Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A new beginning

My 57th birthday is over now. A new year has started for me. The little birthday party is over, too. The day after the birthday party is over, too. I needed this day off as I still had guests and I was still in the after-party-mood.

Today was the day. Even before having had breakfast I was on the mat. Very motivated. The words of the orthopedist still ring in my ears: "Those who sit on the sofa have much more often back issues, than those who move. It would be a pity if you gave up your yoga."

I won't give it up. Kino MacGregor has started an Instagram challenge: #mayIbeginyoga2016
This challenges me. The asanas seem doable for me. The challenge for me is to step on the mat regularily.

Tomorrow another six back treatments start. I need them. Daily life and the yoga practice are still influenced by this little SI joint. It's dancing it's own dance. Get in line, babe.

But it's all better. Is it?
- Yes, because I don't need pain killers anymore.
- My sleep is better. I can turn around at night without waking up to support my hips to turn around.
- Most of the time I'm painfree

To sit for some time is still painful.

My practice became sooooo slow. This allows me to be very attentive.
Today I practiced second series till after the twists. The vinyasas are gone, but it's all coming back. I must be patient with myself.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Documenting is a useful motivation tool

The goal can only be being able to practise alone. No matter what one wants to learn it's helpful to learn about motivation. There are general tips. Yet everybody has own motivation triggers.

To document the practise is rather a general tool. It's a very good tool.

Perhaps this was the trigger today that made me step on the mat. I wanted to have something to write about my practise.
It was not easy to start. When I woke up, my back ached already. It was difficult to make the bed. Yet the physio therapist recommended not to do relieving postures. Somehow I managed it to make the bed. The more I move the better I feel.

When I practise at home I sprinkle some water in my face and I brush my teeth before I step on the mat. This shall be enough. The shorter the preparations are, the better. There are a lot of activities that can postpone the practise.
And breakfast comes after the practise. This has also something to do with discipline. I get up a bit later these days. This is I'm hungry already. To practise earlier would be good. Yet, whenever I get up, breakfast comes after the practise. As soon as I'm on my mat it's forgotten that I wanted to eat something.

My only goal can be to get back to a regular practise, I repeat myself, but this is it. I trust that strength and flexibility will return. I got so weak that I cannot hold chaturanga dandasana. Even such poses like halasana became difficult. Yet when I stay in the poses, when I breathe evenly, I can get deeper and deeper and the discomfort fades away. I have lost the performance of the asanas, but I use techniques that help me to get back: It's stretching first, before moving into an asana. It's the even breath. It's engaging the muscles, also mula bandha. It's also to enjoy the asanas.

Tomorrow is Friday and I'll do primary. As said: to be on the mat for 90 min is everything. My practise is bumpy, inelegant, heavy, painful, weak. To leave this level behind me a daily practise is supportive.

One cannot separate the goal and the path to that goal. Yet often I observed the tendency that yoginis focus on the outcome. If people are stopped at  an asana, they focus on it, of course. I've been there. One gets obsessed only to be allowed to do the next pose.

I remember when I was told: You come up already. (From urdhva dhanurasana). It was more than a feed-back. It was pushy, impatient.
Fact was I was not able to come up. And I didn't care so much. I was happy that I got so close and I trusted that in a few months it will happen. I had not the inner pressure to nail it. But it's difficult to say this as it allows interpretations of not being committed enough and so on.

I learned to focus on the process. The process teaches me a lot. It helps me to understand the asanas. In my case now with this injured SI joint nothing else is possible. It's difficult enough to practise.

To fly high again comes later.

In a few days I'll celebrate my 57th birthday.
At this age my priorities are not to nail one single asana, I want to keep practicing without injuries. It shall be fun, that is I also want some variety in my practice. This is possible. But it's not possible if there is no room in classes for a tiny bit of individuality and flexibility.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It was 9am...

It was 9am when I started my Ashtanga yoga practise. I lost strength and flexibility. I'll gain it back. So what.

The joy that I could come up from Trikonasana on both sides dominated every other feeling. My back allowed me this movement without pain.

I simply must keep practicing. Afterwards I felt so good. I hope I can still say this when I wake up tomorrow morning.

My program today:
- Surya namaskara
- All standing asanas
- Second series till ustrasana
- Could lift me up to urdhva dhanurasana
- Closing sequence
- Pranayama

This is a lot. I practiced sooooo sloooooowly. Attention and an even breath is more important than rushing through all the asanas.

It's motivating to document the own practise. I need this support. So, yep, I practiced.

I set a timer for 90 minutes. The asana practise shall not be longer. It's enough if one does the wright things. So till tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Don't give it up."

Today I was at the orthopaedic. I wanted a new prescription for six more treatments at the physio therapist. I got it.

My back is better, but I'm not pain free. To sit longer doesn't feel good.

The physio therapist and the doctor motivate me to start again with my yoga practice.

The doctor: "Much more people who sit on the sofa have back issues than those who move."

The message: Move. Don't take the pain so seriously. Take care, but move.

My thinking: Wait long enough and the body heals itself. This is so often so.

I'll make a cut.
It's difficult to start again. I got weak and stiff. I know it's better to practice as modest it will be.

There will be a come back.....

Thursday, April 07, 2016

I stopped practicing for a while. I feel ready to start again.

I stopped practicing yoga for a while. It seemed to me that pain fades away when I don't practise. Quickly I got stiff. The hope was that my body would reposition itself that way. Of course I moved a lot, I walked a lot i.e., yet I didn't stretch.

During my vacation my back got better and better. I had to laugh, because I mailed to a friend that I postpone the pain till I'll be back home. Exactly that happened. At home again my back started aching. In sum I think all gets better. But it's not stable.

As I had to interrupt the physio therapy due to my influenza and due to the vacation I had to renew the prescription. I met my physio therapist, I always love to talk to her. She always has bits of information that is useful to me. What astonished me i.e. was that my back gets worse when I'm in bed, not moving.
The explanation: My body is in a malposition. When the muscles are active they stabilize the body and bring it in a good position. Yet when they relax the body moves in the malposition. This aches.

And why do I have a malposition: Right leg first. right leg first. always right leg first, even when I do so intensive asanas like supta kurmasana (both legs behind the head). Also padmasana, lotus pose is an advanced asana. My body was balanced when I altered legs. Yet in the shala in India it's right leg first and so the teacher have to forward it. This is the Ashtanga rule. Yet when rules ruin the body, they must be changed!

I started with strength training, too. I'll write later about it.
Ashtanga yoga makes the body flexible. The body also gets stronger, but not strong enough to keep the body in balance.

Tomorrow I want to start again with the sun salutations and a short, the standing sequence and then I shall see how I feel. To do headstand and lotus pose seems to be a perfect end.

Today was new moon, a rest day, another rest day for me. Tomorrow is primary on the schedule, on Saturday is again a day off. This is great to have a day off after a first practice after a long break. This is my plan. I hope it's not too early to challenge the body with stretching activities. Mentally I feel ready. I will start as soft as it's possible for me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Strength and weaknesses of Ashtanga yoga


1. Flexibility:
If one wants to get flexible, yoga and especially Ashtanga yoga is perfect. Also how to get flexible conforms to latest knowledge.

One moves into an asana till the limit is felt. The limit is felt because one feels discomfort till stretching pain. The tolerance of this uneasiness varies from day to day. Then one relaxes, till the discomfort is fading away. It's possible to get deeper into this pose then.

When I was in school we swung to get flexible. This is nonsense. Sometimes I saw yoginis do the same. It's not effective.

A story:
I was at the physio therapist due to my back pain. A conversation with another patient started. She sat there with crutches next to her. Her story: She was in the supermarket in the vegetable section during Christmas time. On the floor was a spring onion, that she had overlooked. She slipped on it and landed in a split pose. Her muscles, tendons were torn. Her bones broke. A very complicated surgery followed. Months later she was not yet able to walk alone without crutches. She said she has been very sportive. I thought that this might be, but she forgot to stretch. I'm able to do the split pose, this could have been my rescue.

2. Calming the mind:
When practicing Ashtanga yoga we focus on the sound of the breath. The breath is even and has an even rhythm. This calms the mind.
The eyes are not wandering around, the focus is on a gazing point. When people think rapid eye movement happens. When the eyes are focused on a point the mind becomes calm and calmer. This is relaxing.

3. A guide in life:
Practicing yoga on a daily basis can give orientation in life. We might start reflecting about what we eat and switch to a healthy veg diet. Being attentive on the mat might also lead to a more attentive life off the mat.
I realized that my practise is time-consuming. In order to continue with this practise my life had to become simple.
I started going to bed early, and I take care that I have enough sleep as it makes no sense to step on the mat tired.
This are only a few examples how yoga can influence how we live or lives. Being a yogini is a life style.

1. Ashtanga yoga is not a cardio training:
I'm still in a sort of shock. I measured my heart rate several times with my fitbit tool. The heart rate went up a bit when I practiced the surya namaskaras and at the end when I did urdhva dhanurasana. Yet it was too short to be called a cardio training. It's a better workout to take the steps in the subway than to practise Ashtanga yoga. This is so. There are the vinyasas, but after each vinyasa comes a calm phase in the asanas. This calms the body again.

But I sweat so much?
Yes, but when you have fever you might sweat, too. Some sweat when they are in menopause. Also during nightmares or when we face fears we might start sweating. In summer time even when relaxing in a deck chair we can sweat. This all is no work out.

If one wants to do something for the heart one has to add a work out.

2. Ashtanga yoga is not a strength training.
I got stronger without doubt. But in order to perform some asanas or vinyasas I need much more strength. Laghu vajrasana is such an example. I exercise this asanas for more then 6 years yet I'm not able to come up. The reason: I still have not enough strength in my legs. In order to get stronger I have to do extra strength training.
BTW what I read in blogs and books, those who are able to perform these asanas do these extra strength training. There are a lot of poses that need extra strength: karandavasana, pincha mayurasana are such asanas, only to mention a few. Just to go through the series is not enough!

I personally love  to be flexible. I also love the flexibility training.
Adding strength makes a practise safe, it can help to avoid injuries. I discovered a way to get stronger: Calisthenics. (I'll dedicate extra posts to this topic.)
My insights tell me that I have to do a cardio training. By now I try to integrate it into my life: I take the steps i.e. I go out for brisk walks. Perhaps I'll find something that I like, I see the necessity to do something here beside Ashtanga yoga.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Watch your thoughts

I don't mean that one shall get up every day in the morning and have an inner discussion if one shall practise yoga or not. In this case it's better to get up and to start the practise without long reflections.

Yet when thoughts come up again and again it's worth to have a closer look.

Two main thoughts came up during the last 2 years:
- I'll never learn these asanas like laghu vajrasana or kapotasana when I won't do extra sessions.
- And I got obsessed about my weight. One kilo less could help to perform the asanas was a repetitive thought.

Fact is I was in good shape.
I practiced daily 2 and a half hours for more than 2 years.
I was asked to practise full primary and then second series till kapotasana, the pose that I'm not able to do.

Isn't this enough?
Within such a time frame it should be possible to make remarkable progress.
It should have been possible to learn at least one new pose.

Why did I always blamed myself? 
Why did I always thought I should  practise more, an extra session?  I knew in order to perform a good back bending my body needs to be warm. Under 30 min a second practise wouldn't make sense. I couldn't convince myself to step on the mat and felt bad about it. I repeat, I got up at 5am six times a week and I practiced 2 and a half hours. I was the first in the shala and one of the last who went.

A lot of things go wrong these times in the Ashtanga community and how this style of yoga is taught. To explain this I want to go back in the past.

Krischnamacharya, when he finally was on his own and no more paid by the palace in Mysore he taught yoga very individually. His son described this in the book 'The Heart of yoga'.

P. Jois' goal was to spread the art of Ashtanga yoga. He wanted to teach as many yoginis as possible, even though not so many people were coming in the beginning. But this changed. In order to teach groups one needs to streamline the teaching. Nevertheless there was still a lot of room for individuality. One of his early students was told to practice one day primary, the other day second series. Others practiced both series every day....
Usually first and second series were taught rather quickly under one year. There was not much 'You stop here'. It's understandable, because P. Jois wanted to teach as much as possible.
So usually one learns one asana after the other till half of second series. Then the series are split and therefore shorter. This happened rather fast under the guidance of P. Jois.
When I watch the videos with P. Jois and his students I'm often amazed. Some are not able to put the legs behind the head without the forceful adjustment of P. Jois, yet they are deep into the advanced series.
Sharath now has so many students that beginners, those who have not yet practiced Ashtanga yoga at all, are no more allowed in the shala. The best of the world pilgrimage to Mysore. The teaching becomes stricter and stricter. It seems to me that perfection of the asanas is the current goal.

Only the performance of the asanas are judged. It's neglected if someone has a regular practise for example. It seems to me as if there is only one criteria to move on in the series and this is that the asana must look perfectly. Some call this the Ashtanga circus. Inner work, attitude, discipline is difficult to be judged. I see....

This development might be one of the reasons why I should practise day in day out primary and then till kapotasana, 2 and a half hours daily for more than 2 years without reflecting anything.
The simpler the teaching, the more people will be able to teach.

No matter what I wanted to learn in my life there were 2 main questions.
- The first was about the contents and skills that I wanted to learn.
- The second was how to acquire this knowledge or skill. It should be fast, effective, fun......Information about how to learn something is available these days, often for free. Yet the Ashtanga yoga community seems to be a closed group not looking right, not looking left.

How I practiced the last 2 years prepared myself for this injury that I have now.
1. First the practise was too long.
2. Second huge weakness was that the difficult asanas came at the end when I was done. This is also why I always thought 'I don't give enough'. I was too exhausted to do enough repetitions. A second practise should compensate this.
What ever I want to learn I really look for time when I'm fit, rested, in a good mood.
Ashtanga yoga as it is taught these days neglects all knowledge about how one can learn something effectively. So many different sports have a lot of knowledge, why not learn from others, too?

Lately I listened to YoTube video with P. Jois. There he mentioned that one of the purposes of practicing yoga is to gain self-knowledge. This is indeed a very good aspect. I'm learning a lot these days about myself.

Why did I not rebel earlier? I was fed up to practise the next decade again primary, primary, primary only because I was not able to do these demanding back bending asanas.
When I was in Austria last year I went to a yoga class. This teacher gave me tips for all asanas. Yet what was even more useful was that he gave me a feed-back of my entire practise: Your practise is unbalanced. Your forward bending asanas are excellent, but there is a huge gap between your forward bending asanas and your back bending asanas. This was his feed-back.
In order to balance my body he recommended to focus on back bending, second series so to say.

I think this feed-back strengthened my own thoughts that something went wrong.

When I was in Austria I had already back pain.

I didn't rebel earlier because I thought it is disrespectful to discuss with a teacher what I want to practise. In India this thought seems impossible. But we are not in India. One shall trust a teacher was my opinion. But as said earlier the teaching as it is now is so because one has to teach the masses. There is no room for individuality anymore. Yet I'm an individual and my body needs to get exercised individually. A body with 56 is different to a body with 23. Some people have long arms and long legs, others not. People come from all walks of life. Some have a very sportive past, others not. This can be advantageous, but also not. Our ability to focus differs. Also our wishes regarding the practise differs.
It's nonsense and dangerous to force everyone into the same learning system without tiniest exceptions.
This egalitarianism injured my back.

This morning I woke up with back pain. I was not motivated to practise. Now I regret this. Instead I walked around a lot. This always helps and the pain fades away.
When I look at my pictures of  3 years ago I become sad. Most poses are not possible anymore. But I'll swear I'll get back to a healthy and balanced practise that is fun in addition and free of this ill ambition that is striving for perfection. With a useful didactic the asanas become easier. Additional exercises might be useful from time to time, too. It makes sense to analyze the strength and the weaknesses to develop a learning concept.
To be pressed forcefully in asanas that are difficult is not enough to learn them.

My consequences:
- I'll join yoga classes again, but I'll also cultivate a home practise to stay independant.
- I'll search a conversation with the teacher on a regular basis. I don't want to get stopped anymore when I think it's better to move on. Nobody knows my body as good as myself.
- Usually I went to a yoga class because of the teacher who was offering the classes. I don't want to get adjustments from assistants anymore. 90% of these adjustments  were redundant or wrong. I also got injured once in my shoulders. I got a wrong adjustment in kapotasana. The next day I couldn't lift my arms anymore. I prefer to do my own thing instead of getting a lousy adjustment.
- I want to alter legs in padmasana and in all other poses, too. Not to alter legs made my entire body unbalanced. Nobody has ever seen the nadis. They are just an esoteric concept, but they are the reason why all the yogis shall take the right leg first when they move into padmasana. Physio therapists recommend not to cross the legs to keep the body in balance. Padmasana is an advanced asana. It's good to alter legs so that the body stays balanced.

This might sound a bit harsh, it isn't. It only protects my health. I'm sure I can communicate this all in a friendly and understandable way. This list is also for myself. I know I cannot go on as usual. This led to this back pain and no end is in sight.

To follow rules as an end in itself is nonsense and dangerous. Rules shall guide, If they are not useful one must look for other rules.