Absent-minded practice.

28 July, 2005

It wasn’t a particularly bad practice this morning. However it was absent minded – at Supta Padangusthanasa, I suddenly realised that way back at the beginning of my practice, I’d forgotten Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. I was daydreaming – every so often pausing to stare into space. Then coming to my senses, I’d try to remember where I was in the series. Not good. Focus…I really need to work on where my mind is during the practice.

But hey! The key thing is my run continues! Tomorrow will be a challenge. It’ll be a late night as we pack and get ready for our trip to Chicago. We want to leave around 7:00 am so it’ll mean an early practice followed by some 8 hours of driving. I’m looking forward to the trip – it might be a bit tiring but I’m looking forward to a most welcome change of scenery and a 4 day break from work; we haven’t spent a night away from our home since last October.

I’d better get on with that packing…

Mind in turmoil

28 July, 2005

I had gotten up multiple times in the night, but still got out of bed around 5:45 feeling fresh and rested…and not at all sore…in fact, I was in precisely the right condition for a practice. Yet even today of all days, I felt like skipping my practice – because my mind was in turmoil. For the first time in ages, my first thoughts out of bed were of work. I felt like I needed to forget my asanas and get myself into my office and tackle the issues – they couldn’t wait.

Of course, the truth was that not only could they wait, but that they should. I turned myself around by thinking hard about how I feel when I do asanas versus what my life turns into without them. I knew that these 90 minutes pay dividends in clarity and focus that last well after I come off the firm cotton…and so I went to my mat, and then two hours later, showered and breakfasted, to my work.

The workday is done now and It was productive. We are getting closer to tackling some of the problems I’ve had with my projects. I don’t know if my asanas had anything to do with it but I tackled my tasks with purpose and commitment and I’m content that I did a good day’s a work.

After work, I worked out. Lower body for 45 minutes. I want to believe that my strength training is not vanity knowing that it is counter to my practice. I know at least that it is not just vanity. I have a large place and when I stopped working out I found many of the tasks that I need to perform difficult – moving rocks, planting trees, hauling 60 kg bags of salt for the water softener down into the basement, shoveling a foot of wet snow off my 75 yard driveway. All these things are easier with muscle. These tasks are also a part of my practice – to expend my energy doing useful things. The training is just preparation for this purposeful exertion. If I had no use for the muscle, I wouldn’t work out. How pointless it would be to build strength only to show off the side effects of that strength out on a friday night – I guess that, at least is rajasic. Better him than the tamasic fool splashed out on the sofa getting pissed before going out.

I went out for a walk amongst my trees this evening. It was a beautiful night. Cool for once – the last few days of rain had broken the oppressive humidity and heat. We have some space, and in the five years we’ve lived here, I have planted about 140 saplings – mostly my favourite sugar maple, but also other natives – silver and red maples, spruce, white oaks, burr oaks, birch, black cherry, hackberry, redbud, magnolia, ash, sumac, cedar and pine. This year, finally they have truly taken hold – for a couple of years they seemed hardly to have grown and then last year and again this year they have exploded – some have grown two or three feet.

Enough of the poetic. Now to take care of the prosaic dirty pots and dishes.

An unexpectedly good practice

27 July, 2005

The TV’s on and I’m watching ‘Supersize Me’ on the Movie Channel. It’s like watching life on another planet. I can’t believe people eat this…I can’t believe I once ate this stuff…what was I thinking?

I almost slept through my 4:00 am alarm this morning – I just about heard the last couple of beeps and managed to drag myself out, so I had very low expectations. Imagine my surprise 10 minutes later as I found myself enjoying a spectacular practice. Intense, disciplined and even focused. I was generating good heat with sweat halfway through my standing poses – quite something at 4:15 am – it couldn’t have been more than 20-22 degrees. The practice faded up bit through the sitting poses but picked my self up at Navasana. Navasana’s always felt like a milestone in my practice – like the final corner in a race…after Navasana comes the ‘home stretch’…so I feel like I’ve got to ‘gee’ myself up, take it up a notch for that last leg of the journey

Into my ‘final lap’, daylight was breaking and spying an overcast sky, I smiled inside, knowing it meant an better drive into work. Sure enough it took me ‘only’ one hour – half what it took me yesterday. It was a busy day at work – meetings, phone calls, fighting fires and that having that ‘spinning wheels in the mud’ feeling. I’d booked a session with a massage therapist for after work. With all the commuting, working out, the daily asanas, and a long trip coming up this weekend – I felt I needed a session to work out some of the tightness. 45 minutes deep deep. I’m going to be a bit sore tomorrow and I better get take on extra fluid. But I feel fantastic – loose and relaxed.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s practice already. I’m working from home Wednesday so I’m also looking forward to getting a full quota of sleep. Having said that, I feel sharp and not at all tired. After the last few hectic days it’s amazing that I should feel this good! Why do I feel so sharp? Could it be the daily practices kicking in? Is this my new normal?

A short hard week cued up

26 July, 2005

This’ll be a short week as next Monday is a holiday in Ontario and we’ve got Friday off. Until then there’s a lot of work to plough through. I’m exhausted from a day that started with a 4:00 am practice. I had to drive in today – 2 hours of wading with the congestion into the Sun. I slumped into my chair when I got into the office, already exhausted and wondering how I’d get through the day. In the end, I didn’t have time to think about it – it just blurred.

We never got that technical issue resolved yesterday and I got ‘escalated’ on up my ass today and I’m under some pressure to get it sorted out fast. The customer’s losing money because of the problem and if I don’t get on top of it, it’ll get passed way on up.

This and the traffic, they’re just more opportunities to perfect the practice. To meet with equanimity the people and circumstances that one is confronted with. I am utterly convinced that I handle these situations better for having discovered yoga. I’m not saying we should spend 3 hours commuting as some sort of modern austerity. Sure, we need to consider the point or pointlessness of the things we do, but everyone now and again we get put into situations that are less than ideal and the question is how we’re going to deal with – are we going to get bent out of shape about it or take it in stride? Not that I’m perfect…I’ll be honest, I still don’t deal with being stuck in traffic well. The work on the other hand, I thrive on. I love it. If I get fired, I’ll get a package and take it to Mysore. If stay employed, then I keep getting paid. Either way, I don’t lose.

On the mat today, I got pain. I’d worked out yesterday afternoon (after I’d had enough of work). Too many dumbbell flys and presses. The push down on the vinyasas – you know, right before upward dogs – were brutal. It was sleepy practice too. We had friends over for dinner and finally got into bed after 11.

I’ve got a few more 4 am practices this week. Every now and again I get these weeks where I need to go in 2 or 3 times. This is one. Then on Friday it’s another early morning (we drive to Chicago). The streak’s going to be hard to keep going this week. Wish me luck.

One more hour of tackling the emails. Then I hit he sack – just 6 1/2 hours to practice.

On call on the mat

24 July, 2005

Came to the mat feeling very stiff and sore – I could barely touch the mat coming down into my first Surya A. Perhaps dehydrated but that’s hard to imagine. I got loose as the heat built up and pretty soon I was in the swing. Good hamstring stretches today and hips are opening up – I’m beginning to get well down in my Upavishta Konasana for example. Sooner or later I’m going to have to take in some classes though; on some poses, I don’t see much more progress without adjustment – with Supta Konasana in particular I’m going to need somebody to get my feet behind my head. The asymmetry on my binding continues – like many, one of my sides is more flexible than the other – for me my right side is the less.

I practiced with my cell switched on today by my mat – I’ve never done this before and don’t plan to make a habit of it but had no choice today. I started my asanas late and needed to be on-call for a key cutover activity at a customer site. I just hoped I’d get through my asanas without being called…and just about did. The phone wrang a couple of minutes into Savasana. All kinds of issues – technical and communication. Contractors had the wrong addresses for the job, my on-site tech lead had the wrong pager numbers for tech support and the wrong version of the document detailing the work…and even the right version of the doc was inaccurate in places…and once we got those sorted out, the technical issues started popping up. It tough running a project with a team composed of multiple groups from your own company, as well as the customer and 3rd party contractors.

It’s 1 pm and I’m logged on and still in my yoga shorts trying to sort it all out. But doing it calmly…as becomes an aspiring yogi . We’ll get it licked 😉

The two-hour practice

23 July, 2005

On the wildflowers I talked about yesterday. I took some pictures today and put them in yesterday’s post. Check them out if you like.

As for today…

I got to my mat in a casual mood – it was Saturday and I had no pressing engagements. So I decided I wasn’t going to count my Suns. I was just going to do as many as I wanted – which was more than 5 each. So I that’s what I did. The upshot of this was that a practice that started at 7 ended at 9. It wasn’t just the Suns either. I really dawdled through practice – holding some asana’s for 10 breaths here, stopping to work a bit more on an asana there. It was a casual practice…but not a bad or ill-disciplined one.

The main problem I have with my practice is focus (or more accurately, the lack thereof). My mind is all over the place. It seems to be getting better. Now at least, I’m aware that I’m wandering whereas before I just spent the whole 90 minutes rummaging through my subconscious paraphenalia without realizing it until I lifted my head up from Savasana. Now I realise it every five minutes or so and re-focus. Any ideas? Chants? Some meditation?

Anyway, Saturday practices aren’t usually so casual. We’re generally in the habit of staying up a bit Friday nights reading, watching a movie, catching up with each other. So a late night turns into a late morning which is an isssue from August to May when the English Football season is in swing. A 3:00 pm BST kickoff time implies a 10:00 am EST start. I’m in trouble if Arsenal (my team) are playing a noon kickoff because that means the asanas need to get done by 7:00 am. Fortunately it shouldn’t be much of an issue anymore as I’ve kicked the late night habit – we’re in bed no later that midnight these days and usually a lot earlier on weekdays.

But speaking of renouncing habits. Iyengar in his excellent commentary to The Yoga Sutras says that there are two wings that carry the progressing seer: Practice and Renunciation. I’ve made renunciation a cornerstone of my yoga off the mat and look to give up things that I know are of no value to my well-being and I feel are impeding my spiritual progress. I’ve been a vegetarian for about a decade now. That’s a pretty significant renunciation – but one that many of us have made – much to our benefit. But since then I haven’t taken stock and looked for a new target…until this year.

In December I mounted a new assault on attachment – I gave up tea and coffee – I haven’t had a cup of either this year. At first it was brutal. I used to drink a litre a day. In recent years though, I’d taken it down to one in the morning. But I took it seriously. The first couple of weeks of cold turkey were brutal – the withdrawal headaches lasted about 10 days. That in itself made me realise I had to carry through – anything that causes that kind of chemical withdrawal pain can’t be good. In the yogic tradition tea and coffee are considered Rajasic. According to the Sivananda Companion to Yoga “Too much rajasic food will over-stimulate the body and excite the passions, making the mind restless and uncontrollable”. Of course that’s the very point. Anyway, I decided to get it rid of it. There was no longer any value proposition in it for me. It was a drug and I had come to enjoy the taste – I needed it because I did sleep enough…and I didn’t sleep enough because I knew I had caffeine for a crutch to sustain me. How’s that for a vicious cycle? So I quit. Now I just try to get enough sleep. And if I don’t get enough sleep I let myself get tired and feel tired. That is, I let my body tell me it’s time to rest. And then I rest.

Maybe next year I’ll go back to enjoying a cup now and then. I don’t know. But I don’t miss it. And I wonder sometimes why I had to drink it every day…and how pointless it was. I don’t feel as though taking it out has left any kind of hole in my fulfillment. Now…what else do I give up? Beer? Now that is a big big ask.

A pretty good practice actually

22 July, 2005

My return to the mat after Moonday did not start well. I got up late and lay in bed vaguely aware of a dull ache in my right knee. Then into my first downward dog my right wrist went dodgy. About halfway through my Surya Bs I had to take a ‘break’ (inspite of already having already ‘gone’ twice before starting). I kept thinking this is the day I’ll be cutting it short…the asanas are just not meant to happen.

I had half days at work the last two days and my mind was on the stuff that had piled up. I thought about cutting short but then realised what that does to the rest of my life, including work. It’s unbelievable what a difference it makes. How do you explain it to those who don’t do asanas? You can’t. Only people who do it day in and day out understand what life’s like with and without asanas. Maybe I shouldn’t get so uptight about one day of practice…but so often that’s the thin end of the wedge. It all starts with one skip. Then you’re doing it all the time.

In the end it turned out to be a decent practice. The highlight was Garbha Pindasana. I thought to myself ‘I’m going to slip my hands through my legs’ And then I did. Just like that. As though I’d being doing it all my life. It’s funny with these poses. You can’t. You can’t. You can’t….and then one day you can. ‘All in coming’ says the man. In this stretch where I’ve practiced daily for about 4 months it has been coming pretty fast…and it’s created a virtuous circle that motivates me to get in there every morning. You see the progress so you keep at it. Apart from binding in the odd asana my practice is coming along faster than it ever has.

Off the mat, the summer’s crop continues to come in. We have 2 acres and have a sizeable vegetable garden – it has yielded 50lbs of peas this summer (that’s after shelling). A record. The zuccini (courgettes), cucumber, radish and lettuce have also been plentiful. I can’t take credit for it – my Dad who’s retired coaxed all this out – gardening is his passion. I do take credit for the meadow though – I planted a 1/4 acre of wildflowers the year before last. It took two years to prepare (i.e. get rid of the weeds) and we then seeded two summers ago.
Last year we got our first blooms. This year the lanceleaf coreopsis and black-eyed susans blossomed in the thousands.

The former have gone and the latter are on their way out now (pictured on the right). But the pale purple (pictured above), and prairie coneflowers, ox-eye sunflowers, bee balm (pictured below)

are taking their place in style. When they go out the goldenrod and (hopefully) asters will take over. The meadow is in some ways as much a part of my practice as the asanas.