Monday, November 23, 2015

So, have you ever been so focused on an asana that while your so focused on it, other asanas get better and you don't even notice or seem to care?

That has been me, for the past 6-8 weeks, which, by the way, is a nano second in Ashtanga time. But for the past 6-8 weeks I have been obsessed with dropping back and for the past 3-4 weeks, standing back up.

There are so many things wrong with that:  I'm judging myself, my practice, and I'm planning, thinking, anticipating, trying, trying so hard.  I used be able to do it.  Shouldn't I be able to do it again?  Or is that being too attached to once was and not being in the moment?

Then I remember:  "Practice and all is coming."

BUT, I don't think that 'practice all is coming' necessarily means that if I practice enough I will be able to drop back and then stand up...well, maybe, eventually, but that's not the point.  I think it means ALL is coming: finding peace, quiet, stillness, breath, while on the mat and especially while off the mat.  Being in the moment.  I get that and have started to experience it in a really tangible way.  This is what is keeping me practicing despite hitting some walls and being constantly sore.

But this is the weird thing, like I said before, while I've been focusing on urdhva dhanurasana with the drop back and stand up thing, I've become stronger.  My old hamstring tear is slowly starting to ease, my shoulders don't hurt AT ALL, ANY MORE! I can almost put my chin down in bhujipidasana...I have NEVER been able to do that...EVER!  My jump backs and throughs are returning...

So, while I fetishize my drop backs etc., I am finding ease, comfort, and openness in the other parts of my practice.

Interesting....maybe I need to let go of dropping back and standing up for a bit?  Or maybe just drop back, which I don't mind, but not get too caught up in the standing up thing?  Or should we give attention to the asanas that we are struggling with?  Work on it?  Wrestle with it?  Maybe, but with a focus on non-attachment and an acceptance that it may not be today, it may not be next week, month, year...and that is ok?  It's just practice and with practice all is coming, eh?

All right, I'm going to try that while I continue to try to stand up...just stand up.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Have you ever gone to bed and said to yourself, "I'm not going to practice tomorrow."

Then, the alarm, or should I say, your partner's alarm goes off, and your awake...

And then you start thinking, "I should go to practice, but I don't want to.  I ate a lot last night, and late. I drank wine last night.  I got into a 'thing' with my partner and didn't fall asleep till like 11..."

Practice will suck today.  It will be awful.  I'll smell like wine, food...

Ok, ok, I'll go, but I'll only do half of the practice.  No dropbacks.  No vinyasas between sides.  The minimum...

And you go...

You get on your mat and inhale...

And it's one of the nicest practices you've had!  It's soft, gentle, comfortable.  You do the whole thing, even drop backs (assisted, but still) and you feel amazing, energized, tranquil.

So, what is it?  Do I go to my mat with preconceived notions of how it will go instead of just allowing it to happen?

I don't know, maybe, probably.  But what I am learning is that every day on my mat is different.  And for me, what happens the night before, what I eat or drink, what time I go to bed, whether I have a salt bath or not, really doesn't inform my practice the next least not so far.

The thing is I just need to get on my mat and except what ever it is...that day because the next day it will be different.

That's what I love about it!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Once I could do it...

Another practice, this time at 530am thanks to my husband's alarm and a nice juicy thunderstorm.

It was pretty good.  Oops, no judgement.  It was time on my mat.  The chatter in my head was a little quieter, perhaps because I was there earlier and there were fewer people in the shala.

Well, I'm working on my back bending, my drop backs, and my get back ups.  I need my teacher A LOT.  She practically pulls me back up to standing.  I feel bad for her...what a work out she's getting!

I used to be able to do this drop back/stand up thing.

That was about 5 years ago (ignore the 80's music, please!) before I injured both shoulders in a yoga/crossfit hybrid class, before I had a total hysterectomy, before I started working as an hospice nurse.

Can I do it again?  I'm not so sure.  I'm over 50 now and spend a good part of my days hunched over patients or charts.  

I want to do it again.  But after my surgery, back bending felt weird.  I mean really weird, inside, like things were pulling in ways that they shouldn't.  I didn't even attempt any sort of back bend until I was 6 months post-op, but when I, things had changed.  After a couple of months of gentle passive bends over balls, pillows and such, I attempted my first urhva dhanurasana it felt awful.  I mean really bad, tight, weak, awful.  But I persevered and slowly, slowly it started to feel strong again.  But still kinda tight.

Then I started my mysore-style practice. I discussed my 'medical' history with my new teacher and she was understanding and said patience, perseverance were in order.  She watched me for a few weeks or so then asked "Are you ready to try dropping back?"  I said, yes!  And we did.  And it was great.  And then I started to really concentrate on deepening my back bends.  Then I got a back spasm which dissipated quickly.  Now we were back to assisted drop backs.  She assists with half drop backs X3, then to the floor, walk in, hold 5 breaths, and come up.  That is intense, but good intense. 

So will I ever be able to do what I did 5 years ago?  Don't know.

But I think the bigger question is: should I want to?  Should I be striving for that?  Trying for that 'goal'?  Isn't that exactly what we are not supposed to do?  Aren't we supposed to just do the practice and 'all is coming', no goals, no aims, it's not about the results, it's about the journey?

I think, for me there is a sweet spot between the aspirational aspects of the practice: the working towards/wanting to do a certain asana, like drop backs and the surrender to the process, the experience of the journey without a clear or specific end place.  It's a razors edge for one side can lead to injury, frustration, pain, discouragement.  The other, ennui, passivity, complacency.  

I think that one day I will be able to drop back and stand up on my own...that is my goal, but in the mean time, I'm going to work really hard at staying in the present and enjoy the process of re-learning that asana.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I've been reading a lot lately... a lot.

I've been reading a lot of stuff about ashtanga yoga, the practice, the method, the theory, the injuries, the spirituality, the asana... I've been doing exactly what I think I probably shouldn't be doing and here's why:

All this reading and information, correct and otherwise, is creeping into my practice.  My knee hurts: do I have a torn meniscus?  My butt hurts, am I slowly tearing my quadricep tendon?  I should practice lifting up and jumping back; what did Kino say about that or Laura?  Why am I still just doing primary?  Didn't I read somewhere that it's good to start some intermediate poses after 'mastering' primary?  I've been at this for almost 10 years (0k, on and off); haven't I mastered primary?  Why am I thinking so much?  Get back to the breath?  Is my breath correct?  I'm not concentrating; what did I read about boredom...

You see what I mean?

In "House Recommendations" by Angela Jamison from Ashtanga Ann Arbor (a wonderful, insightful, and informative booklet) she writes:

        Filter: Most Ashtanga information on the Web is made by, and for, distracted minds.

Yep, that's me, a distracted mind.  But also a hungry mind, but hungry for what?  Knowledge?  Inspiration?  Connection?

I think that for me, probably all three.  I look at Ashtanga websites for inspiration and to reach out to a larger community of ashtangis. But why?  All I need do is look to those who practice with me every morning to find inspiration.  And aren't they my community?

They are and yet my busy mind seeks out more information, more images, more, more, more.

It is becoming exhausting and the affects of all this 'knowledge/information/inspiration/community' has started to impact my practice.  And though I'm trying not to judge that impact, my sense is that it hasn't necessarily been a positive thing.

A daily mysore-style practice is a wonderful thing that is at once nurturing and challenging.  I've been at this now for 2 months and it is breaking me down as it is building me up.  I'm beginning to see connections to psychological issues/blocks and certain asanas.  For the first time, the practice has helped me heal or relieve a discomfort.  I think I am calmer, and also so much more aware of my emotions, my body, my energy.  But all these lessons are happening on my mat, at 6am, at the shala, with my patient, gentle teacher, and my fellow practitioners.  Not on the internet.

I realize that I have been heavily binging on Ashtanga theory and need to cut down on my diet.

Because nothing is going to teach me more than what I experience everyday, on my mat...

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's been interesting...

So, I've been doing a mysore practice for about 6 weeks now and it's been interesting, educational, amazing...not necessarily in that order...

At first, it felt amazing, invigorating, dare I say, effortless...and then things began to happen.

I noticed that old injuries began to twinge and ache.  My old hamstring tears began to cramp and burn, my shoulders started to feel tight and sore.  All normal experiences one should expect when one returns to the mat.  But then one morning my back seized up after doing drop backs with my teacher. I felt good while I was doing them, felt like I was getting deeper into the bend, my feet firmly planted on the floor, I felt strong.  But after, I suddenly couldn't bend over to touch my toes, let alone do paschimottanasana. I struggled through the rest of the finishing asanas and as I drove home, I began to weep. I had done it again; I had pushed too hard and hurt myself...AGAIN!

My first yoga injury was a hamstring tear.  I couldn't lift my leg up a step for a good month let alone do any asanas.  After about 8 weeks, I started to swim, walk, lift weights, and gently stretch, but I stopped practicing...for almost a year. When I returned to my led classes, my teacher scolded me: "You should have come and practiced, no matter what."  But I didn't feel comfortable coming to a led class and modifying every pose.  My ego wouldn't allow for that, nor my competitive nature.  If I were to practice ashtanga in a led class, I had to do every pose and as best as I could.

Okay, now I see the error in my ways...but besides acknowledging the absolute ridiculousness of my ego, what else was I missing...

I had read, in other blogs, that it is essential to keep up one's practice through injury. Instead of stopping completely, one should make adjustments to the practice, even it it means sitting or laying on your mat and just breathing ujjaya pranayama while sharing in the fellowship and community of the class.  I'd seen others do that and I had felt a mixture of pity and awe for them; pity at their injury and how limiting it was to their practice and awe that they came to the shala anyway.  But for me, the idea of being in class and not doing what was expected, what was being instructed, well that seemed impossible.

So, here I was again, with a possible injury, unsure just how serious it was and how I should proceed. But this time there was a difference: I wasn't taking led classes.  Now, I was doing mysore and therefore, in control of what I would/could/should and wouldn't/couldn't/shouldn't do on my mat any given morning.

Well, I'm kind of a chicken and my ego was rearing it's ugly head again, so I didn't go back to my mysore class the next morning after 'hurting' my back, instead I swallowed another couple of naproxen and sat on my mat after a big breakfast and breathed, slowly...very slowly.  As I relaxed into the breath, I began to gently go through surynamaskara A with knees bent, barely lifting in urdhva mukha svanasana,  and doing chaturanga with knees on the floor.  I skipped the standing postures and made a gesture toward each sitting asana without any vinyasa.  I then lifted gently into setu bandha back quietly objecting.  The next day my back felt a little better and I went to work.  As a hospice RN, my work entails much lifting, repositioning, and caring for the very frail.  It takes a toll on one's back.  I came home stiff but got on my mat and repeated what I had done the day before adding a few more vinyasa's and doing the finishing postures minus urdhva dhanurasana.  The next day, I went to work, came home, and rested.  That night I decided: It was time to go back to the shala.  I was not going to run away from my practice again, like I had all the other times before. This time I was going to try to practice through my discomfort/injury/whatever and learn from it.

Four days after doing 'something' to my back, I returned to my mysore class.  I started slowly, gently, knees bent concentrating on my breath, my driste, my bandhas.  I informed my teacher that I had 'tweaked' my back, that my old hamstring injuries were acting up.  She smiled and said that's ok, be gentle.  I completed my practice and felt better, tender, but better.

So, I kept coming to class and doing my practice.  The pain in my upper lumbar/lower thoracic region began to dissipate and move: to my iliac crest, my SI joint, my matter...I still practiced.  I acknowledged the discomfort then let it go.  I softened my practice but I also surrendered myself to it as my teacher instructed me to do.

Two weeks later and the pain is gone.  No more back spasms, no more roving pain around my hip and gluteus and all of this is happening as I practice, not because I stopped practicing.

So, this may be obvious to some, but it has been a revelation for me:  "Practice and all is coming."

I think that the mysore system of practicing Ashtanga is absolutely essential to its therapeutic effect. Though I think that led classes have their usefulness ( I did only led classes for almost 10 years)  I think that by limiting myself to only a led class practice became less beneficial, less therapeutic. Though the led classes taught me how to count the breath and do primary 'correctly', it disallowed the internal teaching that is indispensable to a safe, long, and healing Ashtanga practice.

That's has been the most interesting, amazing, and educational aspect of these past 6 weeks for me!

Monday, July 20, 2015

I've been inspired to blog...possibly an impulse I should ignore, but hey, I rarely ignore my impulses so here goes...

I'm back on my mat, after being off my mat for a long time.  I'm not sure if taking long breaks from yoga, particularly Ashtanga yoga, is the norm, but for me, it has been a relatively common occurrence in my 10 years of practice.  The reasons, the causes?  A myriad of things...

However, about a three months ago, I decided to return to the practice and what an experience it has been.

Let's start with the reason of my most recent hiatus: injury, injury, and more injury...and some family stuff, work, and health I said, a myriad.  About 2-3 years ago, I lost my faith, desire, and interest in the practice because for the first time in my life my I had bilateral shoulder injuries.  I'll not bore anyone with the the details, except to say that the injuries did not occur in a traditional Ashtanga class, but rather in a yoga-ish/cross-fit like/kettle bell class. That class ended my ability to perform any asana that remotely involved my upper body. Two shoulder injections, numerous visits to physical therapy (love PT!), and time...lots of time...I slowly healed and returned to doing chaturanga, upward dog, downward know the drill, but remained hesitant to go back to any kind of yoga class.

I had other excuses too, I work.  Specifically day shift in a residential hospice, which means I have to get up early.  And my job is very physical, which means I'm exhausted at the end of the day and usually too fatigued to go to a yoga class.  I like to go for long walks, hike, the occasional bike ride.  I wanted variety, I wanted cardio...I wanted...

Excuses, excuses...however, I always got back on my mat after said walk, hike, run, cycle, to stretch, strengthen and cool down AND I always reverted back to doing parts of the primary series...ALWAYS.  It was like it was ingrained in me somewhere, to breath, to lock, to gaze and to flow.

I began to listen to what my body was trying to tell me; I returned to ashtanga, on my own, at home, in my living room...gently and joyfully.

It was marvelous and I believe that my times on my mat, alone, in my home have been some of the most educational.  But I began to feel both the want and need of a teacher and a community.

So I started searching for a new teacher, new shala, a new community.  It was also time for me I to commit to a mysore-style practice.  With my home practice, I had learned to trust my own count/breath but I want guidance, adjustments.  So instead of waking up every morning and immediately eating, while I read the paper, watch TV, drink coffee, and struggle with the crossword, I will shower, drink some water and tea, drive to the shala and practice.

That is what I'm doing now... for almost 3 weeks.  Early days, but all is returning, the asanas, the breath, the sweat, the connection...oh yeah, and the pain...but that is ok, so ok.

Peace and breath...