26 October 2007

3 days of practice notes

Saturday 27th October 2007

On the mat
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stopped practicing at the shala for a while then sheepishly returned. Today was my second practice at the shala this time back.

It was over 2 hours, but generally mediochre, distractions were everywhere and playing havoc with my level of engagement.
Kosta was practicing next to me, a 4 year old child was running around playing and talking incessantly, a shala visitor from interstate was across from me (young male) asking a lot of questions - we couldn't believe it when he queried the correct breathing in dropbacks (exhale to dropback and inhale to come up) saying he always did his standard three dropbacks holding ONE BREATH!
Distractions are no excuse really. I guess the mind just wasn’t fully immersed in the experience today unless my sum experience includes not being focussed.

The challenging poses at the moment are all lumbar stretch related: Marichyasana A and B, Supta Kurmasana and especially Pindasana. If I stick at them, I can get deep into the Marichys and Pindasana, but it's not without intense sensations digging deep holes into my spinal guts. Supta Kurmasana is still a pale version of what it used to be, my hands grab but my toes barely touch. Can you believe that coming out of Supta K and doing the vinyasa is painfully much worse than actually being in the pose. My body stubbornly refuses to do the arched lumbar curve in Upward Dog after the intense forward lumbar curve of supta K, – I have to stay a few breaths in Upward Dog to ease my lumbar into its natural curve again before moving on.

I pushed Urdhva Dhanurasa out to the max this morning, doing 6 of them and turning up the intensity of each one. My cranial nerves were getting sparky after the fifth one, so much so that I couldn’t see for a few seconds.
Inana was busy down the other end so I stood at then end of my mat for dropbacks and waited, observing the individual activity around the room for a couple of minutes. Assisted dropbacks were pretty easy but she made me stay down on the last one again and held my hips so high in Urdhva Dh that I felt every muscle fibre over my frontal hips ripping apart – it’s was a fabulous stretch from hell, the crowing glory of today’s practice.

In Sirsasana I found the energetic link between the pelvic floor and the top of my head. Drawing energy up from the mula bandha core to the crown of the head in this pose ignites the main energetic channel that runs parallel to the spine, and once you get it happening, there’s no mistaking the sensations that accompany it. The body instantly aligns itself perfectly up and around this vivid pipeline, bringing the balancing point on the top of the head to pinpoint accuracy. Some days I get it, some days I don’t.

Not much else to note. Except I’m glad to be back at the shala again, even if it is only at the Saturday morning class (this is the 8am ‘soft’ version of the hardcore 6am Mysore sessions held during the week). Simi will be back teaching this class soon, but her daughter Inana has been lovely – she adjusts gently (except in Urdhva Dh!) and her presence is unimposing but supportive. It’s been easy to just lay down my mat, do my practice anonymously and receive a guiding hand here and there.

Grace – 4
Flow – 8 up to Dandasana then dropping to 4
Joy - 7
Flexibility – 7
Malleability – 6
Strength – 8
Focus – 3
Determination – 5
Courage – 5
Breath - 7
(60, but who’s counting)

Thursday 25th October 2007

On the mat
Malleability is a physical quality I’ve been noticing, AND looking for in my practice lately. It’s quite different to flexibility.

Wihtout the luxury of a dictionary to consult, I'm only guessing, but flexibility and flex appear to have the same linguistic root, and doesn’t flex mean to bend? Our bodies bend at the joints, and for this to happen, it requires the contraction of muscles on one side and the stretching of muscles on the other side.
Not only do joints flex (bend) but muscles also flex (contract). This quality called flexibility seems to me to describe our RANGE of movement. Flexibility conjures up images of ease and freedom of movement, but not necessarily a deep connection with the body, more of a lengthening and opening built up over time with repetition. And flexibility allows the body to return to its original shape like a piece of stretched elastic.

Malleability on the other hand is different. If you mould something, it keeps that shape. Think of a lump of semi-soft clay…get your hands around it, squeeze it and reshape it, poke a hole in it or through it and instead of springing back like elastic, it accommodates and holds that shape. It’s very substance invites you to mould it into a new form.

More and more I’m noticing this malleable quality at the microcellular level of my body.

An important part of yoga practice is learning how to enter a pose and work deeply in it, strengthening the mind-body connection. And there are different ways to work in a pose – at times we need to hold a pose and gradually release the tension, blockages and restraints that restrict flexibility in the joints and muscle tissues.
But discovering the body’s malleability brings another element to work with in a pose. There’s an earthy, elemental presence in every cell of my body when it's malleable, a complete participation at the cellular level. And there's the sensuality of substance. The muscles feel full, the mind feels full, there’s more feeling permeating the body, the sensations are magnified and enjoyed, body and mind have an earthy sensuality brought on by consummating their marriage.
This is not spiritual. It’s organic. It’s honest, loving, natural, fulfilling and juicy to work with my body when it’s malleable.

I’m sure this earthy quality is directly connected to my mind state but I can’t identify the exact mental correlation yet – what makes up the flavour of my mind on those days when my body’s malleable? The answer is out of my reach.

I don’t always connect to this particular quality, but I"ve begun to notice when it’s not present, probably because I'm looking for it. Some days, my body’s as stubborn as a mule. It gets to a point in a pose and won’t go one millimetre further, at that point retreating and backing away from the edge. There’s no negotiating. That kind of practice is frustrating and only gets worse as it progresses.

So I’ve had a few practices lately where my body hasn’t been particularly flexible (bendy) but it has been very malleable. Like today. I did a full 2 hour practice not shying away from any pose. Went from start to finish with a body that enjoyed working with.

Grace – 4
Flow – 7
Joy - 5Flexibility – 4
Malleability – 8
Strength – 8
Focus – 7
Determination – 8
Courage – 7
Breath - 7

65. I can’t resist adding them up.

Tuesday 23rd October 2007

On the mat
Practice was laborious today. It isn’t about mindfulness or personal growth or spiritual connection at the moment, it's all about my lower back which has concreted itself into immobility.

I face it in every practice now and all I can do is chip away at it in each pose poking at it in each pose with a little ice pick, wishing I had a jackhammer.

So with my mind complaining more than my body, I ploughed slowly through the seated forward bends up to Marichyasana C, doing my best to neutralise the frustration, but by then the beastly back was so locked up it was almost sickening.
Five long, deep Urdhva Dhanurasana backbends saved me from the impending torture of self flagellation.

Since I don’t have TV, or read trashy magazines, or indulge in anything that ‘normal’ people do for light entertainment, I hope you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to do.

I’m going to measure my practice. (yes I know it’s ludicrous to measure one’s practice, but it’s my entertainment today).
Each quality is ranked on a scale of 10 (yes, very anal)

This is today’s assessment (You'll see I’m not a generous marker):
Grace – 3
Flow – 4
Joy - 3
Flexibility – 3
Malleability – 2
Strength – 8
Focus – 5
Determination – 7
Courage – 7
Breath 6

Which only adds up to 48 out of 100 so today I’d fail if this were a yoga school examination!

The point of the exercise of course is trying to measure and compare the ebb and flow of qualities in my practice. It’s my personal record of what qualities are present or lacking in my body each day and comparing that to the changing ecosystem in my mind.
I’m absolutely convinced that our state of mind (both conscious and sub-conscious) manifests in our body. I just haven’t worked out the algebraic formula to decipher the code.
Hence my practice assessment.

Yoga practice doesn’t have to be all serious spiritual stuff…and svadyaya (self-study) can be fun, especially if you don’t take your Self seriously.


gartenfische said...

Yes, anal! But we Ashtangis tend to be anal!

I am drawn to the idea of your rating system, but I'm not sure I'll do it because I'll probably just get discouraged. If I do, though, I think I'll add the breath, bandhas and driste.

I read once that mula bandha should not be held in sirsasana. I'm not positive, but it might have been in a Desikachar book. I do it anyway, because it seems odd to suddenly drop it like that, but I wonder?


nobodhi said...

For me, bandhas and driste come under 'focus' because if my internal focus is weak, both of these are weak too.
Hey thanks, that's interesting about not holding mula bandha in sirsasana, especially as it's so powerful when you engage it...but I agree it doesn't seem right to drop it because the pose loses it's dynamism.
And besides, isn't the real yoga a very personal and experiential journey... once we have the basic practice toolkit, at some point we have to discard the training wheels (other people's instructions) so we can experiment and develop the maturity to decide for ourselves.
I'm all for trusting the teacher within....

gartenfische said...

I totally agree with you about trusting the teacher within. I feel as if I'm starting to do that more as I feel pretty comfortable with the practice, but I agree that the basics should be in place first in order to provide the grounding for the practice.