Survival 101: dropping back

I’ve heard that back bending can wake up the emotions — often in a tearful way. To the non-yogi, this whole business of “heart opening” may sound a bit wild minded but I can assure you that the stuff is powerful and real.

Understanding the why is less important than being aware that it just is. This past week, I have resumed my work on dropping back from standing into urdhva dhanurasana then returning to standing. Like in the beginning stages of learning to ride a bike, I am pretty reliant on having an assist in both directions. Although it is still scary, knowing that someone “has your back” lessens the fear factor.

In the mysore room, we have these foam pads which can be stacked against the wall to decrease the distance the yoga practitioner has to drop back onto. Even with an assist AND the foam pads, dropping back is still scary. There is a lot to remember: bandhas, rooting into your legs, keeping your hips forward, lifting your spine up out of your pelvis and your sternum (breastbone) up towards the sky…all while stretching out your arms and letting your body fall backwards. Although I have done it before, on my own even, every attempt feels like the first. Scarier even.

On Tuesday, after being assisted three times, I was left to go it alone. I stood there in front of the blocks, lifting up, and back, up and back, up and back, and…never quite going all the way down to have my hands land on the pads. Each time, I would look for the spot where my hands were to land, not quite see it, and chicken out. After many minutes, my teacher came over and helped me. Then she left again and told me it was time to do it all by myself. Memories of my dad trying to convince me that I could ride a two wheeler without training wheels OR HIM holding the back of my bike came to mind. I smiled. Them came the memory of me falling when, while riding my two-wheeler, I soon discovered that he was no longer running beside me. I’d was doing it, but only because I was sure he had my back (or bike in this case).

It was the same but different. I took the memory and reminded myself that I was riding my bike all by myself. I then told myself that I didn’t need my teacher to hold my back any more than I needed my dad to hold that bike. Of course, I wasn’t 100% sure that this was true but I tried to convince myself. My teacher, from across the room, as well as my fellow mysoreans in the room started whispering, “you can do it.” So… FINALLY I did it! Then, I quickly moved to close my practice. Mission accomplished.

Then came Wednesday… Read More


My practice took a severe slide backwards in the past couple of weeks. A culmination of many things including my recovering ankle sprain and a little overdoing it following an amazing weekend workshop with Kino Macgregor. All this was the likely cause of my hamstring issue to flaring up which prevented me from attending to the chronic tightening in my low back. I’ve been miserable and my practice has suffered along with me.

But wait a minute. Suffering? Have I really been suffering? Most assuredly, I have not.

I am fortunate to have learned a thing or two from all of my prior struggles with injury. Instead of pushing my body, with hopes that I can continue to perform my asanas at the same level as before, I search for contentment in learning new ways to be in the pose. These modifications are not any easier per se; the practice still stirs up your “stuff.” I’ve shed more tears in feeling inadequate and unable to meet the demands of what my life is asking of me these days. Of course, this is the same stuff that I face off the mat.

And that is truly the magic of this practice. Isn’t it?

On Friday, I was unable to make the Led Primary. By the time I found focus in my home practice (read: actually stuck to the series without stopping to foam roll or other stretch), I was out of time. I chalked it up to me practicing not practicing.

Therefore… Read More

work in progress

I spent a chunk of my Friday afternoon running through the yoga sequence I developed to finish off my 200h yoga instructor certification. Teaching this class to my teacher and peers is the final step for me to complete in order to be certified. That is, if my class is good enough to meet my teacher’s expectations.

Developing a set of asanas which will build up to and prepare the student for the selected peak pose is just the beginning of what she expects of her teacher trainees. The class must also contain certain components including the chant of aum (or other), some inclusion of pranayama, one or two principles from the eight limbs, and a theme which should not just be talked about at the beginning of class, but rather, woven into the sequence.

At this point in the game, I have my list of asanas leading up to my selected peak pose. I have selected my theme and my yogic principle from the eight limbs. I am now on my mat, stepping through the sequence, making adjustments where needed.

I am finding that there is nothing like moving through the set of asanas (exactly as they are listed out) to reveal the flaws in the sequence I’ve developed. What seemed like a good idea on paper does not quite flow as seamlessly as I hoped.  Where these areas in my sequence don’t flow as well as they should, I have made the necessary modifications to insure that they do. And while it’s coming together nicely, I think I’d like to make a few more changes to make it a little more interesting and less repetitive.  As if I am choreographing something as important as a ballet, I want everything to flow perfectly.

That’s asking a lot but, as I figure it, I must shoot for the stars so that I will have a better chance of success.

I must say, I now have an even more profound respect for my teachers for being able to create these masterpiece sequences week after week, day after day. A lot of thought goes into making sure the student’s body is warmed up properly before leading them into a more complex posture. Making each class now and interesting is an art that takes time to cultivate. Although I am sure the way I am developing my class is not the way of these experienced teachers, this is the process that makes sense for me right now. Hopefully, it will come easier after I have been doing this for a while.

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I have a certain attraction for bridges and what they represent. The concept of a gap being “bridged” to help one reach places otherwise inaccessible is beautiful. The process of crossing over is freeing.

I had previously seen an image of this log bridge while doing online preparations for a backpacking trip to Mount Whitney. The picture I’d seen showed snow on either side of the log bridge which, thankfully, has long since melted. At this point in my backcountry adventure, I am feeling the effects of the higher altitude — and, with just over 2 miles covered, our journey is just beginning. This bridge served as a tool for me to leave a large helping of insecurity and fears on the segment of trail behind me and welcome the adventure ahead.

MountWhitney 20140620 P1010120

Prior to this backpacking trip, I’d felt like my yoga practice had come to a similar juncture which needed me to bridge the gap to cross over to the other side. In the case of my practice, dropping back from standing into a backbend (wheel) would serve as my bridge. But unlike the cute little log bridge you see here, the potential for injury sometimes feels ominous. And yet…

There is something freeing in trusting my body’s ability to bend backward and take on the shape of a bridge. Oh yes, I have to come back up too.  It seems like a lot and indeed it is. But have to believe.

I can do this…

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Mysore Minus Coffee

I have to admit, I have not given up my morning coffee before my morning ashtanga practice. I switched to espresso last summer and felt that the four little gulps may theoretically do more for my bandhas (aiding in inducing elimination), than hindering it by filling my stomach with fluid. It’s about 4 ounces, if that.

Of course espresso does have caffeine… which stimulates the nervous system. This should serve as a strong argument for eliminating coffee before the morning practice, since the goal of the ashtanga yoga method is to calm the nervous system. However, my love for the taste of coffee has made this sacrifice a difficult one for me. I have switched to half-caff for a quite some time. Yesterday, I even had decaf.

Well, for some reason, I was compelled to try going without today. Instead of sipping my espresso as I got ready for mysore, I put my morning espresso in a thermos to enjoy after my practice.

I rolled out my mat hoping to find a little lightness and lift in my practice. Much to my surprise, the amount of thoughts whirling through my mind was exponentially greater than usual. I found myself forgetting poses in the sequence and having to either ask what was next or go moved on only to go back later to complete the skipped posture. By the time I got to the seated sequence, I was frustrated to no end. Things only got worse from here.

When I was met with my continued inability to lift up and jump back, not to mention the catching of my feet on the way through to seated (BOTH WITH BLOCKS), I was completed defeated. This was NOT the lightness and lift I’d hoped to see. Of course my hamstring continued to tug at the attachment — AND at my heartstrings. And all I could do was cry. I mean BREATHE!

I don’t know why I am surprised. I kind of makes sense when you think about what coffee does. But do I really need it?

One might argue that all of these issues I’ve noted appear to indicate a requirement for morning coffee – at least for me. Nevertheless, I am entertaining the notion that if I stick with (or “without”) it, I might find that I am able to cultivate my own ability to focus and generate strength without my daily fix. It’s a learning process but I think it could be good… after the initial adjustment period.

While I adjust, I may have to put a little note on my key chain to remind me not to forget my phone. Because poses weren’t the only thing I’ve forgotten today.