A Counterbalance

My home yoga practice has not been the sanctuary of peace I would like it to be recently. I find myself fuzzy headed and disorientated, craving stillness but unable to decide what to do in order to find it.

Yoga international has an article about home practice, complete with contributions by my favourite long distance teacher Jason Crandell. Two of the tips I have found interesting and integrated into my practice today, to great effect.

Firstly I started in stillness. It makes sense if I want to find stillness in my mind I start with stillness in my body, lying in savasana taking a few deep breaths. It is there I found what I wanted to do in my practice today, by learning how my body was feeling.

The other valuable thing I took from the article is the idea of your yoga practice counterbalancing everything else that’s going on in your life. This makes complete sense to me… if your day has been under stimulating and sedentary then you need an active practice to balance this out. If, on the other hand they have been mentally and physically exhausting (maybe after travelling), you need a quiet restorative practice.

My week has been physically inactive but mentally very active. My mind just won’t shut up. So I did a very Shiva Rea-esque practice, using the breath and arm movements in and around poses. For example: high lunge with arms parallel to the floor, inhale and straighten front leg and bring arms overhead, exhale arms back to side and front leg bent. I find this kind of movement soothing and it stops the mental chatter.

For too long I have been using the stick in my practice and I need to use the carrot, to use the analogy in the article. I have been using my home practice as the place to “work on things I should do”, ie things I say I am bad at. I am going to use this knowledge and use my home practice as a time to balance myself out. In the same way that some yogis use a forward bend to “counterbalance” a backbend (not that I necessarily do that specifically in my own practice…) so we can use our yoga practice to counterbalance our lives.

Ashtanga

I’ve been very busy the past few days so I’ve been struggling to keep up with my August Blogging Challenge but I’m trying my best!

My yoga practice has been generic vinyasa since I started 4 and a half years ago. I use the cues and needs of my body to tailor a skillfully appropriate sequence each time I come to the mat, bearing in mind that the needs of my body and mind change depending on circumstances. Basically it means I do whats I feels like. This has led me to have a highly personal practice which I depend on and has always given me a lot of joy and opportunity for excitement and growth. But I’ve always felt inferior to Ashtanga people. Especially since I started reading yoga blogs. I fear that many of the blogs I read would view my practice as weak, non-committal, not serious, shallow… etc.

I had no desire to practice the Primary Series but I had many desires to work on poses that are included in the primary series: the half lotus, kurmasana, the extensive surya namaskars, dropping back into urdhva dhanurasana and of course the oft-repeated jump throughs and jump backs. I played with these in my general practice but I was not committed enough to make any kind of dent. Then my yoga studio advertised an Introductory Ashtanga course and I was kind of interested so I committed to practicing 3 times a week.

By the first week my right leg felt strange- stiff and achy around the knee and hamstring. I found myself unable to even practice half lotus which was part of the reason I wanted to practice the Primary Series in the first place. In the second week I hurt my wrist jumping through so was unable to practice those, or the surya namaskars. In the third week my inner thighs and hip flexors tightened up so much my outer hip rotators got a bit strained. I was unable to practice anything with much external rotation. Today during practice hip flexors got very tight and sore and I was unable to practice half lotus, janu sirsasana, navasana and I just generally felt like my comfy yoga pants were a tight pair of just-washed jeans, restricting my every movement.

At first I thought it was just bad luck, and some of it is but the thing is, when I felt a bit off before I would change the practice to heal. I am beginning to realise why my practice has been very injury free since I started yoga: I do things that are appropriate for my body. Over the years I have gravitated to deep lunges, pigeon poses, anything which stretches the inner thighs, and backbends. These poses were most beneficial for my body, I practice them for a reason. And I’m beginning to think that the Primary Series, with all its forward bending and hip flexor contracting, is just not suitable for my body. So as much as I was looking forward to investigating the Primary Series unadulterated, I think I might just have to modify it and practice it in parts.

I’m just such a rebel, I don’t like anyone telling me what to do. Especially in yoga.

Where my Yoga’s at right now

Yoga is a BIG part of my life. Before I did yoga I was depressed, now I do yoga and I’m still depressed but at least I do yoga!

I sincerely hope that yoga remains in my life at some form or other for the rest of my life. I’m committed, it’s until death do us part. This post is about where my yoga is right now, as of early August 2011. I like to do these little reviews every now and again but I’ve never posted one online before.

My yoga for me right now is stimulating, grounding, strengthening, reviving, calming, energising. Recently I’ve been doing a more active asana practice. This came on gradually, as my strength and my energy and mood has improved. Every day I try to do a vinyasa practice, with sun salutations, lots of standing poses, jumping back into down dog and forward, arm balances, abdominal strengtheners and my ever-hopeful attempts to get into a headstand. I think this has been influenced by the more demanding classes I’ve been attending but also because I want to get stronger, and I want to be able to do more. The thing that’s driving me is curiosity, I am dying to know what it feels like to be in a headstand. Is it calming? Is it energising? Is it vomit-inducing? I want to know!

To help strengthen my body in order to keep up in these classes I’ve been trying to incorporate abdominal exercises and lots of chaturanga holds and press ups. Planks are good, as are leg lifts and the side leg lifts I’ve forgotten the name of. When I say good I assume they are good for my long term strength but I did have difficulty getting out of bed this morning…

As well as all this asana I’ve been starting my day off with 5 minutes of pranayama and trying to get 10-20 minutes of meditation. I’ve found these are both easier after an asana practice but this isn’t always possible. And easier isn’t always better. I would like to add to this little non-asana routine a bit of studying. I studied philosophy at university and have always been interested in the yoga philosophy. I think it’s high-time I cracked open the books and had a look at what it’s all about.

Ultimately I’m working towards headstand, more demanding arm balances and handstand. I would like to incorporate more backbending into my practice. I love backbending and it comes easier to me than the arm strength stuff but I’m a sucker for punishment and I will only allow myself a strict quota of ‘easy’ poses per session. Why do I do this to myself? So I will do more backbends. The ones I want to work towards are kapotasana and viparita dandasana. I wonder what they feel like.

So this is what my yoga is looking like as the summer comes to a close. It’ll be interesting to see how it changes as my energy changes and I get ready for the winter.

Chaturanga!

I’m not entirely happy or entirely sure what I’m doing yet with this blog but often the best thing to do, I’ve found, is to just dive straight in and have a go. So I’ll keep on going, hoping I’ll learn on the job.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about change and about stability (or stagnation depending on your point of view) My life for the past 3 years hasn’t changed much in terms of routine or circumstances. I moved home after university to live with my parents, my boyfriend stayed over and never went home. A few things have changed, I had a short lived job, I started and stopped counselling, I started going to yoga classes, I started running… but essentially I am at the same state: an unemployed depressed woman living in her parents attic. This has been necessary. It has provided me with the security to recover from this debilitating problem. Still, sometimes I think: “3 years… a long time, and what have I done?” and I think there’s people I know who have had 2 children in the time I’ve taken to recover from depression. It scares me.

But then I remind myself that it’s essential and inevitable in life to go through periods of extreme change and therefore periods where… nothing much happens. If you’re lucky things just tick along, if not well, you can do something about that.

This roundabout route takes me to the title of my post, the fantastic yoga asana of chaturanga dandasana. Like a lot of people it hasn’t been an easy relationship. The first time I encountered it I wondered why it was necessary to have this strange press up thing in the middle of everything. It wasn’t possible for me, it was uncomfortable and bewildering. But I stuck with it, armed with my new knowledge that if I practiced this strange move I would get better at it! What a revelation! So after a few belly-flopping months I had built enough strength to sort of follow along (at this time I was only doing dvds) I summoned up enough courage to go to a class, sure that my lack of ability in chaturanga would be weeded out at once. It wasn’t, my strength was definitely above average and I was shocked at all the sticking out elbows and bottoms everywhere. My first yoga class was a revelation I can tell you, I thought everyone did yoga like Rodney Yee or Shiva Rea.

My ability with chaturanga has steadily improved since then, 2 years ago when I first stepped in a class. I can hold it, I can repeat it over and over again, I can sort of jump back into it. However I still wasn’t happy with getting out of it. Somehow my knowledge of this was missing. I lowered into it fine (elbows in) then I clumsily jumped onto the tops of my feet into upward facing dog before going back into down dog, turning the left foot and then the right foot over the toes.  How do those people glide so gracefully through this vinyasa? It was a mystery. So to try to solve this I did what I do best: I turned to the internet. To this post and I tried it. 3 weeks later it almost comes naturally. Mystery solved! But I still was walking back into down dog from up dog. Tuesday I was doing just that when I thought, why don’t I just try to roll over my toes? So I went back into up dog and prepared to roll back and it just happened! Strange to think of 2 years worrying about not doing it right, of breaking my toes when all along it was there.

My yoga practice recently is changing in leaps and bounds. And the thing is, I’m not even trying to make it change! It is just happening, these little changes, shifts of viewpoints and realisations. So sometimes things change if you just carry on, without grasping at a result. You do what you want to do, you will get to where you want to go.

That’s a relief!