Monday, March 21, 2016

Strength and weaknesses of Ashtanga yoga



Strength:

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.

Weaknesses:
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.
However.
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. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Today's highlights



Today I tried if it's possible to do trikonasana on the left side. Oh, what was I glad that it was possible. I couldn't get out of the pose elegantly, but I also didn't fall on my nose or elsewhere because back pain didn't allow me to hold the pose. The pain moved. Now the muscles are involved. I think it's easier to treat the muscles than a tiny joint that is blocked.

One hour was enough for a new start. I so take care that I take my time for the rest pose. Being able to relax is a skill that can be exercised, too.

The lower back can be protected when the bandhas are engaged. This is so important. Engaged abdominal and engaged pelvis floor give stability and protection. To engage these muscles make a practice safer, it can protect from injuries.

The start:
I do surya namaskara A 5 times. Surya namaskara B is not possible.
The middle part:
Today I practiced second series till ustrasana. I added my special exercises for the back.
The closing sequence:
As I lost consciousness and fell on my head when I had this influenza my head still hurts when I lie on the mat. So the closing sequence exists of headstand and the three last poses in padmasana.
Then I relax for 10 min.

Today this was it, yet I want to add pranayama and meditation again.

During today's session I wanted to take pictures. I was so curious how my asana would look like. My body got weaker, that's why I felt relatively flexible. To work on strength is important. For me baby steps in the right direction is enough. My practice is very attentive. I focus on correct performance of the asanas.

The practice today made me optimistic that one day this nightmare will be over. Might it be soon. I also realized that I can do a lot, not everything, but a lot. A yogini is content.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I was knocked out


Within a day I felt from good to super lousy. I got fever and felt every hour more exhausted. I got an influenza. This is not a flu. It's a virus which comes with high fever and exhaustion. The fever was above 39 plus. It can soar to 41 degree Celsius. Every tiny activity was too much for me. My E took me to the doctor three times. There I got infusions that brought the fever down. One week I was only in bed. I cannot remember when I felt so weak. In the morning I went to the kitchen to prepare a tiny breakfast for myself. Twice I lost consciousness and fell on the floor. I was not able to prepare a breakfast for myself. Writing this down, I'm so glad that this is all over. I didn't feel my back during that time, because I had too much Aspirin in my body to bring the fever down.

"One must fight one's way back to life," the doctor said. This sentence was so true. One more week I felt weak. I slept more than three hours in the afternoon out of exhaustion even though I accomplished little.

There was no thought of practicing yoga. Of course not.

Now I'm recovered from this influenza and the back pain is back. I found a good physio therapist. In the meantime the pain moved. The muscles around the SI joint are involved now and hurt. The physio therapist recommends to move. Pain shall be avoided. I can and it's even recommended to practice yoga.  I realized that the joint is slightly better. I could do trikonasana on the left side. Nevertheless the pain in the muscles around the joint is horrible.
A few days ago I bought a fascia roll. This shall help to bring the tightness out of the muscles. It's painful to use it, but I have the feeling it helps. After the exercises I feel so much better.
Good was also that I was taught how to bow forward correctly. One shall avoid compensation movements. Due to the influenza I had to interrupt the treatment at the physio therapist, which I regret a lot. Now I'm alone with all the exercises that I can do. I'll continue with the treatment in April.
It was wrong to take pain killers. My family doctor had this idea. My back pain is also not caused by stress. What nonsense. It can happen anywhere to block the SI joint. Lower back pain are almost never caused by psychologically reasons.  In my case the injury  happened during yoga. It was irresponsible that I was asked to practice asanas that hurt me even though I said minimum three times that I want to alter my practice due to back pain. This made everything worse.

I'm now on the right track. It will take several months, so the physio therapist, till I'll be back to normal, but she is optimistic that this injury will heal.

I have to convince myself to start with Ashtanga yoga again. My routine is interrupted. I got stiff and I have this back issues. Much energy is required to get back to a practice. But this is it what has priority now.