Well, it seems I've devolved into a total blog slacker. I have practiced three times this week and not one word put up. I guess the thrill of composing has worn off and the realization that it's not that easy to make what I have done that day seem even mildly intriguing has started to settle in. And here I was getting chagrined that the other folks with weblogs about ashtanga had tailed off in their postings. A blogging hypocrite I yam.
So, on to this week's revelations. I almost never get to practice on Tuesday mornings because that is normally my surgery day. I've had a couple of opportunities to do the 9:00 mysore class when I've been on call the evening before. This past Tuesday, they had another case scheduled before mine. I wasn't due to start until 11:00. I couldn't go to the 9:00 mysore class given that potential start time, so I went to the 7:00 first series class with Tim. I've only been to that class once before ever, almost three years ago. I remember it because for some reason, I had thought it was a mysore class, not a led class. While everybody else was setting up, I started doing my sun salutations. I noticed I was getting a few looks but I figured it was because I was fairly new and not one of the usual faces. I caught on when Tim set his mat up to practice and called everybody to the front of their mats for the invocation. By this time, I had already done most of the surya namaskara B's. I ended up having to do them all a second time when he started in with the led class. The entire time I was doing them I was imagining everybody else in the room saying to themselves, "Who is that spaz over there who was doing the sun sals before class?" This time, I had a bit more of a clue of what to do. I went to pranayama that morning too. As we got going with the led class, I think I figured out one of the things that makes me feel less than full speed when I practice right after pranayama. When we're doing pranayama, our inhales and exhales are drawn out much longer than the usual Ujjayi breath. I noticed during the sun salutations that I was still doing overly long respirations. It just becomes a default pattern when doing the Ujjayi breaths. I had to consciously make myself switch to a more normal length of breath. I didn't previously notice it because I think I have only done mysore type classes after pranayama. There, I can keep whatever rhythm I fall into and not notice it. In a led class, my breath had to match the rhythm given by the teacher. I wasn't matching up so it stood out more obviously. The rest of the class went well. He got through the first series fairly quickly. I don't know if this was by design or not. We were done with Setu Bandhasana an hour and 15 minutes into the class. He then had us do some of the initial postures of the second series, up through Ustrasana, as a prep for backbending. One thing I do remember about the other time I went to this class is that he did throw in a few other postures. That time he had us do some stuff like Marichasana E & F, so maybe he does try to leave some time to do extra stuff. I must have jinxed us with my last post about doing the backbends alphabetically because that's exactly what we did, up through the letter L. I was able to stand up on five of them. I fell back down on a couple of them, including the last one, but I was able to make it up when I retried. If you don't do normally do more than three to five backbends, twelve of them probably sounds like a lot. They really do get easier to do as you keep going though.
On Wednesday I went to the evening led first series. In the Tuesday led class, Tim is practicing along with us. In that class, he doesn't count each vinyasa out loud. He'll call out the name of the posture and will then do it silently. We follow along, guided in part by the rhythm of the breath. After his fifth breath in the pose, he'll call out "five" as a signal for us all to start the vinyasa to the next posture. The Wednesday evening class is a more typical led class. He is not doing the postures with us, he is calling out the postures and counting each vinyasa in sanskrit while he circulates and adjusts, interjecting with running commentary from time to time. I had to be at work that evening at 8:00 pm and the class normally finishes at 7:30 pm. I told Tim I might have to leave before Savasana to make it to work in time. I ended up not having to because we finished sooner than we usually seem to. I usually find the led first series classes more difficult to do than the first series portion of my mysore practices. I think that is because we have to follow the cadence and timing of the teacher rather than our own intrinsic pace. I think following an external rhythm and maybe having to hold the poses for a bit longer than I might on my own gradually takes more out of me. I had a good practice over all. All of them were good this week. We must have looked a little frazzled as a group though because he only had us do three back bends. Even though I was worried about getting out of class in time, I was disappointed in this. I have only made it up from a back bend once or twice with out having previously done some second series work. I thought my chances of getting up after only doing three was zero. I didn't make it up on my first try after the last back bend but I was able to stand up ugly on my second attempt.
Sometimes when I'm on call overnight, I get paid to sleep. That night I wasn't getting paid to sleep. I was up most of the night with one thing or another. I could see it starting to develop that way early on in the call. Sometimes the deliveries, ER visits, phone calls, etc. all space out in just the wrong interval to ensure that the least amount of rest can be achieved. That was the case Wednesday night. I got about an hour and a half of semi-sleep from 4 - 5:30, which helped. Surprisingly, my mysore practice later that morning was one of my best. I felt minimal fatigue during the class. I felt so good that I had decided that was the day that I was going to try a drop back. I could tell I had plenty of energy left. I got up with reasonable style after only the third back bend. As I looked down to get my feet set up, Tim walked up to start doing supported drop backs. I didn't want to tell him no. I guess in hind sight I should have said I wasn't done with backbends yet and that I was going to try and go back on my own. Instead I just went with the flow and did drop backs with him. Next time. I was very pleased with the degree of energy that I had at that part of the practice though. I'm usually sniveling and looking for any break I can get by that point. Yesterday I honestly wished that I could have been able to keep going, more back bends, more postures or at least some extra research work. It was an "on" day for me. Tim helped me in both Utthita Hasta Padangustasana and in Supta Padangustasana. I haven't had him help me in those in a while. Nobody has helped me in the latter for some time. I know I am capable of a greater range of motion than I am able to generate by myself in those two poses. I can almost get my groin to the ground on both sides in Hanumanasana. But when I do those two poses, my foot doesn't get much higher than the level of my shoulder or chest. He helped me in the second portion of the standing version, the part that comes after you swing your leg back to the middle from the side. He got me quite a bit higher without it causing pain. In the supine version he did a similar assist which actually felt pretty good. The supine version has always worried me a bit about getting a hamstring pull with adjustments but this one felt good. Neither version of the assist had me in anything close to trivikrmasana, where the leg is held up next to the head in a splits position, but I was able to be put farther than I've been doing on my own. I never can tell what it is that prompts him or any of the other people who adjust to decide when somebody needs a hand but hopefully I'll keep getting some assists on pushing the envelope on these two poses.
When we were at The Mt Shasta retreat, during one of the Q&A sessions I asked Tim about Samakonasana, the side splits. He does this effortlessly and can do it cold. His legs are straight out to the side without a hint of an angle to them and his hips and back are vertical, not arched forward. Since I find this to be a very painful posture to work on and since I have made minimal progress in it, I asked him if there were postures that some people could do because they had just the right anatomic gifts but that others would not be able to do because of their anatomic limitations. While he did allow that here were certainly some people who would never be able to do a pose like that, he felt that with time and the correct effort, most people probably could achieve it. He had me demonstrate what it is that I do when I try the pose (we normally insert this pose and Hanumanasana right after the Prasarita sequence in the standing series). I normally get my heels past the edges of my mat then I lean forward onto my forearms and try to stretch the heels out as far as I can. He wants me to keep my back straight up, not leaning forward like I had been doing. To do so, I have to balance on hands which are put right next to my groin. In that position, my groin is much higher off of the ground than it was when I was leaning forward. The version in which I would lay on my forearms tilts the pelvis forward artificially creating the appearance that I am closer to the ground. I've started to do it the way he recommends but it makes me nervous wobbling there while I try and balance on my hands while pressing down from the groin. I might just do a Google search to see if I can find one of those machines that people use to passively stretch themselves into the side splits. I just don't know what to use as my search criterion. "Side stretch machine thingie" probably won't get me a lot of hits.
My oldest has a soccer tournament this weekend about 100 miles away. My wife is going up with her today. I work tonight so I'm going to go tomorrow morning's Improv class, pick up my other kids from over at my mom's place then drive up and join them. We'll see how it goes for practice the rest of the week