L.O.S. Weeks 66 through 70

I have been making small ballpoint pen notes in the program as I progress, usually just underlining new poses or bracketing sequences of interest.  Sometimes I’ve put some exclamation points or smiley or sad faces depending on what he’s thrown into the mix.  This section has “WATERLOO!!” scrawled at the top and some big black underlining of Mayurasana, Padma Mayurasana, Nakrasana and of course, my personal Kryptonite:  handstand into backbend.  It’s like he just unloaded all of the stuff that’s just frickin impossible into one section.  I was actually having an OK and more or less edifying time with Weeks 61 through 65 which, while handbalance-heavy, were doable [dropbacks against the wall and so on] and without too much preamble my water-wings have been removed and I’m in the deep end.

the inevitable enticing romance of spring…I am a sucker

So then I have to go back to the beginning and remember when e.g. Vrksasana was impossible.  When running was impossible.  When wall balls and Headstand were impossible.  It was just over a year ago I started my classes at the gym and [duh] 66 weeks ago [probably a little more if you insert illness/crisis/travel time] that I started Project Light on Sjanz.  And every single day was impossible until it was done.  Then it was not just possible but obvious.

Mental focus on the present moment is critical to make sure you’re paying attention and are not burdened with anxiety or projection.  However, the context and emotional memory for your endeavours extends through time, and no matter how advanced or adept you become a little part of your brain should stay tethered to the place you were in when you started.  Maybe it’s just a thin thread, but those seeds of beginning still grow in you.   You do not have a finite amount of beginnings in you, so don’t make the common error of thinking that once you have achieved a few “firsts” that you run out.

Gotta jet, I hear Robs through the baby monitor running through all the words he knows, checking to see that on this sunny spring day his knowledge still abides.  “Hannah’s nose.  Mummy’s nose.  Baby’s nose.  Daddy’s nose.  Cat’s nose.  Car.  Airplane in the sky.  Boats in the water.  Toe on foot” u.s.w.  That probably means he’s ready for more input…

L.O.S. Weeks 36 through 44

“Ramakrishna said that our attempts to go to Brahman and report back what it’s like are like sending a salt doll – a doll made out of salt – to the bottom of the ocean to determine its depth.  On the way, the doll will totally dissolve, and there will be nobody left to report back.”

    – Ram Dass, from Paths to God, recalling Ramakrishna’s endeavour to describe samadhi to his students

stay under as long as you can

In plain talk, we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole at this point, people.  I haven’t been able to transcribe all of the asanas for each section, nor have I been entirely clear on what specifically is transpiring in my own experience as the weeks progress, and now that I’m approaching the year anniversary of Project LOS, if I were to try to describe the full transition I wouldn’t even know where to start.  I figure having the asanas written is not so important cause if you’re reading this you probably have the book and you can look it up yourself, plus while the project remains firmly anchored in the physical body the effects are becoming less tangible, less anatomical, less intellectual even:  the shifts seem to be manifesting as dreams [which are often nightmares at this point, womp womp, requiring a steady meditative hand during the days] and flashes of people or situations in one day that manifest or show themselves in the next 48 or 72 hours.  The structural changes in the Week 36-40 series hinge around Vatyanasana and Akarna Dhanurasana, addressing iliopsoas and quadratus lumborum among others, and then BKS has been good enough to bestow Urdhva Dhanurasana on us as the final pose before rest, plus some Uddhiyana Bandha practice which will get your motor running.  It’s good spinal therapy.  Then in weeks 40 through 44 he says just “consolidate” the poses up to this point, which I’m not sure what that means in this context but I just kept doing the previous weeks’ sequence…

…and then yesterday I completed the first time all the way through the Week 45-50 sequence with all the trimmings and had my little blown yet again by the sophistication and cumulative construction of the program.  The sequences are lasting for longer chunks of time and building physical stamina in Urdhva by way of 6 repetitions; pranayam is increasing in length and volatility.  Note to any of you practicing this along with me, or who want to start it:  do not skip Nadi Shodana.

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L.O.S. Up to Week 30, and the end of Course One

A couple of technical notes from the last couple of LOS weeks:

I was initially puzzled by the early inclusion of lotus, virasana, full Gomukhasana arms and similar tight binds of extreme shoulder or knee flexing that seem to elude the gen-pop. I’ve never really had problems with them in my own body, but as a teacher I rarely include them in a beginner or even a mixed level class, because it’s just too demoralizing..it separates practitioners instead of unifying them, or it becomes a tedious technical exegesis that doesn’t always reflect the needs of a post-work sweat followed by peace and quiet.

Because of my work teaching the good folks at my gym, I’ve been following Kelly Starret’s video/blog series, MobilityWOD. For those of you not familiar with the lingo, a WOD is a “workout of the day” and mobility refers specifically to joint and tissue movement, something often lacking in the tight strong bodies of athletes. So a couple of side notes:

– the more athletic fortitude I gain, the less patience I have for what I would term conventional alignment instruction; my internal sensitivity is reduced somewhat (although the LOS practice does help me regain it). I hold the pose for the requisite time but I do less tinkering around and futzing with subtlety. I just let it work on me.
– the more athletic fortitude I gain, the more I see that the tight binds and lotuses in Iyengar’s program are *mobility drills*: they fix e.g. The hand and elbow in the case of Gomukhasana or the foot and knee in the case of Lotus and then the relevant torso joint, shoulder and hip, MUST open. Or, open and re-stabilize with more relevance to the core, as in the case of the recently introduced Urdhva Padmasana and Pindasana in both headstand and shoulder stand.

K-Star would have an athlete under his tutelage take a hold of a vertical pole with her hand overhead and in the back plane, then hold the elbow with the free hand, so as to stabilize the two less relevant and more mobile joints, to open and then restabilize the shoulder. Much easier for the stiff and strong, but if a vertical pole is not available, I’m impressed at the biomechanical resourcefulness of Iyengar’s sequencing…and again, marveling at the consistency that different body-models maintain, even across time and out of context.

App: Seconds Pro, also good for Tabata stuff

And subjective emo notes:

I LOVE THIS PRACTICE. I am so infatuated with Sirsasana that I’m sending it inappropriate text messages. And it’s important to remember during the close of Course One that it was not always thus, in fact, the vast majority of the initial days were a gruesome demoralizing slog. You gotta stick with it. The body works slowly, its vibration is slow, you gotta just show up and do the work. Now that I am more physically able on multiple levels, I’m getting greedy (ironically): I am less patient with myself and with others, I am more in a hurry to skip ahead to other shapes. And I have messed with the program here and there, inserting some thigh stretches occasionally, and what might be charitably termed an Anusaresque hip opening sequence, but other than that trying to remain as consistent and accurate as possible.

At the end of Course One BK finally offers Surya Namaskar, since he’s been prepping the constituent poses as long holds for weeks. He also gives a little three-day sampler plate that synthesizes and re-sequences the asanas shown to date, and I went full iNerd and used my circuit training timer app to generate accurate timing of all the poses, as given by the man himself. He claims that this course will restore and bring balance to body and mind and so far I can confirm his findings.

Current events: My plan to insinuate myself into the One Yoga For The People community was effective and I will be teaching at 7:30 pm on Fridays starting this week, throughout the rest of the summer.  On Monday I was interviewed on The Yoga Voice podcast, created and sustained by my buddy Stacey, and a brilliant concept, so check those interviews out, and mine should be posted in a little while.

L.O.S. Weeks 20 through 25 Which Is More Than One Sequence But I Am Behind In Posting

So far in this blog feature I’ve focussed on the physical effects of the Iyengar program work, primarily because that was where I felt that I needed the most diligent effort and the most subtle attention. Since the recent weeks have gone even heavier on Headstands and Shoulderstands I suppose it’s no surprise that my brain should be feeling the effects.

I’ve been having more insights, both of the spontaneous “received” sort and also a lot of lumbering awkward contemplation. It’s like doing pushups for your brain. Def. helps with kid-related and sleep-deprivation folly, although the twins are now sleeping more or less through the night. And frankly after the emphasis of the last few years on the “heart” [insert question marks and tone quotes and funny, querulous faces here] I am taking solace in the body and yes, in the mind. Hell, maybe a lack of logical inquiry on these subjects is how my whole Anusara Certification experience went off the rails in the first place.

It’s actually THESE guys’ fault.

Here’s what I’m thinking now, after observing all the behaviour around me: John’s choices, the yoga community at large, the Anusara community specifically, this city, my family, you name it: it is the rhetoric* behind the practice of yoga, its argument, that I conflict with when I conflict at all. I have realized I have no beef with any one technique but I often object to the whys and wherefores. For example, I enjoy the METHOD of Vipassana. I object to being told that the purpose of practicing Vipassana meditation is to eliminate constant sowing of karmic, desirous seeds. I enjoy the METHOD of Anusara. I object to being told that firming my leg muscles is explicitly connected to my commitment as a student. Und so weiter.  [Buddhism vs. life is suffering, the Yoga Sutras vs. the extraction of pure consciousness from matter, &c.] Since I have low self-esteem and a lot of guilt, fear and shame, any technique that uses the eradication of the self as its rhetorical thrust is going to diminish me further and break my heart. Not everybody has that psychological context for their practice and so different rhetoric of different methods will resonate in a shifting kontextual kaleidoscope of ways. Perhaps this is more coherent way of framing my objection to the teaching technique of theming that I brusquely threw aside in the post below.

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Light on Sjanz – Get Free – Up To Week 19

I held off on week 19-21 because I was still slow to get an uninterrupted five minute Sirsasana, or, well, it was erratic. Stupid scoliosis. My policy with Sirsasana has been to use a wall within reach, not because I can’t hold it in the middle of the room, but because the stress and exertion that holding it in the middle of the room causes overwork and desensitizes me to the point that I can’t really feel the work that is supposed to be taking place anyway. Maybe that’s a parable for all of this: that just execution, while sometimes the only way to remedy inertia, can mask the work that swims and lurks below.

I work out.

And what’s funny about this little one-sided dialogue [not a monologue, exactly; more like a halfalogue] between me and BK is that I actually started craving omitting the standing poses and just focussing on the Sirsasana and Sarvangasana cycles. Crossfit and my very first proper run [well, jog/lurch] is no doubt contributing to that. So I’d been holding off and holding off and trying to be disciplined and you know me, letter of the law until complete rebellion/nervous breakdown…and voila, weeks 19-21 begin with and focus on a Sirsasana/Sarvangasana cycle, then there’s abs, backbends, Chaturanga [from the ground d’oh], forward folds very reminiscent of an abbreviated Primary Series. I hadn’t even looked and here Iyengar had my hearts’ desire written down in advance. COINCIDENCE??!?! The inexorable logic of body, perhaps? Going to the gym first for what looks like a punishing rowing series, then a mysterious lift I’ve never done before, and then I’ll try this new adventure [if my limbs are still attached].

UPDATE: Went to try to find a less cryptic pic for this post and there are very few Sexy Yoga Skinny Pinup shots of Parsvaika Pada Sirsasana. It’s all just scanned shots of BKSI looking pissed and upside down. I leave the conclusions of this note as an exercise for the reader.

L.O.S. Weeks 8 through, um, 15 it looks like: Under Construction

Poses added since the last time I wrote about this which was ages ago:  Urdhva Prasarita Padasana a.k.a. abs, Paripurna Navasana and Ardha Navasana.  Jatara Parivartanasana*.  Padanguthasana, Padahastasana and Uttanasana.  Salamba Sirsasana.  Makrasana/Salabasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana.  And all kinds of spice on the Sarvangasana form:  Supta Konasana, Parsva Halasana, and Eka Pada Sarvangasana, most of which I don’t get to cause either I lose my alignment or the kids need something.  Mahamudra, Janu Sirsasana, Dandasana and Paschimottanasana.

This is very bad science because I’ve also been adding OTHER things to my physical practice, notably Crossfit, which has been tremendous in its power, simplicity and punishing intensity.  Of course I’m doing like the training-wheels/water-wings forms of everything, whereas normal looking people walk in while I’m purple and panting and do what I’m doing times a million, but there it is; I’ve never done most of this stuff before and quite frankly it’s good for your soul to be taught, sometimes.  So it’s hard to know how much of my recent wellness is due to B.K. or due to his energetic inheritance by way of CF [there are dowels!  but not for whacking].  But I didn’t quit!  It’s just not having the dramatic intensity of growth it did at the beginning, because, well, that’s nature and math for you.

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L.O.S. – Weeks 3 through 7

No, I didn’t quit [winky face]. I just had trouble blogging, ’cause TWINSMAS. I’m on Week 8 now which is throwing me some curve balls but in the meantime here are the notes from the last month of the project:

Weeks 3 and 4: Is This As Boring As It Seems

Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana I and II, Parvritta Trikonasana, Parsvottanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana I, Salamba Sarvangasana I, Halasana, Savasana

Is this boring? Is it as boring as it sometimes seems? I can’t believe how much I would NOT have wanted to do this even a year ago and how rad it has turned out to be, is why. I have boundary issues with this, like I’m always trying to teach My Old Self from my early twenties, when in fact I occupied a very specific and not altogether savoury energetic and intellectual space at that time that I expect only a small minority of students currently occupy.

No vinyasas, no variations, no linking poses together. If I’m not interrupted by twin related mayhem [which has really ceased to be an interruption and more of a natural extension of the work itself], just jumping legs wide and together [itself a bit of a sore spot for me, since I’ve always found jumping to be jubbly and undignified] and moving on to the next one. At some point in these two weeks practicing the poses above I realized something very significant was happening inside which was the opposite of boring. Parvritta Trikonasana in particular appears to be functioning at this stage as scoliosis therapy, and as one has nothing more exciting to draw one’s attention away from small asymetries, they take on their own fascination. The anatomical specificity of Weeks 1 and 2 continues, only now with like pop-ups attached, like they’re links on blogs:

…vastus lateralis + gluteus medius [popup: lateral proximal part of foot]…

&c.

Breastfeeding has made Salabasana impossible but I’ve got it waiting in the wings.

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L.O.S. – Weeks 1 and 2 – The Colouring Book

Tadasana, Vrksasana, Utthita Trikonasana, Parsva Konasana, Virabhadrasana I, Virabhadrasana II, Parsvottanasana, Salamba Sarvangasana I, Halasana, Savasana

This is outing myself even further, but what the hell: I’ve never really felt I *had* to practice alignment. I was in various forms of discomfort, all of which felt pretty much under my control, either physical or energetic, and I could basically dial them up or down at will. If I got a little zany, some repeated stuff would come up, and I’d feel it happen and sort of stupidly decide in any given moment to go into the repeated stuff or dodge it, usually go into it, and then deal with the aftermath in my own perverse way. And the alignment certainly helped with some discomfort, and it made my poses improve, and it gave me some stuff to think about. It helped me start to see things in other bodies and see more within. But I never really HAD to think about it if I didn’t want to. I could do a crappy pose and the worse thing that would happen is I might have to crack my SI joint like a knuckle and all would be well.

Not so post-partum, which has removed pretty much all the spontaneous joy from yoga for me. It no longer feels good and free to

move. Which is cool because Mr Iyengar has made it clear that he doesn’t want me to feel good OR free, he just wants me to work hard and take care of business. So, henceforth he and I are in agreement: I picture him berating me and whacking me across the

How many hours have I spent in front of this thing?

flank with a stick. The consequence of not moving intelligently is devastating pain that lasts for days and could previously only be alleviated either by not doing any sort of movement endeavour [which was making me big and slow] or bodywork [which, while delightful, was starting to be a bit of a cash-flow issue] so I suppose I have my own internal stick with which to whack myself. Again, I’ve never felt anything like this before: such a joyless squashing of the creativity I had come to associate with the practice: but after like the 50th time I assed myself up pretending things were OK I finally, reluctantly, learned.

The practice above is not any practice that I would either sequence for my students or come up with for my home practice. In fact, it used to look so Goddamn tedious I didn’t take it seriously on any level whatsoever. In the last two weeks it has come to be as comfortable and healing as one of those old Epsom salt footbaths in your Grandma’s bathroom.. I read the accompanying material and terse and sometimes elliptical alignment instructions [for example, M and I had to Google what was intended by “firm loins”]. I read the therapeutic applications, and marvel at the difference between what Mr Iyengar thinks these poses are good for and what my other teachers have said they were good for, and how they felt to me. Then I do the pose for the recommended amount of breaths/time, and let it go. I’ve only had to miss two days due to flu in the last two weeks. That’s not bad with twins. [Mr Iyengar was silent on the calibre of a seeker with twins.]

My notes: Vrksasana is great for improving blood flow and fat/fluid removal from post-partum inner thighs. The innervation seems stronger there now, even though it’s pretty painful in a skin-tightening sort of way when you’re in it [i.e. not joint or muscle pain, just that irritating asana pain about which nothing can be done]. It’s nice to practice Vira I again, it’s always so nostalgic, and is a nice stretch for the lateral gastrocnemius and soleus provided the heel is correctly rooted. A five-minute shoulderstand is really an ass-kicker. I am not yet strong enough to do it for the full time every time but luckily [?] it repeats for what looks like several more weeks. I did enjoy his aside about how Shoulderstand is the “mother” now that I’m a mother: taking care of all the systems, keeping the household/body in tandem and smooth working order. It’s SOMEWHAT less misogynist than his other asides.

But what’s been especially rad about this first small foray on a multi-year endeavour is that, due to the specificity of the work and the pain of misaligning, my whole body is lighting up like the Anatomy Colouring Book, and each practice colours in a bit more. At some point in e.g. Trikonasana, I will be doing my level best to firm my loins &c., and across my consciousness will float:

“…left side quadratus femoris…”

or

“…top fibres of right oblique…”

and the electricity of my studies colours in the fibres of the newly contracting muscle in e.g. bright blue [it’s usually blue]. The names are always in italic, bold Garamond, and they always have those little ellipses around them.

Now, I’m not an anatomy pro; I’m not a doctor, although I do play one on TV. Assisting Chris got my head in the game and I’ve been doing my best ever since. This is a new level of synthesis, of study/awareness/sensation/ healing. It’s pretty awesome. The pain has given me one of those packs of rainbow-coloured felt-tip markers, and as long as I don’t quit, I’ll just keep filling everything in.

Light on Sjanz – A Project

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you’ll *learn* more when *teaching* an event, much more than anticipated. The Teacher Intensives have basically blown out my cerebral cortex every weekend, not just because I’m co-teaching in such excellent company but the teachers who attend have been extremely high-calibre; and while I’m always very pleased and proud to offer whatever’s been rattling around in the ol’ brain-pan, I definitely walk away with what I offered plus interest.

This series is a takeaway from Shelley Tomczyk, who spoke so highly and devotedly of a text I’ve always had little to no time for: BKS Iyengar’s tendentious classic Light on Yoga, an ubiquitous dusty offering on many yogi’s bookshelves. My copy, after reading the following [parentheses and italics mine]:

“The feeble seekers are those who lack enthusiasm, criticise their teachers [d’oh], are rapacious, inclined to bad action [yipes!], eat much [that’ll leave a mark], are in the power of women [SCREW YOU!!], unstable [see above], cowardly, ill, dependent, speak harshly [why I oughtta…], have weak characters, and lack virility [*&!ing patriarchy].”

remained fairly untouched, and only consulted in moments of examination or under duress. He doesn’t like me, I thought to myself, and I don’t like him: by any metric I would have failed him long ago, and frankly I’m not really in the mood to be hit with

Photo courtesy of Still Yoga, stillyoga.com

dowels or verbally abused which is sort of how he rolls so the whole thing left me cold. But Shelley’s copy was dogeared and falling apart, and we did a little exercise using it, and there was something about the stern, no-nonsense fluffless approach that landed a little deeper this time around. The only hands-on experience I had with Iyengar Yoga was a clinic taught at my old yoga stomping grounds, at which time I was a dillentantish Ashtangi with no idea whatsoever what the hell was going on, so needless to say a 3 minute supported headstand had no attraction to me, much less a supine Warrior II held for what seemed to be a cortex-flattening amount of boring time. Whattaya want, I was like 22.

So, and I realize I am outing myself in a big way here and hope you, gentle reader, will help hold me accountable, I am committing to undertaking Iyengar’s 300-week course of study, and am just closing in on the end of week 2. I can already tell this is going to take longer than the 300 weeks; if all goes as expected, the twins will be about 7 when I’m done.

NOTE: Yes, I’m aware that I’d be better served doing this under the tutelage of an Iyengar teacher; but for reasons of funding and time management I’m just going to rely on my many years of practice, however low-grade, and my [koff, koff] thousand hours of study.