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!


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...


  1. Congratulations on standing up. It's a fantastic feeling when you do it for the first time.

  2. Thank you so much, Kevin. I know you get it! :)