yoga: state of the practice, 2011

Sometime in August 2009, I started practicing Ashtanga yoga.  I was 38 and stiff as a board.  That’s two years this month that I’ve been doing full primary at home and I thought it might be time for a check in. (For those tuning in now, here is my check in from one year ago.)

Let’s go down the list, shall we?

Fancy asana: Definitely some changes, but maybe not as many as I fantasized about.  I blogged about my first full lotus since I was a kid.  I can make the bind now on Mari B, although my knee is off the ground.  My heels are pressing into the top of my head in Supta Kurmasana, miles from getting them behind my head, but when I started I was looking at my feet from about 12 inches away.  So that’s some progress.  I can just do bhujapidasana, although I can’t do the lean down part, just the hover part.  Bottom line: fancy poses have progressed, but I may never join the circus.  Mostly I’m okay with that.

Jump back: When I started, the possibility of lifting off was a joke.  Like, oh, go pick up that 100 year old oak tree.  I still can’t do a regular jump back, but I can reliably lift and swing through…and crash land onto my knees.  But this is progress!  First lift off here.  As for jump through, I covet a straight leg version, I have to admit.  Right now I land cross legged, no bottom flump, decently graceful, not terrible, at least it keeps the swing of things moving pretty well.

Here is a combo lotus and lift-off, the dreaded Utpluthi:

Okay, I’m only a couple of inches up, but holy shit, if I lifted that oak tree a couple inches, you’d be impressed right?  This is the same thing, believe me.  I can actually hold this for about fifty of those super fast breaths (I’m working up to 108).  Here that?  It’s the Rocky theme music.

Injury: Yeah, this was a rough year for my right hamstring attachment.  Ow, my aching butt.  I blogged about realizing I was hurt here, and the healing progression here, here and here.  It STILL twinges sometimes.  But I’d say I’m 90% whole and if I’m careful, I can stay out of the achy zone.  I’m 40, I can’t be fooling around with injury—because I recover maybe…never.  My number one goal now in yoga is NO INJURY, so any time I feel pain, the slightest ouch, I back off.  My David Williams Inspired method is to practice at about 50-60% ability, make it like tai chi, perform every asana as pleasurably as possible.  Because my number two goal is Practicing for the Next Forty Years or so.  I want to be vital and able to get around when I’m 80, you know? We’ll see how that pans out.

Backbend: I’m still chiseling away at my Spine of Cement.  Here is a backbend from this morning.

My arms are still way out of place, but at least they are straightening up.  For comparison, here is my “backbend” one year ago.

Arms at right angles at the elbows.  Maybe one more year and my arms will be straight AND my hands will be under my shoulders.  That would rock.

And for further comparison, here is my photographer, showing off her drop back:

She bends backwards in slow motion and gracefully places her hands silently on the ground.  Then stands back up the same way.  I have seen her touch her ankles, which freaks me out.  To have the spine of a seven year old once again!

But enough of asana.

Meditative stuff:  I talked here about how my practice has gotten really inward.  Something I’ve come to depend on for this is dristi, not necessarily the proscribed locations but just the act of keeping my gaze super still.  If I let my gaze wander, I drift off into fascinating stories about every freaking thing.  Keeping my eyes steady is my number one go-to for keeping my brain quiet.  Number two is that mula bandha.  Interestingly, if I try to meditate with some kind of inner focus (Ohm, counting, breath, whatever) I get headaches.  It’s like there is too much focus/prana/whathaveyou up in my head.  But focusing on the mula bandha with some uddiyana bandha thrown in for good measure…no headaches.  I haven’t had another instance of the Big Quiet yet, but I’m hopeful.  My mind is definitely more stable that it used to be.  (My husband might disagree with that.)

An aside: I just read an article about how the plastic brain actually changes structure in response to meditation.  Seasoned meditators have bigger and more connected sections of brain in certain areas than your average Joe.  So it’s hard at first because your brain just isn’t set up for stillness, and it gets easier with practice because you’ve actually built physical structures to support stillness…just like asana gets easier because you’ve built up the muscle/flexibility to do it.  Isn’t that cool?

Anyway, Practice frequency:  Basically, it’s sucked this summer, what with Luc’s surgery.  I’m been kicking around 3 practices a week, pitiful, I know.  So there has been some treading water over the last month.  But I’m getting back in.  Five Primaries a week is the goal.  I used to do the whole full moon/new moon off thing, but it’s so hard to do yoga on the weekends when Paul is here and the schedule is disrupted.  So now I practice on moon days but take weekends off.  I’m getting back on that train, even if a “practice” is just surys.  I need to strengthen the daily habit after this summer of chaos.

Practicing at 60% abilility, pleasurable tai chi, NO PUSHING, focus on bandhas and dristi….you know, I really, really love how high my hour on the mat makes me when I practice like this.  Remembering that helps me show up.

So…That’s Year Two in ashtanga practice.

Am I signing up for another year?  Absolutely.

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