Friday, March 29, 2013

This Week in Practice

After my weekend with Kino, practice the rest of the week has been fairly uneventful.  I suppose it's hard to have a high like that and then expect anything else.

Progress on my office/yoga room is well underway...


You can see that we removed the giant mirror next to the window (which we somehow managed to do without breaking it!).  The strategy is to paint two walls at a time, push stuff back, and then paint the other two.  Because this space has been in such a state of disarray, I haven't been able to get in a great deal of home practice.  I did manage a little bit of time yesterday, though.

Other than that, my stomach has been really dodgy this week.  The cause is a typhoid vaccination we're taking for an upcoming trip to Peru.  Steve appears to be weathering it just fine but I had a feeling I would have trouble given my IBS and how generally sensitive my stomach is.  I was right.  I'm only on pill #2 out of 4 and after the night I had last night, I'm not going to continue.  I'd rather take my chances with typhoid.  Apparently, the vaccine doesn't provide 100% protection anyway.  Maybe I'll ask my doctor about the shot.   I might fair better with something that goes into my bloodstream versus my stomach.  Have any of you out there ever had any experience with this?

Even though I feel fairly crummy this morning, I'm not going to allow this to ruin my weekend.  Steve has the day off today so I'm hoping after a bit more painting, we can get to a yoga class later.  I don't often get the opportunity to practice next to my husband, but I love it when we can.  It makes the time spent on the mat that much more special.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kino in Los Angeles

It always takes me a few days after a workshop to get my feet back underneath me.  I suppose part of that is due to the fact that for me, good workshops tend to be profoundly moving experiences.  I come out a slightly different person than when I went in and it takes me a few days to reconcile that fact with my "normal" life.

Of course, Kino's lineup of workshops this weekend was no exception.


I find Kino to be such an amazing teacher on so many levels.  She is bright, articulate, and has a firm grasp of the anatomy and workings of the human body.  In addition to the physical, she's also able to impart her knowledge about the subtle body in such a way that it makes sense.  Sprinkle in more than a few heart-warming stories about Guruji and Sharath, and you have a dynamic class, layered with meaning.

Still, that description seems to fall short for me.  Her classes are so much more.  Maybe it's just being able to be close to and learn from someone whom I consider to be a truly powerful embodiment of yoga?  I'm not sure...  Perhaps it's best not to try to put it into words.


The Omkar 108 shala was a fabulous place to spend the weekend.  Jorgen (the owner) was warm and welcoming.  I wish it were closer to me or I would be tempted to practice there regularly.

A few highlights from my notes with Kino:

  • Being strong is a decision you make in your mind.  It is not giving up on yourself.
  • If you feel too old, that your arms are too short, that you're too heavy, it is your choice to figure out how and why you can.
  • Do the humble work of the moment without being attached to the outcome.  Divest your ego from the fruits of the action.
  • If you're thinking "I won't be able to..." or "I can't..." then pause and try anyway.
  • We must surrender to the Divine.  Yoga requires a long period of surrender and non-attachment.  This is a breaking down of the ego and it might be better that it remain broken.
  • Arm balances don't require strong arms, but rather a strong and solid structural foundation.  Every single part of the body is responsible for lifting itself.  If your hips don't move, it's not because they are too large.  It's because they are not cooperating and lifting themselves.
  • Nearly all arm balances require a rounding of the spine combined with a lifting of the pelvic floor.  It is an inward energy that we must hold powerfully in our center.
  • In your practice, look for places where you want to escape.  That's usually where the work needs to happen.  Asana is a false stress designed to trigger panic in the nervous system.  We learn how to use the breath to retrain the mind in order to stay in the moment.  That's the yoga:  remaining steady and calm no matter what might be happening externally.
  • A calm breath calms the nervous system and controls the mind's response.
She also spoke a fair amount about progress within the practice.  Most times progress is only measured microscopically from day to day, or sometimes even not at all.  Yet after months and sometimes years of practice, one day the body will understand what you're asking from it and it will respond.  Kino really stressed the power of detaching from the outcome in such instances and instead just showing up to do the work.  It's dedication and devotion without the need to prove anything.


I was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with Nobel from "Yoga from the Dragon's Den".  I've been a fan of his blog for some time now and it was such a treat to get to know him in real life.  Nobel posted some terrific recaps of his own along with an interview with Kino on his blog.  Check it out if you get the chance.

As I'm sure Nobel will attest, Kino's Led Primary was intense.  She counts S-L-O-W!  Wow.  There were a few prompts that she gave which really helped improve my practice.  For example, in Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose), it's important to extend on the inhale and twist deeper on the exhale.  In Purvottanasana (upward plank), she asked us to focus on inwardly rotating our thighs toward the mat while pressing into the big toe mounds.  This seemed to give me a lot more strength and lift in my hips.  For Urdhva Dhanurasana (backbend), Kino asked us to tilt the pelvis forward, lift the stomach and ribcage, roll the shoulder blades down and onto the back while allowing the entire body to assist in the arch.  It was a terrific checklist to think about while going into the posture to keep the alignment correct and not just dump into the lumbar region.


Here's a picture of me and my new friend Saskia.  I knew her from the Sunday morning Led Primary class I usually attend but it was so nice to spend time getting to know her better.  We were side by side during Mysore practice and I found it really comforting to learn that our pacing was almost nearly exact.

And speaking of that Mysore practice - I've never experienced anything like it!  We actually created our own weather in the room!!  Towards the end of the practice, I looked up and there was a substantial FOG just hanging there.  Literally, it obscured my vision to the other side.  And EVERYTHING was wet - the floors, the walls, the slippery, slippery mats... you name it.  Steam was rising from every single body in there.  Crazy.  If that doesn't attest to the power of Ashtanga, I don't know what does.  It was a terrific weekend and I feel so blessed to have been there.

Friday, March 22, 2013

This Week in Practice

There were equal amounts of high and low to be found this week - sometimes in just one practice.

For example, I went to Ashtanga on Tuesday full of eagerness to show my teacher my newly-cultivated ability to stand up from a backbend.  Yet within the first few Surya Namaskara A's, I felt as if my limbs were made of lead.  That heaviness permeated every movement I made.  My energy reserves were stuck on empty and it wasn't long before a full-on war was being waged in my head.  "I don't want to be here.  How can I get out of this today?  Can I say I don't feel good?  That's not really a lie because I don't.  I want to go home."

And so it went.  I managed to hang in there for all of Primary, although I found myself exerting less and less effort in trying to jump through.  Toward the last Vinyasa, things devolved into down-dog then kneel and sit.  Oh well, I'm not going to beat myself up about it but it was one of my worst experiences on the mat ever.

Surprisingly though, that same practice was also one of my best.  Somewhere around Paschimottanasana, my teacher came over and I whispered, "Guess what?"  "What?" she asked.  "I stood up from a backbend on my own at home!" I revealed.  "Of course you did," Jodi smiled.  That's what I love about her - the confidence she has in me.  It's priceless.

So when I got to the actual moment of truth, I did three Urdhva Dhanurasanas by coming up from the floor.  Then I waited for Jodi to come over and assist.  (I guess I still felt I needed a security blanket - especially given how low my energy was.)  She helped on the first two and then I did two on my own.  I was so proud of me!  She was so proud of me!  It felt really, really good.  I was so glad I stuck it out despite my deep desire to run for the hills.

The irony of these two seemingly disparate feelings in one practice is not lost on me either.  "Yoga" literally means the union or yoking of two often opposite things.  Yin and yang.  Strength and softness.  Control and release.  So it goes with most of life.  You can't have the highs without the lows, right?

Here's the best part though...  As I was leaving, Jodi asked me how long I'd been practicing now.  I told her I'd been coming to her class since October.  She thought about that and said, "Hmmm, six months?  Let's give it another six and we'll start you on Intermediate."  What!?!?  I mumbled an enthusiastic "okay" as I stumbled down the stairs.  I think I was in shock.  Me?  Second Series?  When I first looked at the Ashtanga sequence, Second Series was something I never thought was in the cards for me!  I figured I'd be battling through Primary for the rest of my life.  I still can't believe it.

I'm so glad she mentioned it now, too.  It has given me new resolve and a tremendous shot of motivation.  There are SO MANY THINGS I still need to work on in Primary.  Now I'm even more driven to make progress so that I can approach Intermediate knowing I've done the best that I could.  Gosh, I'm excited.  I know in my heart that I practice for myself only, yet it is still extraordinarily wonderful when someone you admire and trust validates how far you've come.

Kino's workshop is this weekend...  I can't wait!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Inspiration

Check out this short video...


Anuraag is 74 and she is truly beautiful. 
I can only hope that I possess her strength and grace when I reach that age. 
Heck, I'd be happy if I were able to access such strength and grace now, at 42!  LOL

I discovered this clip a couple of weeks ago on Deborah's blog,
"The Beauty of Everyday Things"
Check her out, too, while you're at it!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Kino's Coming!

I am SO excited for this weekend!!

Kino MacGregor will be here,
teaching for the first time in the City of Angels!!
 (If you're interested, she'll be at Omkar 108 in Culver City.)

YAY!!

As I mentioned in an earlier post,
I studied with Kino for the first time in London last September at TriYoga.


 (Here's a glimpse of the shala from my mat.)

Even though I was as green as could be with regard to Ashtanga, I immediately felt a deep connection to Kino.  I found her to be extremely intelligent, warm, articulate, inclusive, funny, approachable, and easy-going.  Spending that time with her in London was a gift that I hold and cherish within the most protected parts of my heart.

I arrived home from that trip with new resolve to find an Ashtanga teacher here.  And I did.  I study with a wonderful woman in Los Angeles whom I also like and admire greatly.  Her name is Jodi Blumstein.  Like Kino, Jodi has a warm smile and a great sense of humor.  Her suggestions are thoughtful and well-timed and her adjustments are just the right mix of gentle and firm.

I consider both of these women to be my Ashtanga teachers and I feel lucky to have two.  They believe I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible.  Each one inspires me in countless ways on a daily basis.  Because my life has been touched by theirs, I strive to be a better Ashtangi.  I stretch to be a better person.  

One of the best things about this upcoming weekend with Kino is the fact that the line-up of classes is exactly the same as what I experienced in London last year.  My practice has changed and grown in so many ways since then.  I'm positive I'm in a much different place physically.  (Heck, in September of last year I was too fearful to even drop back into a backbend let alone stand up from one!)   But even more important than the physical, I'm really excited to discover the internal changes that have most certainly taken place.  Yoga is, ultimately, a journey within and I can't wait to further explore whatever might be waiting there.

I hope to share my thoughts about all of this next week following Kino's workshop.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 15, 2013

This Week in Practice

I feel like confetti and balloons should have dropped.  Surely my front door should have swung open as a colorful parade burst into my living room.  I can hear the band trumpeting their enthusiasm, can't you?...

Today, my friends... Friday, March 15... marks the day that

I *FINALLY* stood up from a backbend!

ALONE.

Oh my goodness, what a feeling!  This has been quite a week for me and yoga.  They certainly aren't all like this.  In fact, it's usually quite the opposite with asana.  You quietly work and work as your body makes the changes you request at an infinitesimally SLOW pace.  That's why when there is a breakthrough, it feels as though you need to shout it from the rooftops!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been focusing on a few of the Intermediate poses in order to build strength.  Specifically, I've been practicing Salabhasana A & B, Bhekasana, Dhanurasana, Parsva Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, and Laghu Vajrasana.  I've been adding these poses to my normal routine six days per week - whether I'm doing the traditional Ashtanga Primary series or a more organic Vinyasa Flow.  I've been holding each pose for 8 breaths and repeating them 3 times each before moving on.  I truly believe that this extra focus has helped me to gain the strength and stability in my back in order to stand from the floor.

One more time... YAY!!!

I've also been working hard for the past couple months
on another tweak to my practice:

rolling over my toes

One of the things I love about yoga is that once you sort of get a handle on one thing, there are a million other places to turn your attention.  There's never an end and I'll always be challenged.

Rolling over my toes has been one such project.  When I first began yoga and for many months thereafter, I would use the flip-flip method of changing the position of my feet.  For example, during a typical Vinyasa, after lowering down into Chaturanga, I would flip first one foot and then the other from the ball of my foot to the top in order to progress into Up-Dog.  Then as I pulled my hips back into Down-Dog, I would flip-flip again back to the balls of my feet.

I went along happily in this vein until I started practicing Ashtanga.  After just the first few visits, my teacher said I should work on rolling over my toes, especially in the transition into Up-Dog.  By doing so, she reasoned, I would gain just a little bit more thrust and real estate in the forward movement so that my shoulders would naturally and properly align over my wrists in Up-Dog.

That made a lot of sense and so I began trying immediately.  But my toes were weak.  My foot felt like it was going to snap in two and I really didn't think it was in the cards for me.  Like many things in yoga, I was only limited by my lack of belief in myself.

I moved to our fluffy carpet and began rolling back and forth over the toes of one foot at a time while my bent knee of the other leg stayed on the ground and took the bulk of my weight.  Gradually, I began to take more weight into my arms and toes and put less in the knee.  Time passed and after a while I was able to roll back and forth over the toes of both feet simultaneously on the carpet without trouble.  After that, I moved back to my mat.  Once again, there was a transition period while my body learned what I was asking it to do on the new, firmer surface.

Once I got it, I was happy.  Life was good.  No one could take that away from me.  Then I went to a workshop in San Francisco.  It was a terrific workshop and I could tell immediately that the teacher had a strong foundation in Ashtanga.  At some point early on, she snuck up behind me and sweetly pointed out that I was thrusting forward and rolling over my toes too early!  I had been doing this move at the top of my Chaturanga instead of during the rise into Up-Dog.  OMG, are you kidding me?...  I didn't even realize it.

Okay, no problem.  I'll just roll over a little bit later.  Um,... not so much.  This began another frustratingly-long period of giving my body the time it needed to learn and build the strength necessary to complete this seemingly-small change.  Apparently, rolling over my toes while lifting from Chaturanga into Up-Dog took a lot more strength than just doing it with straight arms.  A LOT.  It seemed like every time I tried, gravity would pull my thighs down to touch the mat for a mini rest before allowing me to glide through.  Grrrr.

But I kept at it.  I slowed the Vinyasas down and worked them one component at a time.  I also practiced them at regular speed during Ashtanga and other classes.  I looked at each and every Vinyasa as an opportunity to "get it".  In time, I could do one or two roll overs without the thigh-to-mat touch.  Then it was a few more.  Then half the practice.  Now today, I managed my entire 2 1/2 hours of home practice without touching down once!

Yoga is a phenomenal thing.  Asana is a phenomenal thing.  It teaches you to chip away at things one tiny crumb at a time.  It teaches you to stay and breathe when things get uncomfortable or difficult.  It gives your mind a quiet place to rest as you focus on the task at hand.  Yoga is, in a word, the best thing that's ever happened to me.  Truly.

Have you been working through a particular challenge in your practice that you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear what's worked for you (and maybe what hasn't) so that we can all learn and grow...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ashtanga High

I think I'm experiencing an Ashtanga high.
Is such a thing even possible?

Yesterday was the lightest and strongest practice I've ever had.  And it was that way consistently straight through Primary from start to finish.  It just felt so good.  And I felt so... compact.  That's not a word I have ever used (or thought about) when describing my practice.

I was able to bind for the first time on both sides in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana.  Granted, the descent to the floor in the forward fold was a bit wobbly and slow, but still... I bound!  Then I was able to bind both sides (dare I say somewhat easily?) in Marichyasana A and D.  (My teacher has me working on a modified version of D wherein the leg that's supposed to be in half-lotus is instead folded the same way underneath you.  The top foot then comes to rest on the outside of the thigh of the lotus-on-the-floor leg.)

The best part, however, was my jump-throughs.  Now please understand that I use the term "jump through" really lightly.  The degree of "jump" and the amount of "through" in my practice may be better described as step and wedge.  Here's an excellent video from Kino that I've been using to help me break the move down:


I've been really working the first modification she shows with dedication but mine hasn't even come close to hers.  From Downward Dog, I step-step my feet forward and more-or-less underneath my shoulders.  Then begins a series of 8 or 9 little scoots with my feet as I try to wedge myself through my arms.  Eventually, I get most of the way through and then fall back onto my butt as I straighten my legs in front of me.

A week or so ago, my teacher told me that my effort was great (thank you for the little acknowledgements, right?) but that I should concentrate on not allowing my butt to touch the ground as I bring my legs through and into straight.  So I've been really working with that.

Then yesterday, I was able to sort of hop into the crossed-ankle position that Kino demonstrates and after that, I only needed one or two scoots to get all the way through with straight legs and my butt lifted!  See what I mean about feeling compact?  It was a HUGE day for me with the jump throughs and after working on them for a good 8 months now, it made me feel so good to experience this progress!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Will Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?

That's a really complicated question, I've come to discover.

It seems like when I first started yoga, everywhere I turned the message was the same:  Do this practice and your body will transform.  Any excess pounds will just melt away.  You will naturally and effortlessly make major and lasting changes to your diet.


Really?  Could this be the solution for which I'd been so desperately searching?

I wish I could tell you the answer to these questions was a straight, black-and-white yes or no.  But I can't.  The best I can do is share my story with you - as openly and honestly as possible - and allow you to take from it what you can.

To begin, you should know that I've battled my weight my entire life.  I can easily pinpoint all of the reasons I eat and most of them are emotional.  I recognize this fact and yet still it's been hard for me to make any lasting changes.  Over the years, I have tried nearly every diet on the market - Weight Watchers, counting calories, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, the grapefruit diet, and various similarly restrictive strategies I found online.  Let's just say I'm a sucker for a slim-looking celebrity spokesperson.

Add to my weight issues the fact that I have Hashimoto's Disease plus IBS and what at first seems difficult moves into the realm of near impossibility.  Hashimoto's Disease is an autoimmune disorder which causes my body to attack and ultimately destroy my thyroid.  My doctor and I monitor the progress with blood work every three months and medication adjustments when needed.  Still, this isn't a perfect science and I know that my hypothyroidism spurs my body to hold onto (or even gain) weight at times.

My IBS is the other complication in the matter.  Irritable Bowel Syndrome is something I've learned to manage fairly well over the years.  By now I know which foods are triggers and that if I don't want to be sick, I'd better stay away from them.  Unfortunately, a lot of healthy foods fall into the "trigger" category - whole grains and whole wheat, brown rice, and raw vegetables top the list.  Plain, processed, not-good-for-you white bread, white pasta, and white rice are the most soothing to my tummy.

Now allow me to take you back to a few years before yoga came into my life.  Back then, I suffered from near-daily headaches.  I was popping Excedrin several times per day at least 5 days out of the week.  Not good.  Around the same time, my husband and I decided to eliminate nearly all foods that contained any kind of chemicals, preservatives, or artificial anything.  We cleaned out our pantry and fridge and began shopping exclusively at Whole Foods.  My headaches disappeared.

About a year after that, I happened to be watching Oprah one day when Alicia Silverstone and Michael Pollan were guests.  I was really moved.  I bought Alicia's book "The Kind Diet" and read it cover-to-cover in one weekend.  We also rented Michael's powerful documentary entitled "Food Inc." and those two things prompted us to make another change.  We immediately cut out all beef, pork, chicken, dairy, and most eggs. 

Then, along came yoga.  When I began practicing, I was still overweight despite the changes mentioned above.  I guess I just sort of hoped that after a few months of yoga practice, everything would fall into place and I'd be a slim, svelte 120-pound yogini.  Women doing vinyasas all around me looked that way.  Surely the magic of yoga could do that for me, too, couldn't it?  Little did I know that my journey would take a different course.

It's been over a year of practicing 6 days per week and I continue to be challenged by my weight.  I've lost a little bit in the last year...  maybe 5 pounds?  But my doctor still wants me to get rid of another 40.  I want that, too.  (Oh, and did I mention I'm now pre-diabetic?)  Weight loss truly is a priority for me, however I REFUSE to subject myself to the cycle of deprivation/binge-eating that my experience has shown goes hand-in-hand with any restrictive diet.

I get frustrated that it's not happening fast enough.  Why can't I just do it and put this struggle behind me once and for all?  Where is that magic that seems to happen for everyone else yet continues to escape me?

Well, a funny realization has begun to take shape for me lately...  Yoga is helping me to change.  And there is magic going on.  It's just that MY magic doesn't look anything like anyone else's magic.  It's unique to me.  And that's just as it should be.

When I look back on this yogic journey of mine, I recognize that I do things now that I never did before yoga.  For example, I make shakes with fruit, spinach, kale, and protein powder.  I stay away from fast food.  We cook at home more.  I'm trying to eat wheat bread in small quantities (rather than white), as much as my stomach will allow.  I try to make healthy vegan deserts from scratch whenever possible rather than buying something from the store.  I snack on nuts and dates for energy instead of cookies or french fries.  I drink more water.  When we do eat out, we are much more conscious of our choices.  I've eliminated the bowl of rice I used to get with every sushi meal.  We split cupcakes now instead of having one each.

The bottom line is that there have been some real changes.  And yes, there remains more work to do.  I'm not perfect.  I slip up from time to time.  I have a sweet tooth and I adore my baked goods.  When I'm feeling depressed, I often eat more than I should.  These are just a few of the things I'm working on, but there are so many changes that I've already instituted.  So. Many.  I can't let that progress continue to go unnoticed.  Or uncelebrated.

Perhaps most importantly though, I must fully grasp that this diet evolution is a lot like my evolution on the mat:  Nothing worth having arrives overnight.  Nothing worth having comes without a great deal of effort.  Why should weight loss be any different than my quest to stand up from a backbend?  Both will happen ONLY after a lot of dedication and hard work and not a moment before the time is right.  Tiny, incremental changes day after day add up.

So will yoga help you lose weight?  I believe the answer to that question is yes, but the way in which that "yes" manifests itself might happen while you're not looking.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Trouble Posting Comments?

I'd like to take a quick break from our regularly scheduled yoga programming to address something that is of great concern to me.  A few of you have written to let me know you've had trouble posting comments to this blog.  Basically, after taking the time to carefully craft a comment, when you hit "publish", everything you've typed just disappears - like it never existed.  Frustrating!

 ("The Scream" by Edvard Munch)

I don't want anyone to be frustrated,
and I certainly want to hear EVERYTHING you have to say!
So I did some digging...

What I have been able to determine is that the obstacle has to do with your browser and whether you are willing to accept third party cookies.

Some browsers, like Firefox (which I use and love), have "accept third party cookies" enabled by default.  No problem for Firefox users.  They can happily comment away.

Other browsers, like Safari, have their default settings listed as "block cookies".  This seems to be the culprit which might be preventing you from commenting on this and other Blogger blogs.  It's an easy fix though:
  • Click on your browser's name in the toolbar, usually found in the bar at the top of the screen
  • Select "preferences"
  • In the window that appears, click on "privacy"
  • Where it says "block cookies", uncheck "from third parties & advertisers" and select "never"
Then you're good to go!  From now on, leaving comments shouldn't be an issue! 

NOTE: these steps listed above are for those of you using the Safari browser, but they should be similar in nature for any browser.  Just look for "preferences", "privacy", and something like the "accept third party cookies" verbiage.

If you'd like to check what your Firefox settings are, then:
  • Click on Firefox's name in the toolbar, usually found in the bar at the top of the screen
  • Select "preferences"
  • In the window that appears, click on "privacy"
  • Click on the box that says "remember history" to get the drop-down menu that allows you to select "use custom settings for history"
  • Next check "accept cookies from site" and from there you can "accept third party cookies"
  • Then click the box again to re-check "remember history"
I hope this helps!

Anyone want to give commenting a try...???

Friday, March 8, 2013

This Week in Practice

Getting on the mat this week has been tough.  I kept thinking, "I could practice, but I could really use a nap instead."

I'm happy to report that I managed to overcome my metal resistance on each and every day of the week.  Some days I just forced myself to get in the car and start driving to class.  For home practice days, I like to play a little game with myself where I promise myself that I only have to do 5 Surya A's and a handful of B's and then I can do the 3 closing postures and Savasana.  That trick has never failed me.  My practice that day turned into a really beautiful 2 hour, 5 minute expression of joy.  Starting is truly the hardest part sometimes.

Yesterday, however, even starting wasn't that great.  Do you ever have one of those days when you get to your mat and you're feeling pretty good and everything seems great and then you start moving and it's as if your limbs are filled with lead?  That was me yesterday.  Just no gas in the tank - for whatever reason.  Then I got oddly emotional at the end of class, which rarely happens to me.

I'm trying to be really compassionate with myself because obviously I'm working through some things.  Accepting whatever shows up on the mat on any given day is paramount to yoga, I think.  We can't just muscle through everything.  It's important to be receptive to the fact that you might be one person one day and a different person the next.  Yoga requires strength and softness - all at the same time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Home Practice Space

I thought you might enjoy seeing where I practice when not at the shala...


As you might be able to guess, this room also doubles at my office.  My computer sits to the far left of my desk.  A filing cabinet which supports another printer is just visible in the lower left corner.

There used to be an elliptical trainer and a Bowflex machine wedged in here (hence the gym-style mirror).  However, when I started yoga and quickly determined it was a life-changer, I got rid of those pieces of equipment in order to have a dedicated yoga space.

My husband Steve and I are getting ready to paint this room.  We've already finished the ceiling and the swatches on the wall are colors we're NOT going with.  I've opted for a lighter, cheerier blue-green instead.

(My ultimate goal is to transform one of our upstairs bedrooms into a space solely devoted to yoga but that room currently has carpet and will need a total redo before it's ready.  Plus we have a lot of other home improvements that take priority on our "to do" list, so this is where I practice for now.)

I have two yoga mats (both Manduka eKO).  One stays in the car for trips to the studio and the other one lives here, on the floor of my office/yoga room.  I have a vibrant home practice, which I love.  The fact that I keep everything set up in a designated space helps me to get on the mat on a regular basis.  Sometimes I practice Ashtanga at home and sometimes I guide myself through a more organic-style flow practice.  Either way, it usually takes me approximately 2 hours - 2 hours 10 minutes.

For me, the real gift of a home practice comes in the form of time... Time to spend working on whatever has me stumped at the present moment.  Don't you hate it in class when the teacher calls out a pose that you have yet to perfect become comfortable with and you've just about got it and then she and the rest of the class are already onto a vinyasa?  Or likewise in Ashtanga - those 5 breaths go by REALLY fast when there's a bit of a struggle going on.  Anyway, that's what I love about my home practice.  It gives me the ability to work through stuff like Bhujapidasana (Shoulder-Pressing Pose), for example, four or five times if need be.  It's a real luxury.


Here's Kino demonstrating a modification for Bhujapidasana that I'm currently working on, followed by the true expression of the pose.

The bottom line is that both my practice and my progress wouldn't be nearly what they are without my efforts at home.  I love the shala and the instant motivation that environment provides, but there's something really special about getting on your mat alone at home.  It's just you and the breath.  If you've never tried it, I would encourage you to give it a go!

Friday, March 1, 2013

This Week in Practice

This week in practice I continued to focus on something that has been plaguing me for the past six months...

standing up from a backbend

I've made progress.  During Kino's workshop last fall, I couldn't even drop back into Urdhva Dhanurasana from standing.  The fear was too great.  I practiced by walking my hands backwards down the wall to the floor over and over again.  In time, I was able to walk the wall back up, too.

These efforts helped and I reached a point where I could drop back, unassisted.  In all honesty though, there was a point where my backbend became a free-fall to the floor.  I didn't have the strength to maintain control all the way down and I would just sort of crash the last third of the way, landing hard on my wrists, causing pain.

My next strategy involved the staircase in our home.  I found that if I stood on the landing and went over backwards to the second step from the bottom, I could control things.  The steps allowed the bottom third of my drop back (the free-fall portion) to be handily removed from the equation.  (I placed two colored rags on either side of the step I was aiming for.  Without the rags to serve as guides, I found that it was really difficult to tell which step I wanted to reach upside-down and backwards.)

I practiced using the second step for a while until I felt I had good control on the way up and the way down.  Then I graduated myself to the first step from the bottom and I continue to practice there.  Every day.  (Another great thing about the staircase is that if I do have a moment of panic then I can reach out and grab the railing to help me up.)

As I have been using the stairs, I've also continued to practice dropping back to the floor.  Over time, I've been able to reach a point where everything happens in a manner that is slow and controlled.  No more crashing and no more shooting wrist pain.  I actively think about keeping the weight in my legs - trying to maintain as much straightness there as I can.  I like to imagine my legs are the trunks of a very, very large and sturdy tree.

I'm blessed with good flexibility but having the strength to support my flexibility is something I struggle with.  I realized this and decided to also add some strengthening work to my routine.  For this, I turned to the backbends found at the beginning of Second Series.  I've been working on Salabhasana A & B, Bhekasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, and Laghu Vajrasana.  Of these, Laghu Vajrasana has been by far the most important for me.

With Laghu (or Little Thunderbolt posture), I currently approach the pose with my hands coming to rest on my ankles.  I don't have the strength at the present moment to go all the way down and back up again.  Like my early attempts at dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana, the last bit of Laghu was a freefall until my head crashed into the mat.  I've been practicing every day though for a while.  In Kino's workshop, I could barely lean at all and come back up.  Now I'm able to get a few inches from the mat and then I land with a little bump.  I still can't come back up though once I've landed.  I have a feeling the day I achieve the control to go all the way down and back up again in Laghu will probably be closely tied to the day I'm able to do the same in Urdhva Dhanurasana.

All of this seems to be helping.  In my Ashtanga class, my instructor and I have progressed to the point that she just lays her hand gently on my chest.  She guides me down and then back up again with only her hand on top of my chest.  I suspect there's a lot of friction there because I'm so sweaty by that point in the practice, but still... There can't be that much help if there's no boost from behind my back or hips.  Probably some of it is psychological as well.

So that's where it stands.  I'm close.  Frustratingly close.  But writing this post has actually helped me remember how far I have come.  Heck, when I first started yoga last January, I didn't think it would be possible to ever drop back at all.  I thought it was something that had been lost to youth.  That's the beautiful thing about yoga though.  It teaches you humility and patience and perseverance.  It shows you that so many things are possible if we just chip away at them one tiny bit at a time.