Hola. I'm away at one of those yoga retreats we go to a couple of times a year. Other than going to soccer tournaments for the kids, our free time these days is pretty much centered around yoga related activities. Kind of a monochromatic existence I guess, but we have a good time. This particular retreat is put on by my teacher, Tim Miller. It's spread over two weeks. They do the first series in the first week and then second series for the second week. Some people go to both weeks but most, like us, can only afford to spend the time and money for one of the weeks. Since my wife has almost finished the second series, this year we opted to go to the second series week. We did that last year too but I hadn't gotten too far along in the second series by that point, so I was a little out of place. This year, I've gotten a bit further into the series so I feel more confident being here. The retreat is in a fairly rustic (read what you will into that term) bed and breakfast inn in a small town near Mt. Shasta. It has to have been a very hot and dry year up here because the mountain seems barer than usual. The snow fields and glaciers are mere strips of white from the distance. This time of year can be fairly warm, but it tends to be cool in the morning. In years past, they would light a wood burning stove in the yoga room to get it warmed up before class at 7:00AM. We haven't needed to do that this time around.
Each day we have practice at 7:00. After a late but leisurely breakfast, there are outings set up for each day. These typically involve a two to three mile hike to a nearby water fall, a mountain lake or something equally scenic. The day wraps up with an hour or two session of discussion, asana Q&A, chanting, reading of stories from the Ramayana, pretty much whatever comes up. After dinner, most folks sit around and chat. I spend that time letting Tim take my money at the Scrabble table. It has become a fairly standard routine. One of these days, though, we're gonna play by the real rules, not the Tim Miller variations. As if that would make any difference.
The class is made up of the typical array of abilities that one would expect to find on a retreat, although being a second series retreat; the overall skill level is quite good. Rather than just do a guided second series sequence each day, Tim alternates a guided class one day with a Mysore style class the next day. In the past, he has also thrown in an Improv class for one of the days, just to add a little spice.
Our first day of practice was Sunday. I was expecting to be stiff. That's usually the case after traveling for me. All the crap food I tend to eat in the airport and in the plane, the prolonged sitting, maybe even the changes in cabin pressure, all seem to add up to a day of regressive bending. I was stiff. When I do second series in Encinitas, be it Mysore or even the rare Sunday led class, there's often some "research" poses that we do in and amongst the regular second series poses. These research poses, usually groin and shoulder stretches, make several of the more challenging poses approachable for the stiffies like me. In Sunday's class, we pretty much just did straight forward second series. I had a much harder time with a couple of poses than I usually do, especially the foot behind the head stuff. I had no expectations for that class though.
I really didn't feel like going on the hike that first day. I offered instead to watch Tim's young daughter while he led the rest of the group. He dropped us off at a nice shady glen at the side of the stream they were hiking along. I spent the next two hours trying to keep up with her imagination. It's been a while since our kids were three years old, so I'd forgotten how demanding it can be. My biggest worry, and her least concern, was that she would trip and hurt herself on the rocks that bordered the stream. To make matters worse, she took off her shoes and al of her clothes wthin 5 seconds of our getting there. I kept jumping around trying to gently steer her to areas of least risk without her knowing that. Like most three year olds, she is allergically averse to being protected or otherwise controlled. I had to develop the non-linear, non-rational thought processes she was playing with to keep her engaged and relatively happy. So we spent the better part of an hour naming various rocks (these were her dolls) and deciding which ones were worthy of keeping and which ones needed to be cast aside. Sad to say, after the first ten or fifteen dolls were chosen and placed in the imaginary house, almost no one else was good enough and they ended up in the stream or in the bushes. My job in this process was to come up with a different reason for each rock to be unsatisfactory so that she could discard it. "That one is too ugly." "This one is too mean." "Oh no, this one can't stay it's too, uh, too..., too furry." I don't think she ever got bored, though I can't take any credit for that. Her dad and the rest of the hikers came back right when we (she) was finishing the second soft drink and the last of the chocolate chip cookie, a dirty trick I used to keep her going when it appeared that the other activities she had come up with, like walking on the sharp rocks in her bare feet as perilously close to the rushing stream as possible and going over to inspect why the bees were clustering near a still area of water, were not going keep her attention too much longer. I realized I was out of kid shape. I had a mild headache from trying to maintain a conversation with her. I know that doesn't really sound like much but try to do itwith a three year old for a couple of hours. It brings a whole new meaning to emptying the mind of distractions and becoming one with what you're doing.
Yesterday's practice was a Mysore style class. Before the class, Tim told us that we should do whatever we felt was appropriate to do. It looked like most people did second series. A couple of the more advanced students did third series. Some folks did first series. Last year, even though the week is set up to be a second series week, for the Mysore classes, I did the first series and what second series poses I had been given up to that point. This year I decided that since I get to do second series so infrequently at home, I was going to do full second series each day, even the poses I hadn't been given yet. Then, when he said that we could do whatever we thought was appropriate, I thought, "Why not do some of the third series poses? I think I can do them (I've never done most of the foot behind the head poses in third). It's not like I'm expecting to do these poses normally. And he did say he'd stop us if we got into doing something that was inappropriate. Screw it. I'm going to see if I can do them." I think playing with Tim's daughter the day before affected my ability to think rationally. I worked through the second series okay. Not my best ever but serviceable. I couldn't quite get into Dwi Pada Sirsasana on my own, a goal for this week, but I did hold the position after he put me into it, my biggest goal for the week. I held each of the headstands, some of them waveringly but upright nonetheless. Then, I started off into third. I've done the first pose in that series, Viswamitrasana, at the most twice ever. And it showed. That is a pose that really tests your bandhas, your balance, your strength and, you have to be able to extend your leg in abduction (the kind of motion your legs makes when it goes into the side splits) really well, which I don't. I weebled and wobbled for a bit but I didn't fall down. I glanced to see what Tim's reaction would be to my impudence but he was helping someone do their finishing backbend sequence so I don't think he saw me. Good thing. Onward I descended. I have done the second pose, Vashistasana a few times. I don't think I did it too bad but my wife informed me afterward that I looked horrible in it. Still no shouts from across the room to stop. So, into the crux moves. I think I can do the foot behind the head moves fairly well, if I am reasonably warmed up and are not too tired. Well, I can do the single leg things okay. I suck at the dwi pada postures. The third pose in the series, Kasyapasana, is one we do fairly commonly as a preparatory move before going into Eka Pada Sirsasana. I can usually get my extended leg almost straight but I usually don't get it down to the floor. I got through that one and entered virgin territory. Chakorasana is a pose that we go through as we transition out of Eka Pada Sirsasana back into Chaturanga. I've never tried to hold the straight leg up for the full five breaths. My foot usually slips from behind my head as soon as I get the straight leg raised up, because that's the next move in the transition. I was getting tired by this point. Poses with the foot behind the head have a lot of strong muscles working against each other. They're all pretty taxing. I had to re-do Chakorasana a couple times on each side to be able to keep the foot behind my head. My extended leg was looking pretty ugly, bent at the knee and no where near my face but I was able to approximate the pose. Bhairavasana took me several tries on each side, with increasing longer breaks between each attempt to catch my breath and wipe myself down so I wouldn't slip as much. Some where into the middle of doing this one, Tim strolled by on the way to help another student and said, “John, what are you doing?" I wasn't sure if he was asking about my doing the poses or the fact that I had been sitting there resting between attempts, doing nothing for a minute or so at a time. I avoided looking at him and muttered that I was doing "research" and pressed on. I though Bhairavasana would be where I had to stop because I had trouble figuring out how to get my back leg back there without my top leg slipping off of my head. I finally managed to get the right degree of extension and was able to hold the pose. Once in it, it really didn't feel like I was doing it that bad. Skandasana, the next pose, I didn't think would be too hard. It wasn't. I still had to take a couple of tries on each side to figure out the balance shifts and the counter pressures necessary to come to standing. By that point, my difficulties were more an issue of fatigue than inability. I almost stopped there. I was worried that I'd be tired enough that I wouldn't be able to keep my balance in Durvasasana, where you stand upright, or as close to that you can with one foot behind your head. I didn't want to blow out my back or anything by pushing too far. I decided to go ahead though. That was the pose that I really wanted to know if I could do. I knew going in most of the others were do-able. I wasn't sure about Durvasasana though. But I did okay. I wobbled up on my right and held it. As I bent back over Tim was looking at me, as in "Why?" I got upright on my second side but lost my balance so I let my leg come up off of my head and decided to call it quits. I had answered my questions. It was late and I was tired and I didn't want to make Tim come over and tell me off.
Today was guided second series. We did a few researching poses for the foot behind the head poses but otherwise it was straight forward. We held Kapotasana for a looong time today. That took some wind out of my sails. I almost domino'd a row of people when I fell out of Baddha Hasta Sirsasana C, the headstand where your arms are in the same positions you would use for Pincha Mayurasana. That is my worst headstand. I fall out of it more than even Mukta Hasta Sirsasana C. My shoulder range of motion is better but I still have a very hard time coming up. I can't use my core to get my legs up, like I can on all of the other headstands. I have to push myself way past the midline. Sometimes I even have to hop to get the feet moving up. Since there's often not a point in the lifting of the legs where I have a stable base, I some times go boom. Today I tried to steer away from the woman right in front of me, but falling over to the side just endangered the lady on the mat next to hers. My feet landed about four inches from her face. She blinked, I think, but that was about it. She never wavered a bit in the pose. That was pretty remarkable.
Well, I have to drive into town and find a place to log on to the net so that I can pos this, so enough for now. Hopefully I'll get a chance to add more later in the week. I'm sure I'll need to edit it later, I'm using my wife's laptop and with her keyboard I mishit the keys even more than I usually do, but it will have to stand for now