Monday, 27 September 2010

Falling into place

Over the past couple of weeks I feel like some of the pieces of the puzzle have been falling into place. I’m talking specifically about asana practice here, and the fact that if my practice were a puzzle, I think I might have just found some of the edges. Or, you know, the few bits you find that make the expanse of blue and green suddenly make sense as being a part of a bigger picture...maybe my weak analogy is beginning to fail me now!

Exhibit A (because it’s the most significant): jumping back. A few weeks ago I was out on a Friday night with Susan talking about the led class that morning where we had practiced side by side. I was talking about how my jumpbacks seem to be the same as my friend who was practising to my right, using this as an explanation that it must be the way we learn (i.e. I’m not flaking out and just not trying, I’m just at a different stage of learning how to do it). Having been really lazy with jumping back for months and months I had finally got back into the habit thanks to some friendly prodding from susan (conducted via email, not during practice I should add!). So I was feeling chuffed that I had reinstated my (attempts at) jumpbacks and brought this up with S. But the conversation went like this:
Me: “So my jumpbacks today...”
S: “You don’t jump, you step.”
Me: “I don’t, I jump”
S: “No, you step!”
Me: “No, I jump!” (making the point as I was proud of myself because I didn’t even skip any that day)
S: “Do you jump off two feet and land on two feet?”
Me: totally confused. Sitting in a barstool and feeling indignant. “Err – I don’t know, I think I sort of spring off the side of one foot – BUT I LAND ON TWO!” I began to realise that she had a point.
So as of that Sunday I started to try and do as Susan said – to jump off both feet and land on both. God it was hard work!! Suddenly I started to understand why whole blogs have been devoted to the jumpback, and there was me up until now blithely unaware that I wasn’t even doing it properly! Actually that’s not true, I knew that I wasn’t, I just didn’t really care. I had chosen to take on board the advice of teachers who suggested that it didn’t really matter and that it was just circus tricks to do all this floating business. No doubt I listened to that advice because it suited me...
So that was day one (Sunday) and on the Monday I continued to attempt jumping off both and landing on both feet. Panting and sweating my way through practice I admit I was cursing Susan a bit...surely this was too much to attempt before work? But I stuck with it through the week (and I think it was generally speaking a pretty bad week as far as practice went) and by the second week of attempting to jumpback, I started to notice something: STRENGTH. My practice felt extra strong and bendy. I noticed the shape of my arms changing too (pathetically I told my colleague “I just noticed my arms in the bathroom mirror and I’ve got a touch of the Madonna arms!” realising as I said it how ridiculous it was. “Careful,” she humoured me “You don’t want to go too far, look what happened to her!”...some chance!). I also experimented with trying to find some bandha strength (this is still a huge challenge to me – I’m really not sure that I can locate the bandhas except at the easiest of points in the practice) and discovered what a light landing it was possible to have if I could manage to find that point and engage the locks.
After a good few days of practices where I noticed this newfound strength I said to Susan “I don’t suppose this is connected to starting to jump-back is it?”
“OF COURSE!!!” comes the reply (or sweeter, less” I told you so” words to that effect!). It didn’t make sense, I thought that in started to learn I would feel weaker from the extra effort, and the reason I wasn’t trying to learn was that I didn’t have enough strength. But Susan’s point, and one she says she makes frequently in her classes is that you only gain the strength by trying to learn – it’s totally chicken and egg! So although for now it’s still a lot of hard work, and I am still moving my hands forward before trying to jump off both feet (the lifting up and through will be a LONG way off yet), finally I get why it’s important  – and at least I’m trying now. And that seems to be the main thing.

Exhibit B: Surya B. Earlier posts on this blog will attest to the fact I’ve never been a huge fan of surya B – though in recent months, in fact since I started to have more of a regular practice and got it up from 3 Bs to 5 (ALWAYS!) I don’t really mind it so much. But one day last week Cary came and shook everything up and made it HARD. I was always taught (or so I thought) to step the back foot in as you turn it – I seem to recall being told to move your foot to where your toes were in downward dog (though I may have borrowed that instruction from a flow class where it was perfectly valid!). But Cary came and worked really hard on me to turn the back foot in keeping it right at the back of the mat, and moreover to lift up out of the hip without unbending the knee – in other words, I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. Since she did this with me Surya B has become very difficult, a great challenge (on the first couple today my bent leg couldn’t seem to get far enough forward with the back foot planted at the back of the mat), it’s hard to keep the outer edge of the back foot grounded, it’s hard to lift up out of the hip as she demonstrated, it’s all quite a lot of new instructions to remember so early on the practice, but I suppose the best part is that it’s taken Surya B off auto-pilot (and it will never be the same again). The same principle applies of course to the dreaded Vira 1 which continues to be a favourite (yuck).

Exhibit C: Upward dog. Call me slow but...I just realised on Friday that I lazily allow my thighs to make contact with the ground in updog, and that actually keeping the full length of the leg lifted is probably correct. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I just discovered and fixed my very lazy habit. Something else which will never feel quite the same again...(it‘s much harder work now!).

Exhibit D: Something’s happened to my hips. I no longer have to baby my right hip/knee before attempting half-lotus (I used to have to cradle and rock it for 5 breaths first) and I can feel a huge difference in various postures especially upavistha konasana A in Friday’s led (as this is further than I usually practice, apart from in the Led class where I stay for the whole series). The weird knee thing seems to have gone away as inexplicably as it arrived. I can also feel a huge difference in my hips in kurmasana.

Exhibit E: (this is getting lame now): Supta Kurmasana. I hate to write this down in case I curse it, but as of last week this posture has rocked. As in, my few weeks worth of veeeery tentative finger bind and feet which will touch but that I could only cross with assistance seems to have changed to a good secure hand bind and an effortful solo crossing of the feet. Not just once, but two days in a row – including in Led with minimal time spent in kurmasana first! And then it worked again today after a weekend off – so maybe, just maybe, it’s here to stay. The key here seems to have been seeing the Kino video that has been posted on various blogs – it was actually of bhuja, but it was seeing Kino get the action of moving the shoulders under the knees that I was then able to start doing before going into both bhuja and kurmasana. It’s a bit of extra faffing yes, but for the extra depth in kurmasana I think it’s worth it J

So where are we up to? New jumping back attempts, extra superwoman Madonna-armed strength, new approaches to surya B and Vira 1, a non-lazy upward dog, newly more open hips, a comfortably bound supta kurmasana...what’s left? Well garbha continues to be a challenge, the bruises come and go (currently they are not too bad at all), my arms are getting more comfortably through and under my chin (no more weird one-arm-further-forward action where I had to hook my thumbs together to keep the hands in place!) but the rocking in a circle still seems like a impossibility. I have at least been trying (a bit) but after many beachings I am avoiding it for the time being as it makes me panic and feel stupid (all at once).

Ooh I know what else – headstand! So it’s been a good few months now since my headstand magically appeared in a Kino Led class, and I have been practicing it daily, but in the past week it suddenly got STRONG. I now feel secure in it, to the extent I popped up into it a few times while visiting my family this weekend (to show my 3 yr old niece who always wants to do yoga with auntie Mel) and had a conversation with my mum when she then came into the room. Something moved, I have always known that the weight is supposed to be in your arms, but suddenly in the past couple of weeks I felt the strength transfer into my shoulders and arms and I found this whole new level of security in the posture and have been gradually increasing from about 15 breaths, adding on 5 a day until I am now up to about 30-35. Next step – trying again to learn to float into it (currently I tuck up into it) which Cary is bound to get on to me about again at some stage.

I’m not listing all of these things to show off, or because this is “progress” as such, or certainly not on a physical level. It just seems amazing to me that in a time when my life off the mat is actually feeling rather angst-ridden (yes, the prospect of my new job is very exciting but also utterly terrifying – especially as I still know very few details and my anxiety is filling in the gaps!) my practice is consolidating in all of these ways, and simultaneously. I love the science experiment we conduct on our mats everyday! I should also point out that the week before last (when some of these changes kicked in) my practice felt laboured and difficult every day, it’s not like I am having stellar practices every day (though last week that seemed to be the case) but these little pieces of the puzzle seem to keep popping into place, making it all make a bit more sense to me.

Oh and today? Today I got given baddha konasana. I get the feeling this new asana is going to bring joy and pain...but no expectations, I will try to form my own opinions based on my own experience rather than freaking out because I know everybody else does. So it’s onwards and upwards - and sidewards, and backwards, and any-which-way-wards – after all, progress is never linear in this practice is it?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Work life balance

So it’s time to confess as to what’s been going on off-the-mat.
In August I started talking about some “uncertainty” which had cropped up in my life. At that point my boss had told a colleague and I that in all likelihood that our company would cease to exist within the next couple of months (or in the very least, our division of it). I won’t go into huge detail because it’s not very interesting, but I work for a clothing supplier – we are the intermediary between high street stores and factories in India, Turkey, Bangladesh and Hong Kong (or more accurately, we deal with agents in those countries, who then deal with the factories). So there are a lot of people in the loop! If you stop and think about what an average garment costs in a high street store, consider that the retailer puts between a 50% and 85% markup on the price THEY pay us for it (and that figure’s a lot more for designer clothing, I’m talking about cheap high street stores), and then consider that everybody in the chain needs a piece of the can imagine how little the factories earn. Anyway I digress, the fact is, times are tough out there and the stores want cheaper prices. So it’s starting to make sense for them to work directly with agents in the countries producing the goods. I suppose eventually they will cut that out too and deal directly with factories, but what it means is that even if things pick up in our company soon, the industry has fundamentally changed and it would only be a short reprieve.

The upshot of this was that my boss quietly suggested we go away and “see what’s out there”. It was kind of him to forewarn us, I for one had no idea the situation was that bad until he took us for coffee and came out with it, and this is when I went into my “intrigue” stage where I felt sure that something would come up. And guess what?
Scouting around on the internet looking for vacancies (and this complicated by the fact I was looking to change the field I work in), a seemingly random chain of thought led me to the website for a brand I remembered from the trade shows I used to work at in my previous job. And what do you know? They were advertising a job that looked right up my street. So I applied, and then found it impossible to apply for anything else, as nothing else hit the mark like this one did. But it turned out that the person managing the recruitment was away on annual leave, so I had to try and be patient (can you guess that I failed?!). A few weeks ticked by, and then I was invited for an interview. All seemed to go very well, there was lots of laughter, I thought I detected that they liked me, and was thrilled when one of the interviewers told me that I had “good energy”. I did however discover that the job involved a lot more travel that I had understood, and would mean driving to visit customers probably 4 days in every week. Did I mention I am kind of afraid of driving? Also it goes without saying, a heavy travel schedule would seriously affect my ability to get to the shala every day to practice. Add to this the fact that although I worked in sales for a designer for 5 years, the sales part of my role was almost a sideline alongside running the office and doing a million and one other things. I have never been a straight-forward sales rep (in fact the idea of it used to make me cringe!), I have no idea whether I’ll be any good at it...though I like to think I will be. They suggested I think very carefully about whether I would be prepared to make the changes in my life that the job would involve. I nodded and smiled but I really wasn’t sure.

And then I stepped out into the sunshine, got straight on the phone to my Mum and filled her in on what it would involve. “Oh no, you wouldn’t want to be doing that,” she said. But before I realised I meant it, I started to say that maybe I could...that how can you ever get over the fear of something if you never try it? I was using direct experience from my yoga practice to understand that I have gone from being someone who said “I will NEVER stand on my head. NEVER!” to being someone who does it every day, has found peace there, and actually enjoys it. Surely is this applies to a seemingly impossible yoga posture, it applies to everything else too? So after thinking about it for a few more days I emailed my interviewers and told them that I had given it careful thought, and while the prospect would certainly be a challenge, it was one that I was very excited about. And as for my mum’s concern of “But you wouldn’t be able to go to your yoga!” I quickly realised that not going ahead with a job application because it might interfere with my shala practice would be COMPLETELY missing the point. At that point I let go of my attachment to going to the shala every day, and it was only in doing that that I was able to write the email as I did.

I won’t bore you with all the details but I waited a few weeks, took a psychometric test, read the emailed results with great interest, watched and waited as my current role shrank away to almost nothing, and then with great relief last week attended a second interview, which began with me being told that I was being offered the job. Ha! We then proceeded to spend several hours going through the results of the psychometric test so that they could ascertain “how best to work with me, because everybody is different.” My new boss also suggested that as it seemed a lot of my good qualities come from my yoga, that it was very important that I schedule my appointments AROUND MY YOGA!! Now, although she’s said this, I still have in mind that my daily routine will cease to exist, and my shala attendance may become more sporadic. But that’s OK, I have come to terms with that (at least in theory), but how amazing is to have an employer who fully supports your pursuit of a daily yoga practice?
Having been given a contract on the spot I was able to go straight back to work and hand in my resignation. As I explained to my boss the lovely eco/ethical credentials of my new employer, he nodded as if he’d seen it coming. He explained that he has realised months ago that it “wasn’t very good karma” for me to go to yoga every morning and then come in to work and shout at Indian factories all day (because sadly that is the reality of my current role...). Instead I am to work for a splendidly lovely Scandanavian company who have a large section on their website dedicated to corporate social responsibility – in fact, it seems to be the thread running through the whole company. They are involved in several specific projects including building and completely supporting a school in Burma, working with former streetkids in Delhi and say on their website: 
We do not think we can save the whole world. But we are proud of this project, and we believe that no one can help everyone but everyone can help someone.
This makes me happy. It helps that I really believe in the products I’m going to be selling too, and that business is booming, even in these tough times! I am still waiting for a lot of the details to understand what I will be doing, which areas I will be covering and how the job actually works, but I do know this: In three weeks time I leave my job. I have a few days off to prepare and then I am off to Yoga Thailand for a retreat which, happily, I booked and paid for before I knew that my job was hanging in the balance. When I get home from Thailand I will start my new job. Exciting times! But - can you sense a “but” coming on?
BUT – all of this is making it incredibly difficult to BE in the present moment. I just want to finish my crappy boring job and move on. I want to be in Thailand! I want to know more details about my exciting new job! And whaddya know? My practice has gone nuts on me too. I had a mini meltdown over garbha today (another one!) and came out of the mysore room whining to my teacher that “I hate it!”. I feel kind of crazed half the time, I am getting irritable and angry more than normal, my temper is frayed. I spent all last week feeling dizzy and like I was about the float away – self diagnosing that I had too much Vata I spent the week eating heavy and warm things, lots of Indian food, and now I feel heavy and lethargic (I think I took it too far!). I know, I know, that this time will zip by and that all the things I want will come to pass sooner rather than later. But my impatience is getting the better of me! And I think this was the problem with garbha today...I recognised from what Kino taught in her workshop that I think I should be able to do it NOW just because I want to. But we all know it doesn’t work like that! If a friend was telling me all of this I would be saying that three weeks is nothing, this time will pass, and just to breathe and take each moment as it comes. Funny how easy it is to be wise on someone else’s behalf, and so impossible on your own, isn’t it? But at least this is true: I trusted that the universe would provide, and it did. Now I just need to accept that the universe is spinning this out on it’s own schedule, that this is not something I can control, and I just need to let things move along at normal speed.

P.s. I’ll tell you who the company are once I’m actually there (or when they’ve taken the ad for my job down off the website!!)

Friday, 17 September 2010

Kino in London - part 3

Continued from part 2...
My post weekend reflections included the thought – interesting how we spend so long looking forward to something, and then while it’s gone wishing it was over. Now this isn’t true to say for everything, but the second half of the Saturday workshop was a big struggle. The first half was great! I was feeling strong and capable and I understood what she was driving at in a way I hadn’t in Edinburgh. I was able to remember doing some of the same exercises as we did last time, going onto hands and knees, building a solid foundation in the body – and I remember having found it all too difficult, and like I didn’t really understand the first part of the exercise, let alone when we went on to build it up two, three, four different ways. Well the same thing did happen again in London, but at least the confusion kicked in halfway through instead of right at the start! We spent some of the time working on bujapidasana  - one of my nemeses. Kino offered some great insights (despite the guy who just kept asking her how you jump into it...she insisted that until you are so bored in bhuja that you can call your mum on the speakerphone, then you DON’T jump into it. “So can you show us then?” he asked again....Grrr!). Her teaching included:
·        You need to keep a sense of roundedness in the back – throughout!
·        If we feel our butt is travelling down, don’t think up, think forward.
·        Step onto the hands – this helps to turn feet and knees out
·        Bend the elbows to create a seat for the thighs
·        Maintain the structured foundation (that we had been building up – including rounded back)
·        To get feet up think forward.
·        To come back out of it, think CHEST FORWARD, and press the feet into the foundation to come back up.
·        Bakasana exit – lean right, take right leg back, lean left, take left leg back.
·        Don’t correct and do “pretty bakasana”!!
None of this is new information really, but something about following the instructions (especially stepping on the hands, which I hadn’t tried before, and rounding the back, which I’d never thought of) has seemed to help. Whilst I still land on my head with quite a clonk most days, I am at least managing something vaguely approaching a bakasana exit in the post-Kino practices, something I have never been able to even try before. My only possible exit from the pose in the past was to fling myself out of it and land on my bum with a crash!
Watching the buja demo
As we moved on I started to struggle. I can’t even remember at what point it was, but I began to feel utterly defeated. We started working on an exercise where I couldn’t compute stage 1, and then we moved on to stages 2 and 3. I just wanted to throw in the towel. Partnering with J was wonderful but I was determined not to tell her that I was having a hard time, not to put it “out there” though I was sure it was written all over my face. But eventually I did say it. I spent the second half of the workshop residing in doubt and fear.  And then the very last thing we did in the workshop was an assisted handstand from prasarita position and somehow, completely by magic, I LOVED it!! I normally have a huge freakout in anything handstand-related but this just felt right, with jen holding my waist I floated my legs out to the sides and up into handstand and it felt AMAZING! I was so happy to finish on such a high!

You think I'd remember all of this without taking notes??!
Maybe part of the reason I has anxiety in this workshop was that I was already thinking ahead. I had intentionally not booked the Sunday afternoon workshop, Introduction to 2nd Series, because I thought it wasn’t really right for me. But I already knew that two of my friends, although they had booked it, were planning not to go. Which meant that there were a few spaces available – and all I knew was that I didn’t want my time with Kino to be over yet. But I didn’t want to do the scary second series workshop either when I don’t even do full primary! And I am such a traditionalist! So what did I do...well, I waited until after the class and had a chat with her. Aside from name-dropping Cary (“Cary is AWESOME! I love Cary, please say hi”) and saying how lucky I was also to practice with (and be offered advice by) my friend Susan (“Susan is awesome too! You really are lucky!”) I chatted to her about my crazy garbha bruises (she suggested lifting the left knee...I have tried it but can’t quite work it out) and about the 2nd series class. She completely reassured me, and said that some of what we worked on would help my primary series postures, and it’s OK to try postures in a workshop that you teacher hasn’t given you. So as I left, I sent S a text asking if it might be OK to take his space...and the answer was yes. So there was a little more Kino-time to come! On Sunday morning I went to Cary as usual for my Mysore practice (which was lovely, I was able to assimilate some of what I had learned, but also to bring my practice back to reality in the midst of the workshop excitement) and then after lunch it was back over to Triyoga.
Sweetly as Kino walked into the workshop on Sunday afternoon, almost tripping over me (my mat was right in front of the door) she smiled and said “Oh you were brave! You came! Great!” which of course pleased me no end!

·        Kino began by explaining that the function of the Primary Series is partly in understanding that when fear arises you can keep stillness and steadiness of mind. It is also about building a base level of health in the body.
  • Once these things are established through proficiency in the asanas then you are ready for the intermediate series.
  •  So a certain level of proficiency in the primary series, but also a strong, clear mind and a base level of strength, flexibility and health are essential before beginning second series.
  • Intermediate will test your faith and belief in yoga and will possibly make you want to give it up completely at some stages! She said “You have to have already drunk the kool aid” i.e. to already be on the yoga path, otherwise you’ll never be able to deal with all the crazy that second series brings out!
  • Initiating movement from bandhas – from the mythological place of Kundalini (root) chakra is essential for intermediate. The series then forcefully pushes kundalini energy up through the body to awaken the crown chakra
  • Legs behind head – ida and pingala nadis (which need to awaken to get the energy flowing up through the body) originate in the hip joints, so LBH stuff initiates this energy flow.
  •  Ask yourself “If I never get another posture, do I still want to do this practice?” if the answer is yes then you know you are involved in the spiritual journey. (I read this brilliant post this week which reminded me of this point too...)
I loved that last point. She talked a little about people who she knew who’d been stuck on the same asana for seven years. I mean really – SEVEN YEARS??!! It makes me August-April wait to move on from Bhuja pale into insignificance. I also really liked the way she spoke about intermediate, I think people can be fixated on the idea that you’re ready when you can stand up from backbends, but it was clear to me that sometimes you could still not be ready at this point, but all that’s going to happen is you might have some sort of meltdown. And is that really what anybody wants? I just don’t understand the rush myself...but then maybe I can safely say this from my not-yet-full-primary position where pasasana isn’t even on my radar.
I’ll tell you what though – I can do it! I used a block under my heels, but I happily bound both sides. And when I say happily, I was honestly thrilled I’d taken the workshop JUST so that I could discover that I could do it! Of course I liked what I could do, and wasn’t so happy with the stuff I couldn’t do, but I took it very much as a playtime whereas my partner in this workshop was Helen,  who the following day was given three new intermediate asanas and was split! I also got my legs behind my head (which I knew I’d be able to do) but had a giant freakout in ustrasana (again, no surprises here!). But all in all I was just happy to have more time with Kino, and to be there at the close of the workshop (having been there when it opened). All in all it was a fantastic weekend, and although Kino is keen on saying “there’s no magic pixie dust!” I think I did get a little sprinkling of it over the course of the two days. Over and out.
Bad sweaty picture (me, not her!) with Kino at the end of the weekend.
I'd run out of decent yoga clothes by this stage ;)

Kino in London - part 2

You can almost see me in this...I'm behind my friend in the white!
At long last! I knew that writing just half of my thoughts up was a mistake, I should have written the whole thing and posted it in parts (seeing as I can’t seem to edit to shorter posts... Later edit - this post is now broken up into two parts which follow immediately on from one another). Anyway I luckily had the foresight to scribble down some overall impressions on the tube journey home at the end of the weekend, so hopefully everything will come flooding back to me as I write. So here goes...

Saturday morning began with a led full primary. As it was kicking off at 10am and scheduled to last until 12.30, I decided to get up early enough to eat before I left home. I wouldn’t normally ever eat before practice, but having had hotel porridge at 8am when I practiced with Kino in Edinburgh with no obvious ill effects, I decided to do the same at home (though I think it was 7am!). And it’s a good job I did really, these full workshops days really leave no time where it’s feasible to eat...
I arrived and immediately saw my friends S and A (who were there Friday night) and although the Mysore room was already packed, they had sweetly saved me a spot beside them – right at the front where I like it! And by luck they were immediately next to my twitter friend from Brighton & his girlfriend. Friends Jen & Helen were in my line of sight in the back row, so in downward dog I could see them, all of which made me happy. Kino arrived and, although I had expected her to open with some sort of chanting, or introductory conversation, she instead walked to the front of the room and simply said “Samisthiti” before opening the chant. I had begun the day feeling anxious, for no good reason, but as we chanted and began surya namaskar A there was good energy in the room (with around 75 people practicing). As we moved onto B I found that with bent legs I was having a huge attack of the shakes – which has never before happened right at the start of my practice. What a good start, I thought!! But generally the class was excellent – strong, challenging yes but it was amazing to feel the difference from the last time with her, when I had only ever taken led full primary 4 or 5 times. Now, despite finishing my self-practice at garbha pindasana, I do led full primary once a week so it doesn’t feel like such a terrific challenge. After my shakes in surya B, unsurprisingly the warrior sequence was a huge challenge. In utkatasana the shakes were pretty severe, as was the mental battle, and after the first few breaths of Vira 1 I was really struggling. In vira 2 I had to straighten the bent leg and completely back off the pose (on/off, on/off) as Kino’s relentless count went on, and my brain played crazy crazy games. But generally I felt like I could keep up without any trouble, and reaching supta kurmasana I was able to bind my hands securely (which happens somedays, but it’s certainly not a given) and I was even able to cross my feet, keeping my hands together – which I have NEVER done on my own before! I don’t know whether to put it down to the bath I had in the morning, the extra hours of being awake before practice, the longer kurmasana hold, Kino’s magical presence, or a combination of all of these! Garbha was mentally tough as I was going through my backing off phase due to my by-now ludicrous arm bruises, and in the space of those 5 breaths holding my hands around my lotus instead of through, my chitta vritta were SCREAMING at me (“you cheater! Look at you, hanging out here in the easy version! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU???”) but I sat with it, let the voices scream (I’m not schizophrenic, really I’m not) and got on with it. Supta padangusthasana was fun as S and I pulled faces at each other (yoga can be silly too!) and there were plenty of giggles in the room, especially in the second half of the practice which was obviously not familiar to everyone in the room (I include myself in this!). But the really exciting stuff happened when we got to backbends. Now I knew this was coming, I had even warned my mat neighbour that she does loads of backbending...and in Edinburgh my main memory of it was that there was too much, and I couldn’t do it, so I just lay on my mat. Well, what a difference 6 months and a newly daily practice makes! We warmed up with some little bridges, but as Kino encouraged us to walk the feet in until we could clasp them I realised that I could bring my legs in much closer, even at this stage. Then we did 3 urdhva dhanurasana, with Kino warning that we were doing lots, and to take it easy. But as she talked us through a second set of three, offering explanation and anatomical focus, something magical happened. I found the connection between backbending and my legs. As we neared the end (but we still weren’t finished, she warned us), we came up onto our heads to walk our hands in as close as we possibly could. Now I have tried walking my hands in the past, but all that happened was I’d walk them in a little, then as soon as I pushed up they effectively slid back to where they’d started. But somehow this time it was different. Inhaling up onto my head, my hands walked in, and not just a few millimetres, and we pushed up in a final effort...I have no doubt that I made some noise about it, but the difference was UNBELIEVABLE. I’ll add here that since then, my backbends have felt utterly transformed. Whereas before they were just something to do quickly as I felt I didn’t have much energy or strength left for them (I go through phases...), since Kino’s workshop I have found and maintained that connection with the legs. And I feel the hips pushing up towards the ceiling (I don’t think I EVER noticed them before!), and the hands can come in...I can’t exaggerate how much this posture has changed for me since that workshop, it’s really incredible.

Chanting to open the space - that's me in blue!
After an all too brief break for lunch (I had some raisin bread and a coffee...good job I’d had that porridge!) it was back for the afternoon’s workshop which focused on arm balances and inversions. Expecting the same workshop I’d done in Edinburgh I wasn’t hugely looking forward to it, but this was actually a different one. And although I’d been dreading doing partner-work, having Jen there meant at least I had one I liked & trusted! I scribbled down some notes at the start of this workshop, so here’s what Kino had to say...
·        Strength: first it comes from within. The first thing that gives up is usually our mind which means we often don’t reach the physical limit of our strength before our brain tells us that we’ve had enough.
·        Doubt – there are two kinds. First: reason and rational based doubt – this comes from our super ego, we can come up with ten reasons why this posture will never be possible for us to do. Second: emotional. Kino said this is characterised by a noise (which I can’t spell...) like “Owwwwww!”. Fundamentally, whining!
The latter is slightly easier to deal with as we have less belief in the reliability of our emotions. But for the former...
·        Talking ourselves out of this doubt takes a strong mind. “I will do whatever it takes” to whittle away the treatise of emotional doubt so that we can learn to control our lives from a place of peace. You have to find that strength and steadiness of mind to cross the bridge from doubt to a place of certainty.
·        The ego says “it should be immediately available to me just because I want it” (talking about difficult asana, but also this point cane be generalised!). Follow the 4 steps (see part 1) and don’t try to achieve something so far from where we are now in reality. Aim for a 1-2% change. Say to yourself, I am humbly willing to stay with the body no matter how long it takes, 2% by 2%.
·        If you never touch your physical limit you’re never get 2% stronger. The perfect demonstration of this is in utupluthi. When do we really ever stick with this until we reach our physical limit? I know I don’ brain links my limit to the count. “Oh maybe just ten today” or “Wow 14, I feel OK but I can probably stop at 15”. Sound familiar?
·        Bandhas: not physical places – they are energetic expressions – but when things connect on a deep level there is the ability to access muscles over which we normally have no conscious control. Bringing consciousness into the pelvic region, beginning to wake up the pelvis, eventually one day you will have access to the Tan tien centre. This comes from a sense of total integration in the body – solid structural foundation.
·        I asked her a question about shaking (as I was experiencing even more earth-moving shakes in this workshop than I did in the morning!) and said that in an exercise class for example, shaking muscles mean you have overworked them. It seems wrong to be shaking in yoga...But she explained what I have actually heard somewhere before, that the shaking indicates samskaras leaving your body. I’d like to believe this is true, because if it is, I did some wicked cleansing through the course of Kino’s workshops!

Continued in Part 3....

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ding-ding, Round 2! Kino MaGregor in London (part 1)

This weekend I had the opportunity to practice with the wonderful Kino MacGregor when she came to London for a series of workshops – my second “bout” with her (read about my first one in March 2010 here) and one which left me reinvigorated, happy, exhausted and physically broken! I took notes, I took photos, I took some video, I took tremendous inspiration...but most of all I took away some lessons and changes which are affecting my practice already. But where to begin?
The weekend kicked off with a Friday night session, the asana demo, breathwork and Q&A. As I am local I had a normal day at work then headed down to the yoga centre, the only issue being that as a colleague was leaving that day we had a bottle of champagne in the office before we left – whoops! Of course it went straight to my head and I had to drink oodles of camomile tea before I got there to calm down my hot flushes – great start! Happily as I arrived I bumped into my friend S (who I met in Goa) and his partner A, neither of whom I knew would be there, so chatted to them before going in, always lovely to see familiar faces. Unfortunately our social moment out the front meant that we were right at the back of the room, so none of my photos of the demo are much cop, but there are plenty on facebook taken in her other workshops by other people if you want to ogle them! Interestingly for me, I found that during the breath exercises we did together I was able to sit very still and peacefully, and I wasn’t wishing the time away. When I took her workshop in March I am sure that this was more of a challenge for me, but in the past weeks I have been joining those who sit together after Friday’s Led class, so I am more accustomed to it now.
Watching Kino’s demo was amazing (of course), but whereas before I think I was just agog at what she could do (and I love the expression on her face throughout, she looks so chilled), this time I was watching the technique in certain things which were appropriate to me. She mentioned later that when people ask her why she does a demo, Krishnamacharya described yoga demos as “propaganda” which everybody found funny, but as Kino said, they can only be performed with sincerity otherwise the message will be lost (i.e. if a contortionist gave a demo it would be a quite a different thing). 
Watching the audience
After the demonstration Kino spoke - and as she says, she can talk all night! It's always hard to capture the essence of what she's saying as she moves so fast through complex concepts but I scribbled some notes while she talked which I will attempt to make some sense of now...bear in mind this is just a flavour of what she said, I may have got some up it mixed up and it's just my recollection. 
·        - The purpose of the primary series is to create a base level of health in the body. This can come from just sun salutations – the purpose of advanced asana is to peer into the soul and see who we really are.
She also went on to say that the harder the asana, the more opportunity there is for growth – so if you come up against major difficulty with the first forward bend of the sun salutations then you are very lucky, you don’t need the other asanas!
·        - The holy trinity of breath, movement and drishti can lead to a small pause in the fluctuations of the mind – beyond emotion, mental chatter, judgement. This is why we practice.
·        -  Hatha Yoga Pradipika talks about the body being a temple with a flame at it’s centre. Every inhalation ignites this spirituality and stimulates this agni. When we burn through the impurities in the body the flame does not stop burning.
Think of it as brushing your teeth (to make it seem less precious) – asana practice is the same in that we do it daily because we know that if we don’t, negative results will occur. Asana practice is also like cleaning the temple grounds – we do it not because it’s precious and special but essential. If we don’t practice, pain can occur which transcends lifetimes.

·        - Breath: in stressful situations, both the breath and the heartbeat react – there is a certain point of no return where this can’t be slowed down. Maintaining a long slow steady breath means the situation may never reach that point of no return (she was talking about an argument in particular). This can be used as a tool when reaching avenues of fear  - the only thing that can help us is breath.
·        - Samskaras: through asana practice we can awaken sleeping body parts or put energy into areas of our bodies that we don’t usually inhabit – this is the physical manifestation of our samskaras. Reaching the depth of physical practice is the only way we indentify our samskaras and breath is the only way to work through them.
·       -  I also asked a question in one of the afternoon workshops about shaking – we were attempting a one armed  balance (side plank) and I was shaking like a crazy person. Knowing that in exercise classes the shaking often means you are pushing a muscle to your limit I asked about this, and she said that as long as you can keep breathing then it’s ok to keep working there (as soon as you stop breathing then you need to worry!). She also said the other theory is that the shaking is a sign of samskaras leaving your body – which is of course a GOOD thing!
·        - When we feel that our unique problems are ours and ours alone this is ego talking. We need to use the same tools that we use in our yoga practice: reaching the depths of our samskaras we use maitri (friendliness) to come to terms with the samskaras at the depths of our being.
·        - Facing ourselves at the depths of who we are can be seen as a heroic journey – this is in fact the definition of a spiritual journey.
·        - Discipline can be re-formed as ritual, then it becomes a spiritual practice.
·        - Four step process: she talked a lot about this over the weekend, explaining that before initiating movement we should follow this:
1.      Body awareness.
2.      Satya – honesty. What does this really feel like? Is it tight?
3.      Maitra – friendliness. This is the active state of ahimsa, it’s what we do when we gently nurse a knee to warm it up rather than just ramming it into half lotus.
4.      Initiation of movement-  let’s see what happens.
If instead of following this you listen to the ego instead of the method of the asana, pain and injury are inevitable.
Not a great view, but still a great view :)
Somebody asked a question about how she deals with big world events like 9/11, or injustice in the world. (??) Turned out to be a good question because after talking in a quite a funny way  about her relative thoughts towards Osama Bin Laden,  Sarah Palin and George Bush she went on to say some things which I could apply directly to me.
·        - Don’t start off trying to practice compassion towards a person who has screwed you over – it’s not going to happen. Start small. Similarly if we think about world events and we feel like “that shouldn’t happen” (injustice for example) then we come from a place of antagonism i.e. not ahimsa. Instead we need to apply the same process we apply to the physical body – we feel, we go to the root, experience awareness (before we act).
·        Find the places where we have anger and start the work: treat it like an injury, use this process (as above). But don’t start trying to practice from 4th series, start with surya A – practice on a level that is easy, first practice loving the people who are easy to love (small babies, dogs – the equivalent of a sun salutation) then move onto the people who are much harder to love (the harder postures).

The Q&A part was interesting in itself for a few reasons (not least what Kino had to say of course!). In Edinburgh I seem to remember it being quite low key but this being London, people were practically trampling over one another to ask questions. I exaggerate slightly, but sitting at the back I raised my hand several times as it seemd that a previous question was near to being answered. I had decided in advance that I wanted to ask a question, and had devised one I thought interesting enough to the group which I did genuinely want to know the answer to (about bandhas in the first few years of practice). Unfortunately a few people sitting at the front preferred instead to ask multiple questions, turning it into more of a dialogue than a Q&A and I found myself getting quite wound-up. My friends were trying to encourage me to keep raising my hand but eventually I realised that it was my ego which was so very desperate to ask a questions so instead of getting frustrated and not listening to what was being said, I lowered my hand and adopted a softer approach. OK so it seems strange to come along on an ashtanga weekend and not be aware of who Pattabhi Jois/Manju/Sharath are or what goes on in Mysore, but everyone has to learn sometime don’t they? And true, personally I don’t consider a Q&A session to be a “this is your life” where we ask the teacher what was the hardest pose for them, questions about their personal practice and history (especially not when I’m a swot so I know all this stuff!) but again, it made me realise that I am very fortunate to have been guided in my early weeks of ashtanga by wonderful teachers and friends so that I had a base of knowledge right from the start. Additionally although I am immersed in the world of ashtanga with a regular teacher, a daily asana practice at a shala filled with like-minded individuals and a bookshelf full of resources, not everybody is (or would want to be). And this weekend was as much for them as it was for me. So I started practicing a little more compassion and instead of getting frustrated I stopped rolling my eyes and started just listened to whatever questions that came.

So that was the Friday night! This post has turned epic already so I plan to write up the rest of the weekend separately. Although that sounds a bit like famous last words... 
Read more in parts 2 and 3

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Battered and bruised

Just a quick post to share the sorry state of my arms...

I had heard from friends that garbha pindasana leads to some pretty well - UNpretty bruises, and when I first started the pose a few weeks ago I thought this one on my left arm was a good'un:
Or should I say collection of ones, more accurately. Notice the bruises are mostly below my elbow...

Anyway, a few weeks have gone by and as I wrote about this week the pose is coming on. Today I got my arms the furthest through yet on entering the pose (I do have them under my chin, but I'm not quite getting the Shirley Temple look, there's a few inches needed before they are comfortably under my chin) but in doing so I hurt my left arm quite a lot. Chatting in the changing-room after practice I inspected the damage, and realised that the bruises on my right arm (actually bruise on top of bruise on top of...etc etc) have reached a seriously ugly stage. You can judge for yourself...
 It looks different colours in different lights (surely the ultimate accessory?):
Incidentally - how horrendously hyper-extended is my elbow in this photo?? Me oh my....BUT - look how much further up the bruises are than those of week 1! This shows progress surely?

Checking in on the left arm bruises, the original ones had faded to a highly attractive shade of yellowy-green (nice) but seem to be coming back a little this week:

So yes. That's me and my elbows. It has been suggested that I should probably give the pose a rest to allow the bruises to die down but...*sigh* ego doesn't want me to stop trying! Not just when it's starting to make sense! One last one...
 Now that's enough showing off for one night.