Back on the mat

I got back to yoga today. It was nice. I could not get to yoga since last Thursday, for reasons beyond my control. I mentioned to Iron Man that I had only practiced twice at the shala last week. He said that was good, compared to that he only got to practice one half hour last week, and that was at home. As we say in Puerto Rico, "Ay bendito!"

Teacher gave a great assist in marychasna A. It felt squishy and I was able to get my chin to my knees. Something about placing weight on the bent leg and righting my body helped.

I thought of writing about observations of how people enter the shala and prepare to start practice each morning. These are just perceptions, so they may not be reflect the whole truth. And besides, my mind should not be thinking of these things...

La Espanola taps her bare feet as she was going to lance into a flamenco as she walks to her spot. Snow White enters graciously and quietly. Of course, we, her seven dwarfs are already practicing. Horseback rider trumpets in as if to the tune of a John Phillip Sousa march and loudly drops the mat and rug on the floor. We bow. His practice is really the strongest of us all. The Writer enters quietly, then you hear the familiar clank of the beans in an eye pillow hitting the floor. (She was very gracious the other day and helped me in Supta Vajrasana when Teacher was busy at the other end of the studio.) La Margarita lets everything clank to the floor then goes into the quietest of meditations. Because of her I meditate a little before practice as well. Muscle Man, who has a beautiful practice, thinks doors have a habit of closing themselves. They don't, and they need to be closed in order to keep the warmth of the room inside. Some people labor with unrolling their mats. Others go grab an occasional prop - such as a wooden block (Don't call it a "block", said Bhavani Maki in a training, call it a "brick", because "block" implies you have reached an obstacle in your practice. But if I call it a wooden brick, wouldn't that not make sense, since bricks are made of mud, not of wood?) Others grab a belt. More clanging. Then the breathing reaches a crescendo as more people commence their practice. Now that sound is important and is part of why we practice together. We remember through the breadth that its our mantra and it gives us focus. Thank you all for your energy. You keep me interested in showing up.

I'm having too much fun with this post. I hope my fellow practitioners don't mind me putting these constructs out there. Please suggest other names for my constructs, if these are deficient. Someone asked me what names you all may have for me. I don't want to think about that. How about Ricanyogi? Hugs.


Everything and nothing at all

For all the girls out there I practice with, like Rosie the Riveter, you rock. For the guys, well, you have the majestic strength of El Capitan at Yosemite. Where have I been? Kind of embarrassed at not being able to practice three days this week. Below is a picture describing how I feel. Yes that is me. Well, I’m overworking, producing beautiful three dimensional images of buildings.

Okay, so this morning I waited for the bus that takes me to do my groceries at Whole Foods. The bus stop is located in front of a TV station. I suddenly saw a vision in red coming out of the station. Maybe she’s an anchor woman, I thought, but if so, why is she dressed so impeccably from head to toe? Anchor people sometimes are dressed to the nines from the waist up and in jeans from the waist down, since the camera only sees the top part. This woman was so impeccably dressed that if she is a star or someone otherwise famous, the Fugglies would not have written about her. She had 9” heeled red shoes with a matching purse, a Channel-style suit in red, and hair so stiffly made up it moved as one unit as the wind moved it. I thought she was going to be be received by a chauffeur in a Mercedes Benz, but she walked over to the Bentley/Lamborghini dealership and took the bus like the rest of us mortals. Lucky bus riders.

The Fugglies’ website is one I read every three months when I need to laugh a little bit, even though I’m spiritual and don’t watch TV. Seeing the website has the same effect that reading People magazine has to my sister – it takes your brain’s focus away from whatever worries you have in your life. Who would be worried about problems when reading about Paris Hilton’s fashion faux pas at the XYZ awards gala?

The writers are clothing obsessed screenwriters in Hollywood who write about the fashion faux pas of movie stars. For example, they love Christina Aguilera’s current style, fashioned by Donnatella Versace. Do I really care about that? Not really. But it’s impressive that someone can carry herself with so much style, as the singing star and as the lady in the red dress I saw coming out of the TV station this morning. But frankly I felt more comfortable looking at the normally dressed ladies who boarded the bus with me to go to the grocery store.

Okay, so last night my dear friend, Lucas' mom, invited me to go to dinner and to attend the symphony. Lucas is a teenager thoroughbred horse, who is quite beautiful, but has troublesome knees due to his past racing career. He lives in a ranch in Petaluma and I recently heard he’s happy to have found a girlfriend, a mare in the same ranch. Lucas' mom is a graceful lady to whom I owe returning to eating vegetarian and learning how to do it the vegan way. Being vegan, to her, is quite simple. She’s a lady with great values, but since she may be reading, I’ll stop, or she’ll be blushing about my gushing.

So as I was saying, we went to eat at a favorite hangout, Golden Era Vegetarian Restaurant. This is a fabulous Buddhist Vietnamese restaurant. There is nothing in the menu that is lacking in perfection when it arrives to your table. In three years of eating there occasionally, I’ve tasted a variety of delicious meals. One of the servers tells me that the quality is due to the obsession of the owner, who is really fuzzy about maintaining the level of quality. We shared a Buddha bun - a steamed dim sum filled with tofu, bean sprouts and other veggies, a wonton soup – vegetables and wontons in a light broth, and “salmon” teriyaki – soy “fish” cakes with spinach in a teriyaki sauce. I did not eat dessert. Earlier in the afternoon, it was cake day at the office and I had three small pieces of cake.

Those monthly birthday celebrations seem to occur sooner each time. My mom says that in her current life experience, events seem to happen sooner. Maybe it’s an effect of aging. When I was a kid it seemed it took forever to get to high school. The cakes in the birthday celebrations, I have learned, have the effect of raising my body temperature. It’s probably from the margarine used in the frosting, a source of trans fats. At least I’m serving myself three thinner pieces rather than the larger portions of before. And I’m only doing it once a month. Well, it’s behavior not so in sync with caloric restriction, but it’s not too bad.

So Lucas’ mom and I then walked to the symphony hall to hear the San Francisco Symphony play Berlioz’ “The damnation of Faust.” What a spectacle that was. It was incredibly presented, with an enormous orchestra with triple and quadruple of instruments, a choir of 140 men and women, a chorus of 43 girls and a chorus of 40 boys. It’s a fable about someone being depressed and giving in to temptations from the devil, who promised love. It’s quite sordid. Faust gets to meet the girl of his dreams. He leaves, then she waits for him and accidentally poisons her mother by giving her the equivalent of sleeping pills to keep her quiet so she can wait for Faust to return. She is condemned to the gallows. In return for her redemption, Faust sells his soul to the devil. What’s to be learned from this plot? Don’t give in to deceptive temptations that lead to overindulgence. Well, I told Lucas' mom, in Buddhism the devil is called Mara, and one addresses it by saying, “What are you trying to do, Mara, tempt me into doing something bad?” I told this to her as we were walking by the Civic Center Hall where today the Dalai Lama is speaking. So the Buddhist themes continue.

The plot of Berlioz’ work reminds me of a great independent film I saw a few years ago called “Sin Noticias de Dios” or “Don’t tempt me”. It stars Penelope Cruz, Fannie Ardant, Gabriel Garcia Bernal and Victoria Abril. The general manager of heaven and the general manager of hell send emissaries to earth to recruit a boxer who is to die in a fight. Heaven is Paris, where meetings are held in a cabaret in which a chanteuse entertains. Hell is an underground prison under a metro in Spain, where prisoners queue up to be fed hamburgers and fries. That should make fellow CRONies laugh. The movie is in five languages. The language of heaven is French, the language of hell is English, the language of earth is Spanish. The chanteuse, an angel from heaven, sings in Portuguese. The emmisaries speak among themselves in Latin.

As we left the symphony, there was a male couple leaving the hall that caught my attention for their sartorial details. Everything about them matched, except their height - identical beige suits, bolero hats, tricolor shoes. They even sported matching beards. I guess they have lived together so long that resemble each other to the point that they look like twins.

Does going to the symphony give one the feeling of wanting to hug the world? I mean, everyone in the bus ride to the grocery store this morning looked interesting to me. Normally I’m in a Buddhist, non attachment stance, not paying attention to people in the bus. But this morning, even the tourists seemed fascinating. I enjoyed hearing the impeccable French spoken by two couples.

Okay so this is a rambling post. I called it “everything and nothing at all” because it reminds me that when I was younger I was embarrassed to tell someone that, “I have a degree in philosophy, which is good for nothing”, to which he replied, “or good for everything.” You can tell he worked in public relations – seeing the way to turn things towards an optimistic view. I read this in a card posted on a former colleagues' desk - “I used to be insecure. Now I’m not sure.” This statement is quite Buddhist because in our practice you have to move to a point of not knowing. Meditation gets you there. Well, maybe I just needed to rest – I slept very little two days in a row and this morning I caught up. And blogging is a way of sharing the thoughts that my brain concocted today. My body may have gotten rest, but my brain didn't stop spinning stories.

Lucas' mom gave me a fun assignment. I’m a good student; I’ll follow through. I’ve been out of the dating scene, so my assignment is to look for the card of someone I promised to have coffee with. It turns out we have a lot in common, including architecture and Buddhism. If nothing happens, at least it will turn into a friendship. Well, I haven't told her yet. I looked for the card this afternoon and it’s nowhere to be found, so I’ll have to get out of my comfort zone and yelp.


Short practices

Today through Friday I need to shorten the practice to about Marychasna D because I need to be at a work-related training. Teacher today adjusted in yoga mudra, after Padmasana in the finishing sequence, mentioning that I needed to fold forward without twisting. It's true that I tend to just propel myself forward in this asana very often with my body contorted by the pulling on the feet with the hands. I'll be more attentive from now on not to be in a twisted heap. I'm amazed how zippy the practice goes when you know you have a short schedule. I hope my dear fellow practitioners don't feel weirded out by names my mind comes up with to refer to them here. I'll be glad to accept nicknames they would prefer. Karen, in her blog uses them, and they are so amusing to read (volleyball man, my treasure, renaissance man, etc.) Hopefully Teacher will one day tell me if it's all too funny ha ha or funny hmmm. I wanted to say that watching legacy rose's incredible flexibility in Prasarita Padottanasa C made me smile. Her hands were on the floor with no effort. But really, if I got distracted by that it was probably that I was not paying attention to the mantra of my breath. Oops, one demerit for me for being distracted today during practice. It's just that other people's practices really are inspiring.


Back opening preparation exercise

About 6 months ago, Teacher recommended an exercise that I could do in the morning prior to coming to practice, to help open the back and make back bending asanas easier. It consists of just hanging off the edge of a low lying furniture, such as a futon. I do it while strewn on an armchair and ottoman, arching my head towards the floor. The majority of your body has to be supported by the piece of furniture, then with relaxation you drop back. A massage therapist said that it works also with a small radius exercise ball (not the large radius kind, because in that one you are not doing anything, the body is fully supported as if you were doing full upward bow.) So I lie there about 100 breadths. I notice that teacher has shared this exercise with others. This morning she taught it to Surfer Guy, using a metal chair. A few weeks ago I saw Orange Blossom doing it in the same manner. It makes a difference on back bends when I do this exercise. I notice now that the chest can draw upward much better, and I don't experience any pain associated with back bending anymore.

Now if anyone would care to share tips on hip opening preparation exercises that would make getting my legs behind the head easier I would appreciate the input. If you know of someone who has blogged about it, could you let me know? Namaste.


monday, mon daze

The last two Mondays in a row I've been a bit sore and unable to push myself to get to the shala. Does that happen to other ashtangis? I mean, I get as far as rolling up the mat and putting it in the Manduka bag, setting my clothes, and then Blamo! (I had to borrow the expression from Deborah. She and Illiah reminded me it's from the old Batman series) I poop out. This means I will probably practice 5 days rather than 6 days this week. Since moving to San Francisco from Florida, Sunday is the day of my most intense practice. I still exhibit this difficulty of getting to practice on Mondays.

Someone actually stopped me at the farmer's market yesterday, which I pass through on the way back from practice to ask me what my bag's label read. He thought I was carrying a folding chair. When I explained it was a yoga mat, he said it must be a mega yoga mat. He wasn't entirely wrong. I find that the heavy manduka mat weighs too much, so I carry a Manduka purple travel mat. But I find that too thin, so I sandwich it with a sticky mat by another manufacturer, probably Hugger Mugger. Both of those together are bulky but weigh less than the traditional black mat.


Good practice

A few words on my yoga practice today. As usual, the chirpy ladies who accompany me on the bus ride to Berkeley where in true form this morning. The nice older man who takes the connecting bus that gets me from downtown Berkeley to the Shala was at the connecting point. The same cheerful driver who waves hello to other bus drivers with the index and middle fingers pointing forward was there. The teacher was there practicing as usual early before teaching. His practice is enthusiatically energetic. All of these things that I observe weekly before my practice are calming and welcoming.

My practice was nice. I've gotten to be able to place my feet in pasasana on the ground without rolling up the mat under them for support. We westeners have trouble squatting with our feet fully flat on the floor. I would not say I can do it perfectly, but it's getting stronger.

Teacher adjusted so that the hands got closer to the feet in kapotasana A. As he got my hands closer to the feet and I lifted my body, I noticed that my head was getting closer to the ground. I'm not sure if I understand the pose sufficiently, but maybe the crown of the head does have to touch the ground when the hands reach the feet in this asana. Of course, when you lift to kapotasana B in preparation to get out of the pose, your head is in the air. I am no longer feeling pain in the back when doing this pose, so my back must be opening up. That's great.

Related to the opening of the back in kapotasana is that I also experience it further in the upward bow of urdha dhanurasana. So when teacher assists with drop backs, my arch is much better.

We're not what we think we are

The teacher at the dharma talk today at the Buddhist Sangha, Lee Lipp, labeled her talk that way. This was the first time in a Buddhist setting that someone told the group that we were all enlightened beings, just for showing up. We showed up because we know that the practice of meditation in a group helps us. And we keep coming because it does. "Enlightment" is a word that when I've referred to it in Buddhist settings, well to be precise, in online communities, I've gotten clobbered to the point I would refer to it as the "E" word - because someone would say, "how can you be enlightened, when there is nothing to attain?" Well, that was another person's opinion.

The teacher today is a psychologist. She says that the medical community likes to lump a lot of problems under the common word of depression, but that she prefers to call it lowered mood states. The spiritual side of changing from that state is to pay attention, with loving kindness to what is happening in our bodies. We may be sad, or anxious for some reason. We feel we are on a freeway in which we missed our exit, or on a train that missed its stop and from which we can't get out. We typically do this when we dwell inscesantly on a problem. A spiritual solution to move to a happier state is to practice certain things. For example we can pay attention to the breadth. We can recognize that our shoulders are tightening, that our chest is tight. We can make an effort to change those things. Calm down, relax the muscles, breathe. By moving to a more peaceful relaxed state, we can move to a state in which better decisions can be made. We all know we can make better decisions when we're calm than when we're on a harried state. I would have added - well that is why yoga is good for us. It can move us to a state of calmness.

But going back to the title of the talk - let me see if I can summarize what she meant in a few words. We have conditioned ourselves through repetition to believe certain things, about others, about ourselves, about our environment. If these perceptions are attached to strong feelings, we believe they are true. But the sum total of our experiences don't make up who we are. We are constantly changing and evolving.

Those are pretty thoughts, so I though I would link to a beautiful site that sells hibiscus flowers. These grow in the ground where I come from. The owners of the site also practice CRON, but I digress.


Good breathing

Practice was nice yesterday. I was able to concentrate on paying attention to the breathing, which made the asanas flow better. My eyes got sort of that glazed feeling, which to me meant I was paying attention to the breathing and not to the surroundings.

In urdha mukka paschimottanasana, I tend to be lop sided, as if the right leg where longer than the left. They really aren't. A massage therapist told me once that people sometimes have like a torque of energy in their bodies that make them twist a bit. So in my case it seems I tend to twist to the left. Teacher seems to have observed this, since she recommended that I push the lower back muscles forward (torquing towards the right) so that the highs, knees and feet can be parallel.

While in paschimottanasana, she recommended that the hamstrings be let loose and the quadriceps lift upwards. Hmm. I hope I got that right about the quadriceps but it makes sense, since my hamstrings tend to contract and resist in forward bends of any kind.

She assisted me in urdha danurasana, which felt like a breeze today. Anyone care to predict how soon I'll come to standing by myself? I seem to have the movement, the lift, the proper arching of the back. [your estimate here] Yea, right. My hands need to get closer to the feet, though. Practice.......

Well, this challenge with coming to standing kind of remind me of how I got to do Chakrasana. I was having trouble while learning it. I simply would forget lifting with my arms at the last moment, when you need to do so to complete the somersault, and would bonk my head. Then I was on vacation and practicing at a shala in another country, and the teacher observed what stopped me at the last moment in Chakrasana, and said, "you need to push with your hands at the last moment." Something clicked, I was able to do it, and since then I have been able to do Chakrasana. Possibly the same will happen to Urdha. Every baby step has been leading to the time when I will do it and my body will say, "Oh, that is what I was supposed to do. That's great."


Lunch at the office today

Today was one of those vendor presentation days, when they bring you a sandwich. I usually request vegetarian. So I eat the salad with a fork, scooping it from the bread. There were also 9 grapes and one strawberry and a killer chocolate chip cookie. Although CRON-wise that was not a calorie buster, eating the cookie left me hungry, so I bought two cookies at tea time. I didn't go over my caloric intake today, but the fat percentage in the diet went higher. At my previous company, these vendor presentations took place weekly, so I would rebel against the sandwiches and bring my own healthy soups. At my present company, the presentations take place twice a month. I haven't been bringing my lunch to these, just chancing that requesting vegetarian may result in something passable in terms of calories. Frankly I don't know how some of my coworkers stay reasonably in shape eating gak so often.

From the yoga perspective, I practiced Second Series, despite the fact that I missed yoga yesterday. Typically my Second Series is stronger if I have been consistent in my practice during the week. My work demands this week, and stress caused me to miss practice twice. In any case, the practice was OK.

I'm thinking about blogging about architecture in a separate blog. CRON and yoga, from my perspective, are complementary. On a separate blog I could list favorite buildings, architects, etc. I'm producing some of the most beautiful drawings I've ever produced. Unfortunately, I cannot post them since they are owned by the company, and represent projects in design, which means they are known only by the client, the design team and the government entities who give authority for the projects. So maybe I'll just have to philosophize about architecture and not dwell on my own.


Nutritional supplements for vegetarian yogis

Deborah and Sara are talking about achieving their daily nutritional requirements through the food they eat, without additional supplements. My thoughts on that, which I shared as a comment on Deborah's blog is that without supplementing, I am still meeting my RDAs with the food I prepare daily, since it is very nutritious. I'm only deficient in Vitamin D and B12. But I do supplement, which puts me over the daily requirements. I just don't worry about it because I believe that the body excretes what it does not need, and the extra supplements act as a tonic or energy boost. Us veggies (I love how Sara calls us vegetarians "veggies") are advised to supplement with zinc, iron, B12, calcium and magnesium. And us Ashtanga Yoga practitioners are told to drink milk by our guru, probably because it's a good source of proteins and calcium. But being lactose intolerant and also being primarily vegan, I take a calcium pill, balanced with magnesium, instead of drinking milk. We are advised to balance magnesium with calcium. Then also, in order to succeed at calorie restriction without being hungry, we are advised to increase protein. Being vegetarian, that means finding vegetarian protein sources such as rice bran protein, pea powder, whey (which is not vegan) and brewer's yeast. So, for now, I think I will stick to that routine.


Spike in body temperature

That spike in my body temperature on Monday morning to nearly 97 was after consuming, well, ahem, should I use the dreaded word? - binging, on mozzarella cheese. This is not the low fat, part skim milk, low sodium variety. It's the Mexican Oaxacan string cheese with 100% milk. I buy the rich "die by cheese" mozz from my corner convenience market. I've entered into CRON. It's full of sodium and fat, hence the spike. Actually, all of those other spikes in the last three months occurred on the day after I consumed either this cheese or three pieces of cake offered at the monthly office cake day. I should probably ban the cheese from my diet forever. The problem is I don't find low fat mozzarella at Whole Foods, where I shop. I'm primarily vegan, so I rarely eat cheese. I do hear from fellow CRONies that there are some low fat, low sodium varieties out there, available probably at Safeway or Calas, the other grocery stores available around here. But in any case, I know myself. If I buy even the healthy variety, I will have no control anyway, so I have to just stay away from it. I have never exercised any control in front of string cheese, if there were no people watching me. Maybe if I have another lapse, I'll take a picture of the offending food next time and post it here.

Attention to details

During her visit to Mysore, CJ journaled on her experiences and offered some advice to people who may travel there, including the suggestion to not obsess about the asanas. (She sure has a great sense of humor with the title of her blog being "Mysore Bum") Well I imagine if you are over there, you are so taken aback by the experience of being in a different country, that there are enough things to keep you distracted without having to add obsessing about asanas. Those of us on this side of the Pacific do obsess about them. Why? Possibly because we're a community and in sharing we find out that others are experiencing similar challenges in their practice. Sharing helps everyone find solutions. Or sometimes we have breakthroughs and we want to celebrate. Today Teacher pointed out to some of those little things that can be done more correctly. I also remembered other similar observations I have received. For example, in Marychasna A, something I had been told before but don't pay attention to, the foot that is bent can be a bit wider on the mat. That probably gives you more space to bend forward so that the chin can move towards the shin. In Marychasna B, the chin is supposed to be lurching forward. I used to place the chin in jalabandara bhanda, in other words, with the chin towards my chest. That's not good form. In the four of the Prasarita Padotanasana positions, it's not good to crimp the toes. That sends the balance to the toes and away from the balls of the feet, which should be helping you balance. In handstand, the core has to be super strong. Flexing the feet helps. Thinking that it's not two items flying up (two legs) but one item (one mega-leg merged together) helps keep them strong. Emphasis was given today again as to what the thighs need to be doing in Urdha Danurasana to bring me up to standing. Stating that makes me smile since I address this asana like a broken record. "Practice and all is coming." Practice gets better with practice.


The key muscles of yoga

I wish the author of the book “The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga” would publish another exact book and just change the title to “The Key Muscles of Ashtanga Yoga”. Then it would be acceptable to publish the suggestion of reading this book in the ashtanga yahoo groups. The asanas described in the books are identical to those in our yoga system. I have a copy of Paul Grilley’s anatomy DVD. But I find the book I’m mentioning, which is wonderfully illustrated, a better source in the sense that you can open immediately to an asana and see which muscles are used in that particular asana. The website is very generous with images from the book as well.

Here is the link:
http://www.bandhayoga.com/ It is a wonderful website to explore. Samples from the book are located here. My only warning is that because the drawings are of skeletons with only the muscles being discussed illustrated, it can be spooky. Spooky in the way the exhibit “The Universe Within” was. I went to see that exhibit because a teacher observed that my right iliopsoas muscle was possibly constricting in urdhva muka paschimottanasana, because I tend to look lopsided when my legs are lifted in this position. Not knowing where the psoas was located, I went to the exhibit and learned.


My philosophical musings

I hope those who are yoga teachers that might have read my recent musings on practitioners versus teachers take it all very lightly. Having been trained in philosphy makes me contrive these ideas- but they may not have basis on reality. Probably being a teacher in the Ashtanga tradition has no resemblance to being a monk in a Buddhist lineage. Ha ha. Laugh at me and with me. Today we were visited by someone who had founded the meditation sangha I go to on Sundays. He used to be an observant Jew - and now he is a member of a Thai monastery in England, on his way to becoming a monk. He described his day to day life to us. It's different than that of teachers. The only similarity is that in his tradition he needs to practice precepts in his community and progressively as he takes further vows, he will be allowed to instruct others. Here in the west there is no structure like monasteries for yoga teachers, except perhaps some Hindu ashrams. People in the East who have grown with these different traditions - Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, Teravadan Buddhist, Zen, probably think us westeners are crazy. We want to draw similarities between all of these practices and put them all together. But as a Zen teacher who, like me, was raised Roman Catholic recently said, you can't put it all together. I think my Ashtanga teachers here will hopefully see these musings as just a spiritual search, which the Ashtanga yoga practice enables. Besides, what do I know? When I studied philosophy and theology, prior to studying architecture, I studied western philosophy based on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Aquinas, Bacon - in other words - western thinking.

Quiet practice

On Sundays I go to Berkeley from San Francisco to practice. Because of the early time in the day, it requires three buses to get there, while only one train to return. On the bus that goes across the Bay Bridge, three Chinese ladies always accompany me on the ride. Two of them, the moment they arrive to the waiting platform, begin talking and do not stop. As one of them finishes a sentence, the other one is pouring another. I have no idea about what they talk, because there are no English words interspersed in their chatter. In a year of taking the same bus, we always end up sitting next to each other. And so their banter goes on like the soothing chirping of birds on a tree in the morning. I've gotten accustomed to it and can peacefully sleep on the 20 minute bus ride to Berkeley.

Today's was a quiet practice. I concentrated on using the breadth as a mantra and thought of "not-thinking". Whenever a thought arose, I reflected, "oh, how nice, a thought" and let it pass like a cloud. The floor is beckoning my head in the forward bend of the prasarita padottanasanas. Soon, I hope, my head will touch the floor in these. I can now grab my hands around my feet in forward bends and the janus sirsananas. In pasasana, I was able to have my feet on the ground without needing to roll the end of the mat for support while squatting. Teacher observed that my breathing was good in supta vajrasana. Eka pada on the left side and Dwi Pada made Teacher and I laugh at my struggles. Frankly, I tried to understand what V. meant in her blog, Mind Bending about Dwi Pada, when she reflected that "Apparently, I’m trying to pull my leg too far beyond behind my neck, and should instead just try to lodge the thinnest part of the ankle against it. " She goes on to comment further that if she tries that, her leg pops out sooner. The same thing happens to me. I think that the back needs to be straighter, because we tend to curve the back to get the leg behind it. But I have no idea what the "thinnest part of the ankle" means. That could be because English is my second language. Sometimes Teacher has to demonstrate something if I look puzzled like I did not understand. But that is another story. For another day.

Urdha Danurasana was fun today also. I'm getting the hang of the shifting of the legs backwards then forwards just before you're supposed to come up to standing.

David Williams is teaching a 3 day seminar in town. I didn't go because I'm on a budget. But I always start my practice with an exercise for the stomach that I learned from him 3 years ago. It is done while standing and while on the knees. The stomach is brought in and out as if it where a basketball. This wakes up the bhandas. He said it is more important than doing stomach crunches in a gym.



My biomarkers today are excellent. It's funny because it's been a hectic week working long hours at a very fast pace, helping another project other than my regular one. I met the deadline and people where pleased with the drawings I produced. Perhaps the biomarkers show the effect of "deflation" in the body - a relaxation of the body after completing a lot of hard work. Most probably they are the result of a good CRON week, although my yoga practice was spotty. Yesterday I did half the Primary Series so that I could get back home to finish a drawing. Today Saturday would be a day of rest from yoga, but I think I may take a led class. That way my mysore practice tomorrow will be stronger.


Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form

Two weeks ago the speaker at the Buddhist Sangha I attend on Sundays was a practitioner from a Tibetan Buddhism lineage. The Buddhism I practice is of the Japanese Zen lineage and the group that meets on Sundays is a pan-Buddhist group comprised of people who practice in different lineages. Our differences do not matter. We learn from what each person has to contribute.

The teacher that Sunday explained that Tibetan Buddhism is most aligned with yogic traditions of India. He said that in his tradition the two ways to practice are either yogic or monastic. I asked him what yogic practice meant in his tradition, given that my practice is Ashtanga yoga in the mornings, followed by meditation in the Zen tradition of zazen in the evenings. He answered that yogic versus monastic in Tibetan traditions is the difference between form and emptiness. The heart sutra says, "form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form." Yogic actions refers to form while monastic actions refers to emptiness. What this means is that a person who is a committed lay practitioner, as he is in his tradition, is following certain forms without physically joining a monastery. But others make the sacrifice of joining a monastery, where they take vows and basically empty their entire life of attachments. Both are ways to practice.

I drew a philosophical analogy to what happens in Ashtanga practice. I'm not deriving this opinion from scholarly research, but from observations. Could one say that those of us who have been practicing for several years and are really dedicated to the practice are yogic? I think so. We refer to each others as yogis and yoginis. We're observing certain practices daily. What about our teachers? Could we not say they are seeking emptiness? There is no structure such as monasticism in this practice, unless you seek an ashram, and there are few of those in our country. But couldn't you compare the dedication of teachers to Ashtanga to the dedication of monks in monasticism? It's just an analogy. Some teachers work hard to obtain certification to teach by the Yoga Alliance. That is probably a basic requirement for them to teach in a studio in the US. However, teachers in our tradition take the extra steps of studying with senior teachers who have been sharing this method for over 30 years, and if it is possible financially for them to do so, go study with the Master, who has been teaching this over 70 years, and his family, in India. Doesn't that dedication compare to the dedication of monks in a community? Granted, Ashtanga is not a religion. I'm only drawing philosophic analogies here.

This all reminds me of something that speaker said. It is said we are in the age of information. We're interconnected electronically through the web, so that news are distributed instantly all over the world. But what is being shared mostly through these means is ideology. In conclusion, with this post I'm sharing my own bits of ideologies regarding Ashtanga practitioners and teachers.


Lifting, floating, aligning and rocking

L. came to practice today. The other day when she was subbing for C. who was in India, she gave me some tips for Laghu Vashrasana and Kapotasana. She was saying that I can do those. My legs are strong and can bring me back. The hips have to be moving forward. I felt as if I was given permission to do them correctly. These asanas have improved for me. My chest does lift more and the legs do bring me back. Well, by myself my hands don't yet get to my feet in Kapotasana, but overall the arch in the back is improved.

One of my fellow practitioners is a floater. When he returns to standing from downward dog, you don't even hear the feet land. I think this is from lifting the hips as if you were going into a handstand, when you're returning to standing. It reminds me that John Scott told one of my first teachers that any time your hands are on the floor, you should ground them as if you were going to go into handstand, which in order to do you need to lift the hips up. So maybe that explains the floating action.

In Bharadvajasana Teacher today emphasized the lifting of the chest and turning after each subsequent lift. In Ardha-Matsyendrasana Teacher emphasized the importance of aligning the bent leg with the direction of the edge of the map, keeping the hip of the other leg moving forward. David Swenson says this is a pose with a lot of rules of opposition. It kind of reminds me of architecture, where you have bending and flexing stresses in structural members and moment connections to resist the forces. So for me at least, it's "architecture pose".

Another observation L. made a few weeks ago was that I mustn't collapse my back in the Eka Pada poses. So I have been remembering to keep the back straight even when bringing the legs behind the legs.

For some reason today, my chest was really lifting in Urdha Danurasana. The best tip that Teacher gave me today was to demonstrate the action of the hips before the legs are supposed to bring you back to standing. The hips have to rock back, then quickly forward, and in that action your legs should know that they need to lift you. The hands are straight all the time here. They are not supposed to be bent.

Phew! Coming to standing, then dropping back in Urdha Danurasana. I've never know an asana that has so many details to break down and learn. But I'm getting the hang of it. It reminds me that when I was in ninth grade, I saw on television gymnasts getting on metal horses and doing headstands, somersaults, etc. So when I was in the gym and saw a metal horse, I placed my hands on the two grab bars, shifted my weight and attempted lifting my legs into a headstand. I managed to do so, and at the same time came crashing on my head on the horse. I was slightly overweight at the time and my muscles where not developed. My school chums took me to the infirmary for treatment of my head wound. I think I got two stitches. The lesson learned was that one can do a lot of things that gymnasts can do, and in reference to our practice, what other dedicated ashtangis can do. But sometimes it requires breaking down the steps, starting with little steps while the body adjusts and learns what it has to do. Then after a lot of practice and continuous advancement through little steps, one finally begins to do the full expression of the asanas.


Shoulder stand

I tend to go into plow as a preparation to go into shoulder stand. Teacher says this is OK but not favored by Guruji. Today she thought I should try it without going into plow first. I brought the feet up. She then asked me to bring the shoulders closer to my chest and keep lifting the shoulders up. It is important in this action to leave a space between the floor and the top of the cervical spine. This lifting is also important in urdvha padmasana and pindasana. Until I learned to do this, I was always rolling off in both of these asanas, because my spine would be curved.


My Supplements

I came home early from work after having worked a lot of overtime. I was tired and bug-eyed. But I decided to see what I would learn if I entered into Cron-O-Meter the supplements I take daily, and add it to my typical daily menu. I am posting the nutritional results. Doing this exercise, I was left with the quandary of not knowing what the three letter abbreviations for amino acids mean in C-O-M. I probably made the mistake of entering lecithin as leucine. I did not find anything to match under amino acids or minerals for Biotin, Taurine or the enzyme Alpha-Galactosidase (the main ingredient of Beano.) Of course I’m not a nutritionist or scientist, so this is a fun tinkering experiment. I did anticipate that by supplementing I would be surpassing the RDA daily minimum requirements for vitamins. I seem to be overdosing in copper with dosage at 600%. I will look into the source of that or its potential dangers. I am not surprised that Vitamin D is low; that is discussed often in the list. In any case, as a vegetarian, I think I need to supplement. Although I was tired when I started doing this exercise, it has left me refreshed mentally – I can’t say my eyes agree, but I will go to sleep early tonight.

Non graphic summary of the nutrients

General (90%)
Energy 1713.7 kcal 101%
Protein 121.5 g 135%
Carbs 208.2 g 132%
Fiber 52.5 g 138%
Fat 57.8 g 145%
Water 1568.9 g 42%

Vitamins (92%)
Vitamin A 8284.9 IU 276%
Folate 1454.8 ug 364%
B1 (Thiamine) 4.9 mg 410%
B2 (Riboflavin) 5.7 mg 436%
B3 (Niacin) 41.8 mg 261%
B5 (Pantothenic Acid) 6.1 mg 121%
B6 (Pyridoxine) 3.2 mg 250%
B12 (Cyanocobalamin) 26.2 ug 1093%
Vitamin C 1151.4 mg 1279%
Vitamin D 4.1 IU 2%
Vitamin E 14.7 mg 98%
Vitamin K 157.9 ?g 132%

Minerals (100%)
Calcium 1678.7 mg 168%
Copper 5.9 mg 661%
Iron 25.8 mg 322%
Magnesium 1234.7 mg 294%
Manganese 7.0 mg 304%
Phosphorus 2416.5 mg 345%
Potassium 5182.0 mg 110%
Selenium 185.2 ug 337%
Sodium 1550.9 mg 103%
Zinc 17.5 mg 159%
Lipids (61%)
Saturated 9.8 g 49%
Omega-3 3.1 g 193%
Omega-6 15.7 g 92%
Cholesterol 13.0 mg 4%

Practiced at home

Today I practiced at home because I need to be at the office super early. I used to practice at home for a year and a half until the shala I go to now opened. It is easy for me to get to the shala by bus and my schedule allows it. But we have a client presentation today and we're working long hours to get the work done.

Ironman sometimes has to miss going to the shala also because of needing to be at a jobsite early. He recommends doing half of the primary series, until Marychasna D, or a quarter of the series, or even some sun salutations. So I took his advice today.

I found it useful to tell myself, "OK, it's going to be tough. You have to practice at home." So I played games with myself so I would do it. I left the mat unrolled the night before. In the morning, when starting to practice I lit a candle, lit some insence, did my dedications and practiced a short practice. David Williams says that Guruji recommends that one practice the first 5 of the standing sequence (the essential asanas) and at least the last three of the closing sequence (seated positions) when one is travelling and unable to do a full practice. This keeps the body in shape so that it doesn't lose its yoga mode. Does that make sense?

Deborah was wondering why the CRON community is not blogging much. Yes we're really busy. I also suppose that Easter is a time to spend with the family and that takes us away from blogging.

Now I need to go to the office...


Unscheduled rest

This morning the bus that takes me to the shala was a half hour late. As I walked to the shala, I was thinking of how I would need to do a half practice today since I was late. As I got nearer to the studio, I noticed six of my fellow practitioners standing outside. The lady that usually opens for us was on vacation and her substitute did not make it today. After some lively discussion on skyscrapers planned for the city, I waved goodbye, walked back to the bus stop, returned home and meditated. I guess this was an unscheduled rest. I'll go to work early.


Practice today

In Marychasna C, Teacher concentrated the adjustement today on lowering the wrapping arm ("the wrapper is the grabber" as David Swenson says) down around the knee.

In Kapotasana, Teacher adjusted by gradually bringing the arms closer to the feet and I lifted my body as much as I could. Bringing back the body after extending the arms was a breeze - the legs really wanted to bring the body back up today. (I think bicycling is actually helping those poses in which the legs have to bring me back up because the muscles are stronger, just my opinion.)

Teacher helped me on Eka Pada Sirsasana on my left, the tight side. With that adjustment, I was able to keep the left foot behind the head in the next pose, Dwi Pada. But I kind of lost the pose while bringing the right foot behind the head so that both would be behind the head. However, it was the closest I've been to balancing by myself and bringing both legs behind the head. So then Teacher adjusted for Dwi Pada. I was wondering if my neck would be okay and wondered how my body was able to breathe while wrapped thus . But breathing is key, so I kept on breathing.

In Urdha Danurasana, Teacher tried a small adjustment today. I spread the legs a bit wider than my purple Manduka travel mat, and also just flared the feet a bit instead of being pigeon toed. There is something to this. QuietStrength is another of my fellow practitioners with a similar body type and he tend to come up to standing with his feet a bit flared. I have heard that this is sometimes allowed in India, although the preferable way is that the toe point inwards, somewhat pigeon-like. But perhaps for some of us whose legs are built a certain way, this can work. In anycase, I learned today about the grounding and strenght needed in the legs, which have to bring you up from upward bow.

Commercial bakeries use trans fats

Tony Zamora suggested that maybe the reason my resting heart rate spiked up on the days following eating two or three pieces of the birthday cakes offered at the office is that a lot of commercial bakeries use hydrogenated (trans fats) in their frostings. The crust of the chocolate mousse cake probably is made with shortening, and the frosting of the cakes probably have margarine. Trans fats are implicated in increasing the risk of heart disease. A benefit of tracking your nutrition and biomarkers with Cron-O-Meter is that you are more sensitive to what you put in your body and are aware of what is bad for it. Tony has always been a great help in the last few years in helping me direct my eating habits towards a healthier life. He has a great section on physical fitness and nutrition in his website.


Long hours

Architecture is known for long hours, much like the work of musicians who must practice a lot. This week I worked some overtime and I'm working a lot of hours over the weekend. The projects are interesting, though, so there is a sense of accomplishment in helping create beautiful buildings. There is an artistic quality to the work, since one is dealing with graphics the entire day.


Yoga advice nuggets

I'm remembering recent nuggets of good advice from my teachers. Some of the advice came from fellow practitioners, who are also my teachers.

  • "Wherever there is pain, address it with breath."
  • "Deepen the breath during the entire practice, even in between asanas, when you are preparing for the pose."
  • "Keep the nervous system calm."
  • "Find the balance between effort and ease."
  • "Don't bend the hands when doing drop backs (you might hit your head if you do.)"
  • "Oh, you're doing the Egyptian Warrior pose." (I got that coment from Tim Miller during a worshop when my hands were pyramid-like, not close together as they should be in Virabhadrasnana A during Sun Salutation B. He squeezed my elbows together to collapse the pyramid. I wonder if he knew I was an architect and pyramids are a basic form. )
  • "Keep the elbows together while in Urdha Danurasana (upward bow)."
  • "Keep the elbows together while in Urha Mukka Svanasana (upward dog) as practice for
    the similar position of the elbows in Urdha Danurasana."

Fellow practitioner Ironman commented that when doing Second Series, instead of stopping through the standing sequences after Parsvottanasana, it's better to do all of the standing series, because it strengthens the legs. Leg strength is important for bringing you back up in Laghu Vajrasana and Kapotasana, and in the many inversions that follow. He also commented that men who bicycle or ride motorcycles, because of the crunching forward bending motion of those sports, tend to have more problem with backbending asanas and in coming up to standing from Urdha Danurasana. That makes sense to me. I bicycle daily to work and seem to have some difficulties with coming up to standing from Urdha. In any case, since I'm currently up to Dwi Pada in Second Series, I still practice primary series up to Navasna before starting Second. I think that when I get to Pincha Mayurasana, the teacher will separate the practice and I will be able to start Second earlier, after Parvvottanasana, or the standing series.

By the way, I was taught the entire Second Series originally 4 years ago. But I was doing substitutions for those asanas with which I had trouble, or doing them poorly, so in keeping with the current fashion of not moving on to the next pose until you have done a pose correctly, I am currently in the middle of Second Series. I can't wait to move on, but my body has to get used to the practice.

Vegetarian Art and Yoga

My sister sent me these fun images. I have come up with some concepts as to how they might relate to the yoga practice daily at the shala. In the practice room there are people of different ages and practice levels. Some have an impressively beautiful practice, exuding grace in movement, as the big fish in the first image. Perhaps it's from talent developed by honing the skills over time. Others have beautiful practice too, but less developed, as the small fish in the image. Sometimes, someone shares something they have learned at an ashtanga intensive workshop, as the penguin is talking to the other enraptured penguins, in the image on the lower left. I think people who share their knowledge in blogs also are like the penguin telling his story. At other times at the shala, the practice is just plain fun, with laughter and energy. Those days sometimes happen after a week of constant practice, where we feel as strong as King Kong. It's when one feels one should hear someone do a Tarzan yell while doing Viparita Chakrasana. One is having fun, as the mushrooms playing on the seesaw on the top right image. Then, most days in the shala, we're just together practicing, being a community, like sheeps in a herd, following the guidance of the shepherd, our teacher, as the sheep in the image at lower right.


Resting Heart Rate affected by sugar consumption

Those two highs in my resting heart rate on March 2nd and April 1st occured on the days after cakes were offered in the office in the monthy celebrations of birthdays. I typically have two pieces of cake and some wine. I think the accelerated heart pressure is directly related to the spike in sugar consumption. Typically my
diet is devoid of sugar. It's a good reminder to limit the consumption of these desserts.

Missed practice yesterday

I missed practice yesterday. I typically practice Second Series on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. I was concerned about being ready for some in-house meetings at the office and our boss wanted to check on the progress of our team on the various component parts of our project. He is very nice and has a capacity for generating work. I don't think worrying about that made not go. It was probably reading early in the morning postings from a newsgroup on Buddhist subjects. These days my spiritual practice is Buddhism, which I find is a good complement to yoga. For some reason, the newsgroup in Buddhism I was reading destabilizes me emotionally. It is hard to pinpoint why. I read a lot, continually - news, fellow ashantgi blogs, fellow CRONies blogs, nutrition newsgroups postings, architecture news, overcoming debt newsgroups, etc. Those readings do not typically put me in a negative mood. But in the Buddhist group I refer to, there seem to be postings on angst of the type that make my psyche suffer. People in there sometimes talk about abuse, malcontentness of how they are treated in life, etc. I'm cheerful and optimistic. Those negative thoughts make me feel depressed. They are being expressed by people in search of peace. I wish them well, but I don't want to feel dragged down emotionally. The effect it had on me is one of "Oh, poop, let me go back to sleep." Then there is an internal dialog, "Oh, don't do this to me, I want to go to practice." You guessed it, in the resolution of my internal conflict, going back to bed won. Anyway, that was yesterday. Today I plan to go to practice. It is likely to be a bit difficult because yoga practice is easier when you can do it continually, day to day, except on days of rest.


Crushing the door to see a starchitect

I remember rushing to see a music superstar in earlier years. This is what it felt like going to hear Rem Koolhas speak at a local art institute in San Francisco recently. A few of us in the office decided to go to the free lecture. We knew it would be a mob scene, so we arrived 2 hours before the start. There was an empty line for students, faculty and staff on one side of the auditorium, and a line for the rest of us on the opposite side of the auditorium. There was the choice of listening to the lecture via live camera in the cafeteria, but that room filled quickly. The school was very generous to everyone. There was free food - beer, pizzas, sauteed vegetables, and other snacks. The plan of the school was to open the public access line closer to the beginning of the lecture. So we stood in freezing weather outside. We noticed that at time passed, more and more people seemed to recognize friends that were ahead of us. So although when we began there were maybe 30 people ahead of us, now there was a mass of 100 people ahead of us, plus another 100 behind us. We didn't feel it was fair that there was no control of the queue. So one in our group went to the bathroom, which was near the beginning of the line, and when returning, we ran to greet him, jumping ahead of at least 30 people who had jumped ahead of us. We decided that when they would let us in, we would make a b-line to the door. After an hour and 45 minutes of waiting in freezing weather, they let 15 people in. We all cried out and complained. Then the unexpected happened. Here we are architects, who design exits properly and observe the fire marshall's requirements for maximum room occupancy. All rules were broken. They allowed everyone waiting in line in. When they opened the door, we made a rush. I pretended my coworker was a girlfriend, while she pretended another architect was her boyfriend as well, so that we were all locked together and got in at the same time. What fun. We lost all sense of personal space. Lucky for us, we were able to sit on the concrete steps halfway up the auditorium. An auditorium of maybe 200 seats suddenly had 350 people in it, including people sitting on the stage.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. I had never heard Koolhas speak. He was incredibly stimulating. He was funny, articulate, sharing stories that really made you think. My favorite recollection is that we architects are always on the side of challenging and looking for solutions, when most of the world wants to accept the status quo and not change. We are doers, when others are reactionaries. He showed some of his innovative buildings under construction in China, and his entries to competitions around the world. He explained the research that went into designing some of his buildings. A friend of mine that is working on a PhD in architecture says that most of this verbiage regarding the design of a building is BS. However, the verbiage really sells the client on the architectural ideas.
I had visited his student center at ITT in Chicago and had been impressed with his use of ramps and innovative use of materials. Now I can't wait to go see his Seattle Public Library.


Balance between effort and ease

Practice was pretty good today. I'm reflecting on what my teachers say about finding the right balance between effort and ease. If you force the practice, you can do harm to yourself and not get the desired results. If you focus on your breath, making it a mantra, the practice occurs with more ease. Being at a lower weight, for me, also contributes to doing the practice with ease. I have noticed, however, that two very different people with different body types can do the same practice successfully. A muscular guy can have the flexibility and grace to do all of the asanas in Second Series, while a woman, with obviously different build can do it as well. Maybe the focus and intention that both have in their practice allows them to do the same poses with, seeminly at least, few challenges. I'm also amazed at those people, now here it is usually guys, who can do Navasana, and go right into headstand from it. Wow! That requires a lot of strength in the core of the body.

I ate too much last weekend, hence some weight gain. Yoga is best when I'm at 130lbs or lower.


Moon Day

Today is a moon day. I could have practiced, since I did not practice two days last week when I was recovering from strenuous hikes in Yosemite. But I chose to sleep two additional hours instead. They say taking the moon day rest is mainly for the benefit of the male ashtangis. Women take rest during the month because of their body cycles, so they don't typically have to observe moon days.

These days I practice in the shala in the mornings. When I used to practice at home sometimes I would do a yin yoga practice on moon days. The shala I go to during the week holds classes on moon days, but I don't like to do a routine that is different if others are doing ashtanga with vinyasas, so I just stay home and sleep on a moon day.


Urdha Danurasana

I was really close to coming to standing by myself in upward bow today. I've recently learned to bring the feet back while in the pose. Teacher suggested resting on the head once, at which time he suggested I moved the hands closer to the feet while doing so. When I sprung up again to upward bow, the arch in my back was comfortable and I could feel a springiness on my legs that should have brought me up with the rocking motion I was doing. For all intents and purposes, the feet should have brought me up. Yaay. Progress.
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