Who’s Practice is This?

This past week, the mysore room attendance has been a little on the lighter side. My teacher noted that many thought that she was not in the room this week. Apparently, they’d been emailing her with their excuses/reasons for being away. Although, those of us in the room to hear her ask the question, “who’s practice is this?” were not necessarily the ones needing to hear it, I did acknowledge that the pull to show up is not as strong with she is away.

Showing up in my teacher’s absence was my way of owning the practice during a time when there were many commitments that kept me for making it to the room. The result was powerful. It paved the way for me to create some space and still meet my parenting and work commitments.

I’m not saying that I am always able to rise up against the forces that want to keep me away. In fact, just this past Sunday, after a late night team building/family bonding event at the SJSU football game, and the alarm not getting set, Larry and I woke up tired, sore, and late.  Arguing that our late entry would be rude and disruptive, it was Larry who insisted that he was going anyway. I followed his lead and, in the end, was very happy to have made it to class.

Today, being the first day of the Fall season, I know the struggles will continue for me. As the days become darker and colder, it has always been increasingly harder for me to rally. As if I am solar-powered, I drag myself out of bed – often later than I’d like. I then try to motivate my teenage son to do the same before leaving for the studio. My boy is generally more reluctant than I – especially in the darker months of the year.  And just like he is motivated to see his friends at school, I too am motivated by knowing that I will be greeted by a room full of ashtangis. So please, show up.

If not for you, than for me.

Yoga Everywhere

Just prior to our trip into the backcountry, Larry (aka theMAN) and I visited another local yoga studio for one last practice before we hit the road. Our home mysore program was honoring the New Moon and was, therefore, closed but this other bay area studio (YiY) makes a point not to close up on Sunday (their busiest day of the week). We were honored that they would have us and I was especially excited to attend practice there as the room is currently being run by, Kirsten and Mitchell, two amazing visiting teachers — one who has been doing some structural integration bodywork on me for the past couple of weeks. I would go into that more but it’s really a topic for a whole other post. Suffice to say, he’s excellent and this type of bodywork is immensely helpful.

Although YiY isn’t our home studio, we’ve been there for many ashtanga workshops and the community there is always welcoming. It was my first time to visit their mysore program. Kirsten and Mitchell worked the room with an admirable efficiency — somehow seeming to attend to everyone’s needs fully. Repeatedly, the message I heard from them was in regards to my breath: extend the inhalation, bring the breath into the low back, begin the inhale more gradually and without as much force, hush the sound by moving it out of the throat and into the chest and abdomen, and harness it to the movements. It was a lot to take in but I knew they were right. I’ve heard it before just not as intensely.

While we were away on our trip, I took up practice on the majority of our days out in the backcountry. The change in elevation coupled with my red blood cell count being low made catching my breath all the more challenging — especially when we were up over 11,000 feet of elevation.


Practicing with Paramaguru R. Sharath Jois

As soon as I heard the rumor that Paramaguru R. Sharath Jois was coming to the Bay Area, I was on the KPJYI website daily waiting for details on the registration. Since I don’t know when I will be afforded the opportunity to travel to practice in Mysore, India where this tradition originated, Sharath’s US tour was truly a god-send.

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Beginning on Sunday, 23rd of May until Friday, 27th – me and a hundred or so of my friends met in the gym at Stanford University for morning practice. It was an amazing experience that I will always remember. Although the practice was the same set of sequences that we ashtangis know, the subtleties of the vinyasa flow (e.g. where the inhale starts and ends, where you should be lifting the head ONLY, etc.)

Sharath’s count was consistent for the most part, guiding us towards the steadiness and ease it is designed to cultivate but also pointing out the areas where more work is needed. You could often hear him say “why shaking?” to someone during navasana, the reminder to go up and “don’t come down” in sirsasana, or his insistence on “more UP” on breath nine or ten of uplutihi. Of course, in contrast to marichyasana D, these are the poses where Sharath’s slower breath count is not as welcome. He knew this, of course — which is why there was sometimes a “nine and a half” inserted before the much-anticipated “ten” was called out.

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We all loved it, of course. For the six straight days, we all managed to get up 30+ minutes earlier than our usual early so that we could get to the event with enough time to park, walk to the venue, empty our bladder one last time, and be on our mats ready to go on time. Surprisingly, everyone seemed to be a good spirits in spite of the lost sleep. Our bodies acclimated. Even when I forgot to set my alarm on the eve of the last practice, I still managed to wake up on time.


I know that we all are so thankful to Sharath for carrying on the linage and traveling to the US to share this practice with us. We are also very thankful to everyone whose efforts made it possible for the event to be held at Stanford. — Namaste

Photos from the SONIMA FB page taken by the amazing photographers: Danielle Tsi & Jesse Gordon. If you look closely, you might be able to spot me in them. Also, check out this cool video they produced of the event.

The Not-So-Incredible Human PEZ Dispenser

Earlier this week my teacher stopped me in Kapotasana. After handing me a yoga block to place between my upper legs, she asked me to internally rotate my thighs so that the inner aspect of them moved back (posteriorly) and up (superiorly). If done correctly, the effect would transform me into a Human PEZ Dispenser.

I gave it a try and the block moved forward instead of back. She had me try again. [Nothing] She stood there and watched with disappointment on her face – or so it seemed. “Notice where you go, or what your mind is saying, when you get frustrated?”, she said. Oh, believe me, I was well aware of where my mind had taken me. I held back my tears and tried to come back to my breath…and the task-at-hand.

Over the next couple of days, I tried to turn “I CAN’T” into “I CAN” by visualizing myself as The Human PEZ Dispenser. Although I didn’t notice if I was dispensing anything, I did not have any trouble noticing that my backbends were lacking their usual bend-ability. Nonetheless, I kept up my efforts and am definitely noticing something happening. Yes, indeed… I AM SORE!!

I am pretty sure something will come of this. Something good even. And before long, there will be yet another opportunity to work through the energy and frustration of trying to overcome some other seemingly impossible task. It’s good.

Because that’s a lot like what life is like lately.

Never say NEVER

The thing about “never” is that the letter “n” often falls away and gets lost. I remember looking over at someone working on Kapotasana (an intense backbend from the second series of the ashtanga practice) and thought “I’ll never do that pose. NEVER.”

And that’s how it was for a while.

Until one day, NEVER became EVER…and I began working on the pose day after day. I’m still doing the work to master the pose. In the meantime, I’ve been given other poses to work on.

IMG_3753Most recently, I’ve been trying to sit up straight after putting one leg behind my head in a pose called Eka Pada Sirsasana. Some days, I can it’s all I can do to bring my foot to my ear. Other times, I can manage something about like this. It’s come a long way but it still feels next to impossible to pull the entire pose off. My back needs to be straighter and I think my knee should be pointing more to the side rather than back.

I am supposed to fold forward and grasp the foot on my outstretched leg after this, hold that for 5 breaths, sit back up straight, then place both hands down by my stiffness, inhale to lift the extended leg up towards the sky, and exit out by swinging both legs down and to the side into a sort of side crow like hover before landing in plank.

It’s hard work and different every day. I love it and I hate it. And I feel like I am NEVER going to nail it. But…I am also looking forward to the day when the “N” finally takes a hike and the pose happens more often than not. Until then… I just practice.

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