Thursday, December 06, 2007

How to have a good practice

if you're me:

  • the night before, right before bed, stretch the tight spots. You know what they are.
  • wake up early enough to take a shower, not a bath. At least this time of year when the temptation to stay in the bath too long is too great.
  • during shower, do the following stretches: standing forward bend, gomukhasana arms, squat and twist. If possible, do kneeling version of Parivritta Parsvakonasana and bind. Take as long as needed for this to warm up the spine. Sit on shower floor (if your shower floor is nice and clean!) and take a "camel ride" (seated cat-cows with hands on shins) and then draw circles in the air with your navel (you need a decent sized shower for this, but I do, and this is about me).
  • drink a cup of chai made with almond milk and two Yogi Tea Black Chai teabags, steeped for at least five minutes.
  • drive to shala with heat at full blast.
  • at shala, just get started without any prep nonsense - you did the prep at home.

I had such a nice practice today. LOTS of pre-practice preparations makes for such a better practice for me. I'm lucky I have the time for it. I wonder what my practice would be like if I didn't. Probably, I would have quit by now because I would always feel tight and horrible, at least in the wintertime. Oni helped me bigtime today in Kurmasana - slowly working my belly to the floor and putting me into Supta K. I always wince as the ankles come together. Once I get over that, progress will have been made. Until then, I have some fears to work out. This is why I am in need of assistance on Supta K. Without assistance, I get into the posture myself with the least amount of depth possible, just lighly crossing the feet or ankles. THIS is what I came to Mysore practice for in the first place- getting deeper and confronting the fears about it.

Also managed to hold a good solid Pasasana on both sides without anyone holding me up. Damn, but it's tough to balance in that one. And in Bhekasana, after the assist, I managed to stay there with chest upright for another couple of breaths.

Backbendng was okay. Nothing to write home about. I used a strap today to try to figure out what it is my arms are supposed to be doing and feeling. There is such a disconnect for me there. My wrists feel horrible most of the time and I really can't feel myself recruiting my nice strong shoulders to press up. Instead, I'm using my puny weak wrists and forearms. When I use the strap, I am able to actively recruit the shoulders and triceps. I just still haven't figured out why, nor have I figured out how to reproduce that work without the strap's silent but incredibly effective coaching.

OK, so here's another place where I am not buying into the system wholeheartedly: I think props are useful for such "coaching" and for passive stretching, as well as for binding in poses that usually require assistance when there is no assistance to be had. I wouldn't make a habit of using a prop, and I would always hope to stay mindful of when a prop has outlived its utility. But I do not see how I could have possibly come this far without my judicial use of props (and prep).

But here's a place where I am rigidly system-biased: My husband asked me today if I had heard of a particular Ashtanga teacher who teaches on Long Island. I said no, but noted that she still might be totally legit even if her name is not on the short list of authorized teachers. Then the husband said that she comes into the city on a regular basis to practice with Dharma Mittra. that's when I said, "Oh. She must not really be an Ashtangi."

Hrmph. A little Ashtanga-snot-ass, I am.

Can one be an Ashtangi but practice on a regular basis with Dharma Mittra?



Carl said...

I can't picture how the straps might free the shoulders to do more work. The angle your arms make with the floor in your backbending photos suggests to me that your shoulders are sort of locked backward by the force of pushing upward. When I straighten my legs so that my arms become more vertical, that restraining force lessens and my shoulders become more free to allow the "spiraling" of the arms. And my arms feel more springy too -- like I can bounce on them if I want.

Is it possible to set your camera's timer while wearing the strap and then push up into backbend before it snaps the shot? We want to see!

If you can bring yourself to use the blocks, why not try setting them against a wall and use them under the hands and then under the feet. That's common practice at AYS. With the blocks under the hands you can drive your quadriceps until you have your face pressed against the wall. At that point, you know your arms are pretty well vertical and the spine is well bent. And then with the feet on the blocks, you can thrust with the arms to press the knees to the wall. I really don't think much of this latter one though.

Yoga Chickie said...

My shoulders ARE very much locked by the force of pushing upward. WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH THAT? What can I do about that?

I don't know why the strap helps me feel less locked. I assumed that I was using the strap to recruit my upper arms and shoulder muscles. But perhaps somehow it is unlocking my shoulders. But how? I need to understand this.

Or maybe, as Oni says, I just need to press up into UD and shut up about it.

I'll try to YouTube more pathetic backbend attempts, with strap, so you can ridicule me.

Yoga Chickie said...

Oh, and I have done both of those blocks moves - I don't see how they help. I want to feel my hands and feet on the floor at the same time. Otherwise, it's like a different pose. To bring my chest closer to the wall, I need to open up my armpits, not fake it by getting a deeper backbend that I could never acheive without the blocks under my hands. Know what I'm saying?

Carl said...

My shoulders ARE very much locked by the force of pushing upward. What can I do about that?

When you taught yoga classes, you would have chastised students who'd lifted themselves in upward dog with that kind of strain in the wrists, would you not? Get forward over your hands! The shoulders lighten up once you're over the hands.

And with blocks under the hands, the body is lifted upward to help relieve the arch in the spine. There isn't so much force coming into the upper body from the legs. If you can't go all the way, which is the case for you and me both, then you have to satisfy yourself for bending backward only part of the way.

The props are good for working at intermediate steps which is WHERE YOU ARE. You can't nail it all in one shot.

slw2169 said...

I've been reading your blog for weeks, finally decided to comment. First of all, LOVE your blog. I'm totally addicted to it! Second thing, I think that teacher on Long Island has been to Mysore several times and is actually authorized to teach primary, if it's who I'm thinking of. Yeah, she also studies with Dharma Mittra but to each his own, I say. I've been known to sneak in a class or two a month at Jivamukti, the purists can stone me if they want to. And regarding backbends, no advice but I feel your frustration for sure! I have a really hard time in UD as well.

Annie said...

Great post. I always have a better yoga practice if I eat something small just before.

Anonymous said...

"buying into the system"

It's not a cult sweetie. It's okay to take a different path, they all lead to the same absolute place.

Anonymous said...

you can see my morning ritual on MY BLOG

Anonymous said...

and you: where the hell are you? come on! where are you?

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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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