Friday, February 29, 2008

Crazy african dancer

One of my students sent me a link to this video. I liked the crazy Russian better. He combined strength and flexibility in a perfect balance, while the crazy dancer is just crazily flexible.

Incredible African Dancer - The best bloopers are here

Psoas woes, continued

More whining.
I forgot to mention the other pose that hurts - baddhakonasana. This was a pose that was always very easy and enjoyable for me. I could easily reach my feet with my chest, chin on the floor. Not so much lately, though. I think that psoas is involved in this pose, because the pose became really hard for me all of a sudden. My knees are still very close to the floor, but torso is hovering above the feet, half a foot or so. And it is painful. If I get up and start walking after doing this pose - I can barely walk for a minute or two (that is how I made a connection with psoas). So in this case I am again not sure if it is an aggravating pose or is it releasing the spasm. Oh, well. I feel old. Compared to practically everyone else blogging here, I am a newbie in ashtanga. So my question to all of you, ashtangi masters, is: is it a common phenomenon - to go through many-many aches and pains when starting Ashtanga, or is it just me? During my seven months of practicing, I can remember only a handful of days, when nothing was aching. It is completely different from what I experienced during my previous six years of practicing "other" yoga, when I was gradually getting rid of one health problem after another. When I started Mysore, first I hurt both knees (Janu C, then a teaching accident), then the ankles (Mari B, D, lotus - because of the knees), then the hamstrings (in all forward bends), the collar bone (supta kurmasana), and now psoas. Is it possible that I am too old to start such a demanding practice? I hope not... :(

Psoas woes

Yesterday I did not go to Mysore again, but had a small practice at home. Avoided all psoas-straining movements as much as possible, but still could feel them. Strictly speaking, these might not be psoas, but rather iliopsoas muscles, because I do not feel anything bad in my lower back. It is interesting how this injury made me realize where and how I use these muscles in my everyday life. Walking (hurts), walking up the stairs (hurts even more!), surprisingly - driving. Not only my right leg (I drive automatic), but also the left. It would be good from a balance point of view, if only I didn't use my left leg even more than the right. When the situation on the road gets somewhat tense, I seem to vent it out by pressing hard my left foot into he side pedal-like bump on the car floor.

I think I know what I did to hurt them. I was trying to improve my lifts/jumpbacks, and obviously overdid it. My legs are heavy, and require a lot of strength to lift them (another incentive to loose weight, like I needed more!). In addition, according to Keith, I do not engage abs properly in my attempts, which brings the brunt of the effort to the small hip flexors.

Today’s practice was good, though. The rest helped a lot, and I think I am back in the saddle. Lovely Tova was practicing the Primary today, but since I overslept and came late, I did not have a chance to chat with her.

OK, back to my immunology training. Today is the last day, and my brain is completely fried. Thank God it’s Friday!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Crazy Russian

His final backbend is quite impressive....

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I am very, very lame.

Here is a picture of the window next to the bathroom in the convent of the Sisters of Visitation:

It is so much prettier in life!

I skipped my practice today and the groin pain is practically gone. Now I am contemplating whether to rest another day or return to practice tomorrow? I miss my practice but I am afraid to injure something so that I would not be able to practice even longer. Ugh, I am so out of touch with my own body!

Anyway, here is the reason why I am lame. I mentioned before that I do not have much life. In America, as much as I understand it, having life means having lots of social interactions, accompanied by stimulating environment. Simply speaking, it is "having fun" in a loud, bright, and a little dangerous way. I do not do that. I do get some enjoyment from parties and bar hopping, but I do not crave them. In fact, I avoid them. Must be the old age. So what do I do for fun? Most of the time - watch tv. I know, one can not possibly be lamer. Sometimes, I do photography if I manage to drag my fat ass out of the house. But it doesn’t happen very often. So here. I am b-o-r-i-n-g.

Here is the list of shows that I watch. I have to mention that every time my wonderful and intelligent husband passes by while one of them is on, he cringes and gives me a dirty look.

These ones I think are more or less decent:
Grey's anatomy
Desperate housewives

These are so-so:
Stargate Atlantis (I liked SG-1 and Jason Momoa is hot)
Terminator – Sarah Connor chronicles (no good reason)

I am kind of embarrassed that I like these:
One tree hill
Gossip girl
Samantha who
Cashmere mafia
Big shots
October Road
Kyle XY

Since I am rather busy, I never watch anything in real time; all of them are tivo'ed, so I can watch them whenever I want and to avoid commercials. I also combine tv-watching with food preparation/shirts ironing/apartment cleaning. The only house chores that I can't combine with tv, are toilet cleaning and dish washing. So those I do, listening to the books on my ipod. So much for mindful living. I do talk to my husband sometimes. But the last year and a half he was very busy with his preparation for the CFA examination (first - level 1, now - level two). Since there are 3 available levels for CFA, I guess I have another 1-2 years of uninterrupted tv watching.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sisters of visitation and groins of steel

The immunology training I am taking now takes place in the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, which is located in the former convent building. I love the place! They did a great job in preserving the spirit of the cloisters. The rooms still have the names like "Superioress' Cabinet dedicated to our Holy Mother Longanimity" and "Procuratrix's office dedicated to St. Martha Ardent Charity". There are tall widows along the corridors, a beautiful inner yard and tiny rooms in which the nuns lived. This monastery belonged to the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of the visitation. This order was founded in France by St. Frances de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal in 1610. The sisters were completely cloistered from the outsiders, using screens, separate passages and other devices. The order was dedicated to contemplation. I tried to imagine myself being one of them and actually felt peace to descent on me. Which is weird, because I am so not a nun material!
In other, unrelated news - I have a new yoga-related pain now, in my groins. I know, I know, very exciting for everyone! I think it is a psoas muscle that was weak and now is overused (definitely not overstretched). Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B is very painful, as well as my pitiful attempts to lift the legs up the transition from Upavistha Konasana A to Upavistha Konasana B. Every time when I sit for a long tme (like, for example, yesterday and today i had three lectures three hours long each), as soon as I start moving, a movement that brings a leg forward is very painful. After walking for a while the pain subsides. Stretching does not substantially help, so I do not know what to do. Should I take it easy and let it heal? Or should I just bite the bullet and wait when the pain goes away and my groins turn into groins of steel? Any advice?

Monday, February 25, 2008

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

I again had a turbo practice this morning, also known as a half-ass practice. There was no need for that, honestly speaking. Though I had to be at work by seven, I knew that the studio would be open since like, the day before. Aliya was teaching from 5:45, so he finished his practice just before that; which also meant that he came what, at 3? Why bother going to bed, I wonder. I, on the other hand, slept till late, came to studio at 5:40 and half-assed my practice. Lazy bum. On the other hand I am glad that I got my beauty sleep. This whole week I am on immunology training - half day lectures, half day lab. I think I am a borderline narcoleptic and do not need any additional challenges in staying awake. Especially when I do not have a trusted friend by my side to kick me, when my snoring gets too loud. So far lectures were pretty good, I snoozed only a couple of times, no more.

I really liked Boodiba's method of keeping track of 'extracurricular' yoga practice. I do some asanas at home at night, but I do not have a system and do not keep any records. I was doing hip openings stretches with a chair a couple of weeks ago, which helped me immensely with my supta kurmasana. But afterwards I started concentrating on my handstand for some reason and my hips stiffened up again. I need a plan, something like concentrating on one problem area each week. Plus 45+ push-ups every Tuesday and Saturday. Especially pay attention to the backbends which suck so badly. I used to be a decent backbender, but the primary does not promote backbending at all. Now I work on getting up from the wheel pose, and it just does not work because of the suckiness of my backbend, I think. I feel for my instructors - helping me to lift all my 170 lbs can not be easy. So here, today I will make "the plan" and I will stick to it. Mark my words!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fun practice

Guess what? I got to meet cranky housefrau and LI ashtangini today. I find it very interesting when people from the virtual world suddenly descend upon you and turn out to be real. Maybe deep inside I still think that internet is something like Sim City, and people there do not really exist? And here they are - two gorgeous ladies with beautiful practice, flesh and blood (and sweat). It tickled me to no end.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

No yoga, but some mangosteens...

Saturday is my yoga-free day. No yoga – not much to write about. Which kind of shows that there is not much going on in my life lately. I did my cardio/weight workout with podfitness and went grocery shopping to a newly discovered H-Mart. I love prices there – beautiful apples for 99c/lb, artichokes 2 for 1.29 and so on. They also had an amazing selection of fish, and that resulted in a demise of my vegetarian raw diet at least for today. My husband cooked fried flounder and it was super delicious. I also bought mangosteens there to try. Checked on the internet – they are just pleasant to eat, but nothing special in nutrition value. Very expensive, though. Well, at least I could take some pictures. Here they are, together with ginger for some reason:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Strength vs flexibility.

Yoga makes us strong and flexible, calm and happy. We come to yoga, because we need it, either physically or spiritually (I wonder, why do I dislike the word “spiritual” so much? The phrase “He embarked on a spiritual journey to India” makes me cringe). There are two major physical types that start yoga: a) strong and stiff and b) weak and bendy. Of course, there are two more types – weak and bendy (they should take comfort that they are balanced at least in something) and strong and flexible (you know the type. We all hate them :D), but they are rare. I was the poster child for the weak and bendy type. Over the years of doing yoga, I concentrated on making myself even bendier, because, hey – that was something I was good at! Until I started Power yoga and then Ashtanga, my strength and stamina did not really improve. I have never realized how much easier time strong people have doing yoga, until I started to teach a “Yoga for Athletes” class. This class lasted only one year, but some of my students went ahead to other, more advanced classes, and a couple continued in my Power yoga class. These people were really strong and quite inflexible. The runners and the bikers were the stiffest, followed by the swimmers. A seated forward bend was a complete misnomer for them, because with such short hamstrings they could not even sit straight, and had to lean back. Backbends were non-existent; for some of them a backbend meant just straightening up from slouching forward. Anyway, you get the picture. They did need yoga badly and yoga delivered. The hamstrings elongated, the shoulders opened, the abs stretched. And then, because they were so strong, they progressed really fast! One of them could do a beautiful, floating jumpback from a seated position, just because of the existing core strength and coordination. Most of them learned the arm balances in no time at all. All these strong people were much less prone to injuries, than their bendy counterparts. I am not sure why I am telling that, my brain is a muddled today. Oh, yes, I remember. YC disagreed with me that vata people have it easier, than kaphas. I suggest a compromise – let’s say pitta people (strong, muscled pitas) have the best time in yoga? They are already strong, acquire flexibility fast, and get injured less frequently.

Anyway, I had a great practice today. Aliya was adjusting and he folded me into the best Supta Kurmasana I ever had in my practice. I was able to hold it for 20 breaths, lift up into a balance before unfolding into tittibasana. I would have held it even longer, but my nails were digging into my palms. Note to self - keep the nails short!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Talent in yogasana

I was inspired by Lilalia’s amazing collages, and made an attempt to make one of my own. This is the picture I took of Aliya, one of my shalamates. He and his wife Rayna are wonderful yogis and became my good friends. As a background I used a lotus flower photograph by Bahman Farzad with his kind permission (check out his stunning gallery).

This photograph brings me to the question of talent in yogasana. In a way, this is a politically incorrect topic, because yoga is not a competition, one is not supposed to compare and so on. But we do compare. And we see that some people’s asanas are beautiful, while others – not so much. I wonder why is that? I guess, like in all athletic endeavors, the brain-muscle coordination matters. I bet the anatomy is very important. Such aspects of it, as the depth or shallowness of the joints that is just right, allowing lots of freedom of movement, but stable at the same time. Or the proportional length of the limbs (as well as the relative length of the bones in the limbs). Or number of accumulated injuries and imbalances in the body, both physical and psychological. I also noticed (and I might be completely wrong here) that the vast majority of people with beautiful asanas have a vata constitution of the body (or vata-pitta). Among kaphas or kapha-pittas I know very few (Andrew Lappa comes to mind, or Erich Schiffmann) with inspiring practice. I guess the vata lightness of the body is one of the aspects that make asanas beautiful. On the other hand, it is possible that being a vata is not so good for the meditation practice, and kaphas, with their innate groundness and ability to concentrate, have easier time in meditation.

Anyway, you might have guessed by now that I am an unbalanced kapha with short limbs and shallow joints, lacking any stability. To improve my asana practice, based on the above-mentioned considerations, I decided to increase vata vaju in my body. My ayurveda teacher ones mentioned that his experiments with raw vegetarian food increased the lightness in his body tremendously. In addition, Rayna also told me that it helped her practice. So here we go, a copycat as I am, I started eating raw vegetarian. The results are not very encouraging. Vata vaju (wind) is definitely increased. A lot. In my belly, that is. So the legendary kapha power of concentration is now mostly channeled on trying not to share vata vaju with the rest of the shala. Probably I should just come to peace with the conclusion that we, kaphas, are not meant to fly?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ashtanga yoga seems to be somewhat different from what i've done before.

It is not like I have a lot of experience. Not really. I have been taking once a week Iyengar classes for three years, and hatha-yoga classes for another three. I have never done Anusara, or Bikram. I have taken Ashtanga classes on and off during that time too, before I started my regular Mysore-type practice six months ago. So, from my limited experience, so far I noticed the following differences:
1. The intensity is higher
2. Ujjayi breath is used throughout the whole practice
3. Emphasis on bandhas
3. Vinyasa style
3. Daily practice
4. Same poses over and over.
5. Yogis of different levels of experience practice together.
This one is quite striking for a novice. It is very inspiring to see the ease and beauty of the poses done by the masters. On the other hand, the same ease brings about the false expectations that the pose can be done here and now, and deep frustration, when it does not work.
6. There is a "reward" system in place
When you are doing well and not "skipping classes", you get a new pose. In my case, by the time I reach my end poses, I catch myself stalking the instructor with my eyes, trying to assess his current mood, whether he is paying attention to me and the progress of my practice, and so on. Excellent place to work on that ego, I guess!

I am trying to curb my impatience. I know am not ready. I am still not over all aches and pains that the transition from a "once a week yoga" to a "daily intense practice" brought. My hamstrings need healing, hips need opening, abs and arms need strengthening, and stamina needs to be acquired. I understand that this impatience also come from the deep fear that I started too late and do not have much time left for the physical aspect of yoga. Which is silly, because I personally know amazing yogis, deep into their fifties and sixties, who have beautiful practice. So I guess it is time to tell myself to stop worrying about how far I can get and just enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Samatvamasana and Turbo Practice

This Sunday in my Power yoga class I used the poses from the latest Yoga Journal issue. Samatvamasana (or was it Samatvasana?) - squat on the toes, + twist, + 1 leg in lotus, + one extended leg. I both liked and disliked these poses. On the positve side - nice balance (different from standing or arm balaces); plus these poses give an amazing workout to the ankles and toes. But they were really hard on the knees, some of my students could not do them at all. In my teacher training program I heard many, many times that the movement of the knee over the toes in the knee bend is really bad for the ligaments of the knee. So what about the squat? Doesn't it put the knees into exatly the wrong positon we were warned against? Or keeping the heel up somehow changes the things? Do not understand, really. I will probably not use them in the class anymore untill I get a better "feel" of these poses.
This morning I had a "turbo practice". Once in a while we have a very early experiment at work, so I have to be there at 7 am. Actually, my work normally starts at 7, but most days it is relaxed, and I can arrive at 7:30 and have no problems.In the "early experiment" days, I start my practice around 5:30-5:45, and finish it by 6:30. It is not quite possible for me to finish the full primary in 45 min, so I hold poses for 4 breaths, and try not to spend more than half a breath while transitioning. Did not have time to work on my getteing up from the wheel though. Nevertheless, the turbo practice is much, much better than no practice at all, I feel just as great as after a "normal" practice.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Many ways by which Yoga humbles you

… If you are a little (or more than a little) overweight, I bet one of your least favorite poses is Shoulderstand. There is nothing more humbling and ego-quenching, like the sight of your belly rolling towards your face, and just hanging there. Add to that the impossibility to turn your head and avert your gaze. Some people say that shoulderstand helps to loose weight through the activation of thyroid gland. Maybe, but I have the feeling that the humiliation of your belly hang is the best motivation here.

….If you want to strengthen your mula bandha – change your diet. Include lots of legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables. If you need an extra help – substitute your sugar to xylitol. Your mula bandha will be stellar; you just will not have a choice but to hold it for your dear life. Or be forced to change studios every week. And do not trust the likes of BEANO or X-gas, they just do not work.

… If you get a carpet burn on your face or anywhere else, it should better be from a night of wild passion. Not from the effort TWO instructors exert, trying to fold you into supta kurmasana.

And, at last, note to self – do not forget to blow your nose BEFORE demonstrating Kapalabhati pranayama in class.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday is the most yoga-intense day of the week for me. In addition to morning Mysore, I teach a free class at noon at my work, and then, in the evening, there is my regular all-levels class which I teach at my "other", non-ashtanga studio.The second day is Sunday, when I teach a Power yoga class in the afternoon in addition to the Mysore practice. Saturday is completely yoga-free, and a lot of fun, because it is so different from the rest of the week.
I was very restless this morning during the practice. As a result, I could even not hold the balance in hasta padangusthasana. Normally, during the practice, I am trying to "empty the back of my head" everytime I hold a pose for five breaths. I am not sure, why it is the back of my head I am emptying, not front or the sides, but it is something that helps me to ground and to start really feeling the pose. Today, however, the back of my head resisted the emptying and there was a loud buzzing noise in my head throughout the whole practice. Only in a headstand, of all poses, I suddenly calmed down. One of those buzzing thoughts, running around in my head, was the question - "Will I get a new pose today?", which is totally ridiculous, since I am nowhere ready to move forward. And yet it kept popping up, until it became clear that this was not going to happen. I have got an interesting adjustment though. Normally we never get any adjustments in Mari A. But today, K. brought my shoulders closer, so that I could clasp my wrist instead of the fingers, and then pressed down on me, so that my nose first bumped into the strainght leg somewhere below the knee. I had to turn my head slightly in, to give the room and then I practically reached the floor with my nose. The hamstrings behaved nicely, so there was no harm done, but nice, deep feeling of the release in both hamstirngs and the shoulders. Aaaah!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Aches, pains, and joys

Today’s practice was a little rough – I got really tired by the time of the wheel pose. I still made several feeble attempts to stand up. Then I had to rest, observing enviously a fellow yogini to do the same, but successfully, getting up absolutely effortlessly. D. says that I have a required backbend, just can’t get the sequence of the movements correctly. May be, but I still think that I am just not strong enough.

My left sitbone still hurts in all forward bends; I was bending my left knee to protect it. I wonder if it can cause misbalance in my pelvice or something of the kind. I would really hate to start skipping practice because of overstretched hamstrings though.

In my day work I have to sit at the computer for long stretches of time lately, and I noticed that when I get up, my legs and hips hurt until I get my muscles working by walking a little longer. What is up with that? Old age? I can’t wait until the time when I am no longer hurting from my practice. Will it ever come, I wonder? Things are better, of course, compared to a couple of months ago, when I suffered from the collar-bone pain (supta kurmasana) and knee pain (an accident while teaching). But every time I start feeling good, I rush into practice with all force, and end up hurt again. Should start learning from the mistakes, I guess!

I just realized what a whiny post this is! Oh, well, it goes without saying that the practice brings joy and comfort, general feeling of well-being and confidence into my life. I need to remember it more often, so that the struggles and pains would not cloud the big picture.

The beginning

OK, I think I do need this blog after all, just to keep track of my Ashtanga practice. I do not expect it to be in any way entertaining for anybody, myself included. In addition, English is not my first language, so my writing might be irritating to some English-language purists. My apologies. I have another blog that I keep in Russain to track my weight-loss efforts. It is in a great coomunity of very nice, intelligent and supportive people. I realised, however, that my ashtanga posts are not well understood there, and are, in most likelyhood very boring for the forum regulars. Hence - new blog.
I am a middle age, overweight woman, who enjoys yoga immensely. I started my yoga practice seven years ago, at my peak weight of 203 pounds, and very poor health, both physical and emotional. I tried desperately to loose weight, but could do little since physical efforts induced asthma attacks, and the challenges and stresses of graduate school I was attending were not conducive to my efforts of loosing weight.
I remember very vividly my first yoga class. I was the oldest and the fattest person there. I could not do either a table pose or downdog, because both of my wrists were agonizingly sore. I have come a long way from that summer. I finished a yoga teacher certification program, lost 30 lbs and regained my health. Though there is still a need to loose another 20 lbs (or decrease my body fat by 8%), I seem to be in the best physical shape of my life. Six months ago I started Ashtaga practice (morning Mysore, 5 times a week). Now I am doing the complete Primary(well, not completely complete...).
I still struggle in many poses of the 1s. Janu C is completely impossible for me now. I could do it in the beginning, but then I blew both of my knees, so I am not even attempting it now. Can't jump back or jump through with straingt legs. Can't fold myself into supta kurmasana. Can't do chakrasana or stand up from a wheel pose. But I think it all will come eventually...


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