Sunday, July 27, 2003

I need to think of some new excuses for why I can't get up from backbends. Very frustrating to pull it off one day, then not be able to get my hands off of the floor the next time I practice. I have yet to do it as well as the first time I ever got up either, and that one wasn't all that good. I was satisfied with how my backbends went today. I just couldn't get my weight shifted to where it would allow me to unweight my hands. I tried to get up anyway on the sixth and last one--no go. I laid back down and caught my breath. I went back into the pose. The teacher for the class announced, "and now, the best for last..." since I was the last one in the room not up and standing and he knew I have been trying to get this. He stood back so that everyone else could see my attempt. I could feel the pressure. I knew I didn't have it in me but I tried anyway. I went up as far on my toes as I could (in a situation like that, I'm willing to cheat) and got about halfway up before gravity struck. Fortunately, the teacher also recognized that today was not going to be the day and when I stalled out, he was right there with an hand under my back to give me enough lift to keep moving and get upright. It looked pitiful and in frustration I let out a hissing kind of expletive that theoretically could have been perceived as just a loud exhalation if everyone didn't know better. It's not like I'm attached to the outcome or anything. I was double desirous of getting up today because the guy who I had described a few weeks ago as working on the same move had already stood up twice today and even dropped back down for the last backbend. Let's just see him accomplish that if he had to work with a mind as weak as mine.

It was a hot and humid day and the studio was very muggy. Tim is out of town on one of his teaching ventures. My wife helped assist for the guy who led the class. She had already done the 2nd series class just before our first series class. She told me later she got hotter and sweatier helping adjust our class than she did in doing the second series class. Fortunately, with Tim out of town, there were only about half the normal amount of students. That helped keep the room from being excessively hot. We enjoyed the extra room to move also. Sometimes in that class, it's crowded enough that we have to shift our positions around a bit to create enough space so we don't whack each other doing postures like Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, Upavishta Konasana, Chakrasana, even the Sun Salutations.

I haven't been posting here as much in the last few weeks. It's not that I've run out of useless things to say. Hardly. It's a reflection of my practice unfortunately. I'm in the middle of a week or so of scheduling that seems designed to keep me off of the mat. I'm going to be lucky to get in much more than Wednesday evening first series class and maybe one of the weekend classes too. Doesn't exactly make for regular reading material. I have debated about filling in the dry spells with accounts of how my days go when I'm not doing yoga but that seemed to be a bit far afield from the original purpose of the journal. For now, I'll keep it a practice journal.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

I was given a new posture yesterday. It took me a little by surprise. I have been getting better at my back bending but have not really progressed that dramatically in kapotasana. Yesterday was my first practice in almost a week. I was looser than i might have expected but by no means was I at my best. When I went back into kapotasana, Tim was right there and moved to bring my hands to my toes. My shoulder tends to resist that direction of movement, so I commonly become tense at that part of the adjustment. Yesterday I tried to just let it happen. I also focused on doing real ujjayi breathing, not just trying to not gasp. My wife had told me what a spectacle I sometimes make in that pose with my audible groans and my gasping as if I were approaching expiration. So, I was at least appearing less in extremis yesterday, though I wasn't really doing the pose that much better. When I moved to start my back bends, he said to me, "Supta Vajrasana?" as if I were skipping the pose. I raised an eyebrow questioningly: "Who? Me?". He nodded that it was okay to go ahead and helped me go back. Like many folks, I can't maintain the grip on the toes when I arch back, though I've never really worked on it yet. I never had to, given my perceived deficits in the preceding postures.

The first time I was ever given a posture, almost 8 months ago, I felt a sense of accomplishment, of relief. I had passed a sort of unofficial but to me important milestone. I had shown myself to be appropriate for advancement to the second series. Since that time, I haven't really felt that strongly about getting each new posture. Even yesterday, being moved on past kapotasana didn't generate much emotionally. I knew if I stayed healthy and kept working I was going to get it eventually. I've proven to myself wrong every time I have said to myself, "I'm never going to be able to do that posture." The first time I ever tried to do kapotasana in one of Tim's Intro to Second Series classes, I couldn't even arch back to touch the wall with my hands, I almost blacked out when I tried it. It got better each time though and now I almost don't look like I 'm dying when I try to do it.

I managed to stagger to standing from backbends yesterday, literally. The second time I came up, I accidentally whacked Tim with my arm, knocking him away from the person he was trying to adjust. I guess I just wanted him to know I could do it. I've got to work on finding the guts to go back down to the floor now.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Slow days here lately. My practice has been reduced to only a couple of pranayama sessions since Thursday. I should get the chance to do mysore practice Wednesday morning though. I had really hoped to be able to build my practice up to a sort of crescendo level going into our upcoming workshop in Mt. Shasta. Instead, my schedule for the next couple of weeks will likely lead to even less practice than usual. Last year we went to the first series session. Since my wife had been progressing thru the second series, this year we put in for the second series week. Not having tried to put my foot behind my head for more than a month or two, much less done the harder postures that follow, it should be a fairly humiliating week for me and lots of laughs for my wife.

In pranayama yesterday, most of the durations seemed easier or shorter than I remember them being the previous weeks. I don't think it's that I'm gotten capable all of a sudden. I will often count during the breaths and the retentions to distract my brain from the incipient hypoxia and the lengths have seemed shorter than I remember them being a couple of weeks ago. Maybe not, maybe I'm just counting slower. At any rate, practice was comfortable yesterday. A good thing whether the durations were longer or not. Today, I had a headache from lying the wrong way. I woke up with it in the middle of the night and never really shook it off. I didn't notice it much early on in the session this morning, but by the time we got to the alternate nostril breathing, every time we did the exhale retention, my headache pounded more and more. I wasn't struggling from feeling the need to breath, at least not initially, it was just a growing discomfort. As the headache became more noticeable, it distracted my concentration and I then started to feel more and more that I wasn't going to make it through a retention with out taking some breaths. I finally gave in and just breathed most of the rest of the way through the alternate nostril breathing. I was able to do the last two breathing practices, the bhastrika and the sitali breathing, without any problem. We'll see how it goes tomorrow morning.

Each day, I can feel myself getting stiffer. Wednesday will not be a progression day, unfortunately.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

I was too tired to write yesterday evening. I did the evening led first series class with Tim. The room was very warm and humid. By the time I got to backbending, I just ran out of gas. That was disappointing because I really wanted to regain the ability to get up from backbend. I never got close. Worst of all, I got so tired while trying to get up on my last backbend that I ended up laying back down on my mat. By that time, everyone else had either gotten up on their own or had been helped up by Tim. He looked over at me lying down and figured I was just loafing it. The normal game is to stay in the last backbend until you get helped up, however long that takes. If you're someone who goes to class fairly regularly, going back down to the mat is grounds for mild verbal attention. "Hey, John! Why resting? You're the only one. Did you have a bad day at work?" I tried to mumble that I had exhausted myself legitimately trying to get up on my own, but it came out like I was just too weak to stay up. I went back into a backbend so that he could assist me up. He put his open hand on my chest to bring me up with pressure on my chest, but as he put it there, he curled his fingers at the top of my shirt and in my chest hair as if to give the impression he was going to pull me up by them. He didn't, of course. He just put his hand flat and pressed my chest back toward my legs to give me enough counter pressure to get up. But for a second there, when his fingers grasped my chest hair, I started to get ready to get up on my own before he could start yanking. I think it was an accidental thing, but ..., you never know. These old hands of guruji's, they probably know lots of unconventional ways to motivate people to do things they can do but don't believe they can do.

At the start of class yesterday, one of the people I know fairly well brought another person over and had them set up next to me. She told me the person was from Portugal and had never done full first series. She told the woman to look around the room and follow what everyone else was doing and she asked me to help her if she looked like she had trouble following. No problem. Glad to help. I chatted with the woman a bit before class, trying to sound out where her practice was. Very pleasant, practices as best she can, there's not many teachers where she lives, so she is worried she won't know what to do, yada yada. The woman rocked. She did everything and did most of them better than me (not saying much there but she looked good). About the only thing she didn't do was Sirsasana. Worst thing was, she hardly even sweated! And she was still able to do Garbha Pindasana. It boggles my mind how people can practice in a hot humid room for two hours and hardly break a sweat.

I guess Tim has started to add a kirtan element to some of his Thursday classes. A couple of weeks ago, he cut the Improv class short and broke out the squeezebox (harmonium) for some chants. Today in Pranayama, same thing. We did a very abbreviated pranayama, then we sang the chants while he played for us. We actually really kind of mumbled mostly. At 6:30 in the morning, most of us were still in introvert mode. Plus, even with a verse sheet in front of you (the chants are in sanskrit), there's usually a question of "how the hell is that one supposed to be pronounced" that inhibits you from really belting 'em out. Everyone else seemed eager to have an easy pranayama day. They go most very day. I've only been once in the last ten days so if I had my druthers, I would have rather done the full breathing. I'm not knocking it though. About the only time I've gotten exposed to things like kirtan have been at week long workshops or at formal kirtans by visiting artists like Krishna Das, Wah and Bhagavan Das.

I got done with work today around 3:30. All three cases went real smoothly, no untoward delays or problems. I got to Encinitas around 4:30. Not enough time to go home but too early for the studio to be open. Fortunately, as happened once before, someone was in the studio doing some clean up. I got the place to myself for about 40 minutes before class. I got a bunch of easy going stretches in, I was as ready to go as I can be. I even worked on the take it up and try to jump back aspect of my vinyasa. I figured out one thing I need to change, or at least I think it needs to be changed. I usually just cross my ankles and lift up then try and lean forward as best I can while I drag my feet as far back as I can. At my best, I had been able to get my feet back to just in front of my hands. When I was working with the blocks today, I found that if I placed the ankle of one leg as far up the shin of the other leg as I could, especially the lowest ankle, rather than just crossing my ankles, I was able to get the feet clear of the floor for longer. In class, I got them to the space between my hands but never got them thru. Little victories.

The room was a fraction cooler tonight. I felt less tight. It was just a better practice over all. I've felt really close on my Supta Kurmasana attempts yesterday and tonight. Still can't get that right ankle to slide up and over the left. On the flip side, I didn't do any better tonight on my backbending and coming up than I did yesterday. I was tired but not as whipped as I felt yesterday. I tried on the last one but just couldn't pull it off. It's easier for me to do in mysore because I can take as much time as I need to position and reposition various body parts, go thru mental checklists, do practice runs, etc. before actually trying to come up for real. In a led class, I've got the teacher's five count to get it done. It's probably enough time, but it takes my mind off of the doing and directs it to the count. Lame excuses. I've just lost it. I'll get it back. I was just hoping to be able to keep doing it once I did it for the first time.

I worked a fair amount on my handstanding with JMS after class. His advice and demonstrations of what I'm doing and how he does it are helping, but I'm improving at a very gradual pace.

No asana practice for a while. Maybe on Sunday afternoon but not holding my breath. I set up a round of golf that morning with one of the guys I work with and his brother, an avid golfer who is visiting him. Since I'll be recreationally otherwise occupied most of the morning, getting even more time later that day to do yoga will be hard to defend

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

I'm back.

We had a very nice visit with family and friends in Buffalo, NY. The trip was a combination of attending the wedding of a cousin and a family reunion. The weather was not the best. It was cool, windy and rainy most of the time. The last day there the weather turned brilliant. It is so green there, especially compared to SoCal. Huge sugar maples, spruces, oaks, all kinds of varieties of trees. Just gorgeous. All those old homes with large porches and well kept yards and gardens. The people were great. You could almost make a case for living there. Until you remember that it is winter there for seven months out of the year and they measure snowfall in feet per day.

We spent most of the time in Buffalo with our relatives at the various family functions. On the first day there, we did do the Niagara Falls thing. It was cloudy and cool but pleasant. When you go on the Maid of the Mist boat trip you get soaked unless you wear these cheap plastic ponchos they hand out. We stupidly put our ponchos back in the car before we later walked across the border to check out that Canada place. Of course, the weather in Canada really sucked. It started raining right as we were on the bridge going over. We walked around for a few minutes, blew some bucks so the kids could go up their verison of the Space Needle, had dinner then took a cab back to the bridge. To my surprise, I found out that I had to pay a toll to get back into my own country. You can get into Canada for free (did I mention their weather sucks) but you have to pay to come home!! What the hell do you do if you don't have the fifty cents for the turnstiles to get back in? I asked the surly men who guard our mighty border (the longest "unfortified" border in the world, just ask Al Qaida) that very question. I thought the guy said, "Well, I guess you're just stuck", but my sister told me later that he had said, "Well, I guess you're just f###'d". Imagine my kids' delight in hearing the F word from a uniformed representative of our great nation. Imagine my delight in having to pay 50 cents a head for the privilege. That was about it for sight seeing for me.

We found a great place to practice in Buffalo, East Meets West Yoga. They normally do led ashtanga classes and some hatha/vinyasa flow classes. One of the teachers had recently finished a teacher training with Richard Freeman and was interested in trying to get a mysore type class going for her students. She offered to let us have a group practice with her and a few of her interested students each morning before their regularly scheduled classes. A few posts back, I was commenting that I have seen few practitioners, at any level, who seemed to be able to do everything well. Well, Julie at East Meets West is someone who can. She could do it all. I thought at one point I had her because I didn't remember seeing her chakrasana on the day she did her first series practice. The next day, after yoga nidrasana, badda bing, she cranks out a chakrasana, done in what I consider the correct way: where instead of a rolling over the back of the head, you push up and lift the head and shoulders from the mat as the feet come over so that there is a quick pivot at the head. I have to say, I was really very impressed with her practice. It was totally unpretentious but so complete, so "I wish I could do it like that" smooth. She is strong, she bent in every direction, she twisted better than almost anyone that I have ever seen, she vinyasa'd in and out, she was humble, generous, etc. The whole kitandkaboodle. How do people get like that?

My practice was not as refined of course. The studio was in a really neat area, lots of cool shops and places to eat. Her place was in the bottom floor of one of those large two or three story old buildings just on the periphery of the shops. It had a cool old wood floor that really resonated when there was a significant impact, say someone were to land their viparita chakrasana a tad on the heavy side. It also had next to no heating. The teacher told us that she had no control at all over the heat for the studio, nor do the tenants who live upstairs. It's all set by the landlord. Most any other time it probably wouldn't have been an issue but the weather was unseasonably cool while we were there. Also, since it was a group practice, we would get up every now and then to help somebody bind or give an adjustment or two. With all the stopping and starting, I wasn't able to keep the heat going. I did all my postures the first day, but on the next two days I just did the first series poses. I did get up from back bends the first couple of days, though each time I've done it has been with poorer and poorer form, but I opted not to the last day as I just wasn't warm enough to try it. I didn't want to take a chance on tweaking my back because we had the family golf tournament later that day. I really enjoyed having the chance to practice. None of the people we practiced with normally practice that early, so we probably put them out somewhat. I was worried that we maybe over did it on the helping out with adjustments and stuff. Hopefully not. There's a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive.

As easy as it would have been to do it, I didn't do pranayama once. Well, I did do the first three on the last day while I waited for my wife to finish her savasana. So, now I have to see how much a difference not doing pranayama for a week or so makes when I go back to doing it here with Tim.

I had high hopes of getting to practice today, but the OR ran until 6PM so I missed out. Looks like I'll be doing led first series tomorrow evening.

It's good to be back home, back in the normal, comfortable rhythms. Now I just have to clear out all the voice mails and e-mails and phone messages and crap that builds up when you leave work for a few days. Going on vacation sucks sometimes.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

I had a wonderfully serendipitous experience in class this evening. I am one of those people who sweat a lot. I drench the rug over my mat, my shirt and shorts are as wet as if I'd jumped in a pool, I soak two small towels that I bring to wipe sweat. Well, today was cerebral dysfunction day. For some reason, when I went to work this morning I took the one pair of shorts that I hate to practice in and didn't take any towels for wiping sweat. I worked today and got done with just enough time to barrel up the freeway and hopefully make it to class, so I was in too much of a hurry to remember that I needed to bring a towel from work. When I got my stuff out of the trunk for class, I was stunned to find that I was going to have nothing to wipe the sweat with. That's almost grounds to not practice. I decided I would just do the best that I could using my t-shirt. As we were waiting for class to start, I chatted with the woman to my right. She asked me if I had brought a towel. It turns out, she had grabbed two towels from her car by accident. I gave my best forlorn look and said no. She then gave me her extra towel to use. I know, BFD. But, what are the odds? I just about never fail to bring at least one towel. Sometimes, I've got three or four that have accumulated in my trunk "just in case" I need one. The one day that I don't have any towels is the day that the person next to me inadvertently brings an extra one. I felt a little guilty. I couldn't very well give her back her towel when it was dripping with my sweat and cooties and whatnot. I'll have to get it clean and leave it in my trunk for the next time I see her.

I had a nice chuckle in class. JMS, a friend who recently completed Tim's teacher training, was assisting the teacher who led the class. He seemed to be convinced that I am approaching actually being able to hold a handstand. I have perfected the art of falling out of handstand very slowly but I am nowhere close to being able to just hang out there. He was very encouraging but gravity never loses.

I was curious to see if I could get up again from backbending. I felt pretty good through the first three of them (we did five). I tried coming up after three but it was a dismal effort. Number four felt really good though. I was right over my arms, my legs were straighter than average and my back was arced much more than I usually am willing to go for. Just as I was getting ready to roll my hands and try to transfer my weight forward, I got helped up to standing. Bummer. I came up really easy though. I sat back down (still not brave enough to try a drop back) and tried again on the last one. I got into the backbend a little late. As I was going through all the machinations to try and get myself into a position that might succeed, the teacher came and helped the person next to me up. I was afraid he would go to help me next so I kind of rushed my stand up attempt. I got up but it was a butt-ugly stand up. I was waay up on my tip toes, I didn't get a good arc in my back, etc., etc.

While Tim is out of town, one of his other senior students has been leading Pranayama. He usually leads an Intro to Pranayama class on Saturdays that is a great way to ease into the practice. In that class, all of the lengths of breaths, retentions, etc. are shorter than in Tim's class. In the classes that he has subbed for Tim this week, he has used those easier durations. So, for two classes in a row, I did the sequence with no extra breaths. Not impressive given the challenge offered but it is good to get a sense that I can do it and that I had a fair amount of reserve to work harder. Where once I would have felt that it wasn't kosher to be doing the easier class, now I'd be happy to do a bunch of easier classes in a row. I would like to get the rhythm down, work out some of the bugs that I have with controlling my diaphragm and glottis, etc.

I may not be able to post for a few days. I don't know what my access will be to a computer on our trip this week. If I can, I will. If not, I'll try and write stuff down the old fashioned way and transcribe it here when we get back next week. We should be able to do a mysore style practice which will be great. I had sounded the studio owner out about maybe doing a pranayama group thing too but it doesn't sound like that will work out. Bad timing. Well, hotel room pranayama is less objectionable than hotel room asana practice.

Monday, July 07, 2003

My main teacher is out of town this week giving a teacher training seminar in Vancouver. Yesterday, one of the people who normally assist him in the Sunday first series class led it instead. My wife was going to practice in that class but ended up assisting and adjusting instead. It worked out okay because her knee had been bugging her anyway from some messing around with postures she had done while at the beach the day before. She normally doesn't give me too many adjustments--one time I got a little snippy with her for what I thought was a poor prasarita adjustment. The ones I did get yesterday were better than they were the last time she adjusted me. Doing all those other classes has seemed to mature her technique and her confidence in adjusting. She wisely doesn't try to help the big sweaty guys come to standing from backbend. She had one guy crater the other day in one of the gym type classes she teaches. I think that cured her.

I was in a tough row of practitioners yesterday. To my right were a couple of guys with floaty jumpbacks and good practices. To my left was this really built woman, she has more muscles than the three of us guys, who has a really nice, flexible practice too. It was an invigorating group to be in. I didn't really rise to the occasion with a stand out practice though. It was sevicable but that was about it. My goal was to be strong by the time I got to backbends, so I think I kind of under did it in the effort department for the rest of the practice. I had made it to standing from Urdhva Dhanurasana for the first time last Friday and I was hoping I could do it again. If I could get up again yesterday, I was going to try for a drop back too. We did two sets of three back bends. I used the first four reps to loosen up and get as deep as I could. I tried to get up on the second rep of the second set. I didn't commit that well on that try and bailed out back down to my mat. My wife scowled at me and hissed that I needed to lead with my chest and keep my head back. I know that's what I need to do, I just don't yet have down how to do it each time. I did get up okay on the last one but then there was no time to try the drop back. The woman to my left made it to standing for the first time ever yesterday. She was stoked too, but in a nice quiet kind of way. Getting up made the practice seem better somehow and hearing her pleasure at her breakthrough made it more so.

Getting to practice was a little of an adventure yesterday. My car has those tires that have a "low profile". The wheels are bigger than average so the wheel itself has shorter sidewalls. It's just the look sports cars have theses days I guess. At any rate, with shorter sidewalls, it's a little tougher to tell when your tire is getting flat. I had only had the car for a few months when I noticed that one tire really did look almost flat. The tire pressure before I filled it up was down around 12, normal would be 36-40. This happened a few more times over the succeeding weeks so I had planned to have the tire looked at soon. Not soon enough, as is usually the case. I was on the freeway going about 85 when I felt that telltale mushiness and started to hear the wobbly sound of a flattening tire. I got over to the shoulder and pulled up near a emergency phone to check out the damage. When I pulled the wheel off, the tire had almost completely separated from the wheel right at the rim on the side that faces in towards the car. This wasn't a flat, it was a full on blow out. Now I'll never be able to find out if the tire was defective somehow. The dealer will just say I let it get too flat and that running it with the tire low allowed the tire to warp and blow out. Changing the tire was an adventure. I hadn't had to do that in six or seven years. Squatting down on a side slope changing a tire with semi's blowing by at 85+ mph only four feet away is a testament to the concept of a leap of faith. Fortunately, it was early enough in the day that there were no drunk drivers out who might have inadvertently 'picked me off'. I show up to practice though with my hands almost black from brake dust and grime and bloody from where I had taken a 1/2 cm gouge out of my thumb pad somewhere in the process of changing the tire. Such was my focus on the traffic and trying to get done and out of harms way that I never felt anything until I got back in the car. "Why is my steering wheel wet? Oh, it's blood. Why am I bleeding? Oh, There's a cut there under all that grime. How the hell did that happen? Man, that's not going to help in binding." Worst of all is how pitiful the car looks with one of those dinky space saving spare tires on it. I didn't realize it at the time, but you're not supposed to drive more than 50 mph on those things. When I found that out this morning, I traded cars with my wife since I have to commute about 35 miles of freeway. Few things in this world could be more humiliating than having to drive a BMW convertible 50 miles an hour in Southern California morning rush hour traffic. I probably would have been run off the road by some irate guy driving a 1982 Beetle. So, now my wife is pissed off that taking care of this is being dumped on her while she's trying to finish the arrangements for our up coming trip. Plus, she's mad that we're going to have to pay to have the tire replaced rather than have it done for free under warranty. I think she has a higher expectation of car dealers than I do.

Friday, July 04, 2003

I didn't get as tired in class today. This despite another marginal night of sleep. My wife had a bunch of coffee yesterday and had done a lot of back bending postures in an evening class, so she couldn't sleep. As is her wont, she felt the need to make sure I was aware of this. While my energy was pretty good for most of the practice, spending the night trying to defend my share of the sheets and my position in the bed instead of sleeping may explain why I was such a space cadet in class today. I guess I must have been daydreaming or something, but in my second Surya Namaskara B, I got lost. I had to pause and figure out what my next move was after I did the utkatasana. I should be able to do that in my sleep. I probably could actually, it's just when I'm awake that I have problems. Later, after I got ready to do the second side of Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, I got this feeling that I had done the first side with the wrong leg. I eventually had to ask Tim's assistant to make sure I had done it correctly. He probably wondered what planet I had been visiting. It's not easy trying to explain such events to people who are under the age of 45. Rest assured though, everybody gets their day.

Overall, I was happy with my practice today. I spent a little more time in each pose than I did yesterday. That left me with less time to do research poses for some of the second series poses. When I'm working on Kapotasana preparation, I usually do shoulder work: lying down prone with my hands and forearms against the wall in Pincha Mayurasana position, Viparita Dandasana variations against the wall then again out away from the wall. I should do a bunch of groin stretches too, but by the time I get to that part of the practice, I'm usually pretty whipped, so I tend to wimp out and skip the groin research poses. I am still making that incremental progress in Kapotasana. Today I was able to get my hands to the knuckles of my big toes on my own and my elbows are gradually getting closer to the floor.

I got a mild chastisement from Tim today for doing some extra 'research' poses. In Mysore classes lately, I've been doing some extra hip opening stuff. My legs have a natural predisposition to external rotation. That helps in some postures. I was able to do Baddha Konasana reasonably competently pretty early on. I was also able to get Janu C fairly quickly. The pose that I do after Janu C is an extension of that hip and knee action. In Viranchyasana B you start out in a Janu C position. Then you roll the heel forward, so that you end up sitting on the heel with the toes facing to the rear. It looks painful but, thanks to the range of motion that I naturally have in my hips, it wasn't much harder to do than Janu C. After Baddha Konasana, I sneak in a couple more extras. Once I was able to roll over my foot without a problem, I then had to find out if I could do Mula Bandhasana. This one starts out like Baddha Konasana, but you then plant the toes and roll the feet up so that the heels are up and the toes point straight down. Then you roll forward, like in Viranchyasana, so that both feet are pointing behind you. This is a pretty intense one. I've been too cautious to do much more than get my feet to vertical or sometimes a little past vertical. The last one I do is where I pull my feet to my chest, like occurs in Kandasana, but I only do one foot at a time. When I did the Mula Bandhasana one today, Tim strolled over and said, "Ah, 4th series doing?" I came out of it and gave him an embarrassed grin. I don't have a good reason for trying to do things like Mula Bandhasana or Kandasana. I guess I just want to see if I can. Bad ashtangi. Plus, it never hurts to be ready. You never know when somebody's gonna give you fifth series.

Today was crowded enough that we had to use three rows of mats, one down the middle of the room. I don't like it as much when we set up like that. It interferes with my attempts to get better at jumping through in my vinyasa. When somebody is right in front of me doing a forward bend, if I try a straight leg jumpthru, I'll probably smash right into them. So I end up just doing this hop to a seated move that I used to do. If I was a more motivated yogi, I would try to do the floaty jumpthru with crossed legs. Some people do this one instead of the straight leg version. They float their crossed legs through, hover, then settle down into a seated position. It takes a lot of bandhas, something I definitely need to build. Maybe next time.

Pranayama seemed easier today. The lengths of the breaths were closer to what we were doing when the teacher trainees were here. I made it as far as halfway through the alternate nostril breathing before I started to get that sense of "I NEED an extra breath. Or two." When I was on call the other day, I read some of Iyengar's book, "Light on Pranayama". He emphasized that you should practice to the extent that you can maintain a degree of steadiness and calm. When you lose those, you lose the benefit of doing the pranayama. I decided to accept that and stop trying to force myself to go as far as I can even if I'm dying to breathe. Today felt pretty good. Mr. Iyengar is my friend.

Later this week, we're going to New York state for a family get together. My wife has managed to set up a practice each morning with some ashtangis there. I'm hoping I can get myself to do pranayama each day too. I've got to get the alternate nostril breathing sequence down better though. I don't have the exact transition points down just yet. Given that I can still get lost just doing Sun Salutations or the standing poses, the odds are pretty good I'm gonna mess up the breathing sequences. Gotta try anyway.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

I went into practice this morning a little on the wary side. Only one other practice in the last week, was on call the night before and actually had to do some work instead of getting paid to sleep, never did any of the stretching yesterday that I kept promising myself I was going to do, got to mysore practice with almost no time to spare--I was expecting a pretty marginal go of it. Of course, it was a nice practice instead. I'm just not going to have expectations anymore, they're always wrong.

Well, not always. I was expecting to get tired and I did. The room was already hot and humid from the preceding class and I was going in with tanks that weren't completely full. There was once a time when I could be up most of the night at work and be able to do stuff the next day with no discernible drop off in performance. That no longer happens. I first noticed this back when I golfed regularly. My game, which was never a gifted one, was clearly rougher and I had less touch on post-call days. Missing sleep doesn't seem to affect my flexibility but it does seem to degrade my energy. Some times after a long night at work, I'll get a headache in practice. I had a mild one after finishing today but it went away pretty quickly.

I didn't hold every posture as long as I might usually. I expected to be a bit more tired than usual and I wanted to have as much strength and endurance available as possible for those last three postures and for backbends. Even moving faster than usual, I still couldn't keep up with my wife. She has to do so many postures in the two hours available that she usually ends up in the second series when I'm still doing janu sirsasana. What I don't get is how she never looks tired, even by the end. I look totally wiped. I've drenched my practice rug, my tank top and a sweat towel or two with sweat. Today, when I was doing back bends, Tim wandered over to help me to standing. I was sort of taking a break between repetitions. He asked me which rep I was on. When I told him I had just done three so far, he said, "Just three? But you look like it was your thirteenth!"

Tomorrow, I'll get to give it another try. July 4th is a holiday so I don't have to work. Two mysore practices in a row, woo hoo. I should be plenty rested, I'm going to bed as soon as I finish this, so I'll have no excuses for tomorrow. No expectations either

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

I haven't had much to say these last few days. My practice so far this week has been limited to pranayama each morning. I guess it's a good thing to start each day fully humbled. I've been hoping that going regularly would lead to the kind of gradual improvement that usually occurs in the asana practice. I have gotten better in some aspects. Much like in asana practice, though, there are plenty of backsliding days too. Today was one. In previous days, I just did the best that I could and took the occasional extra breath along the way as I felt I needed to. The number of breaths I needed was less than when I first started doing it but still more than I was happy with. In thinking about how to progress, I decided that at some point, I was going to have to get thru each segment with out taking any extra breaths. Today, I decided to try the approach of working at going as far as possible with no extra breaths. That would then become my new daily goal, hopefully to be exceeded a bit more each day or week. I started out okay but didn't get as far as I thought I would have. I felt pretty needy during the second exhale retention of the segment where we do retentions with both the inhale and the exhale, rechaka puraka kumbhaka. I convinced myself there was no way I was going to make it through the next exhale retention. As a result, I didn't even make it through the inhale retention. It was a slippery slope after that. I had made a lot of progress in the alternate nostril breathing portion in the last 2 weeks. I had been only taking about one extra breath in each segment. Today, I was taking them about every other exhale retention. Once I gave in to the feeling that I couldn't handle the oxygen deficit or the CO2 build up or whatever the feeling is, it became difficult to enter that zone of unease. In prior days, I could get myself to work through it and in doing so was able to tolerate more cycles of retentions. Today, I just couldn't get my mind back in charge. I even ended up taking some recovery breaths after one of the retentions in the Bhastrika breathing, which I so flippantly called "easy" a short ways back. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on my next attempt at pranayama.

One of the people practicing next to me today was the epitome of relaxation during breathing. I constantly find myself almost rigid with unconscious effort. I have to actively let everything go, almost in a check list kind of way. It's kind of like when I go to the dentist, I have to repeatedly make my body relax. Every time I glanced her way, her shoulder were soft, she wasn't hunched or arched, her neck wasn't taut, she wasn't shaking during the retentions, there was no wild fluctuation in the respirations, no apparent dis-coordination of the diaphragm and glottis that I experience. It was kind of like being at my first yoga class ever and being next to a third series person breezing thru everything, inspiring and disheartening at the same time

As I was leaving pranayama to go to work, I saw the teacher who led the class I went to this weekend come in for Mysore practice. That was good to see. I probably drew some unfair conclusions about him based on a very limited exposure and on no knowledge what-so-ever about his background. Good to know he is choosing to train with Tim. Hopefully I'll get the chance to talk with him sometime and find out a bit more about him.