Monday, September 27, 2004

A new day, a new pain. Such is the life of a graying ashtangi. The mid line sacral soreness of the last week or so has resolved completely, for now (last phrase thrown in to appease the gods). In my last two classes, I have been able to back bend with relative impunity, with nary a twinge of discomfort. However, (such an ugly foreboding word is however) I now have a brand spanking new ouchie to feed my morbid imagination. As I began to lay forward into Kurmasana yesterday, I felt an unusual tightness in the area of my right low back and along the rear edge of my pelvic brim. I did the pose and the rest of that practice without any real discomfort or stiffening, but I was a little more sore later on and more so today. I thought initially I may have strained the quadratus muscle, but the way it feels today, I'm thinking more along the lines of problems in the Sacroiliac joint/ligament. It doesn't feel bad. It feels far less limiting than what I was complaining about last week. That doesn't mean it couldn't become more of a chronic thing, it just doesn't feel too threatening yet. Tomorrow's a moon day, a good opportunity to rest it, but we'll see how it feels.

Funny, our teacher occasionally will enlighten us with various tidbits about upcoming astrological events. Before class on Sunday, he mentioned that Mars and Jupiter were forming one of those conjunction things in which two or more visible heavenly body appear to cluster close together in the night sky. The bodies in play this time included Mars and Jupiter. So, he told us we might expect a practice marked by "fortunate action", since Mars is the planet associated with action and Jupiter is associated with fortune. He did go on to warn that we should use caution so as not to overdo things, as irrational exuberance might also arise with such a combination. I hate it when he tells us stuff like that. I've never given astrology much more than a sniff of disdain, but I swear, whenever he tells us about a given day having potentially negative implications, I get all nervous about getting hurt. One day he told us about Mars and Saturn coming together, the little malefic and the big malefic. Major badness looming. I was almost neurotic in my caution that day. I think I even walked my feet back to chaturanga rather than jump back. Yesterday, I didn't really think about what he had said about the planets until afterwards while I was in Savasana. I don't think I was being unusually exuberant when it happened. In fact, I was in my usual slacker mode, just settling down into the pose as he was getting to the second count or so.

As for the other "unfortunate action" from that practice, those weren't real farts coming from me. They were mat farts. You know what I mean. You're laying there on your back and your sweaty body sort of forms a seal with the mat. As you move into a different position, air that has become trapped under your redundant body folds gets pressed out , generating the loud, greasy, post-frijole kind of noise that causes everyone to overtly not look at you out of embarrassment. I did that Sunday class without a shirt, since I had forgotten to throw a tanktop in the trunk when I left for work the night before. Without a shirt, my body was sweatier than usual and seemed to glue to the mat whenever I lay down or rolled back into some inverted pose. I think people around me figured out that they weren't real when it happened three or four times in a row. I hope they figured it out. They weren't farts. Honest! I don't fart in class. Just once. That was it. Years ago.

I also seem to have resurrected my blog jinx. In one of my recent entries, I mentioned that I had had a good twisting and binding day. Yesterday, though, I was barely getting to mid-palm on some of my Marichyasanas, even the ones that I have been able to bind my wrist on for some time now.

But, I did have a really good back bending day (away damn jinx). My arms felt really straight and I was trying pretty hard to shift my weight as far out over my shoulders as I could. When I did my stand up (just one, I wasn't trying to be greedy), my feet never budged. No shift of the toes out to the side. No steps back or forward for balance. Came right up. Simple and sweet, just like those gumby girls do all the time.

Today I was scheduled to assist a partner in the OR all day, but her last two cases got cancelled. We finished the only case by 10:30 so I called my clinic schedulers and told them I was going to take the afternoon off. I then scooted back up north and went to the noon First series prep class. I got there about 45 minutes early but the studio door was unlocked. There was somebody there that was just finishing their practice. She let me come in and do some stretching before my class started. I was back in cautious exploration mode. Standing in the OR that morning had made my low back even stiffer than it had felt when I got up this morning. This was low back tightness that impacted twisting and, to a lesser degree, forward bending more than back bending. The poses that felt the edgiest were Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Marichyasana C. Janu A didn't feel too bad at all, which I thought it would if the discomfort were to be due to SI joint issues. Who knows what I really did. Hopefully it will become as moot as last week's twinge.

Last night we watched that show where they completely rebuild someone's home for them. My kids and wife love these makeover shows. This was the season opener and it was a two hour show about a guy who lives about three miles from us. He is a recent widower, his wife died four years ago. He has eight kids and the nine of them all lived in a tiny three bedroom, one bathroom home. It was a very emotional show. The local community really came together to help the show bring the thing off. They scraped the house and rebuilt a huge (4600 sq ft) new home in just seven days. The contractor who did the building, an acquaintance of the family from church or something, had never even built a home before. His business was commercial construction: building banks and mini-malls and stuff. It was just amazing how great a job they all did, the people from the show, the contractors and builders, the volunteers, the neighbors. If you get a chance to see it or tape it, I'd recommend it. Not that often that you get to see such pure, honest goodness.

Full moon tomorrow. Maybe this time I'll heed the astrological warnings and avoid practice. Maybe. We'll see how it feels tomorrow. Besides, the kids and I have to shop for a present for my lovely wife. Her birthday is on Wednesday. How old is she? Old enough to bring her shins to her head and her head to her feet.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Ahhh. The unadulterated pleasure of being able to do an up dog or a backbend and not have to go into it cringing out of fear that it's going to be too sore. The back is returning to a more normal state. Some practices have been near normal, others let me know that something did happen there and that I better be aware. I gotten back to a full range of motion in just about all of my backbending poses except for Kapotasana and Vrschikasana. In Kapotasana, it varies from day to day but the last couple of times I was able to get to my toes or just past them on my own and could be pulled farther by an adjuster without any discomfort in the back. The last time I was adjusted in it, the thing that felt limiting to me was my shoulder. I probably was tense out of worry about what it would feel like and the shoulder didn't release as well as it has in the past. Vrschikasana hasn't been even close to where I got to when Tim was adjusting me in it a while back. It almost feels like there's a wedge of resistance in there preventing me from developing any arch. I've only done it twice since my little back thing happened though so I can't really expect it to be too good. Having only done it twice in almost three weeks, it would likely have been as stiff even if I hadn't tweaked the back.

I felt pretty good at the start of Thursday's Mysore class, so I decided to do all my poses, First and Second. Because that takes a while, I wouldn't have time to do any of my usual Second series research poses. That was okay with me. I didn't really want to over do it with a whole lot of research stuff. Can't say my practice really suffered for not doing it either. I felt pretty good on a couple of the twists too. I almost got to my wrist on one side in Marichyasana D, on my own, something I've only done once ever. I was also able to wriggle my hands a bit to attempt a similar depth of binding in Pasansana but started to tip over so I stopped and just worked on the positioning of my knees and on trying to get my heels down a bit. They're still an inch or so up from the ground. That's a hard pose. So many actions and counter actions going on at one time. I was cruising along later, happy in that I was doing better on most of the early backbending poses. I had just finished Ustrasana. After that pose and after the next two, we go into a handstand then vinyasa down to Chaturanga. I had just finished one of my best handstands ever after Ustrasana. My wife got up from where she was practicing on the opposite side of the room and walked over to me. "Cool" I thought, "She saw that and is gonna tell me how solid it looked." She leaned over me and whispered, "Did you forget to do Dhaurasana?" Uh oh. Crap. So I had to go back and do those two poses and then do Ustrasana again. But my handstand rocked the second time too. One thing I have somehow lost the ability to do is Bakasana B. I've floundered around the last five or six times I've tried it. In my Wednesday practice at work and again on Thursday, I was trying to do things a little differently in my jump throughs. I had seen a guy at Yoga Works go from down dog into a Lolasana position. He was balanced on his hands with his head and shoulders forward and his back parallel with the ground. He kept his knees close together and up against his chest and would hang there for a second before unfolding his legs and passing them through into a sitting position. Almost like being in Bakasana but with the folded legs suspended under the chest rather than balanced on the arms. I thought that would be a good thing to try to get some of that core stuff going so I tried that a lot. Maybe doing so caused me to shoot my bandha wad and I didn't have enough left when I needed it for Bakasana B.

I'm not sure why but the last few times I've done all my postures, I haven't had the kind of exhaustion that used to really limit me when I got to the end. That really has helped me in all those foot behind the head poses. On Thursday, I did Dwi Pada Sirsansana on my own and balanced. And, as I usually do, I lost my ability to hold the balance after Tim put me into it more deeply. That kind of bugs me because I don't want him to back off of adjusting me in it. I had a pretty good Tittibhasana sequence on Thursday. I think I got my legs as straight as I've ever done in Titti B. My recent tumbling episode has made me a little tentative in doing C and D but they're getting better gradually too. There's a video of Guruji leading a second series class at Yoga Works from years ago. In that video, Chuck Miller walks across the room, then around behind a guy on the other side of the room, then walks backward back to his mat while bound in Tittibhasana. He was walking as easily as I do when standing upright. I'd love to be that sure and that mobile. The other thing I've got on my wish list is to be able to jump into Tittibhasana A position. I don't know if anyone else in my studio does that yet. Maybe that one guy with the disgustingly great practice but I'm not sure. Even if he doesn't, I'm sure he could if he tried.

After finishing my poses I felt pretty good but didn't know how doing Viparita Chakrasana would feel. In all of the other back poses, if it didn't feel right, I could just come out of the pose. If it didn't feel good as I started to go over from handstand in V.C., to bad, so sad, there's no stopping it once gravity has taken over, not for me yet anyway. I did two attempts on my own and had no discomfort, just a lot of impact noise as my feet came down. Tim came over and helped me through the sequence. It didn't feel too much worse than it had the last time I did it. The only thing that was clearly worse was Vrschikasana.

Friday I had to be at work at 8:30. I somehow convinced myself that I could go to the 7:00 mysore class, just do my second series poses with no research and be out of there in time to get to work. That's with a 40 minute commute. I probably would have done it too if I hadn't done the Samakonasana and Hanumanasana researching sequence that we do after the Prasarita poses. Those two are so uncomfortable that they take me a while to get through. Lots of mental conversations and bargaining going on. I wanted to do them, even if it meant I had to truncate some other parts of the practice because, more than any other aspect of my practice, if I don't do those regularly, I lose ground. I've gotten to where I can get all the way down on my second side in Hanumansana and almost all the way down on my first side. I've made slow progress in Samakonasana too but still have much pain ahead of me in that one. The discomfort from doing those postures is enough to make me want to do them every chance that I can so that I don't lose ground and have to make it all back up again. Because of my time concerns, I wasn't really holding any of the poses for the normal length of time. I was doing Supta Vajrasana when the people next to me were still doing the standing poses. Tim came over to help with that pose and said, "You look like you're a man on a mission today." I knew there wouldn't be any new poses coming my way when I hurried through like that. Ater my last pose, I did three backbends, made it up to standing and then did the last three poses and a quick savasana. Time out of the shala door: 7:45.

Needless to say, practicing like that didn't give me the usual post-practice feel. As unlucky as I was on Tuesday with my operating schedule, I was equally lucky on Friday. A case got cancelled, a couple of others got moved up and miracles of miracles, we got three major cases in and done by 4:30. I sprinted to the car with the intent of trying to make it to the Intro to Second series class if it was okay with my wife. She was tied up at one of the malls buying clothes for the kids so she said to go ahead. I strolled in to the studio and put my mat down. I was walking back to my mat after a quick run to the bathroom to put some water on my rug when Tim spotted me and said, "Hey, John. Weren't you at practice this morning?" As in, "You know this isn't how it's supposed to be done, why are you here?" but in a much nicer way. I suggested that the morning class didn't really count, that it had just been an "insurance" practice in case I didn't make it to the evening class. He just smiled. The evening class normally goes as far as Ardha Matsyendrasana. He will sometimes flesh the class out with various researching poses. We didn't do anything extra that night though, except for Eka Pada Bhekasana. I usually wish we didn't have to do that one because it doesn't feel like it does that much for me but does use up energy that I'd rather have available later on. That night though, I was glad to do it. Bhekasana has been one of the hardest poses for me to do as I've been getting over this tweak in my back. We didn't get to do Samakonasana or Hanumanasana, none of the groin openers, nothing else. We did use the extra time to do some chanting though. I hadn't done any of that in a while so that was nice. It also felt better to have done all of the finishing poses and to have a real long Savasana. I felt like I had practiced when we were done with that class, even though the actual practice time wasn't much more than what I had done that morning.

Today, I watched some of my kids' soccer matches and went to the Improv class in between games. I can't remember what all we did, I'm pretty bad about that. I think I'm probably not destined to be a teacher because I can't seem to retain sequencing very well. We did do a bunch of lunges and groin openers and several handstand variations. Impressively, she made everyone do the handstands at the front of their mats, not against the wall. I think that's what ultimately works best. The wall sometimes creates an unbreakable dependency.The wall is worse than nicotine, worse than Lay's potato chips, worse than heroin. I wasn't going to make any Improv requests today because I've been making requests my last few classes there. Not many suggestions came up though. So I decided to go ahead and throw in my six bits. I had been looking at some poses the night before so I indirectly made my suggestion by asking how many Dhanurasana variations there were. She ended up doing most of them. The ones we didn't do were either too challenging or not that interesting or didn't really fit in with the flow of the class. I was able to find ten of them, but I didn't have my copy of Light on Yoga to check for others. Of the ones that I could find, we did the following: Dandayamana Dhanurasana (a Bikram name for a variation of Natarajasana), Dhanurasana, Parsva Dhanurasana, Padangustha Dhanurasana, Eka Pada Dhanurasana (similar to Padangustha Dhanurasana but grasping only one foot, couldn't find any pictures) and Urdhva Dhanurasana. Other ones that I found that we didn't do were Akarna Dhanurasana A & B, Parivrtta Akarna Dhanurasana, Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana and Parivrtta Urdhva Dhanurasana. I'm sure there's tons of others or at least many other sub variations but we did do the poses that come in the ashtanga sequence, except for Akarna, which is a bit lame.

I'll have to do more later. Have to scrub on a case.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

After tweaking my back last week, I was starting to wonder if I wasn't beginning to see the effects of having had too many birthdays. I didn't practice the next two days after my mysore class last Wednesday. I went to the Saturday Improv class not really knowing how it was going to go. I was still feeling the discomfort at other times, like when rolling over in bed at night or when tossing the football with my kids, but it seemed to be gradually fading away. Fortunately, in that class people asked for twists and other stuff that didn't really make me push the envelope with that area of my back. I didn't do too well with backbends though. I made no attempt whatsoever at standing up and just nodded my head back when she had the class attempt drop backs. That wasn't in the cards. All in all, I was happy that it seemed a little better and that I was able to get through another class without making it worse.

On Sunday, I could have gone to either morning class, the Second series or the First series class. I don't know why I chanced it but I went with the Second series class. I got there early and did a half an hour of warm up. With that I could tell I wasn't gonna be doing much better than I had the day before. I set my mat up over near one of the corners, out of the line of sight from where my teacher usually sets up. As chance would have it, one of the people who had recently told me that I had been making some progress in backbending set up right next to me. After having to listen to me moan and groan my way through that class, I think she now probably has second thoughts about my bendiness. I was able to do most everything just fine, just not the poses I knew I would struggle with. Bhekasana was funny. I had my feet pretty close to the ground but I was unable to generate any lift with my upper body. It was almost like the opposite effect was happening, my chest and shoulders seemed to be forced straight down into the ground. I could really feel the sore area in the sacrum in that pose. The three main backbending poses were hard. I was better than I had been on Wednesday but bad enough that I shouldn't have been in a class like that if that's all I could do. What's worse, when going back in Laghuvajrasana, I felt this grinding kind of sensation in the lateral side of my knee, like something was in the process of rending but hadn't torn free yet. There was no discomfort but I could tell there was some weakness in that area. That really got me worried that I might be having a domino effect with one injury leading to other injuries potentially leading to incapacity. I didn't even try very hard at doing Kapotasana after that. I knew the back soreness was going to be enough to keep me from being able to get enough arch to get my hands to my feet and I didn't want to do what ever it was that my knee was warning me to not do. Everything else in the class was no problem though. I didn't do any better or worse than I would usually do. Actually I did do Vatayanasana better than average for me. I don't do this pose very often and I don't do it that well but for some reason, I do one side of this much better than the other side. My first side is much worse. Once I get my arms crossed, I can't seem to keep my balance and get them raised upward. I almost always keel over in one direction or the other. I don't have that much of a problem with keeping balanced when doing the left side. I don't know what I did or didn't do, but for that class, I was able to get my foot fairly close to my knee, get it angled out towards the side and also get my arms raised up on both sides. I ran out of time though. It took me almost the whole five count to get in position. And I did do something worse too. I almost fell out of Baddha Hasta Sirsasana B. That's right, B! The easy one.

I wasn't feeling bad about the practice when we were all through. I was glad to be able to get through it. I was concerned about what that sensation in my knee might mean but there was no discomfort, no swelling, no squishiness or instability, so I didn't think I had injured it. I was just worried that I might be more likely to injure it. The back thing wasn't finished yet but it was getting better. In hind site, I should have done the First series class. That would have helped me a lot more.

When I got home, my daughters and a friend of theirs who had slept over asked if they could do the lemonade stand thing. I didn't want to at first but realized that there was no reason not to help them do it except laziness. They had done the whole thing once before so they were fairly quick to get it all together. They trundle all their stuff into town and set up on a table outside of the restaraunt owned by the parents of the friend who slept over. The little village we live near isn't bustling by any means but the place they had was right near the intersection that gets a lot of weekend sightseers and pedestrians. We didn't use real lemons this time. The girls wanted to mosey up to our neighbor's property and appropriate fresh fruit from the small grove of lemon trees that they have. Nope, no lemon stealing on my watch. It was Chrystal Light for this business venture. Once they had their stand set up and ready to go, I made a store run to get some extra lemonade mix, some cups, etc. While in the store, I decided to get some fancy cookies that they could sell also. At 50 cents a glass for the juice and the same price for cookies, they grossed $55. Not bad for a few hours work. After we were all done and were splitting up the proceeds, I didn't go into the concept of net profits with them. They still made money but it wouldn't have seemed as neat for them if they had to subtract all the costs for the cups and cookies and napkins, etc. I ended up making at least three trips to the store to get more cookies. Each time I got in and out of the car, as I twisted sidways and pushed off with my foot, I could feel that sensation of weakness in my knee. I became fairly conscious of how I was using it and started being real careful about making that knee do anything without being supported in some fashion.

The next day, I had one of those meetings in Pasadena that I have to go to every month or so. Given how I had felt the day before, I figured another day of rest would be in order. The lure of getting to go to a Mysore class was too great though. We finished the meeting around noon so I motored over to Santa Monica and strolled around looking for something for my wife's upcoming birthday (At her request. I'm not that thoughtful typically). Finding no interesting stores, I sat in my car and listened to a few of the CD's I had just bought while I waited for the afternoon Mysore class. I didn't think I would get much of a chance to warm up because the folks at the front desk had told me earlier that there was a class in the room that finished right before ours was scheduled to start. Despite that, I went to the studio about twenty minutes early because I was tired of sitting in the car while the guy manicuring the lawn next to me drowned out my music with his various power tools. Sure enough, there was no other class in the room. In fact, most of the floor was already taken up by people starting their Mysore practices early. Grrrr. I set up between a couple of guys who it turns out had pretty good practices. I must have done something to rub one of them the wrong way, I think, because I got this vibe the whole class, like I was crowding him or doing stuff wrong or something. Maybe not. Maybe he was just intense. I know I irritated him when I leaned over in mid practice to ask if they did things a certain way at that studio (whether or not they did handstands after some of the Second series backbends). He was polite but I don't think he was in a conversational mood right then.

I was pretty leery of doing this class with how my backbends had been going the past week. This was Maty Ezraty's class and in the past I've gotten the impression that she doesn't really like to see things done incorrectly. She wasn't there that day though. The teachers who were there pretty much left me alone. I did get an adjustment on one side in Janu Sirsasana A, more or less a "Hi, how are you? I don't know you so I'm just seeing how you're doing" kind of thing. I also got one of those Savasana adjustments, where they stretch your legs out a bit, adjust the position of your hands and arms, press down on your shoulders, rub your eyebrows, stuff to help you relax. I like that kind of stuff, though I don't usually get it. One thing which didn't feel great though was she moved my feet from their normal externally rotated position to a position where my feet were pointing up and then pushed down on the top of my feet, guiding my toes down towards the floor. One, that's not the normal resting position for my feet and legs and two, pushing down like that put too much weight on my heels and created an uncomfortable sensation in my Achille's tendons. Still, I appreciated her trying to make me more comfortable.

I started the class off a little cautiously. I figured I'd probably be sore still and would just do First series. My up dogs were a lot better though. Something changed, what I don't know. As I progressed through the poses, I realized that I was doing most things as well as I can do them. I did forget to do Supta Konasana. Everything else went really well though, even Setu Bandhasana. I finished the first series with about 45 minutes left for the class so, feeling pretty good, I pressed on. Normally, when I'm doing both First and Second series poses, I take a quick water/rest break after I finish the last pose in the First series. I wasn't close to being tired that day though so I moved right into second. The backbending stuff was clearly better. Not back to baseline but waay better than the day before. When I dropped down into Laghuvajrasana, I was just waiting to feel or hear something in my knee again but it went perfectly normally. I even got my fingers to my toes in Kapotasana, which amazed me because the day before, I barely got my hands to the ground, much less back to where my feet were. I didn't land Bakasana B on my first two tries but managed to get it on number three. Any other day I probably would have quit after the first couple of failures and just done the A version again. That day seemed to be an 'on' day though so I wanted to keep trying. The foot behind the head stuff was my best ever. The only disappointment was not getting the jump back part of it. Sometimes I can do it but sometimes I mis-do things and the foot slides off the back of my head and chops straight down toward the ground like a guillotine. As I was setting myself up to enter Dwi Pada Sirsasana, I decided to try and move the second leg back a little more quickly than I normally do. I was thinking that my more deliberate approach in times past may have been what was keeping me from getting my feet hooked over each other. Once I had my left leg in place, I made to really go for it with the right leg. I didn't really have to though because it slipped right into position with almost no extra effort or extraneous wiggling to and fro. I don't know what it was about that class. It just went better than I could have hoped for. Even backbends went well. I was able to stand up after my third one. Poorly done, with the need for a quick step back to keep my balance, but I made it up. The day before, rather than try to stand up on my own, I had opted to walk my way up the wall after our sixth backbend, and even with that much warm up, I barely made it up the wall. Whacky stuff this ashtanga.

After class, I was in one of those too rare post-yoga highs. I drove all the way home to San Diego through LA rush hour traffic and never even noticed it. I was listening to my new music, just oblivious to everything else. Too oblivious it turns out. I had forgotten to check in with my wife. She called me when I was about 30 miles from home and let me know my blissfulness was not shared. The good vibe held up through the next day. I really wanted to practice that day. It was my OR day and when things go well, I can usually get out in time to make it to the evening led First series class. It was not to be though. A scheduling snafu put a long case for another surgeon in between my two cases and I didn't get out of there until around 7:30 that evening.

Today, I was on call and it was a slow day, so I practiced at work. I usually don't do that but I wanted to get something in after missing out yesterday. I also wanted to get myself as loose as possible because I get to go to Mysore class tomorrow morning after I get off here. I was again only going to do First series. I didn't feel as loose as I did on Monday but I didn't expect to. Even with a space heater on full blast and with a Santa Ana blowing, the hospital air conditioning kept the room cool enough that I didn't sweat too much. I moved through the First series and decided to keep going, planning on stopping when I got to a point where I wasn't doing a pose well or when I ran out of motivation, whichever came first. I didn't do Kapotasana well at all but I felt okay to keep going so I finished all my usual poses. I then went ahead and did Pincha Mayurasana and as much of Karandavasana as I can do. Never hurts to get some practice in. I only had one phone call in the time I was doing my practice so it worked out okay. That is unlikely to be repeated any time soon though.

We'll have see which back shows up tomorrow morning. If I don't feel discomfort, I may do what I did Monday and today, all of First and my Second poses. Maybe . We'll have to see.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Despite doing no yoga yesterday, my low back discomfort hadn't gotten better enough. I was still pretty tight today. It wasn't as tight as the day I first noticed it but more bothersome than I hoped it would be. I hurried through a couple of things because I know I looked so bad in them, I didn't want anybody seeing me do them and think that that's how I actually did the poses. I had to work at nine this morning, so I only had time to do my second series poses, with no research and none of the extra backbending stuff before closing (thank god). First series would have felt a lot better but I didn't have enough time for it. I was able to do marginally acceptable up dogs, but they looked pretty straightbacked I'm afraid. I did a shallow Salabasana, again not as frightful as the other day but still something I'd just as soon not be seen doing. Bhekasana was similarly ugly. Not only was I arching less than I usually do, and I usually can't get much arch, but it felt harder to get my feet down too. I think I was having a generally stiff day, in addition to having to work around a reluctant low back. The two Dhanurasana poses went okay with minimal discomfort. Ustrasana, though, was bad and made me realize the next two poses would bring Tim or his assistant over if they saw me doing them. I was wrong about Laghuvajrasana though. I guess since there's less arch in that pose, a stiff back is somewhat compensated for. Kapotasana was essentially undo-able. I couldn't arch anymore than I would normally do when doing Laghuvajrasana with straight arms, meaning almost no arch. I tried it a second time, hurriedly out of fear of attracting attention, but to no avail. I can't remember if I tried the straight arm part of it before coming up or if I just kind of bailed out and wiggled my way back to a kneeling position. Disheartening given the progress I had perceived in my backbending and in that pose in particular in the last few weeks. I'd even had a couple of people come up to me recently and comment how my backbends weren't anywhere near as bad as they used to be. Actually they phrased it much more nicely than that. They implied that they were actually looking good. I'm just not allowed to say things about myself like that.

After surviving that portion and managing to do it without generating any assists, the last few poses went pretty normally. I wondered how Bakasana B would go. I figured a sore back might come into play when I was approaching touchdown but I did it fine. The Eka Padas were stiffer than normal, not low back but everything else, hips, knees. I think it was just one of those days. Maybe is was the 1/4 bag of Natural Cheetos that I woofed down right before going to bed. Nah, they were Natural Cheetos. Dwi Pada Sirsasana went the same as it has the last few weeks. When trying to get the legs crossed, I was able to get the foot of the right leg hooked over the toe of the first leg but I couldn't get it to slide any further down for the life of me. It was stuck right at the knuckle of the big toe of my left foot. Damn bunion. When Tim re-did me, I felt more scrunched up than usual today too. I held the balance though.

Then came dork time. I did my first three Tittibhasanas okay. I bound, not real deep but I was connected. When I was setting up for the D variation, I had my heels pretty close together and was working on trying to get my shoulders a little closer to being back through past my legs. Next thing I know, I'm falling forward. I guess I leaned too far or wiggled when I should have waggled or something. I frenziedly tried to get my arms back from inside my legs to try and catch my fall. As anyone who has ever tried this pose can probably imagine, getting unwound in time to stop a fall was not happening. I think the actual points of impact were one elbow, the other knee and my head. You couldn't possibly do it more ingloriously if you choreographed it ahead of time. I really wish I could have seen it. I could just read my teacher's mind, "Hmmm, that was interesting. Maybe I should take some poses back from him after all."

The backbends were kept to a minimum. I did one Setu Bandha Sarvangasana and three weak Urdhva Dhanurasanas. I don't think I was able to get my arms straight on the first back bend. By the last one, I was able to straighten my arms but I realized half way through it that I was able to do so only by unconsciously going up on my tip toes. I called it quits there and moved through the closing sequence. Even if I was having a limited range of motion day, I had to be at work in about 45 minutes, so I didn't have time to do any more than that anyway. One excuse is never sufficient. A good slacker always has reserve reasons for why they can't do the necessary work.

In the past, when I've had soreness in this area of the back, it has resolved over a few days to a week. I don't want to push it and make it something more disruptive than it is right now. I don't think I get to practice the rest of the week anyway, maybe on the weekend, so more rest may help.

I need to learn how to do stuff with my hair. I've let it grow a little longer than usual. Now it gets in my face and I have to constantly wipe it away to get it out of my eyes and mouth and stuff. It's a practice distraction that I don't need. I have more than enough of those as it is. The hair is longish but not long. It's barely long enough to tie up in the back, in a style that our governor, Arnold (I used to pose nude for gay men's porn magazines) Schwarzenegger might describe as being "girlie-man". Tying it up does help keep it out of my eyes but then all the sweat runs down right into my face. I also have to take down the whatever it's called, ponytail?, when I do closing because it sits kind of weird when I go back into shoulderstand and stuff like that. It works great in the car though. My hair was starting to really whack me in the eyes when I had the top down. Even if I wore a hat, the hair in the back would reach. To protect my eyes, I had to wear sunglasses too, even at night. Now, though I might look a bit schoolmarm-ish, I can drive with impunity. At work, I normally wear one of those blue hats that they wear in the OR. I wear it all the time though because my hair just looks out of control most of the time. Today, I went without the hat, just my dashing little stallion tail. Everyone made a point of telling me how nice or how pretty my new hair style looked. Our Gynecologic Oncologist passed me in the hall. He did a marvelous job of stifling his laughter. Bunch of troglodytes. Someone did suggest that I try french braids though. I'll have to ask my daughter how to do that.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I'll probably only have time for a short note today. What's that? Thank god you say? I'm at work and may have to stop at any time to do stuff. I was in the OR this morning and afternoon. I finished just before four o'clock. I am on call tonight so I decided to try and get in some stretching or maybe even an abbreviated practice before I had to go on call. When I can get to the studio early enough, I have a series of stretches that I do as a pre-practice warm-up. I started with that today to see how I felt. One of first things that I do in this informal sequence is Virasana and Supta Virasana. That didn't feel too good today however. I was still pretty tight from standing in the OR for most of the day. When I went back for the supta part of it, I could feel tenseness in the high sacral area. I couldn't get my low back down to the ground. Nothing gave out, nothing hurt, a little uncomfortable maybe but no pain. When I later started doing the actual practice, I could tell on the very first up dog that my back was really stiff. It felt like it has in the past when I have tweaked that area. I kept going, thinking that doing the practice would loosen things up, and it did to a degree. When I got to Salabasana though, I had a really hard time getting any arch. Same for Bhekasana. Everything else went okay, but when I tried Ustrasana, it was such a struggle that I decided that I should stop there. I went on to try backbends. I could do Setu Bandha Sarvangasana but I couldn't get up into a real back bend. So I just did the rest of the closing sequence and rested. We'll see how it goes later in the week. Tomorrow is a rest day anyway since there's no class due to the new moon.

I was talking with one of my partners who does Iyengar yoga. She's now about 34 weeks pregnant. She's been able to maintain most of her usual practice but has had to gradually modify and eliminate some postures along the way. She told me she had to finally stop with headstand, the last inversion she was still able to do. It had been making her feel really light, despite all the weight of the baby, etc. pressing on her diaphragm in that position. But when she came down from the pose the last time she tried it, she had discomfort in her shoulders and tingling in her hands. So she decided to pull the plug on doing any more inversions. Now it's gonna be mostly standing poses for her until she recovers from delivery.

Okay, gotta go help out on L&D.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The second series class today was a little disappointing. Somewhere along the line, I lost some motivation. I didn't want to push the edge in some of the poses as much as I might usually. This was most noticeable near the end in the closing sequence. After doing Pascimottanasana, we lay back into a pose called Tadaka Mudra prior to doing shoulder stand. The pose looks like a good place to take a break since you're just lying there on your back, but it's actually a very active pose. You're supposed to engage all the bandhas, extend through the legs, the arm, the neck, yada yada. I would start out ok but would find that I was letting go of stuff, my legs would roll out to the side, I wasn't keeping the chin down towards the chest. Minor stuff but it was a bothersome trend that continued in some of the following poses. I usually struggle a bit to get my arms and hands all the way down to the ground in Halasana and Karna Pidasana. I can do it some times but it's definitely work. By that point today, I had no interest in going for the best end result. I just got into the pose and left it at that. Don't know why I was off like that today. I'm thinking in hindsite it was due to me getting up and getting a drink after we finished Nakrasana. That must have thrown off my internal momentum or something. Some days are good and some days disappoint.

My wife was expecting me to struggle today. We went to the movies with the kids yesterday. I ate the obligatory candy and the popcorn with extra salt and butter. She was certain I'd have a hard time binding Tittibhasana B and maybe even Pasasana. I bound with no trouble though. I still couldn't get into Dwi Pada Sirsasana on my own. I haven't gotten into it on my own in a while now. No clue what I'm not doing or what it was that I was doing the times I was able to get into it in the past. I didn't do as well with Karandavasana today either. I took me a time or two to get up into Pincha Mayurasana. I was able to get my legs crossed but then lost my balance before I could lower down. The second time I tried it, I started to lower but lost it quickly and went to ground. I looked up to see my wife's feet standing there. I guess she had planned on assisting me but I fell out of it too quickly for her to be able to salvage it. My third go around, the teacher got me into a deeper Lotus and helped me lower and come back up. Getting assisted helps give the sense of what it feels like to be in the final pose and a hint of what muscle action you need to do to come back up. But, being helped into the pose does very little that I can perceive to help you actually learn how to do the pose. There, I think you just have to learn how to control the weight shifts and how to use your core muscles. You have to just keep trying and screwing it up and trying again to gradually accrue the ability.

There was a person across from me today who recently moved to our area. Both she and her partner have really nice practices. I delayed going into several of my poses to see how she did some things. In Karandavasana, she dropped her knees down to her armpits but didn't lower her hips. She held her knees there for the five count then lifted them back up. My teacher does that too. He had told us that if you can't lower into the full pose, the best thing to do is lower as far as you can get back up from. For most of us that is not lowering much at all. I'll try that next time, working more on just getting a stable posture with my hips flexed. If I can manage to get into that position, then I'll work on gradually letting the hips come down.

I've been trying to do a couple of "extra" things in my practices that I think may help me build core strength and that will help me be able to make the movements necessary to hold and get back up from Karandavasana. One of those things is doing Urdhva Sirsasana. After headstand, before lowering down into Balasana, I would press up, lifting my head as far off of the floor as I can and hold it. After doing that for a while, I started trying to do Ardha Urdhva Sirsasana, where you lower the legs half way down while keeping the head lifted up. That is really hard to do, for me. I can lower them and can even hover them for a second or two, but getting them back up is beyond me. After yesterday's Viparita Dandasana embarrassment, I realized that my perception of where my body parts were did not correlate with where they really were. When I've lowered my legs in Urdhva Ardha Sirsasana, I thought they were close to being horizontal, maybe a few degrees above it. Today I decided I would try to look to see where they really were. It's not the easiest thing to do because of the stresses on the shoulder but it turns out that I'm not getting close to horizontal. I'm going to take the same approach in trying to lower and get back up in this one as in Kapotasana. I'm going to focus on getting up as much as in getting down. Then hopefully I'll actually learn how to use some of those muscles that allegedly exist there in my core.

We finished class today with only five or six minutes before the next class was due to begin. We had a reasonable Savasana but it wasn't long enough to fully cool down. There's tons of things that I like about taking class with Tim. One of the best is that he always gives us Savasanas that are long enough for us to cool down and to get fully relaxed. I always feel better after a practice when I can do that. Maybe it's something to do with the distribution of the energy from the practice, but I can tell the difference when we get a Savasana that only lasts a few minutes.

Tuesday is the new moon. Of course, that's a day that I have off, the day that I can't practice. I'll find something somewhere. I'm not sure about the rest of the week. Hopefully, I'll get a couple of chances later in the week.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I should have posted more this week. I had lots of practices to generate blog fodder. I had thought I was going to be able to practice last Friday night but had forgotten I was actually on call that night. I went to LA the next day to watch my son at a soccer tournament. On the way back home later that day, I stopped off at one of the LA area McYoga yoga studios for an evening class. I didn't get another chance until Tuesday evening's led first series class. It's been gravy since then though. Mysore two days in a row, Thursday and Friday, when my teacher was actually in town! I usually manage to time it such that my Mysore days are when he's on a trip of some kind. Today I went to the Improv class and tomorrow I get the led second series class. Just rewards. It's been fairly sparse for me since we got back from our Shasta trip in August.

Today's class was a classic one for me. First, about half way thru the class, I glanced down and noticed that my tank top looked a little weird. The logo on the front seemed too dim. Then I realized I had the shirt on inside out. Tres dufus, even for me. I wonder how many people saw me and thought, "Jesus, who's the spaz who can't even put his shirt on right? Isn't he married? His wife lets him out of the house looking like that?" Later, we were working on some shoulder and back bending research poses. We were doing a series of Viparita Dandasana variations against the wall. The pose they were starting with begins in headstand, facing away from the wall. You drop you legs back over to the wall and then settle your feet down the wall to about three to four feet high from the floor. You push into the wall and lift your head and arch your back and look back towards your hands with your head. I was one of three people whose mats were in the middle of the room. The class was fairly crowded and there really wasn't much open space against the wall. I decided to go ahead and do the research poses in the middle without using the wall. I was originally going to just drop all the way over into Viparita Dandasana and do that while they did the supported version against the wall. I got my legs about half way over and realized that if I held them out there in what felt like the same position as the folks using the wall, I would get a really good back bend. The teacher came over though and put my feet against her, acting as my wall support. I thought I'd try to move my feet down from her stomach to closer to her hip area to increase the bend. She moved them right back up where they had been. When I came down, I was trying to figure out why she made me go back up. I figured maybe I moved my feet too close to her groin or something. I asked where my feet had been. She pointed to her upper chest. When I had moved my feet lower to what felt like her lower abdomen, I must have been putting my feet down onto the area of her breasts. I guess I should have known her abs weren't that soft. Oh man. That was about as embarrassed as I've been as an adult. I apologized but she shrugged it off. I was going to apologize to her again after class but she had to leave early to catch a plane. She left while we were in Savasana so I missed her. Hopefully, when they get back her boyfriend won't come looking for me to beat me about the head and shoulders with his surfboard for my transgression.

My request for Improv today was to work on Karandavasana. I was given another pose earlier in the week in one of the Mysore classes, so I'm one step closer to that crux pose of the series. I want to get as many chances to work on it as I can, so that when I do get it I won't be totally incompetent. We did a nice series of prep poses before actually doing the pose today. I was able to get up into Pincha Mayurasana without too much flip flopping around. I was able to get my legs crossed into Lotus okay as well. I can't get them in any where near as deeply as I can when I'm sitting and using my hands, but I was happy to just get into that phase of the pose. I often can't. As is usually the case, once I got in position to lower, it all went south quickly, literally. I can't yet figure out how to get my hips to flex so that I can lower my folded legs down near my chest while maintaining the body in a relatively upright position. I usually either overdo my attempt at counterbalancing by pushing my butt out behind me and end up falling over backwards or I will inadvertently let my butt drop down as I try to flex at the hip. Once the butt starts going down, it becomes an irresistible force. It just keeps going faster and faster. Eventually it becomes a matter of what's going to smack down first, my knees or my butt, neither of which feels that great. One of my friends at the studio came over to my mat and showed me some bandha things to work on. Instead of balancing the knees on the back of the arms in Bakasana and Eka Pada Bakasana, he recommended that I try putting my knees on the outside of my upper arms. To keep them in place there, I would have to go into max contract. After he showed me how to do it, I gave it a try. I couldn't even get close to doing it. I had told him that I didn't have any bandhas at all. He didn't believe me until he saw me try that. Something good to work on though.

I've noticed over a period of time something that strikes me as odd. When I set up my mat before class, the spaces around me are among the last to fill up. In the Tuesday evening class, I had gaps on each side of me for quite a while until the guy who helped me today came in and set up near me. I mentioned my theory to him. He laughed like I was imagining things. He said my hair was maybe a little scary looking. Today, I was the first person to set up a mat. I was on one side of the room, right in the middle. The next six people to come in all set up on the opposite side of the room from me. I asked my wife, she said I don't smell bad. She wouldn't lie, I don't think. I'm gonna get a complex or something. I can't figure it out. I'm an undesirable.

As mentioned above, I got to go to Mysore class twice this week. I was post-call on Thursday but I had a pretty good practice that day. I did the second series poses with research. I didn't think I needed to go the "all of first and all of my allotted second poses" route, since I had done pretty much only first series classes for the preceding three weeks. After doing all of my backbending research, and its a ton, maybe a bit over the top, Tim helped me again in trying Kapotasana. He got me close to the edge of my heels again, but not as close as the last time. If there's one pose in the second series that I have lost ground with lately, it would be Supta Vajrasana. At one point, I could be assisted into keeping both feet bound for at least the first drop back. I would typically lose my grip on one of my feet at that point but I had at least gotten to that point. Lately, I haven't even tried to go back with my feet bound. I usually use a towel or just grab the hands of the person helping me. I've had a sore spot where one of the lower leg muscles, maybe the anterior tibialis, inserts on the lateral side below the left knee. I can do stuff, but there's a tight sensation that has kept me cautious. I think I tweaked the muscle when trying to lift up/vinyasa back from Bharadvajasana.

Anyway, back to class. I didn't get into Dwi Pada Sirsasana again but Tim put me into it after I slipped off on my second or third try. I held the balance, though my posture was pretty poor, I was bowed forward a lot more than I should be. I guess maybe he wanted to know that I could hold the balance more than once because after I did Yoga Nidrasana, he gave me the Tittibhasana sequence. I can do these. I can't do them well but I can do them. Except, when I had my moment to show what I could do, I couldn't do it. I guess maybe I was a little surprised to get the poses. I had started to move towards doing backbends when, from behind me, he called the pose. I nodded and jumped around my hands and pressed up into the A position. When I let my feet down, I guess I was letting my mind wander because something about how I did things, either where my feet were or how I wrapped my hands, I don't know what the problem was, but I wasn't able to bind in Tittibhasana B. Arrggh!!! I've been able to bind in this almost every time for months now. I get the chance to show that I have some ability in a pose and am not at square one and I barney it. After having to have Tim do the bind for me, I then almost forgot to do Titti C. I was thinking ahead to D, which is a little demanding. I had released my bind and started to move my feet into the 'Charlie Chaplin' position for D when I realized that I hadn't walked the walk yet. So I had to do C with my hands behind my back but unbound, all with Tim standing right there mentally registering my incompetence. AAARRRGGGGHHH!!! Not that I'm attached to progressing or anything. I'm usually not that bad about posture seeking actually. I had been thinking, however, that when I did finally get Tittibhasana, if I could show him some reasonable competence, I might get to Karandavasana a little sooner. I want to work on the stuff I can't do well at all. I guess I proved that I need to work on this more than I thought I needed to. It's okay, I can do humble too. I get a lot of practice at that one.

My Viparita Chakrasanas went pretty well, for me. Tim helped me do them. When we did the last part of the sequence, Vrschikasana, he told me my feet were only two inches from my head. That didn't register with me at first, since my feet have typically been more like a foot or two away. I did a double take and said, "Really, Two inches?" He nodded. I still didn't believe him. That made my day though. I'll never have a "good" back but Vrschikasana is a pose that I could always state with certainty that, "I'll never be able to do that." So, to learn that I had actually started to bend in there quickened my spirit a bit. A lot actually. I still haven't done it but even the notion of progression in that kind of stuff is a big deal for me.

Yesterday, in Friday's Mysore class, I did everything that I had done the day before. I had no problem at all doing Tittibhasana B. I looked up to see if it was noticed but Tim was working with someone else. Oh well. I felt pretty good about my Viparita Chakrasana that day too. I can't get back up and over on my own. After I drop over, I have to lower down from backbend and then roll over, get up to my feet and do it over again. The teachers were both busy at that point, so I did some more dropovers towards the wall. Once I landed, I would use the wall to push off of to get my feet back up and over. After three of those, I turned back towards the middle and did a couple of dropovers followed by stand ups from the backbend position. I then tried to do Vrschikasana on my own. I was a bit on the worn out side by that time though. Tim was on the mat next to me so he came over to help. I told him what I was trying to do. "Vrschikasana? You did Viparita Chakrasana?" "Well, I did, but I used the wall," I responded. "Ah, doing research. Okay. Viparita Chakrasana." So, we did the whole sequence again. I didn't get as close in Vrschikasana this time. I could tell he was trying to get me close since I had told him I didn't believe him the day before when he told me my feet nearly touched. I didn't have it that day though so he backed off and let me down.

Tomorrow is led second series. I'm not sure who is going to be teaching it. Both Tim and the person who usually leads the class when he is gone are out of town. We'll see how things hold up for me. I'll have no excuses because this has been one of my better weeks. Today I even felt like I was getting Parighasana pretty well and I suck at that one.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

My second attempt at posting today. I had almost a whole entry done earlier but had to go see a patient before finishing. When I came back, the machine was frozen and I had to reboot. A significant blow to my motivation but I'm gonna try again.

After several weeks of mostly doing improv classes or mysore classes in which I just did my second series poses, with only the occasional first series class along the way, this week has been first series and only first series. Monday I did a prep class, which does most of the poses but not all ("We do skip some of the first series poses in this class, not many though. Just the ones we don't like"). Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I did the led first series classes. The Tuesday class is also billed a s a prep class but he does all the poses. He gives people the opportunity to skip some vinyasas though. The Wednesday class is with Tim and is straight forward full first series, no skipped vinyasas, no optional poses, no researching, just the down and dirty.

The two evening classes were pretty sweaty. It's gotten a bit on the humid side lately. That, combined with the end of summer heat, has led to warmer than average practices and lots of sweat. On days like those, I have to leave a small towel at the end of my mat for the teachers to put over me to keep them from getting soaked from my sweat when pressing against me or to use to wipe themselves off after adjusting me. I'm one of those icky sweaty types that some teachers find so distasteful to touch. In times past, getting that hot and sweaty would usually drain me such that I would run out of gas by the Marichyasanas. Even though I hadn't done much of the first series for a while, I didn't get that tired. I was tired but normal tired, not exhausted tired. I was able to try hard on most of my jump back attempts, usually the first part of my practice to falter when the going gets hard. The extra sweat certainly made getting into Garbha Pindasana easy. Boom! Through right past the elbows with no effort! Of course, the pay back came in Kukkutasana. Zzoop, down the arms my legs slid as I came up. I was forced to try and use bandhas to replace skin friction as my stabilizing force. It was a tripod kind of Kukkutasana for a few moments there.

I have this thing I've been trying to puzzle out lately. There's this guy who practices at our studio. He started coming a year and a half ago or so. He had trained with Tim at some point in the past but life intervened and he had to do some other things for a while. When he started back, you could tell he had ability. He could do most of the things in First pretty well. He didn't have an "oh my god" kind of practice, there were things he couldn't do. He didn't do dropbacks or stand up from back bend, for example. But in general, he was good. He could jump back. He could hold a handstand. He had a really nice practice. But so did a lot of other people. Now, he's unbelievable. There's really not much he can't do. He grabs his ankles in back bend. He presses up to handstand from sitting, he can go into Eka Pada Bakasana in the transition out of Virabhadrasana B and then using just his bandhas can press up to lift his knee off of his arm and then hover there, does Samakonasana with no problem, in fact he can even do it in handstand, ala Ana Forrest. His bandhas are so strong it's amazing he's able to ever poop. Thing is he wasn't able to do all of this back a year or so ago. I remember smugly commenting in one of my posts a while back that he and I were both working on trying to stand up from back bend but that I thought that I was closer to achieving it because I felt I was able to get a better arch than he was. Hah! That's in my face. So, what's the deal? How has he been able to achieve so much so quickly? Is he genetically gifted? Does he work a lot harder, maybe doing two or three extra sessions each day at home in additon to his efforts in class? Is he of the devil? I wonder about this as I wiggle and waggle my butt from side to side trying to get it through my arms in another unsuccessful attempt at jumping back and while I try to stifle the involuntary moans and groans that come out of me when I try Samakonasana or Kapotasana. It's that age old whine: "How come he can do it and I can't?"

In both evening classes this week, I was able to jump back from Kukkutasana into Chaturanga. Kind of. I cheat a bit in that I swing my legs, which are in lotus, way up and then, using the momentum of the downward swing, try and get them far enough through and up to be able to shoot the legs out and land. I wasn't able to do it on either day when coming out of Uth Pluthihi though. In my attempts at jumpbacks, I have struggled kinesthetically with the ability to get my body tilted forward and then pivot it downward to get my butt high enough to succeed. In yesterdays successful try, I actually felt like I got my butt up somewhere near the balance point. I've done a similar thing once before. Both times I felt light, like I had almost gone too far up with my butt. In fact, I was probably barely past horizontal but the feel was totally different than what I usually perceive. I kind of wonder if I don't go forward out of some kind of inhibition or unrecognized fear. I don't think so though. I don't seem to engage the muscles needed to do this. I don't even have an idea of what muscles to engage or what such engagement feels like. I've started to wonder if being able to jump back is kind of like being able to curl up your tongue or being able to do those 'double jointed' tricks with your fingers. Some folks have it and some don't?

I've got a chance at making it to tomorrow's Intro to Second series class. That'll be good. I'm beginning to let go of the notion that I need to do First series as often as I used to think I needed to. I haven't lost that much in not doing it that often this past couple of months. I do need to do the second series poses regularly to get better at them. I need the reps, just to stay even.