With the school year winding down, I have been looking forward to having more time to dedicate towards the development of my practice. Visions of myself progressing through the primary series and possibly being given a morsel or two of second have run through my head. During Monday’s hot Vinyasa class, Jenn dished out a hefty helping of back bends and it felt fantastic to let my spine extend that much. The following day, I zipped through the full primary series with ease. A few days later, however, my body’s left sided low back aches and pains began to rage. Instead of flowing through the practice, I creak and moan through it with bent knees and hesitancy. It’s hard not to get discouraged, and retreat into a ball of self-pity.

Not long ago, Wednesday to be exact, I wrote in my practice journal that I felt like my spine was being rebuilt. The opening I’d felt that morning had followed an über stiff start to my practice. In fact, I had to hang out in child’s pose for quite some time before moving to cat-cow, then pushing back for a bent-legged down dog. By the time I got going in my surya’s, time was already limited. I broke all rules and moved to navasana, then took on a sampling of the seated poses (janu A, marichyasana A, B, C, modified D). I emerged from savasana with a positive outlook; I was sure that something great would come of the discomfort…in time.

Yesterday was all together different. And today, I fear that my positive thinking is all wrong. Any bit of optimism I held onto has all but disappeared.

This morning, I sat at home wondering what I should do. Should I skip the led practice and practice on my own timing or brave it? I opted to go but planned to proceed with caution — which I suppose that is exactly where I am supposed to be. Instead of visualizing myself excelling in my practice, I modified and practiced being content with just that. Surely tomorrow will be different. The question is: How will it be different?

I suppose I’ll find out.

What is this?

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but there has been a shift happening in my body. It has been going on for about a year but the past few months, in particular, have been…. interesting. I use this word because other than a prolonged cycle, the changes in my body are not what I am accustomed to hearing women who are going through “the change” complaining about. Perhaps they are a part of it; perhaps not. In particular, my relationship with mula bandha has changed. I can access it but not with the same intensity as before. And if I try to improve upon it, I lose it all together.

Because ashtanga practitioners in particular have a distinct awareness of their cycles, I wonder if anyone else has experienced a similar shift in their body. Is there a link to the transition into menopause? What are the physiological aspects at play and are there any considerations I should be respectful of in terms of my practice?

Did you do your practice?

Just yesterday my boyfriend, Larry returned from a yoga retreat to Nepal where he trekked the Himalayas, practiced yoga daily, delved deeper into his studies about the yoga tradition, and took in the sights. He had a fabulous, life changing adventure – much like the one we experienced together during my first teacher training retreat to India in 2012. Only different.

And I

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I spent 4 days backpacking through the Grand Canyon and learning about geology, astrology, and the secret to amazing backpacking meals.

This morning, after our morning practice, we compared notes so-to-speak. Practicing in adjoining rooms but not visible to each other, can be interesting – especially after a 2+ week break from it. He described how good trikonasana feels as it allows his back to release. By comparison, I described how I was unable to grasp my toe today as the tug I’ve been experiencing at my right hamstring attachment was all the more limiting the past couple of days.

He then asks, “Did you do *any* practice at all during your trip? I mean even a few stretches….*anything*?”  I laughed and thought, “Umm, yeah! Of course I did — every chance I got.”



Back on the Mat

My backpacking trip in the depths of the Grand Canyon is behind me now. Oh what a fabulous adventure it was. You can read more about it on my companion blog: Keeping Pace.

We emerged from the canyon on Sunday and, adding in travel days, it’s been about a week since I’ve done any sort of real practice. Sure, I busted out a few poses here and there: a little lunchtime play at one of the overlooks, a bit of post trek stretching (downdog) after releasing the pack for the night — but nothing substantial in the way of “practice.”

Back on the mat

One would guess that the body would have changed in that amount of time coupled with the level of difficulty of trek I was undertaking. Admittedly, I was a little fearful how things would go when I finally stepped back onto my mat this morning.

Easing my way into it, I let my knees bend considerably for the first few forward folds. I allowed my torso to rest on my thighs so my back could release and find a little opening.

I proceeded with caution, mindfully paying attention to my breath and letting the sequence come back into memory from months of repetition.

Today, I only went as far as the standing poses and ended with a few tummy down back bends that my teacher gave me back when I returned from my injury to my SI joint. Tomorrow, I’ll try adding the seated poses and see how my body responds. It may seem a little bit over protective, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Given the fact that I was feeling some pain near my right hamstring attachment when I left for my trip, I think it makes sense to return in this manner. Would you agree?

no pain, no gain…?

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One of my fondest memories from high school was hearing my cross country coach singing the phrase “no pain; no gain” as one of my cross country teammates (myself included) would fall off pace or give into the discomfort of a hard training run. It wasn’t that he was advocating us to ignore pain which signaled injury; he was simply challenging us to find a little ease in the midst of the discomfort that comes from pushing our edge. In this same manner Coach encouraged us develop a mental toughness which would help us overcome adversity such as a side stitch or an opponent pulling ahead. The lessons he taught us brought us success during our cross country meets and ultimately in our everyday life.

Over the years, his lesson of mental strength and discriminating assessment of physical aches and pains have helped me not to give up in my race when my goal was slipping out of reach or fatigue was getting the best of me. Even if I didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped, I took pride in not giving up – which made it easier to go out and try again and again. Although I am not currently running, the phrase “no pain; no gain” still has meaning – with continued discrimination of the “pain” part of the equation. In the past many months, my understanding that the process of breaking deeply ingrained patterns which no longer serve me can be painful has grown. I’ve come to appreciate the value of working through it.

For the first part of my yoga journey, my home practice would consist of moving into the postures that felt good and avoiding those which did not. That approached worked for a while but ultimately I started experiencing injuries. This selective sequencing became a thing of the past when I shifted to ashtanga. The set sequence does not allow for doing only what feels good. I’ve learned that it is equally, if not more, important to do these poses too. Working through it has value and, as Tim Miller says, “Avoidance is not the answer.”

In a recent yoga workshop, David Robson talked a little bit more on this topic. He reminded us that we get good at what we practice. If we are in the habit of slouching all day our body gets good at that and even changes physically to make it easier for us to sit and stand with poor posture. It’s when we try to reverse the process that discomfort surfaces. Suddenly the muscles of the back which have been stretched to allow us to round our backs and lean off to one side or another have to work while the muscles in the front of our bodies that have become overly tight have to learn to lengthen. It’s uncomfortable!

On the mat, the same process goes on.

Taking this concept to heart, and following to my teacher’s guidance, has allowed me to grow in my practice and learn about my body via these messages of pain. Whether it is my wrist’s urging me to pull my shoulders back so that they are over my wrist instead of out in front or my hamstrings tugging at the insertion points as a reminder to pull my sit bones toward each other as well as towards the front of my body (via mula bandhas), the discomfort allows me grow. It’s hard work and, often times, painful. But I truly believe that it is making a difference.

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