Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Sadness passing through

I have these little mantras, just personal ones, they're not something I use all of the time but sometimes I really need to remember them. Before I even really go into yoga I thought of my first one: "I am here." I was dealing with a breakup and my mind would spin off into daydreams of what had been (and what might have been) and I would just keep reciting "I am here, I am here" to try and bring myself out of the hurtful dream. I added a new one this week (not actually invented by me) "I am not my thoughts" and then I threw in "this too shall pass" (again, I pinched this one). 
It's funny, I was just in the supermarket queue last night and I suddenly went into this major angst which is hard to describe. There was an older African guy with his grown-up son in front of me, the man was in more traditional clothes and I assume was visiting. He bought a few things in two transactions, and one set was for example 3 boxes of razor blades which were all quite expensive (the first purchase cost a lot too - over £30 for just a couple of things). As I watched him peel notes off a wad I went into this mindset of feeling desperately sorry for him, almost drowned by the sense of his vulnerability - but actually seeing him was just the trigger and straight away I experienced all of the same feelings for my parents. The feeling is a mishmash of massive guilt, feeling protective, and overwhelming sympathy and all I know is that the first time I had it I was about 9 years old, and it practically crippled me.
But what I did this time was tried very hard to talk myself down from it - in fact just to let it go, which I did relatively successfully (although just writing about it now is bringing me out in a hot sweaty panic). But before I'd had a chance to get my equilibrium back completely it was thrown up in the air again.

I have a new rule of thumb. Any sentence which begins "I am upset because..." and goes in to contain the words "...on facebook" is not a valid complaint. What is this world we live in where a "like" or a comment (or lack of one) can send us onto a major downer? The fact that I'm 32 years old means I should know better - it's embarrassing and pathetic. But former relationships and social networking are a BAD MIX and thanks to this I went into a major tailspin yesterday evening. I won't go into specifics, just to say that something was confirmed for me that I had suspected for a while, but it suddenly dredged up a lot of the feelings about the relationship - on a plate - BANG and here they were. My first instinct was to pick up my phone to text my friend and say what had happened. I picked it up - and then put it down. I unrolled my mat. I tried some floating up into headstand. I repeated my little mantras a few times (mainly "I am here/I am not my thoughts). I tried not to fixate. In essence, I did everything I could to allow the feelings of sadness, loss, or whatever they may have been to exist, but to feel that they were just passing through. This is something I have read in a book once and also heard recently on one of Kino's podcasts, that instead of saying "I'm so depressed!" you say to yourself "feelings are sadness are there" - in other words, don't become the thoughts that you are experiencing. I think I am coming to understand that this is what non-attachment really means.

Still, it doesn't make it that easy to clear the mind and get to sleep. Nor to get up and practice this morning ("I am here; I am here; I am here"). I was having a bit of a hard time on my mat, not disastrous but I was definitely feeling on a knife edge emotionally. I wasn't sure I'd get through my practice. But then the dreaded triang mukha passed without incident and I started to feel better, things were flowing. As I reached the end of my practice I went into my last pose kurmasana, deeper than before with the feeling that my shoulders were really under my legs, and my hands were there ready to easily bind. But as I went to clasp the hands assistance came, I wriggled my right foot over my left and hooked the feet and was lifted up into the dwi pada exit...but I had a hard time understanding what I was being told to do. "Keep the head down - no down! Keep the feet locked! Move the hands back, PUSH into them - feet locked head down!!" with ongoing encouragement to lift up into titibhasana and then jump back. "Again" she says (2 is normal, this is OK). Again I go into kurmasana, even deeper than before and this time I bind the hands myself then start wriggling the feet in (I find it's harder when the hand bind is more tentative), cross the feet and we go through the same instructions. This time I'm more tired, the feet uncross but C tries to get me to recross them and lift back up, I'm trying to ask questions while in bakasana and she says "NO talking! Jump back - JUMP!" and I think I might cry. And then she says "Now do it again".
On the third attempt it's not so much tremors in my right leg as a 7 on the Richter scale. There is no binding of the hands. I can't even attempt to lift up alone. I collapse panting onto my mat and do the only thing possible - I take child's pose. The tears come in padmasana and as I am putting away my mat C is there. I want to speak to her but don't know where to start. 

But something else I had realised between last night and today's practice is that of course yoga people have negative thoughts sometimes, of course they get into these downward spirals of regret, loss, guilt, whatever it may be. My first teachers J & H seemed like such amazing, peaceful people I felt like they represented all yoga people who must live this charmed life, where they never wake up in a shitty mood just for no reason, they could handle any situation thrown at them with grace and compassion, in short they were not much like me (or anybody else I ever met). Of course this is complete nonsense and my immersion in the world of ashtanga has taught me well enough that we are not angels. But what separates me as a yoga practitioner from the me of my past is self awareness. When these thoughts come, I don't allow them to swamp me - or at least, not for long. I try to do something else that will shift the feeling, I don't wallow in it, spending hours on the phone in a "he said/she said" moaning conversation. So I told C that today I was on the edge - misunderstanding, she thought I meant on the verge of getting this asana and said yes, that's why she was pushing me. I explained (without explaining in detail) that I meant I had some emotional stuff happening before I came to practice, and she started talking about how interesting it is that we have this thread, this continuous thread that binds us, and that people have all this stuff going on that she's not even aware of always, and still they turn up on their mat and keep with it. But as I said to her, what else can we do? If things are happening in our lives that aren't great, what better to do than to show up on our mat - we keep moving forward so that we can move forward. And every day is a new day.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Practice report

Maybe it's time for a practice report; it's been a while. Non ashtangis (are there any reading?!) you might want to look away now unless you want to be bored to death!!

Quite quickly daily practice has become the norm. Aside from missing Sundays the past few weeks (my birthday/moonday and then my niece's 1st birthday - and my other niece's 3rd this weekend, so that'll be 3 in a row) the consecutive 5 weekdays feels tough, but good. That decision making process of whether to go to the shala has gone, and the daily routine is now comfortably established. My alarm is set a little earlier these days (5am) and due to the broken shower at the shala I allow time to wash my hair before practice, have some tea and mill about for a bit before I leave, starting practice around 7am. The little victory this week has been arriving closer to 6.45 and getting onto my mat BEFORE 7! Next thing I know I'll even be on time for work... ;)
I've been concentrating on tidying up my practice too, by which I mean cutting out some of the faffing, and I think I have probably shaved a good 10 minutes off it on a good day, maybe more. Enough time anyway to no longer have any excuse but to do 5 surya As and 5 Bs, my guilty confession is that since having new poses added in April (I think it was) I cut down to 3 Bs as I was feeling knackered and a bit overwhelmed. A wise friend suggested last week that it's very important to do the full quota to warm up the body so this week they are back, and I haven't keeled over and died just yet. My other spot of cheating which I have kicked to the kerb this week is the bent leg navasana...I stopped trying to do it with straight legs months ago as I had a serious case of the leg shakes and felt that I was tipping so far back to prevent it that I might be better off with the legs bent. But I couldn't shake the feeling that I was cheating...and then assistant B suggested on Monday that I just tilt my head back a little and it seemed to make all the difference, the straight legs are back and yes, there is a little additional effort but it also seems easier somehow (maybe alleviating my guilty conscience has done me some good).

So what else is new? Prasaritas are feeling STRONG, I have always enjoyed these (mainly A) but with my quite-wide stance the head is now comfortably down in A, loose strands of my fringe are brushing the mat in B, head is down in C and I can feel that sans assistance the hands are nice and far over (they are back to being down to the ground with help, but it doesn't come often) and in D I can move weight back over my hips and not lean all of my weight on the thumbs as I bind around the toes. This sequence is undeniably getting much much stronger with my more consistent practice. Another huge change is in UHP, mostly in my mental attitude. It's gone from being a pose of dread to once where I feel strong and empowered (thanks to twitter friends @yogicaroline and @Dom1985 changing my mindset on this). I am not bowing down to the leg unless I'm assisted but I've gone from veeeery shaky balance and dropping the leg 2 or 3 times before giving up to a good firm A where I  feel strong in the leg and have a firm grip on my toe. Taking the leg to the side for B is the real challenge, some days I can find the right spot and feel I am still lifting and the leg is strong, other days my hip clunks noisily as I rotate it and puts me off, or I just can't find the balance. Led classes tend to bring a complete absence on this posture and I am starting to crave an adjustment so that I can do a "proper" one, it's been a while.
Utkatasana is now a pose of great effort as opposed to one I rushed, the legs are bent trying to feel the burn (it's Susan's fault for saying it's good prep for pasasana, might as well get started early!!) but the warrior sequence is a bit of a trial still. I'm feeling tired in my hips and as I approach it I often consider bailing out before seated, but manage to keep going although I feel like I rush it, hoping not to get adjusted or called out by C to bend my legs more deeply (it's too hard!).
Forward bends are DEEP and I'm trying hard to concentrate on bandhas (everywhere of course, but particularly in paschimottansana) grounding through the pelvis and working on getting chin to shin. I asked for help again with my dreaded Janu sirsasana B this week as it continues to be painful on the right side, C seemed genuinely surprised when I showed her the mark that has developed on my foot and referred to it as a "weird injury"!! As I showed her the problem I realised that the pain comes when I lean forward to take the foot, she suggested that as my body was talking to me that I listen to what it's saying and stop just short of the point where it's hurting. I said I could feel that if I had more bandhabandha strength than anything else. Triang mukha continues to be a challenge though it seems to have lost much of it's emotional content, but perhaps because I am not really pushing it. On days when my bandha focus is better this one seems better too, but B never misses his chance to adjust me in it on his days assisting, due I suspect to the fact he knows about my meltdown. I did wonder this morning why that didn't "clear it", I always thought that if I finally allowed the tears to come I would have burnt away the samskaras and been free of it, so not sure why this hasn't worked in my favour yet? In any case I am done with analysing it to try and gauge what the emotion is, I'm just aware that there's something there.
I'm working on going straight into the Maris from my jumpthrough, or at least with little hesitation, and have had a few days of wrist-binding in D this week. Adjustments in C feel delicious, it seems to be so easy to turn what feels like 180 degrees and take hold of my inner thigh, in B and D (and all half lotus postures) I am being cautious with my right hip/knee and taking a few breaths of cradling the leg before diving on in. Bhuja is...well, bloody difficult, but my new strategy is to lower down reeeeeeally slowly maintaining control, which means I get about halfway down in 5 breaths. Avoiding a faceplant/bum-landing means no head on the ground for now. Or I try it twice, once this controlled way (trying to avoid the wild swinging back and forth which sometimes happens) and once with the head down, where I inevitably dive down and then get trapped, leading to the crash-landing exit.
Kurmasana and supta kurmasana have benefited most from my new daily schedule. This morning I had a firm grip on the rib cage with the legs in kurmasana and felt like the legs were all-but straight/flat, and I am halfway between comfortably getting my forehead and my chin down. If I try it twice the second one always feels SUPER strong on this rib-squeeze. And on Monday I was given a little gift to keep me motivated when I managed to bind my fingers in supta k all by myself! True the feet were not crossed at the same time but this is just step one (and the self-binding has been absent ever since). In the days that followed I have just missed the bind and have had assistance some days but not others, with C getting me to try and cross the right foot over left and then ram my head down under the locked feet, on some days she lifts my legs up and I hold for a breath or two in dwi pada. I asked her what it takes to get the foot to cross as it feels impossible (like learning to fly or something) and her answer was WILLPOWER! As she said, it's just not logical, the only thing that will get it there is sheer determination. My exit is getting stronger too, though up into titibhasana is improving, but coming into bakasana still has a long way to go - I can bring my right leg around but not to the back of my knee (it's sort of resting at the side I think) then as the left leg comes around the toes just meet the floor and I go into a sort of squat...where I recover briefly while I consider that backbends come next!

The next thing on the list for C's bootcamp this week is my headstand. Given what a battle it was to get up into the inversion I have been happy just to get on with it these past few months, but she has now got me working on floating up into it. She gave me the balasana back massage one day this week and after she finished I became aware she was on the floor beside me. When I eventually roused myself (quite zoned out by the stage) she told me to come back up, walk my feet in ("no more! even closer!") tuck one knee into the chest, and then try to float the other leg up. "No jumping!" Another WTF?? moment (like learning to fly), there was no way my toes were coming up without a little hop! A few days of trying this and I found that one leg would lift a few inches and felt magical when it did (it actually FLOATS! Who knew?!) eliciting a noise of surprise (sorry Susan) but the other side stubbornly refuses to lift. And getting into a full inversion in this way is another story - I have a few tries then go back to my usual tucking the knees in then shooting the legs up version and hang out in headstand. A few days into these experiments C comes over in balasana and this time says "halfway down?". Bootcamp I tell you! I told her I can't do it (haha - I never tried, it just looks too hard) so she suggested I can bend my knees down then try to straighten one leg at a time. So I go back up into headstand (struggling to get back up) and as soon as I try to bend the knees it all happens too fast and I think I'm going to go over the top. Slowly is the key apparently. Too tired I vow to try again the next day. Yesterday I went to the wall to experiment with both new tricks and without the fear of going over I walked both legs in and BOTH legs floated up - I can't explain how great it felt, though admitedly I felt too far forward on my head and the legs clunked against the wall and I came back down again. Still, it's a start - and the same with halfway down, I gave it a whirl at the wall, it's just all about getting used to the feeling I suppose and this is just week one.
This practice, there's always so much to work on! Led class tomorrow, love that group energy. More soon on how all this yogaing is changing the off the mat stuff too! 

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Feel the resistance and do it anyway.

This post has been swirling around my mind for weeks and changing and being added to as my experience changes.
It all started when regular teacher C went to Mysore for the authorised teacher training and we had a new teacher in to cover (at the risk of repeating myself to those who read regularly, this is the “previously, on ER moment”). Just before C left I started to feel a bit worried about how I would handle being with a new teacher. Although from the first moment I walked into Yoga Place I felt that Cary was my teacher, in the time since I started practicing at the shala 9 months ago I have found myself starting to understand what it really means to work daily with the same teacher. And having made this connection, and it having taken all that time to build, I really didn’t want to have to start all over again. In the last week with C I got some really great information and help from her on the poses that I have long held doubts about, all of which made me start to worry about getting conflicting information from the new teacher, and how it could end up being “wasted” time where I was being encouraged to do things differently. But these were just my fears and concerns with no basis in experience or fact, so I diplomatically (cough cough) wrote the post Not better, just different.

So now for total honesty time. Cary went away, and the next day at the shala went like this. Walked in – everything felt different. No incense burning, the door to the practice room was open (it was usually closed). Was that a window open? Could I hear a radio?? Half the regulars were missing. There were several people in the room I’d never seen before. Walked in to start practice and got a big smile and hello from our new teacher, M (OK I don’t remember if that happened – but it happened every other day afterwards, so let’s assume it happened on day 1 too). Started practice and my mental voice went like this: “Idon’tlikeitIdon’tlikeitIdon’tlikeit...everything’s different, why’s it so different? I’m just going to start going back to AYL in the evenings with R, at least I know her even if it means I can only do a few nights a week...” and then I gently took over my mad brain. No, I decided. You are not going to bail out. You are going to stick with this and see exactly how differently you feel in five weeks to how you feel right now. And so that’s what I did.
And how did I feel 5 weeks later? Mel left and I walked all the way to the station crying my eyes out because i was going to miss her so much. What was so interesting here was the mental process, and to me this shows real progress and change – sod whether I can bind in supta kurmasana (I can’t yet, by the way!!), being able to watch my mind having a freak-out and make it stop by gently saying “No, this is OK, you’re going to come out the other side of this feeling, just keep working through it and don’t allow it to overwhelm you.” Surely that’s the yoga, isn’t it?
The other thing about this that’s been so interesting is how I felt when C came back last week. As it was midweek it felt really strange to have an emotional goodbye one morning and the next morning walk in to my regular teacher, fresh off the plane. She came out to say hi and a big hug and a kiss, it was lovely to see her, then I went off to get changed and it was business as usual. No smile or greeting on walking into the shala to start practice (this is the norm) and although I thought it would be rammed with everybody there to see her back, it was quite quiet. And I got relatively few assists, though I was reminded on Mari C at the strength of the assists (having had much gentler versions for the past 5 weeks) and then again a very strong adjustment in D from the assistant, both of which genuinely made me want to scream “TOO MUCH!”. Then we got to supta kurmasana, which I had been feeling so fabulous about after starting to feel I was working towards binding it myself thanks to Mel’s help (and the injury was doing soooo much better after backing off it almost entirely for a month). But instead of having an unassisted attempt first, on my first go my legs were somehow ON my head, with an immediate feeling of panic and claustrophobia that I have never experienced before, it felt like all of the weight of my legs was pushing down onto my forehead and I did not like it one bit. Talking to a fellow practitioner on the train the next day she said “and I LOVE the new supta kurmasana adjustment!” making me realise that it didn’t just feel different to me, it had actually changed. So I came away from the first day back to Mysore practice feeling a bit blah...and as I mentioned in my last post with a massive resistance to practice another 6 day week. But I didn’t want to miss Cary’s first Led class after coming back, what if she told us some huge news and I wasn’t there to hear it? Then I started to recognise this need I have to not miss anything (this is also the reason I end up spending so little time alone when I have been on yoga retreats...what if I miss something?) and I was questioning if this was something I have become attached to that I should try and overcome. So I was basically playing Jedi mind games to talk myself out of talking myself into a 6 day week ;)
But I ignored the crazy voices and went to the led class, only to find that instead of being inches between the mats there were only about 12 people there (less than half what I’d think of as normal). And with the exception of some breath retention work during padmasana (not a fan) nothing really seemed to have changed, except that C said at the beginning “I will be counting only in Sanskrit from now on...”, giggles when there was the odd slip-up or mis-named asana, we all knew what was meant to come next, but every class needs a few giggles.
Sunday being a moonday (and my birthday!) there was no practice, and I spent the day eating cake, so as I was reluctant to go to bed on Sunday night I decided to skip practice on Monday morning. There’s that resistance again. But with the benefit of an extra ninety minutes sleep (allowing enough time for some gentle asana and a short meditation-ish practice before work) and not so much rushing around, I arrived at work more knackered than on a practice day, and I realised that it actually GIVES me energy to sleep less and go to yoga rather than costing it as I had thought all along. Bugger it....there’s no going back now. But subconsciously I think I already knew that skipping practice on Monday was to do with not being back in the swing of things with C, but having felt crappy from lack of practice I turned up on Tuesday. 
And what happened? The shala was quiet again, and I had lots of help. I spoke to her about supta k and the new assist (after receiving it and feeling like I stopped breathing through panic – my breath as I spoke to her afterwards was ragged), and had a great discussion about how you don’t have to cross your feet over your head. She said this is often introduced because people are on second series and start coming into it in dwi pada etc, but there is actually no need for the feet over the head stuff for supta k. And then she said that she could see how much this pose had changed for me and that I now get into it really easily. REALLY?? J J 

It was amazing to be told that something had visually changed in such a short space of time, and the vinyasa and backbends that followed were easy and strong...what is it about compliments that does that to my backbending? I suddenly find all this energy from nowhere! And then after practice C came and sat beside me while I was putting on my makeup and wished me a happy birthday, and shared news of my wonderful first teachers who she was in Mysore with (which made me very very happy), and we talked about being in your thirties and all of the changes which happen in these years, and it was all wonderful and >click< there it was. I reconnected with my teacher. It wasn’t just one thing, it was a combination, but it took until after yesterday to realise that a bond with a teacher might not always just arrive and stay forever. It can wax and wane a little and sometimes you might have to work at it.
But adding this whole experience together I feel like I have learnt some hugely valuable lessons; that connecting with a teacher is one of the most important things when practicing ashtanga, but simultaneously so is not being too attached to your teacher. Because if C left the country tomorrow, what would I do? I wouldn’t want to stop practicing, that’s for sure. It has been so interesting to observe my own mental battles with regards to this attachment, and the changes, and having to learn somebody else’s ways, and what has been really interesting is to observe these things without acting on them. I wanted to run away and practice elsewhere: but I didn’t. I didn’t want to do a couple of back to back 6 day practice weeks: but I did. 
So if I can overcome the wants and don’t wants here on my mat, surely that means I can conquer some of them off out in the wider world? Time will tell, but let's just say: so far so good.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Yahtzee, Supta Kurmasana and being fickle.

This post is long overdue, there have been so many ideas and thoughts I wanted to write about over the past weeks but I still haven’t figured out that direct brain-to-blog uploading technique yet ;)

So what’s been happening? Practice seems to have ramped up a gear or two and become more consistent the past few weeks, and there has been some interesting mental stuff coming along with it. I wrote last month about how Cary was going to Mysore so for the past 5 weeks we have had Mel covering at the shala. More on that to come, but as today was Mel’s last day with Cary coming back tomorrow, last week was her final full week and I decided I didn’t want to miss any of it. I had quite a busy week socially though so I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but somehow I managed to make it my first-ever-in-normal-life 6 day week (outside of a retreat!). I didn’t mention that I was aiming for it to Kevin or Susan when we were emailing during the week (and as Susan had practiced at home a few days that week she didn’t know that I hadn’t skipped my usual Tuesday!), in my mind it’s like that game Yahtzee we so loved when we were children. Did you ever play it? It’s a dice game introduced to my family by our Dutch friends where you roll the 5 dice and try to get sequences on a score card (they’re called things like Three of a Kind & High Straight). The move with the highest score is “Yahtzee!!”where all 5 dice match (I know the plural is die but it sounds weird) and the way we used to play it you had up to three rolls to get it – but let’s say you had three 6s and rolled again hoping to get 2 more, but got a 1 and a 4 instead. You would have to confess that you were aiming for a Yahtzee and it would get crossed through on your score sheet – so because you had already attempted it, even if (by some fluke) you got it later you couldn’t get the points. 
I felt a bit like this about aiming for a 6 day week – once I got to Thursday and was knackered (and going to a gig that night) I just kept thinking don’t say you’re going to Led class tomorrow, you might not make it...but I so wanted to, it being Mel’s last one and somehow I did. I can’t quite believe that I only really started taking Led classes the week Cary left – and only then because I didn’t want to miss her last day. Then I felt bad thinking that Mel (who’d practiced with us on Cary’s last day) would notice that her led class wasn’t rammed to the rafters like Cary’s, so I went to her first one. And then I started to find that I liked the vibe of starting and finishing with everyone else, and having time to chat after practice, which almost made it worth the extra early start.
So anyway the 6 day week happened last week, and I couldn’t quite believe the difference it made to practice. I’m not saying everything was brilliant but I could definitely feel the difference. Also this was while I had an issue with my ears – I was deaf for almost the whole week – which motivated me to practice more as the only time it didn’t feel horrible was during my practice, but it did also make certain postures harder. But by Friday I was exhausted – and I mean “I think I might throw up on the way home from work” exhausted. I booked an impromptu massage which helped, but so did the 12 hours sleep I had on Friday night. And now again I’ve done the past 4 days, and with Cary back from tomorrow for one Mysore practice and 1 led, maybe it’s going to happen again – although I am really resistant to it. 
Susan pulled me up on it today, pointing out that I was like a born-again Christian last week (Oh six days makes such a great difference!) and this week I’m full of “Well I don’t really WANT to do six days..”. What can I say, I’m fickle! I am noticing this resistance to the six day thing, there is a practical basis to it, lugging my big yoga bag around all day every day, having to get to bed a bit earlier (or face total exhaustion), having to prepare lunch the night before and have breakfast at work every day (no porridge!) – it all takes preparation. My flat is full of damp yoga clothes all the time, I need more sleep, I am meant to be catching up with friends in long overdue phonecalls but there just isn’t time to cook, eat, take a salt bath AND chat on the phone in the evenings before I go to bed (or – I spend too long online and then don’t even have time for the bath). There aren’t enough hours in the day! Given that I travel 1 hour each way to work and am at my desk for a minimum of 8 hours a day I just need a few more hours in each day and maybe I’d be getting enough sleep. But then again, this is how I used to feel about practicing in the mornings at all and it really took some time to get my head around it. And then I built it up S-L-O-W-L-Y...starting in January this year I started to practice in the mornings, starting with 1 or 2 days a week plus Sundays. Then I got to the point where it made sense to stop paying as a drop-in, and then, without really realising it, going to practice became the rule not the exception. And I’m sure this won’t be the only time I do a 6 day week so I just need to work through this resistance and do it when I can, but knowing when to listen to my body (i.e. when I really really do need more sleep!).
Before Cary went away I was thinking that I really wanted to see huge changes in my practice in the time that she was away (to use it as a marker if you like). And for the first few weeks it didn’t seem like that was really the case. My shoulder started playing up again so I asked Mel not to adjust me in supta kurmasana and I backed right off the posture, and one week of backing off just became the status quo. I think it was only last week that Mel assisted me to bind my hands for the first time and my shoulder was OK, so from then on she did it each day. But then yesterday she did a bit of a supta k clinic with me, instead of just putting me into it she explained and helped me to understand how to work towards getting the bind myself. I started a few weeks ago to concentrate on getting my chest down flat in kurmasana and not to worry about crossing my feet as I came into supta k (thanks to Helen for her advice on this which has really helped!). Then I checked Gregor Maehle’s primary series book and he suggests having the arms out to sides, level with the shoulders rather than pointing backwards as I had been doing. Again this really seemed to help. So with my arms in this position, and my feet walked in a little with the weight onto my heels, Mel had me turn the palms upwards (“No, the other way...” I was trying to get there the long way round!) to get the rotation of the arms. Then the arms were to stretch right back as if I was trying to touch the back wall (palms down again now) then one at a time bringing the arm high up the back. She then helped me the last few inches to bind my hands, then came around to cross my feet, not lifting them not over the back of my head as Cary had been doing, but instead in the air parallel to the floor while I gripped the bind and breathed. It was probably about 20 breaths later (all in) she said “release it when you’re ready” (probably wondering what I was waiting for!) and I pushed down into the hands, lifting up with my legs somewhere in the direction of being behind my head. No tittibhasana attempt as she gave me a debrief instead, telling me that I’m actually pretty deeply in the pose and offering a few more pointers, and I can’t tell you how energised the vinyasa into my backbends was. Deeply in the pose, really?? Backbends were super strong thanks to the euphoria and I started thinking about trying it again when I got home from work J

Instead I waited until this morning, and at the end of a good-ish practice I was assisted on my first attempt, the same drill as yesterday, with the pushing down on my hands to lift out of it much stronger than yesterday. Mel assured me that my left hand was in just the right spot and that I was only about a centimetre from it meeting my right hand (although she said it moved a bit when the right hand came around) so I decided to give it another try. Why does the second kurmasana attempt automatically feel about a hundred times better than the first? And why do I always forget this when I’m debating whether to do it twice or not? Here’s the rule Mel – always do it twice. ALWAYS. It will be worth it! So a delicious feeling kurmasana, squeezing the thighs into the rib cage as per Mr Maehle’s suggestion, and then I heeded the extra advice as I went into supta kurmasana, remembering how close I was and just where I needed to get my hands on my back – and I could feel my fingers! It’s not the first time I’ve made any contact, I have brushed fingertips once or maybe twice before but this time I could actually feel my fingers, though they weren’t close enough to bind alone. Mel was on hand and just popped my hands together and they happily stayed there, I brought my feet in and crossed them for a less hardcore version than the assisted one. But if I can go from not meeting to touching fingers in just two days, I am feeling really encouraged. Not to mention the actual verbal encouragement and excellent broken-down practical explanation which worked wonders – now I just have to keep practising!

I’ve rambled on for too long already so I will save the stuff about adapting to different teachers for another day. But suffice it to say I was very sad when I said goodbye and left the shala today, and it reminded me of my floods of tears when leaving Purple Valley in January – and the memory just made me even more upset. I think it would be difficult for some people to understand why saying goodbye to a teacher who you have gained so much from (but over a relatively short period) should be so sad (especially as there’s every chance you will see them again). But hopefully you, my fellow ashtangis, will fully understand the strength of the bond you can feel with a teacher through daily (or almost daily!) practice with them. On the other hand, I am so grateful to have had such wonderful teaching while Cary was away, and now tomorrow my teacher will be back – no doubt reinvigorated and inspired by her trip to Mysore. So as a good friend of mine would say...everything is already perfect.