year; one really big one, and a smaller one. This is the smaller one, and rather convenient, as it is located at a resort hotel in Phoenix. One of the designers on my team put together a learning event that runs intermittently throughout the conference, and some of the other designers and I have been helping out with that.

Which means getting up at 3:30 AM this morning, so I could have coffee, read, practice, shower, primp, and then drive to the hotel for a 7 AM meeting. Then it was off to the races for the rest of the day: conference, back to the office, meeting, meeting, meeting, etc., etc., etc.

Tomorrow is more of the same. I don’t mind waking up every day at 4:30, but I am rather bitter about having to get up earlier than that. But tomorrow’s the last day of this. I am SO looking forward to the weekend!

Anyhow, as I finally wind down, I surf over to look at Ashtanga blogs, and realize that my life is quite lovely. I have time every day to practice and to read blogs and write and meditate. Well, almost every day. Not today so much. Or tomorrow. But soon.

If it’s not one thing…

Three way conference call to Pakistan and Hong Kong last night got moved from 7 PM my time to 9 PM. Dangerously close to the time I fall into unconsciousness, whether ready or not. And then the call was difficult to connect, pushing the actual start time to 9:20. Finished up well after 10. Ow! There is nothing worse than planning a project that’s going to be 1) difficult to design, 2) difficult to deliver, and 3) on a tight timeline — all during a time when I really needed to be asleep. So I fell into deep unconsciousness as soon as I hit the pillow, and was really surprised to hear the alarm go off this morning. I think, technically, I didn’t quite have time to process the whole mess. Extra brain processing and subconscious-recalibrating will have to wait until tonight.

Practice this morning was really cheery, as sometimes happens when I get less sleep than usual. No idea why that happens. Maybe some kind of defense mechanism of the body/mind.

And I have a question: do twisting poses always kind of go to hell when one is progressing in backbends? It has an intuitive appeal, that theory, but maybe I am just deluding myself. Either way, gonna just have to keep on keepin’ on. Try not to get too invested in the depth of Marichy C and D as I focus on the backbends, etc. Always a balancing act.

Auntie Pappandrea

Just read Tim’s post on food and practice, and realized I’d been thinking about my own history with food and exercise over the past weekend. Everyone is going home sick today from work, and the place is pretty much empty. So a little lunchtime blogging seems to be in order.

In keeping with the spirit of Tim’s inspirational post, I title this entry with my all-time favorite cat name.

I came to yoga with a hypersensitive awareness of my body. Though possibly not the healthiest hyper-awareness. I was a normal sized person throughout my childhood years, and it never occurred to me to alter my diet in order to alter my body. I did, at age 12, announce at the Sunday dinner table that I was going to be a Hindu from then on in, and that eating meat was now officially out of the question. This was a pretty dramatic announcement at an Irish-Italian dinner table, and, even to me, this many years later, a pretty unfathomable turn of events. I could have pointed to it as evidence of past-lives, but after 12 solid years of carnivorous Catholicism, I guess I wasn’t alternatively-educated enough to even conceptualize the possibility. My mother simply said that she never should have taught me to read. Books had rendered me a danger to myself.

When I hit my middle teens, there was another change. At that point I’d been a vegetarian for 4 years, and suddenly, at 16, I started dieting. I have no idea where the notion came from: we were out in the ‘burbs, and the whole intense skinny-celebrity thing wasn’t in vogue. In retrospect, I imagine it might have been a way for me to control what was shaping up to be (Off to college next year! I’m gonna go live in Boston!) a less stable life.

All through college I was a dieter. I am methodical and stubborn, so I am a very good dieter. What better way to separate myself from my food-obsessed Italian family than to just give it up? Of course, the giving up was a kind of obsession in itself. But it was an easy way to always look good by society’s standards, and easy enough to implement, so I carried on eating less than I really wanted to until I was into my early thirties. No big deal, just a way of life.

Cut to me in my early thirties, mother of a toddler, and suddenly starting to look…um, saggy. My brother, who was a personal trainer and gym manager, offered some words of wisdom: “You can diet forever, but you’re only gonna end up skinny and saggy. Time to lift weights!”

A new obsession was born. Hours at the gym, every day. The downside was a huge craving for protein, and the company of other gym rats, which meant a return to meat eating. I know, huh? Talk about guilt. I was eating meat for the most selfish reason of all: so I could have muscles.

The upside of the lifting habit was that I suddenly saw myself as a strong person. A really strong person. Someone who could use diet and exercise to manifest a very specific kind of body. My reading habits turned to sports nutrition, which is a fascinating field. In the dieting days of college through my thirties, I was a skinny 105-110 pound weakling. With weighlifting, cardio, and TONS of food (protein, protein and more protein, plus a daily tub of ice cream), I managed to get up to 125 pounds. I’m 5’4″, and I could squat 175 pounds. It was unbelievably liberating. Quite honestly, that realization of myself as a strong person is absolutely the key to my getting through many years as a single mom. That said, I really couldn’t keep up the pace of eating for weightlifting performance. I had friends who competed, so their wacky habits made a kind of sense. For me, it was just a crazy habit.

Fast forward to my 40s, when rock climbing entered the scene. I’d learned that I could have physical strength, now I wanted mental strength. I’d always been afraid of heights. I was suddenly laid off from a job I’d had for years, and I felt like I needed a shake-up. What better solution than to confront my fear of heights by climbing a cliff?

Rock climbing requires some strength, but too much weight is a hindrance. So it was back to the skinnier self. Easy enough to do, of course, through dieting. I was accustomed to eating for a specific kind of performance, so I just switched to an optimal rock climbing nutrition program. A lot of muscle came off, which kind of freaked me out, but the climbing was too fun. I had to pursue it.

Then there was Ashtanga (key heavenly music). I was getting used to losing muscle, so why not more?? Admittedly, I came to Ashtanga as a workout solution. I’d been looking for years for something that would combine strength training, cardio and flexibility training. It wasn’t too long, though, before practice took the place of “working out.” Recently, someone at work said they didn’t work out, and I said, “I don’t, either.” I was really surprised to hear myself say that. I had spent so many years identifying myself — to myself — as an athletic person.

And you know, my approach to Ashtanga is totally different than my approach to other pursuits. For one thing, quite unbelievably, I don’t really have any strong ideas about what comprises an Ashtanga-optimal diet (well, beyond ruling out quantities of tequila and late dinners). I don’t seem to be able to light on any rules about how to optimize my Ashtanga practice. Basically, I just practice. I’ve totally given up any dogma about diet, I don’t think too much about how I look from the outside, and to tell you the truth, I can’t remember why those issues used to feel so compelling. It was always about being smaller or bigger or stronger or lighter or whatever. Always a physical thing. A limited physical thing. It occurs to me that I’ve always been looking for something, and it’s taken decades for me to work my way through the physical “somethings” that I imagined were my “answers.” At first, I thought, “Gee, I’ve wasted so much time!” But really, it had to be done. And I’m happy I got some of it worked out in this lifetime.

But it is like a dream. Why did any of that ever matter?

Off we go

At 6 AM, The Cop said to me, “Are you okay?” Why? Because I was still in bed. The first words out of my mouth were “Oh, sh#t!” Checked the alarm clock. It was set to the right time, it was switched on. WTF?

Oh well. Too late for Mysore. So a home practice. And since I was running so late, I did the I-really-want-to-get-better-at-backbends routine that I invented and then practiced on Tuesdays and Thursdays in January. Even stopped to take a couple of photos during the “hanging back” exercise.

And thus begins a new week. We are running a conference in town this week, which means I will be running over to the hotel periodically to check on and support an event one of the designers put together for the participants. Includes a 7 AM meeting on Thursday (guess I’ll do the backbend routine that day, too, since it’s a little quicker than a full primary). I have a conference call for a custom project for a customer in Pakistan tonight at 7 PM. So work is leaking into real life. I prefer to keep it contained between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM. I guess it’s only fair, though: more and more, yoga affects my corporate life. I guess it was inevitable that the corporate life strike back 😉

Balance. Balance. Balance. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Okay. Ready for the new week 🙂