Saturday, December 06, 2003

Yesterday was the end of two straight weeks of mysore practice for me. The only other time I've ever been able to practice every day, Sunday through Friday, for two weeks straight was when Guruji came to visit our area in 2000. Those were led classes, one week of the first half of first series, the second week of the whole first series. I've never had anything close to two weeks in a row of mysore style classes. Probably the best I've ever been able to do prior to this was maybe three days of mysore in a row. I had this run because I had taken off the time to attend classes with Guruji on his recent tour. That visit was cancelled about a month ago when his son-law suddenly died back home in India. Since I had the time off from work, I decided to keep it off and study with Tim. Unfortunately, Tim already had plans set up to go to Mysore, India to visit with Guruji. He left in the middle of my second week of classes, so I still got a lot of time with him.

After doing mostly led classes for the last three and a half years, all of a sudden doing mysore classes only has revealed some pluses and minuses. Going every day for two weeks straight has helped my endurance, at least I think it has. I'll have to go to a normal first series led class and see if it feels any different. As it stands now, when I do a mysore class, I do the normal first series and then the postures that I've been given so far in the second series. I have to move through those a bit faster than people might normally do them if they were just doing first series or just second series because I only have about two hours to complete it all. I think I mentioned before that doing the poses at a faster pace does make it easier in a way. Not having to hold every pose for as long, especially the more challenging ones, does save energy. Those energy savings are quickly used up in the extra poses though. Not being able to hold the poses for as long is also the drawback. Having a time barrier is an unfortunate distraction. There's lots of stuff I need to work on. The last thing that I need is an easy excuse, like, "hey, I better hurry up or I'll run out of time", to lead me to gloss over what needs attention. Not surprisingly, I'm a little more tired at the end of a mysore class than I am at the end of a led first series class. The postures that I'm learning in the second series are fairly demanding for me. By the time I get to them, I feel like the cup is empty sometimes. I definitely let my backbending fall off this past two weeks: "low on time, low in energy, I think I'll just do four back bends and skip the standing up attempt today" kind of thinking. That will get better, hopefully as I get more accustomed to doing this practice. Unfortunately, I'm now back in the real work-a-day world where mysore opportunities are sparse.

I've debated with myself for a while now about trying to jury-rig my daily schedule so that I can get to more mysore classes. Most of the mysore classes start at 7:00AM, so I would need to start work at 10:00 or 10:15 to be able to do it. Even if I could arrange my clinic days to allow that start time, it still wouldn't give me that many chances. A lot of my days are days where I'm in the operating room, which starts at 7:45AM, or on call, which starts at 8:00AM, or coming off of in-house over night call, where I don't get off until 8:00AM, an hour after class has started. It would be a fairly big hassle to switch my schedule around for only a couple of extra mysore classes each month. But, having had the chance to go as regularly has I have had these two weeks, I can't help wonder what I could do if I could go regularly. Once you get the chance to increase the frequency of practice, you then feel the need to go even more. The monster needs to be fed.

Before I started this two week bend-a-rama, I was expecting that when I got through it, I would have made advancements in lots of areas. Now that I've finished it, I'm not sure I can say that I'm any better at anything actually, except maybe endurance. I had hoped that I would make clear progress in my bandhas and my jump backs for one thing. In all honesty, I don't think I put that much energy into them during these two weeks. I did land Bakasana B from a float a few times, but never in a good enough position to hold it for more than a second or two. Hopefully I won't jinx myself in saying it, but I am getting a little better picture of what path my body needs to move in to be able to enter it that way. I used to either under shoot and land in a squat, or over shoot and end up cart wheeling across the room to avoid a face plant. Now I tend to mis-land it. I guess that's a kind of progress. I did make progress at the poses at the end. I had never before been able to keep my leg behind my head when I would press up to vinyasa out of eka pada sirsasana. As soon as I would start to lift up, my leg would slip and slide off, whacking me in the head in the process. I asked Tim to look me over and see if he had any suggestions. He watched me, then after a second or two of thought, said, "don't let your head and neck bend forward." "Oh, come on," I thought. "That's the best advice you have? Don't you think if it was that simple, I would have already thought of it?" So, next practice I showed him. I did just what he said. Naturally, my leg hasn't come off since. He must have been pleased enough at that that he gave me dwi pada sirsasana right before he left. More than anything else, that's what sucked for me about his leaving for India. I can't get my second foot back on my own. I can be put there readily. I can be put there fairly deeply actually. But I haven't yet figured out how to do it by myself. I was really looking forward to his help for a few practices so I could hopefully get to a point where I could do it on my own. While he was gone, I only had one other adjustment in that pose. The other times, they just let me wiggle and struggle on my own. I'd be happy to do that, but I was only good for a couple of attempts on my own before I would run out of gas. This is one pose that I sense that I'm going to have a harder time progressing with if I'm only doing it once or twice a month.

I wasn't the only one who decided to study with Tim when Guruji cancelled his tour. There were some crowded mornings. One morning, there was no space available for a couple of people who had come late. They had to go home. That would really, really suck. There was a whole mini-contingent of folks from Chicago. Some pretty good practices in there with all the new folks.

Well, enough for now. I'm at work. It's slow but there are some things that need to be done.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Been gone, figuratively, for two and a half months, more or less. Still not clear what led to me taking a break. I guess it's a predictable phenomenon amongst erstwhile diarists and bloggers. We run out of things that we might think are interesting to say. Or the effort to compose becomes not worth it. Etcetera, etc. Once I had stopped, it was easy to not restart. Not doing something is much easier and more natural to do that making an effort at something.

So, what's new in my world of ashtanga? In mysore practice, I've been given a couple more postures. I've had a reasonably good stretch of making it to classes the last few weeks. No major issues, no big injuries or anything. Pretty much same as it ever was.

Last week I was at a meeting in Las Vegas. I pretty much blew off some of the meetings each morning to go to one class or another. I did some searching on the web before traveling and found three places in Vegas that have ashtanga classes, Active Yoga Studio, It's Yoga, and The Hatha Yoga Center (no link).
I never made it to the first place. I was gonna go there on Thursday morning, but ended up going to a vinyasa flow class at It's Yoga instead. The Hatha Yoga place was a fair bit away from the strip, up in the Summerlin area I think it is. I took two classes there, an "all levels" class my first morning that turned out to be a typical prep class, and a full first series class on my way to the airport the day I left. The teacher there, named Darla, was very good. They pretty much did stuff the way that I was used to seeing it done. A few minor variations, as is usually the case. Nobody does it exactly the same way. For the most part the differences at her place were of the more challenging type. For instance, she had us hold kurmasana for 15 long breaths. The mind really starts negotiating to quit after about the eighth or ninth count. She also holds the closing postures for one minute each--she used a timer. The only notable omission was we didn't do garbha pindasana in either of my classes there. No biggie. Plus, we had good long savasanas.

The other place I went to was It's Yoga. This is a franchise, I guess that's the way to describe it, of a studio in San Francisco run by Larry Schultz. This particular studio was run by a very nice person named Maggie. I took one class with her. It was pretty much a full first series (funny thing though, we didn't do garbha pindasana there either, maybe it's a vegas thing?). I took it right after I did that intro/prep class at the Hatha studio on my first day there. I wasn't sure what that first class was going to be, so I decided to do both places. The first class was light enough that it essentially was a strong warm up/stretch out for the second class at It's Yoga. Still, that was a lot of sun Sal's and vinyasas. I liked Maggie's class though. She has a nice spot right across the street from UNLV. She made an effort to keep us smiling as we worked. One thing that I would change if I were despot of the world: she did do a lot of that going on about opening our hearts and honoring our practice and connecting with those on the mats nearby and stuff like that. Such commentary has it's place, I know, but for me it's just distracting. I guess I'm just too jaundiced. I'd just rather focus on what I'm doing, or more commonly, on what I'm not able to do, than on what someone is saying in the background. I did like her class and her teaching well enough to come the next day for a vinyasa flow class with another of their teachers that she recommended. It was a good challenge. I definitely need lunge and groin work and we did a lot of that, but in hindsight, I probably would choose to go the full first series class at the yoga studio I never made it to. The last class I went to there, Friday night, was with Larry Schultz. He was in town for a "Grand Opening" workshop. I blew off a dinner with some muckety mucks to take the class. I'd never met him before. In the various on-line bulletin boards, you can read a lot of opinions about him. That's why I wanted to take the class. I'd rather see what he had to offer first hand. The class was a mixed class, all levels from never done yoga before to old time students of his. He spent a fair amount of time discussing some of the philosophy and the approach offered in It's Yoga studios (too much time talking but then that's just me). We then did mostly standing postures, some seated work, some ab work, a few other poses from various places, like Hanumanasana. We ran out of time, Maggie had to sort of reel him in at ten till the scheduled stop time. It's a little hard to judge him or his approach in such a brief exposure. Suffice it to say, I'm happy I can study with my teacher. Despite all the good classes and great teachers I've had in the various trips I've taken, they have only given me a greater perspective that has increased my appreciation of Tim.

Guruji was scheduled to come to the San Diego area for two weeks but had to cancel and return to India because of the sudden death of his son-in-law. I had already taken the time off from work so I decided to go to class each day with Tim. I almost never get to go to mysore classes. To get to go for two weeks straight is like winning the Lotto. Of course, nothing is ever so straight forward. It turns out that Tim will leave to go to India for a few weeks in the middle of the last week that I took off. Still, I'm getting a lot of practice time with him these two weeks, more than I would usually get in two or three months. I guess I'm in good enough shape. I've not yet had any problems with running out of gas. I think the main reason for that is that I'm not staying all that long in any one posture. Each day I'm doing the first series and then doing what portion of the second series that he's given me. I don't have much time for research poses or those extra-curricular poses that I sneak in sometimes. Today I did do some groin stretches before Kapotasana. I usually just do some shoulder stretching research stuff but today I decided I was going to do what I really needed. And I learned that I really needed it.

I haven't gone to pranayama class in months. I think I stopped going shortly after I wrote that I was going to be going as regularly as possible. It became an issue of time available to help out at home, inconsistency because of scheduling issues, bunch 'o stuff. Hope to get back to it soon.

So, we'll see how it goes from here. Hopefully, I'll have something to say, even if I don't think that I do.

Friday, September 12, 2003

I think I ate too much for lunch yesterday. The whole practice last night I felt sludgy and full. I was about as not into practicing as I can be. Several times, I found myself thinking, "I really wish I wasn't doing this tonight." I almost never think like that. I might dread getting tired or get unmotivated because some area is stiff or something has backtracked, but I usually don't repeatedly regret being there. I'm still glad I went and did the practice though. That much less ground to make up with my next practice, which may not be for a few days yet.

The Thursday evening class is listed as an Ashtanga Prep class. There's a variety of ability levels in the students who make it to that class. We do all the poses in the first series but the teacher will let people do variations if needed if they can't do the full posture. He'll also tell people that if they need to, from time to time they can go directly into the second side of a pose instead of doing the vinyasa between sides. Last night, just about everybody was skipping the vinyasa, so maybe I wasn't the only one who was feeling less than full speed.

The weather is already starting to edge into Fall mode. The evenings are noticeably cooler. That change notwithstanding, it was surprisingly warm in the room last night. I think it felt warmer because we're having unusual humidity right now. I was expecting the yucky feel I started out with to result in a stiff practice but I stretched and twisted okay. The only exception was the backbends. It took me three reps to feel I was getting the shoulders in the correct rotation. I never did feel good enough to try a stand up so I just used the wall to walk my hands up after the last rep.

A few posts back I made mention of one of the students who I've taken classes with who recently had a heart attack while in class. Yesterday, after class let out, I was in line for the bathroom. I was listening to a couple of guys talking nearby. One of them is a triathelete. He was talking to an older guy, who it turns out is also a runner. His particular type of running pleasure is to do centuries--one hundred mile long races. He was saying that he had done two or three centuries last year and one or two fifty mile races too but had to interrupt everything when he had a heart attack last winter. ??? Does not compute. Doesn't make sense that you could run for 100 miles yet still have cardiac vessels clogged enough to have a heart attack. Now I'm going to be sweating every little semi-short of breath episode, every chest wall discomfort and upper arm pain even more than I was already starting to do. Maybe I should do a cleanse or something.

Next practice for me, if the yoga and hospital rounding gods allow, will be Sunday morning.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I've lost that typing rhythm again. Lately, the last thing I've wanted to do after practicing is to sit down for an hour or two analyzing and recording the experience. Just lazy. Plus, the practices I had this week were so non-descript.

I had a mysore class last week, I don't remember what day it was, I think Thursday. I have to have my little schedule book to be able to function chronologically. The only thing that stood out that I can remember was that I did manage to do a drop back and also stood up after the drop back. Big woo. I'm sure there must have been something else that happened that might be interesting, but I honestly can't think of anything.

I did the Improv class on Saturday. For the first time in quite a while, I was non-plussed by the class. We did a bunch of twists, some familiar ones like Ardha Matsyendrasana, some less commonly seen. It was a different class. I got more fatigued in it than I had in most of the previous improv classes I've gone to in a month or so. I just didn't enjoy it as much for some reason. Maybe I was in a non-receptive mood that day or something.

On Sunday I did the led Second series class again. I had told a friend from work that I would cover his back up call for him so he could take his current fling to a hoity toity resort in Laguna Nigel that open up recently. This is the one call where we do have to be available on a beeper. Every other kind of call is an "in-house" call where we're there in the hospital for the duration of call. On the back up call, we don't get called in that often, usually only if someone calls in sick or if the whole world is trying to give birth at one time. I called L&D before class to make sure the odds of getting called in were low but I had to take my cell phone to class, just in case. That's sort of a crime against nature in the yoga world. Sometimes we'll be in class and somebody's phone will go off in the area where everybody drops off their shoes and stuff. When they get up to answer it, Tim will boom, "That had better be God calling." I set up my mat next to the door so that if it did go off, I could get it and be out the door in just a few seconds, hopefully minimizing the disruption. Fortunately, it remained a slow day on L&D and I wasn't needed. The class itself was a mixed bag. My backbending was marginal. I think the twisting the day before tightened me up a bit. I was only able to reach the front of my toes in Kapotasana. Plus, when I came up to kneeling from the straight arm portion of Kapotasana, I felt that kind of crunch sensation in the low back, like I had used the lumbar area too much. I've been able to avoid that sensation completely till now, though doing so has probably led to a slower progression towards back bending capability than I might have achieved if I was willing to go at it harder. The forward bending portion of the class went much better. I did okay with the leg behind the head poses, though I'm still nowhere near getting Dwi Pada Sirsasana by myself. I've been trying to get into it using a couple of cheats that my wife suggested: using a fold towel under my butt to minimize tipping over and using the wall against my back to stabilize myself while I struggled with getting the second leg back and over the first. I didn't get it in the time we had but I got closer than I ever have before. The Tittibhasanas went well too. I was able to bind, to the fingers anyway, in B. I didn't get my legs straight. I can tell that's going to be a long term project. My hams aren't loose enough or long enough or whatever to be able to pull that off. Most of the rest of the class went according to plan. I wasn't as tired as the preceding week, so I was able to make a better effort at some of the latter poses. I didn't fall out of any of the handstands. I think I kind of cheated in Mukta Hasta Sirsasana C though. I always tip over as soon as my legs approach the vertical point. I usually have my arms straight out to the side, in line with my collar bones. Today, I watched a couple of people near me go up before I tried it. They had their arms and hands pulled back into a slight tripod positioning. I moved my hands back and gave it a go. It's certainly more stable but I don't know if it's kosher. I also think I tweaked one of the heads of the deltoid of my left shoulder trying to lever my way up by holding counter pressure in my arms. It didn't hurt at all that day I noticed it that night. I though maybe it was sore from golfing that afternoon, but then realized if my shoulder was going to be hurting from golfing, it would likely be my right one, not the left. It's settled down okay, so I doubt I did anything serious. I'm going to be a little more cautious the next time I try that headstand though.

Today I went to mysore practice. This was one of those classes that I get the privilege of going to by dint of working the night before. Fortunately, I got a ton of sleep. I had what was probably one of the best all around classes I've ever had. Nothing exemplary took place, no real breakthroughs, I just did most things as well as I am able to do them. No rough edges, no balky areas of the body, no running out of steam half way through. No regrets or "if only's". I had a couple of good handstands after Navasana reps. Most of the handstands I only held for a half a second. But in the two good ones I stayed up for a few seconds easily then did a reasonably slow descent to Chaturanga, just like the big kids. My Kapotasana had good depth for me. I had no assist today, just little old me. I was still able to get past my toes. The tightness in my shoulders still prevents me from achieving a good form but the back and groin portions of the pose are getting better. I debated on whether to put a towel around my toes to help me simulate a bind in Supta Vajrasana. Instead, I opted to try and keep my grip on the toes as long as I could, then released to grab the arm of the person helping me while I finished the pose. Back bends were not fatiguing at all today. Funny how that comes and goes so completely. I stood up after the fourth backbend. It was a better than average stand up. I wasn't as far up on my toes as I sometimes get and I didn't over rotate or under do the stand up so my momentum came to a stop with my weight right over my feet. Dropping back down quickly regressed into a fret-fest though. After a few aborted attempts, I slapped myself mentally and made it down with my best (still not good) form to date. I did make it back up to standing after the drop back. Now I've just got to work up the gumption to do three or four drop backs in a row.

That's been the story for this week. Tomorrow is a moon day, so nothing happening. The next seven days, I've got this special call coverage that's going to pretty much limit my practice for that week to only pranayama classes at 6 am. I might get lucky and get out in time for an evening class but the odds are low. So the writing may be sparse for a while again. This time the excuse will be legit, unlike this week and a couple of weeks ago, when I can only claim laziness.

Monday, September 01, 2003

I'm working today, Labor Day. Somewhat apropos for an obstetrician to work on Labor Day. I finagled a favor or two and got the morning covered so that I could go to mysore class this morning. Now I'm finishing off what is left of the shift. Splitting a shift is not the way we usually cover calls but it's working out well for me, so I may see if I can set up something similar the next time I have to work on a Sunday or a holiday.

Yesterday I went to the led Second series class with my wife. My two youngest kids were at sleep-overs. We faced a little dilemma about what to do with the remaining child, my ten year old. If we make her go to a class, she'll usually grudgingly do the postures. If we give her the option, however, she never wants to go. Since we weren't able to arrange anything for somebody to watch her for us, we needed to figure out what to do. I figured by age ten, she ought to be able to stay home on her own for a couple of hours but the notion is a new one and we still don't really feel all that comfortable with it yet. In the end, she tagged along with us. She started out not doing any poses but when it got to the stuff she likes, the backbending, she jumped in. After that section of the series, the challenges of the postures go up and they're not quite as much fun for her to try, so she watched the rest of the way. She loves watching the class do Tittibhasana C and Nakrasana though. She thinks we look hilarious. We probably do. If you ever want to understand the concept of the ravages of time, watch a ten year old do the second series. With no attempts at doing any stretching for something like a year, she is grabbing her heels in Kapotasana and is bored doing it. For me, after doing yoga as faithfully as possible for three plus years, it takes a crew of powerfully built teachers just to crank me into a spot where I can grab so much as my toenail. We won't even bother discussing the ease with which my kids can do drop backs and standups. Quite humbling.

My second series wasn't as good as my previous experiences have been. I don't know why but I was fairly tired, as early as the standing sequence. In looking for an excuse, I have decided to again blame diet. Maybe I was just calorie deficient. I didn't eat any dinner the night before. I just had a bunch of cashews (yes, of course they were salted). For the fruits/vegetable portion of my meal, I had a couple of popsicles. I don't think I can justify that excuse under closer examination however. My wife has been juice fasting for four days now and she isn't having any energy problems. She's binding like a maniac now though.

I did okay in the single leg behind the head postures. When we do this portion of the second series in this class, we usually do some research poses first. The sequence of research poses that are done will vary from class to class, sometimes we don't do any. Usually, we will do a downward facing version of Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana. Then we'll often do a pose Tim calls Virabhadrasana C. In this pose, you go into a deep lunge. Then you grab the ankle of the forward foot with the opposite hand. You then sink into the lunge further, twist toward the forward leg a bit and try to get your head as far under the forward leg as you can. If you can do it, it ends up looking like a standing version of kasyapasana in which you have both feet on the ground. From that, we lift the front foot and transition to Visvamitrasana then back to Chaturanga Dandasana. Then, yes there's still more, we'll jump through, lay back and bring our lower leg up and lay it across our chest with the heel in one armpit and the knee in the other. It's kind of the supine version of the Adho Muhka Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana we had done earlier. Then, we'll go into Kasyapasana. Then we rock up and do the normal sequence for that side for Eka Pada Sirsasana. Then we do it all over again for the other side. I was able to do Kasyapasana without having to keep one hand on the foot behind the head. I still can't get the straight leg down to where it's touching the ground but I'm not that drastically flexed at the waist. I could grasp the foot of the straight leg with both hands during the forward bending portion of Eka Pada Sirsasana, again not needing to hold on to the other foot for dear life. I still can't figure out what it is I'm doing on the lift up to the vinyasa that causes me to lose the foot though. I must be dipping my head and/or rolling that shoulder down and in. The obligatory breakthrough for this class was my being able to bind for the first time ever in Tittibhasana B. I wasn't able to completely straighten my legs but, by the time I got around to that, the five count had already been called so I didn't have enough time to explore the feel of it to see what I needed to do. After that sequence and the next two postures, I was pretty spent, so I didn't have the best of form the rest of the way through the class. I only fell down in one of the head stands though, so that's an improvement. I was tired enough that I had no intention of trying a drop back. I did stand up on the last back bend but that was gesture enough for that day.

Today's class was a mysore class. I wasn't able to get the morning freed up for practice until yesterday evening. Since I ended up calling my mom so late to see if she could come over early to watch the kids, I didn't want to make her come over at 5:30AM, so I told her to just come around 6:30 and I blew off the 6:00 pranayama class. I got to the practice room while they were still doing the pranayama, so I just stretched for a while. My wife usually hustles through the standing poses and the first series fairly quickly. She usually has passed me by before I get to Utthita Parsvakonasana . Today, I stayed with her until somewhere around Navasana, then she dusted me. I got a deeper than average adjustment in Supta Kurmasana. Rather than just crossing my ankles, Tim made sure my shoulders were under my legs and he spread the feet apart a bit to help the hip stretch. I had seen a video of Tim and Ana Forrest a while back that showed both of them pressing up to a handstand from Tittibhasana. When I have felt strong, which hasn't been very often, I would try to see how far up I could get my hips when I was jumping back to Chaturanga after pressing up to Tittibhasana from Supta Kurmasana. The notion being that some time in the future I would hit that magic bandha moment and actually be able to spread the legs up to a handstand too. JMS recently posted a link to a similar video sequence over on the EZBoard site. I have a ways to go. Given the relative frequency of my practice this week, I was reasonably flexible today. I was still disappointingly fatigued but I bent in both directions and twisted fairly well. I've abandoned my foam block for a heel lift in Pasasana. I've been able to bind okay doing this. The heels are still an inch or so away from the floor but it's coming. I got a double dose of Kapotasana today. I did my usual research sequence then did the pose. Tim's assistant came over to help me get deeper. The woman next to me got up to help as well. They got me to a slightly asymmetrical placement. My right hand was at the base of my toe but my other hand only made it to the side of the big toe, I couldn't even grab it. The straight arm portion of the pose kind of sucked too. I came up and went through my vinyasa for the next pose. At which point Tim came over and announced, "I think we need to give this a second try." So I went back down again. This time, they got me to my deepest one ever. Both hands were at what felt like the middle of the soles of my feet. Maybe they were a little shy of that, but they were in that area. Tim is the best adjuster I've ever had. Among other things, I need to do more groin work to keep progressing in this pose. I've been being lazy on that area. Back bending today went okay. Not too tired. My stand up was middle of the road marginal. I screwed up my drop back. I was so scared I would land on my head again that I kept my arms completely locked. When I landed, the momentum caused me to bounce up and forward. Because my knees ended up being fairly bent at that point, I ended up bouncing right up into a kneeling position. After realizing what happened, I stood up and tried it again. This time I got down in a messy but reasonable fashion. No extraneous limbs or body parts impacting in unintended ways. I lived once again. I couldn't get up after the drop back though. My arch felt bad and I thought I was going to tweak something. I laid down, re-set up in a back bend and came up one last time. Tim seemed to think that it was pretty weak to bail out on the stand up after a drop back. I guess once I have a better handle on making the landing, I can learn to use the momentum to rebound back up more easily.

I've got to go to the ER to see a patient so I'm going to post this and proof it later.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

I heard an interesting sound in practice today. When you go to the grocery store and tap on a pumpkin or a melon to see if they're ripe, they make a hollow kind of "thump" sound. It turns out that's almost exactly the same sound my head makes when it piles into the ground after an unsuccessful attempt at a drop back. The amazing thing is that it didn't hurt at all. Rock solid and hollow as a drum, that's me head. I guess I don't have to worry anymore when I try drop backs. Now I know if I blow the move, I can just auger in head first with nary a worry. I think I'm going to try using my legs next time though.

Today's class was an Improv class. We did some of the same poses as last Saturday, including Vamadevasana and Viranchyasana. This time though, for Viranchyasana she didn't have everyone try and put their foot behind their head with the other leg in lotus. She just had them keep the heel of the lower leg next to the hip. Too wimpy for me, I wanted the real deal so I tried the half lotus version. I could get the right side, though I could tell there was no way I could press up into the second part of the pose without my leg slipping off of my shoulder. I did cheat a little by putting my sweat towel under the hip of the Eka Pada leg to minimize tipping over. I couldn't get the left side though. If I had some more time I probably could have winched myself into it eventually. When I was trying to touch the soles of my feet in Vamadevasana, I felt a grinding sensation in the ankle of the front leg. No pain, no swelling, it just felt weird when it was happening. My left side is my less capable hip, so I can't get the feet together on that side and it's a little uncomfortable trying. I can get the soles of the feet to brush on the other side but that's about it. I don't think I can hold it for five breaths. It's physically hard to get the front foot lifted up. I have to really crank with my arm.

We did some Pincha Mayurasana work today. We did a few warm up poses, first in down dog with the forearms on the floor, then forearms on the floor and the feet against the wall with the legs at roughly right angles to the wall. Then we did normal Pincha Mayurasana. After that we did a version where you try to eliminate any arch in the back and keep the legs, body and head in a straight line. It is supposed to vertical enough of an alignment that you can look up and see your toes. That's one of the harder variations for some reason. Then we did some Vrishikasana attempts. I know my feet are not close to my head when I try this but I have no sense of how far away they really are. I'd ask my wife but she would probably have a hard time stopping laughing. Bendy people like her have no understanding of us stiffies.

Today we were at my youngest's soccer tournament. After the last game, while the girls were all getting their group photos, my wife starting doing some yoga poses in the grass next to the field. She had me try to do the one she was having a hard time with, Urdhva Kukkutasana C, where you go into tripod headstand then fold the legs into lotus while in the headstand, lower the knees to the armpits, then press the head up off of the ground and go into Urdhva Kukkutasana. Hard as that is, neither of us could do it, even harder is getting the head back down on the ground and back up into headstand. We both gave it several tries on the field. Next thing you know, four or five parents and several kids are out there all trying to do headstands and stuff. It was kind of fun. It was good to see people willing to let loose and try stuff, even at the risk of looking silly.

No call for me this weekend, so tomorrow I get to go to the led Second series class. Hopefully the Pincha Mayurasana work today will help me not do endos tomorrow. I've got to get back in the saddle and go back for a drop back again, before I get a phobia or something. The look of alarm on the face of the woman next to me was kind of neat though.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Mysore class was crowded today. Usually the Thursday morning classes aren't too congested because a lot of folks, certainly most of the more advanced students, go to Tim's Improv class at 7:00 am. When I do get to go to Thursday mysore classes, there's usually only two rows of students. I used to joke with my wife that that particular class was the "housewive's class" since most of the people who I saw there were friends of ours who fell into that category. Today we had three full rows going. We could have squeezed in a few more people on each row, it wasn't mat to mat, but it was fuller than usual.

I guess most ashtanga studios will have one or two people who decide they are just going to do whatever they feel they want to do, rather than doing the traditional form of ashtanga, in which specific series of postures are followed. Today I was near a person who took that freelancing to the extreme. Seeing the kind of things that were being done, it was actually hard not to laugh out loud. I have a hard time describing the sequence other than to call it aberrant. There was no possible logic to the pattern of poses done. A few sun sals followed by inversions followed by some second series poses, then some standing poses, some third series stuff, some others that seemed to have been created on the spot, etc., etc. One pose in particular caught my eye. The person moved well to the back of the mat and entered Utthita Parsvakonasana. Then, in a fashion somewhat akin to what occurs in Nakrasana, the person sequentially hopped in Parsvakonasana to the front of the mat. But, as far as I could tell, they only did the one side. I don't know, I guess there has to be some logic to what people are doing, but to me it sometimes just comes across as being rude to the teacher. I doubt this person was intending any kind of insulting message like, "I don't care if you are a teacher with decades of experience and are someone who is respected throughout the ashtanga community for their ability to teach, I think I know what I need to do and I don't intend to listen to your gentle suggestions to follow the traditional ashtanga approach." I just sort of read those kind of things into people's actions sometimes. I have to admire the focus of the woman who ended up practicing next to this person. The creative person was all over the area around her mat, sticking limbs onto other people's mats with repeated Supta Konasana versions and other here-to-fore undiscovered poses, this again occurring when most everyone else is moving through the standing sequence. The process was so unusual that I had a hard time not watching just to see what would occur next. The woman in front of me, however, just kept right on with her practice and kept her drishtis. I'm not that good yet.

My practice was not an inspired one. I was stiff. I think there's no question that diet, especially carbs, affects flexibility. At work, I tend to eat even worse than I do at home. Fast, comfort food is usually the order of the day when I'm on call. If I'm not real busy, I tend to spend most of my time sitting at the computer surfing and stuff. I can usually shake the resulting tightness off if I can stretch out some before class. Today I had a slow commute, school is back in so the freeways are definitely slower now. I got to class a few minutes late, so I had no chance to stretch out. I had to just go with what I had. It wasn't horrendous but it was not what I wanted for my one chance at a mysore class in a while. My hamstrings and my up dogs felt sub par up through the Marichasanas, when I started to feel like I was loosening up. My groins never did get good and loose. I was able to touch my toes in Kapotasana but I could tell I wasn't going to be entering any new frontiers in that pose so I just moved on after one repetition.

In the game of golf, no matter how miserable the play is, every round will have at least one shot that brings you back. One thing that goes so well that you forget your ineptitude for the other 100 + shots. I think most practices are like that too. Even on days where you sometimes start wishing you could come up with a good excuse to sneak out early, ("Gee Tim, I hate to have to leave but I think I'm getting a menstrual migraine." "Well, okay John. I sure hope that gets better soon.") there's usually one thing that brightens your day. Some new edge that gets pushed, some new posture attained. Today, I did finally do a drop back into Urdhva Dhanurasana. I stood up after my third back bend. I wasn't tired. I was in a good mood. The woman practicing next to me had given me the nicest compliment about my practice that I think I've ever gotten. I haven't gotten many of course, but it was still a wonderful thing to hear, even if she was just being nice. She told me that she hadn't recognized me initially when we started practicing. She said when she realized it was me, she thought that I looked so much younger. I suggested that it was probably because my hair was growing long. She said, no, it was that my practice was changed, that that was what looked so young. I didn't know how to respond to that. I kind of blushed and gave it the old "aw, go on", but it was such a novel thing to hear. At any rate, fueled by that good will, I decided that today I would at least try to drop back. Tim walked over to do assisted drop backs after I stood up. Today I waved him off, telling him of my intention to push the fear envelope. Ever the considerate one, as I was beginning to get into that edgy part when you're going back, where you can feel it in your back but you're not sure of the balance over your feet, he tells me, "Just make sure your hands hit the floor before your head does." Right. Okay. Got it. Thanks for the tip. I tried several times to go for it but kept chickening out. I asked the kind woman to my side to watch me and tell me if I was at a place that would be safe to drop from. She told me go for it when I was arched. The hardest part for me was to extend my arms and then let go. I normally arch back with my hands at my chest. Something about extending them mentally represented the point of no return. After a couple of failed go-for-its, I finally quit with the melodramatics and went back. Of course, it was as anti-climactic as could be. Once I realized that I hadn't broken my neck, my first thought was what a pussy I've been for the last two years, being too scared to even try it. My next thought was, "Crap, now I have to do this again each time I practice." And so, another fear factor is semi-overcome.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Today is a moon day. I couldn't have practiced today anyway since I'm on call for 24 hours, so that worked out well for me. I did do a led first series class last night. I guess it begins to sound like a broken record but it still amazes me how tired I can get doing that series. Stiffness may have contributed somewhat to the exertion. I hadn't done first series in five days and I had been standing in the OR all day, so I wasn't too limber when I got to class. I wasn't too sure I'd even get to class. Both of my first two cases went well over the expected time. I didn't even start the last case until 2:30 pm and I was thinking it had the chance of being the most difficult of them all. Luckily, it turned out to be very straight forward and we were done by 4:30. Traffic was light enough that I was able to get to class with a few minutes to spare.

I've been trying once again to see how close I can get on my jump backs. I usually do my best at it early on in the seated postures, before I get tired. Yesterday I got closer, one time at least. My feet almost passed through the hands before sinking to the ground, but the foot on the left bumped that arm, stopping the backswinging motion. There is just no internal sense of what action I need to be doing to elevate the hips and butt and to get the legs tucked in tight. I'll keep trial and erroring it. JMS gave me some pointers again but I wasn't able to do what he was suggesting, which is to look forward rather than looking back and down while I lift and attempt to slide through. If I keep looking up, I don't get what little sense of forward tilt that I think I am currently able to generate when I look back to see where my feet are. The problem I have with going full out each vinyasa is that, over the course of the seated postures, it kicks my butt. By the time I get to Navasana, I'm just going through the motions, ending up with little more than a weak Lolasana and roll over. This bothers me because when I watch the people who can do jumpbacks, they seem to be able to do them just as easily after the fifth Navasana or after Uth Pluttihi as they do on their very first one. It doesn't seem exertional to them, from my viewing angle anyway. I think I need a bandha tutor. I had a tutor once for geometry and it helped.

I was quite the showman when attempting my standups from back bend last night. In the first back bend, I felt a catch in my shoulder and spent most of that rep trying to get my hand repositioned so that the shoulder felt okay. I was just starting to feel the back loosening up by the third rep. The teacher had already told us we would only doing four reps so I decided to try and come up after number three. I figured if I didn't make it, I could still get up on the last one. About half way up on my first try, I realized that my body and upper legs were in an almost straight line out horizontal from my lower legs. I had committed my wife's favorite error, I had let my head come up too soon. I stalled out a half a second later and went cart wheeling back down. The legs sort of automatically extended as I was going back, which propelled me head first straight toward the wall. I managed to bail out and fall to my mat in an inglorious heap. The guy next to me inquired if I had hurt myself. I was too embarrassed to even look at him as I shook my head no. Determined to get at least one stand up, I went at it again with the last rep. I started to lift but quit on it shortly after pushing off and dropped back to the back bend position. By then, just about everybody else was up and I had visions of another spaz attack but with everybody else watching so I tried to go up as quickly as I could. I got the weight out over my feet but I had little arch going. I managed to power up with an almost straight back but it was by far the ugliest stand up I have done so far.

Beyond that episode of comic relief, the rest of the practice was middle of the road. No new firsts. Other than the fatigue issue, not too much regression. Just another practice. Maintenance.

Some time a ways back, I started trying to do Urdhva Sirsasana just before going into Balasana after completing the headstand sequence. After the lifting the feet from Ardha Sirsasana back up to Sirsasana, you press firmly into the elbows and forearms and lift the head off of the ground. You keep pressing up until the shoulder is full extended, lifting the head as far off of the ground as possible. I had seen my teacher do it when Guruji was here in 2000. I later saw a friend of his, Johnnie S., do it in class one time and thought, "I wonder how hard that is?" The first time I tried it, I found out, it's not that easy. Over time, I got a better sense of what muscles to use and what ones to not use and I can usually do it okay now. It feels like I'm getting reasonably good extension of the shoulder joint. It's hard to know if what I'm sensing is what I'm really doing but it seems that my upper arms are close to vertical with my head well off of the floor. Interestingly, on the occasions when I do Viparita Dandasana variations as shoulder research before attempting Kapotasana, I can't get my head any where near that far off of the ground.

After I get off work tomorrow morning, I'll head over to do a mysore class. Among other things, I'm working on Supta Vajrasana. I can get into Baddha Padmasana, but I can't arch back very far before I lose the bind and my hands slip from my feet. I'm presuming the greatest area limiting me right know in that posture is my shoulder range of motion. I can't tell if my hips and ankles are limiting me yet. Each time I do Baddha Padmasana in the closing sequence, I try to lean back a bit to see what I can do. I tend to feel some discomfort in my Achilles tendons, so I think I'm pulling on the toes in the wrong vector. I've also been trying to practice for the next posture ahead of me, Bakasana, by jumping into it after we do Utkatasana. I can do Bakasana A okay but, being as bandha challenged as I am, Bakasana B usually eludes me. I did land it last night, I guess that's one highlight. I held it for about two or three breaths then started to slip, so I jumped back. I want to be able to do it when I am given that pose but it's not so easy as just wanting to do it. It's also likely much easier to do it in the standing sequence than it will be to do it after doing all of rest of my mysore practice.

The kids go back to school this week. I have weird kids. They all said how much they were sick of summer and how they wish they could have just kept going to school instead of having to do summer. They didn't get it from me, I can tell you that.

I just noticed the reader feedback function that I used to have is no longer there. I have no idea why. Maybe it was only good for a few months before some fee had to be paid or something. I wasn't that happy with how it had been working, so I'll look around for a replacement. Maybe I'll finally take suburbfreak up on her offer to switch over to her blog system

Sunday, August 24, 2003

We're back to hot and sunny here in SoCal. Last week we actually had a rainstorm, practically unheard of here in the great western desert. Of course, it came right during evening rush hour. At the same time some crank dealer was tying up one of our major commuting highways after one of those high speed chases. After crashing his car, he closed the freeway in the middle of the evening commute by holding a gun to his head and threatening to kill himself. Despite the clamoring of the increasingly angry log jam of commuters for him to please go ahead and do so, he held out for four full hours before finally inhaling a self inflicted bullet. Jaded as I am, I always think of Mr. Darwin at times like that: survival of the fittest.

The family is up north a ways at that soccer tournament. After I practiced yesterday morning, I drove up to see one of the games. I then drove back home so that I could practice this morning before driving back up for this afternoon's game. Then I will drive back home again this evening. If my daughter's team wins both games today, they play again tomorrow, so the family may end up staying another night. I'm not going back up, I work tomorrow. Hopefully this will be their tournament. They've been in the finals of several in the last couple of years but I don't think they've ever won one.

Yesterday, after work, I hurried over for the morning Improv class. The teacher said that she wasn't feeling full speed so the class may not be as hard as typical. When asking for suggestions of things to work on, one person offered partner poses. Uhhg. It was an interesting class though. We did a lot of groin stretching and Hanumanasana research. One of the guys who typically goes to the evening classes and the Saturday morning class always asks for that pose. A couple of weeks ago, he apparently started to feel short of breath in class. When taking a break didn't help, he left. Turns out he was having some problem with his heart. He ended up having to have surgery. The teacher yesterday decided to work on Hanumanasana for him in absentia. The first partner pose we did was a Samakonasana stretch. One person sat with their back to the wall in an Upavishta Konasana position and spread their legs into as wide an angle as possible. The partner then sat between their legs and used their feet to gently apply pressure to the legs to help spread them wider. We later did a couple of poses I had never done or seen done in any Improv class before. After some hip openers, we did Viranchyasana A. If you saw the issue of People magazine that had a short blurb on male yoga teachers, it's the pose that Tim Miller was doing in the picture on the contents page. You place one foot into half lotus. You then put the other foot behind the head, like in Eka Pada Sirsasana. Even if you can readily put your foot behind your head, doing so after being in lotus is a very different proposition. I think only one person in the room was able to do it. She made it look easy though. She even did the next phase of the asana in which you lift up and place the lotus leg in the armpit while keeping the other leg behind the head and hold it there for five breaths, like in Urdhva Kukkutasana. We did Bhekasana next then we repeated it with the use of a partner to help us get a deeper expression. The partner would put their weight on the buttock or the legs of the person in the posture. They would then push on the elbows of the person in the pose, directing the forearms vertically down towards the floor while gently pulling back on the shoulders to raise the chest further from the floor. After that prep work, we did one called Vamadevasana II. This is sort of a combination of Padmasana and Bhekasana. One leg is folded in front of you with the heel of the foot near the hip of the opposite side. The other leg is extended back behind you. You bend the knee and grasp the foot of the trailing leg and push it towards the hip like is done in Bhekasana. You then lift the foot in front and press the soles of both feet against each other. That's the goal anyway. A little later we did Dhanurasana then repeated it with the partner stepping between the arms and lifting the person up and off of the floor by their heels. We also did some twists, including a few different ones than usual. One we did was deceptively difficult. I have no idea what the name for it is. I guess it's a variation of Bharadvajasana. In this pose, we started in a kneeling position, then sat back toward the floor. Instead of sitting on our heels, we sat so that the heels of both feet were off to one side, right next to the hip. We then took the arm that was on the side opposite the side the feet were on and wrapped it behind our backs and grabbed the crook of the elbow of the other arm. We then twisted away from the side that the feet were on, looked to the rear and tried to place the hand under the knee, like is done in Bharadvajasana. It doesn't look like it would be hard but it was one of the most difficult twists I have done. I'm still feeling it this morning. After all that, we did closing poses. No backbends at all, much to my chagrin. It was a really fun class. It was difficult in some ways but not the "totally wasted, out of energy" kind of difficult. It had a lot of new stuff that was fun to try. That particular teacher is also one of the best at working us on fundamentals is doing asana.

Today, I went to the second series class at 8:00. This was probably my best second series class so far. I got tired but not exhausted. That's a first. At the start of class a friend from back east showed up for class. She is a long time student of Tim's. She is a teacher back east now. She has a great practice. She is very disciplined. She does things the right way, no cheats, keeps the dristis, etc. When she was here last year for Guruji's visit, I asked her about Pasasana. At our studio, a lot of folks, including my wife and myself, use rolled up mats or some other lift to place under the heels when doing this pose. I asked her if that's how they do it back where she teaches. She looked aghast at the notion. "Oh, god no" she said. "First get the heels down, then binding. But nobody uses props." Since then, I've always felt like a bit of a wuss for relying on my little foam block. Today, I decided to go ahead and go without it, seeings how she was almost right across from me and all. I did okay. I bound, just the fingers, but still bound. I couldn't get the heels down all the way but they weren't that far from the floor. I was hoping the foot behind the head stuff from yesterday would help me in the Eka Pada and Dwi Pada Sirsasana poses but I didn't do all that great with them. I can get the eka padas ok, though sometimes my foot will slip off my head on the second side when I do the forward bend. I can't ever get the vinyasa out though. Each time I press up into Chakorasana, the foot slips off of my head. I did better through the Tittibhasanas today. I didn't have to stand up in the middle of doing them and catch my breath like I usually do. I still haven't bound in Tittibhasana B but am getting closer. Another first for me today was being able to cross my legs into lotus while in Pincha Mayurasana pose, in preparation for trying Karandavasana. I didn't get much farther than that though. There's so many vectors of effort going on as you start to lower the knees to the armpits, it's really hard mentally, not just physically. I was trying to lean my butt back past the midline to counterbalance the weight of the knees as they start to come down. I got part way down but lost my focus and ended up dropping down to the floor. Tim was right next to me helping some one do Karandavasana. When I plopped down, he kind of laughed and said, "Oh, many people dropping. Gravity is winning. Gravity, it's not just a good idea. It's the law." When he helped me do the pose, I tried to make an effort to really lift my head and shoulders as he helped settle the knees into the armpits. I lost control over my rear end, however, and it dropped too low. He was holding on to me, so he just had to lift a little more to get me back up. I exited out to chaturanga reasonably well. We're supposed to sort of pop up a bit using our arms as we bring the feet towards the floor so that we can shift from our forearms to our hands and brake the descent of the feet, ideally landing softly on just the hands and feet. Mine was something along those lines. The rest of the practice was less good. I fell out of two of the seven head stands, both of the C's: Mukta Hasta Sirsasana C and Baddha Hasta Sirsasana C. I've always had a hard time with those two so no big surprise there. Over all I was happy with how I had done so far. For back bends, we did two sets of three. I was able to get up on the last three, with decreasing levels of gracefulness each time. I thought for a second about doing the drop back, I had plenty of energy but I wimped out once again. I didn't want my friend to think I was a total poser if I splatted on my face instead of landing it. I'm sure she wasn't even looking, that's not her style, but it seemed like a good excuse at the time.

A good weekend of yoga for me. My wife is gnashing her teeth though. Because of the soccer tournament, she doesn't get to practice for three whole days in a row. That's a hardship for her. Boo Hoo. Welcome to my ashtanga lifestyle. That's a good week for me, only missing three days in a row. It's not a fair weekend for her though. She has to stay in a dinky hotel in Costa Mesa with three kids and sit in the sun all day watching 10 year olds play soccer for three days in a row. Not the most relaxing of weekends. I just checked my schedule. I don't get to go up and watch the last game today after all. I'm on call tonight. That sucks. I enjoyed watching the game yesterday and was looking forwards to today's playoff game. I offered to call in sick or something but she vetoed that. Quarterly taxes are due soon so working is a priority

Friday, August 22, 2003

Well, it seems I've devolved into a total blog slacker. I have practiced three times this week and not one word put up. I guess the thrill of composing has worn off and the realization that it's not that easy to make what I have done that day seem even mildly intriguing has started to settle in. And here I was getting chagrined that the other folks with weblogs about ashtanga had tailed off in their postings. A blogging hypocrite I yam.

So, on to this week's revelations. I almost never get to practice on Tuesday mornings because that is normally my surgery day. I've had a couple of opportunities to do the 9:00 mysore class when I've been on call the evening before. This past Tuesday, they had another case scheduled before mine. I wasn't due to start until 11:00. I couldn't go to the 9:00 mysore class given that potential start time, so I went to the 7:00 first series class with Tim. I've only been to that class once before ever, almost three years ago. I remember it because for some reason, I had thought it was a mysore class, not a led class. While everybody else was setting up, I started doing my sun salutations. I noticed I was getting a few looks but I figured it was because I was fairly new and not one of the usual faces. I caught on when Tim set his mat up to practice and called everybody to the front of their mats for the invocation. By this time, I had already done most of the surya namaskara B's. I ended up having to do them all a second time when he started in with the led class. The entire time I was doing them I was imagining everybody else in the room saying to themselves, "Who is that spaz over there who was doing the sun sals before class?" This time, I had a bit more of a clue of what to do. I went to pranayama that morning too. As we got going with the led class, I think I figured out one of the things that makes me feel less than full speed when I practice right after pranayama. When we're doing pranayama, our inhales and exhales are drawn out much longer than the usual Ujjayi breath. I noticed during the sun salutations that I was still doing overly long respirations. It just becomes a default pattern when doing the Ujjayi breaths. I had to consciously make myself switch to a more normal length of breath. I didn't previously notice it because I think I have only done mysore type classes after pranayama. There, I can keep whatever rhythm I fall into and not notice it. In a led class, my breath had to match the rhythm given by the teacher. I wasn't matching up so it stood out more obviously. The rest of the class went well. He got through the first series fairly quickly. I don't know if this was by design or not. We were done with Setu Bandhasana an hour and 15 minutes into the class. He then had us do some of the initial postures of the second series, up through Ustrasana, as a prep for backbending. One thing I do remember about the other time I went to this class is that he did throw in a few other postures. That time he had us do some stuff like Marichasana E & F, so maybe he does try to leave some time to do extra stuff. I must have jinxed us with my last post about doing the backbends alphabetically because that's exactly what we did, up through the letter L. I was able to stand up on five of them. I fell back down on a couple of them, including the last one, but I was able to make it up when I retried. If you don't do normally do more than three to five backbends, twelve of them probably sounds like a lot. They really do get easier to do as you keep going though.

On Wednesday I went to the evening led first series. In the Tuesday led class, Tim is practicing along with us. In that class, he doesn't count each vinyasa out loud. He'll call out the name of the posture and will then do it silently. We follow along, guided in part by the rhythm of the breath. After his fifth breath in the pose, he'll call out "five" as a signal for us all to start the vinyasa to the next posture. The Wednesday evening class is a more typical led class. He is not doing the postures with us, he is calling out the postures and counting each vinyasa in sanskrit while he circulates and adjusts, interjecting with running commentary from time to time. I had to be at work that evening at 8:00 pm and the class normally finishes at 7:30 pm. I told Tim I might have to leave before Savasana to make it to work in time. I ended up not having to because we finished sooner than we usually seem to. I usually find the led first series classes more difficult to do than the first series portion of my mysore practices. I think that is because we have to follow the cadence and timing of the teacher rather than our own intrinsic pace. I think following an external rhythm and maybe having to hold the poses for a bit longer than I might on my own gradually takes more out of me. I had a good practice over all. All of them were good this week. We must have looked a little frazzled as a group though because he only had us do three back bends. Even though I was worried about getting out of class in time, I was disappointed in this. I have only made it up from a back bend once or twice with out having previously done some second series work. I thought my chances of getting up after only doing three was zero. I didn't make it up on my first try after the last back bend but I was able to stand up ugly on my second attempt.

Sometimes when I'm on call overnight, I get paid to sleep. That night I wasn't getting paid to sleep. I was up most of the night with one thing or another. I could see it starting to develop that way early on in the call. Sometimes the deliveries, ER visits, phone calls, etc. all space out in just the wrong interval to ensure that the least amount of rest can be achieved. That was the case Wednesday night. I got about an hour and a half of semi-sleep from 4 - 5:30, which helped. Surprisingly, my mysore practice later that morning was one of my best. I felt minimal fatigue during the class. I felt so good that I had decided that was the day that I was going to try a drop back. I could tell I had plenty of energy left. I got up with reasonable style after only the third back bend. As I looked down to get my feet set up, Tim walked up to start doing supported drop backs. I didn't want to tell him no. I guess in hind sight I should have said I wasn't done with backbends yet and that I was going to try and go back on my own. Instead I just went with the flow and did drop backs with him. Next time. I was very pleased with the degree of energy that I had at that part of the practice though. I'm usually sniveling and looking for any break I can get by that point. Yesterday I honestly wished that I could have been able to keep going, more back bends, more postures or at least some extra research work. It was an "on" day for me. Tim helped me in both Utthita Hasta Padangustasana and in Supta Padangustasana. I haven't had him help me in those in a while. Nobody has helped me in the latter for some time. I know I am capable of a greater range of motion than I am able to generate by myself in those two poses. I can almost get my groin to the ground on both sides in Hanumanasana. But when I do those two poses, my foot doesn't get much higher than the level of my shoulder or chest. He helped me in the second portion of the standing version, the part that comes after you swing your leg back to the middle from the side. He got me quite a bit higher without it causing pain. In the supine version he did a similar assist which actually felt pretty good. The supine version has always worried me a bit about getting a hamstring pull with adjustments but this one felt good. Neither version of the assist had me in anything close to trivikrmasana, where the leg is held up next to the head in a splits position, but I was able to be put farther than I've been doing on my own. I never can tell what it is that prompts him or any of the other people who adjust to decide when somebody needs a hand but hopefully I'll keep getting some assists on pushing the envelope on these two poses.

When we were at The Mt Shasta retreat, during one of the Q&A sessions I asked Tim about Samakonasana, the side splits. He does this effortlessly and can do it cold. His legs are straight out to the side without a hint of an angle to them and his hips and back are vertical, not arched forward. Since I find this to be a very painful posture to work on and since I have made minimal progress in it, I asked him if there were postures that some people could do because they had just the right anatomic gifts but that others would not be able to do because of their anatomic limitations. While he did allow that here were certainly some people who would never be able to do a pose like that, he felt that with time and the correct effort, most people probably could achieve it. He had me demonstrate what it is that I do when I try the pose (we normally insert this pose and Hanumanasana right after the Prasarita sequence in the standing series). I normally get my heels past the edges of my mat then I lean forward onto my forearms and try to stretch the heels out as far as I can. He wants me to keep my back straight up, not leaning forward like I had been doing. To do so, I have to balance on hands which are put right next to my groin. In that position, my groin is much higher off of the ground than it was when I was leaning forward. The version in which I would lay on my forearms tilts the pelvis forward artificially creating the appearance that I am closer to the ground. I've started to do it the way he recommends but it makes me nervous wobbling there while I try and balance on my hands while pressing down from the groin. I might just do a Google search to see if I can find one of those machines that people use to passively stretch themselves into the side splits. I just don't know what to use as my search criterion. "Side stretch machine thingie" probably won't get me a lot of hits.

My oldest has a soccer tournament this weekend about 100 miles away. My wife is going up with her today. I work tonight so I'm going to go tomorrow morning's Improv class, pick up my other kids from over at my mom's place then drive up and join them. We'll see how it goes for practice the rest of the week

Monday, August 18, 2003

No yoga today, work came first. After a relaxing vacation like I had last week, work is so much more enjoyable. It's like a valve has opened and released a build up of pressure. Now, the question is how long will it take before the pressure builds up again? We plan on going to class with Pattabhi Jois when he comes to our area in November. I don't know that I can take two full weeks of vacation then though. I may just try and manipulate my schedule to start later rather than actually taking full or half days off.

Yesterday, I went to the led second series class. Tim, our teacher, had made the 12 hour drive back from Shasta the day before, pulling in at around 11:00 PM. His trip was further enhanced by the presence of his two year old daughter (anybody who has made a long road trip with a toddler will know what I mean). After two weeks of next to no personal practice while teaching us, daily hikes at altitude and then a long drive like that, I was amazed that he even showed up to lead the class. I would have taken the day to settle in and recover a bit. This class is a little different than the typical led class in that he does all the postures with us. I ended up practicing right next to him. While he did everything, some of the counts were shorter than they might usually be, especially in the closing sequence. Since I'm usually cagging many postures before that, no complaints from me. After we finished, he then taught the first series class. This is usually a pretty large class and he will typically have one or two people helping him do adjustments. As I was leaving yesterday, that class was just getting started and he had no help at all. Oooof, just what you need after a long trip and a tiring practice in a hot room: 35 - 40 students and no help. Ahh, the glamorous life of a yoga teacher.

I wish I could say that I improved a lot in the Second series from our week in Shasta, but I'd have a hard time proving it. I did marginally better in the Tittibhasanas yesterday, I touched my finger tips in B but couldn't bind. If I could have bound, even if it were just barely, I would have felt totally victorious and would have likely had a power surge that would have kept me pushing the edge for a while longer. Instead, I eased off as I usually do after those tiring postures and just sort of made it through the rest of the class. I've gotten a little better at Eka Pada Sirsasana, I can usually fold forward without my leg sliding off of my head, but not always. I can't do Dwi Pada on my own but I can be put there. Yesterday, Tim did put me there. He sometimes won't adjust me in that pose. I guess he sees something that tells him that I'm not ready yet. He crossed my legs but didn't push the shoulders through too much. I was kind of bowed over and couldn't hold the balance. I had it for a second but couldn't keep stable with the leg/neck pressure interaction. It felt like if I could get my shoulders through better, I would be more steady and might be able to hold the balance point. Could just be wishful thinking, we'll have to see. I had been thinking I was doing okay with Yogi Nidrasana because I could cross my feet on my own and could also bind my hands. My wife pointed out that to do it correctly the feet are supposed to be on the floor, or very close to it. Mine aren't even close. Same problem: until I can get my shoulders through better, I won't be able to extend my back to apply pressure on the ankles.
Even though I can't do the series without getting so tired that the last few postures are little more than going through the motions, it feels like I will be able to make better progress in that series than I have so far in the three years I have been trying to learn the first series. Talk is cheap of course.

Last week, one of the practices was an improv type class. He covered a lot of areas but one of the focuses of the class was bandha development. That translated into lots of arm balances of one type or another. I have only done most of those postures a couple of times. And saying that I have "done" them is misleading. More accurately, I have tried to do them. I did okay this time. I almost made it into Urdhva Kukkutasana B. In this pose you start out in Padmasana. Then you lift up onto your hands like you were doing Uth Pluttihi. In one 'smooth' motion, you then swing your legs back though your arms and, with your bandhas, lift your butt up and place your knees in the armpits and balance there for 5 breaths. I could get my knees through on a couple of tries. I could get a whisper of a lift going but never enough to actually get the knees anywhere near a position of support on the arms. I was able to do Urdhva Kukkutasana C though. It's an easier version in which you start in Padmasana. In Padmasana, you roll up onto your hands and knees. Then with a full exhale, you bandha up and slide the knees up the arms and position them in the armpits for a five breath hold. It took me a couple of tries but I got it eventually and was able to hold it too. I never got Bakasana B the entire week. I had previously landed it a couple of times in practice back at home and was hoping to be able to keep it going but I've lost the feel for what it takes to float in. The poses we tried in the bandha class did clearly demonstrate the importance of the bandhas. But, not being able to do most of them yet just more clearly showed me that I don't have much in the way of bandhas. Thanks for the reminder.

I don't have to start my OR tomorrow until mid morning so I'm going to go to the led first series class with Tim. I haven't gone to that class in over two years. Tuesdays are my normal operating day so I almost never get to class on those days. The one time I can remember going to that particular class, I think Tim threw in a few extras, like counting the reps of Urdhva Dhanurasana alphabetically up to 12. Fun stuff like that. Can't wait.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

We're back from our yoga vacation to Mt. Shasta. It was a great week. I had hoped to be able to go back to that internet cafe a few more times so that I could post updates but the various activities of the days took up our time.

A typical day started with a short 30 minute pranayama session starting at 6:30 am, for those that wanted to do that. Pranayama was followed by asana practice, usually lasting about two hours. After some time for cleaning up, eating breakfast and resting a bit, there was a trip to a scenic spot somewhere in the Shasta area. These usually involved a short hike of a mile or so. In the evening, after everyone had returned from whatever they did that day, we would have a question and answer session in the yoga room for an hour or so. Then dinner, followed by conversation, hot tubbing, scrabble games, etc. We were usually in bed by 10 pm.

The pranayama sessions were kept, as Tim put it, "compassionate". The retentions were pretty short compared to his norm. The actual inhales and exhales were long enough though. Since a lot of the folks there hadn't previously done much pranayama, some said it was hard for them. By the end of the week, we had moved up to doing the exhales and inhales with retentions and the alternate nostril breathing sequences. Hardest part for me was the occasional fly that would buzz through and land on my hands or neck or something. After, distracting me, it would then flit over to the next person, then back to me, go away for a while, come back, etc. In a normal class, that much of a distraction would have done me in. Fortunately, the sessions were toned down enough that it was just distracting, not disturbing or disrupting.

Asana class varied each day. The workshop is set up to be focused on the second series. We did do led second series on Sunday and Tuesday. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we did Mysore style class. On Thursday, Tim gave a class that was geared toward bandha development. I had hoped we would do more full second series, but both times that we did it, I was hitting the wall, ability-wise and endurance-wise, around the Tittibhasana series. On the mysore class days, most folks did the second series. The more advanced yogis in the group would do the third series on those days. I did my usual mysore session, which is first series and the second series up through supta vajrasana. I didn't notice much effect from being at that altitude. It's not that high, somewhere around 3500 feet I think, but I remember feeling it the first few days last year when we did the first series workshop. The mysore days were the best practices for me. I haven't done full second series enough times yet to have any sense of rhythm. The mysore classes allow me the opportunity to pace things to my best advantage. It's a sequence that I've become increasingly comfortable with. I never felt as tired doing those postures as I did doing the full second series. I'll post in more detail later about the classes each day, we're a little worn out right now.

In attending a workshop like this, for better or worse, one has the opportunity to benchmark one's self against an array of experienced yogis. As one of the less experienced people in the room, I did nothing to impress, but fortunately I didn't embarrass myself either. Seeing everyone else being able to do so many postures so well is a highly energizing and motivating experience. Getting to know these folks and learning about their different paths of development helps reinforce the concept that, with due diligence and practice, many things will come.

I'm going to stop here. I want to get some sleep. I'm going to try and go to the 2nd series class tomorrow morning. I have no idea when my next shot at a full 2nd series class will come, so I'm going to take advantage of it while I can. It will be interesting to see how different it feels to do the class at sea level and in the usually warm studio here instead of the wood burning stove heated room in Shasta

Monday, August 11, 2003

I posting from sunny Mt. Shasta. We're here on our Second Series retreat. I found an internet cafe in town to maintain e-contact. It's only $3 US for an hour's access on a T-1 line. I've never used one of these places before but that seems like a pretty good deal to me. I hat e the keyboard though. It's too sensitive, just brushing a nearby key enters a mistype. I must have inadvertently hit the Caps Lock button about twelve times already. This is the second time I'm writing this also. I tried to open a second window to look something up and ended up logging off, losing about 30 minutes of work. No big deal normally, but I'm on the clock here and my ride is waiting for me to finish.

Our trip up here was uneventful, as normal as it is possible to be. The only hitch to the whole day was when we found out that our dog and my mom's dog had run off sometime that day and hadn't returned by that evening. The coyotes ruling the night around here, so not coming back by nightfall is often a lethal thing for pets. Since they still haven't been found. It's not looking good. I feel worse about losing my mom's dog than losing ours. She's had her for something like 14 years and now she's gone. Hopefully somebody will find them.

My practice here have been much better than what I had back in San Diego last week. I had three mysore classes but none of them were very good. At least they kept me doing the poses so I wouldn't be totally stiff. For classes here, we're alternating days, one day second series , the next day mysore. That works great for me because I need to keep doing those first series poses to keep loose, especially in my hams and twists.

I'll have to come back another day and finish this, my allotted time is about gone and there's people waiting to use the machine. It's been great so far, I even had a smooth stand up form backbend.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Yesterday was a mysore practice day. Today is a work day for 24 hours but then I get to do mysore again tomorrow and Friday. The weekend will be a little hectic. On Saturday, we've got a couple of soccer tournaments to go to for the kids then we bail out for the airport for our all-growed-up-kids trip to Mt. Shasta for a week of yoga.

My sister is flying in to take over the kids while we're out recreating. She has helped us out this way a bunch of times. The kids love to have her come, she likes to spend time with the kids and we get some free time. It's a win-win-win situation usually. Usually, as in not always. We got the impression when she watched them for us last year that maybe they were a little less fun to watch over all by her lonesome now that they were older and were that much better at fighting, being selfish and nasty, etc. This trip will be easier for her since the cousin who is visiting from Hawaii will be able to help her do stuff with the kids. In addition, she'll only have to watch over two of them. Our oldest went away to camp on Catalina Island for two weeks a couple of days ago. It's amazing how untrusting I am. One aspect of my work is that I have to look at most situations and evaluate them from a worst case scenario point of view. That tends to carry over to everyday thinking as well. My worst case scenario for a 10 year old girl away by herself for camp for two weeks is not a bad case of poison ivy or home sickness. I think of far worse. But, at some point you have to take the leap of faith. It hasn't helped my frame of mind that one of my partners sent his son away to a boarding school last year. He was truly loving it, he had found his element. Unfortunately, he was crushed and killed in a rollover accident in an old unmaintained school pickup truck. The kids were all in the back on the way to do some field work. Apparently, the vehicle some how stalled out and started to roll back down the hill. Either the brakes also failed, or the driver panicked but he lost control as it rolled backward. Most of the kids were flung free. Only my partner's son died. He was apparently trying to help the school dog get out of the truck instead of getting himself out and the truck landed on him when it flipped. One in a million fluke. That doesn't really matter if the one is your child though.

When we leave for Mt. Shasta on Saturday, we fly into Redding, which is about an hour and a half from Shasta. We have a rental car, but our flight gets in about 90 minutes after the rental place is supposed to close. They've assured my wife that they will have a car there but I think we're both expecting to see the rental booth shut down. The car we rented last year we had to return after we got about 15 miles from the airport when the "Engine Service" light came on. The guy at the desk tried to reassure us it was just an indicator showing the vehicle was due for routine servicing and that it could wait until we returned it. Yeah. Right. What are we? A couple of yokels from down south San Diego way? Thanks but no thanks, we'll take a different car. So, we may end up having to call the B&B and have somebody drive all the way back down to Redding to get us, then come back the next day to get our car. That or find a room in Redding for the night. Nothing like a little flux to start you off on a nice relaxing vacation.

Fortunately, as I noted above, I do get to do some practice this week before I have to go play with the big kids at the second series workshop. I had hoped for a little better preparation leading up to this than just three mysore classes, but I'll take what I can get. In yesterday's practice, in general I was stiffer than I should have been. This was most noticeable in the twists. I could tell I was not having a peak day as early as Parivrrta Trikonasana. I felt some of the usual stiffness in the gluteal area but also felt tight in the spine, which is not something I feel that often. My twisting in Marichasana C and Pasasana was sub-standard too. Going in to the class, I had planned on doing Pasasana twice. The first time I was going to do it the way I usually do, with a one inch foam block under my heels for support. After that 'warm up', I was going to do it a second time with no support to see how I would do. I was hoping that the first go round would loosen me up enough to be able to stay balanced enough to get bound and then maybe get my heels lowered closer to, if not onto the floor. Best laid plans are meant to go awry. I had trouble even getting bound in the first go around. My right side is usually my 'good' side but yesterday my arm kept slipping up and over my knee. The teacher came by and adjusted me into a better position but then I tipped over backwards. I got the left side okay but never made it to the unsupported version on either side. When I finished the first series, I felt comparatively strong, I wasn't feeling too tired. By the time I finished with those attempts at Pasasana, I was worn out so I decided to save my energy and move on.

I felt pretty good after first series yesterday but I can't fairly compare that to my usual led first series classes because I have to finish the first series poses more quickly in mysore. When I do a mysore class, I usually only do four surya A's and three Surya B's. The hold times for the asanas are shorter than is usual for a led class. If you take out the second series poses I do, the preparatory or 'research' poses for some of the second series postures, the other extra flourishes that are typically done at our place, like the splits and bakasana, take out the extra postures that I sometimes sneak in, the actual first series portion of my mysore practice probably takes 65 minutes, give or take a few.

I've surprised myself with my diligence in attending pranayama. I think I've gone to every class that my work schedule would allow me to get to except one, the morning my daughter was leaving for camp. I've still missed plenty of days, but I've managed to get through that sometimes hardest asana of all, roll-out-of-bed-asana, every time I've faced it. One reason I like pranayama is that I like early morning. I can be as lazy as the next person and want to keep sleeping, but once I'm up, I really enjoy the quiet and calm of the early morning. I'm glad it's getting darker in the morning because I like pranayama better when it's not bright in the room.

I went to the Intro to Pranayama last Saturday. I was talking with the teacher before we started class. He had asked me how regular pranayama was going for me. I had told him that it seemed easier recently than when I had first started. I explained that it seemed like Tim was doing shorter lengths of breaths and retentions recently and maybe that was why it seemed easier. He was giving me a puzzled look while I was saying this. He told me the classes are just what they have always been. I swear my counts of the retentions were shorter though. There were only a total of four of us for that Saturday class, so he said that since we had all been doing it for a while, he was going to make every thing go just a bit longer. It seemed just as easy as his normal Intro class to me. He asked at the end how it seemed and the other two felt it was harder, so maybe I have progressed unwittingly. Today, that same instructor led to normal pranayama class for Tim, since he's out town. The last time I went to a normal class in which this teacher led, it seemed just like the Intro class, almost too easy. I was expecting more of the same today. It didn't work out that way. These were at least as long as Tim's and some took longer. This teacher really can inhale and exhale for a long time. In Tim's class as we near the end of an inhale, most of us are barely moving any air. This guy is still going strong. Today I was already starting to feel uncomfortable and was sweating before we had even finished the initial section of rechaka and puraka khumbhaka, retentions after both inhalation and exhalation. Fortunately, when we started into the alternate nostril breathing, he seemed to shorten the duration of the retentions about halfway through. I ended up only taking one extra breath total for the class. The way I was feeling early on, I was afraid this was going to be one of those days where I was reduced to a mere observer, breathing secretly while the others did the real practice. One of the breathing techniques we do in called Bhastrika, or bellows breath. For this one we take a deep Ujjayi breath, then we do a series of quick breaths in and out through the nose. The technique sounds like it would if you were trying to blow a drop of sweat from the edge of your nose before it ran inside. We do about 50 of the rapid breaths in a row then fully exhale, do a long inhale and hold the breath for about a minute. We do a total of three of those cycles. When we do the rapid bellows part of the breath, I have been having problems. I lose the rhythm of my breath because I get distracted by the sound of the breathing by those around me. I don't get as forceful of an exhale or actually make an inhale out of step, all kinds of stuff. It's kind of interesting to be able to get confused like that. I had no trouble when I did it with the small group.

This is going on overly long, perhaps I'm trying to make up for the lack of material the last two weeks. At any rate, I'm being called to do some work on L&D. There, we have the women do a completely different kind of pranayama.

Monday, August 04, 2003

I did a much better job of asset allocation yesterday. I decided ease off a bit and see how my energy held up thru the class. I guess the thing that I backed off the most on was my vinyasa. I just did the old lolasana lift then flopped back down and rolled forward to my knees and jumped back from there. I had been really trying to get more lift and to get my feet thru. I was never in danger of succeeding but I was trying to get as far as I could each time. Not doing that at all yesterday seemed to have made a big difference. I felt fairly energetic, even at the end. When I would try to do the vinyasa back, it never seemed that strenuous. If that is what was making me more tired, I guess the effort to try it expended more than I realized. I'll have to play around with it a bit to see if that's really what it was that made me more tired this week.

Since Tim is out of town, we once again had a less crowded than usual class. There were tons of people I had never seen before though. I wasn't close to any of them though so I didn't get much of a chance to rubberneck. I'm doing a lot less of that lately. Without really trying to do so, I've become more internally focused in my practices. I am still fairly undisciplined about maintaining the ideal rhythm of breaths. I still waste a fair amount of time wiping sweat, adjusting myself etc. I am usually one of the last ones actually entering a posture. In spite of that, my focus on what I'm doing when in the postures is much better. As a result of paying more attention to how I feel internally and less on how the gumby girl next to me is doing, a lot of my postures have been improving. While I still regress if I don't practice, it almost feels like my baseline range of motion is steadily moving forwards. What I call stiff now, I would have been fairly happy with last year.

Somebody made a comment on the EZBoard Ashtanga bulletin board that I really identified with. Someone was quoted as saying that they viewed each pose they did in their practice as a preparation for the pose that they were currently working on, in that case it was Kapotasana. I have been working on that same pose and as a result have evolved a similar perspective about my preceding practice. Even when I'm only doing first series, it's always with the background thought of, "If I do this part better, or that aspect better, it may help me get my shoulders farther or my groins to stretch more." I used to just do the standing sequence without a whole lot of attention, just did it to get on to the rest of the first series. Now I pay a lot more attention and give more effort in all of those poses, especially the Surya Namaskaras. I've gradually come to recognize that I'll develop more with conscious attention and effort than I will by just going along and letting it happen as it may. Only took me three years to reach that conclusion. I'm slow, but trainable.

In Sunday's class, I felt reasonably loose. I had practiced in one class or another the three preceding days. Despite that, I was surprised to find that my Supta Kurmasana was worse than usual. I could bind my hands but not as far as previously and it took more effort to hold the bind. Where I used to come out of this pose just exhausted from the effort, lately I have been able to do it with more ease and steadiness. Not easy, just easier. Yesterday for some reason was a pull back. Nothing else in the class seemed to be worse than usual, even Kurmasana went fine, so I couldn't figure out what was different about that one. On the brighter side, I did get up from Urdhva Dhanurasana. I felt like I could do it on the fourth one (we did two sets of three) but I decided to try and get more depth on that one and come up on the fifth and sixth. I should have gone up on the fourth. I still felt strong then. I was starting to tire a bit by number five. I started up but only made it off the ground a few inches. That's been the pattern for me. I almost get it on one try and then I usually can get it the next time up. I did make it up on the last one, with my usual lack of form. I just need to get up more regularly so I can start fine tuning what I need to do to not make people around me scurry for cover for fear that I'm going to topple over in their direction. Not being exhausted going into the backbends helped a lot mentally.

I felt more up beat after Sunday's class than I had in the classes earlier in the week. I think keeping the energy at a more even keel through the class helped there too. I'll have to explore the whole balance of energy use in my next few classes. I've got three chances at Mysore this week. After that, I'm off to Mt. Shasta for a week of second series. I've never done full second series twice in a row, so a week of it should be interesting. For that matter, I've only done first series for six days in a row three or four times ever.