2018 What a crap year

December 8, 2018

This year, 2018, began on a high of being in Byron Bay for a couple of weeks in February, practicing in one of my favorite Shala’s on the planet, seeing friends , being warm and paddling in the sea.

I landed back in the U.K. at the end of February to the start of a nightmare year and since then life and my wish to even live at times to the point of going to bed hoping not to wake up and giving serious thought to jumping in front of the train on a Sunday rather than get on it. This still seems a more than viable option, well it would if London NorthWestern Railways weren’t so fucking abysmal.

I returned from Downunder to my mother having fallen and broken her Pelvis in 4 places, screaming the house down in pain, screaming at my Dad for not doing what he was told, a feeling of total inadequacy until finally they re admitted Mum to hospital, where she spent the following 5 months.

Then in March to be diagnosed with a cataract at 53 and suddenly needing surgery again, I’ve spent far too much time in hospitals since the Sepsis and MRSA episode in 2011. Two days before the surgery I came home to find my Father sprawled across the Living room floor having broken his Femur, so instead of resting before my operation I was in A&E until 3am with him. He spent the next 4 months in hospital.

In July they both came home, but not before I’d had to “sell” or give away the complete contents of my Dining room, so a hospital bed could be installed. Then the stress really began, trying to look after their needs, work, my health which has no doubt deteriorated massively from the stress. I’ve lost weight, have dizzy spells in supermarkets after Yoga, have weeks of feeling shattered and I know I look like shit at times.

Though August did have the mini high of standing up from a backdrop for the first time in a couple of years, it hasn’t lasted.

And here we are in December, it’s now me screaming at Dad, his dementia and the stress of having to watch every little thing he does has sent me over the edge as he flooded the kitchen yet again. Worrying every day when I come home from work about whether he or the house will still be standing.

And where’s Mum in all this?, well she is in hospital with multiple organ failure waiting to be transferred to a local Hospice for her final few days.

For a year that started so well in sunny Australia it’s been nothing but shit and stress ever since, with a bit of luck I won’t wake up tomorrow.


Fun while it lasted

September 23, 2018

My practice seems to run in cycles, from knackered and just get to the end, do it all and don’t feel (too) knackered and rarely , flying with dropping back and standing up. The first two types are my defaults depending on outside factors a lot of the time, these first two have been how it is since returning from Mysore in 2015.

Type 3- Flying, has lasted just about a month after that first completely unintentional freak stand up, then being able to do it, then sporadically being able to do it. Now we seem to have returned to a combination of the defaults and not being able to do it. At least I know it’s possible.

A week ago I got in a bonus week day practice at AYL with L. A nice practice assisted by H who had stayed on I later found out because L had asked his thoughts on moving me on to Lhagu and Kapo. She wanted to know, bearing in mind age, physicality and all the surgery of the last few years if H thought Ustrasana, where I’m currently at, would be my final, last posture, or whether I could go on. I had wondered why H had stayed and done all my adjustments that morning, then left the Shala as I decamped to the Finishing Room. I’m glad I didn’t know it was a kind of audition. His advice being that I will move on at some point, but not just yet, in his words “too much pain”.

So until I get another cycle of Flying and nail the standing up game an Asana spurt isn’t on the cards anytime soon. To be honest Ustrasana feels like enough physically and mentally at this time. Someone asked me the other day if I’m going to be “split” soon as I have such a long practice, lol I wish!

I think this is another example of why many of us go to AYL, it’s not shiny, doesn’t have showers, only minuscule changing cubicles, BUT it has teachers who care and H supports his teachers by hanging around for an extra hour to watch their students practice. Not to mention L taking the trouble to ask him in the first place.

This is also the perfect example of Dena’s comment about the teacher who holds you at a pose cares about you, as opposed to the teacher who gives you poses because they want to keep you.

Back but for how long?

August 26, 2018

It was January 2015 at AYL, just before I left for 5 weeks in Mysore that it last happened, that’s 3 years and 7 months ago and I had come to the conclusion that I would be now forever stuck, able to drop back but no longer able to stand up again, at least not without assistance.

I had hoped those 5 weeks in Mysore would finally re nail the dropbacks, having had them before I broke my shoulder in 2012, but those weeks in India seemed to just take away those hard fought for gains.

The day after I returned from Mysore I collapsed and ended up in an out of A&E and eventually yet another operation and long period of recovery.

A workshop weekend with Harmony Slater and a comment in the Q&A about dropbacks, “3 isn’t enough and you need to walk the hands in, do 6, do 9, build up, rock the Urdva Dhanurasana”, made me realize I needed to do more and so it’s been a very long process, interrupted by this years cataract surgery.

A while back I heard Louise tell someone not to get fixated on their struggles with a posture, to give it three good goes, then forget it, do the work, but don’t get frustrated.

The other day Louise’s words were going through my head while I was doing dropbacks, I dropped and rocked with no expectation, then suddenly realized my centre of gravity had changed and I was actually coming up, I have no idea how it happened, but after 3 + years I had finally came up to standing. A complete freak, standing there thinking did that just happen? Then doing the happy dance

๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’ƒ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ’ƒ

Since then I’ve managed to come up on 4 days, it’s very sporadic and I just hope it’s going to stay around, but with expectation or at least a degree of hope now instead of zero of either it’s a different proposition, the word “Mind fuck” comes to mind. Some ups during the 4 days have been decidedly dangerous, bouncing off a chest of Drawers on one occasion and none have felt as smooth, controlled and easy as that first unexpected one.

I think it may have been the universe giving me a gift after all the months of crap, I just hope it doesn’t want it back.

Dena in Edinburgh-Day 6 Blue Moon practice

July 20, 2018

Yesterday I heard Dena telling someone not to add something in to their practice, as tomorrow was the day for breaking the rules!

Usually on the last day everyone comes back to practice together, doing a modified primary, so that all abilities are catered for. In all the 20 years of practicing with her today was the first time I've done her "Blue moon" practice on the last day. Dena calls it that as it's literally once in a blue moon she does it! And it breaks all the usual rules!

As usual we began with pranayama, holding Kumbhaka and Jalandhara Baddha on the inhale and letting the breath out in Brahmans. Dena talking how Yoga is the body's relationship to Gravity and about how sometimes it's good to not be tied to the dogma and sequence and series, to do a practice that helps the body move in new directions, but which may help when we return to our regular practice.

Practice was an eclectic challenging mix of series, variations and sequences based around the Surya Namaskar, where she would usually have us do an up dog she instead variously added in 2nd series poses like Salabhasana, Bhekasana and Dhanurasana. In Surya B via the warriors to the splits, in steps so that everyone could go as far as was comfortable, it's what happens on your own mat and not someone else's that matters. Moving from warrior to the third series arm balance and back to standing, then doing a balance with a twist before moving through to repeat the whole mini sequence on the other side.

We did Urdva Dhanurasana again in stages, via bridges. I thought after backbends it would be closing of some kind, but no it was back to some of the seated primary series poses Tiriang and a dynamic Janu A with a twist holding the foot with the opposite hand. Dynamic Navasana, using Bandha to control going back towards the floor then coming back up.

Then back to 2nd series with Krounchasana, where Dena talked about how we lose the Samasthiti integrity, compromising the back and coming forward because the hamstrings aren't open enough to straighten the leg. Don't try for the final pose if your body isn't ready, do it with integrity and your back will thank you.

Deep squats, preparing for Pasasana, how students roll up their mats or use a block to compensate for not being able to have their heals on the floor, Dena had us just put the elbow outside the knee and twist, the bind being the least important part of the pose, squat stability first, twist second, bind last. Though here is a fine example of too many teachers, I asked Sharath in a conference in Mysore which was more important heals or bind and he said to bind!

Dena said this is often a pose students are held at by their teacher and she said the following

"The teacher who holds you at a posture doesn't care about keeping you, but cares about you."

We then moved on to leg behind head, she said if you are not comfortable in Kurmasana you certainly won't be in Eka and Dwi Pada. If you try and force it, eventually you will pop your neck and lower back out. Lying on our backs she has us incrementally try to bring the toe to the nose, then the heal to the forehead, then LBH. I think any chance of me getting to Eka or Dwi Pada is limited to say the least in this lifetime, even though I'm pretty good at Supta K.

Finally on to our backs to rest and listen to her chanting, hers is a lyrical, joyful chant, not the monotone drone. That's how this week has been, hard work, but joyful and fun, surrounded by a lovely group of practitioners.

Dena in Edinburgh-Day 5 – The sauna.

July 19, 2018

Our last mysore style practice today. Thanks to builders cutting up concrete they hadn't been able to air the room after the first group had finished, so the room was pretty warm when our turn came, not that I complained, I would far rather it's hot.

The noise the builders were making made it hard to hear Dena during the pranayama at the start and I think we didn't do as much of that today before we stood up to chant the opening mantra and get going. A very hot sweaty practice, easy to bend and flow, though my cataract free left eye didn't like the sting from the sweat. My Surya B was observed, I didn't realize until I jumped back to the front of my mat to find Dena standing in front of it, I came to standing, she nodded and walked off. As she said once "watching to see if you're doing it right" and knowing that as she hadn't intervened that it must have passed.

Another day of being mostly left alone, except Dena returned for Prasarita D, I can't remember the last time I got an adjustment in that. She likes to see students struggle and make an effort, she watched me wrestling my left arm in to place for Mari D, I thought she was going to help as I felt her behind me, but my fingers found each other and I just felt her towel flick my fingers as she walked away. She did return once I'd squirmed my own way in to Supta K, making it tighter.

For some reason today, even with Jack's help I couldn't quite bind Pasasana, I've done it every other day, so why not today, grrr. Bhekasana again for a 4th day running, lovely assist from Anika. I've loved the way Dena has others assist, especially when it's been friends all week doing it, Anika today, Bente a couple of days, Annetta and Andrea, it's nice when you know the people when you come to a workshop like this.

Somehow today I didn't end up at the end of the Dropback, Handstand, Tic Toc, oops I mean Viparita Chakorasana queue , as she told my mat neighbor today, use the proper name! Dena commented to those of us in the queue to keep doing something, hang backs, sun salutations etc to keep warm, but i for one was warm enough and didn't want to waste my energy.

By this point I'd turned my rug over to find a dry bit to try and get some traction, Dena even remarked more hand traction today as I came up from the 4th assisted dropback. It's been great to get help 4 days running. And I had time for a full closing and little Savasana today.

Weirdly practicing in that heat I didn't feel wiped out like can sometimes happen, you know those days when you leave your mat bag in Pret like I did a couple of Sundays ago and had to get the train back to London to collect it.

I came across a nice little cafe called Peppers earlier in the week and I've gone there each morning after practice, served by two friendly girls from Brazil and Barbados, they know me now, the giant tea mug, croissant and whisper it quietly a bacon sandwich, I need the protein for all this Yoga.

Dena in Edinburgh-Day 3 & 4 Mysore mornings

July 18, 2018

Practice is prompt and there's not enough time. Dena talked to us about the thought of not having enough time to do what we want to or need to. The importance of allotting time for an activity, whether that be Yoga practice or anything else. When you are doing that activity to give it your 100% attention and not be thinking about what else you have to do later on.

Each morning has started with a few words, some pranayama, chanting and then practice. There are people doing primary, some doing as I do primary and some intermediate, there was a truly bendy girl next to me this morning doing third series. But Dena told us everyone's practice is equal in that room, just making the effort and committing to it is enough, it's just a practice after all, doing your best on any given day, not to get caught up in the wanting new poses, wanting your backbend to be as deep as the girl opposite.

My practice has become consistent, with Dena I faff less, jump more and generally have a more joined up practice. More help the last couple of days with Bente and Annetta assisting as well, PPC, Mari C, Supta K. Every day help arrives in Bhekasana, which if I'm honest is the only one in my practice where I do need some help because of my shoulder.

I didn't think Scotland would be warm enough to need my chalk ball, but I'm glad I brought it with me now, my hands need any extra traction they can get in Urdva Dhanurasana to stop them sliding out.

Dropbacks are where time stands still and the clock marches on, the dropback queue seems longer each morning, I do my own, but I'm conscious of not doing too much and not having the energy or strength left for the assisted ones, but I also need to keep warm and loose. Dena arrives, I'm the penultimate dropper, you have her full attention and 3 or 4 seem to happen without any fuss.

Time is now pressing, the centre want their studio back for kiddies ballet or whatever follows us. I'm doing the shoulder stand sequence and hear Jack say "4 minutes", so I have to abandon the rest of closing to get a short Savasana instead.

Times up
This afternoon I went to the chanting class led by Sarah Hatcher, or as someone I won't name called it "The crèche with a bit of Sanskrit"! I didn't mind, it's a part of being part of a Yoga community. We chanted the sutras while toy cars zoomed across the floor, bricks and blocks were piled high and toddlers ran around the room.

Wandering today I came across another Drummond Street, minus AYL.

Dena in Edinburgh-Day 2 Mysore

July 17, 2018

. Dance Base, our shala for the week

The first of 4 days of mysore practice, much more my preferred option, in my own time and in my own headspace. She started with a pranayama exercise and then the 3 minute breath count, I must be getting better at this, 8 slow breaths, I remember the first time I did this exercise with her, my count was nearer 15.

Dena led the first few Surya's then set us loose to find our our own rhythm and pulse of practice. After all these years I'm used to her "ways", she watches you, you think she's going to adjust, then she's gone, or sometimes the assist arrives and you haven't even realised she's in the vicinity. She watched me doing Mari D, the usual struggle on the first side to get my arm round, but once I bind she's gone.

The class is scheduled for 2 hours, so by the time we have done the initial pranayama it's a case of focusing and getting on with it if you want to do your full practice. I actually find if I have to get on with it I have a far better practice, more time only means more time to faff, procrastinate, think, slow down and lose focus and momentum. I'm mostly left alone, though Dena got me to take a longer stance in Uttita Parsvakonasana, Mari C from Dena, helped in to Supta K by Jack. Then assisted in Pasasana and Bhekasana before Dena arrives for dropbacks. She refers to me as "funny feet" as she has always noticed my feets propensity for doing their own thing in dropbacks, basically turning out to alarming angles which make me wonder why my Janu C is so crap. I always have a sense of being completely safe with Dena, which makes following her instructions as I go back easier, while she stands on my feet to stop them heading east and west on their own.

A much better first mysore of the week than I expected.

Park below the castle
Having been to Edinburgh a few times I'm not really bothered about seeing anything, the weather has been massively better than on my previous visits, I've actually seen that yellow thing in the sky which I had previously thought the Scottish tourist board were taking the piss by putting it on their tv adverts down south. After practice and breakfast I headed to the park off Princes Street and sat reading, resting and relaxing, felt much more what I needed to do.

Resting in the park was followed by an hour appointment, which ended being nearly 2 hours with yogi and brilliant massage therapist Sarah Urquhart-Taylor, if you need a massage for an injury or just to keep loose during a workshop week I can't recommend Sarah enough, has to be one of the best massages I've had anywhere.

Dena in Edinburgh – Day 1 Pulse

July 16, 2018

Dena started the morning by asking Why we practice, Ashtanga is much more than just a physical exercise making shapes, it gets under your skin and in to your head, for those with a regular practice it's part of our being, it's part of who we are and helps to set the tone of how we react with the world off the mat as well as on it. My favourite answer someone gave was simply "Pulse". I knew what she meant.

Dena talked about the Instagram thing, of bendy young contortionists making extreme shapes, but is that yoga? She said it needs to be sustainable, for those of us who are older we need to take care, killing your knee in Janu C for the sake of doing it then being unable to walk properly isn't what it's about. You need to adjust your practice for how your body is on a particular day, but there should always be some struggle, not grasping or forcing, but efforting.

The example of jumping through, stage one just plopping down, stage two trying to wriggle through, stage 3 get through and straighten the legs. Or the lift between each Navasana, stages of struggle, lift a little, lift and swing, lift and hand stand.

I have rarely done a Jump through since I broke my arm, it is possible now, but pisses my shoulder off, so I don't bother. But Dena has a way of making you at least try and her staged instructions, suddenly I had jumped through, I just did it, it's not blind faith, but Dena is a teacher I have always had absolute trust in and my mind tends to be able to blot out its "I can't do this dialogue narrative" and I just do it. From Downward Dog come up on to the toes, engage the Bandhas, look forward not down and "go" and suddenly it happens.

It ended up being a near 3 hour primary series, well actually we got to Navasana, then went to backbends and full closing, but with stops to talk about certain postures. Making an effort, a struggle but not forcing the posture for the sake of doing it. It was much more than just a led primary, there's always so much information, I wish I could remember half of it. Snippets come back to mind sometimes.

The afternoon class was some chanting and talking about the practice and also Dena said how important it is to start a "Sitting" practice if we don't already have one. My one is erratic, but at least I have a sitting practice. It's another one of those things I would have poo pooed all those years ago when I started this practice along with chanting in Sanskrit , yoga philosophy and going to India to practice yoga during the football season, though I'm pleased to say the afternoon class finished in time to watch the World Cup final!

It was also a day for catching up with yoga friends from Germany, Holland, Denmark and Down Under, it's a great community to be part of. Also hi to Emma I who said she though she knew me from somewhere, but realised it's because she reads this blog

But PULSE will be the word of the day.

Snails pace, เคธเฅเคจเฅ‡เคฒ / เคธเฅเคจเฅˆเคฒ shabdkosh

May 21, 2018

Following the enforced Yoga hiatus after the cataract operation I finally walked back through the shala door yesterday, 2 weeks earlier than scheduled. Having initially been told 6 weeks, I had my post op check up during the week, everything is good, if still a little bit sore and the incision still needs another month or so to heal. But when I asked the $64 million question the Consultant said I can do anything that isn't a contact, ball or racket sport, i.e anything that has the potential for being whacked in the eye. He said raising blood pressure is ok again now, but no pressure on the head, which means missing out Setu B, most of closing and landing on my head doing dropbacks, but apart from that for a few weeks I'm good to go.

I did a couple of half primary's during the week, trying to decide if it was worth going back to the shala yet, as before stamina is woeful, especially after doing literally nothing for a few weeks, I emailed teacher Louise the night before and said I planned to return. As usual her reply was sensible advice, practice at snails pace, don't get carried along by the heat and energy in the room, don't try and do too much.

There's something about pressing the numbers in to the door code, the warmth hits you and my glasses steam up, it's good to be back, welcome home, someone said later. It feels like that, immediately comfortable, surrounded by friendly faces.

The practice was like slogging through a swamp, I kept having little rests, despite having been desperate to be back in that room, there was a feeling of heaviness and inertia. At Navasana I saw the clock and thought this time last week I was still asleep in bed! Just one more pose then I'll stop, but somehow with the odd little rest I resisted the temptation and got through to the end. Louise watched mostly, just letting me plod through, only the odd assist, Mari C, Baddha Konasana and backbends.

The Sanskrit word for snail is 🐌 🐌 🐌 स्नेल / स्नैल shabdkosh, despite not doing my full practice and only doing the last 3 of closing, grrr I've lost my recently acquired ability to bind Baddha Padmasana, it still took me over two hours, plus an extra long Savasana because I was now so tired, ok I probably did do more than I should have, I could quite easily have gone to sleep in the sunshine filled Finishing Room.

You have to start (again) somewhere, at least this time I'm not returning from a physical injury and all that entails, it's just a case of getting back the stamina and the odd bit of excess I've gained from weeks of sitting in front of the tv drinking tea and hitting the cookie jar.

Being able to read again has come just in time, Pushpam 3.5 is out this week, it's my teacher Louise's journey to India to find god. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive, so I don't know if she found him.

More Do nots than expected

April 26, 2018

Last Saturday I had the operation to remove the cataract from my left eye. Not the most comfortable or enjoyable 45 minutes I've ever spent laying flat on my back, covered in warm blankets. Savasana this wasn't.

This was also my first experience of surgery under a local anaesthetic, rather than a general one where you are asleep. The anaesthetist had a distraction technique all her own, distracting me by talking about the weekends soccer match as she then dropped the stinging anaesthetic drops in my eyes, they ***** sting I can tell you, though she eventually reached a point where I wasn't reacting to the sting, so she knew I was ready to be wheeled in for part 2.

Part 2 is the removal of the cataract and insertion of the new lens, a small incision, no pain but a lot of pressure and a weird sensation as the Phacoemulsification machine breaks up the cataract and sucks it out, then they post in the new lens and your done. No stitches. Well you're done apart from the fact you end up drenched, during the procedure as they continually pump in saline to wash the eye, in theory the liquid should run down the Shute in the drape and away, in practice it goes down your back, down your front, in your hair. So once they sit you up to take you back to Recovery a Nurse runs over with a fluffy towel to mop up, my t-shirt was wringing wet, you only get covered in blankets and not changed in to a gown. After a few checks, BP, temperature etc and a cup of tea and a biscuit it's time to go.

Cyborg shield

That said all the staff over the 2 days were fantastic and if my other eye ever needs doing I'll be down there again, so worth it and not just to avoid the 8 month waiting list round here. From diagnosis by the optician to surgery was 38 days.

Before I escaped there was one more surprise, I knew yoga would be banned for a while, but what I wasn't expecting was to not be able to return to work for 2 weeks. The pre op assessment Sister had quizzed me in detail about my job and hobbies and mentioned maybe a week off, but the Consultant had apparently insisted that I must take two weeks off. Two weeks off is ok, as my Boss said your only get one set of eyes, but what I wasn't expecting was the huge list of things I'm meant to avoid during that time including, lifting stuff, bending down too much, certainly no bending down and lifting, no reaching up/lifting, no lifting heavy shopping bags, no walking the dog, luckily I haven't got one, no gardening. Nothing inverted, basically anything that could potentially raise blood pressure is banned. I also get to wear the nifty eye shield at night to stop me rubbing my eye when I wake up, also wear it when I go out to avoid any dust or crap in the air.

So I'm left with going for unenergetic walks, watching tv and the one thing I haven't been able to do for months, read a book. Reading anything more than was absolutely necessary had become too hard over the last 3 months, leaving me with a headache and streaming eyes, so I had put my book to one side and stopped buying newspapers even before the extent of the cataract was diagnosed.

It's early days and I'm having quite a lot of trouble putting the eye drops in 4 times a day, but the early signs are good, there is a huge improvement in my vision, though now my glasses are unusable and I've had to go back to the glasses I had made in Mysore 7 years ago.

If anyone has a good technique for self administering eye drops please feel free to comment. I miss more than I hit.

So yoga and life are on hold as I rest and recover. As my teacher Louise told me this is a chance for healing for my whole body, not just the eye. She also suggested to help with the stir craziness of not being able to do asana to do a morning sitting and breathing practice.