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.

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