30 August 2010

As the monthly cycle comes around again I listen for clues. Some months I feel almost nothing and can carry on with my usual activities unaware of the internal shedding; other months the sensations are strong, organs feel full and heavy, reproductive processes are abuzz with energetic impulses and sparkles.

This month it was imperceptible. I chose not to do yoga for the first three days. Yesterday I did consider a menstrual practice so I looked up the sequences just to refresh my memory of what poses I was given in Iyengar classes when stuck over there in the corner: Supta Virasana, Supta Baddha Konasana, a range of forward bends with head on bolster, lots of wide legged poses to open up the pelvis and encourage apana, elimination and release.
The Supta poses are said to alleveiate cramping and abdominal bloating and the forward bends alleviate backache and pain in the legs. I had none of these symptoms so it didn’t feel right to indulge in the warm bath that is passive menstrual yoga.
I felt too well, too energetic, too inspired.

So in place of yoga time on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, I went bushwalking, yes, three consecutive days, up hills, down gulleys, along ridges and through creeks raging with water after the recent rains. That too is my yoga…Communion, not with the Creator, but with Creation.

26 August 2010

Walking the dog, 6.30am, the sun has risen but it’s cold and windy. We avoid the deep puddles, evidence of rainfall during the darker morning hours.

For a while I wander with my preoccupied mind…events from work, conversations, emails… plans for today, tomorrow, what will I cook, what I mustn’t forget to buy…weighing up whether or not to visit my sister, my daughter, my mum, my son on the weekend, when can I possibly fit them all in…pondering bigger plans for the future, like teaching yoga again, how might it develop and how much energy should I give to this growing thought, is it just another entertaining fantasy that’s providing temporary excitement for my creative impulse?

A gust of wind wakes me up.

Here I am right now, two streets away from home. Buffy lifts her face up from sniffing, she faces into the wind and it blows the long fur back from her cute face. I can tell she is trying to identify all the different scents carried by the wind that are entering her nostrils. What else is she sensing, braced motionless into the wind?

I am propelled into the Now. I share her excitement of wild wind in my face. I notice the direction it comes from, the fluctuating temperature that ebbs and flows with the gusts. I look around and notice the quality of the cloudy morning, the dull light, the thick blanket of moving cloud, the blossom buds on the trees and bushes waiting expectantly for the first warm day of spring.
And I hear birds, four, five, maybe six different birdsongs, a harmonic patchwork of sounds and frequencies, secret bird conversations across the canopy of trees.

For a moment my somatic vision expands to include the landscape beneath the suburbs. This road isn’t flat. The plains upon which these suburbs were built gently undulate and rise towards the cluster of foggy hills in the east where I often climb to look down on the city panorama.
I look down now. Beneath the concrete ground is a million years of history. Before there were streets, this was all wild, natural bushland. I feel a shift. Time collapses. I sense the Aborigines around me. This is their land. They are still here in spirit and their presence is not restricted by time. I am wide awake in a multi-dimensional space where the past is contained within the present.

Being fully present for one absolute moment is a beautiful experience.
Being continually present as a way of living takes a lifetime of practice.
Being present is a direct connection into a pure realm of reality, unclouded by thought and judgement. Poised on the edge of this deep immersion I feel sensual, earthy, honest, natural and profoundly connected to the past and present unfolding around me and the magnificent space that holds it all.

Buffy hesitates then stops – she’s reached the edge of her known territory and abruptly turns toward home, retracing her route without stopping to sniff. I follow, jogging a little to match her pace. She makes me smile. I am so grateful that God created dogs and for my funny, perky, stubborn, intense, loving, playful, obsessive, loyal, cheeky, soulful little four-legged furry companion, who takes me out walking at sunrise every day and who constantly reminds me that I too am both a simple and complex creature of this earth.
Practice notes

I didn’t get up in time to do a full Ashtanga Primary practice, but the last time I did that was probably over two years ago!
Still that doesn’t stop me from setting my alarm every evening with great optimism.

I did get up a t 6am and walk the dog. Stepping onto my mat at 7am I had just over 45 minutes for yoga. It was a quiet practice: a few stretches to ease the stiffness out my back, then I started with Paryankasana of all things, only because I couldn’t fully lay my body back for Supta Virasana – early morning tight quads arched my back so I had to rest on the the crown of my head for a while (hands holding elbows overhead) before gradually easing the arch out of my spine and laying fully down to the floor in Supta Virasana.
After that it was
50 breaths in Headstand (7 minutes)
a long Childs Pose
Janu Sirsasana

and cross legged forwad bends – a real beginners pose, but one that no longer comes easily (especially first thing in the morning). Today this simple forward bend revealed the extent of the stiffness in my lumbar and hips, but it also helped me to release some of it.

It was 45 minutes well spent - I must remember
1) not to lose my optimism when I set the alarm at night
2) not to judge myself so harshly when I fall short of my high expectations and
3) not to compare my current practice with how it used to be.

Tonight I’ll have a rare night free to do another practice after work – it could be an Ashtanga or an Iyengar practice, will see…

It was an Iyengar practice tonight – again straight out of Light On Yoga.
This time week 22-25 from the asana courses.

20 breaths in Headstand and 5 breaths in each variation.
It took me 15 breaths in Shoulderstand to develop the necessary strength and alignment up through my core and to confidently remove the support of my arms and hands for the Niralamba variations. My aversion to starting practice with inversions is diminishing - some mornings when time is short, I am quite satisfied with a one pose practice - Headstand - before work. Very economical.

My body hasn’t reclaimed enough lumbar curvature to feel comfortable in any degree of Karnapidasana although I can now get my knees to my forehead - that’s safe now.
Six months ago I couldn’t even bend my knees from Halasana because of the lumbar injury…compared with three years ago when folding in half was delicious, knees were planted firmly on the floor and squeezing my knees into my ears was a joy.
I mention this, not because I am grieving the loss of mobility, but because my yoga practice allows me to measure both the damage and the rate of healing. Slowly, not daily, but perhaps monthly, I am noticing a little progress in tiny areas of my body.

I am enjoying being a beginner again and discovering yoga all over again.
But this time round of course the years of knowledge and practice make it a deeper exploration. Simple beginners poses like Childs Pose and cross legged forward bends are multi layered, and I am able to dig deeply and excavate the buried treasure they hold: gifts of acceptance, awareness, presence, deep release and joy.

After the endless cycle of Shoulderstand variations in this sequence, I did a slow Chakrasana, not realising (until literally now) that I’d missed out Urdhva Prasarita Padasana and Jatara.
Then came the four ‘downward facing backbends’ (Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Bhujangasana, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), with Chaturanga Dandasana somewhere in the middle, Downward Dog then the standard line up of six forward bends including Marichyasana 1 and 2; after the two ‘buttock balances’ came the new poses for this week’s sequence:
Lolasana – no lift off, no way can I get my feet off the floor but like a beginner, it’s the trying that activates all the right muscles and neurons to build the pose. This is a pose where the knees are not only bent towards the chest (like Karnapidasana and Child Pose) but also lifted off the ground . The abdominal and dep internal muscles needed for this are damaged and dead but I remain optimistic…
Gomukhasana – the classic version balanced on one folded leg that I actually prefer to the version where the legs are splayed. Balancing on the heel is the challenge but when it comes, it’s lovely.
Simhasana – a pose I’d NEVER done in an Iyengar class in all my life, perhaps because it’s not very attractive. It’s a bizarre, mad yogi pose.

Padmasana and Parvatasana, nice and easy…for me any pose with Padmasana legs activates deep internal energetic mechanisms and combined with Ujjiya breathing, they are enormously powerful.
Tolasana – this pose I can do easily, it’s the same as one of the finishing poses in the Ashtanga sequence but they call it Uth Pluthi
Virasana, Supta Virasana, Paryankasana – I swapped around these last two poses. Same story as this morning…after laying back from Virasana it was easier to prop myself up on the crown of my head in the back arch as this position has less of a groin stretch. Gradually as the groins eased open and lengthened, I came fully down into Supta Virasana, rolling from the crown to the back of my head.

I missed out Ustrasana accidentally - my old, battered copy of Light on Yoga has very small type which is even harder to see towards the end of practice as my vision gets yoga-hazed.
Utkatasana – still don’t understand why it’s here…but at least it was followed by
Uttanasana in this sequence so it wasn’t quite so isolated.

Twists – Bharadvajasana 1 and 2, then Marichyasana 3 and Ardha Matsyendrasana, both which I had to modify by sitting on a folded blanket– these are danger poses – firstly the knee to chest position puts my hip joint into its most troubled position and secondly there’s the additional lumbar/sacral twist. But as difficult as they were, they still felt wonderful- which is a really good sign.
Malasana and Baddha Konasana to finish.

One hour and 40 minutes, then 15 mintues in Savasana with the cat snuggled between my thighs and little Buffydog sitting quite comfortably on my chest.

20 August 2010

Each year the four seasons come and go, imbuing our lives with their particular quality.
Being creatures of the earth and intimately connected to nature, we adjust our activites and lifestyles, not only in response to the changes in temperature, but to the more subtle effects of these seasonal cycles: winter brings quieter nights at home, a slower pace, more time for reflection, and we naturally choose to eat more earthy foods like root vegetables, pulses and warming casseroles; with the coming of spring we feel the inspiration of resurrection and rebirth, new life emerging, dormant buds beginning to open, baby birds hatching and warm breezes sweeping the gloom of winter away…

I start with this observation for a very personal reason* - our inner lives, like the seasons of nature, are also cyclic – we’ve all experienced a winter dormancy where there is no inspiration and just a plodding along in the darkness, then suddenly, the promise of new life in spring, new ideas seem to hatch out of nowhere upon fresh breezes of inspiration; summer induces activity, the fruition and externalisation of those ideas; our inner autumn is a time when we prune back our frenzy of activities, take stock, mull things over, preserve and absorb what is useful, and consolidate.

*I have never felt this connection to inner seasons more clearly than now. Having spent two full years in a personal wintery hibernation, completely withdrawn from the world, I sense this season has naturally begun to wither away…and at last it feels like spring is approaching.

Friday evening practice

A mixture of surprise, relief and optimism…there’s a glimmer of improvement in my body’s mobility, suggesting that the damage to my lumbar may not be completely irrepairable. The ‘stuckness’ might be shifting.
Only in the past month or so have I noticed a slight improvement in some of the poses, perhaps due to the core exercises done over the past 6 months, or my self-designed exercises that have specifically targeted the damaged and dead areas.

Practice started at 6.30pm. I arrived home from a busy day at work, frozen and wet from the wintry weather.
A hot shower, a heater, a yoga mat and a Light on Yoga sequence: week 19-22.
I did every single pose in this sequence, a rhythmic ujjiya breath threading each pose to the next, a minimum of 5 breaths in each pose with a longer stay in the more challenging ones. The whole practice took me just over an hour, a lot less than I’d expected but there was no stopping or futzing around; it was a very focussed, engaged and continuous flow so I moved quite steadily and thoroughly through the sequence.

Here’s how it went:

20 breaths in Headstand, then 5 breaths for each variation (parsva and eka pada) so a total of 40 breaths (I didn’t time it tonight).
10 breaths in Shoulderstand and 5 breaths for the multitude of variations.
Niralamba Sarvangasana was delightfully strong and straight.

Urdhva Prasaritta Padasana – 5 breaths at each holding point – about 70, 45 and 30 degrees with enormous focus on locking Uddiyana and Mula bandhas while pressing my lumbar curve into the floor.
Jatara Parivartanasana
Chakrasana – as this was the first time I’d attempted this pose in over a year, I paused halfway in Halasana for a few breaths before rolling slowly over like an unravelling spiral
Paripoorna and Ardha Navasana

Utkatasana – I adore this pose but the insertion of it here makes no sense to me, neither in theory nor in the practice. To go from abdominal floor work up to standing in Utkatasana and then back down to the floor for backbends is quite odd. I’d love to know what Mr Iyengar’s reasoning was for inserting Utkatasana at this point. In an attempt to connect Navasana to Utkatasana I did a vinyasa up to standing, then spent 7 breaths working in Utkatasana, then a vinyasa to Upward Dog and Downward Dog and a little jump to Ustrasana (just can’t take the Ashtangi out of me)

Ustrasana then Virasana – a welcome insertion although it was the upright version. I really wanted to lean back into Supta Virasana to prepare my groins for the following backbends but resisted the urge to deviate from Mr Iyengar’s sequence. I was quite determined to go by the book tonight.
Salabhasana, the gorgeous Dhanurasana, Chaturanga Dandasana (which I actually held for 5 breaths) Bhujangasana, Upward Dog and Downward Dog, then a little jump through to the seated poses.

Maha Mudra – great for reconnecting and engaging the bandhas, Janu Sirsasana, Triang, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
Marichyasana 1 and 2 - both of these were difficult on the first side though I did manage to bind. Much less lumbar and hip restriction on the second side so binding was easy and forward bending was a delicious reward. I was regularly doing all 4 Marichys at my peak a few years ago (including Marichyasana D), then I lost all of them, so it’s gratifying to be inching my way back into them. Each of the four Marichys require increasing curvature in the L4/L5/S1 joints, the exact points of my injury.

Ubyaha Padangusthasana, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana and Paschimottanasana.
These three poses were interesting because they highlighted my crookedly aligned body. My left leg is almost an inch shorter than my right leg which tilts my pelvis, which in turn has caused abnormal wear and tear on the joints of the sacrum, ilium and lumbar spine – hence the lumbar and hip problems I now deal with.
Imagine Dog Pose – when my feet are correctly aligned, the left side of my pelvis drops because of the shorter leg. So many yoga teachers have mistakenly tried to correct my Dog Pose by lifting my left hip up when really I should have adjusted the distance of my feet, stepping the right foot slightly further back than the left! (why did it take a severe injury to realise this – it seems so logical now???).
Same story in Uttanasana – Now I know to raise my left heel in this pose which is admittedly unconventional but this kind of adjustment will prevent further deterioration of my lumbar and facet joints.
So while working in these three symmetrical poses with extended legs, I look at my two feet and slide the right inner ankle bone down to sit just below the left inner ankle bone, my right foot extending an inch beyond my left foot. My pelvis and spine sigh with relief.

Purvottanasana – after all the forward bending, moving into this backbend was a slow process, but patience paid off. My arm strength allowed me to hold the pose for 10 breaths, enough time to gradually stretch it open and up into full blossom.

Bharadvajasana 1 and 2 – The half lotus leg in Bharadvajasana stabilises the base of this pose which gives me more solid ground to work the twist, and although I try my best to establish a solid sense of grounding in #1, this version has always resembled the leaning tower of Pisa.

Malasana and Baddha Konasana.

An indulgent 20 minute Savasana with the dog nestled between my legs.
And I skipped the final Ujjiya Pranayama because I’d used this style of breathing throughout my 1 hour of asana. I'm not sure Mr Iyengar would approve of that, but I suspect that's how he was originally taught by Krishnamacharya.

This is a nice evening practice so I may stick with it for a week or two before moving on to the next one in the series (week 22-25)
I can sense my body beginning to unfold again, responding to the faint whisper of spring, and at long last, perhaps even healing.

Thank you to Jenny and Ariana for rekindling my interest in these sequences in Light On Yoga.

Image: taken just outside of Wirrabara Forest last weekend. A moment later, the rainbow had disappeared.

19 August 2010

“If you are ‘going in search of’ the truth, this is the best way not to find it. If you expect to come across something about which you can say: ‘Here is the truth!’ you are mistaken.
Truth is the world we are immersed in. We are bound to it, we are one with it, and it is impossible to separate ourselves from it. We live in truth, we eat it, and breathe it, we exist in it and it exists in us. You must therefore stop thinking that it can come to you from the outside. What can come from the outside are encounters with people, objects, books or works of art which awaken intimations of the truth in you, but that is all.”
- Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov

Practice this morning – not much different to yesterday:
A few core warm up exercises
A few Surya Namaskars to get a rhythmic Ujjiya breath going
The first four standing poses (Trikonasana, Parivritta Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Parivritta Parsvakonasana)
50 breaths in Sirsasana (translation: a 6 minute Headstand)
Long stay in Childs Pose – after which I always need to stretch open my front hips
Supta Baddha Konasana over a lengthwise bolster
Supta Baddha Konasana over a crosswise bolster
Dog Pose
Espresso and off to work

18 August 2010

Short Morning Practice

Another short practice this morning – still I was perfectly happy with it and it was enough to enliven my spirit into the working day.

It started with 50 Ujjiya breaths in Sirsasana (Headstand) with an extra 10 breaths in Parsva Sirsasana, my favourite variation.
Total 60 breaths which kept me balanced upside down on my head for 7 minutes.
Sirsasana is an easy but powerful pose to do when the body’s core energy is weak. Poised up there in a perfectly aligned balance, it requires very little muscle strength to hold. On days when my core energy is strong it’s a different pose and I play more with the energetics of the pose. Today I just got there and stayed, not much more to it than that.

After folding up into Childs Pose for a couple of minutes the plan was for Shoulderstand, but I needed something before that...what was it...some kind of back bend, or more correctly a front stretch. Supta Virasana with a block along my spine gave me what I needed – it stretched open my front body and congested chest, a necessary preparation for Shoulderstand this morning. I discovered that this pose is not quite so easy when done
a) at the beginning of a practice,
b) with early morning stiffness
c) in a cold room with a cold body, and
d) with a head cold.

After 25 breaths in Shoulderstand: Paschimottanasana, then Dog Pose and Uttanasana.
Although that was all I had time for this morning I didn’t succumb to feeling rushed. Each pose felt perfect and complete, and for such a limited practice, that too as a whole felt complete.

As the head cold persists, my yoga practice continues to be a sensitive response to my body’s needs.
The head cold shall pass and practice shall change.

Image: Emus on the side of the road in the Flinders Ranges last weekend.

Head Cold

Three days out bush in wintry conditions last weekend – howling gales that whipped the tent to a frenzy at night, drizzly to torrential rain, muddy tracks, slippery rocks – and I came home Monday night with a cold.
The three days were mostly sunny once the morning rain cleared so we had some great weather for climbing Mount Remarkable and trekking through Alligator Gorge, though parts of the track along the creekbeds were flowing too much to pass and we had to retrace our steps a few times.

But the head cold really set in last night. Getting up at 6am for a yoga practice this morning with a throbbing head and runny nose was well intentioned but not wise. The body needs rest while it heals – all energy is directed into fighting the intruders. I did consult Light On Yoga to see what asanas Mr Iyengar prescribed for a cold – Headstand, Shoulderstand, Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana (in my dreams), Yoga Nidrasana…
I did Headstand and Uttanasana – and that was practice this morning.

Yesterday morning was better –Surya Namaskars, standing poses, handstands, backbends and the finishing inversion sequence. Generally my yoga practice is picking up and I’m becoming quite enthused about it again. Mornings I prefer the flowing Ashtanga practice; in the evenings I’m dipping into the Light on Yoga course sequences again.

I’m hoping to post more often about it all.