By Invitation

February 16, 2018

I knew before I arrived that Dena was teaching one of her "intensives" and that I would be practicing in the open to the public 10am class, taught by Emma and Jack. I also knew that it was pretty likely that Dena would be doing her own practice in the 10am, after the intensive students had gone home. And so it has been, so although technically Dena hasn't been the teacher I know she's been keeping an eye on my practice.

I have arrived each morning as the "intensives" have been coming out, sweat drenched from the sauna like heat inside the shala, by this time the sun is up and the outside temperature is in the 80's. it's a bit of a reunion, global Yoga friends, Andrea and Annette from Germany, Sophie, Helen and Ella from Dorset, Susi, Dena and Jack from this place, they come out, we go in.

And finally getting to meet Peg Mulqueen in the real world after years of chatting online via blogs and ashtanga dispatch, I'm now the proud owner of an ashtanga dispatch top. Thanks Peg.

I've found the heat not as helpful as I'd hoped, to be honest my dropbacks must have forgotten to get on the plane, but binding Pasasana is now easy, I think I've sweated away whatever was previously in the way! There's no need for spray bottles for Gharba, as Jack put it the other day "if you need the spray bottle in this heat you are doing something wrong!". Dena has had me using a stool device for Headstand after she heard about my concussion, I'm still being careful. It's not so much the heat, it's the humidity that's the killer, my t-shirt is 4 times heavier by the time I finish, I seem to run out of energy after Supta K, but cling on and keep going to Ustrasana. Despite all that's happened since last time I practised in Dena's Shala, surgery, illness and accidents my practice has come a long way, doing intermediate in this place feels a long way from then.

Shala dog Loki.

The "Intensive" is full, Dena has taken it off her website it's so over subscribed, but sometimes she lets other people lay their mat in that class. Yesterday she invited me to practice in today's 6:30am Led class. Being invited to join is special, a privilege, it's a gift, she said it was my birthday present! She knows when my birthday is, it's 2 weeks after hers, same month, born in the same year.

The class began with pranayama, before a counted on the breath full primary, the room has that energy and silent, powerful movement, a concentration and focus as we start in the darkness and finish with bright sunshine. It's a joy to be taken through the practice by Dena, after 20 years her words still resonate and speak to me like no other teachers ever have. Her words are not just about the physicality of the practice, but what this practice does for us off the mat, how we are, how we feel, how we are with others.


7 years later

February 12, 2018

It's 7 years since I walked through this gate down a suburban street on the outskirts of Byron Bay. Beyond the gate the stone path leads you to the wooden steps and through the sliding door in to the peace of Dena's Shala, though before I got more than a few steps along the path Dena was welcoming me back. There is no doubt that this place is special and it's thanks to randomly meeting Dena over 20 years ago that this practice has become integral to my existence.

This month Dena is running one of her month long "intensives" , so I'm in the 10am class with just a handful of people. The 10am is taught by Emma or Jack, so I'm not directly under Dena's teaching, however Dena does her own practice in this class and I know she had an eye on everyone, I suppose when you're that good you probably have dual drishte!

My first full practice since I swapped temperatures below freezing and snow as I left home, for the sweltering tropical heat of Australia. The heat in the Shala makes AYL feel temperate by comparison, though the "intensive" group had heated the shala up, so it wasn't just the ambient heat. The windows are open, the breeze ripples the curtains and the usual London din of drunks singing and sirens screaming is replaced by just the birds singing.

It's easy to practice when it's this warm, though energy sapping. There's a fluidity despite nearly a week off and some lingering jet lag, it's also like AYL in that you know whoever is teaching will be consistent and good, Emma is excellent, straightening my feet in some of the standing poses. A super squash in Kurmasana which made doing Supta K on my own easy. Gharba in the tropics does not involve scouring the room for a working spray bottle, there are rivers running from places I didn't know I had places.

I thought about stopping at the end of primary as I did on Saturday, fresh off the plane and tired, but thought ok I'll try Pasasana and see how it goes, Emma's Pasasana binding technique is very supportive and bound easily despite a week since the last one. The fun starts in Urdva Dhanurasana, my rug is a wet, slippery skate park, my dodgy left arm can't keep enough downward pressure before it slides out from under me, somehow I get vertical 3 times before standing and starting my hangbacks. After a couple Emma comes over and stops me, my upper back is too rigid and I'm feeling it all go in to my lower back, so she has me do the cross arm assisted deep hangs, as I come up from the 3rd one I realize Dena is standing behind us watching, she nods and walks off to get changed, then gives me a wave and see you tomorrow as she leaves us to do closing.

It's good to be back, I feel comfortable in this space, it's different to dropping in to random Shala's on vacation, I know where everything is, there's no pressure from within or without, oh and there's a new cafe on the walk back to town that does an excellent post practice chocolate croissant!

Mind the (glass) door

January 19, 2018

It's that time of year, there I was welcomed back to AYL a week early thinking I'm getting a head start with practice for 2018. Ho hum, then a week ago I went to grab my probiotics from the health food store, it was a really dark, wet morning and I remember putting my hand out to pull the door, then suddenly and this is all supposition, I thought the door was already open because of the bright yellow decor and light and wham, I literally walked head first, smack in to a glass door breaking it, I later discovered a push chair had already damaged it earlier that morning. I ended up on my knees on the floor of the shop before realizing people were trying to get me on to a chair. Let's do the concussionasana.

After a little while to recover I carried on my day, even if the day was a bit dizzy, nauseous and generally dazed accompanied by a dull headache and a lump on my forehead . I even went to Yoga at the local Shala and AYL in the following days, though missing out a chunk of the closing inversions. I was hoping this would quickly pass, after all I've crashed plenty of dropbacks on my head over the years and managed to avoid concussion.

This week I've walked in to things, misjudged things and still had dizziness and headache, so after some encouragement (nagging) from a friend who is a trauma nurse I went to see my GP. She checked me over, said I have concussion and it could last a couple of weeks, but otherwise I'm not showing any of the red flags in adult concussion that would get me a trip to A&E, vomiting, memory loss, though she said it's common not to be able to recall exactly what happened. Her parting shot, just to prove GP's do have a sense of humor, was to say it was my fault for going to a health food store, ha ha!!

The lump has gone down, but 8 days later I'm left with a continual dull ache and intermittent dizziness, my problem being that my stomach can't tolerate paracetamol, Nurofen or any other drug that my guts have to take part in processing, so if anyone has any ideas beyond ice cubes of something I can rub on my head to give this headache some help feel free to leave a comment.

Failing that I think I need one of these for dropbacks!

Places that make me happy

January 8, 2018

Yoga, as a Therapist I saw said, is what makes you happy and keeps the wheels of life pointing roughly in the right direction. She wasn't wrong. It's not just the physical practice, but also the places where I practice and the community of practitioners I share this practice with. When Louise sent an email last Friday night to say the Sunday class would begin again on Sunday, a week early I couldn't have been happier.

AYL is one of the three places that without fail give me the space physically and mentally to practice, to find a peace, quiet and stillness I just can't find elsewhere, just walking through the door yesterday felt as good as opening my own front door. Familiar faces mouthing "Happy New Year". Practice followed by a long, chatty breakfast over tea and pastries.

Mysore is obviously a place I would like to return to at some point, but having been twice I just don't feel the pull at the moment, plus it's getting harder and harder to get a place when it is open. Practicing in a room of 70 people does have an energy all its own, but there's just something it doesn't have that AYL does, despite being surrounded by yogis.

There is another place tucked away down a suburban street in Byron Bay, the Shala of probably the biggest influence on my practice, Dena Kingsberg. This place is every bit as special in its welcome and homeliness as AYL. I last walked through the little wooden gate and up the steps through the glass patio doors 7 and a bit years ago. That time Dena greeted me with "welcome home". I asked her years ago should I go to Mysore or should I go to you. She told me there would always be a space for me at her Shala, but that I should go to Mysore and experience its differentness. Ironically I actually ended up in Byron before I had the chance to go to Mysore, I've been to Mysore twice since Byron, I've experienced what Dena talked about, but as I'm not chasing postures or authorization I almost feel like I've got what I can from the differentness that Mysore offers and I'm now at a different place mentally and physically in my practice.

It's been 7 years and now the world has conspired to give me the chance at last to return, I've got over 3 weeks of vacation days to take, Bali was plan A, but having been caught up in the issues of that Icelandic volcano a few years ago, I've no wish to get stuck in Bali, beautiful and cheap though it may be. So in a little over a month I will get to lay my mat in that room again and spend afternoons watching dolphins from the Lighthouse and dip my toes in the sea, no I still can't swim and there are too many bloody sharks in those waters to risk anything more than a toe.


November 11, 2017

It's over a year since I last did a workshop, Harmony in Bristol. I used to be like a kid in a sweet shop doing workshops with all and sundry. One of the first was with Louisa Sear, I was so far out of my depth I almost did a runner during the lunch break and I've still no idea how I got home I was so shattered. I do remember the next morning when my legs refused to take me back downstairs and I pulled a sickie!

I've become a lot more discerning, especially since the fracture and all that's followed, the odd one with Kino, though her workshops are just too crowded with her instagram followers these days. Harmony's was excellent, it was a small group and everyone gained a lot from it. I've got to a point where I don't want specific backbend or twist workshops, I like my practice with Louise at AYL, I just don't feel the need. Workshops have also become VERY EXPENSIVE, especially at studios like Triyoga, who are hosting Annie Pace in the new year, but a room of 60+ at those prices, no thank you.

Dena Kingsberg is the one exception, despite having known Dena over 20 years now, I always feel I come away with something, not always about asana either, some of her subtlest comments resonate far more deeply about our lives off the mat.

Last night I heard that the wonderful Panterhai Shala in Hamburg is closing its doors for good. I've practiced there with Dena every couple of years, something I hoped to do again in 2018.

I checked Dena's website hoping to see Berlin or perhaps Stockholm, 2 other places I've practiced with her over the years, but no. Then suddenly I scan again and see she's in Edinburgh in July, I know she's done stuff there before, but it's only been the odd day or weekend. This time it's a weekend and week long Mysore, I hit register and pay.

Paddling in the AYL stream

November 5, 2017

Last weeks Conference concentrated on the meanings hidden within chapter 2 of The Gita, which Hamish managed to para phrase into "how we deal with our own shit", I have nothing but respect for teachers who are able to translate seemingly impenetrable archaic texts in to language I can understand.

This week we had a moon day on a Saturday, so not really a day off above the norm, but it did mean, as I had to be in the city anyway, that I could attend AYL's new moon day meditation and sitting practice with SuYen. A lovely hour of calm before the mania began. I began to sit a couple of years ago after distance learning to sit, thanks to Angela over in An Arbour. I try to sit after practice for a few minutes when I have time, I find I get a much more restful Savasana. But more often than not it doesn't happen.

Practice is becoming more consistent and less painful, particularly in my Hip and lower back since the Osteopath has been doing her work and I replaced my 20 year old Japanese Futon with an actual mattress, it's like sleeping on a bouncy castle compared to the rock hard Futon, but I'm getting used to it, I've stopped waking up worried I'm rolling over the edge.

During the meditation SY said something along the lines that entering the Shala is akin to stepping in to a stream and being taken along on the current of energy, AYL feels like that, it certainly takes less mental if not physical energy to practice there than it does to slog through home alone the rest of the time. I need to have a more consistent rest day, rather than just getting on my mat every day until one day I realize I'm knackered and it's not happening and am forced to rest. I heard someone say to Louise this morning (Sunday) they hoped their practice wouldn't be "that bad" all week. L told her Sunday practice isn't a portent of how the week will be, but is more a measure of how well rested we are on our days off, i.e. Do we rest properly or do we just replace Yoga practice with something else in terms of time and energy?

Elf n safety at work

I realized how true L's comment was, although I usually do practice on Saturdays purely because I have the time, I usually have a day off in the week, when life is more busy. Currently I'm taking Tuesdays off practice, however instead I'm not actually resting as such, but doing a core stability course to assist the osteopaths treatment, targeting what she wants me to work on, so rather than a 2 hour plod through practice I'm doing an hour of fairly intense core work. I did notice Wednesdays dropbacks were some of the most controlled in a long time, but by Friday I was landing on my head, I'd run out of energy long before I got to backbends. Dropping a day to have a proper rest is looking the only option, rather than 6 practice days and a core stability day, not to mention work is getting crazy in the run up towards Christmas.

The Bulge, the pop, the Hip, the crack

September 19, 2017

The bulging disc in my spine, the excruciatingly painful pop in my back, the stuck unhappy Hip, I finally gave up and went to get cracked by Karen the Osteopath.

I had assumed that the bulging disc was mostly to blame for all my other woes, but no, apparently what I have is a bone spur, which although annoying in Garbha Pindasana and anything else where I'm on my back isn't actually pressing on anything or doing anything detrimental, just need to keep an eye on it.

She also noticed that my T11, T12, L1 and L2 section moved as a lump, not individually, but as usual after asking me to bend backwards and seeing how far I can go, even when I'm not trying to drop back (I was tempted 🙂 ) she's like "and your complaining!". She also tested my hip flexors and was quite surprised how open a 53 year old hip can be, thank you Baddha Konasana.

So what is the problem with the pop and the hip, well it seems a few little things have come together, my 12th rib wasn't located in the right place, there is slight injury to the cartilage in my rib causing the popping on the exit from Supta Kurmasana, the deepest forward bend in primary. After a good cracking things are back in place, but rib cartilages can take quite a few months to heal. This type of rib cartilage injury she told me is caused by impact or going beyond the comfortable range of motion, well there's been no impact so I'm pretty sure it was the extra work I was doing in Supta K and its proper exit down in Cornwall, as I'm pretty sure the popping pain started soon after.

Supta K will now only get an outing at AYL where it's hot, I'm more open and flexible and the assistance in that posture doesn't involve being sat on.

The hip and lower back issue is caused by 2 elements, firstly the short distance between the top of my pelvis and the lowest ribs, so the muscles are strong, but very short and on the left side unable any more to compensate for what I'm doing higher up to compensate for the shoulder fracture and surgery of the last few years.

Secondly where the surgeon harvested bone from the top of my pelvis for the bone graft it left scar tissue and as I wasn't allowed to do much for nearly 6 months, even the tissue that healed in place has got stuck.

So now I know, the thing you can see and feel and worry is going to be a huge problem turns out to be no issue at all, but the tiny things you can't see and didn't know existed are the big issue. It's been 3 weeks of trips to Karen, week one she worked on the muscles of my back, week 2 she went to work on all the joints, finding the errant Rib, week 3 it's been very intense treatment on the hip and pelvis area, working far deeper than any sports massage therapist has ever done, deeply held lumps of scar tissue have been prodded, elbowed, thumbed and battered in to moving and separating.

It hasn't been comfortable, after the first session I literally fell out of bed the next morning I was so stiff. Week 2 wasn't so bad after the joints were realigned and cracked. On the Sunday after I felt like I had so much extra space in my back when Emma assisted my dropbacks and I could really feel the T11-L2 section curve.

It's been an expensive and uncomfortable 3 weeks of treatment while continuing to practice. It turns out the traction stretching I'd been doing was exactly the right thing, weird how the body knows what it wants. I need to keep stretching, avoid the popping, can I get away with missing Supta K out at AYL? Keep using the heat pad, the nasty spiky ball and the Theracane. Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The week after the week before

August 30, 2017

Realizations more than changes from the week with Lucy, less but more focused information this time, not so many projects to take away and work on. The older I get , I turned 53 this week, the more I realize the need to preserve my energy, to work in a better way. Lucy week was still intense, I slept 12 hours on Friday night, working at the practice in this way is doable for a week, but unsustainable in the long term.

After resting on Saturday and a convoluted commute to AYL on Sunday I wasn't expecting much, I always go to AYL on my birthday if I can. In that room with its yellow walls and quiet energy practice happens, I need that mental space, no information overload, just the odd adjustment as I plodded slowly through. Without so much information and adjustment there's more energy left for my bit of intermediate and despite a week of not doing dropbacks, I managed to drop back without giving myself concussion. Amazingly despite some apprehension the full assisted sequence with Louise felt quite easy. An unexpectedly good practice, though before I turn 54 I would like to stand up from a back bend again.

The changes my shoulders need to make take a lot of the mental energy, pushing down more with the left hand in poses like updog to take the torque out of my spine, sending my shoulders downwards in everything as much as I can, this is the project. As well as being a physical project it's also a mental project, putting more faith in my left arm and shoulders strength, the fear that it will collapse or give way is still there.

I was pleased with my birthday present to myself, a shirt from Sharaths tour, even though I didn't take part this time, brilliant design with the coconut and the little feet, a nod to AYL. They should put the little feet back on the floor, I miss seeing those.

A week of shoulder awareness

August 25, 2017

This week with Lucy she has been a mission to even me up. It's been about awareness of the shoulder blades. It's been about finding a better balance between left and right.

5 days of full practices to Laghu, Lucy had me doing Laghu in Cornwall just in case you were wondering why I was going beyond my usual official Ustrasana finishing point.

It's more than just a week of yoga with Lucy, of information and insight, it also feels like a week of therapy for my shoulder. She adjusts the posture, but often at the same time manages to manipulate the shoulder, she has a gift for finding where the restrictions are. At times it's not exactly comfortable, no pain no gain, but hopefully avoiding future suffering. Heyam Dukham Anagatam and all that.

No big breakthroughs, no new postures, but a new awareness and realisation of what needs to move, what is yet to return in terms of sensation and what I should be doing.

The problems in my back all stem from the shoulder and my perceived lack of strength, with may just be fear, my protective tendency of leading with the right arm in everything where pushing up needs to happen, such as updog and Urdva Dhanurasana. Relying on the right arm has been twisting my spine, all those uneven vinyasa. Every day Lucy has assisted my backbends, some days having me over blocks, some days using the wall, but the last couple of days it's been trying to push up with both arms at the same time. I just didn't think my left arm had the strength or stability in that position, it's still not as strong as the right, but perhaps it does have enough strength and stability to push up.

C said my shoulders are in a much better position after this week, no longer scrunched up around my neck and ears, its taken a lot of mental awareness to stop that happening in every posture, adding to the length of my practice as I stop to evaluate what my shoulders are doing.

No new poses this time, though unlike a year or so ago when I was getting frustrated stopping at Bhekasana , I think physically and mentally what I have is enough with the additions to Ustrasana. It's been good to get so much help and advice with the 2nd series this week.

Losing the attachment

August 23, 2017

Lucy was on me before we even started today, she had me on the wheel and digging her thumbs in the scar tissue at the back of my shoulder and was doing it again in Parivrita Parsvakonasana. I'm up for anything that will help. After yesterday I was extra mindful of sending my shoulders down my back.

I like that she's leaving me alone in Supta K, the exit today was a bit breath takingly painful. Some of the things Lucy picks up on are amazing, Lucy was assisting Baddha Konasana and wanted me to squeeze the elbows in, the right arm does it, but the left I don't have the sensation in the right place to be able to do it, like the brain sends the instruction but nothing happens. The nerves and scar tissue from all the surgery that in daily life are not limiting, in yoga you find out what is yet to return, if it ever does.

Lucy assisted more of my 2nd today, Krounchasana slightly bend the knee , Salabahansa squeeze the knees together and Ustrasana before assisting my pre UD bridges. She was saying that for the dropback-standup to happen I need more even UD's, I've developed a pattern of pushing up mostly with the right arm in UD with the left kind of following, so I'm immediately putting a torque through the spine, so she had me on bricks and against the wall, then off the ground trying to push up evenly.

3 still going by this point, so she stops to do the closing chant for the people who need to leave then tells me to make sure I do full closing! I'm shattered.

J. Kindly said she thought I had lost my attachment and looked happier in my practice, she reckons she can see a difference. I'm not sure, I'm just so knackered by this point I haven't got the energy for attachment or caring what it looks like. C said my shoulders were in a better position, people seeing things from the outside that I don't feel, see or realise.

Well that's day 3, my rug is saturated, I wore the "Powered By Yoga" top today and I could see the imprint of the letters in sweat on my rug!