What is unrealistic?

July 1, 2016

“Unrealistic expectation leads to discontent.
The acceptance of all – dark and light, smooth and rough alike with an open heart and pure intention leads to genuine transformation.
Inspiration can be found in nature’s organic irregularity.
Inspiration and beauty can be found within the unique irregularity of you.
We practice, not for the sake of a perfect pose, but for the prana that stirs the blood and inspires change.”
Dena Kingsberg

I read Dena’s words last night and it got me thinking about what is unrealistic , what constitutes something completely beyond expectation? Maybe I should ask her when I see her later this month.

Some expectations may be unrealistic now, but if we work at them every day perhaps they become a possibility and one day even a reality. As I’ve heard Dena say often, “do the work, show up every day”. If we believed something to be totally unrealistic why would we even start to do the work.

In 2012 I got to Bhekasana before the accident, in the next two years of pain, surgery, rehab and physio I seriously doubted I would ever return to the heady heights of intermediate, but Louise told me to come and do what I could, what was possible then. The practice definitely helps in the healing process, not just physically but mentally as well, when you are on the point of giving up something happens and you think ok I’ll give it another go.

After another unrelated surgery in June 2015 it took me until the beginning of this year to feel like I was back to the point of being comfortable. But then I felt stuck, I was on a plateau, I could do my practice without having to make the mental or physical effort, I had stopped working towards anything, I didn’t leave AYL with that feeling of satisfaction or even joy, it was like “is this it”. I was seriously wondering what was the point of going to the Shala.

I spoke to L about how I felt my practice was drifting, lacking a focus or challenge. My dropbacks were / are still the problem because of the shoulder. L had me working harder at Salabhasana and Bhekasana, they improved.

So last Sunday I realise L is behind me to assist my last posture Bhekasana as usual, somehow my left hand managed to face forward and semi press down “better” she says and let’s go after raising my chest. I do the vinyasa and sit down not realising L is still there and has said “Dhanurasana “, I look up and she says “take Dhanurasana”.

Dhanurasana has been my “Unrealistic expectation”, and if I’d seen it that way and not carried on getting on the mat it still would be, in 2012-2015 it was unrealistic but now exactly 3 years and 10 months after she said “take Bhekasana” it’s possible.

Does sitting make you anti social?

May 12, 2016

Just over a year ago in Mysore I finally met Angela, well rather she met me, she roared up Gokulam High street on her Scooter as I sat on the steps outside Amruth sipping my post practice Chai. She braked to a stop, took off her helmet and introduced herself, then invited me to Idli breakfast the next morning. We had chatted over the years on the Ashtangi’s message boards, via Facebook, now finally we met in person.

Anyone who has read Angela’s Inside Owl blog will know she’s a deep thinker, the conversation over breakfast pinged around from injuries, she had a pretty big one, practice, Mysore, psychology, meditation. It was my last week in Mysore and as I left she said “practice strong”. She’s one of those inspiring people whose words seem to all be carefully chosen.

A while after I got home Angela sent out an email about a Dharana (6th of the 8 limbs, concentration), course she was running for her students. At the time I had just come out of Hospital and wasn’t allowed to practice. Dharana or “Sitting” as it’s known is about stilling the mind, watching the breath, recognising other thoughts that arise and letting them go.

Angela initially said the practice should happen after the closing postures, but before Savasana. To do it until it felt natural to stop.The aim being to gradually increase the time, her students eventually sat for over an hour, but we started with 5 minutes, which seemed like an eternity. I would set the timer on my phone and was sure I hadn’t pressed “go”.

The key is to sit comfortably, not necessary in full Padmasana, half Lotus or perhaps just crossed legs, to be warm, a shawl or blanket around the shoulders, know you won’t be interrupted. Recognise the days when it just isn’t happening, because some days the mind just won’t shut the **** up.

After a while you realise you are not uncomfortable, the time you sit increases, from the initial 5 minute torture 5 minutes is no longer enough, you dispense with the timer or in my case you change it to stopwatch mode to see how long you sit for, no longer waiting for the bell to rescue you.

Nearly a year later I tend to “sit” on days when I’ve done my full practice, I average between 10-15 minutes before a light switch goes on in my head and I’m conscious again of my surroundings. It feels natural to stop, take Savasana.

Dharana can be done on it’s own, obviously, but I can’t make it work without having practised first. It’s also made me want quiet, silence even, away from the mat, I try to avoid the blah blah. Sitting no longer needs to be forced, it’s natural.

As Angela encouraged me to give it a go, I’m amazed how much Ive come to enjoy it, I asked her if sitting makes you anti social, am I turning in to a hermit, I’ve never been a party, crowds person, but lately finding that quiet mental space has become more important. I said to her it’s some kind of progress perhaps that I’ve noticed the change.

She replied

” I do think it’s natural for us to progress to habits of being that are non-agitated, simple and peaceful. And we can’t force this… it comes when it comes.

But there is also the thing of living in the world and being very skillful at that. My inspirations on this are the Gita and also the “Living in the World” chapter of TKV Desikachar’s book The Heart of Yoga. A basic teaching I return to often. ”

I better visit Amazon and buy the book.

Physio yoga

April 30, 2016

The trapped nerve is gone, thanks to Liz the Physio’s thumbs, her exercises and carrying on getting on the mat. The 30 minutes a day of physio exercises on top of the usual practice has been hard work, but my Hip has more stability. The exercises look easy, but looks can be deceptive, squatting on one leg vividly showed how little stability and strength the left had compared to the right, it’s getting better. Clam shell leg raising for a minute, it’s a looooong minute! As well as the Hip issue Liz has gone to work on the ex fractured shoulder, exercises to give it some more mobility which should help with opening the upper back.

I had my last session of physio this week, which alternated between her having me do Ustrasana and Laghu Vajrasana on a yoga mat and her elbow and thumbs digging in to my lower back, sciatic nerve and Piriformis. Her mission was to have me going back straight, to re teach my body and brain where the middle is and stop my veering to the right as it got more difficult. Apparently when I’m straight the pinching in my left side isn’t “bad”, after favouring the right side for 3 years because of the fracture the left side is suddenly having to work again, so the pinching is a kind of signal that I’m straight. The right side is also quite tight because it’s done all the work for 3 years.

Back on the mat my backbends are feeling better, I can suddenly walk my hands in an extra few inches in Urdva Dhanurasana and unassisted dropbacks are safer. That said my teacher L has noted my left hands propensity to twist outwards when I’m trying to come back up, which she said is going in to my back. C also noticed today that my elbows do the same going out rather than in as I come up, making it harder for the chest to come through.

I’m managing to stand up off the half thickness blocks again, video here

Bhekasana plateau

March 31, 2016

I posted the following words on FB and it generated a lot more reaction than I was expecting.

I’m bored with Bhekasana, I’ve been stuck at this stupid asana for 4 years, maybe I should save £20 and stay in bed on sundays !

It’s taken a lot of work to get back to where I was pre fracture, pre surgery, pre rehab, then last years little Op, but since last September time or there abouts I’ve been able to do my given practice through to Bhekasana, binding the binds again on my own and having the stamina.

During all the rehab practice had a purpose, I could literally see and feel what it was doing for me mentally as well as physically. I kind of hoped or expected practice to start moving along again, but it hasn’t, it’s become more of a mental challenge to do it now than physically to plod through.

I do Bhekasana and think “is that it”, if Bhekasana is to be my lifetime Ashtanga plateau it’s a bit of a crap one. Practice has ceased to have it’s feelings of challenge, satisfaction or fun that it had in the past when L was adding postures on when I was just getting the hang of the previous one.

Yes I know it’s not about collecting asanas, but practice has lost it’s purpose, a reason to work at it, I finish and it’s like “that’s done”. It’s on the daily to do list, no longer because I want and look forward to doing it, but because at nearly 52, it feels like something I need to do to maintain the creaking system. I don’t want it to be like that.

Not that I want to stop practising, but more what’s the point of Shala practice when I’m feeling like I’ve stopped progressing and don’t get anything out of it apart from a leg occasionally held up in UHP, a squash in Paschimot if someone’s passing and an assist with the aforementioned Bhekasana before backbends and heading for the closing room. I can do it without really having to make the physical and mental effort it used to need, I can feel I have energy left. Its like I’m no longer working towards anything and I’m pretty much left alone because I can do everything I’ve been given. Perhaps they think I’ve gone as far as I’m going, which is fine, I have absolute respect for L, H and everyone else who has taught me, but if that’s the case maybe I would be better off ditching the travel stress on Sundays and just ploughing through at home.

Trapped nerve

March 27, 2016

In Bali the niggling sciatic thing in the left corner started to come back, but practising in that heat it was just annoying. Back home in the no where near as warm it got worse. At AYL with heat and help it was ok, especially when backbends were followed by a Louise super squash to put everything back.

Then a weird thing happened one day a few weeks ago when I was practising home alone, I stood up from a dropback (from a block) and I had no feeling or control of my left leg, it felt like the leg wasn’t in the hip socket, acetabulum , I couldn’t stand on it. After a few minutes the feeling came back, but since then the hip keeps locking or feeling like there’s a delay when I ask my left leg to follow the right.

I figured it’s all joined up on the left side of my lower back, Pelvis and hip, so rather than the usual massage therapy I went back to Liz the physiotherapist who treated my shoulder after the surgery. She is usually a sports team physio, so I knew she would be sympathetic to an injury caused by activity and unless it was something drastic would most likely tell me to keep doing practice.

After quite a long prodding and hip movement examination, apparently I have amazingly open, problem free hip joints, she found the root of the problem buried somewhere deep around the pesky Piriformis, Gleut area, a bit of trapped nerve, and the muscles surrounding it going solid around it.

Although the injury is the nerve being squashed, she diagnosed the root cause is still my left shoulder and the way I compensate and still subconsciously protect it during practice. I thought my arms range of motion was pretty good now, but Liz had me do a couple of movements that graphically showed just how much less range the left has compared to the right. This comes out in postures like Urdva Dhanurasana where the left arm isn’t quite under the shoulder and as I walk my hands in I tweak something in my Pelvis, do this movement 36 times a week with UD’s and dropbacks and something has to give.

So what’s the answer? Well initially it was a lot of her thumbs and elbows painfully digging in, but unlike massage where you lay there Liz had me moving against her pressure to try and free the tension. Part 2 are some exercises, movements that aren’t part of practice, a deep cross legged seated side stretch. ( I automatically sat in Lotus without thinking, Liz said “I wish I could do that! ) and a chair exercise where you bend forward in half lotus. She is going to work on the left shoulder and Lats on the left side, which should help the lower back issues in the long term.

She told me to do the exercises, keep getting on my mat, movement being much better and also use the roller and my yoga wheel.


Practice is as good as it’s been since last years operation, everything binds and I have the stamina and energy back, I’m no longer completely wrecked and I’ve added Angela’s sitting practice back in when I have time.

What Bali gave me

February 28, 2016

Bali is a yoga place.

It was nice while it lasted, but back to reality, in the space of 13 hours I went from nearly a 100 degrees t-shirt and shorts in Bali to minus 1 and pulling warm clothes out of my case before leaving the Airport in London.

As usual after suffering aircraft Aircon I’ve got a chesty cough. I’m still getting my body back round the time and season change, waking up for hours in the middle of the night and getting back to sleep as the alarm goes off telling me it’s time to get up.

Storms and humidity

The last practises in Seminyak were unbelievably hot, the storms weather increasing the humidity , my mat seemed to be permanently sodden and by the time I came to do Urdva Dhanurasana it was a skid pan as my left hand slid out from under me as I pushed up without my chalk ball, one morning it got to the point where assistant Irena was using her foot to arrest the slide. Having dropback assistance 8 days on the bounce was great, Irena and Sara were on a mission to try and correct my tendency to twist to the right going back as I still subconsciously try and protect my left shoulder.

Krounchasana in Bali (Photo Sara S)

Back here I notice that my UD’s actually feel stronger, all that effort trying not to slide means where I’ve got some traction it’s all more stable, even at AYL, which though not quite Bali warm is pretty warm. Bhekasana I’ve suddenly started to find the strength to not just hang on to the left foot, but start to put meaningful downward pressure on it as I try to lift the chest.

I loved Seminyak Yoga Shala, Sara was a super teacher,but it was nice to take my spot at AYL this morning between S and J with a yellow wall both behind and in front and Louise and Emma assisting. It’s easy to focus and practice, with the odd smile as we occasionally catch each other’s eyes. E said my dropbacks were much better, certainly more control today especially coming up, E said she didn’t do anything.

Bali gave me consistent help, a more flowing practice and added some strength as I fought against the skid pan mat. Onward and upward hopefully.

Traditional Friday

February 19, 2016


On a Friday Sara teaches a traditional led primary with the Sanskrit count, I haven’t done one of those since this time last year with Saraswathi. Sara counts faster than Saraswathi I’m glad to say, though in some postures, like Mari D, I need the extra time still to get my left arm in to position, so she’s already on 3 by the time I’m bound and that’s without the added hazard of my big toes sharp nail taking a lump out of my finger!

Led primary (photo by Susi)

Despite the speedy count I love how easy it is in these conditions to squirm in to Supta K on my own and if only Sharath could see my Garbha Pindasana these days. Urdva Dhanurasana is where I need more time, in a Mysore class it’s relatively easy, gradually getting my hand to go a little bit further under the shoulder, but the speed of led pisses my lower back off as I try to get there in one go.

I much prefer the Mysore class style of practice, I need to conserve energy and practice more slowly in this heat.


Despite yoga allowing me to bite my own toe nails, after the blood letting during practice, I was passing one of the thousands of Spa’s as one of the staff, who sit outside touting for custom made a comment about my toes! For the princely sum of 25,000 (£1=19000) she said she could “fix” my toes, so I thought I may as well let a professional do it.

The heat in the day is crazy, so I don’t venture out until almost sunset for my paddle in the sea. Yesterday I got a lucky shot of a surfer just as the sun was setting.


Bali Seminyak yoga

February 17, 2016

I’m blogging from the pool.

Bali is hot, after a delay in Kuala Lumpur I walked out of the air conditioned airport in to 90 degrees of hot sunshine, still dressed for the 3 degrees i left Heathrow in.
Bali is as nice as I remember it and the added bonus of being in Seminyak by the sea is the Seminyak yoga Shala owned by my Byron Bay friend Susi. The Shala is actually above her yoga clothes shop.


Mysore class is every day at 7:30am taught by authorised ex AYL assistant Sara. A mixture of locals, expats and visitors usually make up the class. It seems to be mostly people with a regular practice.


After climbing the stairs you come to a wooden door that at first looks as if it should be a mirror, maybe it was once.


I thought AYL could get quite warm, but this Shala is a true sauna, much hotter than Mysore was this time last year, I was dripping after one Surya A, so glad I’ve come across a cheap laundry to handle the yoga washing!

Practice in these conditions is about spreading the energy, not being whacked out by the heat and humidity. Some postures are so much easier here, sliding in to Supta K, no need for spray bottles in Garbha and twisting in to Pasasana. Sara asked me if the Aircon was too drafty, I didn’t even realise it was on!

The Shala sauna

Day one Sara mostly observed, but now she’s on me, PPC, UHP, Tiriang Mukha, today I got a tap to say wait in Bhekasana , despite the torrents of sweat I’m managing to keep hold of my left foot, she uses Louise’s tactic of somehow holding the feet while encouraging the chest to lift, must be an AYL thing. I seem to do seated mostly with my eyes closed, blinded by the rivers of sweat. Another tap in Urdva Dhanurasana , telling me to wait for her in dropbacks. No finishing room, just do closing and Savasana where you are, before heading back downstairs to peel off the yoga togs.

Post practice despite no Pret’s here, there’s no problem finding my croissant or two and a pot of tea for breakfast. Seminyak literally also has hundreds of small Spa’s all competing for business, so my shoulder can get regular massage at a fraction of what it costs back home.

No running around sightseeing this trip, it’s descended in to a daily schedule of yoga, brekkie, massage, lunch, snooze by the pool, paddle in the sea, watch the sunset.

Time to escape

February 13, 2016

Seminyak Beach.

After a year of my passport gathering dust, it’s time to get some sunshine and a break from work and life in general. Last year it was Mysore, but they have put up the “Full” sign, even with Saraswathi. Instead I’m off to Bali, where I haven’t been for a few years, but these days the nearer winter sun destinations are out of bounds, Egypt, Tunisia etc , not that it’s any safer anywhere in a world of terrorist threats.

Not Ubud this time, where I’ve been to practice with Dena, I wanted sun, beach, sea and yoga, so Seminyak it will be. Practice will be at Seminyak Yoga Shala, the morning mysore program led by Sara who used to assist at AYL. The Shala is above my Byron Bay friend Susi’s yoga clothes boutique and just (according to google) a 10 minute walk from my hotel.

I hope Bali is as peaceful and beautiful as I remember it.

Good Riddance 2015

December 31, 2015

This time last year I’d had the “you may come” email on Boxing Day and was suddenly in the midst of a crazy three weeks of getting an Indian visa, buying a flight and arranging accommodation. Practice was going much better after all the shoulder surgery, back to Bhekasana and sporadically able to drop back and stand up.

I thought my month with Saraswathi would nail the backbends again, but nope they became more erratic, but practice was consistent and I loved being back in Mysore, feeling comfortable immediately I arrived, already knowing where everything was, well except for Chakra House which had moved. Amruth was still there, even if chai had gone up 40% in 3 years, drinking that sweet nectar after practice every morning with friends was wonderful, even if the misery guts who owns the neighbouring pharmacy would no longer let us sit on the steps, even though he wasn’t even open.

I got back home on 1st March, immediately becoming sick, resulting in 3 trips to A&E and finally more surgery in June, followed by a long, uncomfortable 3 month recovery. Practice regressed dramatically, no energy, having to take breaks, but going to AYL still every Sunday to be part of the tribe.

As I was recovering my mum took over the hospital bed for 3 months in two hospitals, so I was left still recovering, cooking etc for my Dad and me, trying to practice, daily hospital visiting and back to working part time with Mol my crazy canine colleague, All tej time feeling more and more wrecked.

The start of the year seemed so promising, but February in Mysore has been the only 28 days of 2015 that have been worth the bother, I’m so glad this year is over, I haven’t got any hopes for 2016, hopes have a habit of turning in to disappointments , so good riddance 2015. 2016 will bring whatever it brings.


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