Big day on the Mat

24 July, 2006

A landmark day for me on the mat. A couple of big firsts. The big one: an early morning, unassisted Mari D – just on the right though. But the left will follow soon if Mari C is any guide. I know there are some who’ve done this pose from the beginning…but for me it’s been a real war of attrition. I’ve been adjusted into it. But this time I had it on my own. I’ve felt myself get closer and closer over the past year and then today I kind of just slipped into it. Just as with other poses, one day it’s not there and the next day it’s completely there – suddenly easy, even with a wristbind. Speaking of which there have been a lot of wristbinds lately – in all my seated poses. They are so deep now these asanas. My chin rests on my shin and I stare at my toe wondering how I got there.

The other first – I rolled straight out of Garba Pindanasana into Kukkutasana. I felt so high of the ground; Having rolled straight into it my legs were of course still wrapped around my upper arms instead of were they usually are in the pose – just above the wrists.

Moonday kinda just crept up this week – felt like we just had one. I’ll take the break though; something felt a bit odd in my lower back as I tried to lift my heels with head resting on my chin in Kurmasana. Generally, I can rest my head on my chin or I can lift my heels. Today I thought I’d try both…and my lower back told me to stop it or else…in no uncertain terms.

The power just went out. ‘Load-shedding’ as they call it. We better get used to it. I need to get a wood stove. Man if we ever get one of those like the famous August ’02 in the winter – we’re screwed.

[an hour later]. The power came back on. I had a beer with supper. It was chilled and the first sip tasted good. After that I didn’t much care for it, but finished it anyway. Maybe it’s the Yoga’s taking hold. The real Yoga…not the pfaff we do on the mat.

Coming to Yoga

24 July, 2006

I used to regret that I took so long to start practicing Yoga. I was 29 when I took up the mat. A couple of years later I discovered the Ashtanga ‘system.’

Thankfully, I’ve grown out of that nonsense. First and foremost it’s not true because I’ve learned to draw the distinction between asana and Yoga. Also, even with regard to asana, it’s futile; I can’t turn the clock back and change things. Besides, I have no counter-factual; it’s easy for me to think that I’d be streets ahead in my physical practice with say 10 extra years under my bandha. But who knows? Youth is wasted on the young they say. Without the temperance that comes only with age, enthusiasm and a young ego might have taken me beyond my limits and led me to irrepairably f*ck up my knees or back. Whereas by 30, experience in life had taught me that zeal needs to be channeled, and controlled – the idea of the ‘middle path’ of course, has applications far and wide well beyond the mat. I now imagine I learned that lesson pre-mat and have enjoyed an uninterrupted and injury-free daily practice because of it.

And anyway, what I lost in a ‘late’ start I’m making up with a fanatical devotion now. I admit I’m a driven zealot. I practice at home and alone but my log tells me that I practice on average 24 times a month.

But here is the main thing. Apart from the mat, I realise that I did indeed start my journey to Yoga very early. Even in my earliest youth, mat aside, there was plenty of Yoga. I was lucky enough to come from a pretty modest household. I did not have to learn to let go of a lot of things because I never had them in the first place. I left home at 18 and took myself through school and grad school. I found my own jobs and learned the lessons of frugality, discipline, order, and self-reliance (but admittedly perhaps not modesty ;-). That’s surely Yoga.

Physically, I’ve always been fit – I had other sadhana that needed the kind of discipline that approaches that required of asana and that, in retrospect, prepared me for them; Karate, cycling, strength-training and good nutrition kept me physically fit, strong and reasonably flexible. Meanwhile, my innate bookishness kept me from from indulging (with only a few aberrations) in the wildest excesses of substance abuse. My preference has always been (and still is – to my wife’s sometime exasperation) to stay home and read, or spend time on keeping up my Japanese, or research a new project. I’d rather cook than eat out. I’d rather grow my own than buy. I’d rather ride (even in the brutal Ottawa December of 1993) than take the bus. I’d rather grow wildflowers than plant a lawn. And I’d rather do pretty much anything than watch the sh*t that passes for entertainment on television. And that attitude predates my mat. That’s surely Yoga.

The speed with which ‘progress’ in our practice and the path we take through it is dictated by our samskara. But make no mistake, all of us (and I mean all 6 billion of us) come to Yoga sooner or later, some way or another.

A Summer Weekend

18 July, 2006

I drove 3 hours north on Saturday, parked in the Bruce Peninsula National Park and hiked for maybe an hour until I came upon a clearing…and discovered (again) Georgian Bay. You could convince yourself without much difficulty that you were in the Mediterranean (except this crystal clear ‘ocean’ turns out to be fresh water). I took these pictures

The boat lolling in the water was called ‘Out and About’ (how Canadian is that?).

On the way home, I stopped by Sauble Beach just to check it out – to see if it my wife and daughters might like it. I drove through the Town of Sauble Beach (one small strip garish, but charming, of beach wear and greasy food…but nice looking coffee). Lake Huron beyond it was almost blindingly bright with the reflections of the Sun. An hour later, I caught the most stunning sunset.

Asana-wise it was quiet on the weekend. On Saturday, I’m trying to establish the resting habit (and not just because the Premiership season is around the corner). And besides, I was about to spend 15 hours in ‘the Bruce’ and needed to pack my gear (don’t you just love Ontario place names? ‘The Bruce’, Tobermory, Kenora, Bobcaygeon, Penatanguishing, Muskoka’. Wherever I am, I think of these words to conjure up home in my mind). Sunday was an unscheduled outage caused by various exertions in ‘Bruce’ – hiking, swimming, lying on the beach, driving through the rolling countryside, drinking coffee, eating sandwiches, taking in the heat of the Sun.

Back to the mat this morning. Rough – hamstrings were particularly tight after the hiking. But like the Pizza I had last night even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good 😉

I have started my annual fast this evening. I was hesitant. A year of daily practice has left me pretty lean and I tend to (here’s a surprise) losing weight when I fast. It’s pretty rough for the first day or so, but afterwards…it’s hard to put into words. There’s clarity of mind that’s tough to describe. And the asanas…you feel yourself to be extra light and you throw yourself through the sequence. I fast for the purification it provides. But I also fast to bring myself down to earth; I realise how genuinely fortunate I am when I break my fast on day four. No food ever tastes so good or wholesome as that first grape or cherry.

The thunder outside sounds like big guns going off in the distance. It was thick with moisture tonight, the air. We are in for a doozy of a storm tonight.

The Non-Practicing Spouse

8 July, 2006

For the vast majority of attached Yoga types, a non-practicing spouse is a guy. I must be one of maybe, oh I don’t know…nine…male Ashtangis on this planet who has a non-practicing female partner. My stories of the way we interplay regarding Yoga would not resonate with yoginis who grapple with non-practicing men. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine a lot of guys roll their eyes dismissively while their yogic girlfriends and wives effervesce about how ‘deep and meaningful’ their practice is and what chanting has done for them lately.

At the end of the day, I’m still a guy and she’s a girl. Which means that she is wildly enthusiastic and encouraging about (my practicing) Yoga…and I’m frustrated as all hell that she’s never practiced a single asana.

I remember three or four years ago, she came back from an afternoon of browsing at Indigo with a ‘Yoga book’ for me. ‘I’ve bought a Yoga book for you!’ She announced cheerfully. I don’t remember my reaction, but I paint a picture of myself: Warily, I might have gazed at her, I’m biting my lower lip, bracing myself what is surely about to underwhelm me. She pulls out the book – it’s pervasive white cover-thin orange border trademark identifies it across the room. I’m not good at diplomacy (ironic that I was trained to work in the foreign service). I let out an involuntary sigh. I was obviously pissed off and she read me like the book she was holding. I laugh (and cringe) now thinking about it. She was as stunned and hurt at my complete ingratitude as I was at her complete misapprehension of ‘what I was all about‘. In recollecting it all now, I realize now that was I a bit of a pr*ck – I even remember inquiring as to whether she’d kept the receipt. I feel bad about it now. She meant well. She always does.

I should add that I’m happily married and contented. Indeed, I am well-pleased at how things have turned out in my life – including my choice of a lifelong partner. But my spouse (and I guess this is often true of many others) reflects to a degree who I was when I met her, rather than who I am now. For example, I married a vegetarian largely because I myself was one. (Incidentally, I now realise that vegetarianism was the beginning of my practice. Long before I even knew or understood that I would take up Yoga so thoroughly, it was the kernel of an embryonic practice).

Since then, Yoga has thorougly enveloped my life and now shapes my thoughts in a profoundly comprehensive way. I seem to view all things through the yogic lense. And in this increasingly fundamental aspect of my life, her absence is blaringly conspicious. I hold my hand up and readily admit that I wish she practiced (I’m bound to – after all, If I think it holds the road to salvation for everyone, naturally I’d want her to have a piece).

I bet she would practice. I need to find a way to make it easier for her to join me.

This post is for a kindred soul.


7 July, 2006

I had a monumentally bad practice this morning. Retrograde big stylie. Felt like I’d gone back in time to circa July 2003. I have no explanation for it. I felt good enough as I got out of bed at 6:00 am – eight hours after getting into it. Suryas started well, so did standing. And then it went pear-shaped somewhere in the midst of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Hamstrings felt tight and it was just wrong. ‘Son of Gun’, I whispered under my breath like Carly Simon (circa 1973)

I perservered through the rest of the practice out of sheer stubborn pig-headedness. But I still can’t explain why it was so bad. Coz maybe it’s a bit cool this morning? Coz maybe I took a day off yesterday to rest my MCLs that felt a bit tweaked-out? Nah. Probably that mysterious Prana business wot dun it…init?

It wasn’t just physical. My mind was a wandering mess – turmoil over the wife and kids. I skyped my wife yesterday – she’s still in London. ‘Thinking about extending my trip like you suggested’ she said (It had been a throw-away comment as I saw her off at YYZ back in May – ‘You know…stay as long as you like, spend some real quality time with your folks’ I said, before adding for magnanimous good measure ‘Say, what the heck, you’re not due back to work till September, why don’t you extend your trip?!’ And she hadn’t even left TO. It felt at the time a good cheap way to sound generous (and at the time she responded that ‘Two months was quite enough’). Did I think she’d take me up on it? Like feck

Says she now, ‘I only wanted to extend a couple of weeks, but it’s peak season and the earliest flight back I could get back was 23 August (the day before our wedding anniversary/my birthday). I’m oscillating between resentfulness and understanding. I miss them but I’m beginning to wonder if they miss me. My wife took Dhara to the Lion King in the West End last week. I wish I were there. The season starts next month and we’re in a new stadium. I’d like to take her to see The Arsenal.

Schadenfreude is so not Yoga. But I admit to feeling a little as I watched Christiano Ronaldo blubbering after crashing out of the World Cup with Portugal yesterday. What a complete tosser…the kid sure can play though. Nice to see Arse…I mean France get through to the final. Allez Allez!