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, "How...far...down...are...my...knees?" "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.