Saturday, May 15, 2004

Too bad my teacher has been out of town. This has turned out to be week fairly full of practices. After doubling up on Wednesday, I did manage to get out of bed Thursday morning and into the 7:00 Improv class. I also made it out of work early enough on Friday afternoon to make it to the 5:30 Intro to Second Series class. I had to leave that class as everybody else was going into Savasana. I was due to be on call at 8:00 PM at a hospital about 30 miles away, so I couldn't indulge in the end of class reward. I got smoked at work, everybody just kept coming in and delivering, I got four or five hours of sleep, but never more than an hour and a half straight. I was up at 6:30 doing a delivery and then all my rounds, so when I got off at 8:00 AM, I didn't feel tired anymore. I was in my morning swing. So I decided to go ahead and go to the Saturday morning Improv class too.

I think I don't process short term memory well. I always have a hard time remembering exactly what it was that we did in a given Improv class. I am able to maintain a general sense of what we went over. But if I later try to recall the sequence of what we did, like if my wife asks for a detailed run down, I can't re-create it. Today in class, we did a short sequence of standing postures on the right side. When we switched over to do the other side, I couldn't remember the order with which we had done them. Plus, I used the wrong name for the pose when I asked the teacher which one we were supposed to be doing. The medical term for this malady is TMB syndrome--Too Many Birthdays.

The general upshot of all those Improv type classes over this week is that I got a lot of hip and groin work. I got plenty of reps at Samakonasana and Hanumanasana. I got in a couple of shots at doing the Eka Pada and Dwi Pada Sirsasanas. Plenty of backbending. Various other standing and arm balancing poses. Lots of chances to do "different" stuff. It was a good week. I didn't do much standard Ashtanga though. Wednesday night was the only full first series practice I've done in two weeks. Some weeks just work out that way.

A couple more folks from the studio are in or are on their way to Mysore. One got there a couple of weeks ago and one leaves for India tomorrow. A few other Ashtanga folks we've gotten to know one way or another will be there soon too. I keep asking people to look into how going to Mysore with kids works out for the people they meet there. Haven't heard much detail yet but I gather people have done it without the sky falling down. We keep this "just maybe" pipe dream going that we'll get there someday. The biggest hurdles are risk for the kids and time. As those who have gone keep telling us, the only thing to do is to just buy a ticket. Once the commitment has been made, I've been told, details have a way of getting worked out and the multitude of reasons why it's not practical or feasible or even possible tend to evaporate.

One negative for going nowadays is that it's really not the kind of experience that our predecessors had, even for those who went just four or five years ago. The process sounds so much more formulaic now, not the more personal, one-on-few teacher/student setting we've heard described to us by our teachers. It would still be a watershed experience, just different than what we've always envisioned it's like.

I couldn't think of anything good to ask for in Improv today. I had a couple of ideas but they didn't seem right for the group. I don't want to ask for stuff that I can do readily. Nothing there for me. I also see no point in asking to do stuff that might seem cool to try but that none of us, except the teacher, really has a chance in hell of doing. The usual litany of requests, "hips", "shoulders", groins", gets old sometimes. I'm sure the teachers wish we could be more creative. It's just hard to come up with stuff that we haven't done already done a whole lot, that would be intriguing to try, and that we are actually capable of doing. After thinking about it some today, I've got a couple of suggestions I'll throw out to see if she'll bite, pending the class size and make up.

My eyes are burning. I need to take a shower. I never showered after class this morning. Hopefully nobody in the movie theater this afternoon was overwhelmed. We (my wife, my son and I) went to see "Troy", an awful attempt at making an action/chick flick. Action as in lots of hacking and chopping in big and small battle scenes. Chick flick as in Brad Pitt, the Legolas guy and all the other eye candy for the girls. A bad attempt at doing what worked for the crossover crowd in "Titanic" and "Cold Mountain". Brad does wear dresses pretty well though, I must say.

Second Series tomorrow. We'll have to see which practice shows up. I'm not expecting much. I asked for extra butter on my popcorn and she gave it to me. Sludge central.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Well, I did one of my classic Homer Simpson moves this past Sunday, Mother's Day. Way back a ways, I picked up a call for Sunday evening. The call that was available was a 24 hour shift but I opted to only pick up the second half of it. It was Mother's Day after all. Plus, then I could go to whichever of the two Sunday morning classes I wanted too. Sounds intelligent so far. So when my final schedule came out a couple of months ago, it had me on call at this hospital from 8 PM till 8 AM. Again, the normal shift is 8 AM till 8 AM the next morning. So, not paying attention, I write in that I'm on call from 8 till 8, like I usually do. Come time to check my schedule for the week coming up, "Oh look, I'm on call on Mother's Day. That sucks. Okay, so we can do Mom stuff the day before. Besides, I need the work with all the various bills coming up." So, I stroll into work at 8 AM, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I see the guy I think I'm supposed to be replacing. He gives me a weird look and says, "What are you doing here? You're not on call for the day are you?" Then he quickly adds, "But, if you want to work it, I really don't want to. I've been trying to give up this call for weeks." Turns out he was the one whose call I took half of. He was scheduled to be there in the day and I wasn't due in till that evening. Doh! Since I was there and did need the money, I sent him off to surprise his wife. I had missed the second series class anyway, so why not? He probably laughed at me the whole way home.

Monday I went to the mid-day class. It's a shorter version of the first series. The teacher occasionally throws in some other things as well. Monday's class was pretty straight forward, which I had hoped it would be. I've got to do that stuff regularly or I lose it in some poses. After we did our back bends before the closing sequence, she had us do some drops backs. "If you want to, otherwise do some more back bends" is kind of how she put it. I was already standing up, I had gotten up on my last two back bends reps. With her standing right there to help me, it was the perfect opportunity to at least try to do the drop back approach she had suggested to me, right? So, I of course just sat down and did another couple of back bends. I'm nothing if not consistent. Consistently finding ways to avoid the edge, I am.

My teacher left town for a two week East coast sojourn. He left earlier than he had to. Maybe he wanted to have some fun with the family in NYC. When I found out he was already gone, it changed my mood about practice this week. I had made some switches in my work schedule on Thursday to get to the 7:00 class, thinking he might lead that before going to the airport for his trip. I had also intended to go to the Wednesday night class, which he also leads. I hadn't made it to any of his classes lately, so I was looking forward to a couple of them in a row. Not to be.

With Tim gone, I decided to break the rules and do two practices today. I went to the noon Improv class and also went to the evening led First Series class. I was able to go to the day time class by virtue of having worked last night. I had a relatively straight forward night so I felt I had enough rest to do both classes.

The noon class was a fun class, not too out there. It flowed well, which is sometimes a problem in Improv classes. We did stuff I need to do, though there's really not much I don't need. I was surprised to get to do Viparita Salabasana again, including the prep pose against the wall. That's a good pose, I like it. Can't do it, but I like to try it. The prep pose inverted against the wall is a great upper back stretch. We also did Hanumanasana, twice. The first time came where it is typically inserted, after the Prasaritas. Then, we did a bunch of groin stretches culminating in a second round of Hanumanasana. The teacher asked the group, "Doesn't it feel so much better doing it the second time?" Not to me it didn't unfortunately. I need more of that stuff. I can sometimes get all the way down to the ground when my left leg is forward but not when the right is forward. That right side is definitely the "bad" side. It's closer than it ever has been though. Same old story though. If I don't do that pose for another week or so, I won't be able to get either side down to the ground. While I have made encouraging progress in all of the splits, it has been glacial.

I lost some of my motivation to do two classes in one day as I rested in Savasana. I hemmed and hawed a bit through the afternoon but ended up going after all. The room was a bit more crowded than usual. I don't think they all knew Tim was out of town. Some seemed a little surprised when the teacher announced he was filling in for Tim. There were a couple of bendy boyz set up across the room from me. I glad they opted to go there and not next to me. Had they been closer, I would have probably tried to see if I could stay up with them. It would have been a futile waste of effort and energy since they were both well out of my league.

I was next to a woman visiting from Germany. She told me she is vacationing in our area. She is a climber and plans to go to several of the climbing spots in our general area, like Joshua Tree, etc. Having heard that she was a climber, I made some assumptions about what aspects of the First Series she would be good at and what she would have a harder time with. She didn't follow my expectations though. I figured she had to have tight shoulders and groins. She could easily put her hands on the ground in Prasarita C. I didn't think to look over during Baddha Konasana, but I don't recall her struggling with any aspect of the series. I think she had to be helped into Marichyasana D, but so do most people. From what glimpses I could get, I thought she had a really nice practice, which is doubly impressive since she's a climber. She's from Munich. I should have asked her if she knows Alan Little, a person I've come to know through the various ashtanga bulletin boards and from his own web site. I couldn't remember if he was still in Germany, and if so what city. I figured they had to know each other if he was still there. They're both climbers and ashtangi's. If I see her again, I'll ask. That would be pretty cool if they did know each other. If so, that would be the second person I would have met who knows Alan, a guy who lives in Europe that I know and like but have never met. Odds on that?

I had planned on going to class tomorrow too. For some reason, I'm even less motivated to do that class than I was today's evening class. Hopefully a night's sleep will re-empower my drive to go but I may end up blowing it off and taking the kids to school. If I do that though, I'll catch endless crap from the better half

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Things have cooled back down here, in temperature and in opportunities to practice. Gone are the days of four and five yoga classes a week. I've settled back into the norm of two or three chances a week. I did get in three practices this week. It could have been better. I had hoped to get done in the OR yesterday in time to make it to the evening Intro to Second Series class. We didn't finish our last case until almost 9:00pm though, so that plan didn't work out.

I did make it to class Thursday evening. That is usually an Improv type class. Since the Tuesday evening First Series class didn't happen this week because of the moon day, the teacher decided for the Thursday class to mainly do a first series progression of poses, with a few extra things thrown in. That was fine with me because I've been wanting to get in some more forward bending. For extras, instead of doing the usual Urdhva Dhanurasana sequence of backbends, we did some other things, including Vrschikasana. Since most of us in that class aren't what could be described as adept, those of us trying to do the pose did it with the teacher assisting us. The first time I tried it, I felt a real strong cramp come up in my left hamstring as I tried to contract into a deeper back bend. I guess when most of what I do in yoga class is a stretch of the hamstring muscles, when the time does come that I make a strong hamstring contraction, it shouldn't be a surprise that the muscle spaz's out and goes into a cramp. After stretching things out a bit, I was able to re-try it and got as far as I can go in that pose. I had no further protests from the hamstring. That ham has been unusually stiff since then though. I've been trying to do things cautiously. I know it wants to snap in half on me just to show it's pissed off at having so work hard.

Today's class was the Saturday morning Improv class. In this class, the teacher will sometimes have a pre-arranged plan of what she would like to cover in the class. Other times, she will ask us for suggestions of things we would like to do. She will then make up an extemporaneous progression of postures to cover as much of that as possible. In the last few classes, we have done the kinds of things that I definitely need to work on. It's almost like I had sent her a wish list of poses and she went out and followed my list. Lately, I've been wanting to work on the various aspects of my body that are limiting what I am able to do in back bending. All the groins and shoulder work and the progression in class towards a particular kind of back bend that we have done the last two Saturday classes have been made to order for me.

While driving to class this morning, I was thinking what kinds of stuff I would want to work on if I were to volunteer a suggestion. My first idea was to suggest a class that focused on balancing. Not just arm balances, but doing all kinds of balance poses. I think one of the most lax aspects of my practice is my bandhas. I know how to bring them into play but I don't always do so when in practice, at least not with intention. Balancing poses are the kinds of poses where you are really forced to bring them into play if you want to be able to do the pose at all. With poor control of the core, Utthita Hasta Padangustasana is not happening. With steady breathing, engagement of bandhas, finding the balance within your core muscle groups, then you've got a chance. While we do go into various balance poses from time to time, I can't recall a class devoted to that particular focus. I tried to see how many different kinds of balances I could think of to see how much could be covered in one class. There's quite a few but I don't know most of them.

I also was thinking about doing some other advanced back bending posture, or at least working towards it. In the last two classes we worked up to Viparita Dandasana and Raja Kapotasana. I was wondering where we could go next and was thinking of suggesting Viparita Salabhasana. I've asked for it in that class once or twice in the past. It's a great sequence to work the back in ways that we usually don't get. Tim has done it in at least a couple of the Improv classes of his that I've gone to. The actual pose is well beyond me but the variations leading up to it are do-able and are very helpful.

I really was thinking about those two suggestions today. I've been thinking about the balancing pose theme for some time now. The reason I emphasize that is that our teacher went over those exact two areas in class today without any suggestions on my part. Enter Twilight Zone theme. After some typical opening poses, we did several Dighasana pose variations early on in the class. Then we did a bunch of arm balancing poses, including variations of Eka Pada Galavasana and Bakasana. We then went back to the opening of the groins by doing a series of Anjaneyasana variations. With the recent work we've been doing on developing the groins, I can clearly see improvements in the depth that I can get in my lunges. The poses are also far less taxing for me. I used to have to pull out and catch my breath about three counts into the fourth variation. Still, as much as I wanted to be doing them, after about the fifth or sixth variation, as I waited in Chaturanga, I would find myself hoping the next words out of her mouth were not going to again be, "Now, step your right foot forward....".

As I mentioned above, we ultimately went on to do Viparita Salabasana. We didn't do any of the approximations that Tim will sometimes use, like inversions with the front of our bodies up against the wall and our chin and chest on the floor. After a couple of warm ups, we just tried to do the pose. We, or at least I, used a blanket under my shoulders for lift so that I could get my hips high enough to allow my legs to come up. Even so, the teacher had to catch my legs as they tried to return to earth. Once in the pose, it wasn't that hard. For the next progression, the teacher helped us with folding our legs down towards our heads. I must have looked (or maybe sounded) like I was at my edge because she didn't take me very far. From how it felt on my end, I could have been taken quite a bit further. I don't know that I could have put myself anywhere near where she put me, but I could have been taken further without it getting scary. It's a hard line to walk though, better to come back another day.

After doing that work, we did some backbends. She then had us work on dropping back and standing up. In all my classes in the last four years, she is the only teacher I can think of who has ever gone over how to do this in a class. She had actually talked with me after class last week about my fears in doing drop backs. She gave me some different approaches to try that would help me work past some of those fears. We were doing some of those exact things today. And they helped quite a bit. In the past, when I have made gestures at dropping back, I would hold my hands in a namaste or prayer position in front of my chest and begin to arch back from there. Once I got to what I thought was my maximum back arch I would either chicken out and stand back up, or on a few occasions I would let something go in my legs, extend my arms and drop down to the ground. A couple of times I even made it to the ground by landing on my hands first. The other times I tried it, I ended up landing on parts of my body that are not designed to be landed on.

When going into a dropback, two things worry me. One is that I sometimes get dizzy in mid-arch when trying to do a full dip backwards. I can't predict when it will occur. I worry that I'll feel okay until just at the last second and then, as I am going past the point of no return, my head will go all fuzzy and I might auger in, never to breath again without a respirator. The other consideration that holds me back is that I know my shoulder range of motion is somewhat limited. The farther I go into the arch, the more my arm extension shrinks. I can extend them if I focus on that particular thought as I drop back. But if I'm instead thinking about some other aspect of the process of dropping back, like "Where the hell is that floor???", my arms tend to bend at the elbows and my hands move closer to my head. In that setting, even if I landed on my hands, they would be so close to my head that I wouldn't have enough cushioning to prevent the head from making impact. That kind of head banger drop back has happened twice. My arms just didn't get where they needed to be for it to be a safe thing to try. After we talked about those anxieties of mine, she suggested that instead of reaching back over my head as I arched back, I should start out with my arms down and straight with my hands on the back of my thighs. As I bent further into the back arch, I was to move my hands further down my legs. Eventually, there comes a point where you can't arch any more and have to bend the knees, release the weight and drop onto the hands. To do that in the approach she described, you have to swing the arms around as you rotate the shoulders to get the hands in the right orientation to accept the landing. I was able to arch pretty well today. I could see the back of my mat, which is a laughable thing for someone bendy like my wife but which is very good for me. I just couldn't get myself to release. I'm still working on it. It will come. I think it will anyway. I guess right now I'm thinking that if I try it and screw it up, that will just further heighten my anxiety. I guess I'm waiting for the day when I have built up such a range of motion that there is essentially no reaching a point of no return and having to let it go and reach for my life. I must be expecting at some point to be able to just reach back and place my hands on the floor, or to at least just ease them to the floor and not go barreling into the floor as I do when I have let it go now. That would be nice. Not having to pay taxes would be nice too, but that ain't happening either.

On Wednesday, I went to the LA area (that term literally translates to 'Southern California', but in this case I was in Woodland Hills, an area north of LA proper, near Malibu and Santa Monica) to work with some other folks on a special kind of surgery. We got done at about 3:30 so I hopped in my car for a dash to an afternoon mysore class at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, about 15 miles away. When I told the folks at the hospital I was trying to get to Santa Monica by 4:00, they kind of shook their heads knowingly. They know the traffic so I was kind of bummed to learn that I'd probably get there late, but a partial mysore practice is better than nothing. It turns out I had LA traffic beginner's luck. I got to class only ten minutes after it started. Even so, there was almost no mat space left. I started to set up on this little stage-like thing on one end of the room when one of the assistants had me move to a space she had people squeeze open for me. The practice room has windows that accept a lot of sun and the room was packed. It was waaay hot in there. And no ceiling fans. I almost got up to get a cool-down drink after just setting up my mat. Maty Ezraty was the teacher for the class, along with a couple of assistants. I knew from talking with others who have studied with her that she places a different emphasis on alignment and on getting things just right than many of the people that I was used to. Whenever I go to another studio, I try to get a feel for the place before I start my practice. I'd prefer to not stick out for doing things real differently from everyone else there. In Maty's class, I opted to keep it a straight forward ashtanga practice with no extra poses thrown in for fun, no researching and no flourishes. Just the basics. I was curious to see how long it would take before she tried to get me out of my bad habits and into better form. She came by a few poses into the practice and asked if I was in for just the day. I should have gone to her at the start and introduced myself but I got caught up in trying to find a space and get set up without causing too much commotion and never got around to it. She saw from my t-shirt that I studied with Tim, so she jokingly said she wouldn't try to do too much to me that day. She did come by and correct my knee position in both Utthita Parsvakonasana and Virabhadrasana A. I let my knee go forward to somewhere near my toes. She prefers that it stay directly over the ankle with no forward tilt. I'm glad to do it either way. Funny, Utthita Parsvakonasana is one of the poses I least like. It doesn't kill me or anything. I just don't really like it.

At any rate, since I was late, I figured I would have to move through the class fairly quickly to get all my poses in. Most of the people around me were doing First Series. I felt a little awkward starting almost 15 minutes after they did and getting to the Janu Sirsasana sequence before they had finished the standing poses. I got a couple of smaller adjustments, like getting a squash in Paschimottanasana, but not too much attention came my way until Marichasana D. I knew Maty would have to come by on that one because I do it so egregiously. Sure enough, from across the room, a loud voice announces "Okay, lets undo that and start over". She came by and had me change the position of my foot so that it was on the floor right in front of my sit bone, instead of out lateral to my hip where I usually slide it. Then, she eased me into my wrap. I had a hard time not laughing at myself. She was telling me, "Take it easy man. Twist from here. Slow it down man, slow it down", with the word 'man' sounding like something out of a Cheech and Chong routine. I got into it but the positioning of things pressed my weight backwards so I wasn't able to stay upright. I appreciate the effort to help me see what I was doing, I just can't yet get my body into the place where I can keep in balance in the form she recommends. I'm working on it. Tim had tried to get me to make similar shifts as well.

As I got closer to the end of the first series, I was getting pretty tired from the heat. I had already gotten up for one cool-down drink. After debating for a bit about just stopping after Setu Bandhasana and going into backbending, I decide to go ahead and press on with my second series poses. I didn't think I'd get them all in since it was already 5:25 and the class was scheduled to stop at 5:55 but I went on anyway. I got as far as Ustrasana when again, from across the room, I hear her say, "Hold it, hold it. Joel (the assistant teacher who was closet to me), get a strap. Strap his knees. Put a block between his feet." How shameful. I was so bad I was being Iyengarized. I looked around at the pitying glances from the regulars. The assistant had me go get a strap from across the room. To me, that was a walk of shame. I've never been sent for a strap before. In truth, I didn't feel any shame, I really wanted to be shown what I was doing wrong and how to do it better. We use straps in our improv classes for some poses. Tim helped me better understand the arm and shoulder action in Urdhva Dhanurasana once by strapping my elbows--I couldn't even go up into the pose with my arms being forced into a correct alignment. The arrangement of my legs after all the strapping and positioning of blocks for the Ustrasana had me wondering though. They had me put the block between my ankles but with the narrowest side up so that my feet were only three inches apart. That led to my knees being in an unusually narrow stance too. As I started back, a not so subtle "No! No! The groins, don't let him push out with his groins. Keep your hips over your knees. Arch here (pointing to my lumbar back)." I ended up doing the pose a couple of times, never doing it well as I struggled to figure out what to do internally to accomplish what Maty was describing. I was pretty tired after that. Since that is one of the easier back bends to do in the second series and since I was needing so much correction, I decided I shouldn't go any further. It doesn't take much to talk myself out of practicing when I'm tired. I quickly went through my closing and took a 10 minute Savasana. I hadn't done much looking around the room when I practiced. In the looking about that I did do, I noticed that the one "extra" thing that I could see people doing was that they appeared to do handstands before doing backbending. I didn't see anybody doing drop backs or doing Viparita Chakrasana. There were some people working on Second Series and one or two folks doing Third series on the other end of the room but I didn't look around that much so I don't know if they did that extra back bending stuff or not.

Well, I've got to cut it "short" here. I've got to hustle out and find a Mother's day card and some flowers before everybody gets home. I'm at work tomorrow, so today is functionally Mother's day. I know I need to proof this, I'll do it later after I've managed to cover my butt.

Monday, May 03, 2004

It was hot today. India hot. I drove home from work at about 10:45 in the morning. The car thermometer read 100 degrees. I know they're not the most accurate things in the world but, really. 100 degrees? That occurs on the planet Mercury and in Uganda and places like that, not here. We've got this huge ocean right next to us with a current water temperature of 63 degrees F. Despite that refrigerating influence, the air temp along the coast today was in the 90's. Inland a few more miles it was in the 100's. Hades reborn. It was only in the 70's in Galveston and that's the whole state of Texas further south than we are. Curious weather. Hopefully not a portent of the summer to come.

I was worried about the studio being too hot but the room stayed temperate. It got warm enough for good tapas but not so hot that we lost it in the heat. I did have a loose back bending day though. I was able to come up to standing twice with negligible futzing around. I almost felt confident enough to try dropping back. I did go down one time using the wall. Such a puss.

One of my first teachers has been coming to class recently. She had moved away for a while, had a child, etc. Seeing her back in class made me think about the various teachers I've seen through the four years I've practiced at Tim's studio. I guess there's been two cycles of turnover among Tim's assistants in that time.

When I first started, back in mid-2000, the main teacher, other than Tim, that I can remember was Dominic Corigliano. He had worked with Tim for many years. A couple of years ago, he left for an almost two year long stint in Mysore with Guruji, culminating with his being certified last year. He now travels about teaching internationally. I didn't go to Tim's studio much that first year, I did mostly gym classes, so if there were other steady teachers, I didn't get to know them well.

After Dom left, the next group of teachers that I remember were Dennis Dean, Mark Linksman, Kim Toledo and Matias Flury. At various times over the last two years, all have moved on. Dennis has his own studio up the coast a ways. Kim moved to Hawaii for a while. Mark just recently moved up to the great north woods somewhere, Wyoming or Montana. Matias moved to Costa Rica and will also be in India a lot.

Now, Tim has a different cadre. They have all been teaching with him for many years, overlapping with the other teachers who have moved on. As the others have gone on to other things, these current teachers have become the 'big kids' in my mind. And then there's the even newer folks, like my wife. Since Tim has been doing this teaching Ashtanga stuff for about 25 years, if there's typically a turnover rate of about three years, I figure he's had about seven or eight generations of teachers and assistants come through. It would be neat to see a sort of genealogic tree of Tim's teaching line constructed. Maybe Krishnamacharya on top, with Guruji next level down, Tim below that, then all of Tim's various students who have become teachers in their own right. With each person would be a short bit on their life and what they're doing now. Equally interesting would be to see how many of that lineage are still practicing yoga in some form.

In my comments section, a guy named Rod Mcalister posted the following:
"I wonder if you have any thoughts on your frequency of practice and your lack of injuries, atypical of most astangis. You lament your inability to practice as often as you like but maybe in the long run it works. "

Very interesting area to me. I really don't practice as one should. Ideally, I would be doing something everyday. I don't. I choose to practice almost exclusively in a class setting. I could do more at home. I know a guy who does. He will even practice late at night, even after midnight, to get it in. I admire that commitment and drive and admit that I don't have it. I can't even truthfully say if I would like doing that kind of thing or if it's workable because I've never really tried it. I don't think I have ever done a practice at home. I've done it at work more than a few times, but never at home, that I can remember. So, when I moan and complain about missing out and being deprived of chances to practice by the demands of the real world, it's partly my choice.

I have had some injuries. For the most part, they have been muscle strains of one sort or another, all trifling when looking back through the retrospectoscope. When I first started, I took a David Swenson video to work. I was trying to practice along with it. Somewhere in the video, he talks about jumping through. He made a comment about floating through, or something along those lines. I tried to float my feet up to my hands and immediately felt a significant pain in what I think was the quadratus muscle in the lower back. That slowed me down for several weeks. Later, still in the first few months of doing ashtanga, I strained or pulled a pectoral muscle doing Supta Pada Angustasana. When I tried to let my leg go out to the side, the leg just overpowered the pec and hurt something. These both got better mainly by resting and then starting back slowly. There was an important lesson or two. If you do get hurt, if you let it heal, it will. If you keep trying and are patient, you will regain any lost ground and will eventually be better than you were when you got injured.

After I had been doing stuff for about a year, I decided to go to a backbending workshop given by one of Tim's assistants. I wasn't very warm but I still tried to push my limit in what we were doing. I didn't have any pain at all when doing the poses. Later that night, while at work, my lumbar back steadily got more stiff and more painful. I got to where I could barely stand up straight. I ended up stopping practice for several weeks. In fact, I started doing some other stuff while recuperating that I kept doing rather than practice, even after I had recovered. After a few months of slacking around, I started back and it felt like I was stiffer and more incapable in backbending than I had been in my very first class. I probably was. Another lesson learned. You can take time to heal, but if you take too much time off, the resulting stiffness will result in you going through more pain than you need or want. Aversive training I think they called it in Psyche 101.

After that, I had a pretty long stretch without any problems. Then one day, I had problems folding forward. Each time I practiced, my left hamstring, which had always been my "good" side, got worse and worse. Somewhere, I must have done a careless forward bend that strained or tore it. It took me quite a while to get rid of the pain and to get the full range of motion back, probably five or six months at least. I still hesitate when folding forward in Parsvottanasana, even though it's been almost two years since I hurt it. I've had a couple more minor tweakages of my back that came from trying to do too much in one sitting, but they were the "rest it for two days and it will get better" kind of problems.

But real injuries? No, I haven't had any. And I do think it has been because I haven't felt impelled to push things. I've been satisfied to progress as I will. It has worked for me. If I hadn't seen steady progress, perhaps I would have gotten impatient and pushed and gotten hurt. Or, I might have gotten frustrated and quit. Instead, I've moved past so many postures that were once perceived as, "I'll never be able to do that" kinds of things. I think, somehow, from day one I got lucky enough to have adopted a non-attached perspective with regards to my asana practice, without really knowing what non-attachment was. I have an advantage in that I'm 46. I honestly don't expect to be real flexible or real strong or anything.

I've gone on too long for such a simple question. But one other comment Rod made was interesting. He noted that my lack of injuries seemed atypical for an ashtangi. I don't know the people in my studio well enough to comment on that. I've never seen a bad injury occur in class. Well, my wife did whack a guy in the head by accident once, bad enough to send him to the ER for stitches, but that doesn't count. He was back in class the next day. I can't think of any stories about, "So and so, who used to come all the time but had to quit when they blew out their ________ (fill in the blank)" I know people can and do get hurt, but I don't see it as a ubiquitous thing. Is it?

Sunday, May 02, 2004

In this last month, most of my practices have been either improv classes or second series class. I've only had a couple of classes in the last three to four weeks in which I did a first series practice. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm just accustomed to the exact opposite: mostly doing first series, with the occasional chance to do a weekend improv class. At any time in the past, If I only did two first series class in three weeks, I would develop noticeably stiffer hamstrings, adductors, etc. That hasn't been the case here though. There's enough work on those areas in the second series and in improv classes to keep me in a generally acceptable range of flexibility. Doing these other classes has re-drawn my attention to my back, shoulders and groins. I've never had much range of motion in any of those areas. Since all of them come into play in back bending, I have usually just accepted my lot as a stiffie and done what I could in those kinds of poses, never really expecting to achieve looseness. Some of the recent Saturday improv classes recently have been structured at working all those segments of backbending. I've gotten much better insight in how I should work at things and have new motivation to improve in these areas.

This week didn't turn out to be as void of opportunities to practice as it initially appeared that it might. I was able to go to a Thursday evening class. That class used to be a led first series class but it has recently evolved into an improv class. The class tends to be a mixed group of skills so the teacher does keep most of the class composed of first series poses. He will throw in some researching work on different areas though, depending on what people ask for at the start of the class. Someone asked for arm balancing, I guess, because we did a few of the easier third series arm balances. We didn't enter them from the standard tripod headstand though. We used variations that allowed us to go in from a squatted or seated position. They're still plenty challenging, though the finding of the balance point is completely different. I think it's almost easier, for me anyway, to do them from the normal tripod headstand entry. Either way, I struggle more with getting out of the poses than I do with getting in them or with staying in them. No lift, no bandha action. Still working on it.

Saturday's Improv class was again one that seemed to focus on the groins and shoulders. Instead of working up towards doing Viparita Dandasana, like we did last Saturday, this time, we worked up to doing Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana and Raja Kapotasana. We didn't really do those poses, most of us anyway. A few of the "bendy Wendy's" could do them but most of us were doing postures that were approximations of the poses. Near the end, when we were trying to actually do Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana, I asked how one goes about making the change in grip on the back foot. Almost nobody goes into the pose by reaching back over head and grasping the foot. Most people reach under and back with the arm and grab the foot in one fashion or another, then move the hand to the correct side of the foot and rotate the shoulder around and up so that the arm ends up reaching up and back. I can reach back and get my foot and bend it forward using a Bhekasana type grasp. In that approach, my elbow is up high with my forearm pointing down and my hand gripping the top of my foot with my thumb right next to my big toe. To transition into Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana from that grip, you have to somehow drop the elbow down and rotate it in as you reach your hand around the lateral side of the foot and grip the foot with the thumb on the little toe side of the foot. I managed, with an assist, to get my hand on the foot in the right orientation, but my elbow was locked down next to my hip from the weird angle my wrist and shoulder ended up in trying to get the foot. There was no way I could get the arm to rotate so that I would be reaching back over my head. At my current level, that pose for me is a groin stretch. I don't have any where near enough shoulder range of motion to be able to get into the back bending part of it.

After doing our best at Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana, we moved to variations of Raja Kapotasana. These poses definitely worked the back. We did it with our chests against the wall initially. It's a little uncomfortable to do that but the support of the wall lets you at least approximate the pose. It becomes a bit easier when you reach back and grab your knees. What killed me though was bending my knees and trying to lift my feet toward my head. I immediately started to get full on hamstring cramping in both legs. Not an action they are used to doing, I guess. After working on Raja Kapotasana, we did Vrschikasana with partners to support each other. I've felt better about doing that pose each time I've done it. Not a hint this time of fear about passing out or collapsing. I just wanted to see how far I could get my head up. Not as far as I had hoped naturally.

Today I went to the led second series class. For some reason, today's class was more crowded than usual. We were crowded in with about six inches between mats and still ended up having to start a third row of people going down the middle of the room. Today ended up being a fairly warm day too. It was the first time this year that I drove to an early morning class wearing only a t-shirt. With the warm day and the full room, the room temp was up there. I got more tired this class than I have in my last few tries at the full second series. It didn't really show up until Karandavasana. As I was being assisted into the part where you bend at the waist and then tuck the knees into the armpits, it felt like I sagged downward a bit instead of going forward with head. Once I lost that little bit, it felt like I couldn't keep it up. As the teacher helped me back into straight legs, I had to go down with my head to the floor. My shoulders just wouldn't hold it anymore. Once things started falling apart, I couldn't get back in place. I couldn't do an normal exit with my head down and ended up just sort of flopping my legs down to the mat. As the rest of the class was being assisted through Karandavasana, I snuck off to the bathroom for a quick drink and rinse of my face with water. I've been trying to be better about that but today felt that it was needed. I did do better after that. I held Mayurasana, which I usually can't if I'm tired. I also did better than usual in Vatayanasana. In Vatayanasana, I usually have a harder time balancing on the first side. Maybe the movements of the vinyasa move the foot that is in half lotus position into a spot that is throwing my weight off line or something. I typically have to place my left foot a foot away from the right knee to have any chance at getting my upper body into an upright position. I can usually do the other side okay. On that side, my foot is closer to the knee. Not close but closer. Today I got both feet about six inches from the knee. It's definitely not my best pose. My worst pose in the second series is Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana. Fortunately, I'm not alone in that respect. I did less bad in Sapta Sirsasana than last week. I had to come down in Baddha Hasta Sirsasana C, the variation in which the forearms are flat on the ground in a Pincha Mayurasana position. I did make it up into the pose, which I often can't do. My weight shifted towards the way I was facing and I wasn't able to get it back where it had to be to stay up. My tight shoulders and the fatigue of the class were again working against me. I held the rest of headstands. I let myself tripod my arms back a bit more than usual in Mukta Hasta Sirsasana C so that I could get up and stay up for once. We had a fairly short Uth Pluthihi. The whole time I was in it, I was visualizing making the exit back to Chaturanga with out touching my knees down. No joy. I didn't even get my knees back past my hands before stalling out and going to ground. One nice thing about Tim in his led classes, he does let us have relatively long Savasanas. I was able to cool down and was well relaxed when it was time to get up. I looked like I had just fallen into a swimming pool but I felt pretty good.

I know there were some other things I wanted to get into but I've forgotten them, for now at least. Maybe they'll pop up later on. This week has only two chances for practice. I work tonight, so I'll go the noon class tomorrow, which is mostly first series. Tuesday is a full moon. I'm traveling up to the LA area to help out on some cases on Wednesday. I'll try to jigger the schedule Thursday to get to one practice or another. That will be it though. I operate all day Friday and am on call Saturday and on Sunday. It would be great to give up some call but quarterly taxes, property taxes, insurance, all kinds of stuff is due in the next couple of months. The real world steps up, the yoga world steps back.