Yoga 24/7

25 March, 2006

You practice, or at least aim to, twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Practice is not 90 minutes on a mat. Practice is the way you breathe and eat. It’s way the way you relate to your kin and your fellow man with integrity and compassion. Yoga is how you work and why you work. It does not matter how much you earn; It is wrong and outside of the path of yoga to do work that is deceitful and wrong. It is not, however, necessarily ‘unyogic’ to make $120,000 a year – whatever you do, regardless of how much you earn doing it, if you do it with passion and in the service of Krsna (or whatever else you personally choose to call Krsna) and humanity and without undue concern for the material rewards then it is yogic.

As for the stuff on the mat, i.e.asanas, it is inconceivable that any job that requires anything up to 50-hours a week could keep you from them. Even if you have a home and family to keep. Having said, that, if you still have no time for them, worry not – some the best yogis humanity has ever known never did a single asana their whole life (Let me add here that I also know several self-indulgent useless prats who do them almost every day).


22 March, 2006

On Sunday I had an astonishing practice – my first in exactly 7 days – it was precisely a week since the final workshop with Darby. I hadn’t practiced since then because my flu made a frightening comeback. I even called in sick on Wednesday. My appetite totally deserted me – all I could take in was fruit, water and green tea. And I lost at least 5 lbs. I now carry 138lbs – that’s pretty light even on my relatively modest 5’7″ frame. (By the way I’ve lost 27 lbs since I started practicing asanas regularly in 2001 – I’ve dropped about 17 lbs of those since last April when I went ‘daily’ Ashtanga. But of course the most recent weight loss had nothing to do with asanas).

The resultant practice was tough as I was still weak. Also, so soon after the workshop I was still focused on the lessons learned and I pushed myself and sweated quite a bit. But what I found remarkable was the difference dropping 5 lbs makes – and it was suddenly and very apparent to me because I’d only just lost it since my last practice. Poses that are ‘just there’ become easy – in Mari B my forehead to the ground; and in Mari C I both wrists with room to spare; Yoga Mudra was laughably easy and Mari D so so nearly there. My concentration was worse than usual and my mind wandered all over the place – but some of that’s down to lacking full fitness.

My wife saw me as I came out of my practice room and remarked that I looked ‘scrawny’. To me I look fitter than ever – but admittedly, at 26 (which I was when we first met), My fitness regime was more typical of the North American male – weights, bikes, snowboards, canoes, hikes. Mind you most of that would still be there if I still had the kind of spare time I had back then except now there’s Yoga and it makes all the difference. Also, I’d only just given up meat. I’m still muscular now, but I have no where near the bulk. (I’ve lost 27 lbs after all!). When I suck my ‘gut’ in, I actually look like one of those pictures you see in Yoga texts illustrating nauli.

Physically though, this was a landmark practice and I’m going to try to make some of those habits of the past week permanent; even more raw fruit and vegetables than I usually eat for example (and tons of my favourite juicy fruits – grapes, kiwis, oranges); Evening meals early – no later than 7 (and only fruit or water for snacking afterwards).

I took Monday as a rest day after Sunday’s exertions, and came back on again today feeling a bit sore in the hamstrings but again I had the same fine practice. Here’s hoping for more of the same tomorrow.

So Sick

16 March, 2006

I haven’t practiced since the Sunday full vinyasa Mysore practice with Darby. I took a rest day on Monday to give my troubled left shoulder a break (and as I feel it now, it appears to have recovered). After a welcome Moonday on Tuesday however, the flu I started to feel last week somehow came back and whacked me hard; it’s knocked the stuffing out of me. For the first time in years, I even called in sick because I couldn’t even work from home.

The problem is that everyone in the house is down. And anyone with kids knows that it’s hard to get well when you’re up all night trying to comfort a poorly 5 month-old. So it all just gets stretched out.

What bugs me is that I can get sick at all since I take pretty good care of myself. All I eat is sweat potato, broccoli, oranges, kiwi fruit, peas, apples, beans, etc etc (you get the idea) and all I drink is black or green tea and tons of water. So what gives? Is it work? Is it stress manifesting itself as ailment? Probably I’m just not getting adequate sleep. I guess it doesn’t really matter what you do – if it’s going around sooner or later you’re bound to get it.

I’m looking forward to getting back onto the mat. I might try a practice tomorrow if I feel half decent. The weekend workshops recharged my enthusiasm for asanas. I’ve added a couple of things to my reading list – Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and Light on Life. I’ve really enjoyed Iyengar’s take on Patanjali. Darby’s introduction to Yoga came through Light on Yoga and he said the only reason he never ended up in Pune practicing with Iyengar was that he didn’t have a lot of money and didn’t think he could afford a teacher who’d actually written a book – so he settled for Jois! Of course, now he reveres Guruji; I asked him about the other ‘Ashtanga’ teachers in Mysore – Venkatesh and Sheshadri. He’s heard of them of course, but said he’d never go to them out of respect for Guruji.

I’ve always been open-minded about my asanas (perhaps because I didn’t start out with Ashtanga but rather Sivananda Hatha, and really saw and appreciated its benefits. I don’t think of Ashtanga as the only correct system of asanasa or even the best. It’s what I’ve settled on as appropriate and agreeable to me for where I am in my practice right now. But I’m open-minded enough to explore other approaches such as Sivananda and Iyengar. Especially with respect to the other limbs since Guruji’s a bit sparse on these (in Yoga Mala) and I’ve not come across anybody who writes about ‘greater yoga’ as beautifully as Iyengar. India should adopt that marvellous Japanese tradition of declaring individuals as ‘Living National Treasures’ – Iyengar and Guruji qualify.

Darby Days 2 and 3

13 March, 2006

Darby’s never going to forget me; apart from being the only guy in the class of 22, I succumbed to my first ever yoga injury on Saturday right in front of him and he was quite concerned. It was the afternoon session on Saturday – we were going from 3:30 to 9:30 pm with an hour break in the middle.

Darby decided to have us work on backbends. Since we were going straight into them outside of a practice, he wanted us to warm up with a few back-bending asanas. I recognized none of them – they weren’t Ashtanga poses at any rate. During one of these, I lay, back bent over a block, arms reaching out past my head with hands together in prayer, and my legs straight out in the other direction, feet in kinda Setu Bandhasana ‘Charlie Chaplin’ style. I lay perfectly still in the pose for a few minutes and then he had us come out. It was at that point that I realised I had lost all feeling in my left arm. I guess I’d pinched a nerve or something. After a little while we went into a series of Surya Cs. I couldn’t raise my left arm more than a couple of inches from my side. Eventually, some motion came back and I was able to raise my arm but then when I tried bringing it down, it would crash down limply. I gave up on it and sat out the afternoon. Darby reckoned I’d get it back slowly by the end of the evning but added ominously that if it didn’t then ‘we were in trouble’. Nice.

I became a spectator for the rest of the afternoon. Which was a pity – it was a fine time for asanas. The sun was hot on us through the big windows – which were open for probably the first time this year. Slowly I could sense the feeling ebbing back into my arm – I had a numb spot on the meat of the palm below the thumb and another up at the top and outside of my arm (it’s sore now – and I’m happy about that. It’s progress – because ‘soreness’ is at least a sensation, a feeling).

I admit I was internally freaked out about my weird injury. Slowly though that got downgraded to merely bummed out. By the break at 6:30 I hadn’t done much. But the evening would improve; During break most of the class filed out of the studio to get refreshed at the multitude of yoga-friendly places on the Danforth strip. I stayed in the shala – I had brought a bag of oranges and apples; I couldn’t imagine eating anything heavier in the middle of a workshop.

Darby stuck around as well so we shared the fruit and talked for about hour. It lifted my spirits – here I was, given a rare chance to shoot the breeze with the only certified teacher in the country – one of Guruji’s first western students no less.

I asked him the Ashtanga question in my mind lately: ‘Is it really still worth going to Mysore – I mean you get no attention and it’s just so crowded’. He responded that it was definitely worth it. Here’s the gist of what he said: The energy there is incredible. You go there to be amongst the like-minded and to soak up the enthusiasm and commitment of the people who’ve gathered there. And guruji is something else – he has an aura about him. It’s almost beside the point that you hardly ever get adjusted at AYRI – you go there to build the proper samskaras – by being alongside devotees who, for example, go so far as to stop eating around 2:00 pm for the sake of their asana practice. It relit my enthusiasm. Then we talked about other stuff – India and how it’s changing for example; He went to India in 1979 and fell in love with it. According to him Indians still have a ‘spiritual energy’ about them (though perhaps not for much longer) that is largely lost in the West.

In those early days, he said ‘we felt it was crowded if there were 10 or 12 of us and sometimes it was just me and my wife with Guruji’. We talked for a good while like this and I enjoyed our conversation – and got more out of it than I did the actual asanas that day.

When we reconvened at 7:30 we spent some time in discussion about basic principles – chakras, bandhas and so forth. He had a cool analogy regarding the moola bandha; Say a doctor’s got a pill and it’ll cure absolutely any disease or ailment- absolutely any illness – except there’s a catch; it doesn’t work if you think about monkeys. Well, a doctor wouldn’t hand it out to a patient and say ‘Here take this…and oh yeah don’t think about monkeys’. When Darby started practicing, Guruji never even mentioned the Bandhas. You don’t do your asanas continually thinking about whether you’re getting the Moola Bandha or not. You just do your asanas and not worry about it. It just come on it’s own as you work on your practice.

He also mentioned how the practice varies for him day-to-day and how he teaches it. For example he sometimes leads a class through a practice consisting of simply 108 Surya Cs (I asked why 108? And he told us the story of Shiva and Sati). He called it a wonderful practice and talked about how you can see peoples eyes just glistening and shining afterwards. After we got through talking theory, we went through some of the seated poses before wrapping up for the evening around 10 pm.

The final session was 2 hours – from 7:30 to 9:30 on Sunday morning. It was almost as though we’d been building up to it all weekend – a full vinyasa primary practice. It was intense and sweaty. I’m coming out of a bout of flu so it was extra hard work – but wonderful nevertheless. Darby’s a bit of a comedian though; he made us work harder in Navasana by stopping to make really slow announcements on upcoming workshops (in the Yukon) and telling jokes. He also ‘threatened’ us with a slow 108-count for Tolasana – but it turned out to be just 25.

All in all, it was a memorable, enlightening and inspiring weekend – and loads of fun.

Darby Day 1

11 March, 2006

Last night I had the first of my three workshop sessions with Darby. I almost didn’t go because I’m sick with a cold again. I felt miserable in the morning but as the day went on I felt progressively better and decided to go.

It was very different from Lino’s workshop that I attended last November. Lino’s was basically a led practice with stops every now and again to focus on common problem areas. Darby on the other hand is going through this asana by asana (and in the case of Surya A and B, breaking down the asanas into their components) and focusing on establishing correct alignment and ways of opening (for example in the hips or lower abdominals) to get further into the pose. It’s about details – the correction position of hands and elbow in Chatarunga or the state of the neck in Up Dog, or the hands in Down dog for example

There was also a lot of subtle insight on the ‘focus’ of an asana – for example, a reminder that in getting into Ardha Badha Padmottanasa, it’s about ‘the hip not the knee’ – the point is to open the former to facilitate the pose and to not put undue pressure on the knee in doing so.

Whenever a question came up about really little details, (for example somebody asked how far up do you want to take the hands in Parsvottanasana), he asked, rhetorically ‘What is the fundamental point of any asana?’ Answering himself, he said, to open the body (and particularly the chest) facilitate breath. Breath is the key, the fundamental premise being that asanas are ‘meditation in motion’.

On a lot of details he said ‘it depends’ on the teacher. He frankly admitted that poses vary from teacher to teacher. Jenna mentioned she got corrected by Lino in Prasarita Padottanasana C when she went down palms out (and so did I). Darby actually insisted on us doing it palms facing in. Why? Because if we’re still relatively new (meaning we’ve only been doing this for a matter of years rather than decades), then palms in makes it easier to open the chest and facilitate breath.

I enjoyed it and am looking forward to today’s marathon 5 hour session. Darby’s a Montrealer but originally an Aussie – one thing I found remarkable for somebody who’s been teaching so for so long and has his own shala is how hard he found it to bring the class to heed him; we’d break up into pairs to try stuff and after a while there’d be chatter, the way there is when you’ve got a room full of 30 people the overwhelming majority of whom are femail ;-P . Then he’d go, very softly ‘ok now if I can just get your attention for a moment, I’d like us to move on to….’ and nobody would pay any attention. One such time I was sitting on my mat cross-legged leaning back on my arms, waiting for whatever was coming next and after trying to get everyone to listen, he just looked down at me and we both started laughing. It was odd. Because when the focus was on him, as when he had us gathered around for a demonstration, the room was totally captivated by him – you could hear a pin drop (and you had no trouble hearing his softly spoken slightly-Aussie voice).

Beyond the yoga. It was my first time in the Danforth Yoga Sanctuary – I’ve been to their College location a few time (in fact I got introduced to Ashtanga there). It’s a classic urban North American shala – nice to look at – the typical wood floor and very old exposed brick – and looking out from it’s corner unit to the constant stream of traffic of a major thoroughfare (in this case Danforth Avenue). It’s on the third floor juxtaposing oddly with a Brazilian Steak restaurant and bar on the second floor.

At the ground level entrance, one set smoke cigarettes (presumably after devouring their meat) while another set pass through carrying mat bags and Nalgene bottles. A brunette acknowledged me as I walked past her and into the building (with mat bag and Nalgene bottle), and after I passed, I heard her say to her friend, ‘I feel bad now. I’m eating meat and smoking cigarettes and he’s doing yoga’. I looked back and we both laughed.

I also have to take back some of the things I said about yoga ‘fashion’. Go ahead. It’s hard on my yoga and on my drishti in particular, but damn it’s all so good to look at. For someone who practices at home 99% of the time, the inside of a typical yoga studio is freakin’ revelation.

As for myself, I found yesterday that, while I don’t care what I wear practicing at home (since nobody sees me), as much as I’d like to, I can’t replicate that indifference in a public space. I looked a bit scruff in my black Old Navy shorts and ripped orange T. I want new gear.

Crap of Some Young Guy

7 March, 2006

I took a rest day on Saturday morning but to be honest it wasn’t a ‘planned outage’; On Friday, I just felt like staying up, having a beer and watching a film (the excellent ‘Lord of War’) and so Saturday morning asanas got blown out as a I felt, (word of the month here)…crap. Feeling guilty, I later spent the afternoon mopping and vacuuming the house and baking muffins and granola bars (go figure). What the hell kind of ‘guy’ have I become?

Sunday morning, however I did practice, but it was an utterly crap practice – the result of being persuaded by everybody else to eat out. My daughter’s choice was ‘China Palace’ (on Derry at the 427 just north of the Airport) – a family favourite, they serve ‘Indian-style Chinese Food’. Though I’ve enjoyed eating there over the years, more and more, I’m out of sync with what the rest of my family wants to eat and China Palace is a case in point – my body seems increasingly to rebel against it. As for the place, the staff is Chinese and so is the décor (or faux Chinese I guess – you know what I mean, tacky gold coloured plastic stuff with red tassles etc), but the sound system pumps out bollywood and hindi remixes. The place only seems normal to us because we’ve eaten there for years. If you’re wondering, we had Pakora and Spring Rolls to start and then Vegetable Pad Thai, Manchurian Vegetable, Chili Tofu, Yu-Shiang Broccoli and Vegetable Shanghai Noodles. Cognizant of the damage I was doing to my next practice, I at least eschewed pilsner in favour of ice water.

It turned out to be a late meal and its impact on my practice the next morning was devastating. By the way, my daughter who has a cold, hardly ate and what she did eat, she threw up on the carpet, sobbing as I tried to get her into pyjamas. Instinctively, I knew going out (and to China Palace of all places) was a bad idea as we had walked out the door, but just going along with it was the path of least resistance (and path of least resentment) so I took it.

I was in a pretty lousy mood Sunday and, ironically, felt pretty resentful. Spurs won, which soured my mood further. I spent the day trying to keep to myself – taking advantage of the sunshine and (barely) positive temperature, I washed and cleaned my wife’s car. Imagine that! Her car! I had to. It was getting embarrassing. When it comes to cars, I think the so-called ‘generally received wisdom’ with respect to men, women and cleanliness/tidiness needs to be turned on its head.

Went into the office today so that meant a 4:00 am practice. After the madness of last week, I was determined to start the week off right and went to bed early – just after 9:00. But poor Diya seems to have caught her sister’s cold and was up at 2:30 am wailing like, er, a sick baby. My wife had her so I tried to kinda sleep and wafted in and out of it until my alarm went off at 4:00. I loitered for 15 minutes before jumping to it.

Practice itself was ok but I just seem totally screwed up these days. I’m sore and stiff; I find twisting particularly hard. And tired, above all else, I just feel tired – whacked – physically and mentally. When’s the tide going to turn?

That makes 9

4 March, 2006

I’ve practiced nine days in a row (including moonday where I practiced by not practicing). As it turns out I guess I was right to skip practice on Tuesday morning – it being the closest practice to Monday’s new moon. The morning was hectic so I ended up practicing after wrapping up work around 6 this evening. It’s been ages since I practice so late. This late in the day I’m ever so close to binding Mari D (unassisted). I tried something else today – I wanted to see how close I could get to doing the handstand vinyasa between Navasana, just for a laugh. I’ve always imagined that this is the one detail of the primary series that would evade me in this lifetime. I tell you…I came pretty close to actually doing it. A bit more strength in the abs and arms and I’d be up. Remarkable.

I’m booked for Darby’s workshop next weekend. He’s only one of two certifed Ashtangis in Canada (his wife Joanne being the other). I jump at these chances to practice with the highest calibre teachers – they provide an intensive opportunity to fine tune a home practice that I fear would otherwise veer into all kinds of wrong directions. I just can’t get to a Shala regularly so this is my best alternative.

It was a rough week and I’m glad it’s done. I’m looking forward to the weekend and practices 10 and 11.

Finally. I have to say this. I’ve never had much time for the self-centred porcelain princess; the fragile and psychically traumatised chick who seems to have a self-induced crisis every other day (usually accompanied by some public drama). I knew a girl like that in Grad school – we were even close friends, but my ‘insensitivity’ (as she saw it) ensured it wouldn’t last. I didn’t even need to open my mouth – the roll of my eyes and the look on my face betrayed my sullen indifference. Sometimes I wanted to take her over my knee and spank the living daylights out of her. My advice to her and her kind remains the same – get a grip. I’m glad my wife’s not like that – but then she wouldn’t have been wife if she were. End of rant.

Just had to get that out. Normal service is now being resumed.