Friday, December 28, 2012

et tu, setu?

A complete surpise to me: in a little less than 1 year, I have been given all of primary series. From how it was when I started, I was thinking..years. Of course, it takes me 2x as long as the (infamous) Sharath cd timing, which seems insanely fast to me. My desire to do a led class = zero. I did enough led vinyasa classes, and I don't feel the need for a too quick paced (for me) led class.  I would love to be able to breathe slower and deeper, but that will take serious time. I would just be happy for all the little nervous system breathing glitches I have to go away once and for all.

I am feeling a little less that new poses are a curse or burden, so to speak. Each new asana changes the experience of all the other asanas, sometimes only in very subtle, and not always in immediately helpful, ways. Thus, the new asana starts to make me pay attention to all the other ones, which can be exhausting.

I got setu bandhasana yesterday. Mostly, it was an awful lot of pressure on my neck. If I can turn off the part of my brain that expects things to be a certain way (success, failure, pain, difficulty) getting into difficult or new postures seems to go better. No wonder the series is meant to flow. Stopping means more possibility for this sort of thinking. In Setu, I think that the only thing I was really aware of besides my strained breath was the back of my neck. I could have sworn it was a neck-bend rather than a backbend that I was doing. I felt very relieved at the end of 5 short breaths (no 10 second inhales and exhales here...haha, as if I even could when I am at rest), and I plopped back down, instead of waiting for the correct vinyasa instructions (oops!) from my teacher.

Then I went on to backbending. I could feel a difference in my upper back - much more open- from doing just this one new pose. Sunday I will try giving up my backbending security blanket - half wheel - and go from setu to the full backbends. I guess being pushed encouraged to try new things with my practice is giving me a little more confidence to try some new things on my own: like coming up into headstand with straight legs, or realizing that I can drop the half wheel.

                    Last night, downtown brooklyn, on my way to ghenet for dinner.

I always forget how relaxed Brooklyn is, compared to the energy of Manhattan. It was a belated birthday dinner with a friend. I have never been good about celebrating my birthday, I usually avoid it, as I have had some rather disastrous things happen in the past, on the day. It was a good night with E, as usual, and we got to catch up with each other. She is much more adventurous than I with travel and meeting new people, and it always reminds me that these things are not so scary.

happy moon day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the right way and monsters from the id

On xmas eve, I had a little home sci-fi movie festival. I watched Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood StillThe Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the first movies I remember seeing, because I was in the hospital, after having my adenoids out. My childhood was not filled with seeing a lot of movies as seeing Bambi upset me so much, that my parents didn't want to take me to see much after that. To this day, I still get waaaay more upset at movies than most people.

Anyway, both these movies have great robots, space ships and visuals. I miss flying SAUCERS as such in movies: clean, sleek and spinning! In Forbidden Planet, the "mad" scientist and his daughter are living on an planet seemingly long abandoned by a very technologically advanced civilization. Their advanced technology allowed the former inhabitants to operate this huge machine (which reminded me of the death star) inside the planet - by their thoughts, a sort of brainwave accelerator. As it turns out, this was a really really bad idea. Unstoppable "monsters from the id", i.e. the subconscious, also emerged and pretty much did in their entire civilization, as well as the original expedition to the planet. Putting all your energy into one thing and while ignoring your emotions (i.e. your subconscious) just doesn't pay.

image taken from here

It reminded me of why I practice yoga, to safely let those monsters at least have a little air, so that one day they will be less disruptive. I suspect that some of my recent anger and volatility about practice, as well as sort of injuring myself in practice, comes from trying to make a lot of conscious changes to do things the "right" way. Real change occurs gradually.

Of course, sometimes the "right" way looks a whole lot harder and scarier..but turns out to be easier. Well, almost easier.

I can now lift up into headstand with straight legs. Complete revelation. I have been spending a few breaths in half headstand after full headstand almost every day..but the thought of going back up without flipping over after that seemed, well, impossible. Yesterday, however, I thought I would give coming up from the floor with straight legs a shot. It took me about 5 breaths to get all the way up and I can feel it in my core as I lift up, but it feels pretty damn steady, steadier than coming up with bent knees actually. I can feel my balance as I go up, and i am coming up in a much more controlled way. Still not ready to try it after half headstand..but someday.

My teacher got me to do chakrasana after uttana padasana, without letting me drop my legs to the ground first, though I am allowed to lower my back to the ground first. This too seemed like it would be hellishly difficult to start the roll back with my legs in the air..but turns out to be easier (softer landing in chatauranga), and it discourages resting for too long (I still like to rest where I can) Bandhas are more engaged when my legs are in the air. Duh.

Meanwhile, what will those monsters want today?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

solstice practice..hello night

Still much frustration with practice. Ready to bag it..I mean the whole thing, at times. Not just the shala. New gimp this week, that is a variation on some very old gimp - inner upper thigh soreness- praying it is not hamstring attachment or other connective tissue soreness. Or some new thing with supta padagusthasana,  kurmasana, or even baddha konasana, as I have been getting much stronger adjustments from this teacher. I am trying to be more cautious, but it is not helping. Very little seems to actually cause discomfort in practice, and I am trying to avoid those things, but still I am sore afterwards. Plus still stressed about practicing with a teacher who is not my regular teacher. I feel like I am expected to do things that I don't feel comfortable doing, and which play on my need to feel safe in order to do anything safely. I feel like this would not have happened if my regular teacher was here..but who knows. Easy to make that sort of statement now.

I baked bread last night, to bring into the shala today for the holiday. Spelt challah with raisins and walnuts. Spelt dough resembles those mystery meal drawings from calvin and hobbes, where his food fights back. Gooey and gluey, but it turned out pretty good for a first attempt.

Lately, I have been wondering why, as in why am I doing this crazy practice. What does it mean? What have I gotten from it.

Or in the words of one of my favorite poets, Philip Levine, from Coming Close:

"Make no mistake, the place has a language,
and if by some luck the power were cut,
the wheel slowed to a stop so that you
suddenly saw it was not a solid object
but so many separate bristles forming
in motion a perfect circle, she would turn
to you and say, "Why?" Not the old why
of why must I spend five nights a week?
just, "Why?"

Happy solstice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The relief of getting to closing is the new relief of getting to seated

So much for refusing more new poses this month.

Got 2 new poses today. I know I am supposed to be excited to receive new poses. That is the typical response, but, for me now, they feel like more of a burden than a gift. I am a little jealous at times of people who are stuck at mari C or mari D, (though I do remember feeling so impatient to get past mari C). My regular teacher hasn't given me more than one pose in a day since learned the shoulderstand sequence. My typical response to new poses since navasana: oh no! Yeah, even on a good day, I don't much like a lot of change, even to something as insignificant as the poses I practice. I mean, what does it really matter in the long run if my practice has 24 asanas or 25. It is sort of like deciding what color socks to wear that day, which, in order to get ready quickly, has to be decided the night before anyway (and the whole idea of an interesting comfortable and warm outfit to wear as a uniform becomes more and more desirable to me every day).

Net result: my pokey practice gets just that much longer, plus, it means I am getting just that much closer to the dreaded idea of assisted backbending (hopefully that is still a long way off..just thinking about it makes me wonder..can I ask my teacher to never teach me that?). Before adding ubhaya padangusthasana and urdhva mukha paschimottanasana, my whole practice took 2 hours on a typical day. This makes 4 new poses in the past month, and with all the other changes that this teacher has made, I am just wiped out after practicing (not directly after, but an hour or two later). Amazingly, I managed to roll up to balance on my own when I had to repeat each of these poses- though it took a couple attempts. On urdhva mukha paschi, I have to hold onto my feet near/at the toes, to give my back a little wiggle room to roll up.

I am also, by necessity, working on waking up earlier (I so wish could also manage to go to sleep earlier). I have been feeling anxious at night about being able to get there early enough to complete my practice in a sane way and not feel trashed for the day. Today I caught the 615 train, but man, even arriving at 650am, that still wasn't quite enough time, with the new poses (which my teacher had me repeat right after she gave them to me, so more like doing 4 extra all those extra lift-up-scoot-backs, LUSB for short..). Ultimately, I need to learn how to speed up, and I am scared of making myself even more tired by doing that. By speeding up, I mean going back to 5 breaths from 8 in at least some of seated, my guess being eka pada padagasthasana through janu C or possibly even mari A, and some of the asanas after baddha konasana. 8 breaths on each side for all of seated except the major strength poses just feels better for me, energetically in the postures and for me to enjoy my practice. I really miss having some asanas that just didn't feel quite so hard.

The relief of getting to closing is the new relief of getting to seated. At least those (closing) postures have not been adjusted. yet.

I am grateful for all the attention from my teacher, and all the assists in the asanas, but my focus and energy level has definitely suffered a bit for it. Having this teacher for a few weeks feels like going to workshop where you get a lot of new and great feedback on your practice, but more than you can possibly integrate into your practice in such a short time, especially when you still have to work, etc.let alone wanting to have any sort of social life.

Hoping that when I have almost 2 weeks off starting later this week, that I can start to tame this mess of a practice into a more manageable thing.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I can really feel the lack of light this year. Not sure if it the weather, my stress levels at the holidays, or the practice itself. Getting up at 530 just doesn't seem at all natural at this time of year. I want to sleep 10 hours a night, which is truly unusual for me, as a long time 6 hours a night sleeper. Part of me is in hibernation mode, like a bear. Now I have the funny image in my head of a bear practicing ashtanga, well maybe they would skip the yoga and go straight to either savasana or the snacks afterwards.

Practice lately has been wiping me out. I think it is partly from having a new teacher for this month, and getting lots and lots of seemingly small adjustments to my practice, which seem to add up to an overwhelming amount of change for me to assimilate. Last week, I had a lot of stress about practicing and a large part of it was feeling overwhelmed by the depth of the series, and the feeling that I was just scratching the surface (though that is a fine place to be).

Today's adjustments included – turning the back foot out more in the surya B’s, extended arm/shoulder rotation in standing poses, arms/hands moved higher up the back in parshvottanasana (this time it felt more stable), knee positions in Janu A and C (no more lovely hanging out in the Janu’s for me..sigh. They were my favorite postures and the place where I would catch my breath finally after standing and before the ramping up of the maris), head back more in the second part of upavishtha konasana, baddha konasana squash, supta K, and a final paschi squash. I tried the new backbending procedure – instead of coming all the way down (to contemplate the ceiling for 3 breaths) place head down only between backbends. It wasn’t as brutal as I thought it would be. I am also trying to be more aware of when I come out of the seated asanas..inhale look up, and then come out halfway into the exhale to prep for lifting up. I was using the entire exhale before as lift prep. At present, I don’t have enough breath or whatnot to manage the correct vinyasa – lift only on the inhale. I still need to organize my body to be ready for that inhale. So be it. Paying attention to all this stuff is exhausting. Plus, most days my regular teacher would only give me 3-4 assists, and some days I would get none at all, which was fine with me. I could work on my focus and breath.

Bhuja report- still stuck to the ground on the way back up. The only improvement is that I can now jump my feet in front of my hands ( I sort of land softly on my fingers). This is probably not the best time of the month for me for anything that requires extra bandha strength, as ladies holiday was this weekend. I managed the sputa K exit, and I suspect for me, truly nailing the exits will come before I manage coming up from bhuja.

The solstice cannot come soon enough for me.

Friday’s concert, Mantra Percussion, playing Timber by Michael Gordan, was truly wonderful, even cathartic; best music I have heard in a long time (the only thing that might have beaten it this year would have been seeing Einstein on the Beach, but I waited too long to try to buy tickets). What amazed me afterwards was that this piece contains no improvisation, but feels fresh and spontaneous, like good jazz.

Friday, December 14, 2012

i will try my best to be on time, and squeeze the arms

Early one morning last week, I was on the train, on my way to the shala, and a young boy, maybe 10 years old, gets on the subway at 190th st, careens into a seat near me, and starts writing. were pages of this, my guess was 500 or 1000 times. (yeah, I'm one of those people who will look to see what my neighbors are reading) He was writing it assembly style...words in columns and working his way down each..for pages. I wondered why this kid was on the train by himself before 7am..awfully early for school for someone not in high school, and his apparent punishment seemed so poignant to me. At the same time, I struggle with chronic work (especially) meet do anything. I wondered what effect writing these words, this mantra, so to speak, would have on him. Would he be on time, would it just sail on by? What is the effect of the mantras we use, whether we choose to use them - i.e. yoga mantras, positive affirmations, other religious prayers, etc, or they come unbidden by us - those repeating loop thoughts in your head, the ones you wish would go away (which I am much too familiar with these days), or they are imposed upon us - such as this old school style school punishment. I have been thinking a lot about how what runs through my head all day affects me, my emotional state, in particular.

I am coming to terms a bit with the sub at the shala. Still having a bit of a panic before going to practice, since the intense (to me) assists in some of the postures are still rather scary to me, and I have to learn how to take care of myself. Plus the sore wrist (always something..or in my case..several somethings). I gave back a couple of the intense changes- back to grabbing elbows in parshvottanasana, and no more trying to get into full garbha (ie. not trying to hold my chin in my hands, a rather futile experiment right now). I did try bhuja a couple times.  First attempt went  pretty much like my usual. I did try to squeeze my legs into my arms, which never makes my upper arms feel good. Still stuck to the ground. I then asked the teacher, who was watching me, about how to come up, and she says, I have to do this pose more than 1 time each practice..So I repeat. She has me jump my feet in front of my hands for the first time ever. Less scary than I thought it would be. Then as I lowered down, she told me to not let my feet touch the ground. Squeeze the legs up! into the belly, so to speak. Never even considered that. I managed to still plop down, but I guess it was more controlled. Then the same direction on the way up. This was so hard..without the superpower granting teacher watching and encouraging me to do it, I would have given up. Still touched a foot down, but it was better. I am sure it helped a bit that yesterday was a moon day, but sometimes I think my bandhas are weaker the first day of practice after a rest day, despite the rest of me feeling stronger.

UHP is back to being a disaster, though today someone set up their mat almost under my leg when I was on the first part of the second side! I managed to hold the pose for some of that, but fell out when I came up, my drishte is just not that strong yet.

My first holiday baking attempt -mandelbread, though a bit modified from my stepmom's fabulous recipe (her mandelbread used to be what I wanted to eat on my birthday). In my supposedly healthier version,  chickened out of using all buckwheat flour in this batch, so it is only half buckwheat/ half white flour. Turned out a bit sweet, apparently sucanat is sweeter than regular sugar, and I have less of a taste for sweet stuff these days. Even the chocolate chips by themselves tasted too sweet to me. Of course none of this stops me from eating them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

focus = fail

Thinking about practicing at home again. Practicing earlier still doesnt make me on time for work! Good grief, I took even longer than usual, and I have no idea how or why. If this continues, I might have to give up on the shala after all. I need that extra half hour for sleep or commuting. I feel like my practice has taken over my life (how did that happen?), and that is not really making me happy now. I am wondering why I am practicing at all, when it seems like many of the things I want to do, I can't manage to get done with this practice.  I envy people who can finish primary series in an hour, while it takes me 2 hours to do primary to supta padagustasana and closing. Yet the thought of trying to go faster makes me panic and I end up taking longer, like today. Plus, just a month ago, even, I would have said my practice was the best part of my day, even if it was a weepy one.

Another day where practice just left me..annoyed. I was having issues with shala conditions. That is, hearing the conversation the teacher was having with a student (not a new student), leading the student through the series. I guess I have gotten out of the habit of hearing that much talking during practice, but I just couldn't focus. Ironically, a similar thing happened the day before, but it didn't bother me that much, but this seemed to go on for much longer, and make me even wonder, if it was me hearing all that, would I remember that much of it the next day? I have enough trouble remembering just one correction to my vinyasa for a posture. Focus = fail. Yeah, I'm crabby. Plus, on the way home tonight...I realized that my left wrist/forearm really sore, which has to be from practice this morning...having my index fingers pulled to bring my hands further up my back in parshvottanasana, or some odd after effect of supta K? The teacher who is subbing right now has really been pushing me to go further in a lot of postures..and I suspect it is too much change for my body to take in at one time, especially when I still have to go to work afterwards.

No mention of new poses today (thank goodness). A very deep supta kurmasana, as this teacher is really working on getting my legs behind my head (the assists always have this pausing moment where my leg is lifted and behind? my shoulder, but not touching my head..I think she is rotating the hip or something like that, it is different and more intense than what my regular teachers do, and also a bit unnerving). Maybe that has something to do with all the anger I have been getting a lot of hip opening postures, and being encouraged to go deeper in these postures (I tend to back off a little so I can focus more on breathing/drishte/bandhas, plus I don't feel like I need super duper flexibility, that strength is more important for me). She tried to have me lift up with my hands, with my legs behind my head, but I couldn't figure out how to do it..I guess my shoulders are too smooshed by my legs, or maybe my timing is off- do you  uncross the legs/feet as you lift up or after you lift up?

I am also still suffering from what Nobel would call bhujapidasana impotence (see his great posts on karandavasana impotence here.). First, there seems to be almost no improvement in getting my forehead down to the ground quietly -let alone my chin. Ok, it is a softer plop, perhaps even a more graceful plop, but still, a plop! landing, and I recently discovered that what seems like more control in the landing is me bracing one foot against my wrist. Second, once my forehead is on the ground, I give too much weight to my head, which leads to my main question: how the heck does one get back up without using the feet as leverage on the floor? I so suspect that it requires a lot less strength than I think, but I can't figure it out.Good thing figuring all this out wasn't required for moving on in the series.

So happy that tomorrow is a moon day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

don't be greedy

I used to have a close friend who would joke that I was a big greedo. Whatever he had, food, snacks, reading material, a sunny spot to sit in etc. I always wanted some of it, if he looked like he was having a better time than me.

Back at the shala.

Ok, feels like a world of practice and other changes have occurred since I posted last about practice. I am back at the shala, to make a long story short. My week of self practice was good, though I still am not immune to injuring myself when I am at home. My toe is still recovering from that botched Supta K exit. Moral of the story- don’t be greedy about making those exits or getting that pose every time. I knew right before I jumped that I shouldn’t be jumping, but I wanted to manage the exit every day that week..and sure enough, I landed really hard on my second toe on my right foot..and the rest is history. We won't go into all the pre-holiday stress I put myself through that week, that I am sure clouded my judgement (yoga as antidote to stressful life..well, it doesn't really work that way..more like pointer outer that my life is stressful, and that is the nice part) So, back to my recovery- I am still not back to jumping back in all the suryas (oddly if I land quietly when I jump back, which I can do, though not all the time, it feels fine on my toes) but I think it is slowly healing.

Practice lately has been bringing up a lot of emotions. Seems like a chicken and egg situation- do the emotions come up because of practice, or do I go practice because of these feelings, even if I don't always realize them beforehand. It has made for some weepy practices, some really and raw angry feelings after and during practice, etc lately, which has not made me want to post much about practicing.

Right now my teachers are on vacation and we have a sub at the shala. For me this is a big deal, as I am not great with change, such as getting used to new people or situations, and I have only had my shala teachers thus far. So I am trying to not get too stressed about having a different and more intense teacher for this month than I am used to. I can feel the change in the energy of the room, a bit more on edge at times and definitely more emphasis on precision in the vinyasa counts and postures. For me, this sometimes feels like information overload, even when the changes are small (and positive) ones. I feel myself working harder in the room, and experiencing many of the same things I experienced when I started practicing here (sigh). After almost having a meltdown after practice yesterday, I decided to try to go in really early, hoping that an emptier room would tamp things down a little for me.

I can either oversleep by an hour or get up an hour before (or more) my alarm…this morning I woke up at 4am..with a headache..which ended any ideas I had fostered of sleeping in till 520am. After an hour of trying to sleep more (what is it that the sleep gods have against me these days?), I decided to get up and I made it to yoga a bit before 7am, amazingly, for December. Really odd arriving there well before sunrise.

I think I managed to refuse a new pose today from this least for now, since I got a pose last week..yikes. I feel like I am on a runaway train lately with my practice. This fall my practice has grown from stopping at garbha to stopping at supta padagustasana (and it was setu bandhasana that I pose closer to the dreaded dropbacks, which are terrifying to contemplate). Once again, it takes me 2 hours, with my slightly longer closing. Supta P has oddly not improved the standing version of this pose at all. If anything it seems to be getting worse, though that could be lack of sleep. What has improved, unexpectedly, is my ability to fold forward and jump back more quietly in the suryas, and also, really oddly, backbending. I feel like there is literally more space in my spine. Even 3 days into the practice week, when the effect of my scoot-back vinyasas have usually taken their toll on my shoulders and my backbend. This just seems so counterintuitive to me, that forward bending can improve backbending, but I will  gladly take what I can get.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

when i'm mean 86

found this video the other day..a little inspiration for when we get older.

she's the senior gymnastics world champion, i think, many times over. I heard an interview with her, and she said she's always been athletic, as she used to be a physical education teacher, but that she started competing in gymnastics in her 50's.

Just goes to show what is possible if you keep practicing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

fall colors

happy thanksgiving. fall colors in manhattan. inwood hill park.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

sanskrit lesson

As I have all month, I practiced my sanskrit on the train, This morning, I talked to an indian man, as he was interested to know why I was writing in hindi. He told me that in India everyone has to learn sanskrit for 3 years; sounded a bit like how they required latin here a long (long) time ago. I know people sometimes look to see what I am writing, as I often look to see what other people are reading. But, it being New York, not a lot of people will cross over from curiosity to conversation.

                                                        exhibit A: this morning's practice

Learning sanskrit is a lot like learning ashtanga: you manage to do things well enough to make progress, and it feels good, but there is ever more to learn, especially in speaking it. English just doesn't have really good comparison in its phonetics.

Third home practice today. Managed everything ok on my own, and got supta K and exit all in one go. Even UHP went well: did both sides without a fall or needing second attempt (still have some dancing especially at the end of it, but hey). Not bad for not enough sleep (again) last night. It seems like if I my forward bend is deeper, maybe from within the hip socket, it is easier to bend forward over the leg, and to come up with more lightness and stability (the coming up part seems harder always). My torso seems to be more glued to my thigh, an odd image. On the first part, it still takes me an extra breath to fold over my leg, but that is a big improvement from before. On the last part, I bring the leg up a bit first then fold over it (this is as close as I get can get to that vinyasa count). Same with parshvottanasana, I am now more stable in both folding forward and in coming up. When I first attempted this posture in a vinyasa class, I could not bend forward without wanting to fall or lift my back foot. Such a different feeling now.

Still a complete mystery for me is how to come up from bhuja (I can go down about 2/3 of the way before the inevitable plop of my forehead hitting the floor..ok the plop is getting a bit softer these days). I know my weight is too far forward (hence the plop) but I can't seem to figure out how to move it back..and maybe my shoulders are still not strong enough to support my weight? So coming up feels like..stuck to the ground..stuck..stuck..ok, one foot..push..ok up now, what a lot of work THAT was. Well, there's always tomorrow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

last shala practice and jumping, scooting and hopping back

not forever...not that sort of last, I hope not, but last this month. Between the holiday, upcoming ladies holiday and more feldenkrais training, this is a good time to try some home practice. The other, more serious reason is financial. Going through months of bank statements was rather sobering; maybe I should have learned to balance my checkbook when I was younger. The shala fees are too much for me right now, so home practice it will be.

Practice this week has been good, unusually strong. I think my stresses over the holidays, my career (or lack thereof), and recent events have translated into a renewed focus on the vinyasas. Oh, and I also saw, hands down, the best video on jumping back, for those of us who are bandha/core strength and wrist challenged. What I liked about this method is that: it gives you a lot of options for how you get back depending on how much energy you have, etc..drag the feet through and slide them back, lift and send the feet back, drop and hop hop hop them back, send the feet back and land on a toe/foot and hop back. By looking forward (rather than down) you gain lightness and maintain momentum to get your feet back to chatauranga.

and trust me, even with me almost dragging my feet through my arms today (vinyasas get a bit weaker as the week progresses), that is more than enough for me. The feeling of the vinyasas at the beginning of the week was, wow! this feels possible..I will be able to do a no touch jumpback in my lifetime. Thanks Kiki! My jumping through also seems stronger because I feel like I am using less energy in the jump/scoot/hop back. Plus the bakasana exits from bhuja and supta K happen regularly, if not very neatly, though I have also started falling on my butt again sometimes in both of these.

The only side effect, from working on the vinyasas (and I can't say for certain it is from that) is that I have to pee mid practice, unless I have had a rest day the day before. Is this the dirty little secret of  learning to jump back (and jump through)? Am I working too hard? Or is it that the muscles just have to get stronger? Is this a female specific problem? I asked a male friend, and he never experienced that..but he also could do floaty jumpbacks from day one..sigh. It makes me feel like an old lady, hmmph.  Any suggestions and feedback would be appreciated.

Monday, November 12, 2012

i love this mat

No, this is not an ode to my manduka travel mat, which is fraying, by the way. The extremely humid summer at the shala did it in. It is still quite usable, but next summer I will have to get manduka to replace it. I think it took about 3 months for it to start wearing out. This is what I get for sweating buckets during practice over the summer, and not learning until it was too late, to roll the mat up with a scarf to keep the moisture at bay.

No, this is an ode to this mat:

the padmanailmat. A friend of mine lent me his mat, and I quickly bonded with it. This mat is great for sore muscles and injuries. I use it just about every day, for a few minutes. It may look ouchy..but it isn't. It gives you a sort of accupressure massage, which seems to work well for me, as actual massages don't seem to work well with my body. I can feel the energy move from blocked areas when I lie on this mat. Brilliant. While massages seem to stir things up too much, and create recurring patterns of tenseness and soreness ( I am convinced my wrist issues would have been better served by not getting bodywork of any kind), this mat just gives my muscles a more gentle release. Standing on it was particularly helpful when I whacked my toes from a botched bhuja exit this summer.

Oh, am I glad it is a moon day tomorrow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

and on to the konasanas

I haven't really wanted to post much about practice lately. It's been..well, emotional on a daily basis. I am either teary in the suryas (and/or when I am doing my pigeon prep before starting). Other days, things in the shala will annoy me..stupid stuff like how the person in front of me put their rug down, or if I feel hemmed in, though honestly, I am used to truly crowded practice rooms from Jivamukti. And I won't even go into what's been going on in my head before practice these days.

Today was no different.

I did manage to have a good practice in spite of feeling agitated initially by where I was practicing in the room. I even moved my mat after the first surya..called it a do-over, and started again. Oh yes, and I somehow forgot what I was doing in that first surya..too busy eyeing the empty space behind my mat, and suddenly realized I had stopped at the forward bend after stepping forward from downward dog. Later, I managed UHP on both sides by myself, with much goofy arm antics after the second nose to knee on each side. Still, no falling out of it. I am mystified about how to make the transitions in one breath. I need extra breaths to get my nose down to my knee every time.

The other thing that seems to be returning after a longish hiatus, is the exits from bhuja and supta K. This, I think, is due to a small change I have made in my so-called jump/hop back. Now, I am focused on keeping my head up and looking forward, rather than down at the ground. I remember my teacher telling me that looking forward and keeping the chest lifted was the key to those 2 exits, but after impaling my toes while jumping back from bhuja, I have been too afraid to really attempt them. The past week, I have found myself suddenly able to get my legs organized in such a way that I can jump back from bakasana. Not every time, and it could be a lot cleaner, but it feels more solid than it was before I whacked my feet.

I have gotten 2 new poses in the past month, baddha konasana and uphavista konasana. Baddha konasana was really weird to learn. I mean, I thought I knew how to do it (wrong!) and then I thought, maybe my arms are too long for the C variation (years of slouching over my desk have not helped for this one). I still have to figure out how to not use my hands/arms as much in all parts of this posture, but it will come. One day, I was even sure I had hurt my wrists from trying to use my hands too much for leverage. Meanwhile, I have either learned to lengthen up from my spine, or my arms have shrunk a bit.

Today after practice, I had my second sanskrit class. I almost have the alphabet down, as in writing it and sort of saying it. I can place my tongue in the proper part of my mouth for the consenants..but the sound I make does not seem to resemble the sound the teacher makes. Learning just the little bit so far makes me really appreciate chanting, which I have always loved, even more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

pratyahara at work

I went to work today, after a week off due to the storm. I work in the financial district, so I got to see some of the damage of the storm, and feel the change, the withdrawal of life, in the neighborhood where the flooding occurred. Shops and parks closed, rent-a-generator trucks humming along on the side streets.

At work, there was another kind of sensory withdrawal. No phones, no cell reception in the building..and no internet. Oh no! How can I possibly not go nuts at work, I thought at first. After a little while I settled into this unexpectedly quieter day.

view from the christopher street pier, 2010

Sunday, November 4, 2012

daylight savings yoga

The once a year chance to relive an hour..happened while I was sleeping, of course. Hope everyone enjoyed the extra hour.

window at Time Pieces, NY. summer 2012

From sanscrit class today i learned (2) important things. First, after about 10 minutes of chanting, I realized that sanscrit is read from left to right (it just reminds me of being in synagogue..and kicks in my instinct to scan from right to left for patterns in the almost indecipherable hebrew text), and second, that my apartment might have been trying to say om..ohm..aaaaahhhhuuuuummmmmmmmmmm during the storm.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

post hurricane home practice

My experience of the hurricane was mostly annoyance beforehand - why are they closing the subway- again!, and also - why are they cutting my feldenkrais training weekend short! followed by slightly stir crazy feelings waiting for the storm to show up. Yeah, not too yogic, I know. I did take a lovely walk with T in my neighborhood late Sunday night. No sign of rain, yet almost no one was out, and very little was open: the 24 hour supermarket by my apartment building, the bodegas, and twin donut plus (wonder what that plus refers too..). Where I live in upper manhattan, the storm was mostly a lot of spooky sounding wind (that's what I get for living on top of a hill and facing northeast). My apartment sounded like it was making haunted house sounds

..aaaaooowwwooooohhhhhhhh.... aaaawwwooooooooooollllhhhhhhhhh

Maybe it was the radiator pipes or some such thing. I only hear it when it is very windy. I must admit, I am a complete wimp about this stuff, and had to retreat to the only part of my apartment at times that didnt have a window. Still, Irene last year seemed worse in that respect.

I know I was lucky: I didn't even lose power and there is no flooding in this area of the city. I just have the inconvenience of no subway for a few days as well as a few days off from work. Though what seems like a holiday for me, is not for many in the city and in the metro area.

So, back to the mat:

Today was my first practice after 3 days off, as ladies' holiday showed up on Sunday. I could have even taken today off, but I felt like I really needed to practice. I had a bit of a weepy start during the standing poses, but things evened out for me after that. I managed to fully bind supta K on my own, the trick for me seems to be - don't worry about looking ridiculous in order to get the hands to bind- sort of a rocking back and forth to get my arms and legs in position - sort of reminds me of the side to side in parsva dhanurasana, and then once I grab my fingers, waiting till there is space for my ankles to cross. Last part is the relief I feel when I lift up. The exit was, well, fuggeddaboutit..somehow I am terrified of trying those exits at home, as if the furniture will attack my feet or something. 

I have been thinking a lot about the recent terrific post at the confluence countdown, on holding students back, and I guess what was interesting to me was the idea of getting something enough to move on, vs. mastery (or maybe I should say meeting a certain phyical standard - ie. binding in mari D) in order to move on. I would definitely say my teacher falls into the first camp rather than the second. I also see people working into second without needing to stand up from a backbend (whew). I have noticed with the poses in primary, that each new pose seems to help, almost by osmosis, the poses before it. For my practice to look pretty, that would take years, but that is not really all that important to me. Stability, stamina, even-ness of breath, bandhas(whatever they are), and quieting my eyes and my mind, all seem much more important than whether I can do a pretty lift up and jump back from supta K. There is plenty of time for these things to improve, if i just try my best to pay attention to what I am doing.

hope everyone is safe and dry.

Monday, October 15, 2012

when you least expect it

no, not a new pose. my supta K exit, such as it is, came back today. Probably just a one-day thing, like a sunny day in the middle of a grey week, but it took me by surprise.

Practice at the shala, doing all the vinyasas, took less time than yesterdays' home practice. I guess being at home makes my already slow practice even slower. I really don't understand it at all. Skipping vinyasas between sides seems to leave me more tired and somehow is never faster than doing all the vinyasas. Clearly the ashtanga gods don't want me to rush..ever.

I am debating trying to practice at home this winter, for both financial and commute reasons. I feel like I spend my life on the subway, which seems to be a fact of living here (unless you are a lucky soul who lives down the street from either your workplace or your shala). I am really torn about it. On the one hand, I love the energy of the group practice (although I have also been bugged by a number of things there too), and I love having wonderful teachers there. But I am also worried that tend to do more at the shala than I would at home, which perhaps is the cause of many of my injuries this year.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Phooey on no wheat..and first home practice

Yeah, I give up. Didn't even last 2 days. No wheat may be better, but is practically impossible for me. I consider it a luxury for someone who is either rich, or lives in the suburbs, where you can go right home after practice.

So be it.

I had my first home practice this morning, as the shala's holiday hours didn't work for those of us who don't have today off. I was really concerned about making a lot of noise at 630 in the morning (my old apartment floor isn't exactly quiet), but it turns out that I was less thumpy in my landings than I thought. Quiet landings only happen after a rest day, then things get progressively louder. I gave myself an easier practice, skipping vinyasas between sides, which strangely took just as long..if not LONGER. Yeah, must be that I slow down on my own, especially as I get to the mari's. I did take time to try supta K a second time, and lo and behold, I could grab my hands and cross my feet. It took a little maneuvering, but I know it is possible on my own. I need to clear out more space in my apartment before attempting the exits. I am still fearful after all my toe/foot injuries. It will come, eventually, or not.

Garbha was good, and I managed to lift up (well, almost) directly from the rolling. No performance anxiety before I started the rolling. I wonder if it is that mindset longer having an internal drama which marks really integrating the posture (even if I still can't fully do the posture). Recently, UHP is no longer causing me great drama, and I am somewhat steadier than before, though doing both sides without falling out at least once hasn't happened yet. But just the thought of not having an assist for it is not worry inducing (or the thought of falling even with an assist!). Funny how certain asanas can create such worry and fear! I mean they are only asanas (easy to say this now that practice is long over).

I just started placing my palms down (as much as possible) in the suryas, and I notice that this seems to give me better energy in the suryas. I have also noticed that doing a simple hip opening stretch  before practice also seems to help my breathing in the surya B's, namely my nemesis-the nefarious inhale into warrior 1. Since I have been trying to learn tango, my right hip is much tighter at times, and I can sometimes feel it in my knee. Stretching before and after practice seems to help.

It was nice to see the sunrise, one of the benefits of facing east-ish. And also nice to hear my own breath. and to have breakfast at home afterwards.

And I managed to somehow be later for work than much for the idea that practicing at home will save me time!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

appetites, and no wheat day 1

My first night of 8 hours sleep in, well, I can't remember how long. So needed. I was tempted to just sleep some more. It was refreshing not to wake up famished, as I usually do on Saturdays. Probably due to ladies holiday this week. While I keep thinking that yoga is supposed to reduce my appetite, the opposite seems to be the case.

For me the phsyical cravings I need to learn to ignore are for sugar, even some raw fruits and especially dried fruit..are too much for me. I will never understand juicing. I cook for myself a lot, which helps greatly. This also allows me to indulge in 2-3 trips a week to the different farmers' markets in new york, which have to be some of my favorite things in the city.

I read a lot about how people tinker with their diets to practice ashtanga, and I have been doing this too. Today is day 1 of my attempt to do a wheat free week. I am already wheat free at home..but it is so damn hard to maintain it out and about in the city.
I found this sweet hazelnut-rye slice at hawthorne valley farms stand today. Finding no wheat snacks at the farmers' market is tough.

What I have also been thinking about lately is tinkering with the practice to adjust it to my constitution, because I want to stay a vegetarian and do this practice. If I have to eat meat (to maintain my energy levels) to do this practice, perhaps this practice, in its current state, with all the attempts at lifting up and jumping back and then jumping through is not for me.

When I started this practice, I had no previous experience as a gym rat. My previous 1 1/2 years practicing at jivamukti seemed to have little effect on my ability to do this practice. I could not even do 5 surya A's in a row without stopping to take extra breaths, and without becoming drenched in sweat. My practice has come along way (physically at least) in the past 8 months. When I started, I was very concerned with whether I could learn to complete the primary series. Now, at garbha, I am less concerned about the speed at which I am taken through the series. I need to build strength and stamina, which takes time, especially in my mid 40s. And especially if I want to do other things too.  For me, this is the hardest challenge with practicing ashtanga: how much is appropriate for me. I still wonder if I am charging ahead too quickly.

So maybe the appetite that has abated a bit is the one to finish this series in a year, or ever. It is a silly goal, though hard to let go of. Do I need to learn to stand from a backbend? Yeah, it looks cool (in a slightly terrifying way), but I will not be any better as a person for it. Some postures will never happen for me, like grabbing my ankles in a backbend or possibly kapotasana.

In addition, some new appetites have developed. For instance, learning a new dance -tango. Meeting more people and maybe also doing volunteer work, if I can find something (oddly difficult in the city). My feldenkrais method training, which I (almost) accidentally started a year ago, I have come to realize, is truly a good fit for me. I still have concerns about learning it well enough to become a good practitioner. All these things developed in part from my practicing ashtanga, and are much more important to me than whether I finish primary series or intermediate, etc.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

pms practice


Today felt like I was practicing blind. Not that I can feel much energetically on a typical day..but today was..almost nothing. I felt heavy, tired and all my landings were with a thud. I even cried during practice (another telltale sign). On days when I know ladies holiday is imminently approaching, should I shorten my practice? I am surprised that now, after 8 months of ashtanga, I can tell the day when my period start by the quality of my practice..when this was never the case before. While I completed my whole practice this morning, I wonder if I should do less, when I feel less in my body. I think I might stop earlier if I was practicing at home. Somehow at the shala, I feel compelled to do more, like a tired child running around in circles to stay awake. I am just happy I survived my practice without any new injuries..though my wrists and forearms have been mysteriously sore all week, and today was the worst.

At least I celebrated later with a mini chocolate bundt cake (which I gobbled up before thinking to take a photo of it) at the local coffeeshop. I finished reading Maya Lassiter's book: Children of the Fallen. Fun, fun read. She really knows how to write interesting and convincing teenage/young adult characters.

Looking forward to sleeping in a bit tomorrow. Now I know why it is called ladies' holiday. Whew.

Monday, October 1, 2012

breathing, feldenkrais and primary series

Now that I am starting my second year of training to be a feldenkrais practitioner, I am finally supposed to do the lessons in Feldenkrais' book - Awareness Through Movement, so that I can learn to teach them to others, being, for the moment..the members of my study group. It can be really hit and miss doing the lessons from the book by myself. Sometimes things just connect in amazing ways, giving you a real A-HA! moment, and other times (more than I would like to admit), I can still feel completely lost trying to imagine or perform a movement. It is very much like practicing ashtanga, in that it is a very internal practice. I miss the energy of my fellow trainees, when we are all together in the training. Creating a home feldenkrais practice, along with my ashtanga practice (which is thankfully at a shala), is a lot at times.

The lessons often have interesting results, some of which I won't notice til the next day, in my yoga practice.

Today was one of those days. Sunday, I did a lesson on breathing. Breathing lessons (and eye lessons) are very easy to fall asleep from, and as usual, that almost happened! Then, something interesting occurred: I started to realize that the way the lesson instructed me to breathe, and the positions it had me try with this type of breathing, were very similar to what happens in the primary series. Now Feldenkrais himself was an expert at judo, so clearly he understood mula bandha, though never called it that. The breathing technique was simple - inhale and expand your chest in all directions then puff out your stomach as you exhale (yes, weird but it works). After doing this lying on my back, on my stomach, - trying to breathe into one side of the chest and "out" the opposite side of the stomach. This asymmetric breathing reminded me an awful lot of the seated section in primary series.  The lesson continued by with breathing on your side, sitting up, kneeling, basically to experience breathing with the chest in different (mostly rounded) positions, to get you to breathe into the sides and the back rather than just into the front, as we typically do.

At the end of the lesson, I felt a lot more awake (after an hour of deep breathing) and my breathing felt much easier and deeper, and at some points in the lesson, I could feel myself breathing into the back of the body and sometimes feel the beginnings of mula bandha arising from my breath (for me, a sense that the inhale connected all the way down my spine to my anus in a lifting action, though more as a movement than an energetic charged feeling).Normally, in my practice I have been attempting to simply (hah!) imagine it, which is how my teacher suggested I work with it.

No, no great amazing mula bandha revelations during practice today. I could, however, feel my breath was deeper at times, especially considering my lack of sleep the night before. In shoulderstand, I could suddenly feel myself really breathing into my chest rather than my belly, something I often find almost impossible (maybe since I am not using a blanket to prop up my shoulders..this being the only prop usage that I actually miss from vinyasa classes). Oh, and I felt amazingly energized after practice, until about 4pm, which also surprised me. Usually on days where I have not slept enough, I can get really tired and/or feel really cold an hour or two after practice.

I will definitely be revisiting this lesson.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

it's easier if you get it right the first time!

 Well, dating has gotten no easier since I last tried it. oy vey. I still make some of the same bad bad decisions that led me to stop trying to date over a year ago. It also reinforced my feeling that people I meet when I go tango dancing are (probably) not people to date. I guess that was no great surprise. Still, the attention was sort of nice, though I feel no better at handling a situation where the other person is much more interested in me than I am in them. (I have got a long long way to go here!) On a positive note, I got to hear some awesome music at the Metropolitan Museum: the Danish indie band Ekterklang.

Sometimes I truly envy my cousins, who are high school sweethearts..and still together, 20 years later. Seems so much simpler. Get it right the first time; stop wondering if there is something better lurking just around the corner, instead of focusing on what is right in front of you.

Back to the mat.

Those re-attempts at the bhuja and supta K exits, as well as the last bit of garbha, are just plain exhausting. Yesterday, I must have tried a dozen times to lift up into the last part of garbha. My attempts had been mostly mad roll/hops onto my hands..and sent me bouncing back to the floor almost immediately. By the end, I couldn't even lift and leave my knees on the ground; it was that bad.

Managed my first lift up at the end of garbha today. This time I lifted slowly, and that made all the difference. I could feel a bit of an arch in my upper back (same in uth pluthi) I also had a bit of a break before it, as I managed to beach myself twice before my teacher rescued me (and watched me as I beached myself one more time!). I also managed the exit from Supta K on the first go (no falling back on my butt which is my usual first exit attempt), which amazed me too. My feet still missed my mat, but I think they were close to it. I am getting a bit more that action of moving my chest forward as I send the feet back. I also realized today  that I can practice this every time I work on my jump (a.k.a. lift, drag and scramble) back. Moving the chest forward is scary; it feels like the last thing a sane person would want to do, but actually makes the jump possible. Getting stuck trying to hold myself up is a lot of extra effort, both in my practice on the mat..and off.



Friday, September 21, 2012

soon means soon

I feel like I have a backlog of ideas that I want to post about..and a lack of time these days.

I have also been tango dancing a couple times in the past week.

But first, practice report:

Got a new pose this week: garbha pindasana. Definitely less scary than kurmasana and supta K. Funny part was the day before my teacher gave me the pose..she tells me that we will start working on garbha "soon". Now soon to me didn't mean tomorrow..I was thinking, oh, a couple weeks from now, maybe. I even told her that the last couple poses she gave me seemed to arrive when I had completely given up on thinking I would get the next pose anytime soon. (I remember thinking I'd be on navasana all summer, and lo and behold, I got bhuja the very next day). Maybe I had let go of the expectation of getting a new pose, or of the expectation of somehow succeeding at the current pose anytime soon. Letting go of expectations seems to be a theme in my practice.

Day 2 of garbha was interesting. I didn't beach myself at all. Not sure how many times it took to make the 360 turn. My lotus, on the other hand, seemed to have a lot less space for my arms than the day before! Lifting up is a mystery, I seem to be resistant to the balance point, though I surprised myself that I have enough strength when my teacher puts me at that point. Then she lets go, and I plop down. Definitely a work in progress. She had me start working on the jumpback from the lotus..whoa, I have no idea how it will be possible for me to eventually balance on my elbows, in order to raise the knees and pop out of the lotus. I sort of slide out of lotus and back to chautauranga.

A new pose also means new sore back and shoulder muscles. Still trying to work with my gimpy right shoulder/neck combo. It doesn't seem to affect my practice much (yes, wondering greatly if I should be doing less..the trouble with practicing at a shala..much more temptation to do more), but it never leaves for long. I figure I will get stronger and it will be less of a problem, but that will take a while. I am hoping this weekend will loosen it up a bit.

Now for the tango

I used to dance salsa a lot a few years back. I learned a bit of tango, but never enjoyed dancing it as much as I thought I would. The people were weird and maybe the intimacy of the dance itself was something I was not completely comfortable with. The truth is, I stopped dancing pretty much completely a couple years ago. I got tired of the salsa scene in New York; I used to dance with a friend of mine, and when went our separate ways, it was ever as fun again. Last Saturday, I decided to check out a really nice outdoor tango event in Central Park. I had planned to take the lesson, but I somehow didn't see where the lesson was being held, and plunged straight into dancing with people. I had a blast. I know I truly tortured my first few partners (I was nervous and remembered very little) but if I could quiet down inside, I could follow. Technique..well, that will take lessons, and a lot of practice. I was surprised how fun it was, even when I would sometimes trip over my own feet or my partner would step on my toes. My attitude about doing it "right" had completely relaxed from what it used to be. And I have a date this Saturday with someone I met dancing tango. All this very soon after I had announced to my friends that I would like to start dating again (though I was not thinking that dancing would lead to dating, as it never really did with salsa). Soon seems to always happen sooner than you think.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

fantasy vs. reality on the mat (and off it)

I have had a bit of writers' block since my last post.  I can definitely feel the moon today too...had all sorts of plans for today, and I think I will take a nap after I post this, then see how I feel.

I got to see the first ever bit of video of myself practicing yoga..not at my current studio, but at the Jivamukti master classes back in January. It wasn't horrible..though I did make a really funny face in upward dog (let's hope it was mostly because of the adjustment I was receiving and the weird case of performance anxiety I was having at the time! More likely it was me not breathing. I felt like I could not move fast enough, and it was making me crazy).

I am visible at 1:58 (bending down, while everyone else is in chautauranga) and again at 2:02, being adjusted by star teacher dechen thurman (yup, uma's bro).

These days, every time I get on the mat, I am confronted by the difference between how the practice feels and how it most probably looks to an outsider. Parivritta parsvakonasana, for one. Each day, I think..oh this is so deep a posture today, then I look down as I exit it, to see how my front leg is hardly bent at all, and that my arm is in front of the knee rather than wedged against my thigh. Personally, I find this amusing. I am so relieved to be past where I was in the spring..where the posture made me want to puke, plus, I am realizing that change happens so slowly, that I should focus more on my breath than on how deep I can bend that front leg.

The jumpback is another place where fantasy seems to run away with itself. Now, when I say jumpback, I mean placing my hands down, lifting up to almost lolasana (feet initially off the ground) and then dragging the feet through the arms, etc. How on earth to keep the feet off the ground at this stage??? Much more practice needed. Earlier this week, I had the distinct feeling that I had made a lot of progress and that this transition would be possible. Maybe I was placing a tiny bit less weight on the feet once I got them through the arms, and maybe I managed once or twice to transfer my weight forward just a mite sooner than normal..which led to the feeling of doing a modified jumpback, a la Kino's terrific video. The next day, reality struck (back) and I was again back to my normal lift, scoot and then run out of energy - needing to use my feet and legs a lot to get back to chautauranga.

I guess what interests me more than whether I can do these postures and transitions, is that feeling of being quite deep in a posture. That feeling has no apparent correspondence to the physical reality of the posture (or maybe I have no business comparing it to say, the picture of the asana in a book or what I see in a video or see someone else do at the shala). I don't think I am comparing myself too much, or, let's say, it is at least a good bit less than when I started. I am becoming more aware of my body, and aware of my misconceptions about my body (and the mismatch that often occurs between my thoughts and actions). I'd like to say that reality is winning over fantasy..but perhaps the best I can say is that it is gaining some ground.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

how to finally start an ashtanga practice..although not at home

how i started ashtanga practice..

After reading Mayaland's great post on how to start a home practice, I thought I would share my own yoga journey. I really admire people who have a home practice, because I am not sure if I could manage that..for now, I need a teacher and a place to go for practice.

In my late 20s, I walked into my first "ashtanga inspired" vinyasa yoga class in Portland, Oregon. Back then, there was no mysore practice in Portland, though the teacher hosted some sort of self-practice morning time at the studio, which was a mere 3 blocks from my apartment. Back then, however, the thought of going somewhere early in the morning seemed nuts. (now I would kill to be so close to my shala..ok, maybe kill is a bad word choice, but you know what I mean) And while I loved the vinyasa class, I was also completely mortified by it at times. For one, I sweated in it..which was soooo embarassing to me (the room was not remotely warm...this was the northwest, remember), and the breathing that my teacher did and tried to teach us..just the sound of it scared me. Plus the fact that I was a total weakling who could barely hold downward dog, or hold my arms up in warrior 2, let alone perform the mysterious chatauranga. A few times in those first classes, my teacher would demonstrate chatauranga next to me to show me how to do it..though I had no core or shoulder strength to do it. Still, I went to class each week, and even practiced some at home, without a mat. This was also before everyone owned a yoga mat..let alone a manduka. Eventually, the teacher moved the classes to another neighborhood and that seemed too far to travel for class. I continued with vinyasa classes at the nearby studio, and at least was happy that I was practicing regularly, even though it was a hodgepodge of vinyasa and hatha classes. Eventually, I met someone, and the yoga kinda disappeared from my life.

Then in my mid 30s, I bought Richard Freeman's into to ashtanga? video (yes video...i seem to always be behind in technology). Just the sun salutations exhausted me. I am not sure how many times I used the video. Interestingly, I don't think I ever watched it much past where I was practicing to. I guess I am not really a video or dvd practice person. It is either completely on my own, or with a teacher.

Attempt number 3..ok, not ashtanga at all, but just the am/pm yoga dvd that a friend of mine used every day for her practice. I would use it as a warm up and then do a little on my own afterwards..somehow the spacey music seemed good at the time.

Attempt number 4: vinyasa yoga at a studio in nyc. Whoa, my butt was seriously kicked. Maybe yoga is too hard for me.

Attempt number 5: vinyasa yoga at that same studio, maybe 3-4 years later. Still hard, but I figured out that if I practiced a little at home, it made the class a little easier. This then morphed into a year and a half at Jivamukti, working my way up from 2 beginner vinyasa classes each week plus home practice 3 more days per week, to a 6 day a week practice. I finally learn the elusive chatauranga, headstand, and to jump back in sun salutations.

Attempt number 6: A little over a year ago, I had tried to just do the sun salutations from primary series at home. I thought maybe I could gradually learn  at least the standing portion on my own, while I continued to practice at Jivamukti. Total fail: it was too hard on my shoulders, still, and I got so out of breath..and this wasn't even doing the surya b's. It was pretty disheartening.

Much of the inspiration for me to try ashtanga again came from the yoga blogs I read. The blogs I enjoyed the most were all ashtanga yoga related blogs: My Yoga Blog, Grimmly's blog, Yoga in the Dragon's Den, and many others. I loved reading about how people did their practices, both at home and with a teacher. Reading these, made me realize that it might be possible for me too. I must have listened to every one of Kino's podcasts. I too, wanted to hear about the practice from a woman's perspective. I was especially interested in how to develop strength in practice, and I am not just talking about physical strength.

One reason that going to a shala works so well for me, is that, besides having found wonderful teachers, I am fairly flexible but not particulary strong or good with endurance. When I tried to use a video in the past, it was completely the wrong pace for me. I need someone watching over my practice a little bit so I don't hurt myself (not that it always works out that way) and so that I didn't give up, especially at the very beginning. For the first 3-4 months, I would have some anxiety every day as I stepped on the mat- could I even do all of standing without wiping myself out. Many days, hearing other people breathing and practicing gave me the reassurance that I could go on with my practice. Now, almost 8 months into my practice, I no longer worry about completing standing..but most days I am still awfully happy and a little bit relieved to sit in dandansana.

Monday, August 27, 2012

the hungry yogini

For a while I was really amused that this was a search term for my blog!

This morning I was once again..the hungry yogini. 

Both yesterday and this morning, I kept feeling famished during practice. After practice, I felt like my day at work was organized around finding healthy and filling food to eat. Lots of snacks. I thought that this was supposed to make my metabolism slower..but I guess not yet.

I also think I am fighting off a cold, so that might be why I am low energy in the morning, and why I feel so hungry. Six days a week practice is quite a lot, both mentally and physically. Today, I got up, and reset my alarm as I felt so tired, even after 7 hours sleep. I have never been a long sleeper, but 7 hours seems to be my new ideal.

To conserve some energy today, I skipped the vinyasas between sides. It paid off, as I managed both bakasana exits today..not good ones, but I landed in chatauranga (still missing my mat! how to get my feet closer together, that is a mystery.) No toe casualties either. Of course, I did the first one on my first try lifting up out of bhujapidasana (and my teacher didn't see much for me showing off..ha ha). Now to manage these poses without a big break before each- towelling off sweat, catching my breath, etc. That will take some time.

Yesterday, I discovered that keeping more of my weight behind me in bhuja translates to a bit more graceful landing, i.e. a softer forehead plop! I have no idea how to shift my weight in order to come back up..without resting my feet on the floor. I am also noticing the relationship between where I look and where I end up when lifting up. Looking on the floor = falling back on my butt, and looking forward usually gets me up in a stable way. Same with jumping back from bakasana- looking forward makes "jumping" possible. Looking at my mat means getting stuck in bakasana and slipping instead of jumping out of it. The difference in where I look is also one of not having fear about how the exit will turn out (especially as this is how I impaled my toe). My massage therapist did tell me something interesting: the soreness I am feeling around my collarbone- tensing those muscles happens when afraid. So my new mantra for these fear.


Friday, August 24, 2012

what is advanced?

My second 6 day practice week, for ashtanga, as I used to practice 6/days a week before when I practiced vinyasa style. (and included my first true self practice at my aunt's house on Sunday). This month I am trying to practice every day other than moon or rest days (or ladies holiday, which always seems to fall on a moon or rest day!! hmmph!!), to see what the effect will be. Before this, I was practicing 5 days a week pretty consistently this summer. Of course, I chose the hottest and most humid week to start this adventure..and promptly injured myself after 1 week, probably out of exhaustion. Now I am trying to learn to be less ambitious with my practice, and do a little less when I am feeling low energy. The energy required for 5 or 6 consecutive days is quite different than when it is broken up with a rest day in the middle.

I have been reading guruji lately, and in interview after interview, the idea of an advanced practitioner does not necessarily coincide with a person who has an advanced asana practice.

Meanwhile, at the shala, the people whose practices inspire me (in addition to my teachers) are those who show up every day and practice and have a good energy about them, lightness and an ability to not take the whole thing too seriously (I am aiming for this..but it doesn't always happen!). These are not people practicing the advanced series. When I talk to them, they explain how years of daily practice really helps them in their daily lives.

I see some changes in myself from the past 2 1/2 years of practicing yoga, and especially from where I started my ashtanga practice. But I am also realizing many hard and not so wonderful things about myself in the past few months. Hopefully this too will pass or at least evolve, with more practice.

Really happy that tomorrow is a rest day, and looking forward to a massage today.

Monday, August 13, 2012

have i just been blindly charging ahead?

Those vinyasas for bhuja and supta k are out to kill me (just kidding).

I feel like calvin with his bicycle:

Calvin and Hobbes
                                              image from here

Though I don't share the learn at all costs mentality that Calvin has here.

Yet again, I have really banged up my right foot. This time, the second toe is turning a nice shade of dark red, and I am wondering if I might have broken something. Instead of impaling it in an attempt to jump through, it was the exit from Supta K. I jumped, but my legs were too low, and instead of landing on my knees (better), I managed to land in an almost bellyflop chautauranga, but with my feet off the mat, and directly down on my second toe (which is longer than my big toe..or perhaps I would have even more problems than I do now).

Ice and ibuprofen aren't doing much for it, and sore toes are just not compatible with all the walking I do here.

I also wonder if my flexibility is as much an obstacle as a blessing. If I was less flexible, I would likely be at a different point in the series - ie. not as far along, and would have more of a chance to develop strength in a more measured way. Plus some poses are easy for me to do incorrectly, because I am flexible- I have to remember to engage my legs, etc.

I am also wondering if I would be better served practicing at home, because then I would have full control of the timing of my practice. I get so few assists normally - prasarita C, UHP and now Kurmasana and Supta K, and an occasional light paschimo at the end -though only supta K would be a dependable daily assist (she can get me in the full pose, so I suspect I could teach myself to get into the pose, eventually, though  I currently feel completely trapped in kurmasana). I prefer the space and the energy of the shala- it is so nice to practice with others - it keeps my practice energized. Though I can't help feeling like I would not have had all these injuries if I practiced at home. I am always on a slower pace - I hold everything I can for 7 or 8 breaths after the suryas (only very strength dependant poses are held for 5 at this point) to get deeper into my breathing if possible, and to keep the relentless pace of seated from overwhelming me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Practice was exhausting today, by the time I arrived at bhuja, I felt like rubbish. Couldn't manage the exit on bhuja or supta K, even with my teacher trying to help me balance after supta K. When you are cooked, you are cooked.

I made one important discovery- looking down my nose makes a huge difference in my practice, energetically and with the breath. Still didn't save me from the heat, but it was quite an eye-opener. In downward dog, it made me engage my legs more and focus on my breathing (and took away the icky overstretched feeling I was getting from having my heels on the ground), while in seated it made me focus more on trying to lengthen up through the ribcage rather than in the lower back.

So this makes 5 days in a row of practice, and I definitely need a lot of sleep tonight, as I didn't get enough last night. Full weeks of practice mean sleep becomes more important than ever. I guess I will learn this the hard way, as always.

Hoping for at least 7 hours tonight.

I was so tired later, that when I went out to buy wool yarn for a skirt I want to knit, I lost my metrocard.  Someone or something is looking out for me though. When I retraced my steps, I found a metrocard on the sidewalk- this is the upper east side, and I guess people have too much money to be bothered to pick up a metrocard? Turned out it wasn't the one I lost, but it had some money left on it so I didn't have to buy a new one to get home. Then I called the bank to figure out when I bought my monthly card, I discovered it was to expire at midnight tonight.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

it's turtles all the way down!

The image of a stack of turtles came to mind after I left the shala today. Something about having my legs and arms moved about in Supta K. 
So, in honor of getting kurmasana and supta kurmasana today, I have always liked this story:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
—Hawking, 1988, A Brief History of Time

Hawking uses it as an example of how what we think we know can seem ridiculous to others.. and as a reminder that it could later seem just as ridiculous to ourselves. How do we know what we know, he asks. 

The same with yoga practice. How do we know what we know? The body and the mind change every day, and the practice reflects that. What seemed impossible one day is possible the next and vice versa (unfortunately, ha!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

the practice of not knowing

Slept in this morning..til 630. Made it to the shala a bit past 8, giving me enough time for standing to purvotanasana. I am finally going to try to have a 6 day practice week, my first since I started with ashtanga in January. Today became an exercise remembering the big picture: that it is more important to practice daily than to force myself through my full practice every day. I will have to build up to 6 days in a row of full practice over time.

Practice today was pretty uneventful. I missed the heat, and I was wicked sore everywhere.

I am still working on bhuja. No idea how to lift up without putting my toes on the ground (guessing I need a bit more strength and to find the proper balance point) or to to jump back once I get my legs into a low bakasana. My teacher pointed out that I need to look up and lift my chest up when I jump, rather than look at the floor. I tried a couple times, and landed in a modified bellyflop. Pretty amusing thus far. I am thinking this will be weeks if not months of further flopping fun til I get this. Will getting this transition make me a better person? nah.. But it is fun to try.

I feel like something is slowly shifting for me this summer. One of the things that the feldenkrais trainers constantly told us was to get comfortable with to the feeling of not knowing. I discovered that I am (still!) not so comfortable with this feeling, although I felt that way most of the training..often that I was just touching the surface of things, if that much. Knowing is security, permanence..not All my insecurities were activated: am I doing this correctly, what should I be feeling, that person I am working with knows better than me, they are all better at this than me..and on and on. The thing is, as I talked with other people in the training, I found out pretty much everyone felt this way at some point. The trainers would say that if we thought we knew something..we really didn't. This is a real practice in itself, learning this method, becoming more aware of my body and my thoughts, and most importantly, accepting not knowing.

Not knowing has been a real tough thing for me always. I could accept that somewhat when I made art, but not, say, in my personal life. When I was younger, the ambiguity of whether or not a guy I went out with liked me...well, that was too much for me.

This yoga practice is the first place where I don't feel a sense of urgency to know everything. In time, I will learn what I need to learn; it can't really be rushed. I am getting more comfortable with not knowing, falling over, trying my best but not getting as attached to the results.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

worth the wait

At last, I found a chocolate croissant via Hawthorne Valley Farms at the farmers' market. I have been craving one for a couple days, but the options in my neighborhood are not so good for pastries. Over the years, one of the things I have slowly been giving up is wheat. Never altogether, but just having less and generally wanting less. Though I can always make a happy exception for some good bread or other snack item.

Guess I should have photographed it before I ate it, but it was goooooood. Lots of gloriously melt-y chocolate from the heat.

Here's the aftermath:

Enjoy your rest day.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

mindfulness in practice, summer reading part 2

I started reading the two books by Ellen Langer: Counterclockwise and The Power of Mindful Learning.  Both books describe how we can improve our learning experiences and even obtain better health if we think in terms of possibilities rather than absolutes. Counterclockwise talks about a study that she did with elderly men, who, when immersed in the culture of 1959, and also envisioning themselves at this time, actually felt, acted and looked younger as a result. It shows the power of the mind to reverse the effects of aging (though perhaps more the effects of boredom or being under-appreciated by their families). What she writes seems pretty obvious to me, but that it is documented by all sorts of studies is what makes it powerful.

Langer writes: "A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and and implicit awareness of more than one perspective." (The Power of Mindful Learning, p.4)

Practice yesterday was exhausting for me. I don't know if it was the humidity, that it was day 4 in a row of full practice (I usually do 2 days, rest day, then 3 days, rest day, etc..though I want to start to change this) or that it was from trying to figure out why on earth my right knee was sore, or more likely, all three combined. My knee wasn't achy in the joint, but sore above and below, and had been getting worse all week. Even downward dog was a problem for it yesterday! At that point, after the suryas, I realized it would be a modified practice.

Whenever I ask my teacher what to do when something hurts, she always invites me to use a mindful approach: listen to my body, work around it, notice how it feels (ie. do my wrists feel better after a few suryas, or do they feel worse), notice if it depends on the weather. Often this frustrates me, not because it is not a good approach..but that sometimes (ok, most of the time!) I want an absolute answer where none is even warranted. Plus, an absolute answer can lock me into a view of my injury that is limiting (ironically, I can see this easily with my friends, but not so easily with myself). Much of the healing that seems to happen seems to be predicated by my deciding that the injury is no longer a "problem" or a "limitation".

So, back to my achy knee.

I decided I would try to do as little to aggravate it as possible, and I would try to pay attention to how it feels, rather than just plunging straight ahead into my full practice. Lotusing still was alright, though bending over the lotus was not so good, and when I arrived at Janu A, I couldn't fold at all without pain in the knee! So I stayed upright and just breathed. No tears, no panic, just accepting that this was all I could safely do today. In Janu B, I realized that it was my right hip that was so tight - I could feel my IT band throbbing- and after sitting upright for a few breaths, I slowly started to fold forward and held it longer than usual in order to stretch that achy hip. Yes, 2 days back at work after a week of not sitting at a desk, along with the repercussions of my previous injury to my right foot, my right hip was extremely tight, and pulling on everything around the knee. For the rest of my practice, I took it easy on the right side and went slowly. While it didn't do great things for the energy of my practice yesterday, it was a great exercise in mindfulness.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

summer reading

My attempt to read Kino's book has been delayed for a couple months, til more are printed. I decided to buy Guruji instead, which I have been savoring this week during my breaks from my training. I am only about a quarter way through it, but I especially enjoyed David Swenson's interview. His circuitous path to his asthanga practice really resonated with me. I always have this image in my head that people who are great teachers find this practice early on and don't stop practicing once they start, and that they don't try other styles of yoga or other things altogether. I hope I get to study with him at some time.

I ordered some books by Ellen Langer on mindfulness and learning, and of course more books by Moshe Feldenkrais. What I need now are some good novels to read.

I am a bit braindead from the 9 day Feldenkrais training. Hopefully, I will manage a post on that later this week. It has been a week of kinesthetic dreams, mostly yoga and/or family related. I discovered today during the training, that I can fall asleep lying on my side with my arm up in the air; made me feel like a little kid again.

Practice today was good, but heavy. I felt weak, even though I had a rest day on Saturday. The highlight of the day was that I managed to walk my hands in during my last backbend. It is not the depth of the backbend that I cared about, but that I could lift my hands one at a time to move them (no snaking them along my mat). I must be getting more weight in my legs at last. I have been able to stay an extra breath or two at times this week, and I want to build up my time in my backbends to strengthen my legs. My balance also seems to have returned this week. I did UHP by myself twice this week, and it went pretty well both times. I think I just fell out once each time, before the last bit on the second side. I don't know if it was the Feldenkrais, or maybe a bit more sleep, or both. I hope it continues.

My rather uncontrolled jumping through has also been scaled back to jumping with crossed legs and working towards having some control when I land (maybe next lifetime?). I miss the flowing sense of jumping through with straight-ish legs, but after impaling my feet on my mat, I can live without it for long while. Plus, it gives me a little more energy for the rest of my practice, which I could definitely use. 

Lastly, I am slowly realizing the importance of the breath to the practice. This is what I most want to work on now.

Monday, July 23, 2012

more thoughts about disorientation

I guess I have always liked moments of disorientation..not drunken where am I moments, but anything that makes me think twice about which way is up. We spend our whole lives oriented to gravity, so that when something overrides it, it is a pretty memorable event.

The E, F/ V station at 51st and 5th ave has a very long escalator with a diagonal ceiling that will challenge your sense of which way is up. I used to enjoy the feeling that up was at 45 degrees to where it normally is when I rode this escalator.

I have never been to the santa cruz mystery spot..but it is another good example of this phenomena.

When I was little, I used to love spinning spinning spinning in one direction, and then suddenly going the opposite way (or just stopping) and feeling the room seem to spin around me. As an adult, however, that feeling somehow doesn't feel so fun anymore, as I remember from a recent dance class.

I remember the first time I did a headstand by myself. It was at home, maybe 5 years ago, and I watched a video on it, and said to myself: I can do that..and tried it. I was up at the wall for maybe 5 seconds, and it totally blew my mind. It was hard to believe that being totally upside down would have such a startling and disorienting effect on my perception. I was transfixed for that brief moment. After all, I could bend down and look through my my head would be upside down, yet this did not have the same effect. My nervous system simply couldn't understand the paradox of how I was essentially "standing", but upside down. Subsequent attempts at headstand never had that effect on me. My body now understood what that new orientation meant.

With the feldenkrais method, it is those moments of disorientation where you actually learn, That is the nervous system, or the brain, learns. These moments reveal our missing pieces in our self image. We just don't normally have too many of these experiences after childhood, because our families, friends and society become more important than what we actually sense and feel in our bodies. I had a one on one session today, as part of my training, and at the end had the wonderful and intense feeling of my feet feeling heavy, grounded, really fixed to the floor with the weight balanced across them, while the rest of my body felt so much lighter than it normally does. I hope I can carry some of that feeling onto the mat tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

disorientation, double bhuja and injured again

Twice this week my pinkies touched the floor (assisted) in prasarita padottanasana C. The first time (Sunday) was so disorienting: I felt like I was standing on the ceiling and reaching down to touch the floor. Afterwards, I actually had to ask my teacher if that was the floor! It made me think how infrequently we let our sense of control go, because knowing your orientation in space is a sort of control. It was a total surprise to me, but I guess my arms and hands were quite a bit closer than I thought. I tried to pay attention to it this week, and could not tell much: it is hard to determine how close my arms are to the ground once I am partially upside down. 

More work on bhuja this week, namely trying to do the exit. I asked my teacher a question about it, and was rewarded by having to try it again. Keeping my arms a bit wider and making sure my hands are straight (I tend to turn one out in my down dog) helps a lot with the pressure on my wrists, while trying to squeeze my arms with my thighs is more of an idea than an actual action. Since I have gotten bhuja, my body has reacted with a round robin of new sore areas, after every practice. The latest was sore sides, which was probably also from my improved (mostly) jumping through. I finally started to get the vinyasa to flow more, and to be able to jump through (bumpily) more consistently. I was really starting to enjoy this new feeling of a more dynamic flow in my practice. 

The downside of the jumping through, is, however, missing the mark! I really bruised my right foot, in the line of the pinky toe, when I dragged it through in my landing, somewhere around mari B. Before that, I was finally feeling like my wrist isses were under control, my ankle had healed and I was surviving the rocky first weeks of bhuja and jumping through. The yoga gods give, and they taketh away. Yes, it is hours later, and I am over the first mental panic over this. I am very happy tomorrow is a moon day. Hoping the ibuprofen will help, and that I didn't somehow give myself a stress fracture.

Finally, I watched Kino's video about the experience of practicing in Mysore. Oh, I do want to go at some point. I have felt that way since I started this practice, but also fear it being too much for me ( if I would only not push myself so much, even inadvertently, I might not constantly be injuring myself). My favorite part was her talking about how being in Guruji's presence made her physical pain from an old injury go away once and for all. She spoke of how pain is really something in the mind, that the mind creates (both the physical and the mental kinds), and is a pattern that can be changed both with practice and especially in the presence your teacher. It reminds me that I can still practice with an injury, especially as injuries bring up the trifecta of fear, anger and the desire to give up.