So, what was I saying?

June 1, 2011

The lapsed ashtangi has lapsed in lapsing.

I’m writing this without even having checked to see what I last said when I last said it. Was it a year ago? More? Less? All I know is that for a very very long time, my passion for blogging was as absent as my passion for practicing Mysore-style Ashtanga. In the intervening time, and maybe you know this already, I had a crazy 9-hour surgery in Charleston, South Carolina, to re-re-reconstruct my breasts, this time out of butt flesh. My own butt flesh. That was followed by a shorter second-stage surgery (in New York City) that tweaked the results of the first (it was always planned that way; the first surgery is so focused on the microvascular issues of dissecting and removing the Superior Gluteal Artery along with the butt flesh and reconnecting it to the upstairs vascular system, that it is not expected to resolve every cosmetic issue involved with making boobs out of butt, although it came pretty damn close to being perfect from the getgo, thank you Dr. Maria Lotempio). And that, in turn, was followed by an even shorter final-stage surgery.

All in all, as a result of my surgeries, I was out of commission for nearly 12 weeks of 2010. Then, just as I was getting back into the swing of regaining my fitness, I fell while figure-skating the day after Thanksgiving and smashed my left knee but GOOD. That left me essentially unable to work out for another six weeks, but I am thankful that it healed completely, with no leftover soft-tissue damage (unlike my right thumb, which two years after breaking it, still aches when I wrist bind and is still significantly weaker than the other).

And all of that inactivity led to some really tight jeans come spring as well as, insult to injury, a significant loss of flexibility in my shoulders, spine and hips. Basically everything. My lotus was no longer tight. My Marichyasanas were back to fingertip binds. And sadly, oh so so sadly, my Supta Kurmasana was lost. Not even an assist could help me bind.

And in that sorry state, I had no desire to get back to the yoga on any regular basis. Instead, I did what had heretofore seemed unthinkable: I joined a gym – The Gym in Armonk – where everyone, and I swear, I mean EVERYONE (in Armonk, at least) works out. I took Spin classes. I took Zumba. I even took a body sculpting class. Yes, hell froze over. I did bicep curls and lateral deltoid raises. I familiarized myself with all of the leg-weight equipment. I had fun with it, and I practiced yoga maybe twice a week with a group of women whom I had been practicing yoga with for the past year or so. Two Asians and two redheads, we call ourselves Ginger and Spice.

And then one day one of the Spice girls (Gina) tried a Mysore session at Yoga Sutra in NYC. And she fell so in love that she bought a two week membership. When she tired of going into the city for Mysore, she searched for a place to practice Mysore style around here. The well, as we all know, is fairly dry, but for Val’s place in Ridgefield, which is about a half an hour from my house, but a bit further from Gina’s house. I tried to convince Gina to go there, but for some reason, she was dead set on trying out Stan Woodman’s place in Westport. WESTPORT!

Anyway, Gina was hooked. I, of course, bristled at some of what she told me about Stan’s room…you know, what I normally bristle about with regard to Mysore rooms: the control-freak nature of the whole thing, the frustrating waiting for the next pose, the being held back at “chicken pose”, as Gina calls it (Kukutasana), because she can’t hold her hands together while her ankles are crossed in Supta Kurmasana. Argh. But as my jeans got looser and my limbs got flexier, I began to find the courage to even desire to be back in a Mysore room.

Yes, ego. I was unwilling to “be where I was”, to just go and do the yoga and suck at it because that’s where I was, to go and feel fat (fat, for me, yes, I get that it’s all relative) and know that it’s all ephemeral and shifting and changing. Blah blah blah. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in that place of handling my present moment with equanimity. So be it. That’s where I was.

And that’s where I still am, I suppose, except that because my body responded to the yoga and the better eating and getting outside to garden again, I am once again comfortable in my body and willing to do my yoga in public. And so, two weeks ago, I ventured to Westport.

I did my Primary, I got assists in many poses, I got dropped back. And I failed to hold the bind in Supta Kurmasana when Stan put my legs behind my head…and lived to tell about it…and went back again despite the failure.

Interesting, that. Not that I can’t hold the bind. But that Stan’s method of assisting in Supta Kurmasana is like nothing I have ever experienced, and I have experienced a LOT of Ashtanga teachers. Every other teacher I have ever received a Supta K assist from has done it as follows:

1. With the student in Kurmasana, teacher has the student bend her legs, and teacher proceeds to rearrange the legs so that the legs are aimed directly (or as directly as possible) over the shoulder, creating the smallest possible angle between the legs, ideally, the legs being close to parallel and skimming right over the shoulders.

2. THEN the teacher holds the student’s wrists and yanks the arms out and UP to vertical so that the shoulders REALLY clear those heavy heavy legs.

3. With room now between the shoulders and the legs, the teacher can then bring the student’s hands behind the student’s back and the student then is able (hopefully) to clasp the hands.

4. THEN, and only then, the teacher crosses the student’s ankles in FRONT of the CROWN of the student’s head.

I would characterize that sort of assist as focused on the binding of the hands primarily, with the legs not being “behind” the head at all. Stan’s assist is much more focused on crossing those ankles behind the head…or really, beind the NECK. And that is really cool, actually, if you (and by “you”, I mean me) are willing to let go of the attachment to a really deep binding of the hands…because there is simply no way that someone who is working solely on Primary is going to be able to keep their hands bound while having their ankles crossed behind their neck. I was always told that that was the goal of the pose once you were already practicing Second Series up to Dwi Pada.

But anyway…as I am sure you can imagine, this is my current struggle. Letting go of the Supta K of the past. Not being all bitchy about it, which I was on Tuesday when I groused at Stan for not pulling my arms out from beneath my shoulders. And learning to accept that my body is tighter right now than it was and that it will all come in time…just like it did before. And even enjoying the fact that when it finally does come, I will be like, “DUDE!! I have my ankles behind my head AND my hands are bound!!” And happily accepting that for whatever weird reason, my surgery resulted in my backbends being deeper and my chest being more open, while it tightened up my back-body (having a chunk removed from each butt cheek might play a role in that, ya think?).

Anyway, I’m back. Not sure why Ashtanga inevitably leads to blogging by me. I guess there is a lot for me to digest. And it’s the kind of stuff I need to digest obsessively here, rather than making all of my friends hate me for being so boring.

So, yeah. Hi. Remember me?



Ankles crossed, fingers touching

September 21, 2006

Four words. Four very very very very happy words!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I did most of it myself!!!!!!!!!!!

Things were just clicking today. I think it had something to do with what I have been working on at home.

Yesterday, I had this major epiphany about Mari A and B, two poses that are crucially important to building a workmanlike Supta Kurmasana (yeah, yeah, I said it. Supta Kurmasana. See? I said it again; I have no willpower. It is my true nature. I acknowledge it. And now, I will let it go….).

The discovery? I need to reach my OTHER arm around at the same time that I am reaching the binding arm around, or as quickly as possible thereafter. That way, there is something for my binding arm to hold onto so that the pose can actually “begin”. This brings me MUCH deeper into the posture in both A and B. And on the second side in B, I actually touched my forehead to the ground today, although I wasn’t doing a wrist bind – close, but not quite.

So, why does it matter whether I am binding at the wrist, the fingertips or somewhere in between? See, in my mind, there are three kinds of approaches to binding. One is the “grab whatever you can” approach. That’s where one might start in a challenging binding posture. The final is the wrist-grabbing approach. The wrist-grabbing approach pre-supposes that both arms are INTERNALLY rotated so that the wrapping arm can grab the other arm firmly OVER the wrist. In between is the third approach, an intermediate approach, where there is a strong and solid bind, but the arms are not quite properly (read: INTERNALLY) rotated to make a proper wrist-bind possible.

In Mari A, I have the wrist bind. In Mari B, I can get myself into the intermediate bind, but with assistance, I can get the wrist, although when I get the wrist, I don’t think I can touch the floor with my head. In Mari C, I have the intermediate bind, but on a really good (read: JUICY JOINTS) day, I can be put into the wrist bind with a LOT of work from my teacher. In Mari D, I am USUALLY in the intermediate bind and sometimes in the “grab whatever you can” bind. The “grab whatever you can” bind happens mainly when I am feeling rushed or suffering from a bloated tummy (like this past week when I was still suffering the Z-Pack Blues).

(Sorry for using the word “intermediate”, by the way. I am not using it to suggest Intermediate Series, but rather the middling level of binding competency.)

This all is why I will be able to bind Supta Kurmasana eventually, and perhaps sooner rather than later, and why I am nowhere near ready for Pasasana. Mari A and B correspond to Supta Kurmasana. Mari C and D correspond to Pasasana. Supta Kurmasana is like Mari A and B on acid. Pasasana is like Mari C and D on acid. Or so it seems, from someone who has never really done it.

I had another epiphany in my home practice, a slow dawning really, of the idea that every entry into a half lotus is an opportunity to take my about-to-lotus leg, bend the knee deeply and aim that knee behind my torso, then straighten the knee and bring the about-to-lotus foot up towards my ear, forehead or even the back of my head. Each half lotus of Primary brings me closer and closer to Supta Kurmasana and brings my about-to-lotus leg closer to an Eka Pada Sirsasana position, without actually doing Eka Pada Sirsasana. Oh, and this also is a great prep for Janu Sirasana C, which I can now easily do (to vertical) on both sides. And none of this is particularly embarassing or awkward for me to do in a classroom setting, unlike some of the other Supta Kurmasana R&D I do at home (like binding in Parsvakonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana…).

Finally, one last epiphany that made a HUGE HUGE difference in my practice today: Flat palms. I know, I know, this is not news. We are supposed to keep our palms flat when we jump back, when we jump forward, when we do Uttanasana, when we look up from Uttanasana right before we jump back, in Urdhva Dhanurasana, etc.. But I have this habit of rocking forward onto my fingers. A while ago, I discovered that this was killing my Urdhva Dhanurasana by giving me a shaky foundation for opening my chest and shoulders. Flat palms solved that problem. Yesterday, I made myself keep my palms flat throughout Surya A and Surya B jumpbacks and jump-forwards. I didn’t adhere to this rule during seated because, well, come on, as I have demonstrated, I only have so much willpower.

But I did adhere to the flat palms rule in two very important places in Primary: Bujapidasana and Kurmasana. When I jumped forward, instead of jumping my legs as for out in front of my hands as possible, I merely jumped my legs as far as I could before feeling like I had to start lifting up with my palms. This meant that when I landed, my palms were flat. I inhaled and got myself easily and gracefully into Bujapidasana. I believe that this trick will eventually permit me to jump right into the posture. A ways, a long ways, down the road. Conversely, I really don’t see how I would EVER jump straight into Buja without my palms firmly grounded. Think about it.

Somehow, this same mechanism for jumping forward puts me much more into the “right” position for a really good Kurmasana – feet flexed, heels lifted and chest pressed to the floor. And a good Kurmasana, one in which I am not panting or groaning, sets me up for a good Supta Kurmasana….

So, today, Sir was giving dropbacks to another student while I was in Kurmasana. And so, after eight breaths or so, I bent my knees, pressed my shoulders to the floor as much as I could, grabbed my handtowel in my right hand, crawled my arms around and UP my back, flipped my hand towel over my back so that my left hand could grab it as well, and then crossed my right ankle over my left. I then let my forehead relax to the floor and felt my arms “lengthening” across my back as my chest sunk under my legs. Then Sir came over, got rid of the hand towel, pressed on my elbows to bring my hands closer together….and voila…..

Ankles crossed, fingers touching!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sir leaves tomorrow morning for three months in India. When I was saying goodbye to him in his office after practice, I had to mention Supta K. I had to. So, I said, “Not bad today in Supta K, right?” What do you think was his response?









“It’s NEVER bad.”

Ah, yoga. It’s so easy to forget you’re doing yoga when you’re practicing asana.