24 July 2011


It was 1971. I was eleven years old when I spent a week in that tiny, old cottage at Mylor with my older sister. Suzie had gone to Singapore and had asked my sister to house-sit.

Who was I then?

Why is is the memory of that cottage so alive in me after all other memories have faded into a distant haze?

The feeling of the cottage has haunted me to this day, as if it holds an important secret.

The cottage was surrounded by thick bushland and the back yard edge fell away to a creek; windchimes tinkled on the front porch, and inside it was pure hippyland: unpolished floorboards, indian rugs and cushions on the floor, books, lots of wooden things, exotic incense smells... it was dark but it felt rich in texture. I remember my sister saying that Suzie did yoga - it may have been the first time I'd heard the word.

That was exactly 40 years ago.

I can't remember the last time I saw Suzie - it was probably twenty years ago and it was probably by accident.

Today I drove up into the hills and, found myself passing the cottage. I recognised the wooden sign hanging out the front which has the word Orana burnt into it (the aboriginal word for welcome).

I turned the car around, stopped out front and, knowing Suzie still lived there with her female partner, summoned all my courage to knock on their door.

The cottage is lighter now - they've extended and renovated the tiny bedroom, and the kitchen/living area is much bigger now too. The walls are a happy lemon yellow, and there are more windows, but it still has the same bush hippy feeling that I remember as an impressionable adolescent.

Suzie is over 60 now, but she hasn't changed, she is impish and cheeky, just as I remember her.

She made tea and we talked, surpisingly not about the past, but about now: her trip to Singapore, her neighours, walking trails around Mylor.

Back in the car I am filled with a heady mixture of felt memories - they brew like a magic potion...into the mix goes some deja vu, some time travel, disorientation, loss of self...it begins to heat up, to bubble and simmer...I slip back through time, I am eleven again....am I really that shy dreamy young girl sitting on the indian cushion in 1971? Was that the same me?

Who am I today?

And why do these places and people and things left behind cause me such a sweet, sweet sorrow?

Driving up to Mylor through the mist and the rain this morning, I had no intention of visiting Suzie's cottage on River Road...

I was driving to Mylor to visit Mark's cottage on Silver Lake Road. It was the first time I've been back there since retuning from the retreat with the news of his death.

Driving there, feelings of both joy and sadness washed through me, for all the things and people that are have passed through my life but live on in my heart forever.

Funny that the greater our capacity for joy, the greater our capacity for sorrow. Once the heart is broken open it feels the divine heights and the heartbreaking depths of the human condition.

Mark's delapidated little cottage was sold from his estate about a month or so ago.

I wanted to visit it once more, to walk along the country road where we once walked together, to wander over to the creek where he took me on that first summer's day together when he checked his yabbie net hidden in the gently flowing stream, and where he took my photograph in the tall grass - he saved that photo onto his laptop and called it 'Sally my love'.

Mylor is especially wild and beautiful on misty, rainy Sunday mornings.

Buffy and I walked a little way down Silver Lake Road. Approaching Mark's cottage, Buffy recognised the territory and wanted to go in the gate.

The yard had been tidied, the bushes had been pruned.

There was a car in the drive.

I wondered if the new occupants knew that the former owner had died there, had drunk himself to death because he'd been separated so abruptly from the love of his life. I wonder if they knew his body had been found badly decomposed after four days in a hot bed, the electric blanket left on high.

How can they sleep in a room where someone has desperately drowned in sorrow?

Buffy and I walked quickly past the cottage, the rain was beginning to drop faster.

I deliberately drank the memory potion and crossed through the mist of time - I walked, sensing the impressions of Mark's footsteps along the road, his spirit and his being coming alive in the present. The imprint of his life is etched into this landscape that he loved, its in the creek, in the trees, along the paths, and in the memories and lives of his neighbours and friends.

Why do these places and people and things left behind cause such a sweet, sweet sorrow?

People enter our lives and hearts then move on; each precious day comes and goes, every single moment arises and passes away, then it's lost forever - it will never return.

Suzie's cottage on River Road...Mark's cottage on Silver Lake Road...I revisit and remember, and feel not only deep sorrow for what has passed, but also immaculate joy for being immersed in the ephemeral dance of life.

How precious and how unique is every fleeting moment of our lives.

Take great care to live continually with this awareness...

Mark's cottage at Mylor

18 July 2011

Week 36 - 40 sequence

I moved on to the next sequence in Iyengar's course tonight, week 36 - 40.

It's very different to the last sequence (Week 31 - 35) and much, much longer.

It starts with the same Headstand and Shoulderstand sequences as in Week 31 - 35:

My Headstand balance wasn't so solid tonight - I wasn't wobbly but there was something blurry going on behind my eyes which disorientated me. I fell out of Parivrittaikapada Sirsasana but went immediately back up in to the Headstand again and continued on. Although I got closer than ever to getting both my legs into Padmasana in Sirsasana on the first side, my head and eyes were starting to complain by this time, so I came down and rested in Childs Pose.

Still, that was 8 minutes in Headstand.

The Shoulderstand sequence felt reliable and solid - all the poses are accessible now, perhaps my weakest pose in the Shoulderstand sequence is Parsva Pindasana, where the legs are in Padmasana with the knees folded down towards the armpits and the legs and pelvis twisted around to the side. My difficulty comes in any pose where the knees are bent towards the armpits, so this pose is one that requires care and full attention.

The entire Shoulderstand sequence was 17 minutes tonight.

All up - 25 minutes of inversions to start the practice...

From there the sequence moves on to Jatara Parivartanasana and Supta Padangusthasana, the same as in the week 31-35 sequence. I followed these with Chakrasana, not realising this pose isn't in the new sequence. I think I'll keep doing it here anyway - I have to fully relax my neck to safely roll over and the imperative to release the tension in this area is really beneficial (especially after spending the day in front of a computer).

The sequence then boldly moves on into standing poses and although I don't always feel up to doing standing poses at the end of the day they were strong, quiet poses tonight, vehicles into a deeply grounded practice:

Trikonasana and Parivritta Trikonasana

Parsvakonasana and Privritta Parsvakonasana

Virabhadrasana 1 and 111

Ardha Chandrasana


Then a series of poses that took hamstring stretches from the maximum to the extreme: Padangusthasana, Pada Hastasana, Uttanasana (after which I inserted Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana, because it seemed to follow on so naturally and it topped off this mini sequence of standing forward bends perfectly).

Then balances: firstly Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana - I looked up the image of this pose in Light On Yoga as I wasn't sure if, in this sequence, it included both A (leg raised to the front) and B (leg raised to the side) variations. I was surprised at what I found: in the image Mr Iyengar has his chin to his raised knee, but he has both hands clasped around his raised foot with a Krounchasana grip (it doesn't include UHP B). So I did his version of the grip....NOT easy, the hamstring is stretched more and the top of the thigh bone is drawn quite deeply into the hip joint.

After this came Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana and Vatayanasana (Horse pose)

Vatayanasana was a pose I hadn't tried for a long time. I fell out of it backwards on the first side, but got into it and held it easily on the second side. For a moment I thought about doing the first side again to see if it came easier second time around, but decided to move on and leave it until next time. This new sequence of poses is foreign to my system and my body will take some time to adjust and begin to assimilate it.

To the floor next for Janu Sirsasana (always a joy to meet up with this lovely gentle nourishing friend), Parivritta Janu Sirsasana and Ardha Baddha Paschimottanasana.

I looked at my watch, it was 8.15pm - an hour and a quarter had passed since I started, and I was only one third of the way through the sequence!

No way was I going to do it all tonight.

At that point I decided to skip the rest of the seated poses and go straight to the finishing backbends: Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Parsva Dhanurasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana (though I added in Ustrasana before Urdhva Dhanurasana).

I think for the next practice I'll do the usual sequence of inversions to start, the standing poses that follow, and then jump to the seated poses that I didn't get to tonight.

Doing the entire sequence would probably take me two and a half hours, but it looks like a great sequence so I'm keen to take on the challenge to build up to it.

Crying Meditation

"The spiritual teacher Mata Amritanandamayi, the Divine Mother Ammadhi, has said that 'crying to God for five minutes is worth an hour of meditation.'

Now when I do not have time to meditate, when I feel too tightly wound to relax, I find that five minutes of crying has the same effects. It is a shortcut to the calm that comes after a good, long hour of quiet meditation.

Not long ago, on a still Saturday night, I cried for six hours in a lover's arms. I realise this behaviour could be seen as a certifiable acute depressive episode. And maybe it was.

I prefer to think of it as a three-day meditation retreat for those of us who don't have the three days - a meditation retreat for the girl on the go.

I highly recommend it."

Ariel Gore

The Mother Trip

Three day retreats

It's official - I can have one Monday off each month by working an extra half hour each day.

What a blessing.

Once a month I'll be setting aside a 3 day weekend, either to go away camping, or to spend at home, but in both cases it will be a time dedicated to retreat and spiritual practice, and immersion in solitude and silence.

17 July 2011

Yoga party

I shower, put on my favourite dark clothes and carefully trace a line of kohl around the circumference of my eyes.

Tonight I'll go to Kosta's yoga studio/house warming party. I promised him I'd go.

I look in the mirror and wonder how people see me from the outside.

Mark and I could only see each other through the eyes of love, he was in his 50's but he was no more than 17 to me, young, energetic, creative, wild...

Sadness wells up in my eyes - this is not a good time to break down in tears. Can't have red eyes at a yoga party.

But my broken heart is still bleeding.

I let a few tears escape but I don't give in to them.

Three deep breaths to control mind and emotions...I promised Kosta I'd go.

Black suede boots on and I'm ready.

Why am I going I ask myself.

Why stand in a crowded room and chit chat with acquaintences and strangers?

How much nicer it would be to curl up in bed with my book of poetry.

It's cold outside...and the thought of chit chat chills me to the core, even with yoga people.

I arrive and find a spot standing next to the heater. Everyone else seems to have found a comfy place seated with their partners and yoga friends on the floor or on bolsters around the very very low tables. A couple are improvising on a sitar and soft drums, swaying trancelike in the corner. The music is beautiful. The lighting is perfect. The food is Indian. It's all very yoga...

Simi and Kosta are lovely sociable yogis, and tonight they've brought together all their friends and followers, both Ashtanga and Iyengar yogis.

I see vaguely familiar faces that I can't quite place but assume they're from distant yoga classes...I see some of my former yoga students, one who makes a point of telling me how the 6 week intro course he did with me 5 years ago changed his life, he is absolutely beaming...I recognise some yoga teachers, past and present....

At last after half an hour Darrin arrives. I was hoping he'd come. His genuine smile immediately warms up my desolate corner of the studio party. We talk about love and death, about his long distance relationship with Brian, about art, astrology and poetry. He asks me how I am going with Mark's death (a question genuinely asked from his heart, but not one I can answer while surrounded by 50 people). We smile secretly to each other when his yoga students come over one by one to steal his attention and talk about their lives.

Another hour goes by, the music seems to be louder now, it's hard to hear the conversations. My ears don't want to. Drifting away from the conversation happening in front of me, I suddenly realise I need silence and peace URGENTLY - not music, chattering and an apple orchard of brightly beaming happy smiles. I wink and say goodbye to Darrin, we make quick plans to go walking together in a few weeks, and I slip away into the full moon night.

A tidal wave of relief washes over me instantly. I wish it could wash away the entire night.

I vow never to come out of my cave again.

Hip opening class

It was my first Ashtanga class at the shala in nearly 3 years.

What possessed me to go to a class?

80% redemption - I hadn't done any yoga practice this week

10% curiosity - the shala has moved to a new building, and Simi's son (who I've never met) teaches classes there now

10% entertainment - just to have a bit of fun

I've driven past Simi's new Ashtanga studio, its in a lovely old character building on the city fringe, my side of the city too. It's close to my house, but a 40 minute drive from work. I left work on the dot of 5pm and got to the 6pm class just on time.

I'd expected Simi's son to be taking the full Led Primary class tonight. I'd heard he takes the half Primary on Tuesdays, the class which would have suited me better as I my lumber doesn't permit me to do Bhujangasana through to Garbha Pindasana, but I just haven't been able to get to that one.

I thought I might sneak in to this class, take up a spot at the back, remain inconspicuous and anonymous, and bumble my way through the Primary practice.

Not likely.

Turns out that Simi takes this class - we embrace and she welcomes me back like a long lost friend, making me feel like a celebrity.

Instead of full Primary, she led the class through some clever hip-opening sequences.

There were a lot of Dog Poses with one leg lifted high and held for a few breaths before stepping forward to the lunge. Along with the usual Primary standing poses, she included some more advanced poses in the sequence: Vashisthasana, Bakasana to tripod Headstand with legs split into an upside down Hanumanasana, Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (great, I'd been working on this one), a killer lunge with the torso bent over the forward leg and the hands interlocked and raised up to the ceiling, and towards the end of the class, a move that took me by surprise (though I do remember trying this one years ago in an Iyengar class): Dog Pose into Urdhva Dhanurasana - you get there by lifting one leg up in Dog Pose, twisting it backwards, and flipping your body over into Urdhva Dhanurasana - after recovering from the shock of trying this on the first side I was able to do it on the second side. I flipped over from Dog Pose and found myself in Urdhva Dhanurasana on my neighbour's mat, with one hand pointing forward and one hand pointing backwards, wondering how I was going to awkwardly negotiate my way out of it.

The class wasn't particularly easy, and Simi kept it tight, moving us through vinyasas between the poses and making it light hearted and fun - there was no pressure or striving, just a playful, we-can-do-anything-if we-try mood.

For me it was an evening's entertainment - a big night out, like going out to a concert or a football match. The yoga class felt familiar but new, it was challenging but fun.

I didn't learn anything that will add to my practice, I didn't gain any new inspiration.

But I had fun.

I adore Simi and respect her enormously as a teacher and mentor, but will I go again?

Probably not...simply because, compared to the deep sea explorations of my own practice, a homogenised yoga class feels like a playful but shallow skim along the surface.

Fun and entertainment? Yes.

Soul stirring? No.

The Sigh That Breathes Fire

Today, the sun was puzzled,
opened a window of light,
closed a window of clouds
and descended the stairs of darkness.

There was a sheen of perspiration
on the eyebrows of the sky,
I don't know why.
Shedding his moon-shirt,
be undid the stars.

Now I sit here in a corner of my being
A memory of you came
like the thick and bitter smoke
that rises from damp wood.

With it came so many thoughts -
the way parched wood breaths out
its crimson sighs of flame.

I have put out both those fires.
The years of my life are like scattered coals.
Some have gone out, some smoulder still.
The hand of Time began to sweep them aside
and he blistered his fingertips.

From the hands of your love
I this earthen vessel fell, and was broken.
History came to my kitchen today,
but went away hungry.

Amrita Pritam
(translated from Punjabi by Arlene Zide)

7 July 2011

A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Walt Whitman
from Leaves of Grass (1881)

What a magical poem. It casts an unexpected spell, releasing the soul into the night and the mysteries...

Night, sleep, death and the stars...


Yesterday's early morning practice was Ashtanga - moving in quick time with Sharath, just to the end of the standing poses. A quick trip through the poses, barely skimming the surface, not touching anything deeply, 2 breaths in most of them while Sharath counted up to 5.

Tonight I got home late from work and needed backbends.
I made up my own sequence as I went along:

Dog Pose
Lunges with a twist
Prasaritta Padottanasa with a twist
Handstands to the wall (kicking up and coming down with alternate legs a few times)
Pincha Mayurasana
Salabhasana (Locust)
Dhanurasana (Bow)
Bhujangasana (Cobra)
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Dog)
Ustrasana (Camel) Ustrasana - arms overhead reaching back to the wall
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge)
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow), three times
Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana - hand holding strap around the foot
Headstand - 20 breaths
Padmasana with a twist

I'm loving my yoga practice
I'm loving this raw food body
I'm loving poetry late at night
I'm loving mountain climbing and looking out over the city
I'm loving the sadness and joy that has come from Mark's death
I'm loving the quiet streets just before dawn breaks
I'm loving my faithful funny dog
I'm loving my solitude
I'm loving every thing in my life
I'm loving every moment of my life
I'm in awe at the beauty and the suffering and the mystery of it all

5 July 2011

Random Practice Notes

Here's my first 'measured' Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana.
It looks better than it felt - both legs had fairly good height considering it's not a pose I have been working on, but I can see from the image that I need to work on bringing my torso in deeper to my leg.
We can always go further...

I started practice with this pose tonight because I had my sights set on doing the Light on Yoga Week 31-35 sequence
and thought it best not to add a stray into the sequence.
After Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana and some Lotus preparations, I did a good thorough practice, starting at 7.15pm and finishing at 8.45pm (by which time it seemed too late and I felt too wasted to prepare anything for dinner, so I skipped it entirely).
To come home from work, and spend the entire evening doing a yoga practice, well...perhaps I really am a yogi.

A 20 breath Headstand and all the subsequent variations lasted 10 minutes in total, even though I couldn't get into the Padmasana variations on either side tonight.
After 10 minutes my head was feeling pressurised, probably a result of the extra 2 kilos I put on last week (pre-menstrual raw food binge).
The Shoulderstand sequence kept me inverted for another 17 minutes.

Taken together, that's 27 minutes - nearly half an hour twisting my body into strange contortions while balancing upside down!

And then I roll backwards over my head (Chakrasana) to come up onto my feet and uncurl up to a standing position.
Perhaps I really am a yogi...

Not too much to write about for this practice.
I did it in a military style, just doing what came next, mostly holding for 5 breaths in each pose, not wasting time, not exploring too much, just doing it and moving on.
The only poses I missed out were the Padmasana variations in Headstand (though I tried hard to get into them on both sides) and Kukkutasana (I substituted Tolasana for this).

I loved the seated Padmasana sequence tonight, my legs were tied up in a tight Lotus knot and I squeezed the juice out of every variation until my a sweet agony drenched my hips.
And Parsva Dhanurasana was an unexpected joy - its a strange pose that usually feels ugly. Tonight I saw and felt the simple pristine beauty of curving into the backbend while laying on my side, the body can stretch open more easily in the Parsa variation than in the standard Bow pose where it's lifting against gravity...

Quite often I skip the pranayama at the end of the sequence but tonight I did 5 minutes of Nadi Shodana Pranayama before Savasana. After a bit of a rough start, my breath became finer and my attention more curious. The breath seduced me in to its harem and I gladly stayed there enjoying its delights.

Lying in Savasana a few minutes later, I took the time to observe the effect of the practice: my body was sparkling and twinkling like a Christmas tree.
It reminded me of this saying:

'Be humble for you are made of earth
Be noble for you are made of stars.'

To give expression to our divine nobility and earthly humility in every moment of life is to be a yogi. We are human yet we are God.

Eka Pada Sirsasana

After writing about Eka Pada Sirsasana not long ago (the Headstand variation where one leg is extended up to the ceiling and the other straight leg lowers to the floor) I googled it to find an image.
All that came up were images of a seated pose where the yogis had one leg extended along the floor and the other leg bent with the ankle wedged behind their head (I used to do this one in Mysore classes as a prep pose before Supta Kurmasana, but it is a second series pose in Ashtanga).
Tonight I consulted Light on Yoga and yes, both poses have exactly the same name and the same translation: one, leg, head, pose!

4 July 2011

Broken Heart poem

When the heart 

is cut or cracked or broken 

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open

Let the wind 

From the good old sea blow in 

To bathe the wound with salt 

And let it sting 

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing 

A simple song like a tiny bell 

And let it ring

Michael Leunig 

Grief and Healing

When death breaks the shared heart, the world bursts into flames.

There seems nowhere to turn.

And all we can do is sit down where we are and let the images and absences burn.

Until our tears extinguish the flames and leave the world smoldering.

When, eventually, the smoke begins to clear, in months or years, a few blades of new grass may be seen emerging from the spent embers.

The broken heart slowly reuniting in a profound appreciation of all that had been.

The shared heart mending into the oneness.

Absolute absence dissolving into ultimate inseparability as the mind of grief sinks into the heart of healing.

Melting into a single-heartedness, the relationship continues, in or out of the body.

Stephen Levine

'Embracing the Beloved'

3 July 2011

Practice Notes

Today's yoga test - Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana - which leg is up and which hand holds the ankle? (answer below)

After climbing mountains with a friend this morning, my body was charged with prana but just slightly weary from the long, rocky climbs - an unusual paradox. Raw food is making a huge difference to my energy levels and this energy is clear, clean and light.

I rested a little after lunch, then did some reading and a couple of hours of meditation.

After getting home from a late afternoon long dog walk, my stomach was empty and growling. If I'd eaten dinner then I wouldn't have done a yoga practice tonight. Instead I chose to practice on the empty stomach, defying my usual behaviour.

What kind of practice should I do this evening?

I had plenty of energy but my body was still weary from the climbing this morning...and I had to take into account that it was too early in the menstrual cycle to do any inversions.

I could just get on the mat and see where it takes me, but I spy Light on Yoga in the corner of the room and flick open to the page where the 3 day course is listed. It is prefaced with the following statement from Mr Iyengar:

"For those who are satisfied with this first course I will now give a short three-day course which whenever followed will benefit the body and bring harmony to the mind."

The Day 1 sequence starts with Headstand and Shoulderstand, then progresses to abdominal poses, a long series of twists, 4 backbends, and then finishes with Dog Pose, Uttanasana and some Pranayama.

Day 2 starts with Headstand and Shoulderstand and includes all their variations which makes up a third of this sequence. After that is a real mixture of poses: Jatara, Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (supine leg lift), Mahamudra, then the usual sequence of forward bends, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, and a couple of twists. It finishes with Baddha Konasana, Uttanasana and Pranayama.

I opted for the Day 3 sequence, firstly because it only had one inversion - Headstand, which I replaced with Dog Pose - and secondly because it didn't have any of the twisting poses that were the focus of yesterday's practice - my hips are still recovering from that sequence.

Replacing the 10 minute Headstand with Dog Pose might sound like an easy option, but I held that Dog Pose for 10 minutes!

I hadn't done one of those challenging, extended Dog Poses for a long time. It's a mind training exercise, especially when you hit the 5 minute mark and the arms begin to quiver, the shoulders ache and every ounce of your body weight becomes evident. That first urge to come out of the pose has to be clearly observed and identified before following the habitual action to listen to it.

The habits of my 'ego-mind' fascinate me - they rule my instinctive behaviour most of the time, especially during periods when I'm not meditating regularly, when I get out of the habit of watching my mind.

"It's only sub-conscious when we are sub-attentive."

Getting to the 5 minute mark in Dog Pose with the onset of pose fatigue, was an opportunity to over-rule the unconscious directive to get out of the pose. I replaced it with a strong commitment to stay and observe.

A 10 minute Dog Pose is an extraordinarily simple but powerful exercise for transformation.

It highlights how forceful the ego can be in telling us what to do, but also shows how liberating it can be to identify this and to draw on a higher power, our will, to over-ride it.

Following this initial Dog Pose (which should have been a Headstand) came a long series of standing poses - all the usual ones as per an Ashtanga sequence minus the two balancing poses (UHP and Ardha Baddha Padma Padmottanansana). There are a few extra poses in this sequence that I hadn't done for quite some time which injects a refreshing boost to practice sometimes:

Virabhadrasana 3 - I was so surprised that I could hold this pose strongly - the last time I attempted it in Darren's class my lumbar still couldn't support the leg lift or the hold;

Ardha Chandrasana (half moon balancing pose) which I enjoyed so much that I held it for 8 breaths on each side;

Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Splits - like a one legged Uttanasana with the other leg raised to the ceiling) - when I entered this pose my body couldn't remember which hand should be on the floor and which hand holds the standing leg ankle (why didn't I stop and check the image in Light on Yoga I now ask?), so I tried both hand positions thinking one would feel more 'right' than the other, but it didn't, they both felt odd. I love the silhouetted image above because you can't tell which leg is raised in comparison to which hand is on the floor which was exactly my dilemma.

After practice I did look this up and the hand that holds the ankle is on the same side as the raised leg.

Raising that leg as high as possible is a wonderful expression of many qualities we want to bring to our mind: strength, balance and the courage to extend up and out beyond our boundaries. Suddenly and unexpectedly I discover the beauty of this pose, and the subtle transformational qualities it can effect on the mind. I'm sure I'd be shocked to see the height of my raised leg (or lack of it to be more correct), but suddenly I am loving this difficult pose and all that it promises to bring if I work on it regularly in each practice - which I shall, and to satisfy my curiosity I shall also measure my progress by taking the occasional image...

(Not until after practice did I realise that this pose shouldn't be done while menstruating because of the inverted position of the pelvis - ooops.)

Garudasana (Eagle) and Parighasana (Gate) were the other poses I hadn't done for ages...nice to revisit these to test out the unfamiliar balance and my somatic memory, but also to bring to them the more sophisticated understanding and deeper insights that I practice with these days.

Parivritta Parsvakonasana is a pose that physically and emotionally challenges me. Once upon a time I could bind and twist deeply, and hold the pose with stability. I loved the deep squeeze of this pose. Now, the joints in my lumbar spine don't allow my body to combine the knee to chest position with a twist anymore, so I have to be very careful.

Tonight I decided to do this pose as we did in Glenn Ceresoli's workshop in January - starting with the back knee bent to the floor and toes tucked under, getting a deep abdominal twist and wedging the elbow to the outside of the bent knee, then EVER-SO-SLOWLY raising the back knee off the ground WITHOUT RAISING THE FRONT BUTTOCK BONE even an inch. The thigh of the back leg must be firmly pressed up like in Dog Pose, but the front buttock bone must be descending to the floor with the side torso twisting and pressing on to the front thigh. I love the oppositional action of raising the back leg while lowering the front buttock - the mind must split to simultaneously engage the back leg thigh while lowering the front leg thigh - for me the central axis of the mind split meets in the perineum and stimulates the core energetic centre of the perineum.

The set of standing poses is followed by two backbends, then Virasana, Supta Virasana and Paryankasana. My knees weren't happy about moving straight into Padmasana after these poses, there hadn't been any warm ups and for the knees Padmasana is an extreme counterpostion to Virasana. The knee shock wore off quickly - Padmasana came easily along with the Padmasana variations that followed. The sequence wound down with Gomukasana, Lolasana, Simhasana and Paschimottanasana.

It took just over an hour (not including Savasana) and was a perfect choice for tonight.

Chandra Krama and Silence

With my camping weekend abandoned I have three days ahead of me with no plans and no commitments.

What a luxury...instead of wasting this precious block of time off, I'll use it wisely and do some serious yoga and meditation.

Yoga came first - it took a little while to work out what would be the most beneficial and appropriate practice to do this morning, but after an hour of writing and a quick blog surf it appeared - I came across Matthew Sweeney's Chandra Krama sequence. I'd never heard of this sequence before. Intuitively I sensed it was perfect for me on day two of my menstrual period.

The sequence took me two and a half hours which included a 15 minute Savasana, quite a marathon, especially as it unrelentingly targets the hips and pelvis, areas that have hardened up to protect my damaged lumbar spine .

Before I started I tried a mathematical equation to work out how long it might take: I thought I would do a one and a half hour practice, so I divided that by the number of poses in the sequence, and it worked out to about 30 seconds for each pose - not likely...

It was 10.30am, I had all day...

Chandra Krama is a great sequence, there were sections that dug deep into my hips and excavated deeply held tension. The Gomukasana forward bends were excruciatingly painful for me...not in a physical way, more like being confronted with a truth about yourself that's blatantly ugly.

Holding Gomukasana in an upright position is relatively easy for me, but as soon as I try to go forward, the blockage is right there in my face. I can't go more than a few inches. Its the same when I try to go forward in Baddha Konasana or Virasana.

The blockage isn't muscular tension...rather, when my hips are in these positions, the forward movement is blocked by bone on bone - and there's not much I can do to change that unless the cartilage grows back in my facet joints to separate and grease the worn down bones. Some muscular tension is inevitably held in this area for protective reasons, and its interesting to visit these 'stuck' places to see how much tension can actually be released.

I'm a firm believer that whatever tension we release in the body, a corresponding tension is released in the mind - and vice versa, when a mental block is brought to our attention and we recognise it, face up to it and release it, there comes a corresponding release of stuck subtle energy somewhere in the body.

The Chandra Krama sequence focusses on deeply twisting in the hips - standing poses include Parivritta Trikonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana; try doing Parsvottanasana with hands interlocked behind your back and lifted up to the ceiling - that was another surprise pose for me and it took a good deal of leg strength to hold it.

I loved the counter poses inserted between the twists, especially Supta Paschimottanasana followed by Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge). Every Bridge pose had to be gently squeezed up and open, my hips gratefully giving up their protective tension to find liberation in the open vulnerability.

The twisted variation in the Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana prep pose was a new one for me which left me unsure of exactly what I was supposed to be doing apart from not hurting myself.

On the home stretch are a few supine poses with legs vertical, legs split sideways, legs bent with feet together etc. I got to the Baddha Konasana one and couldn't work out how the model on the poster (is it Matthew?) could keep his legs in that position without holding his feet! Aaahhh, then it dawned on me - this final group of poses were supposed to be done with legs up the wall, which wasn't clear in the tiny poster pictures that I found on a random website.

And legs up the wall was bliss.

Since I've been more regularly doing half Ashtanga practices in the mornings and an evening Iyengar Week 31-35 sequence I'd forgotten about the Iyengar luxury of 'restorative' poses. Legs up the wall (Viparitta Karani) is the beloved queen of all restorative poses.

Post practice I tried to ascertain any special nuances or changes in my subtle energy, but there was nothing special except that general feeling of well being.

After practice, a late lunch: a giant bowl of coleslaw full of sunflower sprouts and a couple of dolmades. Not an completely raw food lunch today, but I have to eat up my campfood.


2 hours of meditation followed my late lunch.

Did I say meditation? Hardly!

More like 2 hours in a half dream state - though the occasional fleeting recognition that my tenuous hold on the breath was lost in the fog provided a momentary spark of insight.

Despite being lost in fog, the simple act of sitting silently for two hours quietened my energy field, heightened my sensitivity and altered my consciousness in a weirdly deep way.

The time had not been wasted.

There is something very special about silence.

Not the kind of silence that is simply the absence of noise, but the kind of silence that is rich and fully inhabited.

Those times I've been away camping alone, immersed in my own private world of silence and solitude I've become attuned to this rich, fertile silence. Silence grows around me as I sit, then it creeps up my sides and enters my ears, like a magic beanstalk that grows in the night. And the funny thing is that the longer you are immersed silence, the more you can hear, so the closer you get to silence the more it recedes.