31 August 2015

Pure and simple practice

No work meant a leisurely start to the day and a late morning yoga practice, though a lunchtime commitment put a cap on the time.  Although short, it was a pure, simple and deeply connected half hour of yoga.

Started with 5 Surya Namaskar A.  As usual, no stopping for 5 breaths in Dog pose.  I don’t seem to do this anymore, and instead use the first 5 sun salutes to warm up my body and develop a rhythmic flow.

Surya Namaskar B - a bit more physically challenging, the breath is drawn out longer and the movement in and out of warrior is demanding. 
I use the 5 breaths in Dog pose to recover the equanimity of breath.

Padangusthasana for 5 breaths.

Trikonasana for 10 breaths on each side, relishing this pose and the release of tension in my thoracic and cervical spine.

Parivritta Trikonasana for 10 breaths on each side. I keep my hands on the floor either side of my front foot for the first 5 breaths and look at my hips, adjusting them til they’re evenly aligned.  I use the sixth breath to move into the full pose, and remain focused on the alignment and stability of my hips.  Exaggerating the rotation of my shoulder girdle, I squeeze even more twist out of my thoracic and cervical spine.

Setu Bandha (bridge) warming up for the backbends.

Three Urdhva Dhanurasanas.  Bridge poses was my only preparation for the backbends today.  Normally I’d do more warm ups (salabhasana, ustrasana, laying over blocks etc…) before attempting the backbends…but confidence, and recent progress made me feel ok about attempting it cold.
Elbows stayed bent for the first one and shoulders felt blocked, even though I did went up with heels off the floor.  The second one was a revelation…full pose, elbows stretched out to the straight position and heels down.  I stayed 5 breaths and the feeling in my chest afterwards was extraordinary.  The pose had completely opened my chest cavity.  It felt like a warm breeze was sweeping through a cold cave, bringing with it sunlight and fresh air.   
I did another, and was overjoyed.
This is progress.

Supta Padangusthasana to counter the back bend.

Janu Sirsasana for 10 long, deep breaths on each side.

Shoulderstand, Halasana, Karna Pindasana.

Then the most exquisitely long, slow roll out from Halasana, holding my ankles, and with extended legs pressing down close to front body.  I felt every bone, joint and muscle down my spine get stimulated from the body weight on it.  A couple of times, I rolled back in reverse, just enough to re-roll over a spinal spot that needed extra acupressure.
This kind of rolling out, very slow and drawn out, is exceptional for aligning the spine.  You feel every vertebrae as you roll down onto each one, stimulating the nerves.  You can connect with the awareness of being on the centre of each bone, or correct the imbalance if you're slightly off centre.
It’s a treat.

Finished with Matsyasana (straight legs today) and a 5 minute Savasana.

A pure and simple practice.  No frills, nothing fancy, just quiet and deeply healing.

25 August 2015

Tonight's ashtanga practice

I started practice at 6.15pm this evening…determined.
Dinner had to wait.

My bedroom and my whole house are cold.  It’s nearing the end of winter here...not long to go until warmth returns to ease the stiffness out of my body and mind.

I turned on the bar heater as soon as I got home, didn’t even change my clothes, it was too cold.  I was wearing yoga tights anyway.
Still, starting yoga practice with three layers on isn’t ideal.  
I’m looking forward to summer.

It was a surprising practice.  A milestone for me, simply because I didn’t think I’d last for a full practice.  My definition of a full practice these days is based on time, not poses - one and a half hours on the mat is a full practice.
I start my yoga practice with neither strong will nor determination tonight, destination unknown.

I purposefully counted the 5 breaths in each pose to keep my mind on my practice.  It is a scattered superficial mind these days that skips from one thing to another without an anchor.  Tonight, counting the breath was my anchor.  Breathing was fully charged, counting was quick, so poses weren’t held for long.  Moving helped to warm my body.
I did a full ashtanga vinyasa practice up to Marichyasana C AND this was with a vinyasa after each side of the seated poses, something I haven’t done for years.

After Marichyasana C, the mood changed.
I lay down, pausing for a minute or two to sense what was going on in my mind and my body, and how to proceed.

Overriding the pause button, I did Setu Bandha twice while contemplating the potential agony of a full backbend.  Then I did 3 Urdhva Dhanurasanas – the first one was utterly painful and I couldn’t straighten my arms.  Four years of stress and trauma have blocked my shoulders and upper thoracic and although healing and opening will eventually come through the backbends, it is a painful process.
I am a beginner again.
After the first one, I convinced myself to do another.  Lifting my heels off the ground to get more stretch through my shoulders helped.  The third was successful, starting with heels off the ground and fully stretched arms, then slowly lowering my heels to the ground while retaining the entire stretch.

Gone are the limber days of dropbacks and tick-tocks of 10 years ago.
I am 55 years old and I am a beginner again.
This lifelong love affair with yoga is bittersweet.  It matures into a very real relationship.  We split up for a while, now we are back together.

After the 3 backbends I did the full finishing sequence of inversions.  20 breaths in Shoulderstand and Headstand and between 6 – 10 breaths in each of the intervening poses.

Parivritta Parsvakonasana – able to get into and hold the full pose tonight without modifying it.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – left hip still catching and inflamed, though I took some time to move into it very slowly, 5 full breaths while standing upright to allow the hip to adjust, then moved carefully to a third of the way down before internal alarm bells rang.

12 August 2015

Two halves of practice

I start practice. 
I know not where it will go.
Mind ambles, body follows, together we all practice, a trio lost in the beautiful wild ocean of yoga.

This evening, practice starts strong.
Ujjiya breath echoes through me like the oceanic wind.
Riding the wave, no stopping to rest in Dog Pose in Surya Namaskar A, just moving through each port calmly, rhythmically.
I continue on seamlessly through standing poses, bandha, breath, dristi, union, the only interruption is the troubled left side of Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana.  Hip joint misplaced, bone in the way.  I stay upright with knee bent, waiting patiently in bound half lotus for the swell of pain to ebb away from my hip, then continue on through the final standing poses.
The two warriors are done, vinyasa, I come to the end of my mat, and the switch turns off.
Is this the end, this dark, nowhere kind of place?

Dandasana…nothing.  It’s empty.

I lay back in Supta Baddha Konasana, and stay for 5 minutes. 
I gather my faculties and lift to Setu Bandha.
30 minutes of yoga have passed.

A whisper from far within, I listen then follow instructions and enter a familiar landscape: inversions.
Shoulderstand for 20 breaths, Halasana and Pindasana for 10.
Counting the breath helps to quieten the mind.
I am deeply quiet now.
Urdhva Padmasana brings momentary alarm – the back of my head is suddenly tender under pressure.  I worry about bursting blood vessels in my eye again.  I stay for 5 breaths.  Pressure recedes with Matsyasana.  Fear recedes.
I lose count in Headstand.

The ujjiyya breath is quieter now, barely there, sweet sweet baby breath.
I take the breath into Padmasana, bind hands to feet, look up, open up.
Then I bow, to the earth, bound, open and soft.

Malasana and a simple Pasasana twist, because I want to experience what that deep twist feels like again. 
5 years have passed since I did Pasasana in any form.  
Hello there lovely twist….remember me?

Practice is 60 minutes.
Savasana is 10.

The wild ocean is a friend and it’s good to be back…

11 August 2015

Coming back

Four yoga practises in one week, all so different.

Last Tuesday, an evening Ashtanga Primary practice, 90 minutes, with full vinyasas.

Last Friday, another evening practice though a more difficult one.  Started with a backbend over a block, then did some seated poses, Shoulderstand, some Supta poses, a surprisingly therapeutic Hanumanasana, and a couple of backbends - only 30 minutes.

Yesterday morning, Ashtanga Sun Salutes and standing poses, handstands, backbends, Janu Sirsasana, then the full Ashtanga finishing sequence of inversions from Shoulderstand through to Uth Pluthi.

This evening, a sequence from Light on Yoga starting with 6 minutes in both Headstand and Shoulderstand, progressing through Jatara, the two Navasanas, seated forward bends and twists, Padmasana poses, gentle backbends, Savasana and some pranayama.
Somewhere in the middle I submerged into a 5 minute Paschimottanasana.

It feels so good to be back…

21 October 2013

Resting in Peace

My husband died last Friday morning at 5.30am.
Myself and our two beautiful children were with him.

It was the culmination of two and a half weeks on a traumatic emotional roller coaster - we'd kept a round the clock vigil next to his bed in intensive care during that time.

It all started when he phoned me in the early hours of Monday 20 September - he was in unbearable pain with paralysed legs. The ambulance team were there in a flash.

In the following 5 days he had four major operations - in the second operation his left leg was amputated above the knee, in the fourth one his right leg was amputated just below the thigh.
Before each operation we assured him he'd be fine.
Before each operation the surgeons told us it was unlikely he'd survive.

But he's mighty tough.

I spent over 6 hours sitting with him in the hospital each day after that. Our two children did the same. We all shared the ups and downs while watching him hooked up to the life support machines, the ticking, beeping, monitoring, the dialysis machine, the diabolically fluctuating blood pressure numbers, oxygen levels...adjustments were made to medication flows hourly, we went home exhausted each day and researched the drugs they'd administered, and there were oh so many little victories and disappointments on his way to recovery. He seemed to be getting better each day, more alert, able to smile cheekily and talk a little bit last week.

And the three of us gave him so much love during that time.
We never gave up on him.

Then came the call at 1am last Friday. We all met urgently at the hospital. He was in great pain, couldn't breathe. They couldn't operate. And life support was no longer an option. The pain killers and sedatives worked fast and he faded from consciousness just after we arrived, the intestinal hole leaking out stuff that was fast poisoning him.

It was a full moon morning.

We sat with him for those last 5 hours, holding his hands, watching the life drain out of him, all of us crying as the pauses between his raspy breaths got longer and longer.
I stroked his hair, kissed his forehead, and told him it was all OK, he was safe and we all loved him so much.  But the drugs had already taken him far away.
Then in a moment of great anguish my son leaned over his chest, put his arms around him and sobbing said 'I love you dad'. It was then that he breathed out his last breath.

He fought a mighty battle right to the end.

And now he rests in peace...

20 September 2013


I rise from Savasana altered.
Looking outwards through a calm, clear lens,
looking inwards through the same.
Inner and outer merge.

Yoga practice moves self through layers,
effortlessly piercing and opening, so that self can
glide towards centre.
Centre opens into infinite space.
Centre is beyond.

I rest beyond.
Then continue further in,
to the dark, beautiful, eternal galaxy.

7 August 2013

Double escape

I resigned and gave 2 weeks notice.
Then headed off into the bush for my one week of annual leave.
That was last week.
This week I'm back at work for my final 3 days - tying up loose ends, handing over, and allocating responsibilities to other staff.

Camping alone in a remote area of the northern Flinders Ranges last week provided the physical and mental space to calm down and view this lifetime both intimately and objectively.
I meditated, did yoga, meditated, climbed mountains, meditated...and slept.

It was a temporary escape from an oppressive, stressful working environment.
My resignation was the ultimate escape.

Some random notes from my camping journal:

View from mountain over river bed and road to Blinman
Tuesday 30 July 2013

Arrived at Parachilna Gorge at 5.30pm after a 6 hour drive from Adelaide.

I wanted to camp by the river bed at the end of the unused path, but driving in there was my second big challenge (the first was the 6 hour drive).
Large boulders block the path to prevent access - I had to drive my little city car down around them, then back up the short steep rocky embankment onto the path, through a pond of mud, then down another steep rocky drop to get to the stony river bed and the hidden camping spot.

Those 2 minutes of driving terrified me.

Spinning wheels up and over rocks the thoughts rushed in: my car might tip upside down, or roll over, or get stuck halfway, or my tyres would be ripped to shreds and I'd either be left to die alone, or I'd die of extreme fear.

Hours later, after putting up my tent in a state of anxiety, the flood of adrenaline and panic hormones had not subsided. I could feel the aftermath of hormonal overdose still in my bloodstream and organs. Then apprehension and fear set in about having to do it all AGAIN to get OUT of the campsite in a few days. The terror, the fear, the blind worry, the debilitating negative thoughts and disaster scenarios that I concocted about driving up and down that rocky embankment were what I sat with in my meditation and investigated for 3 days.

 Today's achievements:

1) I left Adelaide on time, against all the odds. If I hadn't, I would have easily given in to my easy-way-out voice and cancelled the trip. Only by recognising and overcoming negative thoughts, and pulling out all stops to make it happen, did I get away on time.
2) I easily managed the 6 hour dive
3) I found my way to the campsite.
4) I confronted the very real fear about driving over the rough rocky terrain to the campsite
5) I worked out how to put up my brand new tent (had to move it 3 times on the rocky ground before I found a spot where all the pegs would go in)

My fresh greens: lettuce and sunflower sprouts
Wednesday 31 July

Up at 6.30am - caught the sunrise.
Night was very cold (2 degrees) but I stayed warm in the tent.

1 hour and 15 minutes of sitting before breakfast - of that, perhaps 7 minutes of being present. Slipped in and out of conscious awareness, buried alive in a non-stop avalanche of thoughts about work.

Thursday 1 August

Sitting in silence, watching thoughts, the neural patterns are magnified: I am always in the future, worrying.
This habitual worry habit and anxiety began after Mark died. The shock of his death fried my brain. Rewiring the synapses and changing the mind's well worn footpaths will take some serious work.

Buddhist meditation practice helps: Sit and let go, relax and release the mind's grip.
Let go of attachments to outcomes, attachments to everything, desires, thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future. Let go of fear: fear of not knowing what to do, fear of being incompetent, paralyzed.

Practice being FULLY PRESENT, clear and free.

Friday 2 August

The sun is shining. It is cool.
Strong wind blowing in from the west
Tent flapping wildly, but secure.

I pick up one of the books I brought with me: 'Perfect Clarity: a Tibetan Buddhist Anthology of Mahamudra and Dzogchen'. Teachings from Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, Longchempa, Milarepa, and other celebrities of this tradition. Reading it takes me back to my training in emptiness, clarity, purity of mind.
It's been so long since I worked at this level.

The exotic terminology in the book is offputting, but the teachings are vast and extraordinary.  Practical instructions for deep, delicate and sophisticated mind surgery.

I sit...