As the end of 2023 approaches, I wonder where the heck this year went. I am also wondering what happened to my asana practice. *sigh* I mean, in January, I was doing Third Series more regularly. I went to Encinitas to study with Manju Jois and emerged motivated and encouraged that I could work out the kinks in my practice. A month later, when David Swensen came to the studio my body was starting to communicate some not-so-positive feedback to me. Although nothing intense, parts of my body were feeling new aches and pains (left hip, shoulders, right elbow). On the last day of David’s visit, I emerged from Eka Pada Sirsasana with an intense pulling from my neck and under my left scapula. *sigh*
My practice waxed and waned through the next few months. Third Series came and went again and again. My left shoulder and right elbow took turns distracting me from moving forward like I had hoped. I was happy just to practice at all. Then, it happened.
We were in the process of building our garage gym — squat rack, barbell, plyometric box, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, etc. It was pretty sweet but I wanted a padded floor. So, on July 1st, our padded flooring finally came. I moved all of the equipment over, rolled out the flooring, and began returning the equipment back to their new-padded spots. My youngest only had time to help me with the rack at THAT time. He was available after work, but I would have to wait. Well, if you know me, you know that I was pretty sure I could do the rest all on my own. And I did. However, not without a 35 pound dumbbell tumbling in the air and pinning my fingers between the flying dumbbell and a stack of DC Blocks. Suffice to say that I broke a finger in my dominant hand at the distal joint, and strained the neighboring fingers. *groan*
Well, I wore a splint for 3 full months while my finger healed. When my finger was freed, I jumped back into my practice a little too enthusiastically (read: agressively). Mid-September, I resumed Third Series (even though I wasn’t 100%) and tried to modify where I could. I knew it wasn’t optimal but I kept at it — trying to stay positive. I told myself that my come-back was just going to take time. In October, after taking a few days off with a cold, I decided to drop my efforts at doing Third Series. I know it will be there whenever (IF ever) I am ready to meet up with it again.
We’d like to think that, after years of practicing this thing called yoga (and life), we would be able to avoid all injuries. However, the truth is, you can be ever so mindful and careful, but injuries still happen. You don’t even have to be doing anything intense. In fact, you might simply be rearranging things in your garage. *sigh*
It’s true. We are in the process of building a sweet home-based gym in our garage. My youngest has been making most of the purchases; I have mostly been contributing by providing him with the space to keep it. But, as the equipment has arrived, I have found it rather convenient to workout here at home. In doing so, I save a travel time and time at the gym waiting for the space, specific dumbbell or machine to free up. So, I began contributing by purchasing needed items myself.
It’s not as easy as one might think. My son said we needed some “DC blocks” so I purchased 2 of them to get us started. When they arrived, I realized the ones I’d bought were extra wide and not returnable. My second purchase was padded flooring. After many out of stock, backordered choices delaying this purchase, I finally landed on mat flooring that was in stock and soon delivered.
It was the day that we unrolled our gym flooring when my injury occurred. Being the independent (read: impatient) person that I am, I did most of the heavy lifting, shifting of equipment, unrolling, taping and replacing the equipment back on my own. I had most of it in place, with only the lighter dumb bells and DC blocks left to return to their newly-padded home. My son, who was finishing up a workout before heading off to work, would move the 90 lb adjustable dumb bells later that night. Although I can hold a 35 lb dumb bell in one hand, I used two hands to be extra careful. I’m not sure, but I think I hit the other dumb bell as I lifted the weight off the DC block. The weight in my hand tumbled and fell to the ground hitting the edge of the DC block on the way down. Unfortunately, the fingers of my right hand were not clear when the weight met the sharp, hard edge of the block and were smashed in the process. *sigh*
When Injuries Happen
Although the bruising and swelling did not develop right away, the discomfort pointed to something more than just soft tissue damage. X-rays and exam revealed an avulsion fracture of the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint in the 4th finger of my dominant hand. I have a little extension splint to wear for the next 4-8 weeks (or so) and am now learning how to modify the way I do things in my practice and my day-to-day life (i.e. left-handed mousing, brushing teeth, etc.)
Fortunately, I have seen a lot of students (myself included) adapting their practice as their injuries heal during my many years of practicing yoga. I took chatarangas, bakasana, down dog, etc. on my forearms loosely gasped a cloth diaper instead of interlocking my fingers for binds, and skipped poses during the first week.When the sports medicine doctor gave me the go-ahead for doing more “using good form” and “lighter” loads, I explored using yoga jellies to lift my hand and take pressure off of my fingertips. Even my strength workouts are different. I got a weight vest so I can continue to promote bone density maintanence without having to hold weights. I’m doing a bit more cardio than strength. I’m even learning to taking it easy on myself when I take a few extra rest days just because.
This injury could have been so much worse than it was. I am blessed to be able to adapt while the healing takes place.
After spending another 5 days in Encinitas, CA practicing with Manju Jois, I am feeling very lucky, to say the least. We were blessed with sunshine and smiles the whole week through. We bonded together, learned a ton, and laughed A LOT – as you can probably guess from the photo below. It was glorious.
Pulled from my yoga journal, here is a little breakdown of how my own practice played out during the week.
Aside from Jamie, whom I met in November, the whole group is new to me. Coming from Chicago, Michigan, Florida, and elsewhere, this group is equally as awesome. Besides Manju, Ginetta is the main assisting teacher. She played tug-o-war with my arms so that I could feel the catch in Marichyasana D once again and enjoy a brief moment of catching in Supta Kurmasana — before the sweaty moment slipped away.
It was a lovely hour and a half of Primary Series and the first half of Intermediate. After practice, we chanted for a while, Manju told us stories from his past, and then we enjoyed some amazing home cooked food. I am looking forward to seeing how the magic will play out as we each journey through this week. Indeed, we are all so blessed for this experience.
After yesterday’s assists in Mari D and Supta Kurmasana, I had to revisit Primary Series again. The “catch” is magical when it happens, even with help. Ginetta came right over to help me out and, today, her cue to breathe was a little easier. She also gave me super sweet assists in Trikonasana A & B (on both sides). My spine loves her.
I split off after Buddha Konasana and moved to Intermediate Series. In the time allotted, I was able to practice through Ardha Matsendrasana before backbends, drop backs, and closing. We finished off the morning with some more chanting.
“Yoga is Geometry and Mathematics; It is a Science.”
Today was another lovely day of practice. I moved to Intermediate Series after completing the Virabhadrasana sequence. Manju stood behind me as I took on Kapotasana. He just watched and encouraged me. My fingers climbed my toes but didn’t go much farther than that. I considered repeating but quickly abandoned that thought and moved on. Being unattached to the outcome was liberating. Later on in the practice, Manju stood by as I entered Pincha Mayurasana. His presence provided me with confidence similar to kicking up near a wall. After my 5 breaths, he gently pulled my feet towards my head for scorpion. It felt intense yet oddly freeing. I found the line again before exiting out. Then came Karandavasana. I waited for Manju to finish with Jamie before kicking up. He helped me get my legs into padmasana, fold down, and return to upright. Once again, he pulled my feet towards my head into scorpion.
I managed to complete all of Intermediate albeit not all the poses were good. Leg behind the head (LBH) poses were just okay. These poses were on the easier side 1-2 years ago but not anymore. Non-attachment, right?
Last time I visited Manju in his home shala, the yogis each returned to the same place in the shala day after day. This week is different; we intentionally have moved about the room as if to keep Manju guessing who we are. Of course, he remembers us by our faces rather than where we place our mats. It is only each other that we fool.
I mention this only because I know how attached yoga practitioners can become to their “spot” in the room. And although each spot has a different feel, the practice unfolds just as it should no matter where we unroll our mats.
Today, I moved to Intermediate right after parsvottanasana which gave me just enough time for vishvamitrasana, vasisthasana, and drop backs before closing. The practice was much like Day 3, except I was treated to a glorious lift and swing in dhanurasana from Ginetta. Wowza! Manju assisted me in pincha mayurasana but took a hands-off approach to karandavasana. He suggested I cross my feet at the ankles and try to fold down part way. It was no good. I ended up using a headstand modification.
I love this group of ashtangis. It’s hard to believe that we only have 1 day left together.
Given it was the last day of these 5 days with Manju, I did Intermediate Series and moved to Third Series immediately following. I wanted to get through as much as I could. It was clear that LBH was not going to go as smoothly as earlier in the week. I gave bhairavasana a feeble attempt, then jumped forward in the sequence to kukkutasana. I am grateful that Manju isn’t a stickler about the sequence.
This relaxed approach should not be taken as an invitation to do what you want. He believes in teaching what is right for the individual’s body on a given day with the sequences as the foundation to build upon.
After the asana practice, we chanted and then did some pranayama before ending with stories and questions. Then, we were all given certificates to document our 30 hours of continuing education.
I was given my first pose of Sthira Bhaga (third series) early on in the coronavirus pandemic while we were sheltering in place and practicing on virtual platforms 100% of the time. I took to it and soon was given additional poses until finally, I’d reached a clear stopping point — at least for the time.
Sthira translates as “strong,” “stable,” “steady” and “resolute” while bhaga means “prosperity,” “good fortune” and “happiness.” The term is often translated as “strength and grace,” but also as “divine stability” and “sublime serenity.”
Indeed, I enjoyed the idea of being on a path leading towards more stability, strength, and grace. But as life and luck would have it, my path took a detour over the past couple of years. I have been experiencing far less sthira, or bhaga, and doing very little of my third series practice. In fact, I have hardly been doing it at all.
For some unknown reason, I decided to revisit my third series practice today. It is not that I have worked back up to it. To the contrary, I have been limiting (a.k.a. avoiding) putting my leg behind my head lately due to some new knee discomfort that began in mid-December. Today, however, that didn’t seem to matter.
Having not set my alarm, I woke up feeling well-rested, strong, optimistic, and curious. So, I gave it a go.
It was as one would expect after a long hiatus. The practice was unpolished, rough, and far from stable. And still, it felt amazing to push myself a little more. I felt strong, capable, and happy.
When I signed up to join a group of yogis for a week of practice with Manju Jois, I had no idea what sort of experience I’d be experiencing.
Naturally, I worried about what he’d think of my less-than-perfect asana practice, non-existent chanting practice, and only slightly better pranayama. But still, I was going to be practicing with Manju! I would graciously take whatever feedback he had for me; I mean, isn’t that why I was going in the first place?
Our hotel was walking distance from the shala. In the morning, Eva and I packed up our mat, a hand towel, and a few odd items and began our week long journey. We met up with the rest of the small group of yogis in front the shala and, together, the 12 of us went inside. A few minutes later, we were standing in samasthiti for the opening mantra. Then we began.
The room was warm and bright. The sound of us breathing together aloud was extra special, given the “social distancing” in the past 2-ish years. Manju and Greg moved around the room, assisting each of us in deepening our practice. Many times, I was surprised to feel my body twist and turn, catch and release in ways I hadn’t felt in a long time…or ever. It was magical from the opening chant through savasana. Having someone to assist me in the poses I need the most help with served to show me a better way to navigate the struggle.
This is how my practice went during the week:
Day 1: I did full primary + half intermediate.
Day 2: I practiced half primary + intermediate through nakrasana.
Day 3: Intermediate.
Day 4 & Day 5: Intermediate + the first 2 poses of Third.
Each day, following our practice, we did some pranyama and/or chanting. When we finished that, Manju answered our questions. Then we were treated to some of his and his wife’s home cooking – which was delicious beyond words.
The five days went by fast. The small group of (12) Ashtangis hung out with eachother off the mat as well. During our downtime, we explored the area’s beaches, hiked a little, shopped, and ate more amazing food. Many are hoping to join Manju during part of his European tour over the summer. As for me, I am making plans that I know I can make happen; I will be joining another group of Ashtangis in January 2023 for a repeat session in Manju’s home shala.
In addition to my gratitude towards Manju for alll that he does, I am imensely grateful to Eva Alexander for bringing me into the circle of Ashtangis that practice regularly with him, and for Greg Tebb for saving a spot for me to join.