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.