Harmony Lichty @AshtangaBristol

October 23, 2016

A weekend away with like minded people who understand “why”, unlike my Muggle GP last week who seemed unable to get her head around it, but that’s another story.

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Steamy led Primary (Picture credit Caroline)

Friday morning, day 1 for me, Led Primary with around 30 others. I haven’t done much led in the last few years, my shoulder takes too long to coerce in to postures like Mari D, Despite being able to do it and bind it Harmony had already passed “2” by the time I got there. She has an interesting assist in UHP, standing on the foot,,I’ve not had that one before. For me led primary is about tidying up the practice, I find it almost impossible to synchronise my breath with somebody else’s count, my shoulder has forced me to slow down too much. At least I can get myself in to Supta Kurmasana, that’s just fun, though I know others wouldn’t agree. My Urdva Dhanurasana are rubbish in led, I just have to take my time. Sirsasana has been hit and miss after all the surgery, Harmony was kind enough to help me up, but once I’m up I’m stable enough.

Saturday, day 2. A different location down in the city which actually has it’s own “Banksy” on the wall outside. Mysore practice, which I’m much better at, in my time to my breath, I’m quite comfortable plodding through, but conscious of my relative slowness. Mostly left alone, which is fine. A sudden realisation that I was the only one doing intermediate, before realising that despite yesterday’s led primary maybe the locals knew the plan that some Shalas follow, of Saturday being a primary day, confused or what, but doing Salabhasana A & B helps what comes after. I didn’t do the rest of my 2nd up to Dhanurasana, that will have to be done tomorrow instead. Urdva Dhanurasana with my little back warm ups was much better, walking in more on each one, repeating the process again before standing for dropbacks. Tom from AYL was assisting, I’d sensed him watching and wondered why he hadn’t come over, turns out he thought I was waiting for Harmony as I’d come all the way to Bristol to practice with her. But he knows the plan, not to mention the history and I didn’t want to get cold, lovely assisted dropbacks. Hopefully Harmony will do them tomorrow instead.

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So glad I didn’t ask that question

Saturday afternoon was an interesting Q&A preceded by Pranayama ,as expected backbends featured , that’s where I learned my more than 3 Urdva Dhanurasana and walking the hands in more experiments were the right thing to be doing, Harmony said maybe do 9 x UD walking the hands in before starting dropbacks or hanging back, this sends the message to the legs and front of the Pelvis. I, just glad I hadn’t asked the question, as whoever asked an asana question go to go the front and be demonstrated on, they only cared about standing up apparently!

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Eka Pada reading exercise

A top tip secret that the “D” in Marichyasana D stand for “Diet” ha ha.

There were questions about Kapotasana, Eka and Dwi Pada and handstands, less relevant to me as I’m unlikely to need to worry about them in this lifetime!

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Harmony talking Ayurveda and Philosophy

It felt strange to be at a weekend yoga workshop and not practice today, it always feels wrong not to practice on a Sunday. After a lazy morning Harmony gave 2 interesting talks in the afternoon. First one was on Ayurveda, the Doshas and their differences. I’d always assumed from the way people talk that you have one type of Dosha, but found we are made up of some of all of them, but one or two predominate, in my case Vata won, followed closely by Kapha with Pita lagging miles behind after ticking the boxes in her Dosha finder quiz.

I think Donald Trump must be Pita as some of their qualities were listed as oily , cutting and charismatic.

After a break for tea and vegan chocolate cake Harmony’s second talk was on Sadhana- Spiritual Discipline and Vairagya or non attachment. The practice of yoga having 3 parts;
Tapas – Heat, discipline, difficulty
Swadyaya – self study, seeing ourselves more clearly, studying texts.
Ishvara Pranidhana– Surrender to God or a higher power than ourselves

The Kleshas or 5 obstacles we need to overcome to reach enlightenment.
Avidya or Ignorance – our confusion about what is real
Asmita or Ego – our sense of a separate self, not being part of the whole.
Raga or Desire – our need to keep repeating experiences that are enjoyable.
Dvesha or Aversion – the desire to avoid things that bring pain or suffering.
Abhinivesha or Fear of death – which manifests as clinging on to things, not wanting change.

The practice of Ashtanga yoga over time will weaken our Kleshas and we will be less controlled by them. Though the Ashtangi’s coffee habit desire seems to be one Klesha that will never be broken, if Harmony needs her coffee what chance the rest of them, I say them as someone who doesn’t like coffee, I’m quite happy with my own tea and chocolate Klesha and aversion to anything green and leafy.

Conference

September 14, 2016

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Hamish and my teacher Louise

A few people have asked me to post about the Conference at AYL last Sunday, it was a long conference and these are the parts that resonated for me, there was a lot more.

Hamish has just returned from Sharath’s TT in Mysore, a holiday as he described it, getting up 3 hours later than usual! H talked about the days in Gokulam and the time he spent drinking coffee with Sharath and discussing the practice.

He began by talking about Digestion, as Sharath had been asked about diet, we are just a food processor with legs and arms. Every “diet” aims to achieve something different, so there is no “right diet”, it’s an individual choice. Making ethical choices doesn’t just apply to food, Using less of everything means less stuff ending up in the sea.

Sharath had the students making sure they know primary and intermediate Posture names, reciting them forward and backwards and also learning the Sanskrit numbers from 1-30. We should all do this.

H talked about how many TT students decided to take a break from being on social media, though H acknowledged that it’s something of a necessary evil in order to advertise yoga classes.

If we practice in the mornings he said it’s good to do something aligned to the practice in the afternoon, while in Mysore small groups would get together to discuss yoga and bounce ideas and thoughts around with their peers. AYL is a community and he encouraged those who live near each other to occasionally form these groups. If that’s not possible then he encouraged to study the texts like the Gita or the Mahabarata, do meditation or just “Sit”. All of this makes us better able to deal with life off the mat.

Sharath also taught the TT students pranayama. This has usually only been formally taught to students who have finished intermediate , although he seemed to make an exception for long time practitioners who haven’t yet finished second. I asked H if there is any appropriate pranayama for those of us who who will never finish second, he said alternate nostril breathing is ok.

H gave a small whoop of joy at Sharath saying that once students hit 50 (H gets there soon) , that asana practice should be less intense. I’m now 52 and seem to be working harder than ever!

Hamish said he once asked Guruji the meaning of Dharma, his answer was it means “giving”. We may not all be teachers, but in our own way we are all teachers and end up sharing the practice, with family, friends or work colleagues, telling people about our practice and answering the inevitable “why” question, sharing is giving.

Lucy Scott Day 5- The Uth Plutihi countdown

August 27, 2016

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Yoga Frog

The last day and despite it being Friday Lucy told us to do our full practice, though she told me to stop at Dhanurasana as a nod to tradition. The Pranayama with the retentions at both ends and alternate nostril breathing before it’s time for Samasthitihi .

Reminders to close the fingers in Trikonasana, I still have Starfish fingers, a habit that’s hard to change after all these years. Lucy assisted Prasarita A, rare to get assisted in that one.

Not so much adjustment on the last day, so it felt like it flowed more and my Hamstrings were tortured less🙂 Mari D entry assisted on the first side, I still have a problem with that side because of my shoulder. Lucy had me sit taller and reach, with assistance it feels ok and easy to bind, I need to experiment and see if it is possible on my own, is my dodgy entry an engrained habit that doesn’t need to be there.

Getting help with the backbends every day has helped a lot and also the different ways it’s been done from what I’m used to at AYL. The dropping back and pushing the arms straight in to the hands of a second adjuster standing behind me, giving a much deeper bend and making my legs work more. I heard Lucy say to C “his arm has lost the kink,it’s straight“, it’s taken 5 days but it’s changing. Cathy needs to train up some Assistants of her own now to be able to carry on Lucy’s work.

Best handstand experiments of the week, she left me to play on my own, while supervising from L’s mat next door, “shoulders forward, look at the spot on the floor“. This has been the highlight of the week in many ways, I wouldn’t have dared try on my own for fear of killing off my left shoulder altogether, but Lucy knew it was strong enough and stable enough and knowing she had me doing it to help rediscover my centre and make dropbacks easier in the long run gave it a purpose. It feels like a breakthrough in confidence in my shoulder, it’s safe to do anything with it provided I take care, the last barrier broken down and to be honest its the first time my fear has been challenged in the last 4 years, but Lucy exudes such a confidence, it’s (relatively) easy to try. It’s one advantage of a mostly at home practice that I will be able to keep playing handstands, though whether the IKEA book case can take another hit if it goes wrong is doubtful.

Each day Lucy has chanted with the few of us left at the end, day 5 was no different, I was just finishing closing, in Uth Plutihi, I had counted 5, Lucy says “we will just wait for Kevin” then instead of waiting she starts to count me through for another count of 20, as the rest watched, I HAD to stay up, at least she counts quicker than Sharath!

I’ve got far more out of this week than I ever expected, lots of little things I hope I manage to remember when I’m on my mat and the bigger things like being introduced to Parsva Dhanurasana and facing the fear of handstands.

Today is my Birthday, I got a Yoga Frog, how cool is that.

Lucy Scott Day 4 – Parsva Dhanurasana

August 25, 2016

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Warming up

After being out last night it was a struggle to force my eyes open and crawl out of bed at stupid o’clock, the first morning the alarm has shocked me in to life.

It was less humid today, lack of sleep meant I was tired but not as stiff. Lucy began with pranayama adding in the retention.

Another intense practice, Supta K instructed not adjusted as Lucy told me to stretch the legs longer, try and lift the feet, get the shoulders lower before binding. Then instructed through the proper exit via Titibhasana . She did rescue me in Gharba as I got beached.

I’m getting a LOT of help with my small bit of intermediate, Pasasana, especially the first side which is the harder side for me is getting easier with help every day. After Krounchasana Lucy had me doing full vinyasas and assisting each pose to Dhanurasana . Then another full vinyasa and rather than being on my back for Urdva Dhanurasana, suddenly I’m on my front and she’s talking and adjusting me through Parsva Dhanurasana.

Parsva D counted through is a whole new ball game, I’ve often seen people at AYL and in Mysore roll from one side straight to the other, but no, apparently it’s take Dhanurasana, roll right, come back to centre, then roll left before coming back to centre for 5, and Lucy is adjusting between my calves and wrists deepening the bend. That was seriously hard work. Why do new postures appear when a) you are knackered, b) not expecting them?

As Dena told me once, it never gets easier, just longer. This was a loooong practice as I still had the backbends, dropbacks and handstand experiments to come and a no doss closing with instructed Sirsasana, though it tweaked my lower back so I had to come down. Lucy laughed that I don’t like inversions, before doing a brilliant manipulation on my back, apparently my QL is too solid.

By the time I finished the next group were starting to arrive, that was the longest, hardest practice of the week and we still have one more to go. Bring it on, it’s been a brilliant week so far.

Lucy day 3 Full vinyasa to aching arms

August 24, 2016

Lucy started with the Pranayama exercises and some Piriformis exercises.

Today seemed like much harder work, more intense, Lucy constantly looking to see if I was doing what she had told me the previous 2 days, engraining new habits. Also picking up on new things like my feet in the Prasarita’s and suddenly appearing behind me to say “that’s not Utkatasana ”

Some days when you try to be invisible and just do your practice, as you sense from the start it could be a slog, especially as it turns out to be one of the hottest days of the year, are the days when you seem to end up feeling like you stand out like a sore thumb and are getting picked on! But in this very small numbers environment it’s impossible to hide.

I did manage to get through most of seated on my own apart from Mari A and actually got a “that’s a great little primary series Supta Kurmasana” asI knotted myself up before anyone got a chance.

But Lucy is waiting for me in Gharba Pindasana, making sure my arms go much further through than they usually do, rock round and then making me engage a place I didn’t know I had to keep upright in Kukutasana.

The room usually starts to empty as I’m finishing my primary, the same 3 suspects seem to be last to finish every day, Lucy has less body’s to assist, so the intensity for those still standing increases with more help. There’s no taking it easy towards the end this week it seems, not unless I manage to develop a warp factor speed practice.

Pasasana assist before she suddenly counts me through to Krounchasana, a full vinyasa between all the intermediate postures, Bhekasana and Dhanurasna assist.

At least I got time to play in Urdva Dhanurasana, I’m better if I’ve done it on my own before the intense adjustment starts, my shoulder is really feeling the benefit of Lucy’s shoulder work. A couple of dropbacks on my own before she appears, she’s on a mission to help me find my centre, so has my hands in prayer as I go back rather than overhead, that’s impossible for me to control, so it’s very assisted, but I can see her point as I’m in the middle of the mat when I land without having to readjust once the mat comes in to view.

Handstands again, this time after an assisted one she has me trying to get up on my own, nearly but not quite, she says it’s in my mind, the body is quite capable, it’s a huge leap of faith for my shoulder.

No let up in closing, Sarvangasana pulled higher, before she adds another take on Sirsasana with me balancing on my wrists rather than the floor, it’s getting up in the first place that’s the problem with that version, all in aid of getting the pressure off the crown of my head.

I was tired at the end, more so than the previous two days. Sudden full vinyasas, plus all the extra backbends and handstands are wiping me out. Need more chocolate I think! My arms are still aching.

Lucy Scott day 2 – Hamstring mission

August 23, 2016

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Lucy Scott day 2 – Hamstrings

Lucy is on a mission to lengthen my Hamstrings, at 6:15am my Hamstrings however are not fond of this plan, it starts on the first Surya A where she’s making me have my hands flat in the forward bend, rather than just my fingers and continues on through Janu A, Tiriang Mukha, Supta Padang and culminates in the most intense Krounchasana adjustment I’ve ever had!

After yesterday’s Gharba Pindasana lesson I was ready, especially as L was next door and watching me out of the corner of her eye. She said it was better and asked if I had been dreaming about it, ha ha more a nightmare than a dream.

The help she’s giving me in Urdva Dhanurasana is superb, she knows her stuff, UD on a couple of bricks as she manipulates my left shoulder then has me stretch in to the arm. Then normal UD off the mat feels very different, Lucy shoulder physio allows me to more comfortably get my hands nearer my head as I push up, rather than their normal position at the edge of the mat, so my hands are much more under my shoulders.

No rest for the wicked, Urdva Dhanurasana is immediately followed by dropbacks, day 2 she’s again extending my comfort zone, today not only am I dropping back but she has C pulling and guiding my hands towards my feet, a deeper upper back bend and my hands landing in a much more stable position.

Handstands were not a one day wonder it seems, played bunny hops then Lucy got me vertical, it didn’t feel so strange today, though like with the backbends she upped the intensity, She had me stay up a lot longer and she added in bending the knees and trying to get my feet on my head, then going vertical again. She’s on a mission to retrain my body to find it’s centre. One advantage of a mostly home alone practice is that I will be able to continue trying the handstands. Lucy has given me the confidence in my shoulder to try it, that’s a huge leap after the last 3.5 years.

Closing I suddenly find her standing on my feet in Karna Pidasana and telling me I’m putting too much pressure on my head in Sirsasana, this lifting the head lark isn’t happening.

Lucy never rushes, she waited until I had done my Uth Plutihi before she does the closing chant with the 4 of us who are left. She does this by call and response as she does the 2nd verse which I don’t know and isn’t even chanted in Mysore.

The comfort zone is being stretched.

Day 1 Out of the comfort Zone – Handstands

August 22, 2016

We have Lucy Scott teaching at our local Shala this week. I’m in the first group of 10 students starting at 6am.10 is the most she will teach, so that she can truly teach and not just run around adjusting people. She has an excellent memory, despite not having seen her in a year she walked in and asked how my backbends are going.

It’s Mysore style practice, after leading the first few Surya’s she lets us loose, sizing up the new (to her) students and on the case of those of us who have practised with her before. Her adjustments are strong, but very supportive. She talks, there’s a reason for everything she does, it’s never an assist or an instruction to change something just for the hell of it. Hands flat to lengthen the hamstrings in forward bend.

Little things, a block for Tiriang Mukha, Janu A squash to make my lower back release and find length in the front of the body.

Garbha twice, first time rocked round on my own, then before I could carry on I got a Garbha tutorial, the arms further through, hands keeping contact with the head, Kukutasana don’t let the legs slide down the arms, it’s about the Bandhas, not just counting to 5.

Assisted Pasasana, deeper twist, lift up, glad I didn’t have a big dinner last night!

Urdva Dhanurasana, Lucy was watching, “that’s much better than last time” she said, phew, good job she didn’t see it 6 weeks ago when it was truly crap with the sciatic knot. 3 on my own before she had me do 3 with blocks against the wall, then 3 more assisted ones, pushing in to the hands, really straightening the arms and legs as Lucy also tried to level me up and stop my propensity to be lopsided still because of the shoulder. It’s so engrained and needs to be un engrained . I realise my fitness and Ashtanga stamina must have improved, I remember feeling totally knackered last time she had me doing this kind of extra stuff

She let me play dropbacks on my own before coming over to do more assisted dropbacks, felt really good.

Then the surprise just as I’m thinking I’m home and dry. HANDSTANDS! She tells me the point of getting me to do handstands is to open and lengthen the front of the chest and stretch the Lats, but also for my body to start finding it’s centre again. I looked at her saying me do handstands?? yep me. Now I haven’t done a handstand since Dena had me do them in Berlin in 2012, to be honest I thought my left shoulder would just collapse. Ok I’ll give it a go, uu no not against the wall, eeek, but some how tiny Lucy somehow got me vertical, wobble wobble, point the feet, push in to the hands. Weirdly my right arm found it harder work than the left. Once down and recovered from the shock of doing a handstand Lucy showed me how to practice at home.

I certainly didn’t expect Lucy to take me out of the comfort zone on day 1, no fear no fun as they say. Saying that Lucy has such a confidence that you just do it and don’t think about it.

She was on me to the end, mainly because by this point there were only 2 of us still going, Sirsasana point the feet, try and lift the head and after I got up from Savasana she told me I need to take a much longer rest!

It’s going to be an interesting week, especially for those of us who have practised with Lucy before.

Day 2 tomorrow, I better get an early night.

Entspannung

August 1, 2016

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It’s been 4 years and a lot of water under the bridge since I last practised with Dena in Berlin and 6 years plus since I was with her at the Pantarhei yoga Shala in Hamburg. Inga has been bringing Dena to Hamburg for over 20 years now.

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Dena, Dana and Inga


I recognise and know so many of the people who travel for Dena, Pantarhei feels comfortable surrounded by so many familiar faces, Inga and Dana who arrange everything, my friend Anika from yoga Hanover, Nicole and Konstanze from Berlin. As always on Day one it’s the circle as Dena goes round asking name, though she knows most of us, where you practice to and any injuries, making notes as she goes, asking the odd question. Then begins the mat re-arranging as Dena moves mats so everyone fits and has room.

Day 1 is a very long led primary, breaking down the postures in to bites, lots of information, as Dena says “take what resonates”.

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She tells us Janusirsasana C is there as a lesson to appreciate our body’s natural limits, don’t kill the knees, be where you are.
A few people stop at Navasana, but instead of just sitting waiting as they would in Mysore Dena has them balancing light blocks on their heads and lengthening their spines for the count of 5 as the rest of us do the “fun stuff” from Bhuja through Gharba, then she gets them to join in again at Baddha Konasana.

She interrupts the flow of seated to go through the jump through, heals pressed down in Down dog, chin on chest stretching the back of the neck, then lift the heals, look forward and jump, so it’s forward rather than down, though my shoulder is nowhere near a fan of jumping through still.

Upavistha B she has us try to lift while holding the feet, it won’t happen if you don’t try.
Backbends in led are not my favourite, I need my own time to get my shoulder in the right place, so I only managed two when she had counted 4 UD’s. Closing, followed by chanting.

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Day 2-5
Now it’s how I like it mysore practice, starting with chanting and philosophy intertwined through some sutras “Sa Tu Dirgha Kala…..”. Then it’s Pranayama, 3 minutes just following the breath, before the deeper exercises of breathing individually in to the front, sides, back and heart, before she finally invites us to stand and chant the opening mantra before she quietly says “practice”.

The room soon turns in to a Sauna, the heat makes everything feel more open, unlike last time I was in Hamburg, this weeks it was sunny and 80+ degrees every day outside and who knows what temperature inside the Shala.

Dena walks up the middle, she stops in front and watches and you start thinking what am I doing wrong, though she may not actually be watching you, but it keeps you honest and on your toes. During the days she picked me up on the position of my standing foot in the Marichyasana and my drishte points, particularly in Navasana, toes not ceiling, though without my glasses it doesn’t make much difference to me.

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One morning I’d got myself in to Supta K, she asked the Assistant if she had assisted me in to it, “no by himself” instead of leaving me she sat on me and proceeded to put my feet even further behind my head!

Dena reminds me a lot of Cary in that she has the ability to appear from nowhere, prodding the thigh to make you engage or tweaking something.

The heat made my little bit of intermediate feel relatively easy, Pasasana binding on both sides despite the Pretzels. One morning she stopped to give me an individual Salabhasana lesson, how my big toes should be touching in parallel and not twisting in so my inner thighs stayed together.

The sweat meant my left arm slipped away in backbends and my grip in Bhekasana wasn’t great without my usual chalk ball, I didn’t take it figuring Airport security may think it looked suspiciously like a white powder of another type! Luckily on day 3 I came across a sports shop with a Climbing Equipment department that sold small solid blocks of grip chalk, that helped a lot.

The next day I did Bhekasana with a better gripping left hand position, Jack came to assist and I assume Dena must have looked across at him to be careful of my shoulder, so he says “you awright down there?”, “yep no problem”, he must have looked across to Dena as he said “Kev’s a tough old dog!”. Is that an Aussie term of endearment I wonder. Dhanurasana as usual now my last posture, I’m beginning to feel that pose in my upper back.

When I can take my time Urdva Dhanurasana is coming back, Dena had us doing 3 push up and down, then 5 coming down to the head and trying to walk the hands in on each one, once I’d got my block of hand chalk I had the confidence my shoulder wasn’t going to give way on me. Dropbacks are still a work in progress, I’m trying to control the descent as much as possible, Dena said that’s ok, but it looks like I’m climbing down a rope, rather than letting it flow. She also got me to stretch up more before going back and to aim for my feet to try and make a higher arch. With her standing on my feet every day it’s a whole different ball game, though I still veer to the right and she would tell me to steer it. But getting help for a run of days instead of just once a week makes a huge difference, also she had me do 5 or 6 dropbacks with her every day.

You can’t hide in Closing postures either (no Finishing Room at Pantarhei), legs too high in Uttana Padasana, drishtes and Sirsasana minus the wall. Savasana in the Lake I’ve made.

Her Aussie humour does sometimes escape, she started H next to me on dropbacks, H was nervous to say the least, Dena told her to relax as she went back and asked what’s the German for “relax”? Entspannung, which Dena found a bit of a long mouthful, she said “no wonder you can’t relax with a word like that for relax”

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Last Day Dena led

Last day
You don’t have to be perfect.
Be yourself, don’t try to be what you think others want you to be (asana). Every body’s body is different, what’s right for one is not necessarily right for another.DK

Dena is as much about how the practice is good for and affects the hours when you are not on your mat as the asana you do on the mat.

The last day the mats are lined up differently so that Dena is in the middle surrounded by everyone. It’s the silent led primary where the object is to not be the first or the last to move, it’s like a wave as everyone moves, plus the added dimension of full Vinyasa between poses but no half vinyasa between sides. Lots of people find themselves sitting down when everyone else is standing up, having done quite a few of these over the 20 years I’ve practised with her I knew the plan🙂

She makes sure everyone can do it, so we go to Mari C, then Navasana, miss out the fun stuff, back in at Baddha Konasana to Ubhya Padang, then closing, backbends with various options to fit various abilities, Sirsasana with a very long , slow count, no I wasn’t still vertical my the time she got to the end!

Chanting after Savasana and then sitting in the circle as we had begun 6 days earlier.

It was a very intense week, nearly 3 hours each day, unlike some I could rest and hang out, others had to go to work. Dena is an incredible teacher with a depth of knowledge and experience very few can get near. She always pushes people that little bit more, in some cases she presses buttons, but it’s all done with the best of intentions. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 4 years to practice with her again.

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.