Sunday, August 21, 2005

Please don't tell Dr. Ascherman...

...or my mom...or my friends...or anyone who might yell at me....but today was my first "full" Ashtanga practice.

This morning, after posting a bit of Buddhist wisdom on here, I longed for the physical practice. So, I took a warm bath and then laid out my mat right on the carpet in front of the sofa where my little Addy was watching Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends.

My intention was to do nothing more than hold each of the nine vinyasasp of Surya Namaskar A for five full breaths (except Chatturanga). To my surprise, I felt no strain at all in any of them, including chatturanga. I was feeling so good physically, and so happy, that I decided that I could actually handle going to the shala to practice.

Now, the thing is, even though I am gravitating toward AYNY and had originally planned to go there at 7:30 a.m. this very morning for the first wave of the Mysore practice, by the time I realized that I really could DO this, it was already past 9:00 a.m....and I felt uncomfortable showing up smack in the middle of prime time at AYNY on a Sunday, when I had never been there on a Sunday before, when I had never practiced with Eddie as my teacher before, when I was going to have to come in and give my whole song and dance routine about where my practice was at now, where it had been at before, why I was going to have to be modifying poses, the fact that I had had abdominal and breast surgery less than two weeks all felt overwhelming to ME. I couldn't imagine how overwhelming it would be to a teacher who had never taught me who was busy with a shala full of students whose practices he knew, who had been practicing regularly with him all along. It seemed to me that I would have had a lot of nerve to ask for that kind of attention and focus from any teacher, particularly one who didn't know my practice at all....Thus, instead, I went to where I have been on many other Sundays, where the teacher knows me and my practice, as do his assistants: AYS.

I lingered outside a bit in the kitchen area when I arrived, and when Guy noticed me, he came out to speak to me. He expressed his surprise that I was there, saying that it had seemed like such a short time since I left to have surgery. I told him that it actually WAS only a short time, much shorter than I had anticipated, but that I was feeling much better than I thought I would be feeling and that I really longed to be in the shala, feeling the energy, being around other ashtangis. I also told him that I anticipated a very modified practice, although I wasn't sure what that meant exactly (perhaps a couple of slow Surya A's, maybe a B and then cut to Savasana). Guy asked me some questions about what my doctor had told me, and we disussed my three-year history of coming right back to yoga, and exercise in general, after each of my major surgeries (double mastectomy, laparoscopic oophorectomy, breast implant exchange (after blowing up an implant in a yoga posture that shall remain nameless...cough..viparita a Bikram class...cough, cough....). Ultimately, he said that he was fine with my practicing there but that he hoped I would understand if he gave me no adjustments. I told him, of course...I was just grateful to be there at all. So, I paid my drop-in fee and found myself a nice spot on which to lay my mat.

Standing at the front of my mat in Samasthiti, I chanted the invocation and began my practice. My first Surya Namaskar A was delicious. Each movement deeply connected to one inhale or one exhale. It felt amazing. Peaceful, graceful, even. The first time I jumped back, I felt incredibly light, like I was being carried through the air by some benevolent force. My first Updog was really just a small cobra, but then I found that as I warmed up, I was able to straighten my arms and draw my shoulders away from my ears for Upward Facing Dog. Downdog felt great...yay!. My feet and hands felt incredibly rooted, and yet my body felt light. I didn't jump forward more than once or twice, and though I felt light, my mind weighed heavily with worry about whether this was something I really should be doing. Bottom line, it didn't. So I stopped doing so. I ended up doing four Surya A's and two Surya B's. After two B's, I decided it would be best to stop vinyasa-ing for a while and just practice the standing poses.

I always enjoyed the standing poses before, but sometimes I guess I have viewed them more as a means to an end, rather than something to enjoy for what they are. In the nearly two weeks since I last practiced Ashtanga, I have grown to feel differently about them. I have looked at my calves and noticed the way the muscles have grown sinewy and defined in a way that they never were before, even when I spent three years running 50 miles per week and training for marathons on the hills of Central Park. I have felt my hips and pelvis feel tight and crampy from not practicing Warrior I and II and even Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana. My two Surya Namaskar B's today gave me a taste of Warrior I, but I was really looking forward to holding them for the full five breaths.

But even before I got to Warrior I in the Standing Sequence, I was surprised by how open and relaxed I felt in Parsvotanasa, and even more remarkably, in Prasarita Paddotanasana C. Even Parivritta Trikonasana was nice. I initially intended only to turn toward my front leg and hold onto my shin with both hands. But then there I was placing my palm on the floor. Parivritta Parsva Konasana, not so much. But the best thing was that I felt fine about it. I also was prepared for a difficult time in Ardha Baddha Padmotannasana (Bound Half Lotus in Standing Forward Bend), because I have always had a difficult time with it, and why should today be any different?

Well, it was. I was surprised to note how incredibly soft and relaxed my hips felt as I easily found half lotus and reached around and bound. It was like my stiff joints and muscles had been swapped out when I had my surgery and replaced with sweet, soft, buttery joints and muscles. How could this be?

After the entire standing series, I still felt great and hungered for more, but I was careful and limited my vinyasas - only doing a few more, and only between poses, not between sides. I got through Janu Sirsasana C (in which I also just kind of melted into the pose) and had a quick internal debate - whether to continue or not....

But to be honest, I already knew that Marichyasana A would be fine because I had practiced it in the bathtub that morning, easily binding close to the wrist. And since I had so much "sukha" in the Ardha Baddha poses, I really felt fine trying Marichyasana B. And it was like A. Sweet.

For C and D, though, I barely attempted to twist. I could tell that it was quickly getting to be the time when my practice was becoming not so much a practice anymore, but more like a contest, or something I was playing at. And besides, twisting is going to be the toughest part of my recovery since my midline has been stitched together vertically.

On the other hand, I have to say that the vertical zipping up of my abdominal muscles may just ultimately be the gateway to my being able to twist much more deeply, as soon as I do heal. I notice that certain poses are just plain easier without the drawing-outward of my ruined abdominal muscles. Not only has it visually had the effect of nipping in my waist, but I think it is really pulling things inward in a way that will help to assist my spine in twisting. We shall see....

I went on to test my oost-surgical baseline of core strength a bit in Bhujapidasana and then just collapsed into Kurmasana. Time to wrap it up, obviously. Since I have been working on Bridge pose (backbend without the shoulders coming off the floor) at home, I was ready for it. After five breaths, I moved the top of my head to the floor, bent my elbows, placed my palms beside my ears and just stayed there, taking slow easy breaths. Then I picked up my mat and went to finish in the back of the room.

Finishing consisted of a vinyasa into Shoulderstand, which I held for about three breaths, Halasana, which I held for MAYBE one full breath and then rolling up to sit in Padmasana: lotus pose.

Padmasana was so sweet that I couldn't even bring myself to come out of it after I finished my eight breaths folded forward an my eight breaths with Jnana Mudra (for the non-Ashtangis out there, picture the OK sign with the pads of the index finger and thumb touching, the other three fingers together and straight, and the palms resting on the knees facing out). My feet were flexed and my thighs were parallel, and I just stayed there, lids low, breathing, focusing on my breath. I have no idea what was going on in the room for most of it. Then the guy catty-corner to me started practicing Marichyasana C (very nicely, I might add), which caught my focus was broken...or I let my focus break, really. Which brought me to Uttpluthi...and that simply was NOT going to happen. I wouldn't even dare to try. WAY too much abdominal work there...ask me again in a few more the was Savasana time.

If you haven't fallen asleep reading this, then first of all, namaste, and second of all, I want to stress that the amazing thing about all of this is just how "okay" I felt. I didn't feel upset or guilty or sheepish about having to modify some poses. I didn't feel embarassed about skipping vinyasas. I felt like I had license to do what my body needed to do.

I wonder if a purist would even call what I did an Ashtanga practice. I do know that it was yoga. And I know that I am feeling truly lucky.



Anonymous said...

congrats, lauren, btw, there was no ledclass at ayny, i guess since its august and a lot of people might be away, mr. stern decided it was going to be mysore-style.
just, again, be carefull.
love, ivdp

yoga chickie said...

hi ivdp...i promise, i will be careful....see you soon! lauren

CCC said...

Sometimes you strike me as being one of the most aggressive and obsessed ashtangis I know ... but (in all caps) BUT ... (maybe with two T's) ... BUTT ... you are making an excellent point. While you have your doctor's instructions, advice and concerns from teachers, and occasional comments on your blog, you know what your body needs. At times it might not be a simple matter of drive and desire to return to your practice, but an intuitive 'go-ahead'. And whether harm comes from doing yoga at this point in your recovery or not, there is something there for you. Regardless of what the peanut gallery has to say! (I'm Grand Poobah Peanut!) So congratulations on your gradual return to yoga and your healing body. And, as always, thank you for sharing! :o)

Anonymous said...


I wish I could say I was suprised that you went back to practicing so quickly, but I'm not. Just be careful, don't overdo it. Have a good vacation.


Anonymous said...

If you didn't want your mom to know, why did you tell me?

rew said...

please don't feel like you'd be asking too much of eddie to tell him what state your body is currently in and to ask to practice. this is where you are right now--no need to apologize or make excuses or feel sheepish. embrace your body in all its stages and give your body what it needs (which it sounds like you did today -- mazel tov).

Anonymous said...

you should give yourself time to could really,really hurt yourself.

yoga chickie said...

i know...i know...i take what you guys say seriously. i want to be careful...and then my body calls me to move...Carla (CCC) might have a point....xo, Lauren

Anonymous said...

one of the reasons i really enjoy yoga-- is that it's a body positive excersise that teaches you to appreciate what you have, big or small. Yoga chickie-- why did you give into societal pressures that force women to think they have to have the bodies of 20 yearold fashion models?most women are are naturally curvy anyway and dont have flat stomachs. I'm not criticizing, it's just that You seem like such a positive person, why would you subject yourself to such a painful surgery that u really didnt need? Personally It just seems so contrary to what i thought yoga is supposed to be about. I just don't get it. It would be upsetting to me to have a yoga teacher that would go under the knife to change something that i thought can be changed with a steady yoga practice, or am i just fooling myself? (Is this a common yoga teacher practice?Also aren't you worried about the post op problems one can have from having such a procedure?) If i was your student i personally would feel kind of duped... I guess thats just me though. But to each is own i guess.. because you write in such a clear concise fashion I would love to hear your opinion on this-- i think it could be very enlightening for a lot of people.

yoga chickie said...

Hi there...all really good questions, and I am going to address them in a post about Yoga and Body Image...which I will put a place marker on for later...Lauren

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About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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