A bad, bad thing happened in practice today. Fitting, in that the events that preceded it all seemed to be going so well. Just two days ago, I wasn't even thinking that I would be able to practice today at all. I was going through my schedule for the week and saw a chance to make a couple of small changes that let me get to Mysore class this morning. so I jumped on it. That would give me three weekday practices this week. I was able to do led first series last night. I knew I would be able to do Mysore class tomorrow because I will be off from work after being on call tonight. Friday was not looking too good because I have to assist some other folks in the OR. You can never plan on how long something like that will take. Better to count on not making it to practice. Then, sometimes you get pleasantly surprised.
I decided last night that if I could get myself out of bed, I would go to pranayama practice this morning at 6:15AM too. The last pranayama class I went to was back in the Fall, in September I think. What I remember the most about pranayama classes are the mental struggles that I had. I don't think I ever made it through a full, unabbreviated session without having to take at least one supplemental breath. In fact, I remember being extremely proud the day that I took only one breath. Given the long layoff, I fully expected to be back to square one, trying to unobtrusively sneak in extra air within the first few rounds. So, I lay in bed this morning almost talking myself out of going. If I could have gotten back to sleep, I probably would have skipped it. I could tell I was not going to be able to rejoin the unconscious world though so I showered and drove to the studio. As we were getting ready to start, Tim looked over the circle of students for a few seconds, as if to size up the group. I have the bad habit of seeing events as if they happen because of me, but I can't help wonder if Tim didn't take it easy on us today when he saw I was there. I wouldn't dare call it easy but I expected to suffer more. I expected to have to mentally force myself through some of the retentions before I would let myself take the desired extra breath, just to prove to myself that I could go that little bit longer. Instead, it seemed that the retentions and the lengths of the breaths were both shorter. I did take an extra breath or two, but I thought I'd be taking gobs of them. Maybe I was being histrionic in my recollections of the prior difficulties but I'm sure the others in the group would concur this was not Tim at his most severely challenging. Don't get me wrong. I was rejoicing. In fact, I had to reel myself back in a couple of times because my attention was getting distracted when I started to get thoughts like, "hey, what's up? I'm maintaining!" "Are the counts shorter? Let me start counting." "What if I make it all the way through?" I didn't start working to get through the retentions until I let myself get distracted like that. I may have just had a good day too I guess. I had one or two of those before. I wondered if this was the case when my legs didn't hurt when I uncoiled from sitting in lotus after the class was done. Usually, it would take me quite a few steps to be able to walk without limping/staggering. Today, not so stiff. After the long layoff, I have forgotten most of the words to the chants at the end: "Mumble, mumble, namo, mumble, mumble namo...." It was a nice welcome back practice, even if Tim did dumb it down for me.
Since I had done full first series just 12 hours before, and since I was going to get a chance to do Mysore tomorrow too, I decided to leave out the first series poses and just do the second series stuff. Since I didn't have to get to work until 10:00, I didn't have to rush through any of it. I could do as much research as I felt up to doing. I have to say, I felt a lot stronger in almost all of the poses doing it that way. I never ran out of gas. I did most of the research poses, leaving out only the groin stretches before Kapotasana. Even better, I didn't feel like doing the research poses was robbing me of the strength to do the actual poses. I wasn't going to do the groin stretch/hip opener that we sometimes do before Eka Pada Sirsasana, but I felt good and there was plenty of time, so I went ahead and did that one too. It was a fun practice. Most of the time practice is very rewarding, you feel great afterwards, etc, but it is not always "fun" to do. I did enjoy practicing today.
One advantage of doing the more abbreviated form of my practice is that I can do Pasasana early on, when I am not yet drenched in sweat. I usually have to drape a cotton shirt over my knees to give my wrapping arm enough purchase that it won't slide off of the knees. Today, I was doing it just skin on skin, which since my skin was still dry, gave even better grip than the shirt does when I'm sweaty. My back is typically stiffer in the morning than it is later in the day. Usually, doing the rest of the first series poses gets me warm enough that by the time I get to any backbending, I'm as ready to go as I can get to be. Today, while I didn't feel rubbery, my back didn't feel especially stiff either. I got adjusted deeper than usual in Kapotasana. It felt like I was as far along my feet as I ever have been. Now, that's not really that much further down than what I do on most days--maybe an inch or two more. But as any back challenged person could tell you, the degree of effort needed to move deeper in Kapotasana is exponentially related to the distance that you move. I think I was making sound effects today, I can't remember. I was focusing on the inside of my shoulder joint.
My attempt at a headstand after Kapotasana sucked but that's about the only real bad thing I did today. The guy helping me in Supta Vajrasana was able to keep my hands on my toes while I got all the way to the floor. My knees had come off of the floor, I had minimal back arch and I couldn't even begin to get myself back up to sitting. But, I held my toes all the way down, only the second time I've ever done that. It's more accurate to say that he did it than that I did it. He did most of the work, pushing my feet in towards my groin with his feet, helping me keep my hands close to my feet, winching me back up to sitting when I was unable to generate any movement. Team effort. I had a good float into Bakasana B too. The good vibe trend continued as I got into Dwi Pada Sirsasana by myself. Balancing still not coming, but a little better today. Momentary balances between the Weeble's wobbles.
After finishing up my poses, I did four back bends and stood up. I did so without half-falling back down or stumbling forward with misdirected momentum. Tim was helping someone nearby and commented, "Oh. Smooth." That was kind of a joke, meaning 'oh, not like you usually do'. Smooth-er would be a better description.
As I stood waiting to do assisted drop backs, reveling in the energy of what had been a great practice for me, a dark black cloud seemed to move over the room. Tim slid into my view and, instead of getting into position to do drop backs, he stood over to one side and asked, "How'd you like to do a new trick today?" Uh oh. Then, as the black cloud closed in and surrounded me, something that I had managed to avoid for four years happened. Tim gave me Viparita Chakrasana. "What? Viparita what?" I looked around to see who he was really talking to. It was me. I probably wouldn't have been as fearful if my wife hadn't psyched me out with all of her horror stories of doing the pose. And she has a very flexible back. I bumbled my way through it. It was worse than it had to be. I screwed up most of my entries into handstand trying to think ahead to what movements I would need to do to get my feet on the ground without avulsing my back muscles from their insertions. By the last couple, in addition to having to help lower me into and then lift me back up from the back bend position, Tim was having to get me into handstand too. Then, I think just to entertain my wife, he told me to do Vrschikasana. Mine doesn't look anything like that one by the way. Yin and Yang. There's a price to be paid. "Having a good day? Great, now pay me, baby." Viparita Chakrasana. It's a cruel, cruel world.
Tomorrow, I have to decide whether to do the whole first series and the second poses too or to just do the second again, like I did today. I had planned on doing the first and second. Now, I have to reconsider. I want to have enough gas to be able to do some of Viparita Chakrasana myself, or at least to try to. We'll see how call goes tonight. I'm looking for any excuse to go easy on myself now.