The burdens we carry…

July 31, 2005

Today in the New York Times Sunday Styles section, there was an article in the Modern Romance column about a man who battle alcohol addiction and found love. At the end of the article, he says something incredibly wise, which I wish I could have said first, myself. He says, “Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the burdens we carry don’t end up carrying us.”

I am certainly not happy about the struggles I have had with my health and my body, but I know that if it were not for those struggles, I would never have found Ashtanga. So, instead of saying “Breast cancer was a blessing because it brought me to the mat”, I prefer, “Breast cancer was a burden that carried me toward my blessings.”

Thanks Kevin Cahillane for a beautiful article and a wonderful thought!

Today’s Ashtanga practice is discussed immediately below…see “Psoas I was saying….”


Psoas I was saying…

July 31, 2005

When I was in the dating scene in college and in law school, I could pretty much tell how a relationship was going by the amount about which I talked about the relationship to my friends. If things were confusing, if the guy was sending mixed signals, if I was ambivalent, then there was lots of talk. But if things were smooth and easy, nice and cozy, then I found I just didn’t have a lot to say about it. I find that my Asthanga practice is like a romantic relationship in that same way: when it is going well, there simply is not that much to say about it.

I practiced today with Gary again, although I went through most of the entire practice without any assists (got one in Trikonasana – one of these days I am going to figure out once and for all what is going on in Ashtanga’s version of that pose; every single teacher seems to have his or her own take on it!), right up until Marichi Awesome and Marichi Beautiful. Nothing major in the way of an assist – more of an adjustment to get my forward bend even deeper and to help me to really grab my wrists instead of my fingers. But the work really was all mine.

Right up until the Marichis, I noticed that I was practicing completely in synch with the girl whose mat was right in front of me – I will call her Rachael Leigh Cook, as that is who she looks exactly like. Then, she plowed ahead, as I slowed down and held A and B for 8-10 breaths each. And of course, I had to have some help in Caution – Jose helped me to join my hands and he gave me the most AWESOME twist. Just what I needed. Then I held it all by myself for ANOTHER 8-10 breaths. As I was waiting for Gary to assist me into D, Rachael Leigh C. was already Bujapidasaning. This is a supreme example, in my opinion, of how you know you are not ready to move on…the stoppages, the needing assists to get through, the leakage of prana. Someday, I assume that I will glide through the Marichis like Rachael Leigh C does (although she did fall over in D – after having bound it herself – it was cute – she just toppled over) and that is when I will be ready to add more poses.

Marichi Drama was nothing more and nothing less than it usually is for me. I did feel elation when I realized I was done with the hard part (yay)! and could get my dessert…Navasana through Supta Kurmasana.

I ha no help at all in Kurmasana or Supta K. And the most awesome thing happened – I really got deep into them anyway. I always do in Kurmasana, but to transition to Supta K, I lifted my knees, made room to bring my hands behind my back and then walked my feet together, crossing my right ankle over my left. And then I stayed there and breathed for a while, wondering if Gary was going to come over and lift me up. No such luck, so it was all up to me. And guess what? I pressed my hamstrings deeply into my triceps and got the palms of my hands to the floor with my legs still in the air (although no longer with ankles cross). Without any thinking or preparations, I simply pressed my palms down, lifted my butt and got mysef into Tittibasana! Nice! Swung back into a sort of Bakasana and then yelled at myself to jump back. I might have caught a bit of air, but not much.

I then did three backbends. Then waiting for Gary, I was told by Jose to do more and more and more backbends. Can’t do too many, I guess. Then Gary came over and we did our dropbacks, and then I was done! (Well, I had to do the finishing poses, which I did, in kind of a rushed, abbreviated manner – it’s a Sunday, after all, and I still have my family plus two classes to teach….)

All in all, nice!

But I do have to admit that I did spend quite a bit of time lying on the floor watching other people practice when I should have been in Savasana. Rachael Leigh went all the way through Kapotasana, and maybe even further. Pretty cool. And this tall, slim woman with a very young, pretty face but sort of greying hair had the most beautiful Second Series Tittibasanas (the ones where you walk up five steps an walk back five steps and then stand with your ankles bound and your head is right between your shins….). I can’t help it – I learn so much from watching others, and from watching the teachers teach. Savasana was over for me – it’s just that I stayed there even when it was over. Not too criminal, right?

I will be teaching a Basics class today – those make me very nervous. I feel comfortable with my Intro to Yoga workshops because I get to know my students, and I know why they are all there. In a Basics class, you never really know what you are going to get. I was thinking of focusing on the Psoas muscles today. Thus, the title of this post: “Psoas I was saying….”

Oh – almost forgot to mention: I didn’t need any warmup or prep for any of the Ardha Baddhas today!

So, all in all, it WAS a very good day…


Something that is actually not about Ashtanga….

July 31, 2005

…although it is still about yoga, specifically teaching a mixed-levels, mixed-interest class…

Carl Horowitz is one of my teachers, and a colleague of mine at New York Yoga. He has a really interesting blog that is a veritable “kaleidascope” of yoga; hence, it is “Yogascope”. Anyway, before I was bitten by the Ashtanga bug, I used to take Carl’s class at New York Yoga every Thursday morning, and afterwards, we would chat and debate and theorize about some esoteric yoga topic right up until either one or both of us had to literally run out the door to get to our next class or other obligation. When he got his (long awaited) blog up and running, I eagerly devoured his discussion of structuring the teaching of vinyasa yoga to suit the individual student. Nevertheless, I felt like something was missing for me…what about those mixed level classes, especially the crowded ones like my Monday 6:30 p.m. class? How do we teach to the individual when there is a room crowded with individuals? And individuals with widely varying physical skills levels and widely varying spiritual interests at that. An interesting (at least in my opinion) discussion ensued….so I am linking to it here. Enjoy! YC

"Got to get back to the land, set my soul free…"

July 30, 2005

Well I came across a child of God, he was walking along the road
And I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me:
Well, I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land, set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Well, then can I walk beside you? I have come to lose the smog.
And I feel like I’m a cog in something turning.
And maybe it’s the time of year, yes, and maybe it’s the time of man.
And I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong,
And everywhere there was song and celebration.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers jet planes riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies above our nation.

We are stardust, we are golden, we caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
-Joni Mitchell, 1969-70 (not CSN&Y, as many believe)

Just got back from Woodstock, New York, not too far from the site of the original Woodstock concert in 1969. We were there because it was not far from the sleep-away camp we were visiting in anticipation of my two boys MAYBE going to sleep-away camp next summer (and if they do, I am MYSORE BOUND!!! not that I want them to go, but if they do, gotta make use of my time, you know….)

Anyway, I just found Woodstock (the town) to be completely NOT what I expected. I expected cute and artsy and quaint. Instead, it was crowded and somewhat skanky and commercial. I was disillusioned.

Ok, it can’t all be negative right? I did meander into a store called Dharmaware, and I learned to make a Tibetan bowl sing, which was pretty cool. And the guy at the cash register (he could have been the owner, for all I know) was playing Bhagavan Das (don’t know the name of the CD offhand, but it features his “wife” (?) Uma on backup vocals on Rhagupati as well as on two other tracks), which made me happy. (By the way, if you click on the Bhagavan Das link, and you have your volume turned on, you can hear part of a wonderful chant to the various “gurus” that guide us – it’s the third one down on the linked page…more on that another day). We chatted a bit, and he told me that Sharon and David (of Jivamukti) have a house nearby, which I actually already knew, but it was interesting to hear them being talked about like local celebrities.

Speaking of which, my husband kept insisting that Woodstock is going to be the next Rhinebeck, the next Easthampton, you know, attracting celebrities and all. I just don’t see it, what with all the tattoo-wearers, goths and renaissance-garb-wearing foks wandering around. NOT that there is anything wrong with tattoos or people who choose to go goth or rennaisance. It’s just that I don’t see Spielberg, Seinfeld and all the not-so-famous people who hang out with Denise Rich, hanging out amongst these folks. But then you never know. And as I am finding more and more, the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.

So, yoga, where was the yoga today? I did try to work on a cool partner exercise for my Breast Cancer Survivors class – something along the lines of two people standing back to back, one forward bending, one back bending. I tried it with my older son, who is almost my height, but he is weighs so little that we were ill-matched. Then I tried it with my husband, who pulled me so hard into a backbend that I saw stars. Guess it’s not a great thing to do with people who are not experienced in yoga. Ah well, live and learn.

Oh yeah, and the song – I have been humming it all day, and thinking about the words and the concept of music setting the soul free. Does that make playing/listening to music a form of yoga? I read an interview with John Scott where he said that his first “yoga” was golf – the focus, the “being the ball” (he really said that!). And for me, I believe my first “yoga” was long-distance running, but that my best “yoga” before actually getting on the mat was figure skating, which I took up as an adult and practiced as much as four times a week before my bilateral mastectomies sidelined me: it truly did feel as if I became one with what my body was doing, such that there was nothing but the movement, no mind at all, only the carefully focused process of sending messages to the various parts of my body. I think that it is important not to forget that yoga is not just asana – it is whatever you do that corrals the mind and brings focus to the exclusion of the vrittis. The Ashtanga system is a wonderful MEANS toward yoga.

Anyway….tomorrow begins a new week of Ashtanga….must get sleep!


I was invited to DROP-BACK!

July 29, 2005

Drop-backs…the gateway to advanced backbending! Me! I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but the substitute teacher at AYS (Gary) came up to me after my third Urdhva Dhanurasana and pulled me up to stand. When I told him I had never done that before, at least not at AYS (I have done it before, assisted at OM and at Jivamukti, and UN-assisted quite unexpectedly at New York Yoga when practicing one day with MaryBeth), he simply told me the lowdown: Exhale on the way down, Inhale on the way up. Land on the hands the first three times, and then cross arms over the chest and go back and forth four or five more times, the last one reaching the hands down and holding for five deep breaths. It was AWESOME!!

Now, how weird is it that just YESTERDAY, I was posting here about a psoas-lengthening, quad-softening R&D pose that would help pave the way to better backbending? Is it pure coincidence? Psychic ability? Or perhaps somehow my body told my mind that it was time to start working toward deeper backbends?

Anyway, I had no idea what to expect from drop-backs – I have heard students giggling and acting terrified in drop-backs, especially the first time, but it was like buttah for me. Hooray! Something I can do without all the tsuris! I don’t think I will ever forget that exhilerating feeling of the first time I ever got dropped-back….

I came in a little early for me today, since I think some of the root of my tsuris is starting so late that I don’t have time to get a proper warm-up (I am not even talking about R&D here) and and not rush, when certainly, rushing and getting anxiety about “falling behind” is really counterproductive. I was nice and slow and methodical with each of my Five-and-Fives, rolling over my toes like Mark taught me and stepping nice and long and straight through to between my hands for each Warrior I of Surya B. Gary gave me a great assist in Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana, getting my front leg higher than I have ever gotten it before and making sure that my standing leg was straight. I was patient and took eight breaths once in each side of Ardha Baddha Padmotannasana. Same with Ardha Baddha Padmo Paschimo.

At one point, I felt like I was going to “wok” as my eight-year old calls it – vomit – so I went to the bathroom and came back. Don’t know what peeing did to relieve that up-chuck feeling, but maybe it just made some space in my torso. OK, I will admit it – I did have coffee this morning. I LIKE to begin my practice with some artificially enhanced tapas…is that really so wrong?

Lauren, you really have a lot to learn, I know, I know….

Anyway, Mari the Awesome and Mari the Beautiful went very nicely. But Caution and Dead-in-the-Water, not so much. Gary’s adjustments didn’t really get at the heart of what needs to be done in those poses, which isn’t his fault – it’s just that he doesn’t know my body. I need help TWISTING!!! My arms will bind just fine when I can stop my back shoulder from collapsing down into my chest. But still, we got through them with a minimum of drama (except for my confession that “C is my nemesis”, which actually is no longer so true, to which Gary replied, “I don’t know what that means”. For one split second, I was all awe-filled, thinking, ah…what a profound notion – to not have “nemesis” in one’s Ashtanga vocabulary. But then Gary broke the spell, saying that he was just kidding, “I actually do have a pretty good vocabulary.” To which, I laughed, not at Gary’s bit of self-deprecating humor, but at myself, for assuming that everything that drops out of someone’s mouth in a yoga class must be, of course, a profound pearl of yoga wisdom. Ha!)…

I slipped off my arms a little in my exit out of Buja Pidasana but redeemed myself (at least in my own eyes) with a very nicely executed Supta Kurmasana and lovely Tittibasana exit out therefrom. And I didn’t even forget Navasana today.

All in all – a nice practice.

On another quick little detour topic, you know how Andy Warhol once said that everyone could expect to at some point have their own fifteen minutes of fame? And then in the 90’s that little aphorism was modified by popular culture such that “everyone can expect to at some point have their own talk show”? And then in the past several years, it has seemed more like everyone can at some point expect to appear on a reality TV show? (And certainly, it is feasible that everyone at some point will be publishing a blog…but I digress) Well, the thought first struck me when I was part of Om Yoga Center’s Teacher Training Program, that my yoga teacher training program would make a really interesting and borderline CRAZY (crazy in a good way) reality show. There were 10 of us students, all women, and two primary teachers (with two other teachers rotating in and out, and then, of course, there was Cyndi Lee), and we were together for nearly 28 days straight, anywhere from 10-14 hours a day. There was drama and bitching and yes, gossip and backbiting, and if a clever tv producer wanted to add a “game” element to it, he could make it all about “And only ONE of you will get to teach at Om” or something like that.

Anyway, I always thought it was a clever idea. Similarly, wouldn’t “The Shala: The Show” make an interesting reality tv series? The personalities, the drama, the big moments of triumph. No, none of this is “yogic”. But is would make some fine entertainment.

Keep those comments coming…tomorrow is Saturday, no practice….so we can ONLY talk about it….


Addressing Your Comments on Warmups….

July 29, 2005

So, I took my kids to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tonight (if you haven’t seen it, you have to go, if only just to see what they’ve done with the Indian actor, Deep Roy as all 165 of the Oompa Loompas) and came home to a bunch of really delightful comments regarding “warming up” before practicing. Since there were a few, I figured I would address them here in a new post. (Hi IVDP, btw…hadn’t seen you around “here” in the past day or so….good to “see” you again!)

First, I want to say that I really enjoyed that someone pointed out that my “warmup” is something worth thinking about letting go of. After all, Ashtanga is NOT a performance. Right? Right? Right! It is a practice.

But the reality is, in my rather unenlightened Western hemisphere, Type-A mind, I can’t help but think about what I look like to my teacher….and I would rather not have my teacher look at me and think, “Oh Geeeez…look at Lauren today….How am I going to get her into Marichi D if she can’t even take Ardha Baddha Padmotannasana?” OK, I know that is just me projecting – I am sure that my teachers view me with a bit more equanimity and a bit less self-interest than that! Or I hope they do! I know I do, with regard to my students….

But still…it feels good to “get” the poses and not have to struggle with them, and warming up definitely addresses that…Now, I do realize, as was pointed out, that Surya A and B were intended to warm up the body sufficiently to practice the rest of whatever it is you are practicing. However, where are the twists in Surya A and B? Where are the hip openers (Warrior I just doesnt’ cut it…)? By the time I am done with my five-and-five, I am sweating like it’s my job, but I still can’t take Ardha Baddha Padmotannasana unless I spend about 10 breaths standing there in a pretty inadequate half-lotus before pulling my foot high enough to get a good bind. By the time I fold over, I’ve already been there for more than a minute….

And here is the rub: it never changes. It never has. Even when I practiced Bikram – and you do a variation on this pose in Bikram – every time I went to take the standing half lotus pose, it was like my hips had never heard of it before. OK, maybe I am exagerrating. It IS getting better. Very slowly. But it is really frustrating to me that day after day – six days a week except for moonday weeks – I end my practice in a really nice, parallel-thighs lotus, and yet the next morning I come to the mat feeling as if I had never taken lotus before in my entire life.

So, as one would expect, warming up does tend to make things smoother for me at the outset…and then I know if I have a “good” Ardha Baddha Padmotannasana, I will then have an even better Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimotannasana. And then all of my Marichis will be easier.

LOL…I know, I know…I hear myself…it is all very “attached to results”. I get it. But how can we not be “attached to results” when the Ashtanga system requires that we “accomplish” certain things before moving on to the next thing? Oooo, ooooo, I am raising my hand…I know the answer, even as I ask the question. It is not “supposed” to matter what pose we are working on – wherever we practice, we are supposed to be practicing to our own personal edge. So maybe that edge is soemwhere in the Primary Series. Maybe that edge is in Fifth. But it isn’t supposed to matter -by practicing, we get the benefits, if we are open to the benefits.

And yet it does matter, doesn’t it….

OK, so all of that being said, I cannot begin to tell you how awesome my hips feel after I take Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Salamba Supta Baddha Konasana) with a strap around my waist and ankles and ablock under my spine and just hang out there watching TV.

And now, I am going to tempt all of you tight psoas/tight quads people with a really delicious R&D (research and development) pose to work on at home (certainly not at the shala!). It’s basically a variation on “Tiptoe Fish”, which I am sure doesn’t even EXIST as far as Ashtanga is concerned, but it sure will do wonders for your Urdhva Dhanurasana:

You lie down with a block set down on the skinny side and running vertically down your spine. Then one at a time, you bend your knees, and then one at a time, you tuck your toes under. Then you slowly lower your knees to the floor and reach your arms up overhead in prayer to touch the floor behind you. Try to bring your thighs to touch. YUM. If I ever find a photo of this I will link to it.



July 28, 2005

Practiced this morning at AYS, but didn’t get there until 9:10, which meant that I was going to have to avoid any procrastination. I had taken my hot shower earlier, but I didn’t do any pre-practice stretching, which worried me a bit. So, when I set down my mat, I got into Supta Baddha Konasana and massaged my hip flexors a bit for less than five minutes and then got to it.

I moved very quickly and smoothly through my practice, although I have to admit I did feel distracted by a couple of things. First, Julie K was near me, and her practice is so breathtakingly gorgeous, it was difficult not to stare. She taught the jump-backs workshop, she studied with Chuck and Maty in California and she is a YogaWorks teacher, so she and MB know each other. I took the jumping-back workshop on Saturday, and it was wonderful. My jumpbacks haven’t improved at all…BUT…I know what I need to do, what I need to work on outside of the jumpbacks themselves: I need to make sure that I am letting my psoas muscles do the work when I step forward into Warrior I, instead of cheating my leg to the outside of my shoulder and then back between my hands. I need to be work on my press-ups – a LOT, and not be lazy about them. And, here is the best part, I need to NOT go so low in my Chatturangas (a/k/a catvari in Ashtanga – the “fourth” vinyasa of Surya Namaskar A), instead, keeping my shoulder girdle from collapsing below my hip girdle. Who knew that it would be all about the girdle?

Anyway, Julie K’s jumpbacks are enchanting to watch, but they are nothing compared to her Handstands-into-Backbends. I am not sure if she goes the other way as well, from backbend into handstand, which I believe is called “Viparita Chakrasana”, but regardless, it was quite a sight to behold. Breathtaking. Inspiring.

Then there was something else – and this is awful, and upsetting, but I am going to just say it: my mind kept drifting to thoughts of: “Who has read this blog and hates me for what I have written?” Now that is NOT good, and it made me question the wisdom of even HAVING a blog at all, which some of you know, I have questioned at other times as well.

I have heard that the risk of keeping a practice blog is that during your practice, your mind will drift off to things like, “Ah, nice adjustment, gotta remember to put that in my blog”, etc. But that’s not the problem for me. For me the big problem is that by keeping my blog, I believe I am risking offending people, particularly the people who practice alongside me at the shala. And not only is that a bad thing, in and of itself, but it also negatively impacts on my ability to focus during my practice at the shala. Now, I know I could keep my blog private. But I don’t like that choice either. Anyway, I’m tired of thinking about this for the moment. Perhaps I will feel better about things (i.e., less paranoid) tomorrow…

Speaking of tomorrow, I was surprised to hear that Guy and Lori are going to be gone for two weeks (again) starting tomorrow. So, a new teacher is coming in. I don’t remember his name. But his bio (as posted on the bulletin board at AYS) says that he assisted Eddie at AYNY for a time. I wonder how having yet another teacher will impact my practice. Will he let me keep doing what I am doing? Will he help me with Mari C and D? And if so, how? Will he help me to twist, or will he focus on the bind?

To all those in favor of NOT working with different teachers – what does one do when one’s teacher goes out of town…seemingly regularly?

For me, for now, I will have to see how it goes. I have only two weeks left to practice before my surgery, and then I will have to take a break for anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on how my recovery goes. I’ve decided that if I like this temporary teacher, then great, but if not, I am just going to spend as much time as I can with Sarah instead (time constraints/teaching schedule permitting). I really love my practice when I am with her – isn’t that funny, given that I am not even doing the poses I love best – Buja through Supta Kurmasana?! I know I can always do them anyway in led classes and at home, and I know they will be there for me when she thinks I am ready for them. Guy says he thinks they are good for me now despite my continuing struggles with Mari D (Mari C is almost no longer a problem – I even enjoy it! I even look forward to it!) because of the way Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana open up the chest. So, obviously reasonable minds CAN differ…

About Buja, Kurmasana and Supta K, all I can say about them today is: JOY! Floaty, seemingly magical joy….