Second Series Today

May 31, 2009

Not because it’s Sunday. To “certain days being associated with certain Series”, I say, “Meh”. I practiced Second Series today because my body was kind of achey from a night of dancing last night, and maybe a little too much Pinot Noir over too many hours, and Second Series has less Vinyasas overall – and more to the point, less chaturangas. I also practiced Second Series today because give a choice, I will always focus more on forward bending than backbending, to the detriment of the backbending. And Second Series does not give me that ability, if I do it in order. It starts with backbends, after the first two poses, that is.

It went rather nicely, I have to say. There were moments when I was like, jeez, is this ever going to end? That was when I was doing Kapotasana, which sucked as badly as it ever has, maybe moreso and then a rather painful, crampy, cranky Supta Vajrasana. The Eka Padas were pretty rough too since I had zero opportunity to warm up for leg-behind-head. But Dwi Pada through Tittibhasana was fine, and then it all progressed so quickly once I was past my two Pincha Mayurasanas (since I have zero desire to even approximate any aspect of Karandavasana, other than the Pincha part),

I found it interesting that Tittibhasana C was not problematic, given that Eka Pada was so stiff and unyielding. I also found it interesting that Mayurasana was so easy, given its placement in the Series. Most pleasant suprise: I did every one of the Seven Headstands coming up in a pike. I have never been able to do that before. Perhaps this is a function of doing them after just Second, instead of after Primary and THEN Second. Perhaps the same goes for Mayurasana. Less is definitely more, I am finding. Over and over and over again in my life, as well as in yoga.

Also pleased that Pasasana was fine without the Maryichyasanas. I don’t know if I have ever even attempted that before. Or if I have, I doubt I have ever been able to do that before. Then again, I am rolling my mat under my heels now. MUCH better. And why shouldn’t I? I am a Westerner. A short Westerner who wears heels every single day. How can I be expected to squat like an Indian?

Final comment about it, reinforcing the bit of wisdom imparted to me at some point during my Om teacher training, that there is no yoga adjustment or alignment advice that does not have an expiration date: I decided to try stepping up to Virabhadrasana in the Surya Namaskar B’s straight from Down Dog, rather than putting my heel down first, as the Good Doc had demanded of me. At the time that the Good Doc gave me this instruction, it made sense. It helped me, I remember. Not sure I remember exactly what it helped me with, but I know I remember thinking that it was helpful. But lately, I have been noticing that it kind of messes up my rhythm. So, today, I exhaled into downdog and boom, just stepped forward…and it was nice. Nice and smooth.

Maybe someday I will go back to the heel down/step forward method. But right now, my teacher is telling me to do it the other way. And by my teacher, I mean, ME.

All in all, backbends sucked today, as bad as ever. Yet, here is the oddness: my dropbacks and standups were quite nice.

Go figure.

Haven’t walked Lewis today. I did rake all of the goddamned Oriental Bittersweet out of my shade garden paths. That stuff is horribly invasive, and I don’t even know where it came from. Last year, I don’t rememer there being any Bittersweet at all. This year, it is threatening to take over. It’s a pretty chartreuse color, but don’t let that fool you. It vines and climbs and tangles and gets woody, and ultimately, it will kill everything it can overpower. So, I did what I had to do. But Lewis still needs a walk. He is already losing weight on his new fitness program. I guess, after supper.

As for tomorrow…who knows? Primary? No practice at all? I love the flexibility of my new program…


Practice Record

May 31, 2009

I practiced yesterday. Forgot to mention. That was day 4 in a row. Today, going for day 5. It’s gorgeous out, so really no excuses are available except for minor post-party dolldrums.


The Fun in Fundamentalism

May 30, 2009

I was just reading Grimmly’s blog entry in which there is a revisiting of the well-worn debate between those who fully buy into the traditional one-pose-at-a-time method of Ashtanga yoga teaching versus those who don’t. Of the latter, it seems that there are two schools: those who tried it in earnest and found it wanting and those who never even thought to try and and found that life was good without it.

I am of the former school. And I thought it might be fun (for me, at least) to revisit how my change of heart came to pass.

I started my Ashtanga practice with the goal of completing Primary Series because I believed, as I still do, that the deep forward bends and twists are therapeutic, if only for the muscles and joints of the body, and possibly for the metabolic system as well (it is impossible to deny the effects on my own digestive system of the deep twists…if things aren’t moving along, so to speak, all it takes is Mari D, we’re in business, you Ashtangis know what I’m talking about…). When I started, my body was stiff. Not my mind, folks. My body. I had run marathons but had never bothered to stretch. Even though I had done my share of handsprings as a youth and had continued throughout adulthood to now and then pull one out when I found myself on a wide, green expanse of grass, after my double mastectomy, there were no more handsprings. No more back walkovers. Not my mind, my body. Very real, very stiff.

I took “led” classes (Western style, your typical yoga classes where the instructor calls out the poses and the class follows suit), but I found that I was gaining little flexibility in the more difficult poses. Plus, very few led classes actually got past the halfway point of Primary. Even Govinda Kai’s Led Primary class at New York Yoga back in the early 2000’s was really Led Half Primary (that was when he was known as Russell Kai Yamaguchi, for those who don’t recognize the name).

I decided to give Mysore-style classes a go because I felt that the one-on-one attention in the difficult poses would provide the intensity and repetition I needed. I was afraid to try Mysore-style at first because I was resistent to the idea of being “stopped” at a pose that I had not yet perfected (which I assumed would be Marichyasana C, but I feared could be sooner, depending on how exacting a teacher might be…after all, my Marichyasana A wasn’t pretty either; even though I could link fingers, a wrist bind was a far-off dream, and I wasn’t sure what a teacher would expect of me). Anyway, I finally gave in and decided that I would accept the “being stopped” because I really really really wanted to make progress in Marichyasana C and D and Kurmasana.

I tried Eddie Stern’s shala and really enjoyed Sarah’s midmorning session. She stopped me at Marichyasana D, if I am remembering correctly. I also tried Guy Donahaye’s shala, and found myself gravitating toward Mark Robberds’s light-hearted, sunshiney style (he was the guest teacher that first summer while Guy was away). Mark let me go all the way to Supta Kurmasana, but he told me that Guy probably would cut me back to Marichyasana C or D, since I needed assistance to bind them. By then, I was fine with all of that because very single day that I went to practice, I actually got to DO those poses that had seemed impossible before, even if it was with help. And I liked it. I not only liked it, I was addicted to it and completely dependent on GOING to the shala in order to get my assists. If I didn’t go to the shala, then those poses eluded me. So, naturally, I wanted to go. Every single day.

As time wore on, and I am talking a lot of time – a year or more – I became able to do Marichyasana C and D on my own, and then Supta Kurmasana became the challenge, the addiction, the pose that made me dependent on my teacher and a visit to the shala for help. And then came drop-backs.

By the midsummer of 2007, I found myself able to do every pose of Primary Series on my own and to drop back and stand up on my own. But I became interested in more-deeply backbending, and I knew that I was going to need at least some of Second Series in order to do that. Not that I couldn’t do that on my own – except for Pasasana, we’re talking very very elementary backbending prior to Kapotasana.

Anyway, long story short, over the period of a little more than a year, except for a brief interlude with Christopher Hildebrandt, which I will get to in a moment, I found my interest in shala practice significantly diminished. I think that what had happened was that nothing had ever really changed for me: I still really wanted to practice Primary Series. I didn’t want to give up any of Primary Series because I still firmly believed in it. It made me fit. It made me feel good. And I could DO Primary Series without any help at all.

Now, there was that time with Christopher, in the summer of 2008 where I began to really long for more more more. And I attribute that to Christopher’s enthusiasm and his seeming belief that any pose is possible for any person. He gave me all of Second Series up to Eka Pada Sirsasana with the promise of more just as soon as I could keep my legs behind my head without assistance. But that is when it all started to backfire for me. I don’t think I really WANTED all those poses. I wanted to learn to backbend. And doing leg-behind-head poses wasn’t helping my backbends.

And this is when the doubt began to creep in. My teacher believed that I could do these poses, that I should do these poses. But I didn’t. Much as my ego wanted to believe my teacher, reality was telling me that this was not the proper course for me. I struggled with the reality testing all throughout this past winter. I practiced at home, trying to keep up the prescribed practice – all of Primary then Second up to Eka Pada. But it was arduously long, and I felt overtrained. I was making no progress in Kapotasana, or not nearly enough for the amount of time I had put in. I sensed that the work in Eka Pada was undoing my work in Kapotasana.

In short: I began to distrust outside teaching and to trust my inner teacher above all else.

Getting back to the original seed that started this post – the question of whether the traditional one-pose-at-a-time style is the right style for everyone – I think that the answer is that nothing is one-size-fits-all. It’s simply not black and white.

Show me a 30-year-old former dance instructor who steadily moves through Primary and Second, and I will show you two or three or 10 45-year-old former runners who are much better off doing it all piecemeal, at least after they learn Primary. I still believe that Primary should be learned in its entirety before moving on to Second Series. But I also believe that Primary might best be practiced as a gestalt, rather than one-pose-at-a-time. Or maybe not. Maybe it depends on the student. Maybe it depends on what the student WANTS. Maybe all students would be best served by having a teacher who is willing to tailor the practice to what the student wants from their practice, maybe with some limits set: no Pasasana until Mari D is self-bound, for example. No Eka Pada unless Supta Kurmasana is bound (with or without assistance). And Second Series backbends should be available to students who need them.

I don’t know. I fully admit that I don’t know. All I know is what worked for me and what didn’t. What worked for me WAS being taught one Primary Series pose at a time. But “worked” is a tricky notion. It “worked” in that it made me proficient at Primary Series, which I can breeze through in under an hour now. But it did not work as far as making me fit and healthy exactly. The weight that I put on when I was being treated for breast cancer did not come off until I was practicing ALL of Primary. And once I was practicing all of Primary, the weight SLID off. I don’t even understand how it came off so quickly. Before that, when I was practicing half of Primary and/or maybe a bit more, my weight was lower than it was before I was practicing Ashtanga diligently and daily. But I did not find my “comfortable” weight until after I was “allowed” to practice all of Primary (and by “allowed”, I mean in a shala; of course, I could have done whatever I wanted at home, and sometimes I did. But during this period, I was still of the mindset that I was doing something “criminal”, which seems laughable now, but that was my mindset at the time…I was “all in” when it came to the Ashtanga game).

Perhaps if I had been allowed to practice ALL of Primary but was told that I would not be taught any of Second Series, with the exception of the Second Series backbends up to but not including Kapotasana, until I could do all of Primary on my own, I might have taken a lot longer to learn all of Primary. On the other hand, perhaps I would have lost a lot of weight, making it easy for me to bind in Marichyasana D and Supta Kurmasana.

Of course, for ME, weight seems to be a relevant factor in my ability to bind certain poses. Actually, the more flexible I get, the more years of practice I have under my belt, the fewer poses there are that seem to be effected by weight. Right now, it seems to only be Supta Kurmasana in which I can feel a difference if I put on or take off a pound or two. Maybe someday, I will be flexible enough so that it doesn’t matter at all if my weight is up or down, with respect to Supta Kurmasana. However, for other people, no amount of skinniness is going to matter in certain poses. I have seen skinny people struggle in Marichyasana D. I have seen skinny people who are unable to bind in Supta Kurmasana without help (some are unable to bind WITH help). So, for me, the rigors of practicing all of Primary might have made a difference in my ability to DO all of Primary, whereas for others, the rigors of practice might make no difference at all.

Chalk another one up to one size does not fit all, to black and white being a bit greyer than traditionalists might wish to believe.

I certainly do not regret trusting Guy and learning the Primary Series the way he was taught – one pose at a time, proficiency required. But I wonder if it might have been just as good for me the way, say, Val or Tim Miller teaches it: all of Primary at once.

There is no answer. The only way to “test” the two opposing theories are to have the same person try it both ways, but of course that isn’t possible. Because once you’ve learned it one way, you can’t undo it and then learn it the other way. So anyone who claims that they KNOW that one way is better than the other really can’t know it at all. They can have FAITH in the way they were taught. They can have faith in their guru, or their guru’s guru. But they can’t know.

Grimmly, who inspired this post, is perhaps my favorite yogi of all right now, and I will tell you why. Grimmly is innocent. Grimmly has not ventured into the shala and then rejected it as you might say that I have. Grimmly has simply stumbled onto an amazing style of yoga, teaching it to himself with great success. It is a pleasure to see it in action. He defies every Ashtanga Traditionalist’s expectations. He throws it on the ground and Karandavasanas right over it. It is awesome.


Some saw fit to try to stomp on his buzz. Based on my experiences, I would expect that someday those buzz-stompers will either abandon the Ashtanga fold altogether – when they get to a pose for which the Ashtanga system suddenly disappoints them, suddenly no longer works. Or….

Wait. I really don’t see any other possibility for the buzz-stompers. In my heart of hearts, I believe that it can only end one way. Disappointment.

But not for Grimmly. Grimmly will keep on keeping on…at least I hope so.

This is probably one of the most rushed and disjointed posts I’ve ever vomited out. But there you go. I had to say it.


Did it.

May 30, 2009

Practiced. Walked Lewis. Backbends still hurt the hell out of my wrists. They don’t feel super good on my back either. I have to just hope that when the weather is nice again, this wrist stiffness will be gone, and maybe the rest of it will fall into place. Other than that, my practice feels awesome and everything works like a charm, even Pasasana and Supta Kurmasana, which were coming and going this winter (probably a function of the winter pudgies, which for me is never much, but it does seem to have a significant effect on my binding in those tight-tight poses).


Day Whatever

May 29, 2009

Is it Day 8? Or Day 1 again? Or Day None because the deal was I was supposed to practice outside every single day that the weather permits. And today, the weather did not permit. Far from it. Rather, I practiced in my


As you can see, it’s not quite finished, but the walls are up, the floors, the moldings, even the French doors. It needs a paint job (sky blue, I’m thinking at the moment, to go in a French country way with the lemon yellow of the walls outside the yoga room), door knobs, the closet needs shelves and a hanging bar. I’d also like to add a mirror and maybe a ballet bar to the back wall (opposite the french doors).

This is one part of the “basement” level of my house, which is really only half underground. As you can see from the pic, there is a picture window and a door to the garden on the side of my house, where I planted Wisteria and am growing a cutting garden of Zinnias. So, the French doors allow light in from the window and door and afford a view of the greenery outside.

The rest of the basement is going to be a rec room for the kids. There will be a large-screen television, a big comfy couch, a couple of toy closets and some game tables (ping pong, for one). I’ll move my sewing machine down there, and the futon/couch that used to be in the kids’ playroom in our apartment in the city. There is also a full bath that has all the fixtures in, but none of them have been hooked up yet. So, theoretically, I could do my yoga and shower and emerge fully ready for whatever!

But the important thing for me is that I can close those French doors and still see the light from the outside but not hear whatever is going on in the rest of the house. And the space can be heated to delightfully sweaty levels with just a single space heater.


I did my practice there this afternoon. It was great, except for my backbends, which are stiff and uncomfortable. Could it be the damn weather? My wrists feel like they cannot hold my arms up. It’s quite distressing. It comes and goes. I hate when it comes though.

Backing up a bit, I did take Lewis on his fitness walk this morning. Thirty minutes in the nature preserve in Greenwich (we HAVE to drive to take a leash walk…insane, I know, but really, it is the only way that works due to a combination of factors, including the electric fence and the fact that there are no sidewalks here). Then I had to go to…blech…my biannual appointment with Dr. H. This makes seven years.

All is well. Praise science.


I couldn’t practice today…

May 28, 2009


I didn’t want to.

But tomorrow is another day.

My yoga practice is quite bipolar. Some weeks are up up up all the time, and then suddenly, I crash.

Today, anyway, I had other priorities that could not include a trip into the city. Among those: I decided to put Lewis the Bagle on a new fitness program, which means that he has to go on a walk with me once a day, rain or shine. Getting out for that first walk, knowing it would be the first of many, many, many…that was tough. But, one day at a time, right?

Our walk was nice. I did it for him, not for me, so I let go of the annoyance of him stopping every fifteen seconds to pee.

Another thing: today the workmen were finishing the floor and moldings on our ground level, which contains my new….drumroll…yoga room! Wood floor, French doors through which you can see the side garden and the pond, and when I close those French doors, it’s a cozy warm space after about five minutes with the space heater.

It’s all still unpainted, and the bathroom fixtures need to be hooked up, but basically, it’s good enough for me to take a trial run tomorrow. Believe me, if the weather was promising, I would be outside. But we are back to grey and gloomy again. Pfft.

And so, tomorrow, after a bright and early cup of coffee and a bit of yogurt, I will get the kids off to school, walk the dog and then do my yoga practice in my new yoga room…

I hope.

Hold me to it. Please. I need accountability…


On the 8th day…

May 26, 2009

there was rest. I felt rather like shit today, actually. Wasn’t even up for gardening although I did a bit. Moved a few flowering shrubs that seemed to want to be somewhere else, moved a line of Daylillies that definitely wanted a new home. And then I lost my mojo. Still have some moving of flowering shrubs to do, but it can wait. Maybe later tomorrow.

There is no question that this crappy weather effects me, makes me sluggish and loguey. It also doesn’t help that my tooth problem from three months ago is STILL not fully resolved. I am noticing it today again. Sensitivity in the tooth followed by a radiating ache. Nothing that a couple of Advil can’t fix, but it is distressing nontheless, especially for someone like me who is so sensitive to every little ache and pain (I was always that way…it wasn’t the cancer that made me that’s probably why I discovered my cancer!).

Anyway, so tomorrow I have my weekly shrinking, and it’s one of those weeks when I promised to come in, instead of literally phoning it in. So, just like those weeks when my computer lab ended early or didn’t happen for one reason or another, I could actually go in and practice midmorning with…that teacher who I really don’t much enjoy practicing with.

Except for one thing: she is not on the schedule. What gives? Is she GONE??!!!

I thoroughly enjoy practicing with YS’s go-to-subs. But I don’t want to get attached to the scenario in case it doesn’t last…

Does anyone know?