Not a whole lot of yoga action to recount this week. I had that prep class on Monday and then I jiggered my schedule a bit to make it to a Mysore class on Wednesday. I also made it to most of one of the evening classes, which was an improv type class, but that's been it. While it might seem providential to have a week with minimal practice when I'm nursing a sore spot, my back actually feels best when I practice. It's at its most noticeable when I'm least active.
The Wednesday Mysore class felt pretty good. I was able to do a little stretching while the pranayama group was doing their thing. I debated doing the first and second series poses, but I hadn't done much backbending in a while. I knew that my backbending was coming back to normal and I wanted to keep that edge as sharp as possible, so I decided to do the second series poses with research. The discomfort that I had developed the previous week wasn't really a bother in anything. Trikonasana was actually the pose in which I noticed it the most. After that, I don't recall the sore area coming into play at all. I was pretty stiff in Samakonasana and Hanumanasana, not from anything to do with my back, but rather from not having done those two poses in a while. I was tentative in Krounchasana, expecting that it might be uncomfortable, but once I had eased into it, I just felt the usual tight hamstring sensations. I quit anticipating any problems after that and just did a normal practice.
I hadn't done any of the back bending research stuff for a while because of my previous low back pain but in this class I was able to do them all with no problems, including the ones against the wall that I typically find intense and uncomfortable, even when I'm at my strongest. One of those is sort of a supported Raja Kapotasana. You move to the face the wall as closely as possible in an up dog position. Your hands should be right up against the wall. The next move is put your chest up against the wall for support and then slide your hands up the wall until the arms are fully extended. Once you can do this okay, the next step is to arch your back so that your head moves away from the wall. You can then bend the knees and reach the feet toward the head and the head toward the feet like in Raja Kapotasana. Then, if able, you can move your hands back to grasp your knees or shins or whatever you can get hold of and keep that pose for a few breaths. Getting back away from the wall is the hardest part. The tendency is to want to get up as soon as possible. If you release the legs and simultaneously try to push off of the wall with your chest to get up quickly, your face rebounds into the wall. I think I've commented on the impact that this pose has on the nether regions before, so I'll leave that discussion alone. The other Salamba, or supported pose, is a Viparita Salabasana variation. In this one, you go into a handstand near the wall with your front facing the wall. The feet normally go against the wall. I guess you could do the rest without having the feet against the wall, but if you were able to do that, you probably wouldn't need to be doing all this researching. Anyway, once established in a handstand, you lower the body down until the chin, shoulders and upper chest are on the floor. That position is held for a few breaths. It can be taken a step further by bending the knees and trying to move the feet closer to the head and arching the head up towards the feet, eventually even grasping the legs like you would do in Raja Kapotasana. An alternative to the handstand entry to this pose is to use the "inchworm" technique. In this style, instead of starting off in handstand, you lie down with your feet against the wall. You then push off with your hands and inch your feet and legs up the wall a foot or so at a time until you get into the starting position. It's not quite as elegant an entry as the other way but that's not really what matters. The other wall research that I do is for stretching the groin. I guess the position is something like Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana, but instead of the forward leg being bent with the calf on the ground, I do it in a lunge position, with the back leg being supported up against the wall. In the last few months, as my back has gotten a little looser, I've felt that I was arching enough that I should be getting close to where my hands should be getting near my foot, but I could never feel it. I assumed I just wasn't arching as much as it felt like I was. One day one of the teachers came over and moved my hands over to the side about three inches. I was able to grab my toes and foot. I was there but I just had my back foot out too far to the side to know it.
There's something uplifting or energizing about being able to once again do something that you couldn't do for a while because of an injury or a soreness. I was finding I could again arch back without concerns or fears and with a reasonable degree of chest openness. My back bend poses all went pretty well. I was just moving my hands up onto my toes in Kapotasana when Tim stepped in to assist me. He still couldn't get me to where he had me a couple of weeks ago but I'm near the base of the heels again, or it feels that way.
If any pose should have been harder to do because of stiffness or pain from my most recent back tweak, it would have been Dwi Pada Sirsasana. I initially felt the twinge when I was doing Kurmasana, so I was curious to see how Dwi Pada would go. It went about like it's gone the last few weeks. I am not able to get the second leg in position on my own on first try or so. When put into the pose by Tim, I had no discomfort and didn't feel any stiffer than usual, so who knows what the defect is.
My last pose has been Pincha Mayurasana. After I did that one, I didn't feel like stopping. I was feeling stronger than usual, with not an iota of fatigue. I think I was pumped up from being able to do back bends again. I did Pincha a second time, trying to do a straight-backed variation, eliminating the usual arch. The goal is to be straight enough that you can look up and see your toes. I fell out of that one. Then, still feeling frisky, I tried to do Sayanasana a few times. Tim occasionally will do this one in his Improv classes, so I wanted to see if I could work out some of the balance issues that go with the transition from the forearms to the elbows. I never got close but I did get my hands and wrists off of the floor one time before I went down. Tim was nearby, and after I went down to my feet, he asked, "Oh, no Chatwari?", meaning why didn't I exit Pincha Mayurasana in the desired fashion? The desired way is to go directly from the pose into chaturanga, a dynamic move in which you have to shift the weight from the forearms to the hands before the feet ever touch the ground. I explained that I hadn't been trying Pincha just then, that I was messing around with Sayanasana. "And Karandavasana?" he asked. Oh no, I assured him. I hadn't tried to do that one. I wasn't trying to jump ahead without being given postures. I was just playing around with poses that were clearly out of my range before I did my backbends and closing poses. That, in my distorted logic, is an allowable transgression, the former is not. "No," he said, "Karandavasana you do." Huh? Oh. New pose. I'm slow sometimes, but trainable. I didn't do it too well. He had to winch me down and back up as usual, but I tried it four or five times before moving to my finishing. I was surprised at my lack of fatigue. When I have done the full second series in the past, I'm usually fairly tired by the time we get to Karandavasana. When I've finished my attempt at doing it, I'm often near cagging. This time, I felt like I could have kept trying for as long as there was class time. I eventually stopped because I thought I might overdo it and hurt my shoulder in some way. I wasn't gonna get it that day, so might as well save it for later. Wow. I've waited to get here for some time. I guess there shouldn't be a goal, in terms of getting postures, but we all have them. For me, the two goals were Kapotasana and Karandavasana. Now I have the chance to see if I have what it takes to learn how to do the pose. For me, Karandavasana is a separator pose. Most people can do the other second series poses, if given the chance. Most people that I've seen can't do Karandavasana. Me included. Should be fun.
After I did my backbends and Viparita Chakrasana sequence, Tim did assisted drop backs with me. I was still feeling that unusual sense that I had more in reserve, so after the last drop back down, instead of going into Urdhva Dhanurasana and standing up like usual, I tried to do something Tim had attempted with me once in the past. Back then, when I was getting ready to do my last backbend, with my head still on the ground, he had me slide my arms along the ground towards my feet until my elbows were even with my head. He then wanted me to press up into a backbend. I couldn't do it that time. I was barely able to get my head off of the ground. The arch was too intense, I wasn't able to get any lift out of my shoulders. On Wednesday, I was feeling like I could do things, so instead of standing up from Urdhva Dhanurasana on the last drop back, I lowered my head to the ground and tried to shift my hands and arms back on my own. My shoulders are my limiting step here. I couldn't get them to let me move the hands back very well. He moved my hands for me and rotated my arms a bit to get my forearms on the ground. I pressed up okay but my hands were closer together than I'm used to. I felt unstable but I was able to get up and felt no discomfort or compression in my back. The arms weren't straight and I'm sure the form looked horrific overall but, I'm getting there.
Wednesday was my wife's birthday. Several of her friends from the studio and I had planned to surprise her by going to the first series class she teaches on Wednesday evening. When push came to shove though, none of us were able to make it. When they missed the class, the other people decided to drop by the house later that evening to visit and to ooh and aah at all the awesome gifts that I got her (meaning the ones she decided that she wanted and got for herself and then had me wrap for the kids to give to her). While talking with her, one of them turned to me and said, "So, John, you're starting to look like Richard Freeman there lately." Come again? I mean, I know I've been working hard this past year at improving my yoga practice, but, really, I never thought any one else would be able to tell the difference, much less compare me to... "Yeah", she added, "With that thing you've been doing with your hair lately, you look kinda like him when he has that ponytail in those videos." Oh. "Uh. Yeah, thanks," I replied redfaced, "That's nice of you to say." Sometimes, I even amaze myself with my clueless-ness.
I work tonight but should be able to go to class tomorrow morning. Round two with Kurmasana. We'll see who wins this time.