10,000 Vinyasas

Archive for July, 2011

Sweatiest. Practice. Ever. (Progress in Practice)

by on Jul.30, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

Ok, not really, probably. I’ve done a few really sweaty practices before, and I don’t have the memory to rate them, but today’s was pretty, as Lisa said, “tropical.” On the other hand, I had a small breakthrough this week when I was able, for the first time, to get my feet into supta padmasana without the use of my hands. And then I did it again, today, in practice. Yay! These tiny advances really do give you encouragement, even though you realize that the achievement isn’t the point. Still, I think sometimes that even a little encouragement like this goes a long way. At this morning’s practice, I was next to a woman who had never done Primary Series, and I think it gave me a little bit of extra energy imagining her first experience, remembering what mine was like. Unfortunately, it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” thing, because I also tweaked my good knee pretty hard, again, frustratingly, apparently without trying. Oh well.

Further reflection on Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana: I think I posted this entry in part to become more comfortable with my unease and frustration with the pose, and thus make some of the negative energy dissipate. I hope that makes sense.

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by on Jul.23, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

That's not me!

When I began practicing yoga, my deficiencies were painfully apparent: I had little or no flexibility in legs, hips, shoulders, chest and back; I had some strength, but much of it was unavailable due to the lack of flexibility, and my balance, well, let’s just say it was terrible. In subsequent years of practice, I developed much more usable strength and flexibility, but my balance remains my weakest point to this day. Certainly it is a source of some frustration in my practice, but nowhere so much as when I contemplate the first standing balance pose of Ashtanga’s Primary Series: utthita hasta padangusthasana. Without question, there is no other balance pose to which I find even remotely close in ferocious difficulty, and one which I have struggled with, mostly in vain, ever since I began practicing Primary Series. The full expression involves a great many breaths standing on one leg, bowing over the lifted leg, taking the leg out while looking in the opposite direction, and bringing the leg forward again for yet another bow, and then holding the leg out for five more breaths. I can see very slow progress in this pose when I reflect on how poorly I used to perform it (frequently hopping on the one leg before losing balance), but still,at best it has to be considered a work in progress. I have somewhat come to terms with the apparent fact that I have special challenges in balance poses in general and this one in particular, but I still would like to master it, or at least be more steady. I certainly don’t avoid it when I conduct my personal practice. I also notice that the floor surface actually makes a difference, which I find puzzling. In other words, I just about have the full expression of this pose down when I practice at home on the carpet, but on the mat, it’s a different story. I also note that there aren’t, apparently, any secrets or tips to learning this pose, other than just adopting the proper form, which is disappointing. I don’t suppose there is any solution to this, other than more practice, and being satisfied with the excrutiatingly slow pace of progress.

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A Visit To Costco

by on Jul.23, 2011, under food

I admit, I patronize Costco pretty frequently. They have a decent selection of fresh fruit (berries), vegetables (mushrooms, greens), and orange juice. Also, the store across town actually sells green coffee beans at a cheap price. Once in a while, like now, they make a mistake in gauging the local taste for unusual beer and have to unload it at a hefty discount. On these trips, I usually like to amuse myself by noting what processed foodlike substances are being offered, usually shaking my head at the lengths to which the food industry (the term is deliberate) goes to add “value” to real food, by processing, packaging, etc. Having shopped at Costco for some years now, I thought I had pretty much seen the full range of this crap, but apparently I was wrong, because the other day I found the store featuring already prepared and packaged hard boiled eggs. Okay, think about this for a moment: some marketing department genius figured that there was profit to be made in selling these, because apparently, people cannot be bothered to boil and peel an egg! I pause to reflect that this is just the culmination of the entire food section of Costco, which is devoted to the principle that anything that comes whole and unprocessed can be made better by peeling, stripping, combining, slicing, dicing, canning, storing in little plastic cups, freezing, and of course, adding all kinds of salt, sugar, additives, preservatives, fillers, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and just plain garbage. At any rate, I thought up a new slogan for the place, based on the hard boiled egg incident:

Costco: Food For Lazy People

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Winding Down From Teaching…

by on Jul.19, 2011, under Acro Yoga, teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Well, last week I ended up teaching twelve classes, ranging in size from one (twice) to twenty-five. I taught full Primary Series twice, an advanced Ashtanga class with Second Series variations, and several basic or introductory classes. Far from being tedious or tiring, I found this experience to be educational, enlightening and just plain fun! I remember when I first started teaching and was trying to teach three or four classes a week; at that point, it just seemed almost too much, although admittedly some of the classes were not scheduled at convenient times and locations. Seems clear that I’ve come a long way in my teaching progress, and yet I do understand with quite a bit of clarity that it is really important to be able to continue practicing if you teach yoga. Your teaching should be an evolving process, and that can only come through a continuing yoga practice, which is also changing as you learn and move deeper. I have been gradually moving back towards Ashtanga in my yoga practice over the last few months, and I am happy with how that’s going, although the aches and pains of body parts occasionally require my attention. I am working on rehabilitating my knees, and hoping to get back to the correct form of padmasana (I have to draw the left foot in first right now), but I am also trying to remove myself from expectations about this practice and just enjoy the moving meditation.

This week’s schedule calls for only one extra class for me to teach, so I am getting a break, I guess. Hoping to get all three sessions of acro-yoga in before next week; we won’t be practicing for a couple of weeks after.

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Teaching The Primary Series

by on Jul.13, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

As mentioned, this week I was called upon to teach Primary Series twice for the very first time in my teaching career. As is true with my entire teaching experience, I found it difficult and rewarding. I have previously posted on the difference between counting the breaths and using descriptive words in teaching Ashtanga, and this week offered an opportunity to explore that. My first class was rather, well, like my first teaching experience: nervous and excited, but with some confidence that I could translate the knowledge I had to my students. After all, I have been teaching a modified version of Primary Series for quite some time, so I only had to add the rest of the series. Of course, I was somewhat awkward in my verbiage with these “new” poses, but everything seemed to work out well–I only forgot a couple. My second try was better. Ten people showed up, some of whom were obviously inexperienced, but they all stayed until the end. I also tried to add in the traditional elements of the led Primary that I have been taking recently, even chanting the opening and closing mantras, even though that is not often done at the gym (for fear of offending those who think we are trying to convert them to the “religion” of yoga). Of course, my counting is far from perfect and I need more experience in counting in Sanskrit beyond Suryanamascara A and B, but overall, it was great fun. I was quite impressed with the students who were new or had limited abilities continuing the class until the end, remembering clearly how ferociously difficult I found the Primary Series when I first encountered it. At any rate, I will be looking for more opportunities to teach Primary in the future. As always, I must express my gratitude to my many teachers who have given of themselves and conveyed their knowledge and skill to my great benefit.

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by on Jul.08, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

Here I am during some of my recent travels:

Half Moon Pose

Shoulder Stand

Monkey Pose

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Yoga Teaching Explosion!

by on Jul.05, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

For some reason, probably because so many go on vacation during this month, I find myself with quite a few additions to my teaching schedule; specifically, I will be teaching Sundays and Thursdays at Yoga Shala (Beginning Ashtanga), as well as filling in for a couple of fellow instructors at the gym where I teach. This will give me an opportunity to teach the full Primary Series for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do. This is the point at which I say, “well, you wanted to teach yoga, right?” Actually, far from dreading my full schedule, I am looking forward to adding to my teaching experience. I have reached the point where I have very little negative feelings from teaching; I feel accomplished enough to have acquired a bit of confidence in my ability to lead a class. In some ways, teaching is a furtherance of your yoga practice and the direct feedback you get is encouraging. I feel lucky enough to have had some really excellent teachers and instruction, and to be able to share that knowledge with others is inspiring and gratifying, in a way that my “other” job is not. I am completely impressed at this point with the direction yoga teaching has taken me, and am curious and eager to find out what’s next. Come by for a class if you find time in your schedule; namaste!

An additional note on practice: one of my favorite teachers is filling in at Yoga Shala at the end of the month, so I will probably have to wander over there a bit more.

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A Tale of Two Practices: Temperature, Maehle, and Bringing Acceptance

by on Jul.02, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

I have addressed this issue before in this blog, but to review: during yoga or any athletic activity, I sweat profusely. When temperatures are too warm and humid, my abilities and concentration start to falter, and my performance suffers. This is not new, and is peculiar to me alone, but it has been a source of some frustration in my yoga practice. I have been taking a led Primary Series on Saturday mornings, interspersed with a Mysore practice at the studio when eminent teachers appear. Of course, this has been quite the hot summer already, starting at least 4-6 weeks early and featuring relentless heat. Last Saturday, I arrived at the studio for the led Primary and noted that the temperature in the studio was already warm. At this point, I had all my “sweat management tools:” the towels, blanket, bandanna, etc., ready to begin, but this time decided to approach the practice in a slightly different way, since I knew what I was in for. What I told myself this particular morning was to just relax, remove all expectations of what I would like to “accomplish” during the session and simply accept whatever came from doing my practice on this day. I was just as hot and sweaty during the series as I anticipated, and my practice by any objective standard was below par, but it didn’t matter–my acquiescence to the experience produced a kind of serenity despite the conditions. Although feeling drained and somewhat tired, I left feeling more satisfied than I had in some time.

Today’s Mysore practice was much different, primarily because I had the benefit of a cooler environment. It felt at least ten degrees cooler this morning in the studio when I began the session and I could detect a dramatic change in my focus and concentration. Without having to react to extensive amounts of sweat dripping from all parts of my body, I could pay much more attention to my breath, the order of the poses (I didn’t forget any or mix up the order, something that happens frequently), and consequently, I had an easier time lengthening my practice and taking full advantage of the instruction. I exited from this practice feeling energized and serene, a fine combination, and one I’ve rarely experienced. I got a strong feeling that this was pretty close to my ideal yoga practice.

Well. What can we learn from these two Saturdays? It seems clear to me that, although I can clearly derive more benefit from practicing yoga in a cooler environment, this is something over which I will have little control, at least until I am in charge of my own studio (joke!). Therefore, acceptance of the prevailing conditions is my only weapon, and the results of this are measurable, at least psychologically. Whether my physical practice benefits is another issue. I should also at least attempt to practice as much as possible in cooler environments, to the extent that I am not sacrificing the quality of instruction. Since I am doing my own practice on an almost daily basis, this is well within reach. To conclude, when I was teaching at the resort in Riviera Maya a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to peruse Ashtanga Yoga, Practice and Philosophy, by Gregor Maehle. I quite enjoyed this book, with its thorough review of the Primary Series combined with many alignment and anatomical comments. What stopped me in my tracks was this passage on the correct temperature, since it flies in the face of many yoga instructors’ ideas on temperature, and I quote it in full:

“If you practice on a hot country, you will heat up quickly. This is especially true of males. Care needs to be taken not to overheat if one is engaging in strenuous practice in a hot environment. As with any type of engine, so also with the human body: overheating is not good. Sweating is healthy, but if sweat drips from the body it is a sign that the body is no longer able to cool itself adequately.Sweating to this degree on a daily basis literally drains life force from the body. A temperature of 68 F would be ideal for practice, but practice speed needs to be adapted–faster when it’s cold to increase heat and slower when it’s hot to cool down. On a hot day, focus on the cooling quality of the breath.
Heating the yoga room to above 77 degrees may produce more flexibility, but it decreases strength, stamina and concentration. If yoga were only about flexibility, contortionists would be the greatest yogis. It is worth noting that extreme flexibility is often a result of biochemical imbalance. True posture is about the ability fo focus deeply within.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa practice attempts to balance flexibility with strength. Real yoga ‘will walk the edge between opposing extremes.’ Rather than desperately cranking ourselves into one particular direction in a posture, we expand simultaneously in all directions. The first pair of opposites that we discover in physical yoga is strength/flexibility. Excess flexibility is an obstacle because it means loss of strength, and vice versa. We should never build up a degree of flexibility that is not matched by the necessary support strength. On the other hand, building up great strength withouth increasing one’s flexibility restricts the range of joint movement.
A heated yoga room helps flexibility because it increases vata and pitta. A cold yoga room helps strength because it increases kapha. A cold room also increases awareness and attention to detail. We have to study the posture more deeply to get to the same point in a cold room, but this pays off in terms of benefits. There is more learning if the temperature is low, and the body becomes sturdier due to the awakening of physical intelligence. We can avoid this process by turning up the thermostat, but everybody who has worked through a couple of winters with only moderate heating values the gain in refinement it brings.
If temperatures are high, proper ventilation is necessary. The western fashion of keeping all windows closed in sweltering temperatures so that you can see puddles of sweat on the floor is surprising, considering that I have never seen a yoga room in India that even had closeable windows. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika warns in several places of the dangers of too much heat and too much heating, by staying too close to the fire for example, and also of excess physical exertion. Getting too cold, for instance by taking cold morning baths, is also not recommended. The idea here is moderation: staring away from the extremes and abiding in the center. Once a yogi is fully established, however, extremes will no longer be of concern. ”

I have nothing to add here; this is as good and complete a dissertation on temperature as one could hope for. I think this may be the final word on sweating that appears on this blog, for those who are tired of reading about it.

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