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.