Thursday, March 24, 2011

Same Sequence, Different Day

Even the sequence of poses is the same each morning every day feels different when I step on my mat. Some days I struggle in the very difficult poses and some days I don't. Some days I find even the most basic of poses difficult.

This morning I couldn't bind on either side of marichyasana D and no one was around to assist me so I just went on to the next pose. I can normally bind at least one side but it just wasn't in the cards today. However, I was able to lower to my chin in bhujapidasana and lift myself back up fairly gracefully without toppling over onto my bum. Oh and my feet never touched my mat either. When it came to big bad baddha k I got the foot on right thigh adjustment and it didn't kill me and it didn't feel all that unpleasant.  So when JB asked me to perform it again I didn't protest I just feigned deafness when he first mentioned it. The key for me in this pose is to really flatten out the tops of my feet on the top of my mat and press the heels together. When I do it this way the stretch is more on my inner legs/thighs and less in my lower back/sacrum. I'll be whipping my legs behind my head in no time...not.

The biggest surprise today came during my attempt at urdhva mukha paschimottanasana. After my first ever attempt at this pose I wrote it off as physically impossible. I don't think I've noticed anyone else in the shala pull it off (not that I've been paying close attention) and I figured it they can't do it and they've been practicing forever then neither can I. Each day I would make two good faith attempts at the correct entry and then give up. For some reason, today I said to myself that I'm really going to go for it and try to achieve the proper entry into the pose and somehow I managed to pull it off. One of the assistants was helping someone seated next to me and saw what I did and made a congratulatory comment about it. I found it kind of cute because she seemed more excited by my progress than I was. I guess I was so shocked by what happened I didn't occur to me to be pleased. The key was to really flex my feet and to push up off of the floor behind me and before I knew it I was upright and balancing on my bum. 

I have no idea what tomorrow's practice will bring but I'm sure it will be filled with surprises both good and bad. But regardless of the surprises I'm really looking forward to it especially since it will be my last practice for the week.

Monday, March 21, 2011


How is it that I find myself enrolled in a 300 hour advanced teacher training with nary a 200 hour training course under my belt?

It all started several weeks ago when I signed up for a Sanskrit class that my teacher was having. It turned out that the Sanskrit class had to be rescheduled so he emailed me to let me know that he would be rescheduling it.We exchanged a few emails and at the end of one of the last emails he said that he would like me to consider his teacher training program because he thought that I would be an excellent candidate. I don't know about you but when I read that email my ego was stroked, caressed and massaged all at the same time. But that feeling only lasted briefly, I then started to think, of course he would suggest that I attend his teacher training program, it's to his benefit to have more students, you're not so special. My final thought regarding the email was something like "my yoga teacher thinks that I suck and am in need of an intensive training course to improve". But again that thought only lasted briefly as well.

When I was in my twenties and when I first started getting serious about my yoga practice I briefly flirted with the idea of doing a teacher training program, well before it became the cool thing to do. As I've gotten older I kind of put that idea to rest and figured that I'd leave such programs to the young. But when my current teacher suggested that I do the training the seed was planted again.

Because the program is with my teacher whom I really enjoy practicing with and because he has so much knowledge and wisdom that he's willing to share and because I feel like he hand picked me I felt like I couldn't pass up the opportunity. And that my friends is how I now find myself enrolled in a 300 hour, 10 week advanced teacher training program. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Unexpected Visitors

I haven't practiced since Wednesday due to the unexpected early arrival of the ladies holiday. I actually woke up at my usual time on Thursday, debated whether or not to go to the shala, put on my clothes and then promptly crawled back into bed. When I do miss practice, the first day usually isn't so bad and it kind of feels a little bit like playing hooky from school. However, I find that there is a direct correlation between doing my daily practice and my ability to cope in a corporate environment. I didn't make it to the shala again this morning and by the second day of missing practice I'm all antsy and spastic and counting down the minutes until I can get back on the mat. Even though tomorrow is a Saturday and happens to be a moon day as well I think I'm going to try out a non-Ashtanga class at my studio. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Goodbye to the Pee Wee League

This morning's practice was in stark contrast to yesterday's. Yesterday I couldn't stop yawning from the first surya onwards, I wanted to put in the minimum amount of effort to execute each asana and I had no desire to be adjusted at all. The irony of yesterday's practice is that I received adjustments all along the way even in poses that I'm rarely adjusted in, such as virabhadrasana I. It was also suggested that I could consider jumping back in lotus position and any other day I would have given it a try but yesterday I just filed in away in my "to try later drawer".

Today on the other hand I was feeling quite well on the mat and there was less tightness in my legs thank yesterday which I was grateful for. Practice proceeded as usual until I got up to baddha konasana. I actually completed my variation of the pose when I heard my teacher caller my name. He was two or three people away assisting a newbie and using his non verbal communication skills he made it known that he wanted me to wait for him so we could do the pose again. Naturally, I used my best non verbal communication skills and grimaced back at him. It was at that point that he decided verbal communication would be best and he promised not to torture me. I wasn't completely convinced but I went along with it anyway. He came over sat beside me and showed me how my feet should actually be placed in the pose. In his rendition, his the tops of his feet are nearly flesh with the floor with his heels touching. In my rendition my heels were basically just touching. When I got into the pose and was adjusted using his foot positioning things felt a lot less torturous. I actually felt the stretch mostly in my inner thigh region as opposed to my lower back/hip/sacrum region. Dare I say that I'm excited to try it again tomorrow?

In other news, before today back bending used to be a highlight of my practice. I would do three urdhva dhanurasanas a couple of assisted back bends and that was it. Easy breezy. I of course recognize that I was in the pee wee league of back bending where I thought I would be spending the next couple of months at least. So imagine my surprise when I was told that I would soon be entering the minor leagues with nary a discussion or forewarning. He had me practice dropping back on my own with him spotting me. Even being spotted it ain't easy. We tried it three times and by the third time I was practically hyperventilating and gasping for air. He told me to inhale and lift up but I blurted out "I can't breathe" instead. I eventually somehow found myself standing upright and paused for a few moments to catch my breath.  Maybe after today's episode he'll decide to keep me in the pee wee league a little longer.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An Open Letter to My Hamstrings

Dear Hamstrings,

We've come a long way. Gone are the days of waking up and the act of just getting out of bed seemed liked the biggest chore. Gone are the days when it felt like bricks of lead were permanently attached to my thighs. I'm impressed, the progress is measurable. Hello straight legged paschimotadasana.

But as far as we've come (we've come a long way baby) and as appreciative as I am, I sill want more out of you. I yearn achieve the full expression of poses such as kurmasana, and padangushthasana. Instead of the embarrassingly pathetic excuse for those poses that I've been doing. I turn green with envy each time I see one of my shalamates easily glide into those poses with their cooperative hamstrings.

I've been putting in the work and I'd appreciate it if you would be willing to meet me half way. I've been working my quads really hard in back bending to give you a bit of a break and to balance things out. I go in the steam room after practice when I have time and I even splurge on massages when time and money allow. I'm not sure what else I can do but I am open to suggestions.

Yours truly,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kicking As-ana

I practiced this morning and all I can say is that I kicked some as-ana. Actually, practice was ok but compared to my most recent pathetic attempts at practice today's practice was pretty good. I was able to practice my jump backs and jump throughs which was nice.

After I got home from practice today I started thinking about my practice in general for the past month and a half and I kind of feel like I hit a plateau. I'm tempted to say that I'm a little frustrated by it but that's not 100% accurate either because I still enjoy the daily practice and I know that I shouldn't be attached to results. However, when my less rational and results driven side starts taking up residence in my mind space I start asking myself questions like:
"when will I be able to consistently bind on the left side of marichyasana d?" "when will I be able to straighten my legs in kurmasana?"
"when will I be able to bind my hands for more than a millisecond in supta kurmasana?"
"when will I be able to balance on my own in kukkutasana?"
"when will I be able to reach my knees to the floor without my teachers full body weight on my thighs in baddha konasana?"
And the list goes on. I know that Guruji says "practice and everything is coming" but I've got a consistent 5-6 day a week practice and I'd like to see more of what's coming from all of the practice I've been putting into it. And I realize that in the grand scheme of things 5-6 months of practice really isn't that long and when I have thoughts like the ones stated above it's all the more proof that I need to continue with my asana practice to quiet my mind and to move me further along the path to enlightenment.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Vinyasa Practice

Normally, when I do a six day a week practice I take Saturdays off entirely from any yoga practice and enjoy it thoroughly. This week I had to skip practice twice first on Wednesday because I was experiencing extreme soreness in my sacrum and hip areas and then on Friday because of business travel. And I'm not even going to discuss Thursday's pathetic practice due to lingering soreness in this forum.

So given my abbreviated practice schedule I decided to take a vinyasa class this afternoon. The class was with one of my all-time favorite instructors M who is known for his very intense and challenging classes. Despite normally practicing Ashtanga 5-6 days per week, I find that M's class still has the ability to kick my butt. Despite the humbling experience of having to take multiple rests in child's pose I still enjoyed the class and I think it's a good complement to my ashtanga practice because we generally do different poses and work different muscle groups in that class. I then find that my Sunday morning Ashtanga class is that much more fluid and enjoyable.

When I do take vinyasa classes I sometimes feel like I'm cheating on my ashtanga teacher but it's a comfort to know that I'm not the only one when I see other ashtangis in the class as well. And the thing is that my ashtanga teacher is so far along the path to self actualization that I'm sure he doesn't mind.

Yogis vs. Ashtangis

What a key difference between yogis and ashtangis?

Most people practice yoga to feel younger, more flexible and to relieve back pain. Ashtangis practice yoga and end up feeling like 80 year olds with arthritis.

 What gives? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Amazing Practice with Jörgen Christiansson

I had originally planned to head back to YogaWorks today to practice as I mentioned in my previous post. However, last night I was catching up on the blogs that I read and doing some additional research and I found out about  Jörgen Christiansson and his Omkar108 shala. After reading the reviews of his shala it seemed like a place where serious Ashtangis go to practice. Not that I even consider myself an ashtangi hence the namce of this blog but I do like a serious practice with serious teachers in a serious environment.  And serious it was, but Jörgen himself was very warm and welcoming.

I try not to judge my practices by the assists that I receive but I did receive some great assists and because the room was nice and toasty I was feeling extra flexible in my unusually tight hamstrings. He help me bind in marichyasana d and we did this thing where I first twisted for a few breaths without binding and then he helped me actually bind in the pose. Doing it that way made the whole process seem a lot easier and like a lot less work on both of our parts. I also got a pretty intense baddha konasana assist which I'm sure I"ll pay for tomorrow. During the assist  Jörgen jokingly asked if that was my favorite pose and I vehemently shook my head no. Lastly, as I was coming up into headstand I kept saying to myself "please don't fall over in this foreign shala in front of all these strangers" and  Jörgen must have sensed something as well because as soon as I felt myself start to tip over he was there to catch me. Yes, it was as embarrassing as it seems. I did the pose again with a different hand position and him spotting me and it went over much better.

As I was leaving he walked me out of the room and asked me how long I would be in town and I told him that unfortunately I'll be leaving today but I did promise him that I would be back next time I am in town. Before I left he asked that I give his regards to my teacher back home which I will definitely do.

The next time you're in LA I definitely suggest that you check out Jörgen at Omkar108.The practice room is a decent size but be sure to bring your own mat and towel.

11154 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90232

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Practice Away from Home

As I'm out in LA this weekend visiting family I practiced at YogaWorks in Santa Monica with Jodi Blumstein. It was my first time practicing at a foreign shala and I must say that I pretty attached to my shala and my teacher. One of the things that got me through today's practice was the fact that my regular teacher is off teaching a workshop this weekend and therefor I'm not really missing much back home.

I arrived fairly early for the practice and there were only two other people practicing in the room when I arrived. The room was a blistering 65 degrees Fahrenheit!! Needless to say my hamstrings protested most of the way through the suryas. I did five of each to really give myself a chance to get warmed up but I omitted most of the jumping back to chaturanga because the mat I was practicing on was very thin. Jodi arrived just as I was finishing the standing postures and I took a moment to introduce myself. She asked me where I was from and where I practiced and after I told her she was able to guess who my teacher was. After I confirmed that her guess was correct a huge smile came over her face. Apparently she practiced with him back in India 9 years ago, I assume they were fond memories because her expression was priceless.

The room warmed up slightly and overall practice was nice, my body was aching and yearning for it since I hadn't practiced since Thursday morning and I spent 6 hours on a flight out here. I was assisted in marichasyna d and supta kurmasana,no binding unfortunately in the latter. I did however, manage to lift myself up out of the pose with both control and grace and jump back to chaturanga (I think my teacher and one of the  regular assistants would be proud).

Jodi seemed like a sweet and caring teacher but she was also pretty chatty which is something that I'm not used to in the shala. Tomorrow I'm in for a new adventure as I'll be practicing with yet another new teacher Maria Villella.

I had initially planned to practice at Ashtanga Yoga Los Angeles today with James Butkevich but as I was searching for the address to put into my GPS it came up as permanently closed on my iPhone map. I tried calling the studio but the number came us as disconnected.

YogaWorks - Santa Monica Montana
1426 Montana Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 393-5150

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday's Led Practice Report

Today was led primary at the shala. These days I enjoy led practices because for one, I don't forget any poses. The other reason that I enjoy led classes is that I usually get assists in poses that I don't generally get assisted in. I was assisted in parivritta trikonasana this morning and it was a much more intense stretch of my hamstrings that I'm used to and the rotation was much deeper as well. I was also assisted in prasarita padottanasana b and c. I'm slowly getting closer to lowering my head to the floor on my own.

I managed to lower myself down into my new version of bhujapidasana without slamming my chin on the floor. I'd say it was about a 6 on the graceful scale. I managed to lift myself about three quarters of the way up before falling out of the pose.I'd give myself a 4 on the graceful scale for the exit. Believe it or not this is an improvement. My teacher didn't like my oh so ungraceful head plop to floor technique so he has me working on this version. I must say that I do like control of the descent but it's more difficult to keep my feet off the floor.

Tomorrow's a moon day and I won't be practicing, I'll be taking the day off and I'll be out in California visiting with family and friends. I haven't decided where or with whom I'll practice while I'm there so I'm doing some research. It will be interesting to practice with someone other than my regular teacher and the assistants whom I adore and know my practice so well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Love Back Bending

I really enjoy assisted back bending at the end of class. One of the reasons that I enjoy assisted back bending is because it really doesn't seem like much work (at least not at this point). I breathe out lean back, breathe in and the teacher lifts me up. Easy breezy. For someone like me with thighs of steel and the most inflexible hamstrings known to man you may understand why I find back bending such a pleasant experience. Now I have a feeling that my perspective on this will all change once my teacher tells me that I have to drop back and lift myself up without his support but for the time being I really enjoy it.

One of the added benefits of back bending that I find is the endorphin rush that I get from a really deep back bend. Recently my teacher has started walking my hands in ever so slightly closer to my heels. Of course because I can't see anything while I'm in that pose it feels as though my hands are millimeters from my heels but I'm sure photographic evidence will prove otherwise. However, I'm not complaining.

I'm just happy right now to be able to experience such a positive effect on the rest of my day from a single pose/assist. Today by the time I got to the office I was absolutely buzzing and hearing the news about the broken coffee maker did nothing to affect my yoga high. It wasn't until after lunch that I even started to come down from it. Perhaps I should start doing back bends in the afternoons with the assistance of colleagues.

*Illustration by Boonchu Tanti