Monday, April 30, 2012

Quiet morning at the shala

I was reminded once again how the quality of my breath often seems dependent on hearing others breathing. I told myself before I started that it would be a quicker practice..nope. My practice has ideas of its own. Maybe slightly quicker in the transitions between the Maris, but I just forget to try to stay for the required 5 instead of 7 or 8 breaths in seated. I had to attempt UHP on my own, for the first time in a month (last time, I asked my teacher if I could try it on my own..big FAIL). This time, I made it all the way to extending the leg in front at the end..and then fell out on each side. Definitely some improvement there. And I am realizing that worrying about the posture while I am in the posture is at least as exhausting as doing the posture...if not more so. Or maybe it was that I had a little more sleep last night. Or both.

My mugwort tea bath seems like it was a success. I tried steeping the leaves in hot water, but ended up dumping the leaves and the water into my bath. Pineapple weed tea, on the other hand, was not so hot. The taste of the tea resembles chamomile, which I don't particularly like, rather than pineapple. The raw flowers do taste like pineapple, however. Picking plants in the park to use as food, etc on Sunday makes me feel like a little kid again.

                                                         pineapple weed

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last of the marichasanas..part 2

So I definitely fall into the bendy (and apparently twisty) but not strong (or good endurance) category of practitioner, though I don't consider twists easy or fun at all. Bound Mari D by myself on both sides today. I was expecting this to be a whole lot of drama (judging by what other people have said to me, and what I have read), that I would not be able to bind for a long time, etc. but lo and behold, I can bind (and even breathe a bit in it). It‘s not great, but it is a decent beginning. I just got the pose last week. I suspect it also helps that I tend to take a long time about my practice, with 7-8 breaths in almost all the seated postures (that way I am less exhausted at the end, from the vinyasas, ashtangi vinyasa count police be damned). I think those extra couple breaths do a lot. Eventually, I am sure I will cut it back, but for now it seems ideal.

Every day, when I get to the mari's, I have to regroup a little after each one, and I wonder if letting myself regroup has been helping me get deeper into the postures (such as it is for a beginner).  The marichasanas exhaust me. Weirdly, D now feels the easiest energetically of the 4, which I am sure either means I haven’t really gotten too deep into it yet, or that I am relieved to be done with them.

I have also been spending the weekend trying to make up missed training days for my feldenkrais program, and doing Awareness through Movement lessons. In the lessons, they emphasize the necessity of resting. For feldenkrais, the rests are when your nervous system integrates what you have done and actually learns. You are supposed to try to do each movement with a quality of attention as if you are doing it for the first time. Probably a great attitude to take into my yoga practice as well.

Really hoping that navasana is NOT coming this week. That is a pose I rather dread. I have no idea how the legs can be straight, let alone doing so many of them at once…

Last week was also my first week of going 5 days a week to the shala, since my injury. It made practice feel energetically better, and helped with my memory problems (ie remembering what pose or side of the pose comes next-yes, I can very easily forget what side I am on in seated!). I rewarded myself Friday with a trip out to King’s Sauna in NJ, which was pretty awesome. I can’t remember the last time I did something like that by myself. I am definitely going back next month. It isn’t as posh in some ways as Spa Castle, but it is also not a day trip just to get there and back. They had a sauna and a hot tub with mugwort (I think that is what it was)..very rejuvenating. Being a Korean sauna is open 24/7 (just like Koreatown here, which is the only truly open all night part of Manhattan, as I know from my salsa dancing days.)

I went to a wild edible and medicinal plants walk in my neighborhood today. This is my first attempt at wild plant cooking. Sauteed violet leaves with wild spinach, onion, garlic and hemp seeds. Going to try making mugwort tea later to add to my bath, as it should relieve my rather sore hip muscles.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

the last of the marichasanas

Today I got marichasana D. Totally unexpected. I had begun to assume that it would be a while..and I was pretty ok with that. I realize that all my - I want the next pose and the next - is dropping away, well, at least a little bit of it is. There is so much to learn and explore within what I have been given already, and that will keep me busy for a long time. Plus, every time I try to push myself to improve all those vinyasas..I am rewarded with a new sore body part...right now it is the front of my right ankle/foot, from the too hard Kino jump thrus. Maybe next year. Whether I like it or not, I have to accept what my body (and mind) can do..things go oh so much smoother in practice when I do.

The other surprise was that I could bind in D- with my teacher's help- just hook my fingers on each side. I have no idea how to make that space on my own. It didn't feel as exhausting as marichasana C..but I had to wait for my teacher to start on D. Mind you, I am very happy that this is the last of the marichasanas...they do quite a number on me, as a whole. Twisting does not come naturally to me. I can't even fathom how one does these with the proper count.

My recent home project of baddha konasana (to help my tight inner hip muscles to open..which is supposed to help me not have ankle pain when idea if it is working for that) seems to be having a real effect on UHP. My legs go higher than before, especially my right leg. I can see why this pose was originally taught after people learned the rest of need the extreme hip openers of the second half of primary to help you do this posture.

My big distraction during seated was my towel. yes, the one I not to use too much to wipe off sweat. I felt compelled to move it from one side of my mat to the other after each seated posture, even if I didn't need to use it. Ridiculous!  But also hard to resist.

No blanket theives at the shala today..and mysteriously, another blanket appeared in the basket.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

a is for anxiety and apple pie

Is there something about ashtanga that makes one crave sugar? This is what a friend of mine claims, that the effects of practice, for him, is the same as eating sweets.

No yoga Tuesday rest day, while I figure out how to get enough sleep during the week, so I can practice the rest of the week in the mornings. Amazing how much calmer I am on days I practice. And how much I seem to need and/or want to eat on days I don't practice, especially sweets.

Apple pie at the farmer's market...sugar rush...ahhhh.

Monday, April 23, 2012

yoga is NOT making me a better person, apparently

One of those moments today that shows me how far I have to go, not in the asana practice itself, but in the practice of letting go of my emotions.

At the shala this morning..someone took a blanket off my arm (which I was using to relax my tense forearm and wrist) while I was in savasana!!!! Yeah, they just made enough noise so I would open my eyes, then took the blanket--like anyone can hold a conversation in savasana. Since when do people think it is ok to disturb someone in savasana?

The person used the blanket for finishing postures...although there was another (thinner) blanket still in the basket, which I then I tried to use for my arm..but alas, I could not relax completely again.. I almost said something to the person on my way out, but I did not want to disturb her practice.

It is not so much the odd/rude behavior that bothers me now, but that it bothered me for such a long time after it happened. 

My practice this morning was ok..much less energetic. All that jump..drag..drag..drag for the jumpthroughs yesterday took its toll...on my foot. Serious cramping last night and this morning before practice. I need to learn to respect my limits, and all those vinyasas in primary seem to be exactly where I find myself at my limit. Breath, strength, and endurance in all those transitions. Every practice becomes an experiment in how to do them in a way that won't cause injury (because of too much effort) and will not mess up the flow too much. 

I did get a great assist in marichasana C. How can my teacher find so much more space for me to twist, when I think already at my limit...I could almost get a better bind on the second side because of it. Making space in twists is a real challenge for my rather untwisty body.

Practice today at least seems to have straightened my foot out, but I arrived at the shala thinking I might need to stop at UHP. Yesterday was a Tigger practice, and today was more of Pooh...don't try too hard. Breathe. Repeat.

Jumping through messes with your mind

ok, a little late with posting this...on sunday, I got up an hour before my alarm..what' s up with that. couldn't sleep even though it was grey and 6hrs my new 8hrs? Must be.

The shala was a madhouse. People were starting their practice in the finishing room, and I had to wait a few minutes to even get a space in there. I think there was at least 20 people..and the main room fits 12. Ashtangis seem to like to practice when the weather is bad. I used to see the same thing happen when I would go out salsa dancing. 

I made it into the main room before the end of the suryas. The rain, the crowd and the heat running..made for a hot and humid practice room. I tried a new approach to jumping from downward dog to seated position (thanks to yogagoddess for posting this)...which took a whole lot more energy than I thought it would..whoa. I think I will go back to my plopping jump tomorrow; I need to build up to this more strenuous jumping. I must must must temper my inclination to go full throttle at something that my body and mind isn't quite ready for yet. Whenever I try anything new in the vinyasas, it really messes with my mind and my breath during practice. Each time I would jump and/or drag my feet through to sit, I would need to regroup for a moment, because I couldn't remember what comes next: which pose, which side, etc. I am always a bit like this in the seated portion of the sequence, but it felt extreme today.

My highlight was actually managing a real chakrasana (ie. landing in chautauranga rather than on my hands and knees). Well, in my second attempt: the first became a belly flop, which was interesting as well. I wasn't even trying to do just came out that way. After practice, I talked with a couple women who are longtime students of my teacher, and they said strength is not so important, but that eventually by using the breath you will be able to do a lot of stuff that you never thought possible.

I wonder what monday's practice will bring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

5 steps forward..5 steps back?

New gimpiness with my left wrist. ugh! I wish I knew how to avoid this stuff happening to me. As always, the most gimpy injuries seem to never be accompanied by sharp pointy pain (to quote Kino), but either by nothing of note at the time or maybe an odd sensation that is not painful at all. I think this is related to some carpal tunnel issues. I used to knit a lot..and last fall, I decided to knit a shawl right before and after a jivamukti yoga immersion...too much handstand at the wall, plus too much knitting did my wrists in for weeks after that. I haven't knitted since, or really worn that shawl (of hand pain)!  Since this happened on Monday, I did the usual- got a massage, took a rest day (which coincided nicely with my ladies holiday), and slept with castor oil wraps on it.

I got very little sleep last night. I have got down the early rising, but not always the early to sleep the night before. I heard the birds at 430..what are they doing up that early? or was it 530? Yet somehow I was still late to yoga-815 start time (!!!).

Almost right away, my teacher nixed my vinyasas on closed fists -said it causes all sorts of other problems (shoulder issues perhaps, and from the 2 sun salutations I did that is not the best feeling on my knuckles either) she wanted me to work with hands flat and just work around the sore area, and see if I could get a pain free sun salutation by going did work, eventually, but I wonder what this will do to everything else. I feel like I am now imitating what I used to do with my hands when I started practicing a couple years ago...hmm. but if it will get me through the next few practices, I guess I will deal with it.. Flowing from upward dog to downward dog is harder on my hand than being in any specific position. I skipped someof the vinyasas between sides in seated, as they were tougher on my hand/wrist at times, (and I made sure to stop and stretch out my wrist often). I guess my one highlight was that I didn't fall apart emotionally over this (well, a bit on Monday, but maybe I am learning a bit of patience).

Oddly the only poses I could not figure out how to modify were full wheel (tight shoulder is causing this whole thing I think) and uti pluthi (which I aborted, though I did my modified step back exit from it with no pain, go figure). Definitely an "I made it through practice alive sort of day". Not many people at the shala this morning when I got there, which was quite a contrast from the last 2 weeks, where it was full by 8am. I like the sleepier shala better, it feels so un-New York-ish to practice in a room of 4-5 people.

Wrist is still a bit sticky. Hoping a bath tonight will take care of that. Looking forward to that moon day on Friday - have an outing planned to Spa Castle with a friend. And fingers crossed, will try to start going to the shala more often starting next week. I think it is the split practice (between ashtanga and jivamukti) which is causing me problems now..rather than helping.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Closing time

No, not ending the blog. Got headstand today. Thus ends the getting of asanas that I can do, though not often with ease, or anything approximating ease. It was one of the lightest and most focused headstands that I have done, with my teacher watching, of course (super asana and focusing powers once again when she is watching me). Also, by that time in my practice, I am tired and rather looking forward to savasana, so it takes a lot of effort to hold the posture, which keeps my mind from wandering too much.

My biggest challenge these days is focus, as in not getting distracted by whoever is on the mat next to me or looking to see who walked in or out of the room, especially during the standing postures, where I cannot practice continuously (having to take a breath or two between standing postures is a real focus killer, even if i need it for keeping my breath). The shala has been a little more crowded in the mornings, so I have been practicing in different spots in the room (not always by choice). I am attached to my corner spot, but I rarely seem to get there at the right time to get it. Today, the people on either side of me started a few minutes after me, but blew right by me. This always reminds me that I have to let go of my need to compete (go faster? not possible. compare their form to mine -do I look like that in chautaranga? feel bad - why am I so slow?).  My focus improves a bit once I start seated, because the forward bending feels more internal.

I wonder what headstand will be like next practice, when my teacher is not watching.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You are stronger than you think

I learned a new cool transition yesterday-chakrasana. Thus far, I land on my hands and knees and have to crawl forward into chautauranga. My teacher helped me the first time, and then I magically managed to do it myself the second time (while she was watching- having your teacher watching gives you special powers to get deeper into any pose than you would on your own- I know-I felt it in uttana padasana-which I managed to hold for 10 breaths for the first time). She said chakrasana is more scary than hard. I was amazed. I tried this at home quite a while back, before I even started with ashtanga..only to be totally beached on my back.

Today, I felt much heavier, clunkier and my breath sounded awful again, almost wheezy at points. How to transition to more than 3 days a week of this in an intelligent manner..still must figure that out. Even though on my non-ashtanga days I practice Jivamukti style (which is still quite intense, though in a different way). I will try to up it to 4 days a week next month, and see how that goes. I need to learn to work hard, but not 100% all the time, because that is too much (unless the yoga was all I have to do in my day). I also need to think about when to try to jump back again (I am scared of really damaging my ankle/lower leg and I am not sure if it will ever heal to a point of zero discomfort, even without jumping). I am afraid that if I wait too long, I will have forgotten how to do it..Ego ego ego.

I did manage my baby version of chakrasana again, though it took a couple tries. I had to psyche myself up with my new mantra for this transition- it is more scary than hard.

Good thing to think of, as I am also contemplating moving, and getting a roommate..all to live closer to downtown. When I moved to New York over 10 years ago, it never occurred to me how much time I would spend on the train every day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Move Into Your Human Unsuccess

I just finished reading, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. One thing that stood out for me was a quote by Marion Woodman, who was a student of Jung:
"Don’t try to transform yourself. Move into yourself. Move into your human unsuccess. Perfection rapes the soul". She was talking about not ignoring the shadow side of your psyche, because it will come back and bite you (as it did at Kripalu in the 90s)

No chance on perfection in ashtanga. It is a daily meditation on failure and letting go, in one way or another. Something can always be improved. Today I tried UHP on my own. Big fail. I thought that since the room was not crowded, I would be able to focus and balance. Nope. The moment my teacher starts talking or someone crosses my field of view, I am doomed. Also, I can’t seem to figure out where to look. Drishte down the nose means look at the nose, at the floor, a point on the wall? I think if I could calm down my gaze, my balance might improve. But that was ok, and I went on with my practice. Maybe it will be better next week.

Bending over backwards

Last Friday I got to add backbending to my practice. A half wheel and 2 full wheels. Now I feel like I have a complete practice..with some closing poses too. I want try to transition to more days a week of ashtanga, and less of the vinyasa style I have been practicing (jivamukti). It is very complicated going to 2 different types of classes, in some ways. I have to plan my week to fit both places in, and the classes I like at jivamukti are in the afternoon/evening..which is hard to reconcile with morning practice. After overdoing it a bit (or perhaps more than a bit) when I began practicing ashtanga, I realize that my body needs 24 hrs to recover and integrate the previous practice. I was making myself so tired and sore before, and I don’t need to do that.

I am surprised at how the marichasanas take so much out of me..even mari A, a pose I normally really love when it shows up in a vinyasa class. For some reason, I could not catch my wrists in my last practice, and even with the looser bind..I felt so drained after it. In mari C, I can sometimes feel the opening of the upper chest, but not that day either…I will be amazed when these postures eventually become second nature. Now I have to sit for a moment and equalize after each of them, before going into the next vinyasa. (all those posts I have read on keeping correct vinyasa count..that is something to dream about at this stage in my practice). I remember how the whole character of my practice changed, just from adding Mari C, adding a new intensity to it, and now that pose seems to have worked its way backwards to the rest of the maris (I can only imagine what effect mari D will have)

My ankle has been bothering me less the last couple practices..but it is too soon to tell if that means I am really healing. So hard to be patient.  The moment it feels better, I rush in and try to do too jumping in the suryas, not even near that again, but a bit too exuberant in step/jumping back during seated. On a good note, the lotus postures in closing really stretch my right hip. By the time I am in padmasana, it is pretty intense on my hip, but I am staying with it, and I think it is helping somewhat. It is all the sitting at work afterwards that seems to be more of a problem. Meanwhile, I have new (old) gimpiness in my left wrist..thus far, I have been able to carefully practice on it, and not have it feel worse afterwards. Must be nice to have a body that doesn’t get injured so easily..

Sunday, April 1, 2012

your brain is smarter than you are...

I have been thinking about this sentence the past week. It was the mantra of my latest feldenkrais training segment, which was all last week (hence a big blank spot in blog posting, as it was a challenge to just practice and do the training). In the training, it was another reminder NOT to try too hard to when attempting to make or improve a movement. By relaxing and trying less, we can accomplish more. (yes, I admit it sounds a little Yoda-like.) Harder, yet, to consciously follow it..

During the lessons, I often wonder if I am trying too hard (and am probably not alone in this in my training)...glossing over the beginning of whatever movement I am supposed to be making..when that is the most important part, albeit the most difficult thing for me to discern. Then there are moments in the lessons where movements become easier, more fluid, sometimes surprisingly so, after a lot of awkward explorations. 

This mantra of sorts reminds me so much of what my teacher at the shala tells me when I am struggling with a posture or with the practice itself:  relax into your breath, or let the breath do the work. I find it a most inscrutable direction at times, especially when I am struggling to balance or to breath. Relaxation is the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, anxious thoughts such as, will I wobble a lot on my “bad” side, will I manage as deep a pose as last time, will I get a new pose today, or even what’s that person doing over there, can fill my head. It also serves as a reminder to let go of the individual postures, as the attainment of perfect postures is not the goal.