I practiced yoga today

July 31, 2006

Really practiced yoga – in the sense that I was feeling stiff and tired from my silly long practice yesterday, and my legs felt roughly the same as they did after running a marathon: quads so tight I could barely walk down the stairs. Luckily, the only stairs I have to walk down are the ones from the street to Shala X.

Thus, I got to really work on some yoga practices:

  • disciplinemaking myself practice because it is the right thing to do, even though I soooo did not want to. That is when (some say) the real yoga begins: when you get to the mat despite all of the resistance you feel. We often feel resistance to our practice (counterintuitive, eh? I mean when did we ever leave practice and not feel amazing, and yet still the next day, the resistance burbles up again), and the theory is that we should welcome it as a challenge to overcome.
  • dispassion (i.e., equanimity) – getting through my practice without too much disappointment over how long it took me to get through the standing poses, without too much elation over being able to bind in spite of my stiffness (not in Supta K of course).
  • ahimsagetting through my entire practice without taking too much of a mental beating from my mind (which sometimes forgets that talking trash about the body that sustains it is only going to alienate and intimidate the body and further xaggerate the identification that the mind already makes with itself and with the physical body, when in fact the mind should be quieted of such antics to make way for the everpresent but quiet and unassuming true self to bubble forth.
  • satya – being honest with myself about my limitations today, not racing to get through practice quickly when that isn’t what my body was capable of doing, not pushing myself to touch hands down in Prasarita Padotannasana C, when I got much more mileage out of stretching them outward from my back, a few inches above the floor.
  • asteya – not seeking out adjustments on poses I don’t really need adjustments on – like Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana. I can do it just fine by myself. To stand there waiting for Mark to come over to hold my leg up, which I don’t even need, would be stealing from the other 30-some-odd people in the room, including him.

There were probably quite a few others. But they elude me at the moment. And I wanted to get a chance to say: I DROPPED BACK AGAIN!! FOUR TIMES!

Ego, ego, ego…what will we do with you, ego, my friend. I am not my backbends. Repeat, I am not my bacbends.

But it is FUN FUN FUN to drop back. It is awesomely fun to feel strong enough to rely on your hands to support you after you let gravity take hold for a brief moment. It is amazingly empowering to realize that you are strong enough and supple enough to do this and that the only thing holding you back was fear (and a little leg work which can be accomplished in some real and honest to goodness Warrior poses….if you want to strengthen your legs enough to drop back safely, then no more phoning in the Warriors…no more 1-900-Virabadra, $.06 per quickie breath).

There was a moment there when I thought I was not brave enough to attempt it at the shala. I really didn’t want anyone to see. I am not sure how criminal it is to do my own dropping back without having been “taught”. But it’s not like I am skipping any poses here. I am just getting into my Urdvha Dhanurasana from standing, instead of from lying on my back.

So first, I did three super-long Urdvha D’s. Mark came to help me lift my chest higher. Then after those three, I did three more. Then I stood up, looking perhaps a bit sheepish, put my hands in prayer at my heart center, looked up, lifted my chest and when I could lift no more, reached my arms overhead and gently found the floor.

Then I “stood up” onto my knees, a la Ustrasana. I guess the standing up from backbends will come a bit later. Then I did it three more times. Then I brought my mat to the back of the room to prepare for closing poses, and I dropped back once again. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Closing poses, drove home and stopped at three different fruit stands looking for a Mexican mango. Why are all the Mangos at the fruit stands from Haiti this month? Bought one anyway. It is just too sweet. It’s as if they married a pure-bred Mango with a mixed breed Mango – one with long-ago family ties to the Papaya.

And here I sit, having finished my Mango and a banana and now working on a piece of Alvarado Street Bakery Sprouted Wheat Bread. YUM!!


Put on your ice skates, get out those parkas….

July 30, 2006

because Hell just froze over: I dropped back. Unassisted.

And I dropped again. UNASSISTED. And I did it again, and again and again and again because even I did not think it was possible. After about 20 repeats, I called The Husband and Brian and Adam in to be my witnesses. And after 20 some-odd drop-backs, I dropped back yet again. No sloping grassy hill. Just me, the mat, my fears and the destroyer of fear…action.

(I was self-practicing because I am away at the beach this weekend.)

How did I do it? How I did it may not help anyone else because we each have our own particular, unique challlenges. But for me, I knew it was coming when I pressed up into Setu Bandhasana with my arms crossed over my chest (yes, I practiced full Primary today…I was alone, I was feeling it…and so….I did it…okay, I’m lying…I actually went further than that even…I bound in Pasasana (very very sloppily) with a pillow under my heels and then easily tackled Krounchasana and the tummy-down backbends, including Bhekasana – no, my feet don’t touch the floor, but are pretty close….this has always been pretty easy for me – and then Ustrasana and Laghu Vajrasana – which is also easy for me with my hands in my knee-pits…but five VERY quick breaths or I get stuck down at the bottom – and then finally, and this was the kicker, I dropped back into Kapotasana touching my hands to the floor first, and walking them in before my head touched the floor).

Now, despite that in my approximation of Kapo, my hands were six inches from my feet, the feeling of dropping back was all there. One hundred percent. I could feel it. That and the strength in my legs in Laghu Vaj (can I call you that? Laghy Vaj? Thanks…).

So, having reached my apex, and gone beyond, I did several backbends from the floor. And then I stood up to drop back, fully intending to drop onto my knees once I got scared….but here is the thing: I never got scared, and there my hands were, on the floor, never having had to drop down onto my knees. And I did it again. And again. Ad nauseum.

So, that was how it worked for me. I would say leg strength leg strength leg strength and minimally open chest and shoulders. Minimally, I stress. These two together seemed way way more relevant than a super-bendy back or outrageously open shoulders and chest, which I do not have.

Will it ever happen again without first doing the first part of Second, which “legally”, I am not allowed to do? Will I ever bind Supta Kurmasana so that I can get past it and beyond to the many poses that I actually CAN do?

Time will tell….


Four years ago this weekend…

July 28, 2006

I was taking a nice, luxurious shower in our Westport summer rental, exfoliating in anticipation of my weekly self-tanning application, planning in my head, the menu for a late afternoon barbecue for a group of friend who were driving in from the city, when I found it.

I know that hindsight is 20/20, but you have to believe me when I tell you that I knew at that moment that my life was going to change forever as soon as I got myself to a doctor. Which is why I didn’t call the doctor until later that week. Normally, upon making a worrisome discovery, I would call my doctor immediately, seeking reassurance. In this case, I knew that there could be no reassurance. This wasn’t a worrisome discovery; this was a black hole of dread.

My entire body simultaneously tingled with energy and went limp, a sensation that I could feel in my teeth, on my scalp, on the tips of my fingers. Suddenly the memory of a dream from the night before crept into my conscious mind. In the dream, I had discovered multiple tumors in my breast. There was terror in the dream, and yet somehow, I didn’t wake up screaming. Instead, I woke up, stood under a spray of steaming hot water and let my unconscious mind guide my fingers to the most prominent of what would ultimately turn out to be three tumors in my right breast, only one of which was palpable and only two of which were detectable on ultrasound. The third was discovered only upon the dissection of my amputated breast.

Had I not opted for a mastectomy, it is entirely possible that the third tumor would have gone undetected. Perhaps, in that case, chemotherapy would have eradicated all traces of breast cancer in my body, including the hidden tumor, which medically speaking, and quite appropriately, is referred to as an “occult” tumor (cue the sound of an evil cackle). Or perhaps, well, perhaps not.

All I know is that I am lucky to be here. Some of it was good planning. And some of it is just dumb luck.

I asked my breast surgeon how she measures a patient’s time of survival, and, as expected, she replied that to her, a patient’s survival dates back to the date the breast cancer was excised surgically from the body. But, of course. And, of course, it will come as no surprise that the way I measure my survival is to date it back to the moment that changed my life forever…the moment when I just knew.


Happiness is…

July 28, 2006
  • a brand new Tapas travel mat that weighs like half an ounce
  • feeling your foot massaging your gut in Mari D.
  • using the ropes wall in the Iyengar room at Yoga Sutra to do my own standing-up and dropping-back from Urdhva D.
  • teaching a class that just “feels” like it’s gelling…or, perhaps, even gellin’.
  • the weekend…even though I don’t work an office job, the weekend still feels like a nice break from the day-to-day
  • being all caught up on laundry
  • Lewis being in a good mood
  • Mung bean dal that I made all by myself
  • a perfectly ripe Mexican mango
  • discovering a nifty trick to do R&D for Supta K, using the wall
  • getting my chin to the mat in Buja P.
  • realizing that I have never, not once, stopped making progress in my practice
  • gratitude
  • priceless


Two boobs away from Supta K

July 27, 2006

The big bath towel worked like a charm. It absorbed all my sweat and was entirely wet by the time I was done practicing today in the 87 degrees (farenheit) heat and the God-only-knows how high humidity. Practice was sweet. I was focused, I was working hard, I was undistracted, even by my practice. I did spend a bit too much time in Parivritta Parsvakonasana, but I am really, really into twisting right now. And I did get up to steal a bit of cool (relatively speaking) air from the vestibule of the shala between Part I of my practice, as I seem to be delineating it these days (everthing up through Janu Sirsasana C) and Part II of my practice (everything up until Backbends, also known as Urdvha D). But other than that, it was super nice…Mari C and D were REALLY deep, and I am beginning to make it a habit of feeling that internal massage in Mari D, where the foot is really pressed hard into the abdomen as the twist gets deeper. And this was without any adjustment. Come to think of it, I didn’t get even ONE adjustment until Supta Kurmasana. Not a single one. And this, despite that I came EARLY today (a shala mate and I were discussing the possibility of being “punished” for showing up late by not getting adjustments). No, wait. I’m lying. I did get adjusted…in a couple of standing poses!! I had forgotten this completely since I am unaccustomed to getting adjusted in standing poses. But Mark pays amazing attention to detail in the standing poses, and I am reminded that he is giving a workshop at the shala on the standing poses. As he says, “You can’t build upon a shaky foundation” or something like that.

So, guess what? My shoulders are having a bit of trouble in Supta Kurmasana….but here’s the rub: I am beginning to understand what I am really up against here. I had the pleasure of lunching with Ms. Facing Inward today at Candle Cafe, and of course, the discussion came round and round again to Ashtanga, and in particular, to challenges facing girls who have breasts that won’t quit, literally. If only I could draw like Sweaty Brain, I could show you with a simple line drawing how the little domes sitting high up on my chest hold me suspended about two inches off the floor in Kurmasana, and how when I reach my arms around behind my back in Supta Kurmasana, my shoulders are completely ungrounded and basically fall forward to support me…thus using gravity against me and making the bind a near (or possibly complete) impossibility.


Now, I could talk to Sir or Mark about this problem, perhaps see if this will get me out of the duty to bind in Supta K before moving onto the next pose. Or perhaps see if I can get a note from Guruji to get out of Supta K (thank you Anonymous Shala X-mate, once again for the brilliant idea) on this basis. But the thing is, the problem will only come back to haunt me in later postures…Yoga Nidrasana for sure, if not sooner, assuming I can ever get that far, and yeah, I guess I am assuming I can, although Pasasana would be quite the roadblock with those non-movable little boobies in the way of my twisting.

But this reminds me: I overcame the obstacle of the boobs in Mari C and Mari D. I simply push them out of the way and twist past them. In fact, Mari C and D are quite a bit easier for me than Mari B most of the time, and I attribute this to the fact that I had to learn to twist even FURTHER in order to surpass the whole boob roadblock.

And thus, I am inspired to overcome the problem again in Supta K, even if it takes me years. I am wondering, however, if it might be helpful for me to shoulders with a blanket under each one, like the way vinyasa students sometimes support their bent-knee hip with a blanket in order to ultimately go deeper. THIS is something that I would consider discussing with Mark. Perhaps tomorrow if I have the guts.