Monday, 22 November 2010

We will have some fun with this one

The above were were my teachers words when he gave me the next pose this morning and saw I could not do it. Such great advise! Lol, in fact it was just what I needed to hear.

Last week practice was hard, I was tired, really tired. Having analysed everything I could think of, I decided it must have been taking Friday off practice instead of Saturday. There were many advantages to this, due to the way my life is right now i.e. I am travelling to London every Friday and returning to Liverpool on Mondays, (this is tiring too.) The advantages of friday off was more time to do stuff at home, (hard when only there 4&1/2 days a week) and also an extra shala practice on the Saturday. The problem with having friday off practice is I teach 3 classes, which also means some cycling, my body needs complete rest. Anyway I took Saturday and Sunday moon day off to let my body recover.

Woke up stiff this morning, having slept awkwardly in the single bed in marcs rented room. Also my it band was really tight from cycling and lack of stretching. It did not bode well for the first intermediate practice in four days. I did a bit of stretching before I left and it band felt much better for it. Neck, shoulder and upper back were still stiff and still are now after practice but it'll be alright by tomorrow, I imagine.

Fortunately my teacher assisted me into kapotasana this morning, I was so tight I did not think it was possible but his kapotasana assist is amazing. After that I was miraculously able to do it solo.

So I haven't blogged about practice for a while at least the physical aspect of it. I have been managing to get to my heels in kapo by myself every day, it's been 3 weeks now but only on the second or third attempt. I am finding it requires more mental willpower to work on kapotasana now that I know it is possible than
it did to get there on the first place! I guess this is the next stage in the journey. Between that and karandavasana I feel like I have a lot to work on. So I was not expecting or wanting any new poses, I was not even sure what the next pose was. But I knew karandavasana was getting better.

I like a challenge in my practice, I really do. I guess kapo and karanda just push my mental limits in new ways. This is a good thing, I am sure but it is also challenging. When I was given the next pose, at first I did not realise that I was and went to backbending, which got an oy from my teacher, lol. Then I did not have a clue what to do as he led me through the strange vinyasasa for mayurasana and then I could not do it until he helped me engage my legs. But the best part for me was when he said "we're going to have fun with this one". What a wonderful reminder to enjoy the process especially in the midst of challenge.


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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Cutting through spiritual materialism

I finished this book a few days ago. I was going to write about it when I was back at home, (I am in London now) but having already moved on with my reading, I realise it may be better to write about it now, while it is still fresh in my mind.

First of all, loved the book, some parts more than others. Most of all I loved how the book got me thinking. Even the title. It is a Buddhist book but I am going to write about the thoughts it generated about my astanga practice, all thoughts are my own, read the book if you are interested in it, I don't want to spoil it.

I have had an attitude of surrender and honesty in relation to my practice and faith that the alchemy of the practice would just work. For instance if I noticed ego or ambition in my practice I just let it be. I am human afterall and it is a practice. So if I wanted to get on my mat on any given day because I wanted to work on an asana I would accept that even though I knew it was not about the asana, I felt that the practice would work regardless.

This is mainly due to my faith in the practice and has worked pretty well for me. This book made me question this belief and then realise that surrender and acceptance are indeed necessary and yet questioning is also good. 

When I first started practicing astanga there were so many things in primary that I couldn't do that the practice hammered my ego each time I got on my mat. Not that I felt bad about it but I was not hey check me out either. What I love about this practice, specifically about learning it pose by pose is that there is usually something I can not do. What I wonder though is as people progress could ego about the practice become more of a problem if left unchecked or even encouraged.

I am by no means advanced in astanga world but as someone who has practiced daily for years my practice has obviously changed. When I practice at a workshop or some classes people sometimes complement my practice. I never know what to say. I work hard at my practice and I guess it's nice to acknowledge that effort. I definitely feel that internally, as in I enjoy being in a fairly flexible strong body. But for me it is mostly a spiritual practice and the last thing I want is an ego about my spiritual practice.

I think it is best to just observe the thoughts that arise as a result of this physical or spiritual progress and just watch them. I think you can not subdue the inevitable how should I put it, unspiritual thoughts or actions. To do so would not only be repressing but also spiritually egotistical, as in, I am way to spiritual for that!

I have found that through surrendering to the practice, it has changed me. I like a challenge of a difficult asana and I like it when I can do something that was once challenging. I mostly do not care what others think, okay well maybe I like to please my teacher sometimes, lol! I am thinking one of the reasons this practice works so well is because it teaches us to stay in the moment, to notice, to allow and to surrender.

I am going to leave you with a quote from the book

" We go around and around, trying to improve ourselves through struggle, until we realise that the ambition to improve ourselves is itself a problem. Insights come only when there are gaps in our struggle, only when we stop trying to rid ourselves of thought, when we cease siding with pious, good thoughts against bad, impure thoughts, only when we allow ourselves simply to see the nature of thought."

Chogyam trungpa, cutting throughout spiritual materialism.


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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

moving on

So Kapotasana is still here, heel grab yesterday and TWICE today.  The stuff I wrote yesterday helped me remember what to do.  I usually do kapo A 3 times, I made it in on the second and third attempts today.  I'm going to keep up the repetitions until I can consistently get in.  Once in this pose is so much nicer, something to hold on to at last, no more hanging in outer space.  Been slacking on the timed kapos this week, not got the mental stamina for it. 

I am having a short practice week this week as I am going to the London at the weekend and will do a mysore class, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  So I am having Friday off and doing primary Thursday.  I am grateful for the shorter week and the imminent shala visit.  At the shala I will just do my practice as is without working on kapo as such, it'll be good for me.  I will also see my teacher Monday.

So kapotasana isn't my last pose, I have a whole load of asana to do after that.  I also have a new pose, it's just two weeks old,  it's just a baby duckling, it's karandavasana.  I've been a bit shaky post kapotasana for the last two weeks, (less so today) making working on karandavasana challenging.  I'm just trying to get into lotus, whilst balanced on my forearms and I have almost done it a couple of times but lost it at the last moment, my right hip is tight but it's possible, just practice and balance.  I'm glad to just have one step to work at, I was worried about how on earth I was going to work at it as a mostly at home practitioner, it seemed very overwhelming! 

I'm still really enjoying reading cutting through spiritual materialism.  It's been really useful to have it to reflect on as I go through dramatic change in my practice.  I'm highlighting my favorite bits on my iphone, I have it on kindle for iphone as well as the real book, great to have both (although funny for a book about materialism), my partner already had the book.  I'll post more on that when I am finished.

I've also been meditating daily for twenty minutes, vipasana.  That's as long as I can sit in lotus, I guess I will extend it, we will see.  For now it is enough.  I first learnt vipasana about 11 years ago.  I had a regular practice pre astanga but found the astanga practice was more what I needed.  I have found that in yoga emotions come to the surface when I am ready for them.  I have no idea how that works it's like magic. In meditation for me they came up quick and I used to find it hard not to react at times, not during the meditation but after.  When I have forgotten all about the meditation and suddenly found myself hating an ex boyfriend whilst waling down the street and wondering where such strong emotion came from.   I went on a 10 day vipasana retreat when I was 19, I'm grateful for the space it created for me in my mind.  Having dealt with my own stuff a lot through asana I now feel I can handle it's intensity, I also don't have so much stuff, I'm much lighter, thank you asana. 

I've needed all this today as I have been cycling around in the rain, the rain I can handle but the erratic driving was a bit scary at times.  It is strange how people feel they have to hurry when they are in a car in the rain, I don't get it, I mean they are inside.  Anyway a few close calls on my way to work am greatful to my practice for the awareness it gave me, I'm grateful to be safe, obviously as I'm writing about it I still need to work on moving on, back to the mat.....tomorrow that is off for a bath now, yum!

Monday, 1 November 2010

The long story

Last week while I was at the shala, I was hanging back pre Kapo, the teacher was busy but I wanted an assist and so I was using it as a sneaky warm up.  Anyway the teacher came over and suggested  I take my hands to by forehead and STAY there and BREATHE.  Huh?  I guess I was just kinda chilling in comparison to that, I stayed there for about five breaths and came up.  She asked me if I was okay, I was I just found it a difficult place to be.  Teacher then discussed how sometimes we have to come out of a pose because it hurts but sometimes we just find it a difficult place to be.  Huh?  She so had my number so we did it again and I stayed and breathed through it, it was intense and then he took me into my heels.

When I am at home, I work at kapotasana lots,  I'm not very warmed up when I am at home and so the first thing I do is hang back for a BIT.  What's a BIT?  Great question, it's for as long a I feel like and this discussion with this teacher made me realize that I was coming out it if it felt too intense, not physically intense, although kapotasana certainly is that but emotionally and mentally.  In coming out I was missing out on an opportunity to breathe into those dark spaces.  To be somewhere I do not want to be with calm mind.  I started to time the third hang back.  I held it for one minute and breathed. Timing it made me stay there even when emotionally it got tough.

I think breathing into those dark spaces led to some interesting emotional releases last week.  I found myself outside of practice not wanting to be in the moment I was in.  It took me a while to figure out that's why I didn't want to be where I was, doing what I was doing, but upon realizing and thinking, what's so wrong with here, it dissipated.

Soon after I was first given kapotasana, which was December,  I was inspired by Boodiba to do Kapo B before kapo A.  She was doing timed ones with Venkitesh in mysore at the time.  So I decided to do the same.  It was really good for my kapotsana but emotionally it was too much.  I started to dread kapotasana, and it would take me AGES to pluck up the courage to go back.  So I stopped doing the timed ones for  a while, ahimsa (non-violence) has to start with oneself.

If I remember correctly, I decided I would still do kapotasana B before it but not time it, so there was no pressure.  I find it hard to be warm enough for kapotasana A at home and so the kapotasana B helps.  The last few months the intensity has been less and I have been more able to breathe into these spaces.  I have been doing 1 minute Kapotasana B's,  which last week I started to increase so I could slow down the hang back.  As a cycle commuter I think this has really helped to open the front of my thighs and psoas as well as warm me up, I'm usually still cold when I get to Kapo but never after, lol!  So what I am saying here is I have found it very useful to time myself so that I stay and breathe into these challenging spaces but it had to be when I was ready.

I have also been hanging off my backless chair for 5 minutes (outside of practice), even when in that, I sometimes I want to run. I know a lot of people have an intense time with kapo.  I feel a sense of responsibility as I write this for those of you who are not here yet.  I don't want to put it in your head that this pose will be terrifying, maybe it will maybe it won't.  Maybe you will love it.  I love it, it has given me such a fabulous opportunity to heal.

I decided, I was going to do this, I can be pretty determined.  I've probably done 2 to 3 years worth of kapotsanas in less than one year.  I had surrendered to the fact that it might take me years to grab my heels by myself, but I was determined that I would.   Not because I was stopped there, I'm not, and not for the asana itself but because of what it required of me.  Everyday it required me to face my deepest fears, to be with physically intensity, to be present and to be with it all, to breathe and not react..

 I've been hanging off the chair (separate to practice, to open upper back),  doing 3 hang backs, 2-3 kapo B's and the 3 attempts at Kapo A, every day that I practice at home, at the shala I just get on with it, which is also useful as there is less drama.  On Tuesday as I was hanging back for my kapo A attempts my upper back started to open as I breathed into it and it opened again and again and again, each time I breathed my back would uncurl, my right shoulder also released.  I went down I walked in and almost got my heels, I touched them but I could not quiet get hold.  I realized as I lowered down that my head was inside my feet.  I can only remember this happening once before, when I was in Italy and Louise Ellis was helping me open my upper back.  It was also really hot in Italy, compared with my living room in October.

I realized I had the flexibility to grab my heels but needed to work on the last part, actually grabbing them.  After 3 attempts I moved on with my practice.  On Wednesday I found that extra space in my back again,  I guess it's been opening for a while, the movement is quite dramatic.  I just hang there and release until there is no more movement.  The breathe helps create the space.  I say I just hang there but ya know it is very intense!  Then I lowered down and walked in and again touched my heels but flailed.  Many repeats later, I decided to walk in and then lift up into my legs as much as possible, to find a little bit more space and then I did it,  I grabbed both heels.

Came up and cried in a way, I can not ever remember crying before, perhaps it is how a child cries.  I was both happy and sad.  My body trembled.  Intermediate can do that, but I've never had it so much, it felt like something was leaving my body. 

Then I did the rest of my practice, I almost felt like stopping but I am glad that I had loads more to go, helped me work through it to witness even the intensity of the event without getting too attached to it.  Just to go back to my breathe and dristi and move on.

Update, today (Monday) I managed to get my heels again!  Things I have to remember,  right now are.  Hang back hand in prayer by forehead and breathe into upper back and surrender, look back at feet, keep looking at feet all the time to keep oppening in upper back.  Lower down, slowly, keep legs active and hips as far forward as possible.  Walk both hands around outside of feet, all the while looking at feet and keeping legs strong.  When I feel like I can not go any further,  engage legs and lift up, kind of a deep kapo B, breathe and find a little more space.  Creep in  in again keeping legs strong.  Here is the critical bit because I find it hard to get hold of my feet so I have to keep going back until it really, really is impossible to go any further.  If I try for the heels to soon, I loose my grip on the outside of feet and flail.  So I have to take my hands way back on the floor further than I mentally think I can, push up again and then go for the heels.

I expect this new found flexibility may come and go, and I'm fine with that.  I now know that it is possible to take myself there, physically, mentally and emotionally.  I am grateful for the opportunity to practice and to take all that is gives me into my life.