Yesterday afternoon, while Brian was at Hebrew school and Adam was at Tae Kwon Do, I got myself a nice hour-long massage at one of those little Chinese “Qui Gong Tui Na” places in the neighborhood.
And what a treat it was.
I was really in need of some body work.
Made it to practice today at exactly 9:30 a.m. The shala was quiet, at least it was by that time. I had a great practice today, perhaps one of the best ones I have ever had. So I’d like to make some notations here about what I think was working for me:
1. I began with some arm swings (both internally rotating and externally rotation, fast) – a great way to loosen up the shoulders and quickly raise the heat. Then I did three rounds of Uddiyana Kriya:as per Sir’s instructions. And let me tell you, as far as connecting with uddiyana bhanda, this is one hell of a way to get things going. I have never felt so light in my vinyasas as I did today.
2. I’ve been working on keeping my palms flat on my mat as I bring my foot forward for Vira I in Surya B, and then keeping my palms flat on the way back down to chatturanga. It’s really a great way to lengthen the lower back, which is becoming my focus lately, now that my hips are wide open and my shoulders have finally released (more about that later). Lengthening the lower back is crucial to effectively twisting the spine, sans injuring the spine and the muscles supporting the spine.
3. I’ve been working on conserving energy in every pose and every vinyasa – eliminating extraneous movements and “flourishes”. I’m not dancing. I’m practicing yoga. Arms up, fold forward. No huge sweeping arm movements. When it comes to vinyasa-ing in and out of the seated poses, I am, wherever possible, jumping right into the pose (this works best in tiriangmukhaipada paschimo) and lifting back up into chatturanga right from the pose (this works best in the half-lotus seated poses).
4. I’m dawdling less in each pose. I get in and get out. One exception: Parivritta Parsvakonasana. That is my one chance early on in the practice to really warm up my twisting. I am ALMOST getting my palm to the floor. But after I test that out, I bring my hands back into prayer and press the back of my upper arm against my front shin and gaze up at where my top arm would be reaching, IF I were reaching it up overhead. At this point, something about the posture is still not open enough to enable me to bring my bottom hand to the floor AND reach my top arm overhead AND maintain a deep twist. Since my focus is on twisting and lengthening my spine right now, I forego the upper arm reach and use my driste in that direction instead. Seems to be working. Slowly, steadily. Patience.
5. Reach for the wrist. Reach for the wrist. Reach for the wrist.
6. Chin to shin. Chin to shin. Chin to shin. Or forehead to the floor, as applicable.
7. I have been using the backbending “interlude” to work on shoulder openers. I got some great ideas from Andrey Lappa in February’s Yoga Journal. A reprint of his article, “Open Arms” can be found here. But I also have been reaching my arms back into gomukhasana and lying on them for five to eight breaths. The idea is to passively stretch the shoulders in all directings. And it seems to be helping me immensely. After these, I am ready for backbending.
8. Speaking of backbending, this one could be a bit controversial. Up until Saturday, I had been having a great deal of trouble with Upward Facing Dog. I never thought such a thing was possible – that Chatturanga could be easy and Updog could cause me problems. But there it was. About halfway through my practice, it would inevitably become increasingly difficult to go from forward bends to Upward Dogging. In reaction, I would hold my Dog Dogs for longer and longer, thus draining myself of energy, losing momentum, interrupting the flow. Well, on Saturday, in led class (which I NEVER usually go to), Aliza noticed what was going on and suggested that….I press into my big toes.
WHAT? NO YOU DIT-INT?!
All this time, I have been trying to press evenly onto all ten toes and at the same time, lift my inner thighs up, rolling my outer thighs down (all very subtly). The idea is that I would thereby open up some space in my sacro-illiac joint(s), allowing for a deeper lumbar bend. Well, guess what? According to Aliza, apparently, for someone like me – the go-go-go-pitta type, this is going to be cause discomfort. Uh, yeah!
She told me to try it with my big toes taking the weight. And you know what? It felt GREAT. I guess my lower spine doesn’t get as much movement, but my thoracic spine gets more. I asked her if Sir would approve. She told me that he finally gave her this same advice two years into her practice, and it made a huge, huge difference. So, I only had to wait eight months.
So, now, I can practice Updog with the same integrity from my first Surya A through my last vinyasa into Savasana.
Anyway, that’s all for now on yoga….
Now, just a note regarding James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I know that this book has raised a fair amount of controversy for its author’s having taken liberties with “reality”. But here is my take on it: Even if one were attempt to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, one would still be incapable of ever even coming CLOSE to “reality”. The moment you put pen to paper, you begin to fictionalize. It is impossible to write “non-fiction” without fictionalizing at least to some extent, even if entirely unintentionally. Yes, it seems that Frey’s book does so with some level of “intent” to fictionalize without letting the reader in on the plan. But remember: this is the work of a user (former) of hallucinogenic drugs. The intentional fictionalization of details in a book that concerns addiction strikes me as part of the artistic process.
Remember the movie, Fargo? Jt opens with a screen that reads:
“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
This is, of course, completely UNtrue.
How come no one had a problem with that?