Monday, July 12, 2010

From Liz: The Limitations of Common Sense.

That clip is unbelievable. Or completely believable in that it all sort of makes sense and holds together seamlessly from a bio-mechanical standpoint. And yeah, what was that process for them? That childlike exploration? Sigh. Oh to have a little more time and a playmate with skills (who lives in-state, my dear).

These days, I'm waist deep in the Kino MacGregor primary series dvd. It's very, very different from the Freeman one. Much faster paced, but also kind of eye-opening because she is well, a woman. Watching a woman power through this relentless series gives me hope and verve. And because the pace is quicker, you don't have time to build a story or drama around what is to come. I've made progress in certain areas. Mostly in the transitions. For instance, chakrasana is starting to just happen. I still feel weird about backwards somersaulting. It is definitely an odd feeling on the neck, though not so alarming that I wouldn't do it. But then Ashtanga has sort of quelled the impulse to run from "odd sensation." Perhaps this practice is killing my common sense along with my hamstring attachments. Frankly, I'm beginning to think that common sense is overrated and that "caution" is just a euphemism for fear. Cowardice often masquerades as "theory" which, I suppose, is why Ashtanga is "99% practice."

And I'm working very hard to limit myself to 3 or 4 days of cardio a week. And somehow, I've lost weight. It may be that my appetite powers down a bit from the lack of physical exertion. It's a subtle exploration to find that balance point where exercise nourishes and enlivens, rather than depletes. I'll never quit entirely, but I am trying to have faith (in so much as one can "try" to have faith) in this system. The yoga should be enough.

Monday, June 28, 2010

From Anna: Variations on Inspiration

I finally had a chance to listen to the Gil Fronsdal meditation this morning and found it to be as illuminating, freeing, and lovely as you suggested it would be. These discoveries you have made and in turn recommended to me, give new meaning to 'guided meditation'.

Stimulating in a very different but equally lovely way is this. I have always been captivated by the many varieties of modern dance and this is no exception. At times, it does get a bit... gymnasticsy.... but you can certainly see the asana inspiration woven throughout the piece. It's enchanting in a 'how did they actually figure out that they could DO that?' sort of way. At times, they look like more like one body with 8 limbs than 2 people dancing together. Lydia Walker was a professional ballerina, Phillip Askew teaches yoga in NY, and adding to the excitement, the accompaniment is improvised by none other than Jonah Rank who sometimes goes by his Jewish Gangsta name - J Rizzle. No, seriously.

Possible weekend activity for you and Humble Husband: Put the little one down for a nap and try some of these moves, particularly the prasarita-esque liftoff at the 4.30 min mark! If I had a nickel for every time I've seen people pull that off, I would have exactly 5 cents.....

Monday, June 14, 2010

From Liz: Meditating Myself Into the Ground.

Sorry for the silence. I've gone soft at the center for a while. Meaning: I've gone off the rails with practice, with discipline, with keeping my shit generally together--the center cannot hold. I'm well, overall. I'm exercising, so am physically strong enough. And I'm happy with the direction that my family is going. Onward and upward, etc. But that happiness has taken the urgency out of practice and mediation, so I've gotten sloppy. I need to start getting up early again. I need to reconnect with that sense of radicalism, because I'm feeling quite average. (I have good friends who have three daughters. The middle child coined the term "middlest" to describe herself. The other girls had "oldest" and "youngest" cornered, so she wanted something as extreme, a word that put her as much at the periphery as the other two. It's a good word, and is how I have been feeling.) Right now, I'm just your average yogini, with my middlest practice. I've been doing a lot of yin yoga, acting like I'm doing myself the service of stillness. Really, I'm just too lackadaisical to focus on flow, to keep light in my extremities and float through an ashtanga practice.

I guess the creative spark is lacking. At least, it was, until I chanced upon this bit of psycho-spiritual gold. In a nutshell, it suggest the when you meditate, you just think of it as the act of sitting and just being yourself. Allow yourself to bubbled up like a hidden spring. Don't try to achieve anything. The soft center seems to firm up when you tap in that way. It makes me feel a little wide-eyed and vibrant. Sitting here, with my breath, just being me. There is something revolutionary in not striving. Incidentally, in all of this, it does occur to me how privileged I am to have the time/space to undertake this radical sitting.

I'm glad that your scalene is teaching you some lessons. Apparently my right knee has decided to be my guru for a while. Lesson: "chill out with all of the lunges, you vain silly thing." My right knee doesn't know about skinny jeans.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From Anna: An Excuse, a Diagnosis, and a Warning

I have always wanted to be a runner. Everything about it appeals to me. The ritualistic nature, the endurance and athleticism, the moving meditation, connection to the breath, and the revered "zone" that runners all talk about. Not to mention, the bod. I don't care how tight my hip flexors would be, I would love to have a runners body. But frankly, it's just not my thing. At least once a year over the last decade, I've made up my mind to "become a runner." As though it's something one chooses, like a haircut or a sandwich.

But I've never made it past 2 weeks of running before it becomes something that I can easily talk myself out of doing, in favor of... I don't know... legs-up-the-wall, perhaps? I keep reading that it takes 3 weeks to develop a habit so maybe one day I'll make it past the 21 day hump. But until that day, I'm just another runner wanna-be. Except that now I can also use my yoga practice to talk myself out of it. It's like my buddy Krishnamacharya used to say: "Running is for horses."

In totally unrelated news, I just finished nursing a pulled scalene muscle. How does one pull a scalene muscle, you may wonder?... By performing the extremely advanced pose: taking-off-my-shirt-asana. No joke. Laugh it up. Luckily it was short lived, coming on suddenly but healing completely in less than a week. But for those first few days, it was extremely painful. Initially I was a bit baffled, since I felt sharp pains underneath my collarbones but also, all the way up my neck when I turned my head. Separate, but obviously related, I could barely move my shoulder in any direction without feeling pain all the way down my arm. Desperate to self-diagnose, I whipped out the anatomy books and realized that the scalene muscles run down the side of the next but attach to the top 2 ribs. It had to be scalene related, and a trip to the chiropractor confirmed my suspicions.

In the week that followed, it became the perfect example of how an injury can inform and deepen our anatomical understanding. Turns out, these previously unnoticed muscles are active in every deep breath that we take, manage the weight of the head and stabilize the neck, and have trigger points all over the upper torso and cervical spine. I just wish I could have learned these fun facts in a less painful manner.

So take this advice, friend. Being mindful in your practice is a lovely thing, but it turns out that an comparable mindfulness should be practiced when disrobing. Just fyi.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

From Liz: Right Foot, Left Foot.

My parents are practicing Christians. But the religious ritual that has been most deeply etched into my neural pathways is the practice of cardio. Specifically, running. My father has run every day of the year, with a few exceptions, for the past 30 odd years. (The day after he had fairly invasive surgery to remove a skin cancer, my mother had to chase him down with her car to get him to come home, as he staggered up the street, trying to get "just a quick run in.") My siblings and I have practiced with varying levels of devotion throughout our adult lives. But my dad gets up at the crack of dawn (4:30-ish) every single day, pulls on running shoes and faces the weather, the dawn, his own groggy consciousness, and once a rabid dog. (Which, of course, ended with a course of rabies shots.) Surprisingly few of his injuries are related to the actual sport. He has had many scrapes and bruises, but mostly from spacing out and eating pavement. So mindfulness is the name of the game once you reach his level. Keep vigilant, once you are athletically capable.

I run too. I try to keep it to a bare few days a week, for fear of compromising my yoga practice. But it's in me, that need to just get out there are run my brains out. My practice has illuminated my running, clued me in to the way that I can moderate and modulate around the breath, pace myself to pull through to the end. My body aligns more naturally than it used to. His body has figured all of this out after years, without too much analysis. His really is a habit of, "one percent theory, 99 percent practice." After a while, these things simply go without saying. Right foot, left foot... that's all there really is to it.

My dad has a book on his shelf called "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner." That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? Ashtanga yoga, and running. Ultimately, solitary practices. You might "share your breath" if you practice in a Mysore room. But you are really alone on your mat. Maybe this is why they both suit me so well, I'm comfortable here, alone in this space.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From Anna: Party Girl

I love your image of the self MRI. It is befitting to the idea of the body in layers. Years ago, in one of my very first classes, the teacher said that yoga is a process of shedding, not of adding. That our work is to peel away each sheath to reveal what is already there. At the time, it made about as much sense to me as 'soften your floating ribs' but over time, both concepts have started to fall into place.

Speaking of things that have changed, I am right there next to you on the meditation thing. I used to dread that moment in class when the teacher would say "if you'd prefer, you can remain here in meditation or you can make your way into savasana." I couldn't skidaddle out of that seated position fast enough and would wonder about the people who stayed. Were they just trying to look dedicated or was it possible that they enjoyed this seated repose? Did their feet fall asleep too? When the teacher gave one of those "if you have a tendency to fidget, go back to your breath" speeches, was it directed at me alone? I sort of resigned myself to being someone who 'just wasn't cut out for meditation.'

But at some point along the way, once I had pretty much given up on the possibility altogether, I woke up and had become one of those people. Last night I took class and when given the choice, I stayed seated, gladly and willingly. I only wished that it lasted longer. Occasionally I feel torn between the physical release of savasana and the more delicate renewal of some time spent quietly seated. But it's an excellent problem to have. Two parties I'd love to attend: same night, same time.

Which reminds me, I am really enjoying your recommendation of theses guided meditations. Varied, accessible, and rather lovely on a whole. Seems that you're full of good ideas lately. Guided meditations, self MRI's, and now wardrobe purging. One of these days I'll work up enough inspiration to follow suit... (pun shamelessly intended).

I still have two more classes to teach tonight, but I'd do anything to throw my legs up the wall and call it a day.... now THAT is my idea of a party.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From Liz: Junk in the Trunk (the Body in 3D)

This will sound super stoner of me, but dude, I just realized that my body is three dimensional. I don't know why I've been living in 2D for so long. I feel like I've been practicing and moving my body as if it were flat. Suddenly, something clicked (maybe this is the mediation practice at work) and I realized that to distribute my breath and awareness fully, I have to breath into my back body, down to the depths of the junk in my trunk. I am embracing the lushness of my entire annamaya kosha. It's like having x-ray vision, the ability to full body scan (self MRI) and hold the whole in awareness. It is tripping me out...

And yes, I'm meditating in the mornings. It is not necessarily getting easier, but more fluid. I used to peep my eyes open after what seemed like an eternity, only to find that 3 minutes had elapsed. Now it's closer to 15 minutes. And where I used to drag my heels and resist this quiet "sitting," I now look forward to it. It's work, but also refuge. I'm curious to see what comes up in those few minutes. Why has it taken me so long to embrace this? And why was Ashtanga the catalyst that brought me here?

I'm off to do a little wardrobe purging. Embracing my body has led me to re-evaluate the contents of my closet. I'm ditching anything that doesn't do justice to my self-loving, emancipated booty.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From Anna: The Osmosis of Prana

My apologies for taking so long to post. I've been bustling along at a sprightly pace and it seems that there are never enough hours in the day. And yes, I do realize that if I feel like that every day, there is a glaringly obvious lesson to be learned.... But there's no time for lesson-learning either! I'll try to pencil in some time next month.

Being this busy has had an interesting effect on my practice. When I was blesssed with more time on my hands, my practice felt like a choice. Significant and defining - but a choice. Now that I am spread so thin, my practice has become non-negotiable. It isn't so much an elected use of time as it is sustenance. It may be a simple equation of less time on the mat equaling a more meaningful practice, but I think it runs more in line with your musings on drishti and softening.

One of my teachers used to say "Just. Soften. Somewhere." and I finally understand what he meant. Ultimately, the softening isn't gaze specific (or trapezius specific for that matter), but is a receptivity. An energetic shift. I'm sure you know that sweet, delicate zone of permeability, where you feel like you are opening to the osmosis of prana.... (which sounds way more cosmic and wacky than it actually is). That zone that you are lucky to slither into and reluctant to leave... Running around like a madwoman, I need it now more than ever. Even if I'm not in it, I can happily settle for the knowledge of that diffusive state existing. For whatever reason, it help me get through the day. Especially days like today when I taught 5 classes and don't know my left from my right.

Speaking of getting through the day, are you still meditating by morning and practicing in the afternoon?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From Liz: Soft Focus.

The Yoga Bear work is going well enough. I'm in charge of soliciting donations from studios in NYC and environs. I send a friendly little note, asking for class pass or membership. Some studios jump right on board, others just blithely ignore me. You win some, you lose some. I'm a little surprised by those that just look the other way, like I'm some panhandler on the subway. I'm not asking for much, and it would actually be to the studio's benefit to get more people in their doors--a good way to build up some good will in the community. But hey, I guess this is NY and people are Very Busy and Important, right? I just have to ease up around my expectations.

This brings me around to my Work of the Week: softening. I've discovered that I'm a gripper. Physically and emotionally. Gil Fronsdal has a series of talks on concentration. And at one point, he says "Hard or willfully concentrating is a losing battle. But to develop samadhi there has to be a softness and gentleness towards oneself... The mind is not a thing, a substance, it's an activity." He speaks of concentration as a living, fluctuating state, a "dynamic stillness" that enables higher states of meditation, etc. I've also heard dristhe spoken of as a resting point for the eyes, rather than a spot to drill your death ray stare into. During practice, I sometimes find myself boring my eyes into a place of focus. Yet when I soften my eyes a touch, I see so much more. I breathe easier. It's a state of rest, safety, peace. So rather than try to harden around concentration, or stiffen my will to the sticking point, I'm working on settling in, like I would in Savasana: aware, receptive, but at ease. This stuff is work, experienced meditators are hardcore. I feel like I did when I tried Bakasana for the first time: "you want me to what now?"

And it terms of asana: Jump backs are happening more readily. I've just given over to committing to the moment. There has been some mechanical tweaking, but mostly it gets down to just turning off of the brain chatter and surrendering to the action (ties nicely to Work of the Week, right?).

I'm off.
How is teaching this Spring?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

From Anna: The Early Edition

I'm thrilled to have a recommendation for some guided meditation practices! I can't wait to look into them. And your assessment of early-rising really pins the tail(bone) on the donkey. Long before I had a yoga practice, I was struck by how intensely I would notice my surroundings when I was up before the sun. This is evident whether you are meditating, drinking coffee, or even heading to the airport. Is it because our bodies are rested and our minds fresh? Is it the darkness and the quiet that heightens our senses? Our culture is almost oppressively over-stimulating and as the day unfolds, we must become desensitized to all of the sounds, smells, sensations, right?... It's probably a combination of these things and others. What I do know is that in those wee hours, the act of observing is uncomplicated and effortless. Meditation is a natural extension of those conditions.

I did come back from my trip feeling inspired, refreshed, and generally zippy. With all of the teaching I've been doing, I had forgotten what a treat it is to assist. (Particularly when it is someone for whom you hold a deep respect). Looking at bodies without being responsible for the entire class is an excellent way to sharpen your eye. I also learned some fun new adjustments and it will be a good test of my verbal/written communication to have to describe them instead of just showing you. I tried to be my spongiest self and am still processing some of what soaked up, but I'll get back to this another time soon.

Reading over your post, I just realized that we use 'TT' to reference both 'terrible toddler' and 'teacher training'.... Sort of amusing to say the least...

How goes your work with Yoga Bear?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

From Liz: The Slow Burn of Energetic Indigestion.

Here's what's up: I guess I have a case of energetic indigestion. I bow forward (because this practice is half an act of supplication), knit my rhomboids together, and spread my lats like flightless wings. The work in the shoulders and back are chipping off the calcifications in my upper thoracic, and yeah, maybe it is a chakra opening, or finessing. I'm just not used to the rush of verve I get from this complete, unrelenting sequence of poses. You know when you have a great practice, and somehow, you're a cranky beotch for the rest of the day? That's happened a couple of times recently. Like I get so driven into myself and caught up in sorting through the energetic rubble, that I can't handle consciousness for the rest of the day. It's inconvenient when you still have to be a mom, wife and friend, and generally human and social.

In other news, I'm tinkering with my schedule. Getting up early to practice has been a revelation. Just knowing that I can do it is huge. I'm not so hopeless that I can't get on the mat and work at it for an hour or so. And I love the quiet dark time to myself, it's a gentle way to ease into the day. But I make bigger discoveries in my body when I practice later. It's simple enough: I'm more open, more aware, more precise (so less injury-prone) and ultimately a little braver. So I'm playing with doing a morning meditation, instead. And practicing during TT's nap. I think that the really transformative thing about the early-rising is not the yoga, but the simple act of being awake during that prana-rich time of day. Meditation is a great way to bathe in it. And the perfect way to start my day feeling (illusory as it may be) that I am in control, that I am making choices. I'm hoping that this will also soothe and normalize the burn from the ashtanga process. I've been using guided meditations from these people. Definitely recommend.

How was your yoga adventure? Any fresh thoughts from assisting?

Monday, March 15, 2010

From Anna: Coiling, Rounding, and Ahhh-ing

Finding the backbend within the forward bend is juicy stuff for sure. When I first heard about coiling the spine, I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it (or my spine, for that matter), but it has become increasingly applicable as my practice develops. You mentioned Paschimottanasana and it really is the perfect example. Rounding forward and down feels wonderful, no doubt about it. But if you really pull back on the pinky toe side of the foot either with your hands or a strap, activate your quadriceps, and reach the heart-center forward - shoulderblades driving into your chest - the work becomes deeper and, dare I say, more interesting. At least for me it does. In my teaching I usually have people try it both ways since they almost feel like two distinctly separate asana's. (What a shame they aren't called "asani"...)

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but love for the rounded back version of Paschimottanasana. It holds the patent for the the yummiest adjustment ever. (Disclaimer: I hesitate to even call it an adjustment since it's not something you would offer to many people in a class setting.) It's the one where someone sits on your sacrum, facing away from you, presses into their feet to push your chest forward, and then essentially sprawls out over your spine using their own body weight to melt you down? This is similar to a partner yoga favorite, where people sit back to back, butt to butt and one folds back while the other folds forward, but I find this variation to be much, much deeper... In fact, without relatively open hamstrings to begin with, I doubt it would even feel good. Your face ends up smushed between your shin bones in way that would appear decidedly unpleasant to me, had I not confirmed it's appeal!

Obviously, I would only use this if I knew the person and their practice well. But in terms of deepening a forward bend, it's pretty much the cat's meow! If we lived in the same city I would come over right this very second, put on a pot of coffee, and gingerly plop myself down on your back to show you!

I am absolutely intrigued as to the 'stuff' that is being dredged up by focusing on not collapsing in your forward bending? I remember hearing in a lecture on the subtle body, that deep forward bending can be very emotional as it opens the backs of each chakra instead of the front... but I've also heard that the chakras radiate in every direction with no specific front and back... so who knows. I am fascinated. Tell me more!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

From Liz: Inspire-ation.

Since you've fled the Pittsburgh gloom for sunshine in Dominica, I'll just talk to myself for a while.

So what's on my practice plate this week? Back-bends and deep inhales. I found inspiration in Ursula's notes about focusing on the inhale, and letting the exhale just flow from there. It made me realize that I am kind of a tepid inhaler. But oh... It does make for some delicious pranayama if you really take a long, slow, deep sip of breath. It makes the practice meditative. And oxygenating. This morning I feel like I had a giant bowl of chlorophyll to start my day, I'm all zingy and bright fresh and green. (This could also have something to do with the springing of Spring, and the general optimism in the NYC air.)

Beyond that: with all of this forward bending in the Primary Series, I've found myself craving some back-bending. Does this also come with the start of Spring? The desire to throw your heart open and spin around like a Wonder wheel? Probably.

But I think it's also a product of my recent shoulder-blade work. In using them guide and support me, I'm naturally broadening across the chest and firing the pistons in my upper back. And so, as like wants like, I want more opening. It's a little adrenaline junkie-ish for a mature practitioner (which I am not, but do aspire to be). But I remember that in one of my Iyengar classes, the teacher kept insisting that we "find the back-bend within the forward bend." It sounds like having your cake and eating it, doesn't it? I think it's the key to a more complete practice, though.

How does this translate? In literal terms, it means, lengthening the spine and keeping the chest open, with shoulders looped and supporting the full expansion of the chest. In emotional terms: it's work. The focus required to keep from collapsing into myself in Paschimottanasana, etc, is dredging up some "stuff." I'm in the thick of it now, so I'll let it work through me, then report back.

Friday, March 5, 2010

From Liz: Ode to Carbs, Sexism and My Inner Left Knee.

As a personal side-note/vow to self (but hold me accountable, please): I have to get the carb-fest under control. Because seriously, if you are what you eat, then I'm a piece of toast with a side of pasta.

In regards to the gender politics issue. Depending on your build/physiological inclination, you are either stronger or more flexible. And you reminded me that not all women are flexible. In fact, to generalize in that way is my own bit of sexism. Thinking that I'm struggling with jump-backs because I am female does me, and my sex, an injustice. Simply stated, I've seen it done. I've known plenty of women who can jump back and through comfortably, though most have had to work at it. It is an achievable feat, so I'll simply stop making excuses and keep up the work.

At the organizational level, I still don't know where the power lies. There are many female studio owners. But I have this creeping feeling that somewhere up the line, there is a man holding the money. Meh... Maybe that's just a bit of paranoia, or again, self-hatred cloaked in self-doubt.

In other news: I'm nursing some knee tenderness these days. MCL tenderness, to be precise. It could be (and I'm just guessing here) that years of running, followed by gaining and losing 45 lbs during and after my pregnancy, and then running some more, may just just have put a liiiiiiiittle pressure on my joints. Just a bit, mind you.

So yeah.... This may be the motivation I need to cut back on the cardio and focus on my yoga. Which brings me back to my opener: I guess I'm going to have to watch my mouth. Consider the humble vegetable, dear woman. And yeah, it is funny that in the same post where I'm complaining about sexism, I'm also talking about dieting. That sneaky complicity. Sigh...

Monday, March 1, 2010

From Anna: He said Hamstring, She said Shoulderblade

Let's start with the gender politics on the asana level since I agree about needing to organize my thoughts a bit before discussing the topic on a grander scale...

Stating the obvious, we can all agree that there tend to be more women than men in the classes we teach and take. That said, I find the gap to be dwindling at a rapid pace. Last weekend, for the first time ever, one of my classes had equal male and female representation. Granted, it was unusual, but I couldn't even have imagined it a few years ago. The perception of yoga is changing and men are poking their heads in to see what all the fuss is about. A generous number are brought by their wives and girlfriends, but I've had a handful lately who have flown in solo, offering reasons (as though I needed one!) that include a compliment to their marathon training, wanting to heal an old injury, and just being curious.

A few women have remarked to me recently that after bringing their husbands/partners to class and seeing the men pick it up with such ease, the women found themselves envious. (They all realize, of course, that envy has no place on our mats, but it's easier said than done and we've all been in that sticky place before...) Generalizing for just for a moment, most men are significantly stronger than they are flexible, whereas women are more stretchy but still building strength. I love your comment that 'a little anatomical savvy neutralizes the field' but it doesn't change the fact that many men come to day 1 of their practice with the strength that their female counterparts will spend years developing and vice versa for flexibility.

They are equally crucial ingredients, neither acts as a trump card on the mat, so why then (as you mentioned in your post) do some women feel as if they are playing a man's game? I know several men who see exactly the opposite. Despite their strength and stability, they feel completely boxed in and defined by their tight shoulders and hamstrings. In fact, as I write this I am realizing the irony in my sweepingly generalized categorization. While feminine, I am matter-of-factly built more like the opposite sex. Naturally muscular but with an unrelenting tightness in my joints and muscles. You have the quintessential female yogi body - pliable and lithe, with several years of a yoga practice to boot.

So perhaps it is our own bodies that inform our perception of gender politics in asana? Perhaps it isn't body mechanics at all, but a wistful envy/yearning for what we do not innately have...

Friday, February 26, 2010

From Liz: The Tips of My Shoulder Blades Pierced the Glass Ceiling.

Funky elbows are great learning tools. You have to really balance opposing forces in the joint to make it good yoga, right? It's the perfect place to play strength off of flexibility. Too locked in the joint, and you lose all muscular action, you're just relying on bone stacking to keep you upright. But too much muscular action and you pull the bones out of alignment.

Recent practice discoveries on my end... A couple, yes. I was practicing on my mother's floors recently, and in an effort to keep from waking TT from his nap, I had to work extra hard to control the jumps. I mean, "I reallyreallyreally don't want to wake this baby" hard. Nothing like fear to really engage those bandhas. So that was interesting.

And I've been trying to contact my shoulder blades. As in, I need to use my shoulder blades to guide me through vinyasas. Keeping the little suckers flat against my back, slightly drawn in, opens my chest, lifts my palate and engages my lats all at once. It also keeps the head of my arm bone engaged in its socket. If I keep awareness in this way, jumps are less effort, more about breath and bandha than brute strength (which I don't have much of anyway). Now I'm beginning to see that the mechanics of ashtanga are not just available to men. This may in fact be a gender-blind practice. The secretly self-hating female in me sometimes thinks that she's playing a man's game. But it turns out that a little anatomical savvy neutralizes the field.

Which brings me to this question: do you ever think about the gender politics of this field? Both at the organizational level (teachers, studio owners, etc), and at the asana level, I mean. I need to organize my deep thoughts on the subject. Let me get back to you....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From Anna: (un)Lock and Load

I know exactly the kind of moment you are describing and they are rare and delicious. Just reading about it makes me crave one of my own! You asked about personal practice discoveries and it just so happens that I'm on the brink of one. Here are some background facts:

Fact 1: I have notably hyper-extended elbows.

Fact 2: When I was studying with senior teachers more often, they were ON ME about my elbows. Through mindfulness, the use of props, and a strong desire to be a good little yoga student, I managed to correct it quite a bit.

Fact 3: As you know, the combination of moving to a new city and a heavy weekly teaching schedule led me into the classic rut that we were warned of from the start: The more you teach, the less you will practice. Or, if you will allow me to rephrase: The more you teach, the less often you will attend classes and the more your practice will start to shift. My home practice does not touch the regularity or diligence of yours (sigh), so as I continue to lovingly cultivate it, my asana practice is largely based in attending a smorgasbord of classes in my area. That's all fine and well, but very few (if any) of the teachers, hold me and my joints accountable. This has proven calamitous for my elbows, and lo and behold - they have gone back to their unruly ways.

Now, as a teacher, I am utterly embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn't until this weekend, when a friend/teacher came by to unlock my elbows in Adho Mukha Svanasana, that I even realized just how lazy I've become... (not in my entire life silly! Just with the hyper extended elbow situation...)

In the short time since then, I've done my best to send breath to those joints and straighten my arms without locking my elbows. This certainly isn't earth shattering stuff but revisiting this particular type of mindfulness has reinvigorated my practice. It's been especially interesting when jumping/floating my feet up to my hands. By adding the teensiest, tiniest of a bend to my elbows (read: unlocking the death grip), I have found a buoyancy I had previously witnessed only on youtube clips. This morning I got so much lift that I wasn't prepared for it, and almost fell forward into a somersault. Clearly I need to tap into some Uddiyana Bandha and infuse my flight with some control and precision.

This whole unlocking of the elbows discovery has been more than a point of interest on my mat. It's been a reminder that sometimes we can deepen our practice by making thing simpler instead of more complicated. This is knowledge I've had all along, needing to add a microbend was by no means a newsflash. But hearing it then and applying it now feel like two loosely related but completely separate experiences. Looking for inspiration all over town, and finding it by simply bending my elbows... Wow. It sort of reminds me of one of those contrived and totally predictable movies where the family discovers that what they've been looking for has been there all along.

But today, for me, it doesn't feel cheesy. It feels surprising, exciting, and deeply comforting.

How about your lovely self? Any personal discoveries lately? Has sticking with the morning practice allowed enlightenment to ensue...?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From Liz: Upside Down, Inside Out.

Couples yoga? No, the only way to get HH into a couple's yoga workshop would be drugged, bound and gagged. And it's hard to practice partner yoga when your partner is shackled.

I actually took an Anti-gravity yoga class. And yes, it is as FUN!!! (all caps and multiple exclamation points) as it looks. Not a traditional practice by any stretch of the imagination, but really opening, lengthening and somehow both restorative and invigorating at the same time. Kind of a cross between Pilates, trapeze arts, and yoga. Half of the class is upside down, so it's really playful and you feel really vibrant afterward.

And I had one of those surreal "omshantionelove" moments that I'm always chasing. The class was a 4 pm class, so by 5:30 the sun was starting to set. The studio is on the 17th floor, so you get a good view of Manhattan and the sky. We were winding down for savasana, gently swaying in those pale orange hammocks. Then the sunset hit that peak of total gorgeousness and the whole room filled with this crazy violet light. Total yogasm.

It was insanely beautiful. And any other day of the year, the sunset would be timed just a shade differently, wouldn't coincide with savasana in quite such an opportune way. It felt like a little nudge from the Universe. Like, "hey girl, this is for you."

I'm cutting this short since TT is up from his nap. But I've been wondering: any new personal practice discoveries on your end?

Monday, February 15, 2010

From Anna: Gains, Losses, and Partners

Yoga Bear sounds like a wonderful fit for you. I'm glad you found something to scratch your yogic itch without committing to classes you don't actually want to be teaching. I was just perusing my way around the site and saw your blog post about a restorative home practice. It made me want to cancel today's activities and bust out the bolster and eye pillow right now....

Therapeutic and Healing Yoga is very near and dear to my heart, as it was how my own practice began, and I love that you will be a part of an organization that offers it to the community. Once you are more established there, you and I can get talking on starting up a chapter in Western Pennsylvania!

In terms of the not wanting to market yourself, I completely understand, as that is my biggest struggle. This is clearly demonstrated by having had "print business cards" and "create website" on my to-list for almost 2 years now. Just as in our asana practice there is a 'what do you gain vs. what do you lose' scenario, the same principle applies to the business side of yoga. I've been lucky enough to find some lovely studios where you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that falls into the so-called "self-enclosed elite' category but in exchange, I'm hardly making the big bucks (or any other kind of bucks for that matter...)

On an entirely separate note, several studios in my area offered partner yoga workshops this past weekend in conjunction with the Valentine's Day holiday. I wasn't able to attend any of them but have done a few workshops in the past and would classify myself as a fan. I could never be someone whose entire practice is of the partner or acro variety, but I do enjoy it very much indeed.

Didn't you attend some sort of partner workshop this weekend?... Details please!

Monday, February 8, 2010

From Liz: Twitchy Yoga Witchy.

Do you knock on wood? We're Jewish, right? So superstition presents a powerful undertow in our lives. Sometimes rational though prevails, and I can resist it. But it often creeps in, that need to order the world and hold chaos at bay through minute and obsessive ritual. And I wasn't even born to this tribe. :) Apparently hockey players and other athletes are also a superstitious bunch. They forgo shaving for an entire season, or indulge in little twitches an ticks as they step up to the plate. There is magic in this ritualism, a charming nod to faith in faith itself.

I've been catching myself indulging in such tics on the mat. I tidy my hair, straighten my mat just so. The fussy analysis and worry-warting starts up pretty quickly too. How steady is that first chatturanga? And then, my dismount from Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana tells me how the rest of the hour will go. Or rather, I tell myself that it's a good indicator of my presence level. I get caught up in the drama of success or failure. It all amounts to a kind of avoidance, stepping out of flow to indulge in the mental and physical fidgets. I wonder what I'm avoiding. Probably the practice itself. It doesn't have to be that much more than that, does it? Sometimes the series is literally itself, not a symbol or an exercise in transference. My work for the next little while will be this: let go of virtuosity in favor of stillness.
Be here now, dummy.

To answer your question: I am not teaching much at all these days. I burned out, gave it away. Now I've "got it back," (thankyouverymuch asthanga) and my schedule just won't really allow for regular classes. Instead, I found a new outlet for my yoga life: Yoga Bear. I'm the new studio coordinator for NYC and environs. We (I guess I can say "we" now) provide yoga to people in recovery from cancer. It's volunteer work, which feels right for my current mood. I'm tired of teaching the same, self-enclosed elite. And I'm not feeling competitive, for another thing. I don't want to have to "market" myself. And I mostly don't want to make this thing that I love so much into someone else's revenue stream (working in someone's studio). So I guess I would be open to teaching privately, on my own very specific terms, but that is a lot to ask. These days, it's my way or the... well, you know. Intransigence has a limited audience.

In re: amplified orgasms (mentioned here) I'm not sure that HH has noticed. But I'm sure that he's glad for the extra attention. Heh.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

From Anna: Hump Day Musings

Mazel Tov! Diminished PMS symptoms, deeper sleep cycles, and... errr... intensified climaxes! I'd venture to call this excellent news. Admittedly, I know close to nothing about the light therapy device or the science behind it, but my educated guess is that over time the results will become more pronounced. I think it's wild that the changes are already discernible. Has Humble Husband noticed the differences as well?

You asked about my 5 class-Wednesday and let's just say that getting through the day is my yoga. Hump Day has never been so.... humpy. The classes are different levels, vastly different sizes, with varying space restrictions and prop offerings, so I can't quite teach the the same thing. That said, I definitely veer towards variations on a theme. Interestingly enough, teaching a 2nd or 3rd class in the same day is excellent for me. It allows me to really hit my stride and I always notice slight improvements on my teaching from the 1st class.

By the 4th one, I'm tired (and dispirited by having eaten another meal in my car!) but they are a really great group. Relatively new to yoga and dealing with a battery of old injuries and body 'wonkiness', but disciplined, cheerful, and thoroughly committed. That 4th class is the hump of hump day, if you will, so thank goodness it's a group of lovelies that inspire me.

Last one of the day is actually a wonderful group as well, but at that point it's 8pm, I've taught 4 times already, and it is in this class that I start to lose it. I think one thing and hear something entirely different come out of my mouth, I mix up left and right like it's going out of style, and I notice that my mind, mouth, and body are all just... tired. I am not a teacher who does a ton of asana along with the class, but there is the inevitable movement up and down, here and there, and of course- demo's. I take extra care to do less when teaching multiple times but inevitably, Thursday morning's are just plain achy. It would probably help if I could do my own practice that day but there really isn't time. Or rather, I have yet to make time. (note to self)

It is draining and sometimes it feels like too much, but I love how I feel when 10pm Wednesday night finally rolls around: a fruitful, industrious, and rewarding day behind me.

What's going on with you and teaching? Are you wishing for more, or enjoying the picking and choosing of when to sub and when to pass?

Monday, February 1, 2010

From Liz: Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Thank you, my love. I am doing better. Still sad, but doing better.

You asked recently about the light therapy. I've been at it for two weeks now. I'm using it once in the morning, after practice. I use it while sipping my coffee, kind of a double dose of pep to begin my day. And then I use it around lunch time. The most noticeable change is in my sleep patterns/quality. I am falling asleep more readily, and when I wake up, it's kind of with a "pop." I can't really get back to sleep afterward. Which is fine. And I'm remembering my dreams less, which must mean that I'm getting into deeper sleep, or completing my sleep cycles more often. Either way, better rested = better mood.

And then I remembered a story that a friend told me a few years ago. He found himself in sort of an unshakeable funk, and ended up going on anti-depressants. When I asked how he was doing, he said, "you know, I'm still the same miserable f*ck, but now I can't stop smiling."

The lift from light therapy is kind of like that. Not profoundly transformative, but I am more cheerful, almost in spite of myself. I should also note that this month's cycle of (what is usually vicious) PMS has been abbreviated and much softer than the usual hormonal rage. I've only wanted to maim,but not kill, Humble Husband. So that's progress, right?

Practice has been regular. That's really the best I can say, it is happening 5 to 6 days a week, with a minimum of fuss. No great sparks or revelations within the practice itself. But here's a funny new extra-curricular development (and we are venturing into TMI-land, so feel free to tune out. Mom, this means you): my orgasms have gotten insanely strong.

I feel like it has to have a lot to do with practicing moola bandha all of the time. And maybe a little added body-presence from all of the meditative asana practice. I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth though, don't want to over-analyze, or scare it away with too much chatter. So that's where I'll leave it.

On to you: I know that you are teaching a lot. And you teach five classes on Wednesdays now. How do you get through it? Do you teach mostly a variation on the same class all day? Or do you change it up a lot?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

From Anna: No Words

There really are no words in times like these. My heart goes out to you, your brother A, to D and his family, and everyone else affected by this tragedy. It's unspeakably horrific and incomprehensibly sad.

You are right that despite all efforts, your yoga practice cannot beam enough healing across the world to save D... But it can support and sustain you in dark, difficult times. Your post, written through a sheath of grief, reminds me of the words of B.K.S. Iyengar:

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."

or, at the very least - try.

Monday, January 25, 2010

From Liz: on the Limited Utility of Siddhis

I can stick both of my feet behind my head. I can stand on my hands. I can meditate for eons, and breath with deliberate focus and purpose. Thanks to yoga I am more sensitive, intuitive and even handed in my responses to the world. But it turns out that I still cannot beam healing energy across the world to save someone's life.

My brother, A, has just gotten out of the Marines. He served a tour in Iraq and came back physically unscathed. In fact, his whole unit did. I think that we all thought we had gotten away with something. Like maybe we sneaked one by the Universe. I held my breath (bad yogini!) the whole time he was gone, but in the end, I guess I still believed he was invincible.

He got married this year, and is expecting a baby with his wife. This prompted him to gracefully exit the Marines, as soon as his commitment was up. I may have different politics from him, but I have always been so proud of his strength and commitment to this thing that is so much greater than him. I understand and value his dedication. And I think he's a bit of a badass.

His former unit is now in Afghanistan. On Friday, a group of his best friends were hit by a suicide bomber. Two of them were killed instantly, another was terribly wounded. We thought he might pull through. But he will probably not. They managed to get him as far as Germany, but are soon going to pull him off of life support. They are just waiting for his parents to arrive from the U.S.

When I heard about this, I took it more personally than I could have anticipated. And I told A that I was going to dedicate my practice to his wounded friend. I stood in samasthiti and visualized him, and said, "this is for you, D, get better." I exhaled headfirst into magical thinking.

Afterward, I scanned the guy's facebook wall, watching message after message pop up from his friends (how fast news travels, these days). The refain was, "we love you, get better, see you soon." As a group, we were willing him alive and well, and back home. But I suppose that Facebook prayers and yoga magic aren't always enough.

I am sad. For A, for D, for all of his friends who are still there and carrying this imagery. And for D's parents, who have to take the longest plane ride of their lives to say goodbye to their child.

My practice sustains me physically and emotionally. I guess I need to work harder at the supernatural stuff though. "Do your practice, all is coming," right?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From Anna: It's All Yoga, Any Way You Slice It...

I'm so glad you mentioned finding inspiration in books! I just read something that was engaging and inspiring on every level and I must, must, must recommend to you and our readers: "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. The book discusses neuroplasticity, which is essentially the brain's ability to change and grow. For instance, we see someone relearn how to move and speak after a devastating stroke, people who are able to overcome severe emotional disorders, even a woman who has only half a brain but is able to rewire it to function as a whole. Although the information is presented through a scientific (but readable) lens, the overlap between these concepts and and yogic principles will blow your mind.
It's all about breaking samskaras, using abyhasa and svadyhaha as the building blocks to cultivate change. Tapas - particularly in it's definition as 'the willingness to endure intensity for thesakself transformation' - has never been as evident as it is here. Pratipaksha Bhavanam is peeking out from behind every corner, and it all comes with a healthy side order of santosha. Except that the brilliant Dr. Doidge doesn't use any of those words. This is yoga without our yoga vocabulary - stories about the intricate link between our brain and our bodies, and how awareness must be the first step to any type of re-education.

It isn't preachy in the way these books can sometimes be - it's just plain fascinating. I was curious if anyone else noticed the obvious overlap between this book and yoga and the magical world of google yielded numerous results, my favorite being this. It also seems that Yoga Journal knows what's up.

Now I need to cultivate the diligence to wade through the Sutras again. But before I do, those design blogs you mentioned sound like an awfully good time...

Also, I've been meaning to ask - did you ever receive your light therapy device and how has it been working been so far?

Friday, January 15, 2010

From Liz: If Practice Makes Perfect, Then What's the Harm in Props?

What did I learn from a rug burn on my butt? Well, that there must be easier ways to practice svadyaya. But I faced reality: I am simply not clearing the floor on my own. So, I'm investigating the meaning of "do your practice, all is coming." If I'm nowhere near accomplishing the jump-through on my own, then I'm not really "practicing" it at all, right? In order to at least get through the actions, I started using blocks again. I told my ego to shut it and admitted I needed help.

I'm not just using the blocks for the sake of checking the vinyasas off my to-do list. I'm working on jumping back and through, as SLOWLY, and in as controlled a fashion as possible. One of my favorite Iyengar influenced teachers once told me that the slower you move, the stronger you get. So that's my focus for now: almost motionless motion. Quiet, orderly, civilized movement. In service of kick-ass delts. Haha.

The prop talk leads me back around to your prenatal class. Of all classes to not have props in....! :( I've only taught a little prenatal myself. (It's not my thing really. But it's really some people's calling, in fact, I'd bet it's yours.)

But I have taught in some pretty grotty gyms. I'm looking at you, Bally's. It makes you develop a really thick skin, doesn't it? You become MacGyver Yogini. You get really creative with walls and chairs, and learn to ignore the creepy weirdos leering through the glass. (Nothing makes you butch up like having to chase away a couple of 'roid heads who are harrassing your students.) Or, in your case, you learn to ignore the unflattering lighting.

By the way. Where you get inspiration from? I've been really pushing myself to seek out and plumb new resources. Not just yoga stuff either. I've gotten back to reading a lot of fiction. And a lot of just really good writing (M.F.K Fisher for starters, the woman could write about a garbage pail and make it elegant and concise). Also, design blogs: clothing, interior design, etc. There is something about seeing people practicing their craft well that really drives me out of bed and onto the mat in the morning. And of course, the cyber-shala. Maybe I'll put together a list of my current faves for next post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

From Anna: Baby Bumps and Broken Butts

In response to your prenatal inquiry - yes, it's been rather fascinating as someone who has never been with child. I am constantly surprised by what feels wonderful and not-so-wonderful in their bodies. Adding to the equation are these factors:

1) None of these women ever tried yoga before their pregnancy. They are absolute beginners with everything ranging from hesitancy to full out skepticism.

2) Our room has zero props, minimal wall space, and is not a yoga studio but rather - a hospital conference room in which I am not even able to dim the painfully florescent lights.

3) Class is super short - only 55 minutes, several of which are spent going around the room talking about how they feel that week.

Teaching prenatal (or beginners for that matter) with the availability of props, walls, and more time, would be an entirely different situation. I know that when you were pregnant with Terrible Toddler, your practice was quite similar to pre-pregnancy, but these women didn't have a practice that came before. It's all brand new, complete with low back pain, upper rib cage compression, and a big belly that gets in the way. This class has forced me to put on my make-believe baby bump, as well as my thinking cap, and just get creative. It's also helped me remember that I must stay open-minded and not overplan.

As for the rug burn on your booty-bone, oh my! I'm sorry this happened but it's kind of hysterical. Maybe the knowledge of it being painful as it grazes the mat, will help you scoop up through your mid-section even more as you jump! This could be the momentum you need to clear the floor each time!

I am unfortunately all too familiar with tailbone injuries. I'm sure you remember when I took a fall on the concrete last year and cracked mine. That thing took ages to heal and still flares up on occasion. My injury brought an almost problematically intense awareness to the base of my spine. Ultimately, that awareness was rather illuminating in my understanding of the body. For instance, long after I was able to rock back into Navasana, I was still in pain in Vira 2 or other externally rotated standing poses, particularly when I really drew the buttocks flesh of my front leg underneath me. Go figure.

Has your rug-burned-booty injury led to any revealing anatomical investigations other than an avoidance of couch-asana?....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

From Liz: Early Mornings and Butt Burns.

It's been two weeks since I started this morning practice gig. Last night, Humble Husband asked how long this fugue is going to last, and I told him: forever. Every day the alarm goes off, and every day I think, "ugg, this again." But by the time I've gotten through the suryas, I'm recommitted.

It is reorganizing me. Thoroughly. I'm more positive throughout the day, more hopeful as I glide into the evening hours. The practice itself is different, more work-a-day, in a sense. I just chug along, not aspiring to too much. Maybe even holding back a little, as I let my body wake up. I'm not slamming into the forward bends. I guess just getting to the mat at this hour (6 am, not epic, but early enough) is a start, and the asana will work themselves out as long as I keep showing up.

Btw, the Dahn yoga trip was funny. It is a very umm, "energetic" practice. Is that how we refer to woo-woo practices with low impact/low alignment asana components? Sort of kundalini-esque, but with a heavy dose of love-bombing. When I called in to see about the class schedule, the teacher (who was very sweet, let me be clear) convinced me to come in for a consultation before-hand. She just wanted to know a little bit about me, chat about the practice, give me a taste of what was to come. She also kept trying to get me to buy a class card for the week that I was going to be home. I think she honestly thought it was going to work. When the class ended and she was all, "so, will we see you tomorrow?" I just said, "I loved it, but no thanks, gotta Christmas shop!"

She seemed disappointed. I thought she just needed the business, but now I find out that it must be that her overlords were going to be angry. Check out Yoga Dork on the subject.
Haha. Anyhoo. That koolaid just ain't for me.

Btw, I have my first real ashtanga-injury. And it's a funny one: A rug burn on my butt from jumping through and landing with a skid. You'd think this wouldn't be a big deal, but it makes a lot of the seated poses and navasana kind of sensitive/touchy. It doesn't help that I have a long tailbone, so I guess it's prone to, shall we say, "snags."

Oh, I've meant to ask: How's the pre-natal teaching going for you? Anything that you are learning that you think could help you along the line when you get pregnant?

Monday, January 4, 2010

From Anna: Morning Glory-fication

I think your resolution to practice in the morning is an excellent one. You are right on the money that a commitment to the wee hours is frequently a hallmark of the advanced yogi. I have no excuse to keep me from practicing in the morning and when I can drag myself to the mat in the AM hours, I always find it to be advantageous and particularly fruitful. I also find that my entire day is more effective and my eating habits more mindful, after a morning practice.

I hadn't intended to set any specific resolutions but you have inspired me to follow suit and commit to mornings as well. I know that it is important for resolutions to be realistic and that 7 days a week will never happen, so I'm thinking more along the lines of a weekday first-thing-in-the-morning home practice. I can always bump it up to include the weekends as well if my discipline surprises me!

Did your resolutions kick into gear on the 1st or today? I find it remarkably easier to establish new habits on a Monday... perhaps you are of the same mind.

As for Dahn Yoga, I sure have heard of it and don't quite know what to make of the whole thing. I was briefly acquainted with someone who came from Dahn Yoga but was participating in a TT and was ultimately given some sort of ultimatum that they either drop out of the TT or return to their country of origin. I never heard from or saw them again. Granted, I wasn't privy to all of the details but the whole thing happened suddenly and smelled fishy at best. Your article is fascinating but not the least bit shocking. How was the actual class experience of Dahn yoga and what inspired you to check it out in the first place?