Sunday, August 29, 2004

Another slow day at work (so far), so an opportunity to recount the week presents itself. I have been spending some time recently going through the site put together by Julie/Suburbfreak. The site is aggregator of ashtanga blogs. Plenty of people discussing aspects of their lives and practices. Interesting to see how each person approaches it. Kudos to Julie and all who have helped her for all their hard work in making such a resource possible.

My first chance to practice this week was a mysore class Tuesday morning. At first glance, each day of the week might seem the same as any other in relation to the practice. A day is a day, just another chance to roll out the mat and start bending. But, it's not that straightforward. I have always been a little and sometimes a lot, uninformed about the history of how things are. Maybe that's why I liked Dan Brown's bestsellers, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demon's. They gave life to the symbols in our everyday life that we take for granted and often are blissfully ignorant about. I never knew there was any real background to the reason why our weekdays have the names they do (I never took languages in school, except for sliding through two years of Latin in high school without learning an iota of Latin). They were just the names of the days. Kind of weird, out of place names, but nothing worth spending energy learning about (Wednesday? What kind of name..., screw it, who cares.) Only since attending a few yoga workshops did I learn there's a story there, an astrological one. In many, or maybe most cultures, the days of the week correspond to seven heavenly bodies that are visible to the naked eye: the sun, moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Different cultures named each day based on their names for these planets or for the gods that they associated with them. Interestingly, in English, many of the weekdays are named after Norse gods. At any rate, there has to be a reason I'm going into one of my patented terminal digressions here. The different days of the week have different characteristics attributed to them, usually in reference to the characteristics of their associated planets and deities. Tuesday is associated with the planet Mars. In Roman mythology, Mars is the god of war. Similarly, in Hindi, Tuesday is called Mangalvar, so named for the Hindi word for the planet Mars. Tuesday's attributes are those we have learned to associate with Mars: courage, fiery nature, energy, maleness. In astrology, Mars is also known as the lesser malefic. It has negative connotations because many of the attributes for that planet aren't always that helpful: restlessness, rashness, violence, single-mindedness. When this was discussed in our workshops, Tuesday was presented like it was a day that we should tread carefully in our practice efforts. This kind of bugged me, because I saw myself as a Tuesday kind of person, a Martian. It seemed like it would be the best day for me. In fact, by chance, the day that I do my surgeries is Tuesday. In my classes, however, I was taught that Tuesday is a day of guardedness in Hindu culture. Brahmins don't shave on this day, for example. And, new endeavors are limited. Endeavors like getting new postures. New postures are never given on Tuesdays, traditionally. Tuesdays are days of mixed blessing: it's a day that I sometimes get the chance to practice, always a good thing, but it's a day in which I don't have the possibility of progression into new areas. So, I go into Tuesday practices with no expectations. As a result, I often have what in hind site seem like my best practices on those days.

This recent Tuesday was notable for a couple of clear progressions for me. I only did my second series poses. I did all my backbending research stuff. In Kapotasana, Tim adjusted me as deep as I've ever been. He had my thumbs just shy of the leading edge of my heels. I felt that I possibly could have been put all the way in to my heels, and I think he may have considered that too, adjusting me deeper a couple of different times before stopping. It was probably a good call, the risk of going that one step too far and causing injury was there, or at least my fear of it was. In the operating room, we call it the mistake of "good, better, oops": trying to make something good even better and ruining it in the process. Most of the rest of my poses were nothing spectacular, just par for the course for me. I did get into Dwi Pada Sirsasana on my own, something I'm now able to do about fifty percent of the time, or thirty percent at the least. I even held the balance part of it for a few seconds. After doing that part of it on my own, Tim helped me get a better positioning of my feet but I couldn't keep the balance after that. Very frustrating. I was also able to do a better Viparita Chakrasana. I went over on my own three times, with slightly better landings each time. That's the opposite trend from what I have done in the past. Usually, my first try is my best one and they degrade after that. I tend to let my feet come too close together as they approach impact. The resulting narrow base that my feet give causes me to often tip over to one side or the other when I land. But, if I concentrate on getting my feet out wide, I make some other mistake, like letting them get too far away from my hands. That results in a higher speed, out of control impact that draws looks from several mats away. On that day, I was able to get more things right than wrong and landed each try. I am no where near being able to come back up on my own. I can't even do that in Viparita Dandasana. To work on the feel of coming back up, I decided to turn and do my drop overs so that my feet came down near the wall. I then used one foot to push off of the wall to come back over. After doing that three times, nobody came by to do the usual supported version of the sequence with me, so I turned around again and started doing the drop overs followed by coming up to standing that close out the sequence. I don't think I made it up the first time I tried it. That brought Tim by to help. Instead of doing just those last three, he had me start from the beginning. Again. I wasn't tired though. When I first started doing these, I had some reluctance but it wasn't based on worries about injury, like my fear of drop backs. It was hesitancy based on fatigue. I've done them eight or ten times now and have felt stronger and less fatigued each time I've tried them. I still get some dizziness on occasion, mainly after doing one of the stand ups, but that is much less common too. So, I was very happy with how I did that day. On my scale of progression, those were some significant advancements.

I went to Tim's Improv class on Thursday. I wasn't needed in the OR until 9:30, so I figured I could practice and then cut out before the chanting and Savasana and still make it in time. When he asked what we'd like to work on that day, the requests were for standing balancing poses, Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana and doing walking handstands. I asked for a pose but was gently denied. After those requests and mine too, Tim said, "Well, before I get any more crazy suggestions, we better get started." He did a bunch of stuff, even trying to walk across the room and back in handstand, but he managed to arrange the sequencing of the researching and of the requested poses in such a way that we ended up doing the latter third or so of the third series. He's very skilled at putting these Improv classes together extemporaneously. It reminds me of a really good comic, like a Robin Williams, on an Improv night. It's artistry. I did get another first that class. I got my feet to my head in Raja Kapotasana. Not on my own, mind you. First the person on the mat next to me helped me. It's a very awkward position for the person trying to help adjust. They have to stand with their groin an inch or two from your face, put their knees into your shoulders and push you back towards your feet. She coached me into better positioning and helped me let go of some fear and relax into the pose better than I did in the past. I couldn't really tell how close I got with her but it felt good. When Tim came by helping other people, I went up into it again, hoping to be able to do it a second time. He obliged and got me to actually touch. This came about by him having to push back on my chin and draw my legs forward, but it never felt forceful when either of them did it. I'm sure it looked forceful, it's a wicked looking adjustment.

On Saturday, I went to the Improv class. That class is taught by the person who helped me on Thursday. So, I of course asked for Raja Kapotasana to see if I could touch again. We didn't do as much research but she got me very close. We also did, upon request, some "ab work". Ugghh. Fortunately, it was limited to a rep of three Navasanas, followed by three Ardha Navasanas, where we lower our upper body and legs further, so that each are only four inches or so above the ground. After that cycle, we then repeated it all again, but did a handstand in between each one instead of Lolasana. With each rep, she had me try to cross my legs and lower down and come through to sitting in a controlled fashion. She had to help me but she was there each time. It was very helpful to try that. Near the end of class, after doing our backbends, we did three attempts at drop backs. I had to wonder if this was directed at me. I doubt it but I wanted to show her that I could do it. Only, I couldn't do it. She came over for the last one and held my hips lightly so that I would know that I wouldn't do a facial and I went back to my hands with no problem. It wasn't the same thing as doing it though. After coming back up, I mumbled an apology to her for my fearfulness. Not many teachers give us the chance to work on that in a class. She has done it a few times now. I was disappointed I wasn't able to use the opportunity to overcome that mental frailty. It's just something I haven't been able to conquer.

Tomorrow, I miss out on Mysore. I get off at 8:00 but Mysore goes from 7:00 to 9:00. If there was one thing I'd want to change about my studio, it would be to have the chance to practice from 9:00 to 11:00, every day, not just Tuesdays and Thursdays. Next lifetime. At any rate, I'll do the noon prep class tomorrow.

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