New Prints, New House & Saturday Practice

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I’m back.

 

I mean, I’m baacckk… Think Steven Tyler screaming “I’m back in the saddle again.”

 

And if you’re too young to know who I mean, well, never mind then.

 

David Garrigues recently wrote about Saturday practice being more about reflecting on your practice week, taking the time to verbalize your thoughts.  That would be great except that I sometimes practice on Saturdays as a make-up, for those practices I didn’t quite manage to fit in during the week.

Whatever.  I’m just thrilled to have moved, to be done with moving.  The toll it has taken on my physical practice has been high.  My hips are tight in a way I don’t recall feeling… ever.  My low back too.  Backbending, always my strong point, has deteriorated, and don’t even talk to me about my struggles with Mari D or god help me (Ganesh?) pasasana, the noose I hang myself with several times a week.

But there is hope.  Today the thermometer hit the 70s.  More and more I feel the call to add seated meditation to my physical practice, as if I had the time.  But of course, there is only time, right?

What I know mostly is that I have a long way to go.  It’s all about abhyasa at this point, developing a steady, committed, daily practice.  You’d think after all these years I’d just give up and give in.  This is what I’m doing.  But no, I still fight and struggle and half-ass the practice.

As if that would help.  Sometimes ashtanga is like the bristly wooden metal tipped meat tenderizer my mother used to have.  Smash the meat until it becomes soft, malleable.

If you’ve read this far, I’ll throw this out there.  I need some fresh photographs to use for artwork.  If you practice ashtanga and feel like sending a picture, please do.  In return I’ll send you a print or a drawing.  Right now I’m moving towards working with trikonasana, parivrtta trikonasana, but any pose from 1st or 2nd series will do.  I’m starting to see that there’s a lot of energy in the poses we learn first.  Really anything that has interesting lines and shapes will do.  But ashtanga please, keep it simple.

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding a Teacher

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Peg Mulqueen in Laguvajrasana
Colored pencil on paper

 

Angela Jamison from Ann Arbor, Michigan wrote a post that you might read if you’ve ever wondered about how your perception of your body affects your practice.  Don’t just read it once though, it takes a few flyovers to figure out what she’s talking about.

Which begs the question, have I really figured out what she’s talking about?  Not many people can successfully write about the energetic transformations inherent in the practice of Ashtanga yoga, but she does so with precision and courage.

Sometimes I think she’s a little angry.  That’s cool, I don’t mind my teachers occasionally pulling an outraged Jesus in the Temple with the moneylenders kind of maneuver.  David Garrigues can be like that too.

It took a long time to find a teacher.  There were teachers along the way, of course.  But I kept reading about Mysore, India and the traditional style  of teaching Ashtanga.  A few experiences with it kindled a hunger in me that wouldn’t leave.  I suppose some people have affairs in middle age, but I found yoga instead.  New Year’s Eve weekend doing a 2nd series workshop with DG almost 2 years ago now was a key turning point.

Backing up, I learned Ashtanga from Sue Pentland in a led class format.  She learned from David Swenson first and later from Kino MacGregor.  I found a wonderful teacher in New Hampshire, Robert Moses, and I still think he has the best Marichyasana C assist ever.  That man can just twist you around- I had no idea I could twist that far.  Robert learned Ashtanga from Norman Allen and I think from Eddie Stern, and I would have stayed with him but he’s far away on these New Hamphsire backroads and his schedule is limited.  If you are ever in the Peterborough, NH area you should look him up.

Then we, my practice partner and I, for by now I had a yoga buddy, found Randy Aromando.  She found him first but she’s nice and she shared.  So we drove to Belmont for the first time last January.

For the first time I understand what other ashtanga bloggers before me have written about, or not written about, this topic.  It’s not that Randy ever says “Though shalt not write about thy practice,” but I now have a disinclination to write about the details of such a relationship, other than with very broad strokes.

I will say this though.  I practiced first for a long time with him before he gave me any second series poses.  This was a good thing, because although I had begun 2nd on my own, with some successes and failures, I had not “cooked” first series enough yet to really be able to absorb second.  So I waited, sometimes patiently and sometimes not so patiently, for what seemed like a long time.  I didn’t ask either, but people were practiing second around me and I knew that sooner or later, if I waited (and worked hard), it would come.

Then there came this place of not caring so much.  First series itself is amazing.   The exploration and learning available in the primary series is infinite as far as I can tell.  I see now that I’ve only scratched the surface.  There is this breathy place I’ve found in the standing series, in which the breath initiates the movement and each inhale lasts the full entry into the pose and everything just flows… If you had told me ten years ago that I would find immeasurable joy in practicing the same sequence of poses over and over again, I would not have believed.  It is a practice, a moving meditation, and you can spend decades refining your sun salutations.

One day you hear the words “Jump through, pasasana.”  And you’re pretty sure they’re meant for someone else except that your teacher is standing right next to you.  And that there is the problem with 2nd, you no sooner get through the mari D hurdle, and there it is, Ganesh’s noose just waiting for you to put your head through the loop.  Sigh.  It’s a good thing that my teacher is patient.

 

Summer

 

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Summer is lovely.  I have been awash in other things and writing for a time has been on the backburner, but I miss it.  I can definitely say that I miss it.

In a way it is good, this time of allowing my practice to be nonverbal, to practice before writing.  Sometimes it’s very difficult to choose what to weed and what to water.

When I can get out of my own way enough, the practice flows.  A sequence of postures, memorized and practiced uncounted times, a teacher who assists and corrects.  No Deborah, not correct.  Yes Deborah, that is correct.  I find gratitude at the end of such a practice, a quality that has been sorely lacking in my life.

It is hard to explain.  David Garrigues wrote an article about pain recently, and I can see why.  It’s controversial, his attitude, because obviously pain is real and it is not wise to mindlessly practice through pain that is damaging to the body.

But his point is real too.  Here we are in this cave of wonders, and all we see is the dark and the damp.  We complain to anyone who will listen about our pain.  I do it too.  But there is a time and a place to see pain without identifying with it, to move through the pain and into the cave of wonders.  There are diamonds sparkling there.

I wish I could have met Guruji.

 

Sensory Overload and a Harsh Taskmaster

Peg Mulqueen
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Model is Peg Mulqueen– you should check out her blog too!

My latest project is painting the interior of our house.  I should practice now but I’m drinking a warm cup of coffee and writing, so I’ll practice later.  I’ll be more flexible by mid-day and it will force me to take a break from painting the dining room, which is coming along but it’s a project that you just can’t really make go quickly.  Painting home interiors is about slow, steady progress.  I often approach it like I do a painting I’m working on.  I work for a few hours, then take a break, get something to eat or drink, and sit in the space and allow the next step reveal itself to me.  This house is currently my work of art.

If there’s one lesson that I seem to be absorbing lately it’s the lesson of don’t know.  When I acknowledge that I don’t know something, it opens up space for learning.  For example, in the mornings I struggle with anxiety.  Taking a shower helps, something about the hot water and steam soothes an overactive mind.   My mind rapidly spins out nets of thought while I endeavor to notice without identifying with them.  The next step is to turn my awareness to the spaces between the thoughts, and to inhabit those spaces a little bit, to notice the quality and timbre of no thought for the briefest of instants.  Then everything starts to settle, breathing slows, and I don’t feel so anxious anymore. 

This opens the door for a new thought:  that I am more or less constantly over-stimulated.  By mid-morning on a typical day I’ve gotten up early, written in my journal, practiced yoga and/or walked with my dog, gotten 3 children up and off to school which is quite a task let me tell you, returned home to clean up the detritus of the morning meal, and ingested breakfast along with a cup or two of strong coffee.  My mind whirls, a choppy blender full of tasks and projects.  It’s much easier on a day when I go to work for someone else, then the tasks are clear and the boss relatively easy to please.  But I am a harsh taskmaster and my to-do list for a day usually holds a week’s worth of tasks.  Impossible. 

So I’m overstimulated and for a break in the afternoon I sit down at this laptop computer and look at facebook and read my favorite blogs.  If I examine that habit there are these great nuggets of information that I find, it’s true, but after a while I’m just surfing from one wave to the next, not even reading complete articles but skimming the surface of a wide variety of things.  There’s no depth.  Finally I leave off this fruitless enterprise and lie on the floor and hug my legs to my chest. 

Ahhh.  There it is, what I really needed.  A brief pause, a reduction of sensory input. 

It’s easier to notice in others than in myself.   I’ve always been quick thinking and frustrated with people who can’t keep up.  Once in a while you meet someone who has the self-possession of a mountain and makes you question the value of a mind that leaps from one topic to the next in rapid fire succession. There is Catherine E, a fabulous artist with a strong, clear presence.  Talking to her made me feel  uncouth, as if I were sitting in the presence of the divine and all I could think about was my next manicure.  I have a friend like that, J, and while I rattle on and on about a million tiny things, she often says the one perfect thing that cuts through the static, revealing the knot in the wood. These women and others I admire exude a quietly profound wisdom that unravels pride in speed.  As if the hare has finally noticed that the tortoise embodies something of value, something heretofore barely noticed and poorly understood. 

This hare is working on heeding the lessons of the tortoise.  And while I’m at it, to come up with a realistic to-do list and remind myself that I’m doing a good job.  It’s amazing how much that helps.

Childish Reluctance

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I may be premature here, but I think that my long standing shoulder pain might finally be resolving.  It could be better alignment, or it could be that I’ve just been listening more, resting the shoulder as needed.  Today I felt an unfamiliar soreness in the muscles, part of the deltoid I believe as it wraps around the front of the shoulder and attaches to the clavicles, accompanied by a complete lack of pain in the shoulder joint itself.  

Or who knows, perhaps it is time itself.  I almost hate to jinx it, perhaps I am premature in thinking that the shoulder that has been an issue for a year or two is healed at last.  

While I’m on the subject of healing injuries, my backbends have not been what they once were.  It’s always been my thing, you know?  Do you have that thing that you’re good at?  I can’t bind in supta kurmasana but my backbends have always been decent, even, if I’m honest, a source of pride that may or may not be deserved.  Finally they are starting to come back.  I pulled something in my low back in the early winter and for months I’ve felt reluctance in the dropping back, avoidance where before I had only joy.  Kino helped me grab my ankles when she visited Boston in October, but it’s been a long time since I came close to touching my heels.

Even the other day I felt that curious reluctance, but I did it anyway.  My attitude is one of obedience, in a weird way.  It’s like this.  Okay, I’m supposed to do dropbacks now.  I don’t want to.  But there are 5 dropbacks here and they’re not going anywhere so I might as well get to work.  So I do them, reluctantly,  gracelessly, but I get the job done.  Remembering all the while how it feels on a really good day, the joy and the freedom of dropping back on the exhale, inhaling smoothly to come back up on the inhale without a lot of fuss.  Where oh where did that go?  But it came back, in part, the other day. 

I know, and I’m sorry, for those of you who are annoyed because dropbacks have always been hard.  But remember this, I can barely bind Mari D on a good day.  Pasasana feels about a million miles away, I carry too much extra weight and these things are hard hard hard.  But backbends, as I said, have always been my thing.  

The reluctance and the gracelessness sometimes come into my practice. I think this is somewhat new.  Perhaps it’s all part of the path.  Usually in sun salutations there is a sensation of a graceful lifting of the arms overhead, delicately arcing down to fold forward.  But one day recently I didn’t feel like practicing, so I lifted the hands up and allowed them to slap carelessly together, folded forward in a flop.  It’s childish, silly really.  I’m only arguing with myself, after all, in my living room.  Who is making you do this anyway?  Only yourself.  It’s a choice.  Even still, that day, by the time I was through 5 A and maybe 3 B, I’m not sure, I settled into a practice that while not inspired, was still a practice, moving with the breath, the childish reluctance moved through and set aside.  

Lifetime Practice


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Ashtanga Yoga Belmont

My friend Deb just told me about lila, a blog I hadn’t seen before.  This post is so good that I wish I’d written it myself.  Basically she says that she doesn’t practice yoga to impress anyone with how enlightened she is, she practices yoga because without it things would be so much worse.

I feel exactly the same way.  Yoga may not solve all my problems, far from it!  But without it I am crankier, meaner, shorter tempered, more inclined to sloth and wasteful thinking.  The practice of yoga keeps me on track, helps me focus, and evens out my moods.  The practice I’ve chosen is difficult, and I’ve long been in a maddening plateau in which it seems that things get worse before they, presumably, get better, but the goal isn’t (I remind myself regularly) to have the most impressive asana practice ever (although I wouldn’t complain).  The goal is to be a better, more polished, more relaxed version of myself.  A little bit kinder, slower to judge even if only by a hair’s breadth.

That said, practice is going well.  We have a new teacher in Belmont, MA, Randy Aromando of Ashtanga Yoga Belmont.  The instruction is very precise and detailed; I feel keenly, astutely, observed.  There is no hiding.  There was nothing wrong with our last teacher, Robert Moses in Dublin, NH.  But he only teaches once a week and he doesn’t teach 3rd series.  Not that I’m anywhere close to 3rd series, but I have aspirations to got there someday, before I turn 50 would be nice.  

I’m starting to figure out that I must hunch my right shoulder slightly in chauturanga dandasana, leading to a dysfunction in what Judith Hanson Lasater calls the “gleno-humeral rhythm.”  So I’m working on broadening the chest, widening the clavicles, and guiding the shoulder blades down the back as I lower to a high chauturanga and thence to upward dog.  This seems to be helping.  I’ve had pain in my right shoulder for so long it just seems normal, but I noticed it evaporated when I had the flu and didn’t practice for a week, which gave me pause to reconsider my practice from a new light.  

My backbends are way way off from what they were last Summer.  I’m whiny about this fact.  But, but!  I am finally getting a bind in Marichyasana D, on my own, even if it’s just my fingers barely touching.  This is where Randy’s detailed, methodical instruction was just the right thing at just the right time. 

It’s all good, the struggle, the surrender, the learning.  I’m happier in many ways than I have ever been.  Here’s to a lifetime of practice.  

In Sickness and in Health

 

Last week I was afflicted by flu, the effects of which linger on.  Practice is at a stand still, although I have high hopes of getting onto my mat today.  

It puts things into perspective.  When you’re ill you stop obsessing over whether you nailed this or that posture, and you just think how nice it would feel to flow into upward dog without coughing.

The video above illustrates worthwhile goals, to be strong and flexible throughout one’s life, and to attain a quiet grace and beauty at age 74, or any age, born of years of reflection and practice.  

“All sanity depends on this:  that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.”

– Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook