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.

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