Saturday, July 02, 2005

We've wrapped up our two week long Ashtanga workshop. Now I have to leave behind practicing everyday and return to my more usual approach of practicing as and when I can. I didn't set any new milestones in any tough poses in this two week stretch. I almost landed Karandavasana a couple of times but each time one leg would slip off of an arm at the last second. At least I had progressed to a point where I was actually lowering into a landing. Previously it had been more of a case of trying to fall into place. I didn't do a whole lot in Samakonasana either. I was close, maybe two or three inches off of the ground, but still a mile in terms of what it was going to take to get that last measure of opening and lowering. Once I realized that I wasn't going to get all the way down, I decided to too see how it felt to roll back into a sitting position. In the past, I had tried to never sit back. Tim had once said, "Once you are sitting on the ground, the work of the pose is over." Well, I sat back and found a whole new world of intensity, difficult to breath for a few seconds kind of stuff. The angle of my legs was pretty wide, certainly not Samakona, but wider than they had ever been before. Took me forever to get back out of it too. I couldn't get my legs to swing back toward the middle. I think going to ground did help more than just hanging out balanced on my heels, perineum a few inches off of the ground. We'll see. Tim also got me pretty close to my heels a couple of times in Kapotasana. I could touch them with my extended index finger. So, I progressed in a lot of poses, in a lot of ways, but have further to go.

The practices most days were very, very warm. The large number of people in the room from the teacher training group ramped up the heat, a lot. A couple of days I tried to do my first series poses, then followed with my usual second series routine of poses and research poses. That was more than I was up to. Both times I ended up abbreviating my closing poses because I was out of energy. One of those days, I blew off my stand ups and Viparita Chakrasana stuff too. For most of my Mysore practices, I just did my second series stuff. Although I was on vacation for this course, I opted to take call overnight a few times to keep some moola coming in. When I practiced after call, it was usually during the overflow session at 9:00. Tim and his assistant used that time for their practice too. So, those of us who used that time block to practice were pretty much doing self-practice. In the second half of the workshop, there were usually some of the workshop students there to assist and adjust, but for the most part, they didn't do adjustments for people working on second series poses. The other people doing second series would help each other in poses like Kapotasana, Supta Vajrasana and Karandavasana.

The people doing the workshop were all very nice and fun to work with. That is not always the case. In other courses I've been to, there was usually a person or two, or more, that was rough edged or had an ax to grind. There was no one in this group who seemed to feel the need to show the teacher how much they knew or how little they thought of what the teacher knew. It was a fairly diverse group in terms of experience. Some people had a long ashtanga background, had been teachers for some time and had studios of their own. Others had practiced a lot but weren't teaching much yet. Some, like me, were mainly looking to get better at their daily practice. I think every one came away with a large measure of respect for Tim. No matter who people normally train with, they usually come away from these workshops inspired by him. It's kind of hard not to. His obvious physical talents, his willingness to patiently answer every question, no matter how far afield it may lead, his ability to segue from a demonstration of a pose into stories of his experiences with Guruji in "the old days" and then onto stories from hindu mythology, his intuitive ability to see what someone needs to accomplish in a pose and then the experience to know how to best help them get there, and especially his breadth of knowledge of so much more than just asana: pranayama, chanting and singing of mantras and slokas, exploring the sutras and other important Sanskrit texts, the history of yoga in general. For me, he's kind of like the Michael Jordan of yoga. You find yourself thinking, "I wish I could be like that."

Even though we spent seven hours a day in close association with each other, I didn't get to know the other people as well as I would have liked. Beyond getting to practice a lot more and learning more detail about how to practice, the draw for me was to get to know the people who do Ashtanga. There were fascinating people from quite far away and from the local area as well. I wish we had more social time together. I missed out on any of the usual end-of-course mixing. I had previously committed to spending that afternoon and evening with my daughter who was back from a week at camp. I missed out on the social finale, a beach party that evening. Since I left class early that afternoon, I wasn't even able to say goodbye to most people. Instead, I'll say it here. Hope every one has a safe trip home. Vaya con Dios.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The annual Ashtanga Intensive, nee "Teacher Training" has begun. Each year around this time, we're joined in our daily classes by roughly 40-45 workshop students taking a two week workshop with Tim. This year I joined them in the workshop. I've been to the one week course he gives along the same lines in Tulum. We've actually made it a kind of annual winter vacation getaway, having gone three different times now. We didn't get to go this year because my wife was in mid-chemotherapy at that time. I like to meet the people who will go out and be teachers in various places around the country and around the world. I also learn new stuff every time I go, even though the areas being covered are essentially the same. At any rate, even with the newer larger studio we're using right now, with the increased number of students, it was jam packed. And it was hot, India hot. I was tooling along thinking things were going good, doing pretty okay in most of the stuff. Even without doing my full arsenal of research stuff, I felt like I was doing acceptable second series work. Right about my first attempt at Dwi Pada Sirsasana though, I hit the heat/sweat wall. I just felt out of energy, like I hadn't eaten or hadn't slept in a long while. I felt too hot, like I wasn't dissipating the heat. I haven't felt that way in a long while. I felt really puny when I was sitting there wasting time, "cooling down" a bit between poses and watched some of my fellow trainees follow doing the first series by also doing at least as much of the second series as I had done.

I've been very lucky this spring and early summer in that I've had a lot of chances to practice. I wanted to be as good as I could when I got to this workshop. I've been thinking back over the times that have come before. I can't think of a time when I've been able to practice every day, or at least six days a week, for two straight weeks. I wanted that kind of a stretch to be a chance to move ahead in something instead of being a catch up opportunity. I have fantasies of actually touching my groin to the ground in Samakonasana after my 13th day of grunting and groaning and suffering my way lower, or landing and holding a Karandavasana descent, or some other such dream. While I know a dream when I dream it, I am hoping for at least some realistic improvements in my practice. I just have to avoid getting hurt.

I hope to also get more facile at using the Sanskrit counts for the asanas. I have a friend who teaches a class at a nearby company during their lunch break twice a week. I have assisted her in the class a couple of times and have subbed for her twice as well. The times I led the class, I was distracted enough by trying to maintain a reasonable pace, not forgetting any poses, keeping to the very limited time frame available to me, keeping up a greater than normal amount of verbal direction ( because many of them are newer to the practice and needed some guidance but mainly because when people are in anxiety provoking situations, they often compensate by talking too much, and that's what I did), trying to assist where I could, there was just more going on than I was able to process smoothly. So, I started out using the Sanskrit counting but soon degenerated into skipping the counting altogether and just using the inhale/exhale verbal cues along with the descriptions of what I thought would be helpful. It works but it's less than elegant. When we break down into twos and threes in the workshop, I've paid more attention to getting the counting correct than I did in the Tulum workshops.

This workshop group is unusual in that a large number of the attendees are from our area. I think I came up with about fifteen out of the 45 students. Most of the rest are from the US and most of them seem to be from the western US. We do have a couple of people from Europe, one guy originally from Brazil, a guy who just made it out of the governmental changeover in Bolivia. It's a fairly diverse group. It was so crowded today, our first real day of practice together, that I didn't get to look around much and see how everybody did. I was too busy trying to keep my own head above the water anyway. I was so wasted by the end that, after coming up from my last standup, I walked over towards the bathroom to catch my breath before going back to face Viparita Chakrasana. I spotted on of our group doing what I thought was Supta Vajrasana. He was all the way down by himself with no one assisting him. "Aha!" I said to myself, "Here's a great chance to help out and also get a chance to cool down and catch my breath a bit." So I went over and put my legs down on his knees to give him the leverage to come back up when he was ready. He kind of gave me a curious look, like "Uh, okay. Thanks for helping, I guess." Then I noticed that his arms and hands were not crossed behind his back, like in Supta Vajrasana. They were coming straight down his sides, because he wasn't doing Supta Vajrasana, he was doing Matsyasana, part of his closing sequence. It's not really possible to do something more embarrassing than that, unless maybe if I had farted while sitting on him, I guess. I apologized and tried to stammer a quick but useless explanation for my mental deficiency and then slunk back to my mat. God I hate it when I do dufus stuff like that. I felt sorry for the guy later in the teacher training session. He volunteered to demo the first posture we worked on today, Surya Namaskara B, while Tim counted him though it and then used him to guide us in what to look for and how to correct things. He had to hold each step of the sequence for at least three or four minutes, listening to us ask questions and make critiques on the most minor of things. He was in it for probably at least 30 minutes. It was the first thing we did and he was drenched with sweat when he went back to his place. Then he had to do it all over again with his working partner. That was an impressive display, he was tough.

In our first day of class, we spent most of the time going over some of the Yoga Sutras. I had worked the night before and only got a few hours of sleep. I never nodded off in class, but I wasn't doing a very good job of learning. Despite having heard some of the same sutras reviewed by Tim many times before, I retain so little that each time is like the first time. Old Timer's Disease.

Unfortunately, tomorrow is a moon day. I'm in "I get to practice!!" overdrive, so having to pull back and not do so is a big let down. We still get to have class for the workshop though, so at least I'll get that in. Hopefully, I won't get beat up too bad tonight at work and will have all of my few mental faculties with me tomorrow.

Hah!! I just realized, just a second before trying to post this, that this is the computer that causes me to lose my post if I hit the Publish Post button. Maybe there's something in the corporate surveillance system (Websense) that prevents uploads. I'm going to e-mail it to myself and try to post it tomorrow when I get home.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I'm in the midst of that week of early and long days at work. I've gone to the early class at the nearby "other" Ashtanga studio most of the days that I could. Today I had an interesting and somewhat entertaining practice there. The last couple of times I went there, I got there right at 6:00 and the teacher was already there. I showed up at a quarter till today in hopes that he would be there so that I could start that much earlier. He wasn't there when I got there but showed up about five minutes later. I trundled right up to him as he opened up the studio and gave a happy, shiny, "Hey, Good morning. Howzit going?"" He looked back, face still swollen from sleep, with a look that seemed to say, "Jesus Christ, it's not even 6:00. I'm already opening up 30 minutes before the schedule says we start. So now you show up 15 minutes before that?" but pleasantly greeted me. I was worried I'd overstepped things but within five minutes, two other students showed up, so I just went ahead and practiced.

I was better at my efficiency today. I got through things by a quarter after 7:00. Still not enough time to do anything extra but enough to do my postures without being too rushed and to do all the closing poses as well and still have a Savasana that was long enough for the sweat to dry.

I struggled a bit for some reason in Pasasana on my left side. I usually use a T-shirt over my legs to minimize slipping from the sweat. Today it was the shirt that was making me slip. After a couple of tries, including a fairly strong adjustment by the teacher, I pulled the shirt off and tried it skin to skin. I had less slippage but was tired enough by then that I didn't do much better. Since I had a small window of time, I gave it up and moved on.

With no researching, Kapotasana was a bit shallower than usual but I got a pretty good adjustment in it, not so deep as to make me tighten up, but enough to put me at the edge. After holding my legs in Supta Vajrasana, this teacher has been helping me lift up into handstand. He essentially does all the lifting. I guess it's to give me an idea of what the body does when it's making that movement because it's light years from what I could do on my own. Today, he held back a bit, so I set up to try and do a lift up and jump back with my legs in lotus. I can do this sometimes, but not often. When he saw me getting ready to do that, he asked if I wanted him to help get me up the rest of the way. I gave him one of those, "Sure, yeah, I guess, why not?" shrugs. He stands right in front of me and takes hold of me near my hips to help me up. "Okay, whenever you're ready," he told me. I guess he expected me to do the appropriate move which is to press up but to also pivot forward so that the head dips down and the hips come up. Well, I did the lift up part, forcefully, but didn't manage any dippage forward. The top of my head whacked right into his vital nether regions. He took it like a real yogi though and still helped me up to handstand.

Revenge was to be had however. Later, when I was doing my attempt at lowering myself into Karandavasana, I asked aloud in that halting, squeaky voice that goes with complete exertion, "" "Uh, about three inches," he laconically answered, "Sorry about that mate." I gave up and let him take me the rest of the way through the pose. Humble pie. I have no proprioceptive awareness whatsoever. At least everybody in the room had a good laugh at my version of reality.

This teacher definitely gives the deepest foot behind the head adjustments I've had. It feels great afterwards. Today, I had one of my feet in place and was trying to do the usually wiggle and squirm routine to get it better seated. He came up behind me and started to pull it in deeper. "Hold on a second here," he advised, "Let me just work this down here to your scapula." My eyes popped wide open on hearing that, but he got it down there with no problem.

Surprisingly, even after that deep of an adjustment, my Tittibhasana B was pretty weak. I barely got my fingers together. He was right there to help with that too. I have to say, for those that may feel that they don't get enough attention in a larger class, this studio would be ideal, because with seven or eight students, it seems like he's there whenever you need him.

I was able to practice both days this weekend. The Saturday Improv class was taught by a different teacher than usual. He is one of Tim's third series students and is very low key but gives a very good class that flows well. He does a good job of assembling poses to maximally prepare the group for the more challenging crux poses that he does at the end. On Saturday, we ended up at Viparita Dandasana. By the time we got there, I felt pretty open in the shoulders and back. It's a pose that I can clumsily drop into and can do but in less than good form. I have never come close to coming back over however. On Saturday, I worked on doing the comeback the way that I had seen that teacher doing it in Mysore class. He lifts the head well up, walks his feet in a good ways, then arches the head back through and lifts the feet up and over. The second time I tried it, I actually got close enough to the point of coming back over that I was afraid I might do it, which of course caused me to come right back down to where I started. I guess I was worried I'd get into a position of commitment that would end up hurting but it would be too late for me to prevent it from happening. Next time I get that close, hopefully, I'll be less surprised and will let it happen, if it can.

Sunday's second series class went better than most. I held up better anyway. I didn't run out of gas, I had enough energy to give the last few poses a good effort, which I rarely do. I did my best ever seven headstands. I was even stable in Mukhta Hasta Sirsasana C, the whole time! Little victories, that's all you can ask.

Tomorrow I go to the early class for another quick and dirty practice but I should be able to do a full Mysore class at my usual studio on Thursday.

On Sunday, I went to the local street fair with my wife and two daughters and one of their friends. It was a nice relaxing time. We ingested the usual gastronomic horrors: funnel cakes with powdered sugar, California Quivers (a gelato/fruit ice kind of thing), Kettle Korn, etc. They painted ceramic things (ducks, kittens, frogs) that they'll never touch again. They got toe rings. We also went to this place that had stylists who would do your hair up all crazy with spray paint, glitter, feathers, pipe cleaners, flowers, all kinds of gew gaw stuff. Words to the wise: Dads, if you're taking three girls to a place like this, expect to get your hair done too. That stuff took forever to get out too. There must have been about thirty blue and green feathers stuck in my head. I still had gold glitter two showers later. As I sat there having it done, I figured it couldn't be too bad, even though I was the only adult guy that had been through the place all afternoon. The lady who was doing me kept telling me, "Don't worry, I'm making you look like a warrior." Seeing all those feathers going in, I was thinking, "Okay, yeah, I'm gonna look like one of those Toltec warrior baddasses from ancient Mexico." Well, let me tell you something, those hairstyle ladies lie. Big time. I maybe looked like a warrior from the ancient Fey clan. Got lots of "love the cute hair" comments from all the folks walking by though. The kids wanted to keep their hair and wear it to school the next day. They figured I'd want to do the same. I should have done it just to see if they'd really fire me.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Yesterday we practiced at our new temporary space for the first time. This place is a major upgrade from what we've had before. Tim's old place was....., old. The walls leaked whenever it rained and the place would smell of mold when it was wet. The only bathroom was marginal. The walls in the practice room had been broken by falling yogis and then repaired so many times they were little more than tape, plaster and paint in some places. There was only one way in or out of the studio. But funky as it was, it was what we all knew. If it weren't for the moldiness, which was just too oppressive this year, it could have been okay for longer. But they were looking for a fresher, larger space, maybe with some room for retail sales. They wanted to have two bathrooms, better heating and ventilation, just reasonable amenities. They are in negotiations for a brand new space in a local shopping area. Until then, however, since the lease on the old place expired, they had to get some temporary place for us to practice. Not as easy a thing as you might think. Our first transitional space, a dungeon-like conference room at the end of the parking garage of the local Best Western hotel, was very similar to Tim's original space, except without the mold. It was dark and dingy and had only one bathroom with a leaky toilet (always a favorite thing to have to deal with: you're not supposed to wear shoes or slippers in the studio but the floor around the toilet is always wet) but it did have one amenity Tim's old place didn't: it was the world's capital of daddy long leg spiders. It was also constructed with a bit of M.C. Escher-like optical illusion, with the walls and carpet all appearing to come together at less than square angles, which could sometimes discombobulate you for a moment or two as you tried to figure out how to align yourself for a particular pose.

The new temporary space, however, is just plain nice. It's a yoga studio that the prior tenants were not going to be able to keep going. Tim was able to swing some kind of sublet/lease share for a few months. It has a carpet, which I like but I know some prefer wood floors. It is in the main area of old Encinitas, close to Tim's old studio site. It's a hundred yards from Starbuck's, for better or worse. It's a big space and it has no warts at all that I can see. Tim and his wife Carol have been working hard on getting a new lease for over a year. They ultimately decided it would be better to start with a brand new space, built out they way they wanted it, than to take over some older studio or to try and renovate some space that was being used for something else. So, when I announced to Tim all of five minutes into class that I really liked this place and that they should take it over permanently instead of going with the spot they are currently negotiating for, he gave me a dark look and quickly reeled off an impressive list of potential negatives, none of which registered with me. It was just so nice to finally have nice to practice in.

We do have to share the space with the previous yoga studio however. Tim's schedule, as I understand it, will be as he has always had it. The other tenants will have to schedule their classes around Tim's. All well and good. But when I was looking over the June schedule for the other studio's classes, I noticed that they had classes scheduled on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:15. Unfortunately, that is when Tim usually does his self-practice, and that is when I had been counting on being able to practice on the days when I couldn't get to Mysore at 7:00. Tim also has a big workshop coming up in June in which he will be using the space from noon to five each day for two weeks. The other folks have classes in that time frame too. Hopefully, the conflicts can be worked out without conflict, but whatever it takes to get me my practice times.

One quirk of the new studio popped up about half way though my practice when I went to do one of the Kapotasana research poses we usually do. I was going into a wall supported version of Viparita Dandasana, where the feet are placed on the wall at about hip level rather than lowering them all the way down to the floor. Tim stopped me and made me come down. I was thinking he was going to tell me not to use the wall with my feet because we were only subleting the place and he didn't want us leaving footprints all over the nice clean walls. Turns out, on the other side of the wall is a curio shop with various clocks and vases and expensive gewgaws on shelves and on the wall. When people have plopped up against the wall in the past doing supported inversions like handstands, some of those items ended up getting knocked down. He mentioned that the other store's proprietors didn't like that very much and would come over to let the yoga people know about it. I guess it's okay to do inversions against the wall on the opposite side of the yoga studio though. On the other side of that wall is just a shoe store, so we should be able to whale away at it without causing too much damage.

Despite being the very first day in a new location, the room was packed. I guess some of the folks who hadn't come as much when we were at the Best Western were just waiting for a place that was free of mildew and spider webs. It will be interesting to see if the students who stopped coming to Tim's and started going to the other new ashtanga studio will now come back to practicing at Tim's.

My practice yesterday was another upbeat one. Nothing was real standout but it was just good overall. I did get all the way down in Hanumanasana on both sides and was able to fold forward as well, although the forward bend was incomplete and off center too. I am unable to fully square the hips so I still sickle my back leg a fair amount . It's a lot better than it was just a few weeks ago though. This was the first time in a long, long time that my neuromuscular/central nervous system feedback loop was not screaming at me to pull out of the pose after more than a few seconds. Usually the internal dialogue in the pose is something along the lines of:

groins/hams: Okay, easy there, that's far enough big boy.
me: I haven't even straightened my leg yet
groins/hams: So? Hey! Hey, Hey, HEY! Hold on, I said go slow.
me: I am. just a little bit more today... almost near the floor...
groins/hams: well, that's plenty far enough for today thank you. Iyengar wasn't bent in a day you know. Time to do something else
me: yeah, ok, ok, let me just try to see if I can....
groins/hams: OMFG!! what the hell do you think you're doing? I'm dying! AAAAUUGH! Please stop. plz, plz, plz, pleeeeze, just stop it. You said you were going to stop!!
me: I never said I was going to stop. you did. There, I touched down. Ooooh, that's intense. Now, let's see if I can just fold forward over my leg...
groins/hams: AAAUUGH!! you dirty motherf#%#er! stop this crap NOW. You're not some teen aged mother f%#%ing cheerleader!! You're a god damned 48 year old gynecologist!! you don't need to be doing the splits. GET YOUR STIFF ASS OUT OF THIS RIGHT NOW YOU...... (remainder of expletive discussion deleted)

Then I would do the other side. Yesterday was more amicable. I was able to just be in it with out the neuromuscular stretch receptors going into panic mode.

I'm getting better binds in Pasasana lately too. I don't think I've lost weight, which I thought I would need to do to be able to get back to where I was before. I guess my shoulders and my quadratus muscles are letting me twist better lately. Wouldn't hurt to lose some weight though. I can't help wonder if I wouldn't be better able to jump back, twist and bind, etc., if I weighed what I did twenty years ago (and 30 pounds ago). Odds are good we'll never know.

I ran out of energy again around Karandavasana. I gave it a few tries then let Tim help me do it. He did get me down into it and then let go. I initially started to tilt toward my butt but he repositioned me and I held the pose on my own momentarily before he yanked me up and out of the pose. As hard a time as I'm having getting into the pose, I'm going to have an infinitely harder time ever getting out of it.

Viparita Chakrasana was more of the same. My first couple of drop overs were not quiet but I did okay with my next two tries. I went on and did the drop over and then stand ups and then Vrshikasana on my own. I then stood at the front of the mat to wait for the assisted drop backs. Tim came up and gave me a questioning look, "Viparita Chakrasana?" "I did", I told him, "but not coming back over on my own." He pointed to the back of the mat and we did it all over again. When I was doing the initial drop overs on my own, as I was repositioning myself to try and hop back up and over, I was looking straight down at the floor and it struck me that if I hopped upward and did the needed arching through of my chest but didn't make it and fell, I could potentially land with all of my weight directly over my chin and neck. Comforting thought. Not surprisingly, I had pretty feeble attempts at coming back over. But I didn't fall this time.

Today I did the 6:00 Mysore class at the other studio. For some reason, I wasn't moving through things as efficiently today. When I finished my try at Karandavasana, my last pose before closing, it was almost 7:00. I did three quick backbends and blew off most of the closing sequence so that I could get to work on time. Good thing too because there was a snafu on one of the railroad crossings nearby that routed a lot of traffic that would normally go on the coast road onto the the road that I take to get on the free way. I lost about ten minutes crawling along that 2 mile stretch and made it to work with no time to spare.

All the good practices had to be followed by a less than stellar one at some point and I guess today was that day. I wasn't able to do a lot of things that I typically can do or that I had been able to do just the day before. I couldn't get down easily on either side in Hanumanasana (groins/hams: "see, you need us, you're not going anywhere unless we let you, so next time LISTEN when we say stop!!"), I couldn't land any of my attempts at Bakasana B, Kapotasana was shallow, I never once was able to fold over to any degree in Karandavasana. It was just one of those off days. I didn't attach too much to it. I had stayed up till around midnight reading. I woke up several times before finally getting up at 5:15 to get showered. Doing the class in that kind of rush mode setting is off-putting, I almost expect it to not be a good class. I just want to get it in, keep it going. Hopefully, I'll put an end to this blog post soon and get to bed so that I can get up and go tomorrow as well. That will be first series if I go. I'll have to figure out what to do to get it all done in 60 - 70 minutes: leave stuff out, like leaving out the closing poses today or go really, really fast. Or just sleep in.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I promise. This posting won't be as long as the last one. I can't believe it went on that long. Even I started dozing off as I tried to read through it.

So, where to start this time? I guess I can start by adding a clarification to Julie's feedback to my last posting. Despite observances to the contrary, I never fell out of handstand. I fell on my back trying to get back up into handstand from backbend. Totally different thing. At least one order of magnitude down on the spaz scale. From my perspective that is. Except, I had pulled my mat out into the middle of the room so that I wouldn't be close to anyone as I tried to do the Viparita Chakrasana stuff. By placing myself so plainly in everyone's view and then loudly landing flat on my backside on my first attempt, that definitely qualifies as pure grade spaz material.

I'm on a special schedule most of the rest of this week and half of next week, where I have to be at work from 8:00 am till 6:00 pm. That translates as no chances to practice at my studio. Aghast at the thought of no practice for almost ten days, I decided to see if I could fit in a practice at that new studio that opens at 6:00 am. To get a practice in and still get to work by 8 am, I had to be out of there by no later than 7:15. I was undecided on whether to do a fairly quick, and maybe even abbreviated first series versus doing my second series poses. I opted for the latter. I didn't do any research or extraneous poses, with the exception of doing the Samakonasana and Hanumanasana sequence that we typically do in Mysore practice after the Prasaritas. I'm going to keep doing those, no matter what. I have to or I lose too much ground. I moved through the poses today at a reasonably brisk pace, not hurried but no dicking around either. I did all of the poses and was on the road by 7:10. When I saw what time it was as I finished backbends, I considered also doing my dropbacks and Viparita Chakrasana, but I didn't want to push it. I'll probably try this pre-8:00 practice thing again, so if I can maintain that kind of pace, I'll see if I can fit in those extra backbend things too.

Today I managed to dodge the Parsvottanasana adjustment that made me nervous last week. I did get a really good set of adjustments for Eka Pada Sirsasana and Dwi Pada Sirsasana. Beyond just helping pull the foot further behind the head, he made a point of moving my knee back away behind me. Way back. When I got finally situated in Dwi Pada, it was amazing how much further my shoulders were through my legs than they typically are. There was significantly less pressure on my neck from the legs also. I felt like I could sit with a much straighter back, not my usual Hunchback of Encinitas curvature. I screwed up doing Karandavasana with him, unfortunately. I had forgotten how he did it the last time and I think he was counting on me to do it the same way. He had wanted me to try to just lower part way. I was expecting him to help me all the way down and back up since that's how people usually adjust in the pose. I'll be ready to do it the other way next time. It's how I'd like to go at it right now anyway. I didn't give it any extra tries because I didn't have the time. For better or worse, today I had to do the best that I could in each pose and live with the result. No do-overs or mulligans.

Monday was Memorial Day, a work holiday for most people in our country. Not for our yoga teachers though. I went to Mysore that morning, along with a bunch of other people, regulars and quite a few like me who were taking advantage of a rare weekday to get to do Mysore class with Tim. There were four or five out of town type people and a like number of people who had come in the past but not in a long while, that I had seen anyway. We were stacked up into four rows of mats. Not much room to fall over or flail about. I did as much as I could but had a bit less strength near the end than I had in my classes last week. I was trying to do that partial lowering and then raising back up in Karandavasana. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at maintaining my balance as I tried getting my legs back up to vertical, I asked Tim's assistant to watch me and tell me how close I was getting to the horizontal when I did the lower. After the next attempt, I looked over at him. He held his hand up and tilted it to approximate the angle I had in my hips. It was maybe 20 degrees down from upright. I had to laugh at that. It's so weird how different things really are from how they feel. I was certain I was at, or at least close to having my folded legs out at the horizontal and it turns out I wasn't even half way to that. Back to the drawing board.

By the time I got to Viparita Chakrasana, I was pretty gassed. I guess I must have overdone the researching or did a couple too many tries at Karandavasana. While I took a few seconds to catch my breath, I watched a couple of people near me who can go over and come back on their own do the sequence. The woman next to me, who has a very nice Third series practice, really lifts her head and shoulders through and up as she comes back over. The guy I watched, also with a strong, fluid Third series practice did a couple of other things. In dropping over, he would hold handstand and then extend his legs over and hold the arch. After arching over pretty far and holding it, he would let his knees bend and drop down to back bend. Then he would walk his feet in a step, raise up on his toes and give a slight hop up. Rather than getting the legs back over by noticeably scooping the upper body through, he would just hold the position of his feet being a few feet off of the ground. He then slowly and gradually straightened out of the arch into handstand and came back down to Uttanasana. That looks like it would really be strenuous for the back muscles to pick up all that weight in a static hold like that. When I tried mine, with Tim's assistance, I tried to do what I had seen the woman doing and arched up as much as I could with my head and shoulders as he brought my lower body up. I think I was doing something right as it felt like I was able to do more of the shifting of my body weight back over than I usually do when Tim is helping me. I still don't think I can get my feet and lower legs up high enough for me to make that move on my own. We'll see next time I try it.

I am going to go to Mysore with Tim tomorrow. I made another adjustment in my clinic schedule, shifting my first couple of patients down a bit, to give me enough time to practice. I wanted to go to this class since it will be the first class at the new temporary studio. After that, I'm going to be in that 8 to 6 grind for a while, so I'm going to have to see if I can do some classes at that other studio.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

This particular posting has been something of a saga in trying to actually get it published on the blog. I originally wrote it while on call on Friday. I lost the original when I tried to publish it. As soon as I hit the "publish" button, I got one of those messages saying the web page had expired or something to that effect. All that work gone. I eventually re-wrote it, but rather than risk losing it again trying to post it using the computer system at that hospital, I e-mailed it to myself to publish later at home. Unfortunately, when I checked my mail at home, it didn't get there. I think I forgot to put anything in the subject line. I think the mail service I used to check it at home blocks messages that have blank subject lines. Fortunately, as a back up, I e-mailed it to my main work address as well . I'm there today, finally copying and pasting the message to get it up, two days after composing it. As much as I want to re-do most of it now that I'm re-reading it, I'm going to leave it as it is, warts and all. It needs to be put to bed, it's had a long road to travel already. So here it finally is:

I'm spending my pre-holiday Friday on call at the hospital. It hasn't been too busy (yet), only one delivery to date. Since I hadn't put up anything in a week, I thought I'd go over my practices. I put together a posting that was fairly long, even by my standards. Unfortunately, something about the hookup here at work is screwy because all of that work disappeared as soon as I hit the "publish" button. After being pissed off for an hour or so, I decided to give it another go. One good result of the snafu is that I will probably make this try shorter and more to the point, less for readers to have to slog through, hoping to find a point.

I hadn't intended to stop posting for a whole week. One never intends to I guess, it just happens. This was an unusual work week for me, so that may have had something to do with it. I have been on call overnight every other night. After working for 24 hours, I'd be off the next day, giving me the chance to get in some yoga.. It's been kind of a binary existence: on/off, on/off; work/bending, work/bending. When I'm on call, sometimes that time is busy, sometimes it's slack. This week had a couple of days that were busier than usual. I usually don't take naps or go to bed early after I've been on call, even when I've been busy. This week, however, I went to bed an hour or two earlier than usual on a couple of occasions. I guess I'm losing that edge I once had.

Despite working a lot, I did get a fair number of chances to practice, four in all. Last Friday, I was due in the OR at 8:30, so I opted to go to a Mysore class at a different studio that begins at 6:00. I just did First series, with no extras. The need to rush-rush to get it in and get me out in time to get to work on time detracted from the practice vibe somewhat but it was good to be able to practice. The teacher is a former student of Tim's. He's an advanced practitioner and an experienced teacher. I've gone to a couple of other classes at his new studio and liked both experiences. I think it's not a bad idea to go to a class with someone other than your normal teacher from time to time. Working under someone else's hand provides a fresh perspective to your practice. Perhaps a different emphasis is given to an alignment, or a different posture than usual is adjusted, something will always be different about it. It helps draw you out of the potential staleness that can develop when you always do the same thing. It also hones your appreciation for what you do have. That has never failed to be the case for me.

One adjustment that this teacher gives me is a little unsettling. My left hamstring is just getting over a mild but bothersome strain. Since this is the second time I've tweaked it, and I don't know what I did either time to cause the pain, I'm a little antsy about pushing it. Parsvottanasana is a forward bend that I tend to go into gradually because I can feel the tension a lot in that hamstring. In this adjustment, as I go into Parsvottanasana, the teacher bends over me, from behind, and uses his body to apply weight to the forward leg. The effect is to create an eccentric contraction of the hamstring, in which the muscle that is being stretched is also contracting. Eccentric contractions are supposedly very good at strengthening muscles but they have some risk of injuring the muscle if not carefully done. A friend of mine who practices in our studio was injured doing an eccentric contraction in a different posture. I think he had surgery yesterday. I was already gun-shy about my own hamstring and knowing about that injury made me even more skittish, so it took a lot of concentration to not tense up as the guy pressed down on me. The adjustment came out fine, but the edginess of it cast a bit of a pall on the rest of the practice.

That practice, while feeling good to do, was the only one of the week that I didn't come out of with that "Ashtanga high" that occasionally happens. In general, my practices the last couple of weeks have been very positive. The relative frequency of practice has been really telling. In most aspects of my practice, I'm approaching levels that are near my better efforts. There are plenty of things that I'm still not up to speed on, but the trend has been so forward that it's been all positive reinforcement. I came out of practices this week in that positive mode that makes the rest of the day breeze by and makes you count the time until you can go again. There's a feeling of confidence and enthusiasm. Despite having made no progress in some areas, jumpthrus for example, the general feeling I've had is one that even those kinds of achievements are feasible. The "feel good" aura is good enough to almost be foreboding. One minute you are thinking how things are going great. The next, you envision something slipping in to mess it all up, maybe an injury, some conflict or another that takes your out of practice for a while. Once you get into that groove, you don't want to lose it. It's called grasping, I think.

I went to the led First series class on Sunday. I didn't get off of work in time to make it to the led Second series class. Knowing that I was going to do First series on Sunday, I guess I could have done my Second series poses when I did that Mysore class at the other studio on Friday. In recent years, it has been traditional to do First series on Fridays for Mysore practice. Since it was a new place for me to practice at, I didn't want to vary that much from the traditional. If I had had enough time, I would have done all of First and then done my second series poses but there wasn't. I only had time to do one series or the other. Even though I don't get a lot of chances to do my second series poses, I didn't mind at all. It led to an even better First series practice on Sunday. Nothing in particular stood out as great, it all just seemed reasonably good. I guess Supta Kurmasana was less than great. I was able to bind okay, though a bit on the shallow side. It was one of those where the bind is of the fingertips over each other. The kind of bind that slowly and inexorably pulls apart the longer that you stay in the pose or if you try to do much wriggling around to get your ankles crossed. I was able to get my feet crossed on my own. By the time Tim came over to get my feet crossed behind my head though, my hands were getting pretty weak. When he lifted my feet, my hands 'sproinged' apart. I mentioned that to Tim. He let my feet go and re-bound my hands. But then he walked off. I guess he didn't want to keep going back and forth between hands and feet, adjusting one only to have the other pop apart again. Next time. Maybe.

The two Mysore classes I had this week were both great. I did my usual Mysore routine, which is my second series poses along with sundry research poses to help me with Kapotasana and the foot behind the head poses. One of these days I'll go back to doing all of first and my second poses. That's great for building strength and endurance. For now though, I'm happy to focus on getting better in the second series poses. On Tuesday, I did the handstand that we do after Kapotasana. While up, I tried to do the move into Padmasana and then the lower down to Urdhva Kukkutasana. I was able to get my legs into Padmasana, I think only the second time I've ever been able to do that. I was in a really shallow Padmasana though and I lost the balance as soon as I tried to lower down. On Thursday, I was hoping to be able to get right back into Adho Mukha Padma Vrkshasana and maybe land the descent. Thursday's class was more crowded than classes have been recently. We had mats down the entire middle of the room, putting us mat to mat, not just on our sides but front to back as well. Practicing right in front of my mat, there in harm's way, was Tim's wife. I gave the handstand into lotus thing a couple of quick tries but didn't want to push it. There's no gain in landing on your teacher's wife's head.

The inversion risk thing came into play again at Karandavasana time. While I haven't gotten much closer at landing the pose, I have at least started to get back some of my ability to not fall out of the pose as easily as I was doing when I wasn't getting to practice much. I've also gotten less tired by that stage of the practice, allowing me to make more tries and to make stronger attempts with each try. My first go up in Karandavasana on Thursday was not a great one though. I started to lose my balance as I tried to shift my hips to get into lotus. I almost teetered over towards Carol, Tim's wife. I squeaked out a warning to her but managed to drop down to my head, averting a tip over. I looked up and saw her kind of grinning at me, as if to say, "OK, now I know to watch out for you." I did better on my next few attempts. After failing to go all the way into the pose a couple of times, I tried to do a partial move and just lower my legs down to horizontal then raise them back up. I almost made it back up but unbalanced myself and fell out of it. Being able to control even that much of a lower is a big deal for me and figuring out how to raise back up is even more so. I wanted to go right back up and try it again to see if I could get the move but Tim came by to assist me into and out of the pose. "No, no, no," I pleaded, "Not yet." He shook his head and wandered off to help someone who was more receptive. I tried a couple of more times but I guess I had shot my wad by that point as I never got back to the point where I could try to do the move again. The next time that Tim looked my way I nodded for him to come on over. After helping me do the pose, he said, "You are very stubborn sometimes." "Not as stubborn as my body," I muttered. He then added, "Being stubborn isn't enough. With Karandavasana, it will only get you half way."

I recently resumed doing the Viparita Chakrasana sequence of tic-tacs. Although I've only done them about four or five times since restarting, it feels to me that I'm doing them better than when I last did them, back in December. The first couple of times I dropped over after restarting it, I came over pretty hard and loud. My more recent tries have been much softer and quieter, at least from my perspective. Last week I asked my wife how they sounded and she said, "Oh yeah, they're loud." But she was talking about the ones that Tim helped me with. I think I let him take over too much of the doing and I didn't control the drop well enough. The ones I had done on my own before that were much quieter, but she hadn't noticed those. She just recently has started back with doing Viparita Chakrasana as well. Since her surgery for her breast cancer involved dissection of the armpit to remove lymph nodes, she hasn't tried to do that pose until now. I'm sure the first time was nerve wracking, not knowing what would happen to the repair as she came over from handstand. She said it felt fine once she had done it though. Since she is now getting back to a more normal place in her practice and in her life, I thought I'd take the chance of needling her a little, something I'd never do if I thought she wasn't at full speed. When Tim helped her drop over, after her feet landed, I called over in a faux-Tim voice, "Oh, very loud!" The landing wasn't loud at all, but I thought it was a little louder than mine. Seeings how she said my landings were loud, I thought she was fair game now that she was back in the arena. Fortunately, I don't think she heard me poking fun. At least she said she hadn't when I asked her later on. I think if she had, I would have been dead meat. I'd like to think she's back to a place where I can make jokes with her. After such a dark time of getting diagnosed and then treated with surgery and then chemo, she's now coming back into her former self. You can see it on a daily basis, in her practice and in everyday aspects of life as well. She still has a bit more radiation treatment to go, but even with the skin breakdown that she's getting with that, sort of like a second degree sunburn, she's feeling much, much better than she has in months. I'll hold off on the joking in class though. That's something she would have always smoked me for.

Tomorrow, I should get to go to Improv class. Sunday I work again, but Monday is a holiday, so hopefully I'll get to go to Mysore class again. After class tomorrow, I get to go over to my mom's place and help her take her dog to a rescue program to hopefully get it adopted. She's got a young, very strong and very energetic Boxer. He is way too powerful for her. While he is very exuberant and loving, at some point he is going to accidentally injure her. She had accepted that he needed to find a better home. Her tiny townhouse was not the best place for a dog of that size and energy level either. She had given him to a neighbor who asked to have him but he brought the dog back this week. I guess he wasn't ready for the energy either. So, it's very upsetting for my mom to go through this. I'm sure she feels she is in some way abandoning the dog. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that's how we think I guess. Hopefully, the local Boxer rescue folks can find a good home for him.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Thursday is the day for Improv class. I usually don't get to go to it because work gets in the way. Today was a clinic day in which the first two appointments hadn't been booked as of couple of days ago, so I changed that time to time off and came to class today. Tim apparently has a head cold. After pranayama, he made a comment how hard it had been to do today with all of the congestion, runny nose, etc. That's kind of mind boggling since he can easily crush anyone else doing the pranayama class if he wants to. When we started Improv, he told us that his daughter had a cold and had given it to his wife who in turn gave it to him. As such, he stated that he was hoping to not have to anything too strenuous in class today. Improv is often shaped by requests from the various students for certain poses or for working certain areas of the body. Nobody really asked for anything, except one person who I think asked for some arm balances. So Tim decided for his low impact, easy version of Improv that we would do poses from the third series. Just the easy ones. Well, yes, of course they're easy. For him. He's been doing them for almost 25 years.

After the Suryas, he said, "We'll skip the standing poses, too strenuous." Then he called out, "Sthira Bhaga" So, directly we go into Viswamitrasana and then Vasisthasana. We then did the "easier" of the 3rd series foot behind the head poses, Kasyapasana and Chakorasana. We learned that Chakorasana is named for the partridge, who is supposed to feed on moonbeams. As such it is the epitome of lightness, which we were supposed to emulate when we tried to press up and hold the pose. We did skip around the series a bit here and there. We did the Urdhva Kukkutasana sequence in reverse order, which in my experience is the true order of difficulty. After doing a few arm balances, or at after trying to do them, we moved on to Viranchyasana B. This pose starts out like Janu Sirsasana C, but you then shift your body weight forward, which pushes your heel up front and your toes end up pointing behind you. It's really no more difficult to do than Janu C, but psychologically, it's a big move to make. You keep expecting the knee to completely dislocate as you roll over the foot. But, once you're in it, nothing happens. It's actually less uncomfortable for me than Janu C, because you're not putting a lot of torque on your toes, like commonly occurs in Janu C. After that pose, we shifted gears a bit and did Hanumanasana, Supta Trivikrmasana, then the standing version of Trivikrmasana. We finished by doing Natarajasana and Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana. So, like I said earlier, we just did the easy poses, on account of we were taking it easy for Tim today.

Today was the first time in quite a while that I was able to get my groin down on both sides of Hanumanasana. I didn't lay forward, although that to me is sometimes easier than sitting upright in the pose. Laying forward does put a bit more stretch on the hamstring but it takes the stress off of the groin of the back leg, which is where I feel it the most in this pose. I'm also not yet up to putting my hand in namaste position while sitting in the pose, or even more difficult, holding the arms overhead.

When I do my normal second series poses, one of the prep or research poses that I do to try and get ready for Kapotasana is a version of Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana in which the back leg is supported against the wall. I usually do this prep with the front leg up in a lunge position rather than the more typical position with it folded forward on the ground. Lately, I've been getting enough relaxation that I can reach back and grasp my toe. In the past, I'd have to just settle for reaching back and touching the wall. Today in class, we did Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana twice. The first time I used a strap as I was unable to rotate my arm around after first grabbing the big toe of the back leg. The second time around, however, I was able to grasp my toe, swing the elbow of the grasping arm through and up over head and then bring my other hand up and over to grab the foot with both hands, almost the way it's supposed to be done. I was apparently gasping like a guppy out of the fish bowl because Tim said, "One of the goals is to control the breathing." Next time, next time. That's only the second time I have ever been able to get hold of my toe and go into the pose in anything close to the right way. This is usually a strap pose for me.

Yesterday, I did my second series poses in a self practice session at the studio. Tim and his assistant and one other student were there doing their practices as well. Sometimes, when we practice with him, Tim will stop what he is doing to give an assist from time to time. Yesterday, he pretty much let me let me do it on my own. He did help me into and out of Karandavasana after I failed on all three of my attempts. If there was anything that stood out about the practice, it seemed to me that I came down in Viparita Chakrasana reasonably softly. I didn't feel like a tree crashing down.

I'm in the OR tomorrow but I'm going to try to get to that other studio that has mysore class that starts at 6:00. If not, maybe I can get done early enough to go to the evening Intro to second series class.

My wife is starting to get back into her pre-cancer flow of life. She's started back teaching classes. She's been subbing classes every day this week. She had a couple of regular classes that she gave up when she had her surgery and then had to start chemo. Hopefully she'll get the chance to start teaching those classes again or at least get some other regular ones. When the new studio opens, I think they are considering adding several new classes so maybe she can get started with a regular class at Tim's. That would make her day.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I'm trying to decide if I should call in sick tomorrow. I have a pimple in my eyelid, aka a stye. It doesn't bug me at all but people have been looking at me like I have leprosy. It's kind of funny to see their reaction to this apparently revolting looking little pimple. I can see them looking at it, rather than me. There's an initial pulling back on their part, accompanied by a suppressed look of disgust. I guess they figure I must be infectious or something. I think calling in sick is definitely overkill, since I'm not feeling bad in any way. I am only considering it because of the reactions I have been getting today. I don't want to make my patients uncomfortable having me take care of them. If I call in sick though, I'm going to be putting out who ever gets called in to cover for me. Even worse, I'm on 24 hour call tomorrow, so the coverage is even trickier. I can't see doing it. We'll see how it looks tomorrow. If even I am revolted, then maybe I'll call in sick.

Our teacher is currently making a transition from our old studio location to a brand new one. Unfortunately, the new location isn't going to be ready to use for several months. Since the lease on the old location expired at the end of march, we having been holding classes in a conference room at the Encinitas Best Western Hotel. Except, the conference room was pre-booked for meetings on a few weekends. On those days, we use an alternative meeting room up by the pool. That room doubles as the morning brunch buffet room though. So, we end up having our weekend classes after the brunch is over. So, this weekend, my classes were at 1:30 PM. Kind of a weird time to be doing yoga. I had to make some strategic choices about whether or not I should eat before class, and if so, when. Class attendance is way down on those days compared to what it was at the old studio. The Saturday Improv and the two Sunday classes were typically the most crowded ones of the entire week. The Sunday 1st series class would often run 35-40 students and the second series class usually had at least 20. The improv class was also getting up to around 30 people. For this Saturday's Improv class at the poolside Cabana Room, we had around 12 people. For Sunday's 1st series, 12 people; for 2nd series, we had five.

Normally I wouldn't really care that much that we only had five people, but it really worked against me this time. For only the second time ever in my yoga career, I farted out loud in class. I was going into Yoga Nidrasana when the silence was shattered. This wasn't a subtle, short little squeaker, no, this was a obvious BLAAAT! There's no way to finess that when there's only five of us there. Weird thing was, I had no hint that anything gastrointestinal was impending. One second completely normal, next moment, "OMFG, how did THAT happen?" All I could think was "How can I get out of here?" As I Chakrasana'd out of the pose, I was seriously thinking maybe I should start practicing at a new studio, then I wouldn't have to face any of those people again. My only saving grace was that it was benign, sort of the opposite of an SBD. Yes, I know, way too much info. Recently, I seriously considered as a topic in this blog a discussion of how the only way that I knew I had any bandhas at all was that I never accidentally farted in class. That must be what caused it. Just the thought jinxed me.

Since we started out with only five people, the teacher offered to let us do it mysore style instead of a led second if we wanted. The general consensus was to do it led, but the person next to me asked if we could do Viparita Chakrasana after we finished the backbends. So, I got in my second go round with that. I didn't try to do it on my own, I just did it with the teacher. I felt pretty good about it though. My confidence in this pose is coming back a little.

I was able to go to mysore class today. I had originally held the day in case I needed to help my wife with her treatments. She has completed her therapy but I had forgotten that I had this day set aside. When I checked my schedule for this week, there it was, a free day. I'm glad I was able to go. I was able to do the second series stuff again today (without the sound effects). The back bending stuff is markedly improved from a week ago. It really pays to go regularly. When I did Kapotasana, I was able to get my hands to the floor before lowering my head down. I didn't get that much deeper on my own, but when Tim adjusted me, he was able to get my hands up a little past midway on my feet with no sense of strain within my shoulders.

Karandavasana still needs work. I can't figure out how to flex my hips and bring my knees toward my chest without having my butt drop down. Once the battle to keep my rear end up is lost, I try to move forward and let the knees come in to the armpits. I just don't have it. I might get so far as to have the knees collide with the arms just above the elbows, but I've never come close to making a landing. For now, it's mainly been a game to see how far into the lowering down I can get before I lose control.

My backbending was a little less melodramatic today than on Friday. I didn't have an assist at all. My landings were better. Instead of sounding like it was raining elephants, today was more like wildebeests. No hint of being able to make the 'tac' move back over from backbend into down dog, unfortunately. I know I need to arch my back and try to lift my head up and back but the message has yet to be passed on to my shoulders and back. My 10 year old son is the only one in our family who can do this, though he cheats a little by starting back over with one leg at a time. Today, I thought I'd watch one of Tim's students who does this really well. She was on the mat next to me. The move she makes is clear, but I can't replicate it. Even if I could get enough arch going to get the feet started up and back, it doesn't feel like my back muscles would hold up when they had to take over the support of the body weight. The last portion of Viparita Chakrasana is Vrshikasana. With all of the recent practices I've gotten in lately, my handstanding is starting to become a little more stable. I was able to approximate this pose and hold it today, on my own--a first for me.

Okay, I've gotta quit. I'm starting to make a lot of mistakes and am nodding off at times. I doubt I'll be calling in sick. Much as I'd love to get in another mysore class, I'm gonna have to make due with a self-practice in the studio after I get off of work Wednesday morning.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Well, I decided to go to Tim's studio for class today instead of the other guy's place. I supposedly wasn't needed in the OR until 9:30 so if I started at 7:00 at Tim's, I could get in a full practice. Probably. I started bending as soon as they said "Tat sat" in the pranayama class that finishes right before mysore class starts. I hadn't really decided on whether to do first series or second but somewhere along the way in the standing poses I settled on second. I was all gung ho last night to get back into doing Viparita Chakrasana again. I figured if I was going to do it after class today, it might go easier if I had done some of the back bending poses from second series than if I had done first series.

The class went fairly well. Last night my wife informed me that another student's Kapotasana was much better looking than mine, which isn't saying much, but is the kind of pronouncement that would make me go out and try and grab something higher up than my toenails. I tried to do as much arching as I could before letting my hands down. Once the head comes down, it's pretty much all over for getting more depth on your own. I tried to keep my head up for a bit and shift a little deeper after my hands came down. I don't know that it made much of a difference. It felt like I still had to do the usual wiggle, squiggle routine to slide my hands up to find my feet and get them up as far as I could. Today that was somewhere around the knuckle of the toes. I might have been able to get further on my own, but Tim stepped in right then and drew them back to roughly mid-foot. Before going into the pose, I would have bet money I would have been able to do more but there's a serious level of tension that builds up in my shoulders when people move my hands back towards my feet. If I could just relax more, I think I could over-ride it but usually I just get scared and tighten up. I waved off a second, deeper adjustment by Tim this morning. I'll stay with the gradual improvement approach for now. It's been gradual but it's also been working.

Today was the first time in quite a while that I got into Dwi Pada Sirsasana on my own. That pose and the Tittibhasana sequence are the poses that have regressed the most since January. I feel like I'm getting into Eka Pada Sirsasana as deeply and as readily as I ever have but I haven't been able to get the right extension of the right leg to get it back behind the left foot. I have no idea what was different today. I wasn't expecting to be able to do it. I was gonna put in my usual two or three tries then wait for Tim or Rich to wander over and crank me into it. I think even Tim was surprised as he commented that I made it on my own. He came over to help me get deeper but I was running low on energy by then. I had been in it for what passes for five breaths for me. I then had to hold it that much more while he got in position behind me and the pulled me deeper into it. When he was done, I didn't have enough neck strength left to keep my head up and resist the force of the legs. So I gave it a quick attempt at balancing again, then pushed up and vinyasa'd out. That's another thing that has really sucked the last few months, making the vinyasa back from Tittibhasana position, whether after Supta Kurmasana, Dwi Pada or after the Tittibhasanas. I can extend the legs into a reasonable Tittibhasana but I haven't had the bandha wherewithal to transition into Bakasana or to even simply shift straight back into Chaturanga. I'd get my butt started up but I'd hit the wall and run out of energy and momentum, give up and let my legs slide down my arms and then stand there all bent over for a second to catch my breath. Today I was able to use the rationalization that my mat was too close to the people on each side of me. Didn't want to go kicking anyone in the face after all.

After finishing my main poses, I checked the clock. I didn't have enough time to do the whole backbending sequence and also do the closing poses and still get a Savasana out of the deal. I figured I'd just do my usual three backbends and call it a day, easily talking myself out of dropbacks and Viparita Chakrasana. But, my failure to do better in Kapotasana was still bugging me. Plus, I knew I had to start doing that stuff again at some point. I decided to skip the closing poses and do all the backbending stuff, though it wouldn't have taken much to nudge me into calling it a day and trundling off to work.

I did three drop backs after my back bends. Then I sat and futzed around trying to figure out why I was so nervous to try Viparita Chakrasana again. My back bending was reasonably back to my norm. My handstanding is arguably as good as I have done to date, not good but as good as I have done, meaning I was able to hold it for a five count after two of the Navasanas on Tuesday, a first for me. Usually it's none. So, why the hesitation? I made it into handstand but underbalanced several times, tilting back down to my feet. I finally fell over one time, in a less than delicate fashion. After a repeat type of landing on my second attempt, Tim wandered over and said, "That sounds like it's raining elephants." I gratefully accepted his offer for doing assisted VC. In the past, I didn't think being assisted helped all that much. In fact, it seemed to me that it would be easy to totally miss out on learning how to actually do the pose by depending on the assist, instead of learning what movements were really needed. Today, however, I had no problem accepting the help. It had been too long since I had done it and I had no confidence. We did the rest of the sequence in reasonable fashion. No more elephants raining down.

I closed by just doing the last three poses and a short Savasana. I then tottered off to work, definitely in a better mood than I would have been in if I had skipped doing those backbending poses. When I got to work, I was informed that the first short case that was scheduled for 8:30 didn't show up (maybe she decided that Friday the 13th wasn't the best day to have her tubes tied), so they had been waiting for me to do the second case for about 45 minutes. Kinda ruined that post-practice glow, if you know what I mean.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

This week has great potential. I was able to do my second series stuff as a self-practice in the studio on Monday. Tuesday evening, I did the led first series class after getting out of work with just barely enough time to spare. Nothing yesterday, but today I was able to go to Tim's morning Improv class before going to work. I can't remember the last time I made it to one of his Improv classes, it's been a long, long time. Tomorrow, I should be able to go to mysore class, but not Tim's. I have to be in the OR by 8:30 and his mysore starts at 7:00. Since the morning commute from the studio is usually about 40 minutes, that would be a total waste. One of Tim's students has an ashtanga studio in the same area. His mysore classes start at 6:00, so I should be able to do my whole practice and still make it to work in time. I work Friday night but not this weekend, so I will hopefully be able to practice both days, giving me a grand total of six practices for the week.

Monday's practice consisted of me and one other student practicing along with Tim and the person who helps him during mysore class. The room cooled down pretty quickly once all the mysore class people headed home. I got there at 9:00, right when most everyone else was either rolling up their mats or were at least laying in Savasana. By the time I got my mat positioned, went through my ritual of getting my rug moistened to minimize slippage while in down dog and did some minor wake up stretches, everyone else had left. The other person who practiced with us is a new mom who often can't make it to some classes because of the kind of issues that go along with caring for a newborn. She was already half way through the standing sequence when I got there. She tends to do all of first series and then also does her second series poses. Doing a lot of stuff like that tends to lead to one doing a very efficient and quick practice to get it all in. She did all of her stuff, while I only did my second stuff, and we ended up finishing a nearly the same time. I was hoping Tim would do third series for his practice, always fun to observe, but he did a half and half instead, doing the first series through Navasana, then most of the first half of second series. I was the last one in the romm to finish up. Since I was the only one left, I took a really long Savasana, maybe 20-25 minutes. As practices go, it was probably best described as a maintenance practice. No major progressions but overall, most things in it felt pretty good. I did do a few more back bends than I usually do. I typically just do three back bends, then stand up. In the last few months, I would then just go into the closing poses. I stopped doing the drop backs and the Viparita Chakrasana sequence back in January when I didn't practice much and when I was hobbled by a variety of pains. Monday I felt motivated to move on so I did five backbends and then did three drop backs. The drop backs weren't good but weren't that bad either, considering I've only done them one or two other times in the last five months. Now that drop backs are back in the armamentarium, the next step is to work up the nerve to re-start Viparita Chakrasana, or tic-tacs. I think I should be able to do it if I can get to a class where I have enough time to do everything.

Tuesday's first series was nice to do. There's no doubt in my mind that I need to do the first series as much as I can if I want to get back where I was in my second series poses. I've gotten back to the point where I'm not feeling real tired in doing the first series. For a while there, in the depths of my laxity, I had again started getting up to get a drink and catch my breath after doing Supta Kurmasana. It took me a while, but I've regained some conditioning and discipline. In fact, I wanted to do more backbends at the end on Tuesday but we stopped at four. There have't been too many classes ever where I wanted to do more backbends, so that was a clear turning point. I'm guardedly motivated to do more with backbending, torn between the positive feedback from what I can do now and the concern of somehow getting another tweak that would send me back to Start.

Today's Improv class was sort of underwhelming. I guess I had over-anticipated doing the class, envisioning him doing all kinds of advanced stuff. He didn't get too many requests though. One person asked for backbends and someone else asked for Pincha Mayurasana type stuff. Not much else was requested. We did a fairly straightforward opening of Surya A, then three reps of what he calls Surya Namaskara B, in which the Virabhadrasana portion on each side is held for five full breaths. Then he did a pretty standard and semi-quick Surya Namaskara C sequence. To start the backbending work, we did a series of lunges, or Anjaneyasana variations, including two repetitions on each side of Hanumanasana. I'm just now getting where I can get my back leg straight and my groin anywhere near the ground. I haven't yet tried to fold forward or to raise my hands overhead. Not that loose in the groins yet. We then did a couple of the early Second series back bending poses, Ustrasana, Dhanurasana, Bhekasana. We then did some Viparita Dandasana variations, both against the wall and free. I can go over okay but I just don't see the coming back happening. I know to do it I need to raise my head and arch toward my feet as I push off. I don't know how to do it though. We then did a few more poses and then we were done. I was surprised when we moved into Urdva Dhanurasana and the closing poses. It didn't seem like we had done that much.

One of the people who came to class today brought a friend that she is traveling with. Tim knows her quite well, so he joked with her, "You pick this class to start him off with?" The Improv class is often a fairly challenging class better suited for more experienced and advanced students, though many of us who don't so qualify go anyway. But, to have very little experience, that could be trouble. The guy did really well though. He had done some Ashtanga, or at least some kind of yoga before but I think a fair amount of what we did was a first for him. He'll probably feel it a little bit tomorrow.

Have to pull the plug if I'm going to be able to wake up in time to make it to a 6:00 class tomorrow morning. Halfway through a real practice week.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A month or so ago, my teacher told me that I should get an ashtanga reaffirmation going. After hitting a peak in November, my practice dropped off considerably in the following months. A variety of factors led to the decay. My wife was going thru treatment for breast cancer, a series of surgeries, then a couple of months of dealing with chemotherapy. I still practiced in that time but it seems like it was less often. I also managed to accumulate a collection of tweaks. First, I did something to my neck. I'm not sure what the actual event was. I think it was trying to slide back into my original position after coming down from a back bend. Whatever it was, some things that I previously wouldn't have given a second thought to became bothersome, painful or I became completely unable to do them. Chakrasana for example. I'm just now getting back to being able to do it for the first time since January. Next, I again had my left hamstring insertion start to go off. There was no instigating event at all. It just became very painful. Any forward bend became a shadow of its former self. Some where along the line I had also another minor quadratus pull. Those all slowed me down quite a bit as I tried to let stuff rest. Despite being stiffer than normal from inactivity, I went to an Improv class in the midst of all of this. The teacher was doing some prep work for Yogadandasana. I had always thought I could do this. Seeing some of the people around me being able to do it led me to go at it harder than I should have, given the minimal stretching I had been able to do in the preceding weeks. So, naturally I then added a knee tweak to my burgeoning collection of infirmities.

By the time my teacher spoke to me, my practice had regressed to its infancy. I'm not sure if he was encouraging me to commit myself to practicing more frequently, or with less laziness or to doing more than just bending. But, he was right, I did need to start over and recommit myself. I had reached the point where I was finding it easier to skip practice than to go. I would just sit a big lounge chair at home and play poker on line. Not even real poker, this was poker for play money. Can't get much lower than that.

One of my problems with getting in practices is that, at our studio, most of the classes occur at times that I can't make. I have never had enough discipline to make myself practice at home. To be honest, with the need to be at work at 7:30 AM, coming home to three kids and their soccer games, swimming practices, homework, etc, bedtimes not until 9:00, for me to practice at home, I would have to do it at 4:30 AM or at 9:30 PM. So I don't do it at home. I wholly respect those who can carve out the time to do it. I just haven't reached that plateau yet.

Since I needed to find more practice opportunities somewhere, I decided to push the envelope and ask my teacher if I could practice in the studio when he was doing his self practice. That time has traditionally been sancrosanct. It's the one time that he has to himself in the studio. I asked anyway and he graciously agreed to let me practice on those days when I have worked the night before and can't make it to a Mysore or an afternoon class. So, the extra opportunities and a renewed desire to try have led to me getting three to four classes in each week this month. I know that's laughable to most 'serious' ashtangis, but to me, it's pure gold. I'm getting back closer to my prior levels in almost everything, except endurance and strength. Hopefully that will get better with time.

Things are getting back to normal at home too. My wife is through with her chemo and is over half way done with the radiation therapy. She still has some swelling and discomfort in the arm that had the lymph nodes removed but her days are much, much better. She has resumed her asana practice as well. The loss of flexibility that has occurred for her and the weight that she regained while undergoing chemo have been big burdens on her psychologically but she is moving on, learning non-attachment and the value of keeping on keeping on.

I meant to put a lot more here, stuff about practice today, guruji's recent visit, changes in our studio location, family experiences, all kinds of stuff. I've already written a veritable tome though, about next to nothing. Somehow, I've got to develop the ability to be succinct.

While I started this as a journal of my practice, I have always intended it to be something that was read by others. As such, I only want to do it if I can make it interesting, both to myself and to others. With all the blogs available now, it will be hard to offer here anything that isn't being given many times over in other places. I haven't done here much the last half year because I didn't think I was passing the interesting test. Looking back over this posting, I have to say I'm still not. It was a starting point though. Like my practice, hopefully better things to come.