Tuesday, February 17, 2004

No yoga day today. No yoga yesterday either. Or tomorrow. Yesterday, I was on call for 24 hours. Today, my son had an out patient surgery to fix a chronic problem with his ear, so practice can wait. Tomorrow, I'm on call again. Thursday though. Thursday for sure. Unless something comes up.

Since it was slow at work yesterday, I spent the time trying to figure out how to put the pictures that I took on our recent trip to Tulum up on a web site so that everyone else could see them. While I was busy bothering people who were trying to pay attention in class by constantly shooting pics, I had promised them that I would put something together where everybody could see how they looked. Unfortunately, I didn't have a clue how to do this. I just knew that it could be done. Fortunately, Zearchim, a friendly sort who posts over on the EZBoard Ashtanga message board pointed me to this photo gallery hosting site.

It worked great. I was at work so I wasn't really able to do much in the way of photo editing to get the shots tuned up and get the file sizes reduced. I just bought a bunch of storage space so that it would all fit comfortably. From prices that I had seen for other kinds of web hosting sites, it seemed very reasonable. The site made putting together the photo collection on-line a snap. The only hard part, really, was coming up with captions for the shots. I could have just left them on their own but that seemed too staid. At any rate, I've linked to the photo gallery over there on the side bar. I'll link to it here too. If anyone is looking for a site to post photo collections, I'd highly recommend pbase. It was a lot easier to set up than setting up this blog.

My son's surgery went well. The surgeon came out and told us he won't hear that well for a while and will need a second procedure in about 9 months for some reconstructive stuff but that he was pleased with how it went. We had worried if we were doing the right thing. All we could think about were the things that could go wrong. He told us afterwards that he really needed the surgery though. So, he's home now and sleeping it off. And we're waiting for the local anesthetic to wear off. Should be fun. He scored though. As partly a birthday gift and partly a bribe for having to undergo surgery, he got a cool portable DVD player. He watched "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" while he waited in the pre-op area. Taking bets right now for how long it takes before he drops it and breaks it or loses it.

Having to work the day after his surgery was not ideal but my work schedule is set three months in advance so we'll see how it goes tonight. If he does okay, I'll go ahead and work. If he's having a hard time, I'll have to see about calling in sick.

I also posted a few new shots over on the sidebar of the blog of me doing poses in Tulum. Again, nothing great, just showing what I do now

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Sunday led first series. It's kind of an ongoing competency exam for me. Get out there and do it and see what you're capable of. None of the extra time for brow wipes, nose blowing and extra breaths that are so easy to sneak in during a mysore class. None of the stopping for demos of the more complex poses or the skipping of postures or vinyasas due to time constraints that sometimes pop up in the evening led classes. Just do it the way it's supposed to be done, do it the right way, not my way. It's usually the most crowded class of the week. It's also usually the warmest class of the week. It's led by the big guy, Tim. It's the class where you tend to try to do your best. No excuses for not being able to do any of it. You find out pretty quick where your practice is at.

I have to be very cautious with myself because I find myself becoming pleased with how I'm doing lately. That can sometimes be a bad thing. With a sense of satisfaction, there sometimes comes an unintended, undesired but insidious complacency. It's so easy to feel comfortable that I can finally fold forward without discomfort and can get my chin to my leg. But that doesn't get me into an even better expression of the pose, it tends to get me no farther than that. I learned something about myself and about a lot of other people when I was in college and in med school. It seemed that the better I/we did in courses, the more we tried to convince ourselves that we were just a test away from blowing all chances at getting into med school or at getting a good residency or whatever. I would play the "Not only am I not worthy, I really suck" game with myself. It was just one more way to keep pushing, to ward off the complacency demon. I noticed the same thing when I was playing competitive volleyball (competitive for Oklahoma anyway). As I gradually got better over the years, it seemed to me that everyone else was starting to lose it, they weren't playing very well any more. "Jeeze, I just stuffed Geno. He's getting old." After a while I came to accept that I was getting better, but I didn't let myself know that for a long time. I haven't had to do the same in yoga so far because I haven't been able to do a lot of stuff until the last 6 to 12 months. Now that some of it is coming, I have to get the old denial defense shields up. It's pretty easy to do because there's so much that I still can't do. Actually, I still do suck at most of it, just not as bad as I used to. See, it comes easy.

Today was a (shudder) pretty good class for me. At least it felt that way. It probably looked sucky (ok, I'll stop now) but I felt that I did most things okay. I'm still riding the conditioning high that came from my work in the last couple of months. I've noted before that I traditionally get up after Garba Pindasana to get a quick drink from the sink and catch my breath for a second. There was a time when I really did need this. After Supta Kurmasana, I would be totally cagging. Not a hint of breath control, bandhas, etc. I would get a little settled in with my break and then would feel that I did better over the later poses, especially back bends. More recently, it's been clear that I could get through a first series class with out that break but I would still let myself have it. I'm too nice. When I do mysore classes, I convince myself that with the second series postures still to go, I do need a respite so that I'll feel strong enough to do well at harder poses near the end. When we were in Tulum for the teacher training, I didn't take any breaks when we did just first series. I didn't need them. Plus, getting up to discretely get a drink would have taken too long since I would have had to trundle all the way over to the dining hall to get some water, so it wasn't an option anyway. Today, after I did Garba, I got up like usual to go to the bathroom. As I bent over the sink, I thought to myself, "What the hell are you doing this for? You don't need a rest and you sure aren't thirsty. You're just lazy." So I only took a short drink. As a result of the self-assessment that comes with this class, I've decided no more drinks or rest breaks in first series. Wow, what a tough guy. I'm still reserving the right to wimp out in mysore though.

At the Tulum seminar, there was a guy who studies in NYC who had only been practicing for 9 months or so. Despite that, he had a complete practice. Most impressive was his ability to effortlessly lift up and jump back, jump through, press up to headstand from just about any position, etc. The guy's bandhas had bandhas. He said he had been able to do those things from the first day he tried yoga. That made me feel a little better. It must be a genetic deficiency of mine that, after almost four years of trying to jump back, I am barely able to get my feet through my arms before they inexorably sink back down to the mat. As part of my effort to gradually grow some bandhas, in the last few months I had been working on trying various versions of floating back to Chataranga Dandasana from Uttanasana in the sun salutations. I could sort of do it but it was a cluncky, thumpy kind of thing. In Tulum, the bandha guy and I were working on the correct exit from Utkatasana. Normally, in our classes, we go from Utkatasana into Bakasana. After holding that for a few breaths, we then jump back into Chaturanga. The transition to and through Bakasana is really kind of a "training wheels" type thing for developing the true vinyasa. In led classes, after finishing Utkatasana, Guruji will call out the eighth vinyasa for the pose, "Ashtau, up!". What is supposed to occur is that we are supposed to lower our hands to the floor and press up into a position that looks kind of like a hand stand with the legs still bent in a tuck. It's not really supposed to be a jump up to a bent leg handstand. It is supposed to be a tilt forward of the balance point then a press up into the posture. The legs and knees aren't held against the body or in the arm pits, like they are with Bakasana. They are held free in balance just above the arms. Anyway, the guy watched me and gave me a few pointers about what I should do to get it. I gave it a try today and actually did it and held it the whole time that the rest of the group was in Bakasana. I have no clue what it looked like, but for me it was a significant step forward to be able to press up into it, much less hold it. I had been using that transition out of Utkatasana to practice my Bakasana B, where you jump/float from down dog into Bakasana position. Now, I think I'll work on the vinyasa I did today. It makes me trust my core and my shoulders, neither of which have been reliable in the past. If I can get to where I can float up out of Utkatasana, maybe I can then get it out of Uttanasana too. For what? I don't know. Maybe if I can learn that sense of internal lift and can develop control of the body over the balance point while inverted, it may help me get my jump back.

I got a legitimate ankle cross in Supta Kurmasana today. Not one of those big toe under the other ankle deals, it was an ankle over an ankle. They were nowhere near being over my neck, of course. I've only been able to do this maybe once before and even then, it was pretty marginal. I could tell it was going to go today as soon as I bound my hands. My hips didn't feel constricted. I could shift my body weight to the side and slide my left leg way over towards the right. Once the toes got under, I kind of rolled over to one side to try and seat the foot even farther under the right ankle. Unfortunately, I got stuck on my side and couldn't get the momentum to get rolled back to a neutral position. I had to let the ankles go and re-settle back in the starting position and do it over again. This time I didn't over-do the roll and was able to get the feet crossed reasonably well at the top of my head. I'll have to do it a few more times to get a better sense of what is going to be needed to get the feet back over the head onto the neck. I've watched one guy who can get his feet up on his neck and still bind to the wrist. He starts out with the hands bound, as we are told we are supposed to do, then he brings his feet into a crossed position. Once he's got the foundation set, he unbinds and rolls to one side while sort of pushing on the side of the leg with his upper arm to get it to move up and over his head. Then he rolls the other way and gets the other leg up. Then he re-binds. I'd like to be able to do it without releasing the bind, it seems like it's a purer but harder way to do it. Hips have a ways to go yet. My head needs to get skinnier too, so the feet can get up over it.

Ooooff! Back bends. If anything sucked today it was my attempt at a stand up. No reason for it. I felt like I was in plenty deep, We were on our sixth backbend and I wasn't tired. I had done a dry run of rolling up on my finger tips on the previous backbend. It should have gone. But, no. I guess I must have raised my head or something. I did a mid-stand up twisting bail out. I tried to get back down into a back bend and stand up before anybody could come by and raise me up. Tim had spotted me flailing though and came by for a hand on the chest stand up. As he started me up, my legs were bent more than usual and I had pushed off on my own trying to quickly get up before any intervention. The result was that I came up with a lot more momentum than usual. As I stood up I kept going forward like I had been shoved from behind, slamming into Tim. A little embarrassing. These stand ups are starting to get into my head. I was doing them far better just a few weeks ago. I don't think I've had a clean one in quite a while. I usually consider myself to be trainable, I can learn most things. This, however, is stumping me.

Well, the extended family all went down to Tijuana today, leaving me here to blog away. It's time for me to stop this and to try and figure out how to put together a web site for all the pictures we took in Tulum. I had promised everybody I would do it as soon as I got back but I had to go to the funeral, etc. etc. Since I have no idea of how to best do it, I am open to suggestions. I guess I should have thought of that before promising to set one up.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

My wife's father died a few weeks ago. He was suffering from a couple of debilitating problems so his death was not a surprise but it is still always a shock when someone so close does die. We are having a hovan, a hindu rite of passage ceremony, today at his brother's house. My wife's brother has been in town for a meeting and her sister and her four kids flew in yesterday from their home in Hawaii. So we've got just about the entire family together in one spot for the first time in quite a while.

Yesterday I worked in the OR in the morning and the clinic in the afternoon. I tried to jigger the clinic schedule a bit so that I would have a chance to get out in time to make it to the evening Intro to second series class that starts at 5:30PM. I did finish seeing patients at about ten till five, but I still had tons of phone messages to get done, since I'm not back in the office until next Friday. I didn't get out of there until about ten after five. I figured, "OK, so I get to practice late, maybe miss the Surya Namaskaras, no biggie. It's maybe rude but that's just tough." Well, this time the traffic gods were not smiling on me. By 5:45 pm, I was still 15-20 minutes out from the studio. I called my wife to tell her I would be coming home. She told me to instead go to the 6:00 led first series class at one of the local health clubs that she teaches at sometimes. So, dedicated ashtangi that I endeavor to be these days, I turned around and headed back there. I still got there late but I was in a class.

The class was in a nice room but it was well air conditioned by the gym's system so I never got very warm. The class was a typical melange of ability levels but for the most part, people were fairly new. The teacher spent a fair amount of time explaining how to get into and out of poses. Since on-the-fly verbal description is often insufficient in helping people do some of the more complex and difficult poses, he also had to spend a fair amount of time helping people do poses that a fair number of them really weren't ready for. It was supposed to be a led full first series class though. He did get in almost all the poses and the class did flow fairly well so I have to give him credit. That's not an easy thing to do when a good portion of the people had not done those poses very often or, in some cases were trying them for the first time. Given the need to coach people, the class was distinctly different than what I am used to because the guy was talking non-stop for the entire class. That's okay for the asana part of it but I think savasana should be left for people to do on their own. I don't like it when teachers talk about stuff during that pose. It should be time for internal focus, not external guidance. My only real peeve for the class.

I had to curb my desire to try and show people how to do poses. You know, when they are trying to figure out what the hell the guy is talking about when he's talking them through the entry into one of the Marichyasanas and are wrapping the incorrect arm around the wrong leg. I realized it wasn't my place though, it's too easy to be taken the wrong way. So, I just did my stuff as best I could. I was a little embarrassed at not being able to get my arms through on Garba Pindasana, not a bit of sweat to help out. It was a good thing, kept me humble.

I think we ran out of time near the end. We only did two back bends. I usually do a modified bridge pose, setu bandha sarvangasana, for my first back bend. When I went up into Urdhva Dhanurasana for the second rep, he said that would be the last one. Crap! I thought. I need to do more work on my backbends so I had been hoping for at least three or four. Then he came over and started to help me up to standing. I wasn't expecting that in a class like that, especially after only two back bends, so he ended up doing almost all the work.

I was glad to be able to practice, I felt reasonably loose and I knew having done it would help delay my tightening up for that much longer. No practice today. I work tonight so I will be going to the led first series class tomorrow morning

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I just got back in town from a short visit back home. I had to go back to Oklahoma City for a funeral. I hadn't been there since my dad's funeral four or five years ago. You kind of need to have a really good reason to go to Oklahoma City. I figured I wouldn't have much chance to practice in that time unless I was able to force myself to do it at my sister's house, where I was staying. I booked my flight so as to be able to get in a first series class before I left for the airport. I knew there was a guy, Andrew Eppler, who taught ashtanga at a yoga studio in the college town of Norman, OK, about 20 miles south of OKC. My wife had taken a class from him the last time she was visiting my sister. I didn't think I'd be able to get down there though. I hit the internet and did some searches for yoga classes in OKC. I found a couple of options. One of them had a teacher named Christina, who it turns lived with Alan Little while he was in Mysore about a couple of years ago. I've never met Alan, but I've come to know him to a degree through his writing on those Yahoo and the EZBoard ashtanga message boards and from reading his Mysore diary and going through his personal web site. I figured if Alan liked her enough to live with her while in India, then she had to have something good going for her. I called her and left a message telling her I wanted to try and make it to the Mysore/self-practice that she holds at her house on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She left me a message that there was also an evening Ashtanga class on Wednesday at the studio. So, it turned out that I was actually able to practice all three days of my trip.

The led first series class on the morning I left was a little on the cold side. Even though we are in Southern California, the morning temperatures have been in the upper thirties lately. The heat is not left on in the studio overnight. They do turn it on when they come in for the pranayama class that starts at 6:15AM. That doesn't really warm the room up that much though on a cold morning. For some reason, there weren't that many people in class, only 17, so we didn't have the usual quorum to generate body heat either. I knew going into Kurmasana that Garba Pindasana was gonna suck: not enough sweat to let the arms slide though the legs easily. I was able to smear just enough sweat from my head onto my legs and arms to get them through but I was barely able to get my hands to my face, much less up by my ears or the top of my head for the rolling around. We didn't do anything extra in that class. I can only remember going to that class a couple of times ever in the past, but both times he threw in a couple of extra things, like doing Marichyasana E and F. We did do ten back bends, because it was the tenth of the month it turns out. This is a class that Tim practices with us, so he was doing each back bend too. At the end, he dryly noted that it was a good thing that it was the 10th and not the 29th. I have been screwing up my stand up attempts lately. I spazzed on this one too, so he came by after getting everyone else up and assisted me to standing. Most people will help someone up by gently pulling forward on their hips or thighs. Tim has a neat kind of assist in which he will put his hand on your chest and bring you up using pressure with that hand alone. Unlike the typical assist to standing where the assister ends up doing most or all of the work, the hand on chest approach requires the student to do most of the work with your legs. It also helps you keep your head down and your back and chest in the appropriate arch.

On Wednesday, after the memorial service and the after service get together were all done, I snuck away and did the evening class at the Yoga Studio OKC where Christina teaches some of her classes. The Wednesday class was taught by a guy named Alan. He told me the class would be a little different than a typical ashtanga class. The folks in OKC for the most part are guided by Andrew Eppler, an Ashtanga teacher who follows the approach of his teacher, B.N.S. Iyengar. There were some minor variations in vinyasa in the standing poses. The rest of the class was pretty much a typical prep class. Most of the poses were done. The poses omitted were the ones that are typically omitted in most of the prep classes I've gone to, namely the bound lotus poses, marichyasana D, setu bandhasana. Surprisingly, we did do janu sirsasana C, which many classes do leave out as being "too challenging" for their students. We only did three repetitions of navasana but they were longer holds than most classes would have, so my abs didn't mind stopping after three. We did do kurmasana and supta kurmasana, again these are often omitted in other classes. I think I was able to get the big toe of my left foot under the heel of my right foot in Supta K. The teacher then came by and crossed my ankles the rest of the way. I tried to let him know he could go ahead and bring my feet all the way up behind my head onto my neck but I knew he didn't know me or my practice and would not likely give that kind of an adjustment to a stranger. After finishing the first series poses we moved to back bends. I thought that he said, "Go ahead and do two sets of five back bends". I wondered why people were holding them so long. Usually, when faced with the prospect of doing ten backbends, people are pretty willing to come down after just a few seconds. I was thinking back to the long Navasanas we had done. "Man," I thought, "These folks are serious." It turns out that instead of "two sets of five backbends", he actually had called for two "sets", or reps, of backbend to a count of five. Whew. That I can do. Then he said, "Okay, now just do the three stand-up and drop backs or hand stands or whatever other back bending poses you want to finish with on your own." Uh oh. Sure enough, they all started doing drop backs, etc. I meekly did a few more simple back bends. I am not worthy. I am too scared. We finished with a somewhat truncated finishing sequence, did some bhastrika pranayama and had a nice long savasana. The instructor was a very nice a guy named Alan. He kept trying to refuse my class fee, since I was a visitor and all. He doesn't know me very well. He had a very nice floaty practice. He did most of the class with us, getting up from time to time to help adjust or coach someone in the postures, often getting up at the most undesirable of times, like during each rep of Navasana. All in all a nice class, especially since I didn't even know it was available until the day before when Christina clued me in.

We finished Alan's class at around 7PM. I went back and did the post-funeral meeting with family stuff then went home and to bed. I had a mysore class to go to at 6:30 the next morning. In addition to leading classes at The Yoga Studio OKC, Christina has been trying to get a Mysore type thing going. It's a new concept there and hasn't really developed a strong following. Yet. She holds it at her house a couple mornings each week. Fortunately for me, one of those days was this morning. And it was early enough that I could get it in, get showered and still make it to my flight without rushing. Before I left San Diego, I called her to find out where her house was to see how much travel time I would have to plan for. It turns out she lives about five houses down from my sister. Weird stuff. So, this morning I got up, showered, dressed up in just about every piece of clothing I had (it was 25 degrees there) and headed over to her place. When I walked in, I wasn't sure I had the right house. First thing I saw was a guy wearing a sarong type skirt thing, so I figured I was in the right place. The guy turned out to be Andrew Eppler. After some brief early morning chat, we all moved upstairs to her practice room, which was fortunately heated to about 95 degrees. I was a little unsure about how to proceed. I knew that she was an Ashtangi, but I didn't know if she did things guruji's way or if they all did things in BNS's way. Like quite a few of Tim's students, in mysore classes I tend to throw in a few extra poses and research poses. I didn't want to come across wrong though. I decided to go ahead and do the samakonasana and hanumanasana sequence that we usually do after the prasaritas. When she didn't do them I thought I better cool it with the extras. Then Andrew did do them. In fact, he did a whole lot more stuff, including pressing up from prasarita into handstand and then into ashtavakrasana on both sides before he ever touched back down. So, given that lead I just did my normal mysore practice. One thing was real obvious early on: I don't float. Andrew was doing these nice soft jump backs from down dog and descents from hand stand. We were practicing on a wood floor on the second floor. My landings sounded like land mines going off. We all practiced on our own. It was more of a group self-practice than a mysore type class but that was all I was looking for. Nothing really great stood out about my performance, though I was able to get my feet crossed on my own in Supta Kurmasana. Not very well mind you but they were crossed. My Kapotasana still sucks. I need to get back to working on that. I had been grabbing the knuckle of my big toe on my own at one point and now I can barely even touch my toes. I gave Dwi Pada a go but didn't get it on the first try so I gave up and did a quick finishing sequence. While I was in savasana I listened to Andrew do his pranayama. He had some pretty long retentions going there. I was without a clock to guide me and I didn't want to be the guest who stays to long, so I tried to move fairly expeditiously. They both finished before I did but I managed to get done with everything before they got done with their post-practice pranayama and meditation. I knew they had some stuff to do, work to get to, etc., so I left and grabbed a quick shower at my sisters before heading to the airport.

I wish I could get my sister to take classes with them. I think she would really benefit from it in many ways. Well, she knows it's there.

Have to quit, I'm being challenged for computer time by the rest of the tribe.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Today's practice was the guided second series class. Since I usually don't make it to that class, I never know how it's going to go when I do attend. Some days, I'm out of my league, exhausted even before the Tittibhasana sequence and completely wrung out to the point of just going through the motions after doing the Titti's. Other days, I make it through okay abut struggle with one area or another, the backbends in the middle, the inversions, it's almost always something. Today was a little different. I never really got exhausted. That's a first for me in that class. I worked enough to get sweaty but not my usual drenched look. I guess doing the poses through dwi pada sirsasana in my mysore classes has helped me develop some endurance and some familiarity with the demands of the sequence that made today's class less of a struggle. Who knows? The next time I try the class, I'll probably get totally waxed.

In my recent trip to the Yucatan for that week long course with Tim, I managed to accumulate a small collection of minor dings and twinges. I did something in the first mysore class that caused me to feel a semi-sharp but not disruptive discomfort near the area of my right rhomboid muscle, near my scapula when I started doing back bends. I think maybe I let my shoulder collapse too far forward from the pressure of the right leg in dwi pada. It didn't really affect the rest of that practice but it did get more noticeable through that day. I took some motrin and had one of the people there who was a physical therapist feel around. No major knots or tender points. The discomfort decreased but lingered in the background, forcing me to pay more attention to that area while practicing than I might normally. I also managed to tweak something in my lower back later in the week. It came early on, during the Sun salutations. I either mis-landed my attempt at a floaty jump back to chaturanga or I over-contracted the buttocks during up dog. I felt it right away. It was strong enough to worry me that it would get worse. The rest of my up dogs looked pretty pitiful as I attempted to baby my way past that area. I think my up dogs were more like plank poses with my head tilted back. I was worried that the back bends would really hurt but they actually made the area feel better. I didn't try a stand up though. I could feel it that night when I slept but it wasn't getting worse. The next day, our last practice of the seminar, I did okay. As the practice went on, the area loosened up and the up dogs started to look like weak but more normal up dogs. Later that day, Tim was going to demonstrate how he assists people with supported drop backs. He mentioned to the class how much I "love" doing that, because I have managed to land with a thud on my head a couple of times by not using my legs and back the right way. So, I got up to show him I ain't scared of no stinkin' drop backs. I wasn't concerned that I would hurt anything since doing backbends actually had helped the area during class. As I warmed up a bit though, I could feel the area warning me. It was a full moon day, a day when we are traditionally not supposed to practice anyway. I was going to be leaving on a plane in about three hours. I wasn't very warm. I just knew if I did it, I possibly might significantly tweak something and be out of action for a while. So I told him I didn't want to give it a try and sat back down. Nobody snickered, out loud anyway. Then my wife got up to do the drop backs with him, cold, and made the whole thing look absurdly easy. Well, I've managed to avoid a significant injury in practice, so far. Usually, the best way to manage an injury is prevention. I don't wimp out on everything but I didn't feel ready to walk the edge right then.

We're having something of an exodus amongst the teachers at our shala this month. One of Tim's assistants is already gone on a three month trip to help someone in Wyoming who is having a shoulder operation soon. Three other teachers were going to be going to Mysore to study with Guruji but one of them had to cancel. Tim still has able assistants to help out and fill in while they are gone. My wife is going to be substituting for one of them at the noon classes each Monday. She has already been helping Tim do adjustments sometimes for the Sunday led first series class. She is very excited to be able to have the chance to teach a group on a more regular basis. To date, most of her teaching has been on a fill-in or substitute basis. That actually works better for her in the long run, given all of her other family, school and soccer team commitments. Still, the more experience she can get teaching with Tim, the better.

The rest of this week will not be a good one for practice. I work from 8 till 6 tomorrow, so that eliminates all classes. I will probably be flying to Oklahoma on Tuesday to attend a funeral, so I'll be out of the yoga loop for a while. I've gotten pretty accustomed to that kind of flux by now, but having gotten in some really regular practice this last month or so, I've developed a taste for it.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Back again. A fitful sort of writer I am. I've been fairly busy practice-wise, so I felt it would be appropriate to try and update a bit.

Since that last posting in December, I've made an effort to make it to any class that I could. Gym classes, Intro classes, Improv's, you name it. I took some half days of vacation to get in some extra mysore classes. I even practiced at work a couple of times. I tried it in my call room one day. It's a pretty small room. There was a small space heater in the room but it didn't make a dent in the room temperature. If you've never had to be in one, you might not know that hospitals tend to be a bit on the chilly side. To generate any room warmth, I opened the door to the bathroom, turned on the shower to full blast at the highest temperature and left it running the whole time I practiced. A sinful waste of water and energy that I never let myself repeat, but it did work. I've become increasingly willing to do most anything to avoid stiffening up. To quote a sutra we learned recently, II.16, "Future suffering should be anticipated and avoided."

Going more has definitely paid off. I'm at my upper range of motion in almost every aspect of practice, except for backbending. In the past, I've managed to hit similar peaks but would usually fall back into inflexibility as work and life caused me to miss more practices than not. These last few weeks have had fewer regressions. It's going to be a hard act to maintain though.

To cap off a fruitful couple of months, my wife and I just returned from a week long seminar with our teacher Tim in Maya Tulum. We've gone to this annual teacher training retreat two other times and loved it. We didn't get to go last year because our oldest was playing in her first state soccer tournament during the same week. This year both my son and my oldest daughter were playing in the tournament the same week as the retreat but my sister was in town to help and we just convinced ourselves it was okay to put ourselves first. So we missed my son losing all of his games the first weekend of the tournament. My daughter's team did win enough games to make it through to play this weekend but we were back in time for that. We wanted to beat ourselves up for being bad parents, going off and missing a seminal event like that. But, after going to soccer tournaments and games every weekend since September, the self-accusations kind of bounced off. We're more than a little sick of soccer right now. As much as we would have liked to have been ideal parents and been there for every single game, while we were in Tulum, we didn't really feel bad at all.

The retreat is set up as an abbreviated form of Tim's two week teacher training seminar that he gives each summer in Encinitas. Each day for us started out with practice from 7 to 9 AM. After a shower and breakfast, we would work on postures from 10:30 till 1:30. Then we would break for lunch. We had time off after lunch to go to the beach or do various side trips. We met back again at 5 PM for a couple of hours of work, usually on non-asana aspects of the yoga practice. We would cover some of the more fundamental yoga sutras of Patanjali, do some compassionate pranayama, some chanting with Tim leading with his harmonium and usually some reading of stories from hindu literature. You know, the ones in which the protagonists all suffer through horrible indignities, the more noble the protagonist, the greater the suffering. Uplifting stuff. Then off to dinner and the nightly ritual of Tim drubbing us at the Scrabble table. Come to think of it, our days were kind of like those ancient hindu nobles. Between the morning asana practice and the final accounting of the Scrabble scores, it was one lesson in humbleness after another.

In every yoga retreat or seminar that I've ever been to before, there's always at least one person, one irritating know-it-all, who has to show off how much they think they know by constantly asking questions, challenging what has been taught by the instructor by pointing out how it differs from what they heard in a Baron Baptiste seminar and even lecturing on how they think things should be done. This seminar wasn't like that. It was a nice, receptive group.

I like these kind of confabs because you get out of your usual comfort zone and you get to meet people from a lot of different areas with widely varying personal and yoga backgrounds. In this group of roughly 25, we had six people from Tim's studio in Encinitas, some LA folk, a handful of people from Canada, several New Yorkers, including two or three people from Eddie Stern's place who interestingly had never before met or seen each other. We had people from Mexico City, Guatemala and even one from the Big Smoke, London, England. There were a three or four couples, one set of sisters but most people were there by themselves. A lot of the people did teach yoga, naturally enough, but I think most did not, at least not yet. We had obstetricians (me), national level triathletes, graphics designers, dancers, physical therapists, massage therapists, property managers, we even had a dog. Most were mid-thirties or older. Some younger. We had a toddler join us from time to time too, Tim's daughter Leela. The yoga experience ranged from "I went to my first class three weeks ago" to many years of experience in yoga and in teaching. All in all, kind of an ideal mix. In genetics, they call it hybrid virility. Strength from variety.

I've mentioned in past postings that I like it when I can see people I'm not used to seeing practice. I learn from seeing other people do their practice. This was better because I could also talk with the people, find out their backgrounds, add some context to the physical practice I was observing. I tried to speak with as many people as I could. In a group of twenty five, you can pretty much get to know everyone else a little bit by week's end. Some you get to spend more time with than others but I think we all were able to temper our own experiences and biases with what we learned from and about each other. I got quite a bit out of this meeting, something from everyone, the perseverance and drive of the woman from Guatemala who basically studies on her own, the self assurance and pluck of the person whose home in the deep south and whose non-mainstream lifestyle couldn't have made it any harder to practice ashtanga, the humbleness and openness of the triathlete who had only practiced a few times before coming down with his ashtangi wife to the seminar. Just about the only thing I didn't absorb was the incredible bandhas that Andrea, the Italian guy had. Boy, if it were only that easy.

Our practices in the morning varied a bit. The first two days we did guided first series with Tim leading the class. Then, on Tuesday we did a mysore style class. There were several folks who had never been to a mysore style class but everyone soon learned that it wasn't a big deal. On Wednesday, hump day, we did a guided Improv class with Tim practicing along with us. That was probably his only real chance to get in much practice the whole week. Thursday was another mysore class. On Friday, we did the traditional guided first series practice, despite it being a full moon day. In the two other times I had gone to this retreat, we never got to do a mysore class, so that must be something new. I think everyone liked it.

My practices were all pretty good for me. My work in the preceding months bore fruit. I was able to do the forward bending with relative...., i don't want to use the term ease because 1) its not entirely the most accurate term and 2) the gods will punish me if I make a claim like that. Lets just say I came closer than usual to achieving sukha as recommended by Patanjali in Sutra II.46. Now to work on the steadiness. My backbends remain in a bit of a regression mode however. I just haven't worked on them as much as I could have, to be honest. I feel pretty good about my second series poses. I'm not doing anything that looks "WOW!" but I'm doing acceptable work, again except for kapotasana. I'm as far along as I've ever been with my hanumanasana and samakonasana range. I can get all the way down on my left side in hanumanasana. On my right, I'm stiffer in the ham and in the opposite groin, but I'm just shy of the ground. In samakonasana, everything remains safely off the ground, still with at least five or six inches of clearance. That's by my measurement. A more accurate, unbiased evaluation would likely add another 50%. But, I'm closer than I was. I still grunt and groan and squeal like a pig in that one though. Those arm balances kill me. In my latter poses for second, I'm doing okay in eka pada sirsasana. I still haven't managed to balance in dwi pada sirsasana. I usually end up being put into it by Tim, but I have gotten into it twice on my own, so it can be done. Just not every time. I've completely abandoned attempts at dropping back. I just don't see the point if I'm feeling stiff enough that I barely make it up from a backbend, and sometimes fail at doing that. I have also made barely discernible progress in my attempts at jumping back. I can sometimes get my feet through to a lolasana-like position but there my momentum hits a wall. I haven't yet worked out what I need to do to get my upper body moving forward and down to get the hips and feet moving up and back. I did get a slight twinge in my elbow a couple of times when I was trying to force my body forward, so I'm just gonna keep on gradually trying to accrue change. It was illuminating to watch the ease with which the guy at the retreat was able to lift up and jump back though. He's only been practicing for a year but said he was able to do that from day one. Time for Sutra I.33: "the mind become serene when it cultivates.....joy in the presence of virtue...." In other words, I shouldn't curse the ease with he moves while I still unsuccessfully attempt to throw my body to and fro with unresponsive and seemingly genetically absent core muscles.

Well, I'll try and save some of my literary huffing and puffing for another date. It's getting late, I'm still used to the time zone of the Yucatan, which is two hours earlier than mine, I'm going to try the second series class at 8:00 tomorrow morning and I've still got to spell check this thing. Hope to be doing this more regularly.