Tuesday, March 30, 2010


My practice seems to be stuck in an endless tug-of-war between backbends and leg-behind-head. If one is comfortable then the other is not. Today's verdict: backbends comfortable and leg-behind-head definitely not.

I suspect there are good reasons for the tug back and forth. The nerve cleansing aspects of intermediate probably have a lot to do with the motion of the spine...deeply bend back...then deeply bend forward.

I asked my teacher if this tugging back and forth was going to end at some point. Would there come a time when both backbends and leg-behind-head were comfortable in the same practice? He said "Yes"...and then followed up with "and I'll let you know when I get there." Hmm...seems like I might be here for a while then.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Yoga Sutra on "Surrender"

...on with the Yoga Sutra...

so the next bit of the Yoga Sutra, sutra 1.23, states that one path to samadhi is the "surrender to the Universal Soul" or to the "teacher of the other teachers" (depending on which translation you're reading). Sutras 1.24-1.26 describe the characteristics of this ultimate teacher and 1.27 & 1.28 describe how one might go about making that connection.

...and this is the point where I acknowledge that this is pretty sticky stuff for anyone with NO scholarly background in Yoga Sutra studies (i.e. me) ...but in the interest of making my way through the Yoga Sutra and sharing that here, I'm throwing the summary text up there. You can all ponder it with me! :)

In my mind, the "teacher of the other teachers" is the practice itself. I think it is the practice itself that is everyone's ultimate teacher. I find the idea of setting aside control or "surrendering" in practice interesting. I definitely learn the most from practice when I'm open to surprises and when I'm willing to let the practice itself be the teacher rather than trying to control where it's going.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yoga Sutra on "Practice"

...time to continue on with my journey through the Yoga Sutra...

Sutras 1.17-1.19 describe the stages of samadhi. Even the idea of reaching samadhi seems so far removed from something I could actually wrap my head around that I'm not sure there is anything I could say about it...it's best left to Patajali. :)

...but in 1.20 Patajali returns once more to the subject of practice...

Sutra 1.20 "Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to break this spiritual complacency."

1.21 "The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice."

1.22 "There are differences between those who are mild, average and keen in their practices.

-all from the translation by B.K.S. Iyengar

Thoughts on 1.20: The longer I practice, the more I'm starting to get a picture of what my teacher means when he says to "trust the practice". The picture is still coming together, but I'm getting the idea. I'm less apt to get worried or frustrated when I "lose" poses and more apt to recognize that while we may do triangle everyday, it's never the same triangle twice! I'm also less apt to get worried when I hit a low energy patch for a few days. The practice hasn't gone anywhere...it's still there...still doing it's work, just showing itself differently.

Thoughts on 1.21-1.22: This section of the Yoga Sutra is honestly kind of intimidating! I'm not sure I want to evaluate my practice on a scale of "mild, average or keen"! ...nor am I sure that such an evaluation of our own practice is even possible. I consider it a "good" practice if I get out of bed, step on the mat and do what I can in that practice. It makes me glad to know that a practitioner with all the experience and wisdom of Pattabhi Jois said simply "Practice and all is coming."

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 4: yoga vacation with David Keil

I'm already feeling sad that tomorrow is my last practice with my teacher for 6 more months. The week always goes by so fast.

After doing years of mostly home practice, I've found that there are things about practicing on my own that I love, but I'm so grateful this week to be practicing with a group. It's energizing in a way that practicing alone isn't. I especially like the sound of other students breathing. It helps keep me focused and is a constant reminder to me to breath. The one CD recording that is not for sale (that I know of), but that I would love to own is just a recording of 2 hours of a Mysore class breathing. That's a call to all the established teachers out there...someone make a breath CD!

Tomorrow's goal: try to soak up the energy of practicing with a great group of students and a fantastic teacher...and then carry that into home practice next week!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 3: yoga vacation with David Keil

day 3 of my 5 days of practice with David...

practice thoughts:
I'm starting to get a sense of where in practice my work will be for the next 6 months of home practice. Practicing with David makes me very aware of the areas in my practice where I tend toward lazy. It also reminds me of one of the best lessons that I learn from practice (over and over again): if you don't try it, it doesn't get any easier.

Strength components of poses come very slowly to me; it is so motivating to have someone cheering me on as progress in these areas slowly appears in my practice.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 2: Yoga vacation with David Keil

ahhh...another stellar morning yoga practice with my teacher. Today begins the new homework I'll be working on for the next 6 months of home practice...or as looks more likely the next 6 years. The new pose and other transition work feel absolutely impossible! One of the things that I love about David is his attitude of total confidence that what feels impossible to me is totally possible (with time and practice of course!)
...and one of the things that I love about the Ashtanga yoga practice is that there is no end to confronting the impossible and learning that it really can be done!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 1: Yoga vacation with David Keil

...so when I first started learning Ashtanga yoga, I lived in Miami and had the luxury of a local yoga studio with Mysore style classes and multiple excellent teachers...

...fast forward a few years and I have left the big city for a smallish college town that suits me far better, but have sadly left my yoga teachers behind.

For the past 4 years I have done home practice and spent a week practicing with my teacher twice a year. This week is my week of practice with David Keil (my teacher) and this time I'm in Savannah, GA. David gives me lots of "homework" during each practice week...enough that I'm just about ready for more in 6 months when I travel to practice with him again. I have no doubt this week will be no different. It's helpful in those long stretches of home practice to know that I will see a teacher in 6 months and that he will be expecting that I have practiced! It's motivation to keep the intensity of practice up when nobody's watching! :)

Practice thoughts for today:
You know how, when your car starts making some kind of funny noise and you finally take it into the shop, that inevitably it stops making any noises and runs great?! Well, for me, practicing with David is a bit like that. It seems like every time I'm starting a practice week with David, I'm coming into it having tweaked something. I've tweaked shoulders while biking, ankles and knees while running, etc. By the end of the first practice with David's adjustments, the tweaks are gone. Everything is running great.

A big thanks to the the great group at Savannah Yoga Center! They have a beautiful studio and a great group of students to practice with.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Dropback Post

Over the past few months, several of the bloggers that I read have been sharing their experiences with standing up from backbends and with dropbacks.

...side note...I especially liked Karen's post when she ordered the "vinyl sand dune" for drop back practice!

Since a couple of my students are now on the adventure that is "dropbacks", this sequence has been on my mind.

There seems to be an importance placed on this sequence in a way that doesn't happen so much with other parts of the practice. I've been told that this is the one place in practice where everyone still receives attention in Mysore, even when there are 50 people in the room!

...So what's the big deal then? Why learn dropbacks?

I've been told that dropbacks are one of the "gateways" to second series because they build strength and control that are needed to safely approach the deeper backbends found in intermediate practice.

From my own experience, I would agree. Full disclosure, I'm a natural backbender. The bending part of backbends came easy. The dropping back part came pretty easy. The strength and control to come back up from the back bend did not come so easy. In fact, it felt like forever before I could come up from a backbend with the confidence that I would not use too much momentum and nearly fall forward or panic halfway up and end up sitting down out of it...ouch!

So, yes, I do think developing the control in dropbacks helped to pave the way for intermediate...but as I watch my students work through their own experiences with dropbacks, I think it's more than that.

The work in dropbacks develops mental and emotional strength. This sequence asks that you be vulnerable and strong at the same time. It asks that you trust yourself, trust your teacher, and that you embrace the fear of falling! These are all themes that have come up for me again and again in intermediate, but they are also themes that come up in life off the mat.

Beryl Bender Birch heard a saying once that she liked so much that she worked the idea of it into the name of her business "The Hard and Soft Yoga Institute".
The zen proverb as it still appears on her website reads "Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft, can you be extremely hard and strong."
...which is, I think, a great summary of the work which comes out of learning dropbacks.

More Yoga Sutra

Yoga Sutra 1.16 "The ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul." -Iyengar translation

It gives me hope that Patanjali suggests that it is possible to see past all that distracts us from what is important and to get a glimpse of what really is.