Sunday, June 29, 2003

As health club or gym setting Ashtanga classes go, today's class was a mixed bag. On the good side, we did get in just about all of the first series, including postures that are typically omitted, like Janu sirsasana C and Marichasana D. On the "could have been done better" side, the teacher made a few mistakes, or at least did things differently than is normally done in Ashtanga. I didn't get to talk with the teacher after class, but from the style of teaching, I got the impression that he had a primary background in some form of yoga other than Ashtanga. I could be wrong on that. One thing that was very different from most Ashtanga classes is that he talked almost the whole time. Some of it was verbal cues for alignment, some of it was encouragement type stuff ("When you're falling down, you're learning"), some of it was blabby spiritual-speak. Whatever, it was more than was necessary. One of my biggest peeves in when instructors will carry on in savasana about how you're supposed to relax, let go of things etc. Who can let go and fully relax when they're having to listen to someone lecturing them?

Despite the ongoing verbiage during the class, he did almost no adjusting. When I did see him adjust, it was never the bigger or deeper adjustments that are commonly given in Ashtanga. They were usually slight movements of an arm or foot. He did do some demonstration of postures but not that much really. Certainly not enough for me to get a sense of where his practice was at. Most teachers I'm familiar with who give led classes will usually either be adjustors or demonstrators. He didn't really fall into either camp. That's really neither here nor there from where I'm concerned. I knew what to do. In these kind of classes though, there's enough people who are new to the practice or maybe who haven't ever seen some of the postures that occur later in the series, that something more than talking is needed to help them not feel lost.

His pronunciation of the Sanskrit names was kind of different. Most people mispronounce a lot of them, myself included, so that wasn't that big of a deal either. What did bug me a bit was him getting postures out of order and having the class do the wrong side first on several of them. Everything was pretty much kosher up until the marichasanas. As an interesting time saving maneuver, instead of doing them one at a time, first on the right side then the left, with vinyasas between each, he had us do all four back to back on one side, then a vinyasa, then all four on the other side. That was fine, but he had us do the left side first, then the right. Not a catastrophic miscue, but it would make someone who knew Ashtanga question if the teacher knew what they were doing. For most of the people taking the class, it was probably not even noticed.

After Navasana, he went right to Garbha Pindasana. I figured he must have been running out of time and had decided to skip the next three postures. After Garbha though, we went back to Bhujapidasana then Kurmasana. Then, he said we would do Supta Kurmasana, but he had everybody do Upavishta instead. We never did do Baddha Konasana, a major omission in my opinion. After Supta Konasana, we did Ubhaya Padangustasana and Urdhva Mukha Pascimottanasana. Then we came back with Supta Padangustasana, but he did the left side first. I don't know if he thinks that's how the first series is really done or if he just got a little disconbobulated or what, but I was really getting the impression he didn't know the correct sequence to the first series.

As I said, it probably worked fine for most people, it was just a gym class after all, but I think it should be done correctly if you're going to do it. At the beginning of the class he did make the point that we were going to be doing the whole first series, so that's what we should be able to expect. I'll have to find out if he just had a few slip ups, maybe he's new to teaching, or if instead he just doesn't know the correct way to do Ashtanga. Hopefully, it's the former.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

I'm in the midst of another unavoidable yoga hiatus. Other than morning pranayama classes, I'm going to have almost no yoga practice for a week. A collection of nefarious forces of nature like surgeries running late, moon days and being on call have all conspired to effectively shun me from the yoga world. I was looking at no asana practice from last Wednesday's mysore class until this coming Thursday's mysore. Fortunately, my wife told me about a health club type class this Sunday that is supposed to be full first series. Sunday is a moon day, otherwise I'd practice at my normal studio.

I don't practice at health clubs that often anymore. My first Ashtanga practice ever, a little over three years ago, was at Tim's studio with a teacher named Dom. That class obviously set the hook that brought me back for more. For some reason, I mainly did practices at health clubs in our area for the next several months. I guess the schedule of classes better fit my needs at the time. There was also probably a bit of the "I don't belong in the Ashtanga studio classes, I'm just a beginner" mind set for me. When Guruji came thru our area in the year 2000, we went to class with him each day for two weeks. My first class after that was in a health club. Like most classes in health clubs, it was a modified shortened version of the first series. After those two weeks of practice with Guruji, I found the gym class was too short, too easy and that it wasn't enough for me. So, I started going to Tim's place more and more. In the last couple of years almost all of my practice has been at Tim's. The exceptions are times like this week, when I just can't practice there because of scheduling problems. When I have to, I go where I can when I can. The class I did with Suburbfreak a few weeks ago was at a new fitness place in our area that has some classes at convenient times with reasonably experienced teachers. The one I'm going to go to tomorrow is at your basic weight lifting, aerobics class type gym that has a large array of yoga classes. This one is for 90 minutes, so hopefully we'll get to do the real deal. Most of the people who lead the various ashtanga or ashtanga-like classes at gyms and other local shalas have some background of training with Tim, since he is the most experienced teacher in the area. My wife substitute teaches classes at several of these places and knows most of the other teachers in the area. She doesn't know much about the person leading tomorrow's class so there's no telling what we'll get. I usually enjoy these classes but for different reasons than for why I enjoy classes at Tim's. I enjoy seeing a whole new group of people practicing. I like the change of pace of working with a new teacher in a new setting. If I get a good physical practice out of it too, then I've gotten as much as could be asked for. If nothing else, they have lots of mirrors, so I can see how my warrior pose is doing.

The annual teacher training session is now finished. The class sizes should now be back to more reasonable levels of crowding. I'm going to miss those guys in pranayama though. Goodbye to the shorter lengths of the breaths and retentions and back to the more difficult normal routine. I think the level of practice we had been doing the last few days was right at about my speed. I was gaining some confidence. By being able to keep going through the practice without needing to take 'cheater' breaths (or at least not needing to take them very often), I was starting to get a better feel for some things, like the control of the diaphragm and the throat during the longer breaths and after retentions. I was starting to get a sense of rhythm and pacing. Hopefully, the return to a more normal practice won't blow all of that. On Friday, Tim added a form of pranayama that I'd never done before, Bhedana breathing. This is a form of pranayama in which you inhale through one nostril, hold a long retention, then exhale through the other nostril. In Surya Bhedana, you inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. In Chandra Bhedana, you inhale through the left and exhale through the right. We did this right after the Bhastrika breathing, which is a rapid series of forceful inhalations and exhalations followed by a long retention. When Tim was describing the new breathing to the group, he said the retentions would be longer ones, like the ones we do in bhastrika pranayama, which are normally close to 60 seconds but which he had kept down to around 45 seconds for the teacher training sessions. I must count too slowly because my counts for those retentions were only up to around 25 counts. Usually my counts for the bhastrika retentions would go up to 35-40 or sometimes 45. Holding your breath for 45-60 seconds three times in a row after having done a whole series of difficult inhalation and exhalation retentions might sound difficult, but it is actually easy and quite a relief in comparison to the challenges of the alternate nostril sequence. The Bhastrika breathing is a hyperventilation that makes holding the breath a breeze. In the Bhedana breathing, Tim told us we would be doing an inhale through one nostril followed by a long retention. Then, after exhaling through the other nostril, we would repeat 2 more cycles. We would then switch to Chandra Bhedana and do the same process with the nostrils reversed. Six breaths in a row with long retentions, without the benefit of that hyperventilation, definitely sounded hard. It was harder than bhastrika, I did take an extra breath as we switched sides from Surya to Chandra, but I was surprised to find it was not as difficult as I had feared.

For the last couple of weeks, we've had one of the cousins from Hawaii visiting us. We were sitting around the living room one night and somehow got into doing some postures with the kids. I can't believe how stiff this guy is. He can barely touch his shins in a foreword bend, never mind his toes. He's only 15 years old. I don't think I have ever been that stiff. I was also disappointed to see that our kids are starting to lose flexibility. The girls used to be able to just drop down into the splits, like cheerleaders do. Now, I can do a better splits than my oldest can. I think all the soccer and other sports stuff is beginning to tighten her up. They have no interest in going to yoga class though and I'm not about to drag them. I think doing those stretches opened their eyes though. They could see how much they'd lost. Hopefully they'll at least start doing some stretching stuff around the house, or maybe start back with some gymnastics classes. They used to laugh at me for being so stiff compared to them. They didn't like it when I was able to laugh at them for being stiff.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

To quote Matthew Broderick's character in the movie Biloxi Blues, at practice today, it was Africa hot. I pulled up right at 9:00. I was expecting that most of the people in the 7:00 mysore class would have finished or be just about to finish and the room would have emptied out quite a bit. When I walked in, it was still packed and the walls were already running with sweat. The people like me who came around 9:00 just sort of filled in when a mat space came open, just like happens in Guruji's place. We don't experience that here usually because mysore only lasts 2 hours. Even when there's a class after mysore, the room empties completely and refills with new people getting ready for the next class. While that transition is going on, the room is usually opened to the outside to let out some heat and let in some fresh air. Today was one long ongoing class, so no cool down for the room.

The adjustments today for the overflow group were pretty much the trainees adjusting the other trainees. None of them have come by me in two days. Tim and his assistant were doing their own practice--third series today. A couple of times Tim stopped what he was doing and moved to help someone else in the room but for the most part we were on our own. That's fine by me, I mainly wanted the chance to practice all my postures. The two of them did come over my way to give me another kapotasana adjustment. I had seen them doing their own stuff as I dropped back into the pose, so I wasn't expecting any help. I had tried to catch the eye of one of the trainees who was watching Tim practice to see if he'd come over but I couldn't get his attention. So, I just did the best I could on my own. As I came up to kneeling, standing right about two inches from where my face stopped was Tim. I wasn't expecting that and let out an audible "Whhoooah." I looked back behind me and there was his helper at my feet. I felt like someone who has been perfectly surprised by muggers. "You looked like you could use some help," Tim said with a straight face. I admitted that was indeed the case and dropped back for a second version. I don't think I'm really able to do that much more on my own, but each time I get adjusted I am getting put farther into the posture. It's a start.

That it was hot at mid day in late June may not sound to unusual to most people. Southern California has weird weather though. June is usually cloudy and cool thru most of early to mid June, cool meaning the mid 60's to low 70's. This June has been marked by unusually heavy cloud cover and more precipitation than usual. The last week or so, most highs were in the low 60's. I've been wearing my sweatshirt to practice and whenever I drive in the car with the top down. Today was bright and sunny, a Chamber of Commerce kind of day. A tank top day for driving.

I was more tired than usual today. No big surprise there given the heat. I think some of it was doing my full practice yesterday and then again today. Lot's of folks do that each day but I almost never do. When I do get the chance to practice for a few days in a row, most of those classes are led first series classes or improv classes. Doing all of first and some of second is a bit more of a drain for me. I could get used to it though, just looking for the chance.

I was a bit more of a lookie-loo in class today than I have been for the last few weeks. Mainly, I was watching Tim and his assistant do their third series. There are plenty of people I know who are more flexible in some areas than Tim. Yet, he goes into every pose, even raja kapotasana. And Tim is plenty more flexible than almost anyone in plenty of areas, especially his mutant hips and hams. Tim is also quite strong. When he did the demos for the arm balances in that Improv class last Thursday, he just went into the pose, came up, went into the other side, came back out, all with no discernible exertion or wavering. The people in the class who are working on 3rd series poses looked..., diplomatically put, they looked not as good. He is fun to watch.

Well, the crew is expected back from the Del Mar Fair any minute, so time to spell check and post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

An occurrence of extreme rarity is in the offing. I get to do a mysore type practice two days in a row. I have no recollection of when that last occurred. I doubt it's happened more than 3 or 4 times in the 3 years I've been doing yoga. I got to go this morning because I was scheduled for an "off" day for some reason. Tomorrow I'm post-call. Normally, I'd miss out on a mysore class because they are from 7 to 9 on Wednesdays. The glut of students during the teacher training has led to our teacher allowing some students to do an overflow practice at 9:00 to minimize the crowding in the normally scheduled classes. I asked if I could join them tomorrow and was given the green light. I doubt there will be any adjustment from Tim or his normal assistants. That's when they normally do their practice. The teacher trainees have started to do adjustments in classes, so maybe some of them will be adjusting during that practice time.

I went to pranayama this morning. Tim added in the other two types of breathing that we normally do: bhastrika, or bellows breathing, and sitali, or cooling breath. I like both of them. They kind of wind down the session. After completing the alternate nostril breathing with retention, the hard part of pranayama is over, unless you want to count the knees getting sore and the legs going numb from sitting in lotus for 45 minutes. In the bhastrika breathing, after a long inhale, you hang on to your feet and forcefully and quickly breath in and out thru the nostrils 50 to 100 times in about a minute. The breaths are fairly shallow, the exhales being something like a short snort. As you get to the last few breaths, you more completely empty the lungs until with the last one you squeeze out every last iota of air. Then you make a long inhale and then a long retention. When I count during this retention, I normally get to somewhere around 35-40. Today we released at around 20-25. We do three repetitions. Then, after three ujjayi breaths, we do three breaths where the inhale is made thru a rolled tongue, the sitali breath. It really is strikingly cooling.

After pranayama, there was a led first series class with Tim at 7AM. I decided to hang out and watch since my Mysore class was going to follow right after the led class. It is interesting to actually just watch a full class from start to end. It's not something we ever really get to do very much. About the only other time I can think of doing that was when Guruji was here on his trip. You get to see such a wide array of approaches to doing the first series postures. The hardest part is that there's too many people to watch. I ended up just mainly watching the guys in the group. There were three or four teacher trainees circulating the room adjusting. I chuckled a bit when one of them adjusted Tim in down dog. He didn't adjust him really, just gave the usual push on the low back/sacral area. While perfectly reasonable, and probably desired (who doesn't like that extra pressure down into the heels?), it just seemed semi-sacrilegious at first glance. One advantage of watching like that is that you get to see things that would be blocked from view if you were doing the class yourself. I watched closely during supta kurmasana. First, not that many people got into it and second, of the ones who did, a fair proportion of them sat up and crossed their feet behind their heads then laid back down and bound their hands. I was surprised to see that few people bound their wrists in pindasana. You can catch a lot of little things that probably don't really add up to much really. It's just a different perspective

For my practice, I set up in a different place than I typically do. I wanted to be near enough one of the people I had seen adjusting to get a sense of what their practice was like. I ended up being in a mini-chorus line of guys. The others all ended up doing 2nd series while I did my usual first and smattering of early second poses. Tim must have told the trainees to mainly adjust each other because it seemed like they left the "regulars" to Tim and his usual assistant. Not one of them came by me. My only adjustments today were in parivrrta trikonasana and kapotasana. By the time I finished laghuvajrasana and did what kapotasana research poses I had time for, today mainly the viparita dandasana sequence Tim does in his Intro to 2nd series and his Improv classes, I could tell I was not at the level where I was likely to have a record breaking effort. As I dropped back and set up my foundation, Tim's assistant stepped in and helped me get a lot deeper than I was going to be able to do on my own. Deep enough that I let out one of those inadvertent grunts of concern when he pulled my hands back on my feet. In this posture, my shoulders are probably my biggest barrier to progression. I don't know if it was all those years of mis-hitting balls when I played volleyball or what, but I have trouble rotating my arms and hands back like they need to be in kapotasana. When I'm helped out, they can be put in the right place, but my shoulders usually let me know they don't appreciate it. After coming out of the posture and letting the blinking lights fade out, Tim walked up and commented to his assistant, "You know, He's kind of a 'two-person' job. Let's try it again." So I did it again with both of them. I ended up as deep as I have ever been, which is not that deep but it feels like it is. One of the best feeling adjustments you can get is the two person kapotasana adjustment. One person will be at one end bracing your knees with their toes while they pull back on the hips to stretch the groin. The other person is at your front end, with their toes ensuring your elbows are down to the ground while they grasp you around your shoulder blades and externally rotating them while stretching your body forward, opposing the force being applied at the other end. You would think being pulled in opposite direction like that while in an already intense posture would be too much but the opposite is true. The pull relieves all the pressure and gives a really good stretch to the spine.

When I was doing my backbends after kapotasana, I didn't feel all that great. I've certainly been able to get into the poses much better than I did today. After I did the first few backbends, I found I was able to get my weight moving toward my feet better than I ever had before. I wanted to see if i could get my hands up off of the ground. On my last try, I moved a little closer to the wall so that I could hopefully transition to it if I got my hands up. It turns out I got half way up to standing. I still wasn't anywhere close to the weight shift necessary to pull off the full stand up. Part way up I realized this. To avoid a rapid re-entry onto my mat, I twisted and fell back toward the wall in a nearly almost standing/semi-falling down position. There was probably a noticeable impact, since I glanced over to see if my wife had caught my 'performance' and several people were looking to see what had happened. My wife laughed out loud at me again. Bad move on her part. Later in her practice, when doing her viparita chakrasana sequence, she blew it badly and semi-cratered, nearly pulling Tim down with her. Karma chameleon. Who knows. Maybe a few more times and I'll accidentally get up. The problem then will be repeating it. Also, once I ever do get up, then I have to figure out how to get back down. That is one big fear for me, I have to admit. I just have visions of smashing face first into the mat and getting a cervical spine injury. This is one of those cases where having some medical knowledge definitely works against me.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Another weekend day at work. I've got a slow spot here so I'll try and get my posting done now so I don't have to later at home. My wife has been irritated that I have been spending so much of my free time at home pecking away on the computer. I'm not one of those who can compose and enter quickly. I have to do and re-do many times, so it takes me a while to do this.

I was on call Friday for 24 hours. I had a very fragmented night of sleep secondary to some late night deliveries, admissions, phone calls, etc. I went straight from work to the 9:00 Improv class. The busy night took some of the performance edge off. I didn't feel as sharp as I did for Thursday's Mysore class. I was more willing to back off in some of the stretches, not as willing to push the edge. Surprisingly, I never felt overly tired, this despite being right next to the heater. I had originally set my mat down about eight feet from the heater. The room was on the cooler side, so I wanted some heat but I didn't want to be Heater Boy, camped out right next to it. Unfortunately, everybody else didn't want to be right next to it more than I did. When I got back from a quick bathroom run, I found a mat right next to mine. When I put my mat down, it turns out I had left just enough space for someone to set up between me and the next person over. Rather than using the expansive open area closer to the heater, they opted to scrunch in between the mats that were already down. To be polite, I had to slide over to make room. Then later, once class was started, another person squeezed in down the line from us, so we all had to slide our mats over to make room. End result was I ended up being Heater Boy. I'm a novice at heater tactics and skills.

The class itself was very good for me. It consisted of standard Surya A and B's, a Surya C sequence that is fairly typical for that class, a lot of Anjanayasanas and hip flexor stretching, multiple bouts of Hanumanasana, then we did Ardha Nadi Shodana or the first half of the second series. As such, it was a class that some may have found too typical, not "fresh" enough. Some of the people who go to that class go for the variety, for the opportunity to do new things--postures they haven't been given or research sequences that they haven't tried before, etc. For me though, it was perfect. That's exactly the stuff I've been having trouble finding classes I can get to to work on.

Where I gave in a bit mentally was in all the groin stretches. Some of the stretches of the psoas can be on the intense side, just on the edge of being overtly painful. I could tell I wasn't at the peak in terms of flexibility, though I was doing at least average for me in the last month or so. After we did our first hanumanasana sequence, we did some more psoas work: the anjanayasana sequences. When we went to do another set of splits, I was able to get my good side maybe a little closer to the ground, but I didn't feel like pushing it on the side of my stiffer side. Later, when we were doing further groin stretches against the wall in preparation for kapotasana, I let myself bail out pretty early in the discomfort spectrum. We kneel against the wall, with one foot against the wall next to the hip and the other leg out in a lunge position. We then slowly lower our hips in the lunge to stretch the groin. Then we arch backward and eventually try to reach back and grab the foot that is next to the hip. It is a version of eka pada raja kapotasana, with the front foot in an upright lunge position rather than with the leg folded on the ground like in the typical posture. I did okay on the lunging part and the arching back part but when it came to putting the elbows against the wall and trying to reach back and touch or grab the other toe, I gave up after just a few seconds. Not surprisingly, my kapotasana was not my best ever. I haven't made it my goal to make each time I do a pose my best expression of that posture ever. I've come to take those "quitter" days along with the good ones. They're gonna happen. In fact, they occur a lot more often than the good days like I had on Thursday.

One of my holy grail type quests for the second series postures is to land bakasana B. In bakasana A, you start out by just standing with the feet near the hands, bend your knees and place them in the armpits, then press into the hands, lean forward some, and lift the feet. In Bakasana B, you have to jump into the pose from down dog. This can be done with a sort of crash landing style but a more elegant approach is to float into the pose, landing softly and holding it. The strength, balance, bandhas and confidence needed to do this have always eluded me. Yesterday, I actually had it but after landing, my right knee slipped off the outer side of my arm from sweat. It was the closest I've ever come to a "proper" B. I was pissed off and stoked at the same time.

I've been promising myself for some time now that I was going to start doing some out of class preparations for a workshop we're going to in August. So far, it's just been a plan. My teacher will sometimes quip when people are skipping vinyasas or sitting out a pose or two, "Ahh, asana thru visualization, very advanced yoga." The workshop is a second series course, so there's a lot that I need to improve on. I had hoped that my schedule would be favorable and allow me some opportunities at mysore but it hasn't worked out that way. So, I've got to decide if I'm serious enough to actually try and improve. I'll have to think about it.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Each day a few more people decide to sleep in and skip pranayama. We had a total of 15 brave souls in the circle today, about half regulars and half teacher trainees. Tim has gradually increased the degree of difficulty each day. Next week, we should get back to something a little closer to what he does the rest of the year. I'm gonna miss those shorter retentions. It's really not the retentions that do it though. Not for me anyway. It's the duration of the breathing. I think I need a new diaphragm. Mine doesn't do what I want it to do. I need it to maintain a slow steady intake of air for 30 seconds. Instead, it jumps and skips. Sometimes, it feels like I get two thirds full in the first 5 to 10 seconds. I then have to spend the rest of the inhalation trying to draw out my breath while nearly at full capacity. I know I'm not alone in this respect. You can see it in the faces and postures of others in the circle from time to time. They're lifting their whole upper body, their neck and head, even their eyebrows trying to make more room to keep inhaling. Other times, it feels like I'm using the wrong muscle action or something because I don't feel like I'm full but I'm not getting the air moving in like it should be. I think in the practice yesterday and today, we crossed the threshold where I can competently do the practice. I'm starting to take more breaths now. I may have to get a home sequence that I can try and build from. Somewhere I read that you should find a duration of retention that you can comfortably do. You keep it at that level for at least 10 practices before extending for another second. I know there's a relationship of the duration of the inhale retention to the exhale retention. My recollection is that the inhale retention lasts half again as long as the exhale retention, a 3 to 2 ration, I.e. if the exhale retention lasts 6 seconds the inhale retention should last 9 seconds. I know that in the alternate nostril breathing, the length of the inhalation, the exhalation and of the retentions on each side of the breath are all supposed to be the same duration. It's harder to determine the correct duration of the inhale and exhale during the ujjayi breathing with retentions (rechaka and puraka kumbhaka) . Tim addressed this question at a workshop I went to. He said you should keep the duration of the breaths to a point where you can make your breath after a retention in a "non-grasping" fashion. Meaning you're not pulling at the breath like you would after swimming the length of the pool twice underwater. There should be a modicum of control there. That's great to aim for. But right now, I'm frequently grasping with that inhale. Sometimes I'm almost gasping. Time to dig up that copy of "Light on Pranayama" by Iyengar that I never read.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

I blew off work to do yoga today. I wasn't seeing patients. I was scheduled to meet with a partner of mine and a statistician to discuss a research project that we're working on. We were all supposed to get together from 9 to 11. I had originally planned on going to pranayama at 6 AM then maybe the Improv class at 7 AM and then show up for the meeting a little late. When I thought about it last night, I realized that the improv class was going to be overcrowded with teacher trainees. Given the choice of either the improv class or mysore class, I definitely preferred going to mysore Those are the postures I really need to be working on. The research project is actually my partner's, though I have had an important role in the development of the program and in the patient care. At this stage of the project, after all the patient care has been done and we're down to massaging data, there is not a lot for me to do. Knowing how little is ever accomplished in those kind of meetings, I decided to blow it off all together. I probably irritated him a bit but he knows I'm not real interested in the research and publishing rigmarole.

So, I had the morning free for yoga. Pranayama was a bit harder than yesterday. It felt like the duration of the respirations were longer but the retentions were still fairly short. Maybe I was just off today. I had a three or four times where I went to the well for some extra air.

I decided to watch the Improv class rather than drive home and come right back for mysore. The class is attended by Tim's more advanced students. Tim tends to do a lot of second and third series postures in this class. He'll also do some postures that you wouldn't see in most yoga classes of any kind, much less in ashtanga classes. Even with his more advanced students, there's only 2 or 3 people in the room who are capable of doing everything he covers, and one of them is him. It is a good challenge for everybody. Normally, the class size is about 20 to 25. As expected, today's class was packed. I counted 41 mats. At least half of them were teacher trainees, some of them fairly advanced, some not very. When asked what they wanted to go over in class, ambitious souls that they were, the group asked for arm balances. I picked a good class to observe rather than do. I usually stick out in a class like that but today I would have blended right in. Everybody struggled. I can't remember for sure but I think he did seven or eight balances, maybe a couple more, with two variations for each one. After popping everybody's expertise bubbles, he moved on thru the rest of the class. He did some forearm inversions, some unusual twists, some hip work and a few back bends. He covered the usual areas but in unusual ways.

After watching the carnage in the Improv class, I set my mat and jumped right into my mysore practice. I was very motivated today. I almost never get to go to mysore, so when I do, it almost becomes a mini-event for me. I felt very good in my postures. The practice flowed without rough spots. I remember a couple of different times thinking, "Wow, I'm already at so-and-so pose." I wasn't expecting many adjustments with so many people who don't normally come being present and I didn't get many. Tim helped me into a deeper than typical (for me) kapotasana. If anyone touched me before that, I just don't remember it. After backbends and assisted dropbacks, Tim gave me an absolute squash in paschimottanasna. I didn't feel a hint of resistance in my hamstrings or back. That felt good. When I was doing backbends, I managed to get my weight off of my palms and up as far as me being able to get to my finger tips. Not anywhere close to standing up, but it was icing on the cake for me. I had never before been able to get my palms off of the floor. I was telling my wife about my breakthru after class and she just laughed at me. She assured me that I was no where near to standing up. I was then given a list of things I need to do before I can even think about standing up. Yeah, Yeah. First things first.

After class, I had enough time before heading to work to sit at Starbucks and savor my good fortune over an iced tea and danish. Getting to go to mysore, having a good practice, making advancements, even if they are incremental..., no matter what happens the rest of the day, I've scored. Surgery this afternoon, though it was a difficult case, was a breeze. Now, how do I manage to do this again?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

No extra breaths in pranayama today. Of course, we were doing shortened retentions, maybe six second exhale retentions and around 8-9 seconds for the inhales, so it was a lot easier than normal. The circle was smaller today, down to about 20 people. Each time I've gone recently, I've started out trying to memorize the sequence of the breaths and retentions. Normally, for those like me who don't have it down yet, Tim will use some simple hand signals so they know what to do. For the ujjayi breathing with retentions, he'll raise or lower his hand to indicate the direction and duration of the breath and that a retention is to follow. For the alternate nostril breathing, he'll point to the left or right to indicate which nostril we're supposed to be using. I usually get caught up in the efforts of the session and lose track of the pattern, I end up just following his lead rather than learning it. There's no question that the practice would be deeper if I didn't have to break internal focus to watch what he was doing to know what to do next. I'm also hopeless on the slokas that are chanted at the end. Not surprising, since it took me months to learn the usual invocation chant we do before practice each day. So far to go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Because of my worries about possibly getting to work late if I went to pranayama this morning, yesterday I asked Tim if it was likely he might be done with class a little before 7am. I explained my concerns about work and what not. He pondered it a bit and offered that maybe if he didn't do as much talking at the start, the class should finish in time for me to get to where I needed to be. So today, it turns out I needn't have bothered him. Because he is including the teacher trainees, we had pranayama-ultra-lite. He gave a quick talk on the techniques for what we would do in that class, since there were a lot of students new to pranayama. Then we did just the Ujjayi breathing and the first half of the nadi shodana (alternate nostril) breathing. Shorter inhalations, exhalations and retentions. That didn't keep me from giving in to my fears and taking an extra breath though. I made it to the very last exhale retention and just caved in. This despite Tim's reassurances to the newer students in the class that, despite how it might feel, none of us were going to die by stopping our breathing. Such a wuss.

I had my worst practice scenario develop today. Well, I guess second worst. Worst is not getting to practice. Today I was on my feet from 8:00 until 4:30. I then traffic jammed it and made it to class just as they were starting. Everything stiffer than usual and no chance to warm up before that first sun sal. After squeezing my mat in between a couple of folks who were already set up, I went to the bathroom to sprinkle some water on my practice rug to give it a little more traction. While in the bathroom, I snuck a quick forward bend, then came out and joined the class in progress. It turned out okay. Nothing broke. I guess the work I've been doing the last few months is starting to establish a new range of motion baseline. That's kind of a dumb thing to say. I've jinxed myself.

I was surprised to see a bunch of teacher trainees in our class tonight. I figured they would all go to either 7:00am led 1st series with Tim or Mysore at 9:00am. Maybe he's having them take turns doing the evening classes to minimize the crowding in some of the morning classes. They certainly filled out the pranayama circle this morning. There were 31 people there. Usually there's 5 to 10. In addition to those practicing tonight, there were several of them at the back of the room observing the class. And some others came in to observe the 7:30 pm Intro class. These people are yogaholics. I don't think could do that much yoga each day.

I only get pranayama tomorrow. I got lucky today and got done early enough to tempt the traffic gods. Tomorrow, I've got clinic in the morning and I have a case that starts at 6 pm, so asana ain't gonna happen. Getting to go tonight was gravy though. I wasn't counting on it, so I'm ahead for the week.

Monday, June 16, 2003

I worked yesterday. The kids had a sleep over with me at work so that mom could go to 7:00 mysore class this morning. They had gigantor tubs o' popcorn and watched a video of one of those wacky aussie guys who go around catching crocodiles, deadly snakes and bird eating spiders. Not the dundee guy, this was Steve, the one who is on the Animal Planet cable channel all the time and who goes around saying things like, "Krikey!! That was close! He almost bit me where it really counts." I ended up dreaming about somebody who kept saying, "Krikey."

My yoga options have been reduced by the teacher training. The noon classes that I sometimes go to when I've worked the night before are cancelled for the next two weeks. I went to the Intro class tonight. It can sometimes be a crowded class in its own right. Add in a bunch of the teacher trainees who wanted to see what it was like to get an Intro class from Tim and we were wall to wall tonight. The extra bodies helped warm the room more than usual. I was able to get fully sweaty. Even with the extra heat, I was still a little on the tight side from not having practiced for a couple of days. For a while, I had a pretty cool synchronized movement thing going with this yogini who was set up nearby, unbeknownst to her of course. She is a good friend of ours who used to be a gymnast and who teaches classes in our area. Once we got out of the all the sun sal variations into the more standard standing poses, my stiffness made me go into the poses a lot more hesitantly than she was doing, so I had to throw in the towel. Despite the crowded room, the assistants who help Tim were kind enough to give me several adjustments. I got the prasarita C assist where they try and help you get your hands to the floor. I also got a nice extension assist in paschimottanasana, complete with a near guruji-like adjustment at the base of the spine to help get the sacrum tilted properly. I kind of felt a little sorry for the adjustors. Our mats were so close together that they had little room to move amongst us, much less try to get in there and make adjustments.

Today was a pretty brutal day for Tim and his assistants. Pranayama at 6, adjusting in mysore from 7 to 9, personal practice after 9, teacher training from 12 to 5, Intro from 5:30 to 7:15. That comes out to about 11 hours of yoga in one day. Then doing it all over the next day for another 9 to 11 hours. I think I'll leave a little motrin in the money box for them tomorrow morning.

I was pretty relaxed in savasana after practice tonight. Towards the end, I heard this soft screeching sort of noise. I figured it was a seagull outside in the parking lot warning other birds off of a piece of trash or something. It kept coming though. I realized it was coming from inside the studio. It was somebody on the other side room snoring. I don't recall ever sleeping in savasana, but in that kind of relaxed setting, people can be in a very shallow dream state and not ever realize that they were asleep or that they were snoring loud enough to wake up the rest of the room. My wife has woken me from sleeping on the sofa bunches of times and I would swear that I wasn't asleep.

I'm gonna give pranayama a try tomorrow morning. I probably shouldn't. It gets out at 7:00 usually and I have to be in the OR at 7:45. That's a little close for how far I have to drive. Maybe I'll get up while they're doing the finishing chants. Hopefully the traffic gods will be with me. Making such pleas for divine intervention usually leads to the opposite occurring unfortunately.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

I tried several times to post about yesterday's practice, but I kept getting interrupted by work. Now that I'm home, I'm having to start all over. My attempt to save what I had thrown together in a draft got lost somewhere along the line. Sometime soon I'm gonna switch over to suburbfreak's system. Blogger has enough rough edges to make it increasingly irritating. Maybe I'll like today's version more than what I started with yesterday. I usually want to revise just about all of my postings once they're out.

I was able to go to both pranayama and Mysore class yesterday, so I got to work a bit worn out but in good spirits. When I read over my post from the other day about how long we go between breaths in pranayama class, it sounded a little far fetched. I presumed I was over estimating the time. To check it out, yesterday I checked the clock as we started the initial ujjayi portion and then again when we finished it. It took 15 minutes. They took a total of 15 breaths in that time. The alternate nostril breathing portion also took 15 minutes. I didn't count the breaths but I think it's 20 breaths. So, it was about 35 breaths in 30 minutes, or roughly what you would normally do in three to four minutes. Notice I said "they" took 35 breaths. Yesterday was not my best exhale retention day. I'll just say I took more breaths than they did. Quantitation is for the anal retentives.

Mysore practice immediately follows pranayama class. I'm still not sure if I'm at my best in that sequence. It seems to take me at least half of the standing sequence to start feeling my normal self. Maybe it's the stiffness from sitting in lotus for 45 minutes. Or maybe something about the breathing is making it feel different. I was at a workshop with Tim once. We did morning pranayama (a pranayama-lite version) session each day before practice. One time, to see how it changed things, we did the pranayama after practice. My recollection is that when we did the pranayama second, I felt better at doing the pranayama. When we did the breathing class first, I didn't think I did it as well but I seemed more focused in the asana practice. I got that sense yesterday too. I wasn't distracted by much, I was better tuned in to what I was doing than usual. My wife was set up across the room from me. When we practice together, I usually glance over her way from time to time to see how she's doing. When she asked me how she looked yesterday, I couldn't tell her much since I didn't really notice.

I did have my attention pulled astray a few times. There were a couple of times when people were doing some postures so out of sequence that they just made me look over and try to figure out what was going on. One guy was doing some assisted dips back from a standing position. This is normally done, at our studio, near the end of practice after backbending. He was doing it early in his second series. I never figured out for sure why he did it but I would imagine it was some kind of warm up for him before going into the ustrasana thru kapotasana sequence. At any rate, he just about cratered face first on the first drop back, where you go all the way to touching the head on the floor. He's a pretty big guy and I think he dipped a little faster than the assistant was expecting. Another person near me was doing kurmasana shortly after the standing poses. At first I thought they were just doing the second half of the first series before starting the second series. Not the case here. After a query from the teacher, the person returned to the early seated postures. Still can't figure that one out. I am often checking out the practice of JMS, an EZBoard and yoga studio compadre, for a couple of reasons. Most obvious is that he can do all the things that I can't, and makes it look so easy that it's impossible not to feel stupid in comparison. The other reason is that he has been making amazing progress in recovery from a knee injury. I saw him doing ardha baddha the other day. Last time I remember looking, he had no where near that range of motion. Patience and perseverance pay off. Very impressive.

My practice yesterday was notable for not feeling too tired. Through the first series anyway. As soon as I did pasasana, BAM!. I was breathing hard and sweating waterfalls. I did bind both sides, which I can't always do. Once I'm bound, which for me means a cupping of my fingers around each other, it feels like I could be put into hand to wrist. I don't maintain my balance very well when I'm trying to bind with out using a crutch to help support my heels. I still have to go to my toes to do this asana. Doing it without the block makes getting bound harder and the whole thing falls apart. It would be a kind of bass-ackward way of going into the posture, but after I have gotten fully bound, I feel stable enough that I get the sense that someone could pull away the foam block and I could get my heels down and keep them there. That's my illusion anyway, I've never tried it yet.

When I got to my last posture, kapotasana, I was surprised to see that I still had half an hour of practice time left. I decided to do a little more than the minimum there since I have a ways to go yet in that pose. I did an initial kapotasana right after laghuvajrasana. Then I did some research poses to stretch the shoulders and hip flexors. Then I did a couple more kapotasanas. By the last one, my elbows were only an inch or two off of the floor and I was able to grasp the knuckles of my big toes on my own. That doesn't sound like much but both are things that I usually have to be put into. I was starting to make those involuntary gasping and grunting noises though. I was getting pretty tired. Funny how that excuse always seem to be there when it comes time for backbending.

It was a good day, ashtanga-wise. It'll have to suffice for a while. Looking at my schedule, my practice opportunities will be negligible this coming week.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Evening class last night was hot and humid. There's a class that ends just before ours, so they tend to get the room all warm and toasty. I made matters worse by trying to stay up with this guy next to me who has a really good practice. I have the bad habit of doing that if someone good sets up next to me. I'm not trying to compete with them or anything, I just want to see where my practice is in relation to theirs. I was able to keep up with the guy for a while, except that he could float into and out of uttanasana during the sun sals and I can't. Also, he could lift up to a near hand stand after each navasana, jump straight from down dog into the legs around the shoulders position for bhujapidasana, do the take it up and jump back vinyasa--even lifting up with spread legs in upavishta and jumping back from there, whip his legs into padmasana without having to use his hands, etc. etc. Other than that, I was not quite almost in his league. I shouldn't compare my self to others like that, I guess. In a way, it's good for me though. I got plenty worked trying to see what I could do. I should be trying that hard each time.

I was a little disappointed in myself in back bending. We only did five but I let myself wimp out and didn't push the arch and shoulder rotation limits. I had been getting a little better recently, feeling less tired and less "at the limit" when I really tried to get my feet closer to my hands. I was beginning to contemplate making gestures at unweighting my hands as the first step to going up to standing. Regrettably, I let myself think I was too tired to make a game effort of it. I just walked my hands up the wall instead. On the plus side for the practice, I was able to go into tittibhasana and then sweep the legs back to chaturanga after both bhujapidasana and for supta kurmasana. I rarely get the vinyasa after bhujapidasana. My legs always seem to slip too far down my arms and I have a hard time getting the legs extended out enough to get tittibhasana. One area I've seen steady but slow progress on is getting my arms and sometimes hands to the floor in halasana and karnapidasana. My hands and arms used to float about two or three inches off of the ground. If I exerted enough, I could force them to to the floor and even hold the tips of my little fingers to the floor for the whole count. I had to really work my triceps to make it happen. When adjusters help me, they put a slight pressure on my arms and I am able to totally relax and let my arms easily go to the floor, as long as they are holding them that is. Once they let go, they sproing back up. I'm not clear what is that I'm doing or what it is that I need to start doing or stop doing to do this one better. I wish I could figure out a way to replicate the position that allows me to just relax and let my hands go down.

Last night we had a whole bunch of people who I hadn't seen around in six or more months. I guess the recent influx of people who used to come but haven't in a long time may be due in part to most schools being out now. There's probably a shift into a summer-time crowd.

We (meaning me) had a lucky break in pranayama today. One of the folks there was from out of town. Tim knows her well as she comes to town once or twice a year and she had been to some of his workshops. Some of her family live nearby and they practice regularly with Tim. When he saw that she was there today, he announced that, in deference to our visitor, he was going to make class a little easier than usual. And it was a little easier. I didn't cheat half as much as I have previously. I hadn't really thought too much until today about how long the inhalations and exhalations take. I know they take a while, since I usually can't inhale as long as the rest of the group. When we're holding the breath retentions, I almost automatically start counting their duration. I usually get to an eight to ten for the exhale retentions and a 12-15 for the inhale retentions. I've never counted for the inhalations or exhalations though. Today, when I was changing at work, I looked up and saw the clock had a second hand. I timed one of the ujjayi type inhalations to see how long it actually takes. It took me 30 seconds. Figure an exhalation takes probably 20-25 seconds. Even without the retentions, we're breathing once a minute. Add in the retentions and it gets much worse (better?), closer to a breath roughly every 75 to 80 seconds. Not every inhale lasts that long, the longest ones are the ones right before the retentions. I think they all take at least 20 -25 seconds though. The length of the breaths is not quite as long in the alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodana) portion of the class either. The ujjayi breathing portion of the class probably lasts something close to 15 minutes. That's a long while to go when you're only taking a total of about 20 breaths. For context, the average person at rest breathes at a rate of 10 to 12 times a minute. Knowing that, I feel much less bad about not being able to do it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Yesterday I got done with the OR early enough to make it to Tim's evening Intro class. I could have instead gone to an evening mysore class at a different studio that's near where I work but the place has a carpet that I find overly cushiony. When I practice there, my wrists really get sore. Plus, it makes sense to minimize, where I can, the hodgepodge-ityness of going to different places and following different teachers. I do like variety and I do like see how other people lead a class but it's a waste of a huge opportunity to pass up studying with Tim. That's one reason why I decided to try and make it to more pranayama classes with him, even if I do suck at it. Not many teachers make pranayama available to students and of those that do offer it to students, very few learned their pranayama directly from Pattabhi Jois.

When I go to the Intro class, I usually start to wonder if I'm not entering the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. I don't seem to ever retain a lot of what he covers. I have probably heard him discuss the early sutras dozens of times, yet it unfortunately always seems to new to me. Every time I try to reinforce what is covered in class by reading something on the sutras or hindu philosophy, I fall asleep. I think my learning days are over. The memory banks were so abused by the excesses of med school and residency that they became permanently disabled and will no longer allow any further information to be absorbed.

I was going to get my hair cut before class yesterday but the place that is around the corner from Tim's didn't have any spots for drop ins. That left me with a little more than an hour to burn before class so I window shopped around the neighborhood for a while. I can only take so much of that so I wandered over to the yoga studio and fortunately it was open. They were doing some refurbishing and spiffing up to get ready for the teacher training course next week. They were just finishing up so I was able to throw down my mat and do some stretching out for a while. I tried some work on using blocks to get better at jump backs. It didn't help much. No reason to expect that it would when I only do it once every month or so. The Intro class itself went well, I didn't seem too sore or stiff. Sometimes I do have a problem with tightness in that class. I still get a sweat going but, because the pace is slower and there's a lower intensity than in a typical class, I often don't get real loose there. Maybe the long stretch out before class helped in that respect.

Tim gives a lot of verbal instruction in that class. He makes a point of looking at people throughout the room as he does so. When he is looking you in the eye as he is making some point about technique, it's hard to tell if he is just looking at you by chance at that time or if he is trying to make sure that you understand that he is making this point for you specifically to do something that you haven't been doing. There's been several times when he was talking the class thru the jump back from a seated pose that he would turn and look at me as he told us what we should be doing physically to make the vinyasa. It's like he's saying, "I'm normally not going to tell you what you need to do, that's something you need to work out, but here's your chance to hear it disguised as a group instruction." That or I have a fertile and egocentric imagination.

I had to be at work today at eight so I went to pranayama at six. No asana practice, I'm on for 24 hours. The breathing today went better (less bad?) than last week. Not good but not abysmal. I was doing okay thru the ujjayi breath portion. But, when we got to the part where we do a retention after both the inhale and the exhale, for some reason, during the exhale retentions I started thinking about how people feel if they are deep under water, trying to make their way to the surface and they realize that they probably can't make it. That didn't help. I think if I can improve my inhalations, a lot of the rest of it will fall into place. When I don't get a good even inhale, if I feel full too soon, if I start tensing my body trying to get a deeper lung full, it's the first domino going down that leads to me taking an extra breath. My knees weren't as sore from sitting in padmasana as they were last week. I was able to walk with out any gimpiness right away. The calm that you often get from asana practice is there after pranayama too. It's a nice way to get thru traffic on the way to work.

Speaking of traffic, I've got to find one of those on line traffic school things so I can get that ticket off of my record. Tons o' fun.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Strange weather in a strange land. It's raining in June in SoCal. Granted, it's so light that you only need your intermittent wipers going. It's precipitation though. Usually in the early Summer, we get this daily cloudy overcast for the first few miles near the beach. Sometimes it burns off and it will be sunny for a few hours but usually it's cloudy most of the day. It's called June Gloom. I guess this is a heavy version of it. I like it personally. I find it relaxing to have some cloudy days thrown in.

Yoga today was a little more traditional than yesterday. Just the led first series class. That was enough. I was definitely sore from yesterday's excesses. I didn't get too tired though. Today I was positioned in a cluster of guys. One of them seemed to be fairly new to ashtanga, maybe to yoga in general. Going to the Sunday 1st series class is a rough way to get started. It's crowded, there's some pretty good people there and it tends to get pretty hot and humid. Most beginners get wiped out pretty early. This guy hung in and did a good job. It was rough because he got a lot of attention from the teachers so he wasn't able to back off and take a few rest poses. Nearby was another newer guy who has a real good practice. He's been coming for a month or two now. I've been watching him on occasion to try and learn from him. I'm hoping to pick up hints of how he does things that I'm not yet able to do, like vinyasa. Unfortunately, he does it so adroitly that it's over before I can see what he does. Today he was trying to get up from back bending. I'm too wimpy to try it from where I'm at in my backbends right now, but it looked like he was in a similar or slightly less auspicious place to go for it, so I was gonna feel bad if he pulled it off. There's plenty of folks who can stand up from back bends who don't have the best back bends. It's just that the things they have to do to get up are pretty scary to see. I want to get my body where I can doing it using something close to safe form. Maybe that's just the coward in me speaking. At some point, I'm just gonna have to go for it and let the form work itself out.

The atmospheric conditions were just right to allow visible wisps of sweat vapor to float up off of everybody. It's kind of neat to see while you're in down dog. You look back and it looks like everybody is emitting steam. Tim points out sometimes that the efforts of the practice allow us to see water in its three physical forms, solid--as in its presence as a component of the solid body, liquid--as in gallons of sweat, and as a gas, when the sweat turns to steamy vapor. It then condenses on the walls, windows and doors. By the end of class the walls actually have little rivulets of sweat running down them. The windows and doors are opaque from condensation. There's a kind of satisfaction you get from seeing such tangible evidence of exertion.

I asked Tim if he found pranayama classes like the one I struggled in on Friday difficult at all. He gave me a puzzled look and said, "No, it was just a normal class, Why? Did it seem hard?" That kind of deflated me. I thought I had a good excuse for failing.

We're starting to see more new faces in class each day. In a few days it's going to be packed with Tim's teacher trainees. Have to enjoy the relative open space while we can.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

I did a little over five hours of yoga today. Then I went to work.

Nah, I can do better than that.

The first hour was spent in an introductory pranayama class led by one of Tim's assistants. All the different breathing approaches that occur in Tim's class, Ujjayi, Nadi Shodana, Bhastrika and Sitali, are done here too. This class is more approachable for people beginning to learn about the practice though, because the length of the inhalations, exhalations and retentions are shorter. Since I sucked so badly in Tim's class I figured I better go back to basics. I found it fairly easy to do, so I guess I'll just have keep doing the best I can in Tim's until I can get better.

After pranayama, I went to the Saturday morning Improv class. The usual teacher had been out of town the last couple of weeks. Apparently, some of the people had complained to her that the person who subbed for her made the classes too difficult. Boo Hoo. Snivel. Whine. I went to one of those classes. It was a lot of fun. I know for a fact that he paralleled what Tim taught in his Improv class, but left out the harder poses, because I went to Tim's Improv class that week too. It's an Improv class not an Intro class. In an Improv class you're supposed to be challenged by stuff you usually don't get to do, so it might just be a little difficult. When I heard she had been told the other classes were too hard, I was afraid she was gonna dumb down her class. I got comfortably worked though. We did the the first pose in the 3rd series, Side Plank Pose (In ashtanga, it's called Visvamitrasana but in Iyengar it's Vasisthasana). We did it three times, first a couple of prep side plank poses to get a feel for the forcer and muscles in play, then finally the true pose. We did a couple of arm balances, like galavasana but we entered it from a standing start instead of from tripod headstand. We did a bunch of twists that don't always come up in our usual classes. This teacher has no problem having us occasionally do a pose in a different style than would be typical for ashtanga, such as the Iyengar version of utthita trikonasana, to show us how to how changing alignment can affect what you're doing and feeling. She is very good at having us take off the blinders and look thru other lenses to see how to work towards our asana goals.

After cooling down from that class, I spent some time with the kids. Later that afternoon we were supposed to go help out at a photo shoot for a clothing catalogue. One of the people who goes to our studio works for a company that sells "yoga" clothing. The company has used Tim in their catalogue before. For their new catalogue, they wanted to shoot some shots of Tim in a yoga class setting, so they needed a class. The person my wife knew asked her if she'd be interested in coming to help out. Since there weren't many guys involved yet, she asked my wife to drag me along too. It was billed as a photo shoot, so I figured it would be some kind of scripted, static thing where we would stand around while taking turns being in poses, with Tim adjusting us. Wrong. Instead, Tim led us thru a full Improv class. This came just three hours after I had finished the first one. For Tim's class, we did mostly the first half of the second series, with a few twists and turns thrown in. After doing the standing sequence thru parsvottanasana, we started Nadi Shodana. I didn't have my usual block of foam to stand on to support my heels, so I was forced to try to do pasasana the right way, which I can't do yet. Then after each 2nd series pose up thru kapotasana, we did a back bend. After we did the backbend, we had to walk upside down in the backbend position to the wall, then stand up using the wall. After the first couple of times, those who could stand up from backbend on their own were allowed to do so. The rest of us lowly hackers had to hand-foot walk to the wall each time before we were able to struggle up. This coming to standing after each pose necessitated a full vinyasa to enter the next pose. So I was feeling it by the time we got to kapotasana. It seemed like we held kapotasana for a lot longer than usual. I guess maybe a lot of folks needed adjusting? After that we quit with the back bends and just did the rest of 2nd series thru the eka pada sirsasanas. One quirk of our place is that in a led class, we enter eka pada sirsasana by going into kasyapasana first, then we rock up to sitting and go thru the rest of the eka pada sequence. After we did our closing sequence, we did some chanting with Tim accompanying us with his new harmonium skills. He's better at asana.

With regards to the photo shoot aspect of things, I think that made things a little tougher in the long run. You didn't want to have a photo of you doing some dog-assed version of a posture showing up in a clothing catalogue where everyone could ridicule you while they considered whether to get the cinnamon or the mauve capri stretch pants, so you had to go full on every pose. The photographer was not in the way, he did a fairly good job of being in the back ground. There were a couple of times I saw him trying to get a unique angle, where he might be only a couple of feet away from someone, or looking straight down at them while they were in an inverted pose. For the most part, from my angle anyway, he was out of sight and mind. But, I don't think he was looking to get a lot of shots of haggard guys drenched in sweat clearly struggling to get into a posture when there were plenty of cool, cute, bendy wendys right at hand who looked just the part. They may have felt a little more intruded on.

The photo shoot was supposed to go from 2:30 till 4:00. We didn't get done till almost 4:45 though and I had to be at work at 6PM. So I had to sprint home, shower, change and dash off to work. All in all, a good but long ashtanga day. Just hope the night of call isn't too much or I'm gonna be a dead man in class tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 06, 2003

In today's pranayama class, there was definitely somebody who was in over their head, me. To use a hackneyed e-acronym, OMFG! I probably cheated on at least every other breath, if not more often than that. To make it worse, anybody who cared to glance my way could easily tell I was sucking in extra breaths right and left. I had pulled my shirt off early on when I started getting hot, so there was no camouflage to hide my gut and chest making all those extra movements. I wondered if maybe Tim followed the approach used by Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, in which the exercise is made more difficult each day of the week. "It's Friday, hmmm, let's see if I can make anybody keel over." I don't know if it was just a bad day for me or what. I realized early on that I wasn't maintaining the internal calm and the rhythm of the class as well as I had the other two days. This unsettled me and I started looking around, got further distracted and the monkey mind ruled from that point forward. I later asked one of the people that were there if the class seemed unusually hard to them. I guess he saw the hopeful look on my face because he said it was hard for him too. You wouldn't know it to watch Tim. He looked like he does any other day. There's an obvious difference between what I am able to do in asana practice compared to what my teacher is able to do. As wide as that performance gulf is, it seems miniscule compared to how far ahead he seems in what he can do in pranayama. I think part of it is the perception of difficulty. There's plenty of postures that almost anyone will realize will be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to ever do. But just sitting there breathing and holding your breath? What could be so hard about that? Forget about being able to hold my breath for the entire retention, today I didn't even get to the breath holding part before being reduced to rubble. I couldn't hang with them just breathing in and out!! The breaths were so long and drawn out, I ran out of breath during some of the inhalations. It's a weird sensation, feeling like you're using up the oxygen faster than you're inhaling it.

With that less than auspicious start, I moved right into mysore class. I started off a little roughly, I guess still feeling sorry for myself from pranayama. It took a while before the usual intensity got going. I moved a little slower thru the first series than was needed (I had to go to work directly from class, so I couldn't afford to run 10 or 15 minutes over like I sometimes do). I hadn't done any second series classes in almost two weeks and I think my last mysore class was three or four weeks ago. Some of the things that I only get to do in those kind of classes, like samakonasana and hanumanasana, were piss poor. It's like starting from scratch every time when you only do a posture a couple of times a month. I was worried that I had regressed a lot in the 2nd series backbending poses too. I was pleasantly surprised at how untraumatic kapotasana was though. Not that I can do it well. I still can barely grab my toes by myself and my technique is laughable. I was given the "two teacher" adjustment today, where one is at your hips and one at your shoulders, and they got my hands farther along my feet than I can recall ever doing before. I had none of my usual histrionic gasping and moaning either, at least that I was aware of. I also bound pasasana on both sides. I still use a cheat under my feet though, a one inch foam block. Once I'm getting bound on both sides regularly, I'll try to make the move to go without any heel elevation. I didn't have enough time to do the usual research poses that I do for the second series postures. Even without doing those extra postures, I was fairly tired by the time I finished with backbends and the teacher supported dips that we do after back bends. I ran thru a a fairly quick closing sequence and then rested. Then off to work. I had to go without a shower at work. They had me booked in from the time I got there till I left at 5:30 PM.

My nurse at work would be really good at yoga. She sees me looking at yoga books and yoga web sites so she will ask me about it. I sometimes have her try a posture, kind of a "posture-of-the-day" challenge. She has been able to do almost everyone I've given her. She'll never go to a class though. It would just not be an acceptable thing for her to do and she has a lot of other things that take up her time. I gave her my Swenson book to look over for a little while. Hopefully, she will try his short sequences some day at home and will like doing it. I've never yet been able to interest anyone in doing ashtanga. The few people I have ever been able to convince to come to a class with me never came back. I've pretty much given up trying to include other people. If anyone wants to come to a class, they know where they can find me.

Time to spell check and call it a night. These 5 AM wake-ups to get to pranayama are starting to have an effect. If I keep going, I'll have to get to bed a lot earlier.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

In medicine, the word interesting is an adjective that often carries with it negative implications. If someone comes up to you and starts to tell you about this interesting patient that they'd like you to consult on, you know you're about to get slammed. The patient is likely at death's door or will end up being in the hospital for two weeks and have every complication known to your profession. So today, it was interesting in pranayama. Asana practice helps us learn how to focus our attention internally. Pranayama takes that internal focus a couple of steps further. Ideally, all of your attention is turned inward to the effect that the breathing and the retention of breath are having on your body and your mind.

To do pranayama well, it helps to have as few distractions as possible. Normally, the class is done in a fairly small group. The room is still a little dark in the early morning, most of the light coming from a candle positioned in the middle of the circle of students as a focus point. The participants take up a cross legged posture sitting posture that they can hold for the duration of the class with little or no movement. There are no vocal commands. The only sounds audible are those made by the breath of the group. There of course are inadvertent distractions that come up, a loud motorcycle outside, someone coming in early for the next class, maybe the sound of the folks moving about the apartment overhead. I usually sit with my back to the door to minimize being pulled away by some of those distractions.

One of the group today was maybe not ready for doing this sort of thing, or maybe today was just a bad day. She started making these loud gulping sounds near the ends of the breath, like she was overtly trying to ovoid releasing the breath. This is on the second retention into the practice. By the time we got to the retentions with both the inhales and exhales, she didn't appear to be doing it at all. When we did the alternate nostril breathing, she kept her hands in her lap. As we would let our held breath out, she would sometimes times jerk her body like she had just been startled. We would be in the middle of a long retention, when it really helps to be able to not be distracted, and she would start fidgeting around tapping her hand on her foot or would lean way forward and make these sighing sounds. I figured she had just decided to sit out the class without participating anymore, but once in a while she would make gestures of doing what we were but without really doing it. As we neared the end of class and began the closing chants, things deteriorated even more but by that point, we were pretty much done. I was fairly distracted by the whole deal. It seemed to me that everybody else kept their focus going, so maybe I was just too attentive to things that I should have been able to ignore. I've never seen anything like that before though. It was interesting.

Addendum: I've debated quite awhile with myself on whether to include this story or not. I don't want the people I practice with to have to worry about what I might write about them. The last thing somebody needs as they struggle with some aspect of their practice is whether or not it's gonna be displayed for the world to look in on in some blog. But, this was enough above the ordinary that it warrants including I think. If I've crossd the line and end up offending the person I've described, I'll address that one on one.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

I was scheduled to be on call Tuesday night. Kind of a bummer because it meant I'd miss the chance at Tuesday evening first series. I don't work the morning after call, but I get off at 8:00 and class on Wednesday goes from 7-9 AM, so no chance at a morning mysore class either. Then I had a brainstorm: Give the call away. Then I could go to Tuesday night class. Since I had nothing scheduled Wednesday morning because I had been scheduled to be on call, I could also then go to mysore Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, like most of my brainstorms, this came way to late to be useful. Nobody was willing to pick up the call with less than 24 hours notice. Good thing too, I guess. My wife was less than pleased to find that I had planned on passing up the pay for a night of call to go to class. I accepted my fate and did the call. Turned out okay. No calls came in after about 2 AM, so I got some sleep. It's always nice to be paid to sleep.

Having missed out on my chance to get in a mysore class Wednesday morning, tonight I went to led first series with Tim. I think I make it to this class more than any other. The class is in a transition right now, student-wise. There's a bunch of people who used to always come to these evening classes who I haven't seen in a couple of months now. On the other hand, there's also four or five new people who have started to come regularly. I guess that's how it usually goes, the ebb and flow of student populations, the ever-changing mix of students for the teachers to work with. I wonder what changed for those who have stopped coming. Different interests now? Money or time constraints? Injuries? Long term teachers probably have a good feel for the attrition rate of their students. How many who start out going two or three times on a regular basis are still there a year later? Of those, how many still around the next year. What percent are still there after five or six years? Are the drop out rates better or worse for the folks who go to mysore each morning? I've wondered if Tim can look at a person who's been there for a few weeks or months and be able to predict how long they'll stick with it, what level of practice they'll grow into.

Nothing stood out in my practice tonight, in any direction. I didn't excel at anything but I wasn't disappointed in any aspects of the practice either. I'll take that any day, it's a glass that's more than half full. I still seem to get more fatigued in Tim's classes than I think I should be. If getting more flexible has allowed me to burn less energy, I have been probably frittering away all those energy savings on my attempts to develop a jump back and a better jump thru. Not knowing what to contract and what not to contract leads to a lot of counterproductive exertion. While I can't see much difference in my strength and endurance from week to week, I can see a big improvement from a year ago. Tonight, I wanted to take a minute to catch my breath after garbha pindasana. This is the point in the practice that I have evolved as my "break time". I can do the pose, get up to the bathroom for a quick sip of water (well, a few long draughts actually), rinse my face and usually be back on the mat by the time they're only a count or two into baddha konasana. Sometimes, I really do need to stop here, other times, I'm just being lazy. When I got up to the bathroom today, I accidently walked in on someone who was changing there. I hadn't noticed anyone getting up and the door wasn't locked so I was halfway in before noticing that there was a girl there and she wasn't not fully dressed. Ever the discrete one, I mumbled my apologies and beat a hasty retreat. I couldn't figure out why somebody was changing in the middle of class. So I went back to my mat and started back with the rest of the class. When the person still hadn't come out after two or three more postures, I had about given up on a break. I made my peace with it and was trying to suss out how I would be doing by the time backbends came around. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you want to look at it that way, she finally came out so I hopped up and dashed in for a quick but unnecessary refresher. I know I have enough endurance to do fine most times without getting up, I just still haven't made myself push on. It's like the person who won't do handstand away from the wall, even though they can do a perfectly fine handstand. But, I am getting closer. After accepting that I would be able to go on without a break today and that I would do just fine, I've lost some of the rational that I use when searching for excuses to take a break.

I'm wanting to get in as much as I can here these next two weeks, After that, Tim has his teacher training. The room will be filled wall to wall with all of his teacher trainees. Practice becomes pretty difficult those two weeks. It's just very crowded with so many people. There's room enough for your mat, so I guess there's room enough to practice. That's about all the space that was available in the old mysore shala, so I should quit sniveling.

Time to quit here. I'm going to give that black, panic filled state of perceived hypoxia known as pranayama another try early tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is an 8A to 6P day at work, so no classes that I can get to other than pranayama.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I have to work tonight, so I have no chance for practicing. Since I wouldn't get to do any asana, I decided to get up early today and go to pranayama practice. It starts at 6 AM and finishes at 7, so I would have just enough time to get to work at 7:45. I hadn't been to the class in four or five months. It took about five minutes for me to remember why I hadn't gone in a while. It's HARD. I was sneaking an extra breath as early as the first retained exhale when you hold after both the inhale and the exhale. The farthest I've ever gotten in the class without taking an extra breath was 2 exhales into the part where you do the alternate nostril breathing with retentions after every inhale and exhale. Man, it's so much harder than you would think. It's mainly mind over matter but it's such an easy thing to capitulate in. Once you've started to give in and take extra breaths, it becomes easier and easier to let yourself do it again. It will take a long time to get the technique and confidence down to get better. Once again, that's a problem, getting the time to go regularly. If I do, I never see the kids in the morning. I've got to start going more than I have been though.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Yesterday was the Sunday first series led class with Tim. When I walked in the room to set up my mat, I was hit with a wall of palpable, humid heat. They must have really been moving in the second series class that came before us. Some morning classes can be a bit on the chilly side, so I usually set up my mat near the front, in the general area of the heater. Yesterday, it was so hot that I didn't want to be anywhere near the heater, so I plopped down in the middle of the room. I was treated to a practice surrounded by a whole new set of faces than I'm used to seeing around me. It was an interesting change of perspective. Some people get pretty attached to certain spots. They seem to feel out of place if they can't get their usual spot. I tend to pick my spots based on the environment of the classroom that day. If it's cold, I go near the front, but not too near the heater. If it's really warm, I move back.. But, if it's sunny, I can't be all the way in the back or the heat from the sunlight thru the door and the shades will bug me. In the evening classes at this time of the year, I go to the west side because of the sunlight on the east side. It's in your eyes every up dog. I also like to be on the side near the bathroom for a couple of reasons. First, I don't want to have to tiptoe my way in and out of 15 mats to get to the bathroom. I'd rather get up and get back with as little fuss and notice as possible. Also, on those days when it's crowded and the heat and humidity start to get oppressive, the opening and shutting of the door gives a welcome wave of moving air. It's not always refreshing, however. Sometimes, the air moving by brings with it reminders of why the person was visiting the bathroom to start with. Other than that, I'll set up anywhere. I'm not picky.

The mats tend to end up closer to each other in the middle of the room than they do up in the front. Where I was, we only had a couple of inches between mats, front to back. The spacing made it difficult to do jump throughs well. You had to make sure the person in front of you had made their move before you launched yourself to avoid an untimely impact in their backside. The girl behind me made a beautiful adjustment one time, sliding her feet right between my legs when I was a little tardy with my takeoff. Chakrasana is also a little dicey in that setting. My wife sent this one guy to the emergency room when she split open his head landing on him inadvertently during an especially crowded class last year.

I had hoped with the heat that I would be flexible enough to get supta kurmasana. I took a second and watched another guy to see how he went about getting his ankles crossed. He used the approach in which you bind the hands first, then work on getting the ankles crossed. He just gradually wriggled until the right foot slid over the left and then worked the legs to get the ankles crossed more deeply to complete the pose. That's pretty much the way that I have been trying to do it, but I was no more successful yesterday. My upavishta range of motion has been improving, so I had been hoping that would lead to getting that last bit of opening needed to get the ankles crossed. Maybe next time.

I have been having less problem with my left hamstring pain. My left ham used to be my "good" side. Around January of this year, I did something, I'm still not sure what, that caused a lot of pain and a decreased range of motion in that side. The postures that I currently feel it the most in are Parsvottanasana and Supta padangusthasana, especially the former. I can lay my chin on my lower leg without much strain on the right side but the left side has been a struggle these last few months. I am just now getting to the point where I'm able to get as far down my left leg as I can on my right side. It's still not as "easy" as the right side, but now I don't break out in sweat just thinking about the discomfort of doing the left side. The supta padangustasana issues are more ones of fear I think. BY the time we do that posture, my hamstrings feel pretty tight. maybe the preceding upavishta does something, I don't know. But, when I pull down on the toe, I get this worry that I'm gonna pull something. The past experience of unknowingly hurting my hamstring makes me more reluctant than usual to push the edge. A mental injury that's still healing.

Since nothing really stood out about my practice, I paid more attention to the folks around me than I might usually. It's interesting the diversity of ability that exists within each person in the first series. One person near me was one of those bandha boys who could lift up directly to hand stand from navasana, but there were some forward bending things that were not as good. Another person had really floaty jump throughs but couldn't twist or bend all that well. I can do most of the postures in reasonable form but have no vinyasa and no discipline. I guess one thing I'm looking for when I'm paying more attention to others than to my own practice is that person who is able to do it all: breathing, drishti, vinyasa, bandha, bend forward and backwards, you name it, the whole kielbasa. There's surprisingly few of those people out there

No yoga the next couple of days due to work interference. I can't seem to win the Lotto so for now I'll have to stick with the work.