Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Twice in a week...

Today was the big challenge. Get myself to a mysore class, and then go to work afterwards - something I haven't done for about 5 months. I planned it with military precision, trying to work out exactly what time I needed to start and finish my practice to make sure I got to work on time, how long it would take me to get from home to the shala, and then afterwards from the shala to work, and of course what time I would need to get up. As I didn't get on with the shower on my first trip to YP I decided to allow enough time to take a shower and wash my hair before I went, so worked out I needed to set my alarm for 5.20am to make sure I was ready to start my practice with the opening chant at 6.30.

So I got up and out of the house, that was fine, though I somehow managed to miss the chant by a few minutes - I was there when they did it, but I was still in the changing room. So it was fine, I started my practice with a quiet moment on my mat, at AYL I would always do the chant quietly on my own but it didn't seem right when I'd only just missed it. As an aside, I used to worry that it was annoying to other people that I did that, as not many other people did - but today when I was almost finished a girl arrived and unrolled her mat in front of me, and quietly but audibly started "vande gurunam..." and it was so lovely to hear!! How could anybody be annoyed by it? A good lesson for me to realise.

I was surprised by how busy the room was, we were pretty packed in (much busier than Sunday), but still Cary was darting around the room, and I got more adjustments than I am used to getting (even the micro ones she does on her way past)  though not as many as on Sunday. I forgot until just now but when I was approaching the shala this morning in the dark, I happened to look up and saw her silhouette through the frosted glass giving an adjustent and it really made me smile. Anyway despite her busy-ness I am really conscious of her grace. It might just be that I'm recognising what Karen was writing about last week, but I can't help but notice the way she seems to have everyones's back, even though there are so many people there, and also the way she moves around the room - almost like it's a dance. But slight as she may be, my God her adjustments are strong! No correction to the length of my downdog today (I think I've got that now - I can't believe how different it feels) but the usual push into it, a few tweaks in the tirikonasana sequence (including standing on my back foot in the revolved version, I always seem to get that!) and then on to UHP.

I wonder if I am alone in finding in next to impossible to balance in this posture by myself - even after all of these months. Cary was waiting for me to take my foot in the first place before she stepped in, and on the left side it took me about three tries just to balance.
Naturally I think my leg reaches about the angle of this picture: i.e. not all that high! (picture credit here) I am used to having a teacher take your leg up higher, and the main teacher at AYL might take it up on her shoulder whereas the assistants would hold your leg on their arm (no doubt concerned about being too strong).

But what does Cary do? Well it feels more like this:
picture credit here
Oh - except that my standing foot isn't allowed to turn out as it does in this picture. And Cary would be in the picture too, lifting my leg whilst simultaneously correcting the grip on my toe, pushing me down onto my raised leg, turning my knee in and making sure my foot wasn't rolling out, holding onto my shoulder to stop me falling, pushing my chest up at the end...! At least there was no standing leg straightening today (I tried to keep it straight, really I did, but it does feel like the only thing keeping me upright). Although this is how it feels, I'm sure my leg is actually nothing like as high as this, but I think the assist in this pose is what gave me such agonisingly sore glutes after Sunday's practice. No adjustments in pachimottanasana today which I was almost grateful for (actually maybe it was that which hurt so badly afterwards) and at least I didn't forget the sequence at the beginning of seated this time! The shala was really filling up by this stage so there was a bit of shuffling about of mats, but everyone seemed to have enough space. And then I got a bit distracted when a girl rolled her mat out in front of me into what looked like not a space at all, she was clearly unsure whether it was OK and looked to Cary for reassurance, and as she turned around I saw that she was the little sister of a boy in my class at Primary school - she was also at my secondary school, but about four years below me. Quite a weird coincidence as I didn't grow up in London, plus I think mysore classes are quite niche really, and then to practice in the same shala, and to happen to appear in front of me - I have no idea how many other people were in the room, and if she'd have been anwhere else I wouldn't even have seen her.

Anyway aside from my distraction (it didn't help that she has a dancer's physique and a very acomplished practice!!) I continued through my practice and only got adjusted in Marichyasana A - again, a very strong one which made me want to squeal as C pushed my body down to my leg, telling me to take the chin to the shin put pushing still deeper even once it had hit my leg.Then although she was stood behind me in D and I struggled to bind, I managed it again on both sides (just) without any help. I still prefer the adjusted bind, but of course it is good to know I don't need it!

From Mari D I ploughed straight into Bhujapidasana, attempting it twice before I realised I'd missed out navasana AGAIN!! Funny how I am rushing to the pose I am struggling with rather that avoiding it...I wonder what that says about me. Anyway I remembered in time, so went back through vinyasa and into navsana, where C's assistant came over and told me to come up out of my lower back which I did and immediately had to bend my knees. I did think that I'd probably been leaning back to far to get my legs up & straight but nobody ever picked up on it before. So then it was my third attempt at the bloody bhuja...actually I'm wondering if anybody can help me with this because I just DON'T GET IT! I jump round my arms from downdog, and on the last few attempts I can now gingerly cross my feet and lift them (though it takes massive effort) and then I just hang there, stuck! I have been taught to take my forehead to the floor as a beginner's modification - but in doing this, my feet are back on the floor. When I am balancing on my arms, attempting to move my head towards the floor feels far too scary as I am sure I am going to crash-land, so I end up crashlanding onto my backside instead (which is a much softer landing I can assure you). So having crashed down I'm never really sure what to do, whether I try again, or if I can give up and stop at that point (having already tried twice pre-navasana, today I stopped). Any tips will be gratefully received!

Once again today I did my tippy-toes non-headstand, and again nobody noticed, but I can't work out if I am actually just attention-seeking in doing this. Either way, there's no way I can do an unsupported headtstand in the middle of the room so I supose I'll stick with it until I get asked about it (surely I won't get away with it again!). I made sure I took a really long savasana as I know that's the difference between feeling exhausted or refuelled at the end of the practice, and then went off to shower and get ready for work. Timing-wise I couldn't believe how it worked out, I arrived at the tube station 45 minutes early for work, which given my usual timekeeping, was about an hour earlier than normal! So the good news is the 5.20 alarm might not need to be a regular thing. I am slightly worried that it had to be such a carefully planned operation to get me to a morning class though, it makes me wonder how I am ever going to ramp up my practice from once or twice a week, but I suppose I need to just work on getting there first, and worry about the frequency later. I was pretty knackered at work today too, though initially I think I was mainly feeling the effects  of eating sugary breakfast cereal at my desk rather than some good wholesome porridge I'd normally have at home. Weirdly though I did feel like from my hips down I was zinging with energy, but my back and upper body generally just felt destroyed. But I suppose I have done the hardest bit now, I have established that I can get to a morning class and then get to work, both logistically and pyhsically, so now there are no excuses!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Are you here for yoga?

Standing on the doorstep of YP at 7.45am (no chance I was sleeping through today), showered, coffee-ed up and ready to practice, I'm trying to work out whether I rang the bell right & nobody answered (should I buzz again? impatience isn't very yogic...) when a smiling face comes walking towards me. "Are you here for yoga?" Yes, I say, I'm not sure if I'm meant to buzz? "maybe nobody's here yet" she says, pulling keys from her bag and opening the door "I'm Cary".

Ahh, the famous Cary, so beloved of the London branch of the cybershala, and very definitely built up in my estimation without my ever having actually met her. Not necessarily a good thing, as far as I'm concerned - great expectations can mean great disappointment. Thankfully I hadn't said anything stupid before I knew it was her (which is always a good start - I am brilliant at putting my foot in it with someone I assume to be the teacher only for them to turn out to be another student and - worse - vice versa). I was surprised to find only one other person there, but Cary talked me through how things work - shower through there, practice room here, tea here, fill out this form, put your money in the box & write your name in the book, pausing halfway through to ask "You've done this before, right?". I explained that I have been practicing in the evenings and it was working for me before but now it's not, which she agreed happens. So I spent the next 15 minutes carefully avoiding starting my practice, taking ages to get changed (why did I put my vest on under my other clothes? it just saved me time I could have done with spending!), filling out my form, and basically procrastinating, not wanting to be one of only two people in the room. As Cary came in to the changing room to light incense I confessed what I was doing, and so bit the bullet and went in to start.

When I was on my fifth sury A I was surprised not to have heard creaking floorboards signalling an adjustemnt, but then Cary came over as I went into downdog and asked where my form was (I was supposed to bring it into the room with me) so I scooted off to get it - of course, no adjustments until she's seen my form to know whether I have any injuries (very smart). As it turned out, lack of adjustments was the last thing I needed to be worried about! Starting on my surya B's I went into downdog again and saw her out of the corner of my eye leaning on the back wall behind me, and my first thought was I'm in trouble here...
I have a deep-seated issue with surya B which I have been trying to get over but just had a feeling I wouldn't be getting away with anything. So my first downdog adjustment was straightforward enough, a push on the hips, just the right amount of pressure, but also a tap on the fingers of my left hand which weren't pressed into the floor. The second one however was new to me and turned things upside down...
Crouching behind me, she put her hands about a six inches further back than my feet and said "DON'T move your hands! bring your feet to my hands", and my first thought was HOW? I have been told once by a sub teacher at AYL that my downdog wasn't long enough, but really that much?? And I have always shuffled my hands and feet in a bit, plus of course the way I was doing it my heels were just able to connect with the floor. But in this new longer stance everything felt different, my head felt like it was practically on the ground and jumping forward from there seemed like I had miles to cover. Of course every down dog after that I was aware of where her hands had been and where I needed to be, and how different it felt. How could I have been doing it this wrong for all this time?
Padangusthasana - another adjustment, knees straightened, arm position slightly adjusted. Trikonasana sequence - surely I was going to get pummelled here? No! Feeling like I'd got away with it I went into Prasarita Padottanasana and realised how much closer the ground is to my head these days. Funnily enough I'd been worried as this was my first full morning in an age (since Sharath in August in fact) that I would have no flexibility but I found it almost straight away, even with my hamstrings still tight from Wednesday's return to practice - something about the energy in the room, I'm sure of it.
Parsvottanasana and again, more flexibility than I am used to through my shoulders, and on to the dreaded Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana. I am so used to getting a full assist in that pose I am convinced that I'm incapable of doing it by myself. Anyway I got started, but C was soon there and my leg was hoisted higher than ever before to shoulder height. And here's where it got tricky - she stood on one leg and pushed my knee on my standing leg straight with her foot. She took her foot away, my knee bent again. And again. And...yeah you get it. I wanted to scream it's the only thing keeping me upright! As we got to C she held my leg up (at AYL you are left with this one) and then she stepped away and told me to hold for one breath. I returned my foot to the floor but at an angle, got a micro-adjustment to straighten my feet, and then back up through the same thing on the left side as she miraculously gave me about 4 adjustments at a time - leg up, knee straight, head turned, corrected toe grab - and I'm sure there was a fifth but goodness only knows what else it could be. Then it was into Ardha Baddha Padangusthasana without the security of a wall in front of me but although I was wobby going into it I didn't topple, and on the left side actually managed to hold onto my toe until I was back upright (normally I can only catch it halfway down and let go on my way up to stop myself falling).
I had decided to do the rolling out the towel at Dandasana thing to stop me tripping up in standing as I was doing on Wednesday, so I rolled it out and went through my five breaths, and into half lotus for Janu Sirsasana A and was 4 breaths in before realising I had skipped the whole paschimottanasana/ purvottanasana sequence (and this is even after checking this bit in David Swenson last night as I always forget there's a vinyasa in there!) so I went back and in paschimo B got a full-on I-want-to-scream adjustment (I knew I'd be grateful for it later though). And if I thought my inclined plane was getting away with any sloppiness I had another thing coming as she came and leant on my toes, and then I was into seated.
All went well apart from me getting my sides wrong with Marichyasana D, probably because I was distracted and wondering whether Cary would come and help me - I can usually just about bind on the right but flail around on the left and nine time out of ten get help, but would rather have it for the whole thing as the twist is so much less when I only just catch my fingers. Anyway, distracted, I put my right foot into half lotus first and struggled but just caught my fingers, realising this was the side I normally struggled with and this normally comes second. So I went back to the right side, bound around my fingers, vinyasa and into the left and hurrah! I caught my fingers and even felt the twist - so maybe a ratio of 2 left to 1 right is the way to nail it! Anyway it's good to know that I CAN make it without needing assistance (even if it feels better with help).

And then I made my next sequencing slip-up and completely forgot navasana, only remembering when I was already partway through closing - I don't know what this was all about, I very rarely miss anything out or start off on the wrong side, I can only put it down to being distracted by being in a new place.
Anyway bhujapidasana was the usual mess, and I thought about asking for help and explanation but decided against it - I'll just practice it badly and see if she spots it was my chosen approach, so I did it twice (badly) but I do start to feel like something might be coming with it. As I said afterwards I have probably only tried it a dozen times if that, so I don't know why I'm giving myself a hard time that I haven't magically got it yet.

And then closing - at AYL you move to another room to close, so it felt nice to be able to stay on my mat and just flow through it, though it will take a bit of getting used to that there are still all the sounds of people practicing around you - especially as I'm sure I heard Susan doing her famous finger-breaking Nakrasana and I was dying to take a peek! But also being in another room has allowed me the safety net (i.e. allowed me to get away with) doing my headtstands at the wall. I have such a mental block with this: I WANT to be able to do it, really I do, but I also want to get away with not doing it. So am I going to ask for help? no siree. Am I going to do a headstand preparation up on tippy-toes and see if I get caught out? Ohhhhh yes. And for today, no comment and thus, no headstand. But in childs' pose afterwards (hey, I'd still been upsidedown, I still get to do it) Cary throws a towel over me and does this fabulous massage all down my neck and back, and then I'm into full lotus with relative ease (what's going on today?) and my closing three postures, and rest.

And wouldn't you know it, for the first time in absolutely months I get one of those moments in savasana. The best way to describe it is is being like when you are waiting for the sun to come up, but it already looks light so you wonder what difference the sunrise is going to make. And then it breaks and WOW, suddenly everything looks different. That's what these moments are like. I have only had a few of them, but you feel relaxed and then suddenly, the sun comes from behind a cloud and you feel inexplicably calm and peaceful, and a slow smile spreads across your face. The only problem is as soon as it happens, my brain starts with the "oh my god! It's happening! I'm having one of those moments!" and of course it's gone, but the memory of it and the smile remain.

The added bonus of my practice today was that I'd made a plan to have coffee with Globie afterwards - I'd recognised him from his videos and exhanged smiles across the room (Kevin I hope you got that mine was a "yes I'm Mel!" smile!). I was also on the lookout for Susan as I'd promised to make myself known and despite mistaking somebody else for her initially, as soon as I saw limbs bending in unnatural directions I knew it was her - we just had time to say hi before she had to rush off. This is part of what's been missing for me at AYL - I'm sure if you go there all the time it's friendly, but being as sporadic as I've been with it I have barely ever spoken to anybody there. They had a sign up about their christmas party and although I thought I'd be a nice idea, I knew there'd be no point in me going as I wouldn't know anybody. So two hours good company and yoga chat over breakfast in an east end greasy spoon cafe after practice was a welcome change, and it was great to put a name to a face. It's funny that this should come up now though because last night I read this passage in Iyengar's Light on Life:
"Practitioners of the asanas alone often forget yoga is for cultivating the head and heart. Pantanjali talked about friendliness, compassion, gladness, and joy. Friendliness and grace are two qualities that are essential for the yoga student. In yoga class, students often look so serious and so separate from one another. Where is the friendliness?...Where is the joy? Without these, we have not achieved the true yoga of Pantanjali".

So forgive me for the hugely long post (if anybody's still reading), but it feels like today was a bit of a red letter day for me. I think I just found my teacher.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

99% Theory, 1% practice...

No, I know that's the wrong way round, it's just that lately my yoga practice has been a little more this way around. Lots of reading, lots of thinking and talking about asana, but no actual doing. Despite the optimism of my last post I have been finding it a struggle to have any sort of regular practice for about the last two months (at least).

But today I went to my first Mysore class in a month. Now I'm not saying that's it, that's the end of my struggle, but at least it's a step in the right direction. And the reason I took the step today? Yesterday morning I woke up and felt like everything was wrong. Wrong daily routine, wrong city, wrong job, wrong life. And I couldn't shake off the feeling which got worse as the day went on and culminated in tears when on my way home from work the driver of a nearly empty bus refused to open the doors for me. And then I knew that the only thing I could do to make any of this better right now was to go to the shala the next chance I had - which turned out to be tonight.

So everyday, my alarm goes off around 6am for me to get up and do a home practice, but instead I lie in bed getting cross with myself, eventually get up just before 7, roll out my mat and manage a couple of stretches in my pyjamas before I have to get in the shower. Then I take too long to get ready for work, end up in a panic and leave the house knowing I will be late, rush to the station for the commute to the office, arrive hot & bothered and ten minutes late (always, every day, ten minutes - so why can't I fix it?), spend the day trying to avoid the fact that I am doing a job I really really don't love in an industry run in a way I am morally opposed to, spend half the day reading yoga blogs and then feel guilty and end up working late to make up for it, make the hour-long journey back on packed trains, get home exhausted, make dinner, go to bed and start the whole thing over again. So where in all of this can I manage a 6 times a week Mysore practice? Until my current blip I was going to AYL after work to practice with R, I tried for twice a week but it was normally only once (I am in a choir who meet on Monday nights, Tuesday night she has one of her assistants cover and Friday there's no evening session) and then the remaining days I would do something at home in the morning. Never my full practice, but always something. Then it's all gone off the rails, and having not been to AYL for so long, I have got swept away with the idea of moving to YP (where so many of my favourite bloggers go) as it is the East London place anyway, and I could go in the mornings and have a shower before work (no showers at AYL makes it an impossibility for me if I need to look even half way respectable after practice). The cost puts me off, as I know I wouldn't make it there 5 days a week which makes it an expensive option, but I just feel like the evening thing isn't working for me, I'm not building much of a relationship with my teacher, I'm not progressing (I know, it's not the point - but still, I want it!!). Anyway having all but made up my mind, I went back to R tonight and she was lovely. My card had expired with 1 class unused so I went with the cash to pay as a drop in. I'd not had a reply to the email I sent her asking about extending the pass a few days, she said she had replied, and insisted that I didn't have to pay which was so kind of her (I fully expected to pay as it expired 10 days ago).
My practice in itself was OK, it felt very physical which I suppose is only natural given that I was trying my hardest not to injure my shoulders (I have been seeing an osteopath for the past month as I keep getting neck and shoulder problems). So I suppose being hyper-aware of my shoulders was only natural tonight, but there were a few other things too, all gained from the blogs I have been reading! I forget where I read it, but somebody wrote about realising her toes didn't all connect with the floor in chaturanga (which mine have NEVER done) so tonight I worked on that, as well as keeping my arms at right angles to the ground (or do I mean shoulders?) which again I hadn't been aware of before until YogaSweetie on twitter gave me the tip. Then there was the awareness in forward bends that my back was curved (thanks to Grimmly's poll) and I remembered somebody's comment to ensure the forward bend started from the hip, so I tried this and again it was the first time I'd had that focus. So while I'm slightly bemoaning the fact that my mind was very much awake and my practice never had that ethereal, dreamy quality tonight, I suppose it's all part of the process to sometimes be more focused on the body (especially after an injury).
The good thing was that I don't seem to have lost too much of my flexibility over the past two months. It didn't bode well when the wrist bind became a fingertip bind even after an assist in Paschimittanasana A, but other than the tighter than normal hamstrings things were pretty much as normal. I was stepping instead of jumping-back tonight for fear of hurting my neck, although I did do one during my Suryas just to try it and actually had the lightest jumpback I've ever managed (for some reason I never do them at home, only at the shala - I'm paranoid about hurting myself as it seems such a tremendous effort). And when I got to Marichyasana A I felt really sick, but the twists felt good at the same time. I had the usual assists in downdog, UHP, and the paschimosquish and when I got to Mari D, I thought about trying to bind by myself, but just looked round to see R smiling at me from the other side of the room. She laughed as she came over, saying she thought maybe I was going to make it on my own (pre-blip I could bind on the right on a good day and very ocassionally on the left) and then gave me her fabulous arm-stretching twistifying assist - it's almost not worth being able to do it yourself, she does such a great job. Then navasana which weirdly was stronger than ever before, into my very dodgy bujapindasana (my feet will NOT come off the floor!) but instead of collapsing in a heap tonight I at least managed to come out of it into an arm-balance of sorts, and I was finished! Just backbends left, and after all of the dropback progress I've been reading about in the cyber shala I realised I need to actually start pushing up into proper backbends rather than just the lazy little bridges, so two out of three ain't bad and I was ready for finishing.
Coming home from the shala I didn't feel in my usual dreamy state, but I felt fine, and so glad I had conquered the fear of going back after such a long break from practice. Now I am just all confused as to what to do as I was resolute that the evening practice doesn't work, and I need to start going to morning Mysore classes, but I do love R and would hate to feel I had chosen another teacher over her. Anyway this was meant to be a short post so that I got to bed early (somehow I never manage to write short ones) so I'd better leave the pondering for another day.