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.