Thursday, May 31, 2012

next time do 5 navasanas, not 3

Yes, I know there are 5 navasanas in primary, but when I got navasana about 2 weeks ago, I only had to do 3. I must say, 3 is plenty; in fact, it feels like more than enough for now. I am often shaking at the end of the first one. When I notice anyone in the shala doing navasana, I don't recall seeing anyone do more than 3 (ok, I generally only notice the people right next to me, and only some of the time, so it is possible I have just missed it..still 5 is a lot of navasanas, and ought to be hard to miss, no matter how fast people are going). Is this pose like the suryas, where once you get to full primary, you do less of them?  Or is it determined by whether or not you can do navasana at all. Anyway, it is quite a curious thing, maybe best not thought about too much. My approach to navasana is: don't anticipate it or else I will psyche myself out (that "oh no, navasana next" thought I have every day in the middle of the second side of mari D). Just do them and breathe. I wish I could apply this to other areas of my life.

Lately, I feel like my practice is scratching the surface of the series. That's ok. Means there will be a lot more to discover over time: the breath, the bandhas, watching my mind in the practice, the transitions, getting into and out of the asanas, the asanas themselves, and the awareness of my body in the asanas. I have been eagerly reading, First There is a Mountain by Elizabeth Kadetsky. In it, Iyengar describes samadhi as total body awareness in the asanas (of course now my book is at home and I am not). Hmmm..much like Tolle's use of body awareness to come into the present moment. 

Back to my practice report...

My jumpback attempts are continuing along. Today I managed a few times to scoot the feet under when I lifted my butt and sort of jumpback from there. What is good about this method is that it does not hurt my wrist. I need to learn how to lean forward more when I lift my butt, as I think I should be jumping with bent arms. Lifting up fully is too much on my wrists because I still lack the proper shoulder strength.

I am thinking about going to David Garrigues' workshop on bandhas and pranayama in July; it looks intriguing because these are two things that I really know very little about in practice.  I do wonder if I am anywhere near ready to learn about either of these subjects....I suspect my bandhas are nonexistent, and from the few pranayama attempts at Jivamukti..I was pretty unsure about pranayama as well. Breath retentions were (and I am sure still are) scary.

Monday, May 28, 2012

half way there and laziness

This is a bit of a catch up post.

I got navasana over a week ago...only funny part was that I assumed it would be quite a while longer til I got it. It seems that whenever I have the "I will have to wait a while" feeling...that's when I get a new pose. Maybe my teacher is waiting for me to not be expecting a new pose. Navasana is definitely not a pose I like...yet. How to keep the legs straight is an utter mystery to me (as it is in the last part of UHP). Must be a combination of mental laziness and phyiscal lack of strength. I rather suspect mental laziness plays a larger role than I would like to believe. I always think I am not strong enough (..after all, that lift up jumpback seems light years away for me..although I think my chatauranga is fairly solid and the surya jumpbacks are improving) But I wonder if I am limiting myself by thinking this. Anyway, by the third navasana, my legs and even upper body are shaking..and I am definitely sinking a bit towards the ground. It will be interesting to see how this posture develops, and if it does indeed help me in UHP.

A further note on mental laziness: I have been allowing myself to be more "lazy" in UHP when I do it unassisted. That is, I do what I can, and after the first time I fall out of it..I let myself skip the last bend over and touch, if it seems like it will make me fall out of it again. I prefer having the flow of the posture less disturbed with a lot of falls, even if it means not quite doing all of it. I can definitely feel when my ability to pay attention is waning, which is what makes me wobble and fall. For me, this pose seems to need a higher degree of attention than many of the other asanas, although it might also be pointing out how weak my overall focus and attention is right now.

My continued attempts at doing less is still a work in progress, to put it kindly. Anytime my wrist feels better, I return to my full practice (all vinyasas), although I think I should let some of them go for a while, until the wrist is really healed. It is fear of losing any of my much worked for strength that eggs me on to do more than I should.

After some very sweaty practices this weekend at the shala, I finally caved in and ordered a manduka mat and a mysore rug. I felt like the wicked witch of the west on Monday: dissolving into a puddle of sweat. I was slipping all over the place on my jade mat, and I have never really liked the microfiber mat towels - except that they are light when dry and easier to carry to and fro when necessary. In New York, it's all about carrying the least amount of stuff possible. I am really looking forward to having a mat that is not a sponge, though I wonder if I sweat too much to make the rug a practical choice for the summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

places, everyone

Steve's post at on mat samskaras really struck a chord with me. Monday morning, the room was pretty full, so I placed my mat in the second row (I practice at a tiny shala, so full means 12 people), which is not my favorite spot. Later on during standing, my favorite spot just in the front corner opened up, and I had to pause and remind myself that practicing where I started was just as good. But oh how that spot was calling my name.

When I started practicing ashtanga, every time it was open, I would take that front corner spot because it offered less distractions for me, and I was often next to someone whose practice steadied mine, because, I could hear them breathe and they went at a slower pace too. When I first started practicing, in led classes as well as for ashtanga, setting up next to someone with a strong practice (=strong breath usually, and maybe strong physically) would really help me. I usually preferred to be next to guys, as you could hear their breathing more easily (why is this, anyway?) and they seem to be a little slower), which helped me to remember to breathe, and gave me the (needed) illusion that I was doing a little bit better than I really was. It takes less energy to practice next to others with a good practice, than it does to be all by myself. Their breath, focus and energy rubs off on the people around them. I can feel the difference between the energy of my practice when there are 3 people in the room vs. 10 or 12.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

the discipline of doing less

I really enjoyed reading nobel's post on the opening prayer. I love the opening prayer (and especially hearing my teacher chant it), and my practice doesn't feel complete without it. I am currently learning the closing chant. When I started practicing at the shala, I was pretty shy about chanting by myself before starting my practice, so I would stand at the top of the mat and repeat it silently to myself (which did not have the same effect), but sometimes I would hear someone else chant, and it would instantly make me feel more centered, more present both in the room and in my practice. That is what made me really commit to chanting it out loud, even in my breathy nervous voice (which is slowly becoming a bit less breathy and a bit more secure). What probably also helped is that I practiced at another studio which always had chanting at the beginning of each class, which was often my favorite part of the class. Additionally, since I am Jewish, I am used to singing words in a language I don't really understand. Sometimes I think the words have more power in languages I don't know, because I sing with more sincerity, for the enjoyment of the sound of the words, than I might if the chant was in english. Sometimes the teachers at the other studio would have us sing in english, as well as sanskrit, and the english always felt pretty darn weird.

I am discovering that doing less in practice is a discipline in itself, one that I am woefully bad at. I am supposed to be doing less vinyasas because of my wrist/shoulder, but once I get started it didn't seem that bad (though I should know better by now, as today is the first practice day after a massage). Well, there is always tomorrow. I did dial it way down on the lifting up, just lifting my butt and letting my feet stay on the ground, and not lift up every time either, but with that too, I should have done even less. 50% effort would be right for these vinyasas. Make them easy. The other odd effect from the bodywork was that it took me forever to bind in mari D. It was as if my body forgot how to bind. My shoulders were so sore after that massage on Monday, and I suspect it undid much of the weekend's feldenkrais lessons. Very curious what the rest of the week will bring.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


As I have my next feldenkrais training this weekend, the connection between feldenkrais and ashtanga is on my mind. One of the things that my feldenkrais method seems to have in common with ashtanga is the emphasis on not making extra or unnecessary effort. With the feldenkrais lessons, you use your body as a laboratory, to sense and feel how you make movements and where you are making extra effort. The attention alone will tend to reduce the extra effort (ie. you don't need to figure out how to relax whatever part of your body is contracting).

Yoga Bee's excellent guest post at My Yoga Blog illustrated this with her discussion of the David Swenson workshop she attended on flying and floating. The example he gives is how cats and dogs fall:

"To drive home his point, David compared the image of a falling cat with that of a falling dog. Simple observation of a cat being dropped with its feet in the air, shows that the cat remains supple and relaxed during the flight. The cat activates only the bare minimum of muscles, turning the legs towards the earth just at the exact moment. Timing. Breath. And a focus on the moment of landing. Dogs in comparison, freak out."

and this corresponds to how we should focus on landing softly when we jump back.

This caught my eye because I have recently started to jump forward and back in the suryas, for the first time since my injury. Interestingly, they don't aggravate my ankle..and I think it is because I am relaxed when I jump back. In contrast, I still have problems if I have to run (even a few steps) for the bus or train..and when I am "running", I am definitely anxious about making my foot hurt. I know they are different activities, but the original problem was with jumping on it in yoga. How to relax when doing this sort of running..that will be the next challenge.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

wheat may be evil..but i love my belly

I have to say I do love bread, but no longer eat that much of it..mostly because my energy level is better with less of it. I am always amused by the books that come out saying that this or that food is no good at all. I am sure there is some truth in it, but eliminating one thing..and the effort required to do so..I never find this a worthwhile effort. It is more stressful to avoid the "bad" food than to just enjoy it when you do have it.

                                                   image taken from here

A story- When I was in college, my dad had a heart attack, and in order to avoid surgery, he completely and radically changed his diet, which did some great things for his health and amazed his doctor. However, he put the same stress he had about his work and life into this new diet. Ultimately, it didn't stave off surgery, and his doctor had to tell him that it is better to just enjoy foods he shouldn't have from time to time, because it was better to be relaxed than to have the perfect diet.

I think the French do it right..enjoy in moderation. Accept your body. Would I rather enjoy a good meal or get more deeply (whatever that means) into certain poses?

I think the reasons people are more obese today are more complex than a single evil ingredient - more sedentary lives, people work more hours and probably cook less, the prevalence of cheap fast food, larger portion sizes, more processed food (including "health" food), agribusiness and big farm subsidies, more hormones and antibiotics in meat and dairy, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables (let alone locally grown or organic), more sugar and sugar substitutes in food, the idea that "fats" in food are evil, larger portions, and less people who smoke (I know firsthand that nicotine is quite an appetite suppressant).

rant over

Practice lately has been good. Much less confusing for my body (and mind) now that I am just practicing ashtanga. I haven't wanted to write about it that much, just to experience it and let it go. I am amazed at how much my practice can fluctuate from day to day. Some days, like yesterday, I had to fight an urge to curl my tired body into child's pose when I rolled out my mat. Other days, like today, I am fine getting on the mat, and mostly have to deal with my mental blocks about doing certain postures (UHP and mari A and C -yes, I don't know why B and D just don't cause the physical and mental anguish) or a terrifying lack of drishti (no wonder primary has all those forward bends - it is soooo much easier to focus if you are looking at your knees than looking out at the room). And there is always my problems with savasana, trying to relax fully has not been as good since the blanket incident.

It was pointed out to me today that I haven't been lining up my heels in the standing postures. What a difference that made in utthita parshvakonasana - I felt my upper body supported by my bent leg, and felt sensation in the hip flexor of that leg. Will see how this change plays out tomorrow in standing. Mari C felt good today. Yes. Good. stable. First time I could feel my upper back open against my knee/thigh on both side, and when I came out of it, I didnt feel like I had just made a journey halfway across the world (maybe just across the state).

Thursday, May 3, 2012


After yesterday's energy crash during practice, I decided to take action. I vacuumed my bedroom last night..even the blankets...slept better than I have in a while, and didn't fall apart in yoga today at all. My breath and focus were much better. Though I really don't know if it was allergies, pms, the weather, anxiety, lack of coffee, something else or all of the above. The pollen outside didn't bother me much at all either today, though I didn't spend much time outside. While I am grumpily used to the lack of sun from my years in Oregon, I do miss the really good coffee that was everywhere in Portland. "Good" coffee here often feels like walking into an episode of Portlandia.

Oh yes, practice report.  I was pretty much left on my own today..even for the dreaded UHP, which I managed to do (passably) on the first side, and fell out at the last part on the second side. This pose takes so much energy; I am amazed when I see someone do it with relative ease. Any thinking or visual distraction translates instantly into wobbling..or falling. I learned a better way of getting into Mari more leaning forward to get the shoulder in front of the thigh, then plopping(!) back to bind. 

After practice, I chatted with a woman at the shala..she had the exhaustion thing happen today. I wonder if our energy (or lack thereof) is catching from one person to the next, during practice, even if we don't really know each other well (or even at all) off the mat. 

The past couple days I have been listening to the podcasts of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. Thanks, Claudia. Very interesting and worth listening to. When I was a kid, I used to fall asleep sometimes by being very still and trying to feel the energy (though I didn't have a name for it and never heard of it again until I read Tolle) in my body, starting with my fingers, and then my hands, arms, etc. I am pretty sure I always fell asleep by the time I felt that sensation in my arms. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

out of gas

That was this morning's yoga practice.

Weak breath = crappy focus..I forgot what number sun salutation I was on by the third one...and was having trouble breathing by the end of standing poses, which continued into an especially exhausted seated. My mind was wandering all over the place, as if breathing was not interesting enough for it. Took 2 attempts on each side to bind Mari D, though I probably should have aborted practice at the end of standing, rather than slowly slog through my whole practice. Almost started to cry in pindasana (a pose I normally like and feel sort of comforted in). Oh well. Tomorrow will be better I hope. Today's practice really brought home the connection between an even (and perhaps one day strong) breath and good energy, focus and flow.