Sunday, January 31, 2016

I couldn't convince myself..

I couldn't convince myself to step on the mat. I had back PAIN. Tonight I woke up each time when I turned around. Pain woke me up. It's horror. During the last 2 years the Ashtanga yoga practice was too aggressive and too unbalanced. The price that I pay now is high.

A metaphor: If one wants to chop a tree, one has to chop again and again and again and after some time only a last hit makes the tree fall down.
For some time the body integrated the unbalanced practice. 90 % of primary is unbalanced. It's forward bending and 2 twists. Especially supta kurmasana can be very unbalanced and stress the body. The rule is to use always the left leg first. The right leg has to be moved behind the left leg, so the stress on the right side of the back is higher. Why one shall not alter the legs? I never found an explanation here. One day the body has enough. It cannot integrate the unbalance anymore. The answer is pain. Pain is the language of the body.

Whatever I do, I can only do it for let's say 30 min, then I have to alter the activity. I can sit 30 min, then I have to move, i.e.. I have enough.
Yesterday and the day before yesterday I cleaned a lot here, because we expected guests last night. This was too much.

I keep experimenting what is good for me and what not. I fear primary. Back bending feels good. Yesterday I bent forward to relax. It took a long time till pain disappeared. Then  I feared not being able to come up again. It was a nightmare to move the body in an upright position. In daily life I hide this pain and limitation. Do I still have hope that this will disappear one day?

Two Magnesium and two Kalium helped me today. I feel much better now also because I did some exercises for the back. I want to avoid pain killer.

The lesson is learned. I don't fit anymore to the mainstream.
I don't care if I can come up from urdhva dhanurasana or if I can do kapotasana. I had joy to work towards this goal. I was relaxed in terms of the results. My main goal was and is to have a daily yoga practice. I want to find out my limits on a daily basis and push them a bit yet within healthy limits!!!!!!! This is enough.

This is all spilled milk of yesterday.
I'm so sad. I knew better.
Yoga is not about reaching any asana. Most yoginis are fixated on this because they are stopped if an asana has not yet the outer form. Breath, dristi, consequent practice are not considered at all. Only reaching the toes or whatever is the criteria if someone can go on in the series.

On Monday I'm alone at home again. It's planned to be 90 min on the mat. Breathing and meditation is on the schedule like the asana practice,

30 min are over.... I have to move....

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What counts.....

What counts is that I practice. I strengthen the discipline muscle that way. More energy is required to step on the mat alone than to go to a Yoga school. Yet when practicing daily the practice itself becomes easier. This again makes it easier to start the practice. This is what I experienced today. My routine gets stronger, my practice gets easier.

The body is prepared again to get moved in the morning. Not at 6:30, but it's still before lunch time when I begin with the first sun salutation. And it's before breakfast.

I focus on back bending in the middle part. This is it what brings relief for the back. As crazy as it might sound, but the split pose feels good. See picture. Afterwards I feel like newborn. Back pain is blown away.

There are many good pain experts also on YouTube. Back bending is a recommendation when the SI joint and the muscles around it hurt. After all these years of stretching I need of course a bit more than just an upward facing dog, when I want to have the same relieving result than someone who doesn't move at all.

Ninety minutes of asana practice is enough.

I feel good:
1. I know what I did was good for my body.
2. At home I avoid painful asanas, this makes the practice more joyful.
3. To move brings joy. This is so.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Concentration - a trick

Ashtanga yoga is also about concentration. In the movie 'The breathing God' I learned that Indian students went to yoga classes in order to learn concentration. They had difficulties to focus on their studies for a longer time.

These days so many people are unfocused. Sometimes I think that there are people who are no more able to follow a 10 min conversation without checking the phone. However: concentration is a challenge. It's a skill that one can learn.

One can measure how long one is able to concentrate:
- How long can I practice without leaving the mat?
- How long can I meditate without opening the eyes?
- How long can I be in an asana without changing the position?

I found out that my concentration betters when I know how long I want to be focused. I set my timer. I practice 90 min. This is not a strict rule, It might be a bit shorter or longer. When the alarm clock rings I start finishing my practice with the last asanas. Then I do pranayama and meditation and relaxation. I want to give the relaxation parts more room. It's not all about the asanas.

My concentration is so much better than years ago. Also when I take breaks, I don't leave the mat. When I rest a bit between the asanas, my body needs it.


I don't want to dedicate my back pain an entire post. So I write at the end of this post about it. Might my insights help others.
Last night I went to bed with pain again. I cursed. This morning I searched YouTube again. I search for answers. What causes this all.  I found a pain therapist. Most people who have SI issues have it because they sit too long. The hip flexor in front of the body is shortened. When we walk this muscles is engaged, too. There are no counter poses. The hip flexor must also be stretched in order to keep the body in a healthy balance. Otherwise the body tries to balance this unbalance and this can cause muscle cramps. Pack pain.
What do I learn for myself? I don't have a sedentary life anymore, yet I also sit  often and for hours. My practice in the last years was not balanced. Primary is a forward bending series. I did 95% forward bending asanas and a few back bending asanas. In daily life I sit, too. No more from  to five, but I cannot walk around all the time, even though this feels good.  Voilà.
Last Friday I did primary and I had back pain afterwards.
Today I focused on second series only and I did a lot of back bending asanas and I feel good.
I almost cannot believe it, but even forward split feels good. I keep the body upright when I practice this pose as a preparation for back bending. I saw that this pose was recommended by a pain therapist. I only wonder who is able to do it. OK, I am.
More and more I circle the causes of my back pain. It's nonsense to take pain killers. One must find out the causes. I get closer and closer. This gives me hints what to do. It's all about experimenting, too.
I also remember the feed-back that I got in Austria after a Mysore class. The advice was to focus on back bending as there is a huge gap between my forward bending abilities and my back bending abilities. My unblanced practice was the reason for this.
Most doctors say that the pain is not caused by arthrose, The causes are single-sided body postures on a daily basis for hours.
My right side hurts because of supta kurmasana. Always the left leg is taken behind the back first and then the right leg. The right side had much more stress, so to say. These 9 back bending poses of second series were not enough to balance almost 90 min of forward bending asanas.
I'm optimistic that I will tame the pain, but I know now that it can take time. The back pain didn't come overnight, it won't disappear overnight.
I can be wrong with everything. The pain or absence of it will guide me.
From Monday to Thursday I do second series. I want to get back to practice the entire series. For the time being it's not possible. On Friday I stick to primary.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is Modern Ashtanga yoga rigid?

Ashtanga yoga how it was and is taught is influenced by the students and the financial situation of the masters.

Krichnamacharya the father of Yoga was very strict. B.K.S. Iyengar said in an interview, that many students (boys) run away from him as he hit them very hard. Iyengar himself, a relative of Krichnamachary had to do a split pose once on stage. He had never done this before. This injured him. Krichnamacharya was paid by the palace. There was no need to please the students.
Yet later, when this stopped and when he had to look for his own clients his teaching changed. His son wrote in great detail about this. The teaching became very individual, but also more friendly. Nobody would have paid him if he hit the students. The students were not only mainly boys anymore, but also people who saw yoga as a method to heal illnesses.

P. Jois, a student and also a relative of Krichnamacharya wanted to spread the art of Ashtanga yoga as a teacher. Over decades he had a handful of students. The first shala was very small. He knew all his students. His teaching was individual. One of his female students asked him how she should teach. He told her to teach how he taught her. One day she practiced primary, the other day second series. Others practiced primary and then second series till the last pose that they were able to perform. Only when half of second series was completed the series were split.
How the students practiced was not written in stone. Primary and second series were taught within a short period of time. P.Jois wanted to teach as much as possible. Within a year the students practiced 2 series. When watching the old movies one can see that the students were scarcely able to do the poses, yet they could move on.

In the meantime Ashtanga yoga became a world movement. The best of the best joined the cult. Many are young. In order to organize this and to give guidelines the rules became very strict. Sharath said in a conference that Ashtanga yoga gets diluted. I understand what he means. Too many teachers have their own ideas. Some change the series, others add props as they come from the Iyengar-style of yoga. Others again add music like the Jivamukti-teachers do. I have experienced this all. This indeed spoils Ashtanga yoga. To act against this is more than understandable.
Sharath wants to keep the series and the teaching as original as possible. This is why he is strict. The teacher who are authorized shall follow these rules.

Yet I don't fit anymore to the mainstream. The reason is my age. I'm 56 years old and I practice Ashtanga yoga since 12 years. With age the body changes. I think that I can still learn most asanas of the series, but I won't learn it re what is called the tradition (yet it is very modern). When I struggle with kapotasana this pose must come earlier and not after having practiced full primary. I must repeat the difficult asanas. I won't learn the asanas if I do them for 5 breaths.
I'm injured now. Right now I sit here with back pain. It's hard to start my practice, but I'll do it. I must omit asanas that hurt. That this is not possible in classic Ashtanga yoga Mysore classes is not understandable. Is Ashtanga  yoga not also about flexibility?
The rigidness of modern teaching injured me. A softer practice shall heal me.

To stop people when they are not able to do an asanas creates a focus on the asanas. But the asanas are just a tool. Ashtanga yoga is also about breathing, concentration, the discipline to practice daily. This is not considered. Studentes are judged only by the form of the asana.
My practice (performance of the asanas) was much better 4 years ago than it is now. What do I learn from this? I draw already one consequence: I do home practices. This allows me to listen to my body and to adjust the practice. I hope to find a place where I can practice perhaps twice a week. I need a place where I can listen to my body, rules come later.

Yesterday I took a lot of clothes to the tailor. They all needed to get altered. The clothes that I buy never fit. Most of the time the sleeves must get shortened. The off-the-shelf clothes don't fit. The clothes must get adjusted.
It's the same when I go to a restaurant. I ask the waiter if it's possible to leave out the cheese when I order a salad, just to give an example.
Of-the-shelf Ashtanga yoga doesn't fit to me neither. The masses have discovered Ashtanga yoga. The average yogini is the target group. Too many students discovered this beautiful style. There is no room for individuality anymore. I regret this.

Discussions are welcome.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Boys Yoga Demo

Primary - key words

Primary, the first Ashtanga yoga series aims mainly on enlarging the flexibility of the hips, in terms of all forward bending position. In terms of the vinyasas it strengthens the upper body.

Hip flexibility and strong upper body are for me the key words when I think of primary.

There are 2 twists, yes. There are few asanas that require balancing skills. Setu bandhasana is for me a pose at the end that rather shows if one is strong enough in the meantime than it is a real back bending asana.

P.Jois taught his students rather quickly second series. The students didn't even realize when they started practicing second series. This makes so much sense. In order to have a balanced practice one must have back bending asanas (and not only urdhva dhanurasana at the end).


I practice daily at home. From Monday to Thursday I focus on second series. I do different exercises re back bending. My practice is not pain free, but my days are mainly pain free.

A few days back I read something interesting. Cancer survivors were interviewed. Doctors had told them that the life expectancy should be under a year. But these survivors lived all much much longer, up to a decade. The treatment was different. What had they all in common? They believed that they would heal.

All the exercises that doctors recommend when having back pain remind me of yoga poses. I keep practicing but with a lot of awareness.

The picture is 4 years old. I don't want to interrupt my practice these days.

I set my timer to 90 min. Then my practice is usually over. This is enough. Within that time frame a satisfying practice must happen. Then I do pranayama, meditation and relaxation. Sometimes these yoga exercises are even within this time frame. It feels good. Pranayama gives me so much energy. The relaxation at the end is also more than good, It even feels deserved.
I even set a second timer. I challenge myself with headstand. Today I was up 1 min. This was easy. So tomorrow I want to be in headstand for 2 min. My goal is 5 min. The inversions need time to be effective.

I lost strength and flexibility, but I'm more than happy that I have the discipline to practice every day and that a practice is possible.

Tomorrow is primary and I'm looking forward to my practice.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why sun salutations, why standing asanas?

1. Sun salutations.

The Ashtanga practice starts with the sun salutations. This is no accident. The purpose of the sun salutations is to get warm. Sun salutation B is a bit more challenging than sun salutation A. When the sun salutations are practice correctly they can be rather exhausting. The sun salutations built strength.
The sun salutations prepare the rhythm for the practice, too. There is surely much more to say, but I want to focus on what is most important.

With my aching sacroiliac joint sun salutation B is painful. So I omit it. When I feel that I got a nice warm up, I think it's perfect. Practicing variations of the asanas can be much better than sticking to the rules and order. When the purpose of the exercise is clear, it's easy to adjust the practice to the own needs.

2. The standing asanas.

For me the key word here is 'strong legs'. The standing asanas build the foundation. Strong legs are also required when bending forward or when bending backwards or when twisting. The habit to practice with strong legs and engaged bandhas are learned here.

Again, with this in mind, it's for me not necessary to follow the order of the asanas blindly. Important is to have strong legs and to ground oneself. Building stability is the core here. For me it's better to hold those asanas longer that feel good, than to do asanas that hurt. Trikonasana on the left side hurts.
I'm glad that I can do almost all the asanas except Trikanosana A left side and the hero poses.

I set a timer. One and a half hour is enough for me. To limit the asana practice gives me more time for my other activities. To have a practice that lasts in sum with all the showering and commuting longer than 4 hours, brought stress into my life. Within 90 min asana practice should be enough time to practice familiar asanas and to learn new ones.

Today I practiced second series till bakasana. For me it makes sense to practice the personal challenging asanas rather at the begin of an asana practice than at the end.
Yep I'm sad that my practice regressed, but this is forgotten when I'm on the mat. Then I breathe and I search my limits. Then I relax. The asanas must feel good.

Picture was taken 4 years ago. I'm so glad that I have documented my journey. It motivates me enormously. I want to get back where I've been.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Enough is enough

A last festive dinner today, a last coffee and cake event and then we were on our way home.
"Do you like to go out?" I asked my E. when w arrived. He wanted. Round the corner is a bar and there we landed. It was an arrival ritual.

When we paid I wished the waiter a happy new year. At once she said that she was glad that all was over now. It was also stress. I so agreed. Halleluja, it's over!

Now I'm on my own again, Back to an ascetic life. I'll stop anything when I'm still greedy. That keeps me active. The energy level will be high. My life will be intensive.

Up at 5am. Water and a black bitter coffee as a first welcoming drink of the day. I'll so love it.

Too much is a burden, not enough, too.

Second practice missed.

I curse. I'm totally out of rhythm. 

Late up, late in bed. 

Tomorrow is a fresh day. Yepeeee. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

First practice of the year 2016

A practice happened. As it's Friday today, I practiced primary.  So much is possible, yet the opposite is true, too. So much is no more possible. Trikonasana B, see picture, is no more possible due to my back pain. This is just an example. I needed a lot of will power today to finish my practice. I try to practice close to the original primary. I modify the poses or omit them when my back doesn't like them. I got weak, too.

I could take my leg behind my heads. Instead of supta kurmasana I did eka pada sirsasana as I consider it more balanced. This was really my highlight today. Being able to do these advanced asanas is motivating.

I'm convinced that asana practice is possible for everybody. It might not be possible to follow strict Ashtanga rules. The practice must be so flexible that it's doable and save.

My only goal for 2016 is to keep practicing.

I wish a happy healthy new year.