29 November 2010

An Ashtanga coffee practice

Pure espresso-yoga heaven this morning.

I was amazed at how many poses I could do, and actually DID do.
Energy, strength and flexibility all came together for an amazing Ashtanga practice today.

Thank you and namaste to whoever discovered coffee beans and to all the hard working third world farmers, western scientists and baristas who have perfected the art of growing, roasting and brewing those magical beans.

Rarely would I practice straight after a coffee.
Coffee and breakfast come well deserved AFTER early morning yoga practice.
Evening yoga practices are devoid of artificial stimulation because I don’t drink coffee after lunchtimes.

Today was the exception to the rule for reasons too boring to go into.

Rocket fuel propelled me into practice and provided starry eyed bravado to go where I hadn’t been for a very long time.

There are still a few poses I have to modify in the sequence – mostly the bent knee to chest twists such as Parivritta Parsvakonasana, Marichy ABC.
And there are still a few poses I won’t even attempt (Marichy D and Bhuja through to Supta K), but apart from those exceptions I did the entire sequence from beginning to end with correct breath count and vinyasas between sides. I was flying on a lovely light caffeine breeze.

Don’t get me wrong - it wasn’t easy - with only 5 breaths in each pose a sense of urgency presses me forward into the depth of the pose much earlier than what is comfortable. That’s one of the reasons the Ashtanga practice is so intense, there’s no time to relax, hang out and allow the body to open in its own time. I reach my natural flexibility limit in each pose by about the second breath then forge ahead into new territory, feeling and working every resistant muscle, tendon and joint within that short space of five breaths - then suddenly…it’s time to move on, ready or not, whether it felt long enough or not. Most often I’d like to stay longer, just another breath or two to explore the intricate nuances more seductively, but no, that would defeat the purpose amd the context. Ashtanga is about moving and breathing, soaring up to the heavens on an uplifting breeze (and am extra shot of caffeine). Extended deep sea exploration is not conducive to this practice…save it for a quiet evening.

Utkatasana done properly in tandem with Ujjiya breath and an authentic Mula Bandha, dramatically and instantly changes the sound and quality of my breath - it becomes a fierce wind blowing through an enormous tunnel. Today this occurred in a few other poses as well giving testament to the energetic quality of the entire practice.

I did get a little mixed up with the pose sequence after Baddha Konasana. It’s been quite a while since I’ve reached this later part of the practice - at least a year. So at Baddha Konasana I was caught by surprise when I couldn’t remember the sequence - did Upavista Konasana or Supta Padangusthasana come next? I got it wrong but it didn’t matter, I did both poses anyway.

And there was plenty of juice left for three Urdhva Dhanurasanas, with no warm up backbends, just a short stop in Bridge pose on my way up (no quad stretches or Dhanurasana or Ustrasana – flying strictly by the book today). Straightening my arms for the first backbend was sheer will power but after that my body softened and opened allowing me to stretch open all the muscles through the front of my body and work strongly in the backbend.

And the glorious finishing poses…sweet, rich icing on the cake with the delicious Urdhva Padmasana, Matsyasana, and Urdhva Paschimottanasana, somehow they satisfy the soul deeply and thoroughly when placed at the end of this exhilarating practice, much more so than when done in isolation in another (eg. Iyengar) context.

Amalgamated Sadness Rapture

Michael Luenig has just become my new hero...
Here is an excerpt from 'The Lot'...
'Christmas approaches and an unforseen sadness quite suddenly appears. How beautiful and astonishing it is. There you are, standing alone in the kitchen, paused between one ordinary thing and the next, when all at once this strange feeling enters the body like wine, gently flooding your veins with a mysterious sweet mixture of grief and yearning.
And there, intoxicated for a moment, we are able to stand clear of the world and stare like children into the life that was ours, the life that has slipped away so sadly and joyfully, beyond memory and into the blackness of space, without us having understood very much of it at all.
I hereby name this sweet pre-Christmas melancholy ‘amalgamated sadness rapture’, suspecting it is distilled form the dim memory of all life’s losses and all the deepest, dearest need s that were denied to us and others or never met or never known. ‘Beautiful but nevermore’ is the sense of it.
Yet in no way is it depressing, this elusive melancholy, particularly when held and savoured – for then it is recognised as the healing miracle of acceptance. Fortunate indeed are those who ever find even the briefest glimpses into this rare and gentle epiphany, and if I could wish all the world something for Christmas, I would certainly wish it some amalgamated sadness rapture – otherwise known as peace.

19 November 2010

Very tired today, I had no choice but to stay in bed, no guilt. I dragged my feet to work feeling the bones moving inside my joints, they needed oiling, but yoga was not possible. I was sill lethargic in the afternoon, looking out at the world through heavy eyes, my body didn’t want to expend any energy or move. A day in bed would have been nice.

Long ago I gave up trying to analyze the massive daily fluctuations in my energy levels, mood, flexibility, stamina, strength etc. I used to keep a journal and note down on a scale of 1 – 10 where I was at that day, thinking I’d crack the code and eventually work out what I needed to do to consistently rate a 10 out of 10 for everything – was it something simple, like cut out sugar, don’t eat after 6pm at night, more protein, less protein perhaps, or was it to do with my stress level on the previous day, some vitamin or mineral missing from my raw diet, the time of the month, the lunar cycle, biorhythms (what were they again?)…but after years of morning Ashtanga practice which served as a blank canvas for observing and recording the fluctuations, my final conclusion was there was no magic formula.

For sure I can be careful of my food intake, get enough sleep and just generally take good care of my health. If I don’t, my health and energy decline. It’s not rocket science.
And I know my energy is quite consistenly vibrant compared to the people around me.

But I’m no longer curious about why my body is flexible one day and feels like clay the next, why it’s lethargic in the morning and full of stamina in the early evening, or strong and vigorous one day then the muscles won’t grip the next day.
It doesn’t matter.
Its all just what it is.
Each day is unique, and each day I am reborn into this world with a new set of conditions and challenges.
There’s no final destination to get to where my body will perform smoothly and consistently like liquid gold and where life has no bumps and surprises – the fairy tale ending is what we are living right now in this moment - millions of fairy tale endings and beginnings, floating one on top of another, all woven into our beautiful daily life.

As the day progressed, my energy picked up.
I got home from work and felt the hole left in the day by no morning yoga practice.
My heart missed it.
So I had a quick shower, washed off the work day, then found my way to the yoga mat.
I did the full Iyengar week 26 – 30 sequence.

Headstand and variations – 9 minutes in total
Shoulderstand and variations – 18 minutes in total
I’m loving what Urdhva Padmasana in Shoulderstand does to the base of my spine, structurally and energetically.
I took full advantage of every twist tonight, from the complete body twist of Parsva Sirsasana, to the little neck twist in Jatara Parvatasana, and the fully spiraling spinal motions of Ardha Matsyendrasana and Marichyasana 3.
Cellular tension was squeezed out at every opportunity.
I limited the seated poses to 5 breaths on each side so I wouldn’t burn out before the end of the sequence. It was the right approach for tonight – it kept me focused and moving. I didn’t stop to rest between poses so finished the sequence in 75 minutes. My body was malleable, my mind engaged and there was a lovely feeling of fully inhabiting every inch of my body.
Intense and satisfying.
I haven’t been doing this practice as religiously or as regularly as I’d like, but I’m becoming quite fond of the sequence of poses, (except for Garudasana at the end which I do under sufferance). After 3 or 4 more evening practices (perhaps in a couple of weeks), I think I’ll be ready to move on to the next sequence in Mr Iyengar’s massive course and a new set of challenges.
Savasana with Buffy on top.

16 November 2010

Wednesday practice

The cool, crisp mornings are glorious, we are near the end of spring and heading towards summer, the days are getting warmer.

I rise at 5.15am.
The sun rises at 6am.

I walk Buffy through dark into light then shower and step on to the mat.

This morning’s practice started well. My body felt strong and pliable - the sun salutes were rich, challenging my body to open, demanding unwavering attention.
In Trikonasana I noticed my mind starting to wander from what I was doing. I stayed for 8 breaths on both sides, then moved into Parivritta Trikonasana, grounding deeply, squaring my hips, correcting alignment, extending the spine out of that elusive mula bandha, but again drifting in and out of my engagement with the pose. For those 16 breaths in PV Trikonasana my will to remain present flapped in the wind. My mind lost its anchor, I was adrift elsewhere.
It wasn’t monkey mind, it was dreamy, unfocussed mind, and my energy waned quickly, a potent reminder of how an unfocussed mind drains the body of its vitality.

I changed course abandoning the flowing Ashtanga practice, opting instead to fill out the yoga hour with inversions and forward bends:
8 minutes in Headstand, including some variations
4 minutes in Shoulderstand then Halasana
Straight legged Matsyasana
Supta Padangusthasana
Janu Sirsasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
Upavista Konasana with a gentle twist over each leg
Baddha Konasana
Surely there were a few more poses in there somewhere - I just can’t remember them now. In that half attentive mindstate, what I was doing wasn't registering in my memory, the practice evolved moment by moment, with no coherent sequence. The end brought relief and another yawn.

Looking in the mirror afterwards I was taken by surprise at the peachy smoothness of my skin, and the colour!!!…my face was aglow with the sunrise of a yoga practice.


Ooops, I mustn't forget Ebony's 7 year old daughter Lily (my grand daughter).
She's obsessed with dinosaurs and magic and flying.

Last family photo, I promise.

15 November 2010


And just to be fair, here's a recent photo of my daughter...


My son (and teacher).

Miscellaneous thoughts

Tuesday - it was so easy to get up at 5.15am this morning
(probably because I slept in yesterday morning...shhh)

AND I had another good, solid practice.

Surya Namaskars, all the standing poses, handstands, Pincha Mayurasana (deliciously internal shoulder surgery), the usual backbends: Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana (more shoulder surgery), Supta something (alternate knees to chest), then the entire finishing sequence from Shoulderstand through to Baddha Padmasana.

The result...
My body feels gorgeous today, strong, clear, sensual and energetic.
My mental state is focused, positive and loving.
My emotions are balanced
My spirit refined and pure.

I’ve booked into another 10 day Vipassana retreat from 8 - 20 December. I’ve done one every year since the year 2000 except for last year – which makes 8 in total, so I’m definitely an ‘old student’, in fact I could qualify for ‘ancient student’ by now.
There’s a two year build up of messy, sticky thoughts to clean out, a thick layer of mental grime. Yuk.
It will take ten long days of meditation to slowly and painfully scrape the surfaces clean, and with some consistently focussed mental application, I might get down into some of the deeper stains as well.

Turning 50 a few months ago I remember posting about being completely lost.
I felt stuck - in my body, my practice, my relationship and my journey.
Ending a long term relationship was painful but necessary - it was long overdue but it has facilitated a new phase in my life.

Good yoga habit

HABITS – how to overcome bad ones, and how to replace them with good ones.
How to reprogram the mind.
That topic provoked some deep discussion with my son Nik last Sunday. He’d been listening to an audio book on personal transformation that had really impressed him and wanted to pass on some of the information to me.

His question to me: what positive habit would you like to create that would help you become the best person you can be?

My answer (without much thought): to get up at 5.15am Monday to Friday so I can do an early morning yoga practice before work..

His response: What stops you?

I do ask myself this question every time I hit the snooze button.
I have lots of excuses.

Nik decided I was a good test case for his experiment on how to create good habits (why couldn’t he do this experiment on himself I pondered).
The experiment…how to set up the conditions that will get me out of bed at 5.15am every weekday. He gave me a plan...and then made me commit.

For years I’ve been setting my alarm before bed, feeling really enthusiastic about getting up for early morning practice, but when that alarm goes off, its groundhog day. The alarm injects my brain with a massive dose of amnesia, fog, and denial. A brick wall.
No amount of inspiration, enthusiasm or good intention the night before has been able to make it through the thick fog that sends me blissfully back to sleep. No amount of guilt either.

Not until last week.

You see my son has great power over me.
What he says, I do.
Retraining the mind and shattering mental habits is hard dirty work. You need as much help as you can get.
He made me write my intention on paper, list why I wanted to do this, and how it will make me feel. He then made me sign a contract to get up at 5.15am, walk the dog, have a shower and then do a yoga practice, Monday to Friday, every morning.

I couldn’t let him down.

Monday practice was mediochre – 1 hour.

Tuesday was great, strong internal focus on mula bandha: Sun Salutes, standing poses to Parsvottanasana then backbends (including a surprisingly open Urdhva Dhanurasana), Shoulderstand, Halasana Matsyasana, Sirsasana, childs Pose, Padmasana twist, Baddha Padmasana, Savasana. After my shower I did a few handstands.

Wednesday and Thursday mornings were lethargic. I had no vitality, couldn’t even engage my muscles so I had no choice but to do restorative poses. Either my body was fighting off a virus, or it was premenstrual, or the early mornings had caught up with me. My body and mind were in shut down so practice was minimal…and slow. I stayed in childs pose for an eternity. At work, I wanted only to go home and go to sleep, but my energy actually picked up on both afternoons.

Friday I had a fantastic practice: sun salutes and standing poses up to Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, then the full set of finishing poses, enjoying 5 minutes in Urdhva Padmasana. Not only that, it was the first of the five days when I stepped out of bed at 5.15am feeling bright eyed, focused and energetic.

Friday evening I did a second practice – sort of following the Iyengar week 26-30 sequence, picking out all the poses I could do and leaving out all the ones I couldn’t.
All Headstand and Shoulderstand variations, and I got into full Lotus in Headstand on one side
Jatara (but no Navasanas)
All the seated poses up to Gomukasana,
Padmasana and Parvatasana,
Then I sort of digressed and did Supta Virasana, Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Bridge pose and a long 5 minute Dog Pose.
Nothing outstanding, just a good solid practice.
The next day I noticed a lovely tickle-itch deep down in my sacral lumbar spine. I’m sure this is from the Lotus in Headstand and Shoulderstand poses, it feels like energy being unlocked and a chakra coming alive, a tiny uncurling of serpent energy.

A few weeks have passed since I did the full Week 26-30 Iyengar sequence - it needs to be worked on regularly – twice a week would be the minimum, three times would be ideal, but more than that might be overdoing it for me. My daily routine is settling down and more time is gradually returning for yoga practice.
Early mornings 5 times a week
Evenings 2-3 times a week

New habits…Nik said they take 3 months to form roots.
I am determined.

Dog Fence

Back in June I visited Central Australia. One of the art students asked me to tie a piece of wool around the Dog Fence and take photos of it, which I did. It was part of a project she was working on and others had done the same for her when travelling up north.

Last week she asked me to write something about the act of putting the wool on the fence which may end up in a booklet supporting her work.

The long journey home after 5 days in the outback
My spirit still immersed in the vast arid landscape, my mind still expanded
The dog fence – I’d missed it on the way up, I must find it on the way back
I’d promised Liz
Artists like to make stuff, to externalize their inner world, to leave their mark through their work on the outer world
Liz had given me no context for tying the gaudy blue and red wool around the dog fence
I couldn’t invent or impose artistic meaning upon this act of graffiti
Leaving this mark came not from my own creative impulse
I was simply an instrument writing Liz’s personal message upon a fence
I travel light, finding meaning in the mystical, the nameless, the subtle, the invisible
Leaving as little trace as possible, preferring silence, translucence…
Weaving artificial strands of wool around the iconic dog fence I felt the heaviness of layering another mark upon this pure, ancient landscape
The act would reverberate in my conscience, like the dark residue left on my psyche from speaking unkind words
But I’d promised Liz
I wove the red and blue wool around the wire, leaving the long ends free, intuitively needing to set them free, to fly, externalizing my own hidden compulsions
Without the wind they would have hung limp, but instead they rippled and danced, flying wildly in the wind, tugging at their shackles for freedom
My job was done
The dog fence…to Liz a symbol of division, separation and alienation, had come alive with colour and movement
I hear the wool is still there
Speeding past, you may catch an enigmatic bright flash of streaming colour as the wind whips the fence
The meaning, like life itself, is open to interpretation…

8 November 2010

Nature is a Lover

"Nature is entirely feminine. Whether you are a man or a woman, whether you are straight or gay, she does not mind. She will seduce you anyway. Nature is shy, and won’t reveal herself fully to you until she knows you come in sacredness; she has been raped by mankind for too long. If you respect her, if you visit her in the early morning when commerce is still asleep, or at night, or if you are willing to travel far into her interior, she will show you her secrets of sensual love.

You cannot have any connection with her through your mind. She never lives there; she cannot. She will sway and breathe and run from concepts. You cannot really know her very deeply through watching or listening to her. That is a kind of voyeurism that she will tolerate, but with disinterest. She might pose pretty for you, offer you a nice vista here and there, but she will be relieve when you drive away again in search of other entertainment.

She will meet you only in the physical. That is her m├ętier. Give her your naked feet, and she will open to you and reveal her gifts. When you see a moist and shadowy mossy place, throw your civilized habits to the winds and lie down on the moss. Touch her with your naked skin. Dive into her cool pools; be warmed by her boulders in the sun. Rub yourself against her bark. Then dance in the secret places of her forest and become One with her.
Nature is a lover. She will bring you home to yourself if you are willing to be washed clean of all that is not her."
from Leap Before You Look by Arjuna Ardagh
Above: taken at Gandy's Gully where I regularly walk
Below: Lily and me at Telowie Gorge, Flinders Ranges

4 November 2010

Wandering Angus

There’s not much to say about yoga practice in this post except that its been spasmodic over the last three weeks: a few short early morning practices (usually sun salutes, standing poses and some backbends) and I think I may have done two evening practices in that time – both of them half the week 26-30 Iyengar sequence.

So I shall digress from my comfortable routine of posting about yoga practice, and write a more personal entry because my life has been suddenly turned upside down.

For the past three weeks I’ve been sharing my very private home space with the person who sent me the poem.
He sent me the poem…the recognition of lifetimes spent together was instant…so he moved in.
It feels timeless and eternal, as if we've always known each other, as if we've been waiting.
He is there every day and every night now and the heady perfume of our romance fills every room.

I may be in love…I may be in shock.

How did this happen so quickly.

My carefully guarded solitude and my beloved yoga practice have been temporarily replaced with long evenings together in front of a computer, as I help him to catch up on a backlog of overdue art theory assignments - a sacrificial labour of love.
My simple green salad dinners have been replaced with gourmet vegetarian meals prepared for two.
His laundry hangs across my verandah.
Hauntingly sweet sounds from his guitar fill the quiet corners of my house late at night.
There is candle light, and smiles, and little notes left on the table signed with kisses.
I love you seems to flow from our lips like honey.
Sometimes I have to escape - I walk the dog alone to get some space and perspective on all of this.

When this intoxicating new situation settles down into a more grounded relationship, we’ll be able to re-establish our priorities and practices, and see clearly again, but for now the Divine is sweeping wildly through us both.

And that’s all I’m saying

Next post will hopefully be about yoga…

Smack bang in middle of ending my previous relationship and falling headlong into this one, I took a few days off work, packed the car, gathered up my son, daughter and granddaughter and whisked them away for our very first bush holiday together. I’d dreamed and wished and prayed for years for this little getaway and finally, all of our personal circumstances made it possible.

I cannot possibly convey the significance of the three days I spent in the bush with them.
And the love I feel for them now...

The four of us climbed Mount Remarkable together, almost to the top. It rained on and off. We took turns piggy-backing Lily when she sulkily refused to take another step up the mountain - it was Lily who sabotaged our valiant efforts to reach the peak.
Turning around for the downhill trek, we were all hungry, damp and a little disappointed, but invigorated by the climb, the mountain air and breathtaking views over the plains.
Trapped in suburban life we don’t realize how these surroundings restrict our gaze - wherever we look we are confronted with structures, walls, boxes and the hard straight lines of buildings - the few natural forms of trees and bushes in the cities are strangled and confined to neat rows and small park areas.

Rolling hills, open plains, the expanse of the ocean…they allow our eyes to longingly reach out over soft distances and rest in panoramic spaciousness. As our gaze filters into distance, that distance returns to fill out and expand our minds.