Bhandas helped today

A funny thing happened today. As I was about to do Supta Kurmasana, Teacher brought a block so that I would practice Bakasana A & B afterwards. I did Bakasana A while lifting the block with my feet pressing against it. Then without the block, I attempted B. This time, while applying all the other ideas culled during the week, I also sucked in my stomach as high as I could. It was like an exaggerated uddyana bhanda action. It actually gave me the lift I needed and I landed my knees on my elbows. Teacher commented, "Arturo I think you did it", and I replied, "Yes, I did it." It made me realize the importance of bhanda action. It lifts the energy to the chest, bringing in the apana, the inspirational breadth, up to the chest. Prana is the expirational breadth. So I tried to see how many asanas today I could improve with additional exertion of the bhandas.

It was cake day at the office. Two coworkers are moving to different cities. I joined one for a farewell lunch at a great Indian restaurant, New Delhi, where we enjoyed various eggplant, spinach and dal dishes. One of the coworkers who joined us for the lunch lived in Mysore for six months with a family. She didn't go there for a yoga pilgrimage as most of us ashtangis might dream of doing. She did it as an adventure to heal emotionally from a broken marriage. While she was there she did yoga and enjoyed the culture and its people.


Thoughts on practice

I bumped into Snowwhite this morning before practice. She mentioned that my practice looked good. It was nice of her to say that. As Beryl Bender Birch says, it's nice to get some praise, but as yogis we should have equanimity. I mentioned my struggle this week with jumping into Bakasana B. She says she experiences the same. Our teacher Leigha Nicole, who moved to Crestone, Colorado, used to tell her to think of being an insect floating over water. Have a minimum graze of the toes over the floor as you land at the elbows. That may be easier than jumping with the feet way high in the air, then landing. I think I was able to do this relatively well today, and Teacher noticed it from across the room. But then I wanted to repeat it or improve on it in front of her when she approached my mat, but I was not able to land correctly in three tries.

I said earlier that thoughts are not things, but a soup that the synapse puts together and then you bring it out and analyze them. I didn't come up with that, psychologist Lee Lipp did. You can choose to engage them, or let them pass like clouds. Letting them pass like clouds would be appropriate while sitting in meditation in Zazen. I have been engaging thoughts on the subject of my practice and have been entertaining the following ideas.

I'm thinking that one or two days of the week, I should practice at home and do Second Series, imperfectly and with substitutions when necessary. I feel I'm regressing in some aspects of my practice. I appreciate being able to do almost perfectly asanas up to a certain level, but I am not receiving the benefit that asanas later in the series can give a person, since I haven't been given new poses. If you have been reading, some have been taken away (laugh - temporarily I hope.) More correctly, my body has not opened up sufficiently to allow me to do all the asanas perfectly. However, I do miss the 7 head stands, gomukasana and parighasana. I also understand that in India you can be stopped right at Pashasana if it's not perfect.

I am intellectually aware of how the method is taught presently. I understand the principle of fundamental asanas needing to be mastered. My teachers have a spiritual practice and I have developed a level of confidence in them. However, I feel impatient regarding the state of my body in relationship to the challenging fundamental asanas.

I've been practicing now many years. One senior teacher who has been teaching 30 years said that ultimately one has to develop a home practice. I may have mentioned earlier in my blog that when Leigha was still living in San Francisco, one guy practiced 3rd series with us on Sundays. The remainder of the week he practiced at home. He told me he learned watching videos. He had developed the strength, grace and flexibility to do the poses correctly. From a corner of the mind a thought comes out, "aha, he had to practice to get there, right?"

Some people, to get through the series quicker, put their lives on hold and study intensively for months on end, going to India if necessary. That is just not realistic for me. My first passion is architecture, then yoga, then meditation, then nutrition. Architecture work is linear. You begin designing something and you need to follow it until completion. Each project is individual and custom. You don't set it aside for an extended period of time. With the right set of skills and setup, it may be possible in the forseable future to work remotely through electronic means; but presently you work in offices in teams with a lot of collaboration.

This holiday weekend I hope to clean the apartment really well and make the limited space I have for yoga here a bit more inviting, then have a date with myself next week to practice Second Series only. Then maybe I can see if I can integrate that into my weekly practice - going some days to the shala where I would mainly do Primary, and some days practicing at home, where I would do Second. Those are my thoughts. I might give this a try.

I may sound a bit neurotic in this post, but I feel I need to help myself regarding yoga. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, since that is self defeating. I may be experiencing a lowered mood state with respect to my practice. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm only saying that I would like to experiment practicing yoga my way and observe how it helps my nervous system and my well being.

And now a pretty picture of a butterfly, taken by the friend with whom I went hiking in Sequoia National Park recently.


Dwi Pada Sirsanana and Hanumanasana

Thirty years ago when people where doing the Primary Series, it appears that during the standing sequence, one would do Hanumanasana. Later is was taken out. Some teachers acknowledge this but mention the benefits of Hanumanasana, which help with other poses that involve leg extensions. Sometimes when only the students are in the room, you will see some of us doing this pose as a warm up. We probably don't do it in front of the teacher. The full expression of the asana is to get all the way to the floor. My legs so far allow me to get to about where the illustration shows. Possibly with time I will be able to get to the floor.
Dwi Pada is my threshold in the Second Series. Once my left leg stays in place on the left side without kicking on the previous pose, I should be able to advance to this pose. The exception is that momentarily Teacher wants me to jump into Bakasana B without touching the floor, as I mentioned yesterday. That pose is four poses earlier in the sequence. I thought I had to jump way up in the air as if my legs where those of a donkey and I was kicking madly. That thought makes me uncomfortable. But apparently all I need is to have sufficient control of the bhandas and lift the legs sufficiently so that they don't touch the floor and the knees will land on the elbows. Today I did it with only a minor grace to the floor by the feet, but Teacher wants it to be better, where the feet do not touch the floor at all.
Thoughts are not things. They are a soup that the synapse puts together and throws out. You then analyze them. You can decide to engage them or not to engage them. My thoughts during practice this morning where of concern as to whether I was going to be able to progress to Dwi Pada, if I wasn't doing Bakasana B correctly. I had feelings of aversion. But I did not entertain them. I could not be angry at Teacher for expecting me to do it correctly; she is showing the way. I could be angry at myself for practicing so many years and not yet getting a basic pose correctly. But I need to have some compassion for myself as well. Well, I practiced being demanding with myself today and it actually helped me in the rest of my day. I expected great quality of my architecture work later as well.
I thought, I could practice at home, where the teacher there, myself, would allow me to move on with the poses. Heck, home teacher would allow me to do all of Second and start on Third too. He he he. Been there, done that. The problem is that I might do it wrong over and over, or simply just do it averagely. Also, as Ironman said, Third series is a lot about the strength of the core. Second is about the opening of the back and chest. If your back is not really open and you do Third, you're not advancing.
I watched somewhere an interview with actress Joanne Woodward, who said she loved ballet and it was her main mode of exercise. But since she started late in life, she found that she did not have the leg extension that ballerinas who started earlier in life have. Hmm, is it the same for us in yoga with respect to advanced poses? Within reason, I hope not. I hope the "practice and everything is coming" teaching of Guruji rings true and that even into rickety older age my body will allow me to do the poses. Just let me get up to Third Series, Lord, before I get to 80 years old, please, that's all : )


Garlic, onions, mushrooms, etc.

Cody was expressing his dislike for the taste of garlic in any form, and mentioned that onions where next on his list. I did some research and it appears that traditionally Bhramins do not eat onions and garlic. Some explanations for this is that they inflame the base instincts. Other explanations are that the Vedic scriptures consider them tamasic and rajasic, like meat, therefore are not consumed. I looked up the rules for student residents at a Sivananda ashram in San Francisco. Garlic, onions and mushrooms are considered non-vegetarian foods and not allowed there. The explanation for the aversion to mushrooms relate to their being fungi and growing in dark, damp places. The prohibition of these foods was put in the same paragraph as the prohibition of the use of intoxicants and drugs. Any violation of those rules would subject a resident student to expulsion. The severity of those statements are a bit amusing, in that their consumption is put on the same level as the consumption of intoxicants. Showing up with garlic breadth or with a bag of mushrooms from the market could subject a resident student to disciplining.

I'm remembering a workshop in Miami led by Lino Miele, where Michael Gannon asked Lino to talk a little about food for yogis. Lino had traveled to Miami with a suitcase filled with pasta and tomato sauce. He advised us not to eat onions. I do not remember if he also advised us not to eat garlic. I believe that in his book, Spiritual Nutrition, Dr. Gabriel Coussens, who is a yogi, also recommends not consuming garlic.

One has to weigh whether one is going to be a total adherent to rules. If Cody doesn't like the taste of garlics and onions, no problem. A good thing about that is that he appears to be in line with the eating habits of the yogic traditions we follow. But one should be aware that from a nutrition perspective, onions and garlic are very good for health. Garlic and onions helps against the formations of carcinogens. Garlic is good for heart disease. For non-vegetarians, adding garlic to fish oil also improves the LDL/HDL ratio. I heard it say, though, that to get the best benefit from garlic, you have to chew on the bulbs, something I never do.

Personally, I use a little bit of onion and garlic in powdered form, sprinkled on a pumpkin soup I make weekly - April's pumpkin soup, or on flaxseed crackers. I avoid both of them in their raw state because they give me gas. I think most people experience that as well. I haven't decided if I am going to ban them from my diet. For now I just consume them very moderately.

My yoga practice was short today because I needed to be at the office early for a meeting. I applied a lot of what I learned on Sunday. I was really sore yesterday so I did not go to the shala. Sunday's practice was like one an intensive, which sometimes can leave you a little sore. I understand that practicing in Mysore during an extended stay has the feeling of being in an intensive everyday. Even some seasoned yogis can feel sore during their stay. I bow to those who experience the beautiful opportunity of practicing there.


Intense practice today and chocolate cake too

The Chinese massage I got yesterday wiped me out so that I overslept (9 hours to be precise) this morning and missed practice in Berkeley. I still wanted to practice and found out Teacher Catherine was conducting an afternoon Mysore class in the Castro, so I went. Since Burning Man is about to begin, there were no other students this afternoon. From Burning Man's website: "Every year, tens of thousands of participants gather to create Black Rock City in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, dedicated to self-expression, self-reliance, and art as the center of community. They leave one week later, having left no trace." In my opinion it is reminiscent of the get together of the hippies in the 60s - and I am from that era.

So the practice today meant that, as Teacher said, I got enough instruction to get me to the end of the year. I received instruction on the proper placement of the feet in the standing poses, on the lifting of the arch and pressing down of the outer part of the feet, the correct movement of the arms in the triangle poses, on the proper form of transitioning into the asanas from Samastitihi, on the importance of keeping the standing leg straight in Padangustasana, etc. I should place my hands on the side in Samastitihi as Guruji demonstrated in Yoga Mala. In Pashasana I was able to bind by myself. Woo-hoo!

But now I need to get Bakasana B correctly by being able to jump into the asana. That is difficult for me. It's not easy for me to get the lift that Matthew Sweeney gets, as in this illustration after him. I usually am afraid I'll slip out because of sweat, or that I'll fall over if I raise my bent legs that high. That raised bent leg movement is like the transition out of ukatasana, which I have only done correctly once, when assisted by Rolf Naujokat in a mysore class I attended where he was the teacher. (By the way, what a beautiful website Rolf and Marcie have. I love the picture of Rolf looking at a sunset in a beach cove with his two dogs. And that was Ursula demonstrating ukatasana in her blog. Thanks, Ursula.) Well, anyway, I have to do Bakasana B, so end of discussion. No thinking. Balance between effort and ease. For me the balance may be heavier towards the effort part. And I'm putting on my list to get one of Matthew Sweeney's posters, to keep me motivated.

My mom asked me if I do all of the asanas that I have illustrated recently. They look difficult, in her opinion. I do most of the poses that I illustrate, except for very advanced poses, which I like to illustrate to keep me motivated for the future.

CRON wise, yesterday I did not behave. I ate cookies as if they were going out of style. I paid for it this morning, as if the jeevie jeebes were attacking me in the form of rashes again. Boy, do bacteria love sugar! I'm surprised at my short memory. So today I behaved pretty much okay, eating my CRON diet, except that after the effort in the afternoon class, I felt I could treat myself to a piece of vegan chocolate cake. Really, calling a cake vegan chocolate does not make it a healthy food! It's still sugar, flour and fat.


Acupressure and magnetic stone massages

My neck was bothering me since Monday. It seemed as if the bedroom got cold and I slept stiffly. My coworker, who is from Hong Kong, asked me to remind him of the name of the massage therapist I knew in Chinatown. That reminded me to call the therapist for a massage session, which took place this afternoon. I'm amazed at the therapist's technique. She started with acupressure, or tuina massage. That got into the musculature around the bones. She wanted me to identify the areas where I felt sore. Those where the ones in which she concentrated her therapy. Then she spent one half hour on a treatment I had not experienced before. It involved using a flat piece of magnetic stone. She demonstrated that the stone was magnetic by showing me how it clung to metal. She put some oil on my skin then passed the stone over it rhythmically. It felt as if I was being massaged by rollers. This was not a hot stone massage, which involves heating pebbles and placing them throughout the body. She says it is a therapy developed at the medical school of Tsinghua University in Beijing. Here is some information on this medical school. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the treatment and could not understand its chinese title. She said it had the effect of warming the bones. I feel relieved of my aches.

Bohdi Oio!

"Baooohdi Oio! Oio!! Bodi Oio? Oio? Bodi Oio?" So sings a salesman daily around my neighborhood. It took me three years to find out what he was selling. It's body oil to soften the skin and make it smell good. At least that is what a kind neighbor explained. Mystery resolved.

Cody's funny post on the wearing of hats brings another question I have. Judging from the fact that I started wondering about this question one year ago and that it took me three years to uncover the bodioio question, it may take me two more years to get an answer to this one. First it was the observation that Asian women, when they go shopping, love to wear hats. The men who accompany them wear hats also, but at least in my recollection they default to baseball caps. Many women wear hats in every color. The prevalent style is a bucket type. Today I saw a red bucket type with a zipper and pocket on the side. It actually looked chic. Some are very long visors with no top, sometimes called bonnets. The visor that caused me to break out laughing, sorry but I had to, was one worn by a young lady where the visor material was green plastic. It was designed so that it could be rotated downward, acting as a motorcycle helmet shield. This lady was wearing it as if she was protecting her face from insects while driving a motorcycle, except she was just walking on Union Square.
So my question is: what are the cultural precedents to the wearing of hats by women when going out in public? Is it to protect the skin and the eyes from the sun? California is indeed a sunny state. Is is to protect the hair from the wind? The city can be breezy. Is this only local to our Asian community? Perhaps the community here is so used to wearing hats that by doing it they are imitating each other. Actually, there may some truth to that thought. People have styles of clothing depending of where they live in the country. I've observed that for men, wearing blue jeans and black jackets is prevalent for San Franciscans, where in Miami lighter colors are de rigeur. But I digress. Maybe this predilection of hats is just local to our community. Why is the prevalent style the bucket type? Maybe there aren't answers to these types of questions. They become only observations and I'm not being any different than a five year old kid incessantly asking "why?"


A tree trees

My philosophy teacher Joe Evans used to paraphrase Gertrude Stein's phrase, "a rose is a rose is a rose" by applying it to other things. "A tree is a tree." He would ask us, "What is the nature of a tree?" as if throwing out a Buddhist koan at us. "A tree trees", he would say. The nature of a tree is to give shelter, to produce oxygen, to feed insects. It's a good listener. It's stable and calm, withstanding storms. It's graceful. I photographed this beautiful 200 year old oak near San Jose on Wednesday.

Yoga practice gets better with practice. On weeks that for one reason or another I can only practice intermittently, when I return to practice, I feel tired or achy. But on weeks where practice is continuous, then every day I feel stronger and more flexible.

Today teacher gave attention again to Marichyasana D. I need to focus more on lifting and twisting, bringing the ribs into the motion. My shoulders seem to want to pop out when I bind, so I'm just hooking the arm for a few days.

Does coming up to standing in Urdhva Danurasana depend more on balance than strength? Is the secret of balancing here shifting the weight to the legs?


Raised rooster pose

I was asking myself which 3rd Series pose would be good to illustrate, and Urdhva Kukkutasana came to mind. I like the name. It means "raised rooster pose". After giving that some thought, I visited InsideOwl's blog and in she made reference to her Urdhva Kukkutasanas (there are three in the series.) Looking at the pose, it seems to mix things from Second Series poses. The entry is from the first of the 7 head stands. The transition is reminiscent of Karandavasana (K.) and the finish like Bakasana. I don't have to worry about K. yet in my practice because I can't progress to it until I master Dwi Pada Sirsasana.

I signed up for a Second Series workshop, Mysore style, with a certified teacher. Certified teachers are authorized to teach the whole system. So technically, within the context of a workshop, I could be allowed to do the whole Second Series practice, something I haven't done in over a year. I may have to do substitutions for the difficult ones and possibly skip a challenging one like Karandavasana for now. There was good advice on preparation for this pose on the comments section on Vanessa's blog today. I like Bindifry's observation that Pincha Mayurasana is all about balance, not strength. Hmm. I need to prepare more illustrations...

Today Teacher advised again to do the twisting substitution of Marichyasana D, concentrating on lifting the torso, moving the chest ribs into the area towards which I'm turning, turning from the belly and from the shoulders. I squeezed so much that I had to interrupt the practice to go empty the bladder. Ha!

By the way, doing inversions in yoga helps me with my work. Architectural plans are typically oriented so that North is always up in a drawing. I'm working on a site with mountains on the south of the property. You arrive to it from the north. Today I looked at the plan upside down, as if I were standing on my head, and I understood the relationship of the mountains to the buildable sites on the foothills much better. So sometimes it's good to turn things upside down and gain a different perspective on them.

CRON wise things have been going OK. During the weekend, though, I got a sick stomach from something I ate on Saturday and Sunday, foods which I prepared myself and were past their time. I have to accept the fact that my current refrigerator will only keep home prepared foods one week. My sense of taste told me I was eating something not too fresh, but my common sense went out the window. On one ocassion last February, I had a friend grab a pint of raspberries I was eating, because he noticed they were going moldy. When you are by yourself, this looking out by someone else does not happen. So I missed yoga practice on Monday morning. By Monday evening I was feeling OK. My weight is stable.



If my energy is low and the practice room is still a bit empty before Teacher shows up, I occasionally digress into yin yoga poses. Then an advanced student arrives, I feel a bit embarrassed and find the energy to get back to the main practice. By the time Teacher gets in, I'm doing the regular routine. Interesting to see the influence of group energy on one's practice.

Emphasis on Tuesday was on placing the feet slightly pigeon toed on every Adho-Mukha-Svanasana, so as to cause inward rotation of the hips. I'm being scholarly in mentioning the Sanskrit name, because in practice we always refer to this asana as downward dog. But it's good practice to learn the Sanskrit names of any asanas. One time I was doing Mysore practice with Michael Gannon as teacher. There was an advanced student doing Second Series beautifully. Apparently, she could not remember the names of the asanas in Sanskrit and he giggled and asked her how could she learn to do them without learning their names? I've given some thought to starting to learn the names of the third series poses, to give myself enthusiasm for the future. Maybe I could draw a few of the poses and place them here, as another way to get enthused.
But I digress. I thought the rotation of the hips in downward dog might help open up the hamstrings, in preparation of Urdva Danurasana. Watching me struggle a bit on Marichyasana D and not having good form, Teacher had me concentrate on hooking the arm, lifting and twisting the torso. In kurmasana she asked me to concentrate in extending the legs a lot. That helped because by the time I got to supta kurmasana, I was really flat on the ground and under the legs. I got assisted in supta kurmasana also.


Pashasana, Malasana, Supta Vajrasana and M&Ms

Only one bird accompanied me on the bus trip to Berkeley. No chirping today meant I slept all the way getting there. The bird took a nap also. The nice old man who boards the connecting bus with me was not there this morning. The friendly bus driver that salutes other bus drivers by pointing didn't take us on our journey. Because of moon days falling on Sundays and other complications, I hadn't been to practice in Berkeley in about a month. Teacher Vance is in Mysore. His girlfriend, E. is substituting. She gives expert adjustments. I observed her dropbacks and coming to standing in Urdhva Dhanurasana. There's been some flutter on the subject in our bloggie community on Urdhva, so challenging a pose.

I usually do this pose in preparation for Pashasana, something I learned from Teacher Catherine. It has a name, malasana, but basically it's squatting with the hands extended. I got a nice adjustment in Pashasana. I have less trouble binding on the right side. After assisting me in Supta Vajrasana, E. today observed that I had progressed a lot on this asana. In part my progress is due to the preparatory adjustment Teacher Vance does, which E. does also, of moving the shoulders back and a bit closer together, pulling the hands slightly together as they move closer to the feet they are grasping. In my shala during the week I once helped Snowwhite with this adjustment, and she felt really able to grasp her feet comfortably.

Practice was followed by a retreat at the Hartford Street Center on using meditation to deal with lowered mood states. That's another word for depression. I don't feel depressed, but expected to learn a lot from the teacher, Lee Lipp, who is fantastic. For lunch I had some vegetarian pizza and salad, and 20 M&Ms pieces. Some of these where the new dark chocolate M&Ms, which I was curious to taste. I thought they were rather sugary tasting, not chocolaty enough. The others where the new type of M&Ms, which have been jumbo sized. Actually those were tastier because they had more chocolate and less sugar coating. Listen to me, a CRONie discussing the nuances of candy! I entered all I ate today into C-O-M, and I still stayed within my caloric goals for the day despite varying my diet and consuming sugar, something I have been avoiding.


More Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks Photos

Here are some pictures taken by my friend with his professional Canon camera. The topics are, not presented in any order here: a magestic sequoia, a forrest with lychen on trees, a magical looking forrest with a carpet of flowers, alpine flowers growing near lakes, magical colors of the alpine setting, a marmott, a pensive picture, a beautiful rock formation, the layering of light over the mountains at dusk, two views inside the crystal cave, descending into King's Canyon, two views of the river at Paradise Valley.

Hamstrings anatomy

I benefited a lot from the discussion on Karen's blog on the action of the hamstrings in Urdhva Dhanurasana that I decided to sketch this to illustrate what she is referring to. This is a quick sketch done while looking at the great book, The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga, by Ray Long and Chris Macivor, which I recommend. Karen calls the biceps femoris the belly of the hamstrings, and the other two the inner heads of the hamstrings. She recommends moving the energy to the semitendonsous and semimembranosus when coming up to standing in Urdvha. Lots of other recommendations came up in the discussion, to which I contributed some from my Teacher, since this is an asana I'm working on.


In short, today I reached bliss

I reached samadhi today. LOL. If I had known four years ago that wearing boxer shorts instead of jockey briefs under my Prana shorts would make my practice better I would have switched earlier. I posed a question in the Ashtanga Yahoo support group to see if anyone uses boxers instead of briefs with their practice shorts, since I needed to try something that was less binding and would help me avoid summer rashes. While I waited for a response, I decided to experiment today and wore boxer shorts under my practice shorts. I was incredibly surprised at how free I felt. I reached the full expression of most of the forward bending asanas, reaching my chin to my knee and chin. I was a bit concerned about loss of privacy when doing inversions, but there was enough material around my legs to give me full coverage. I had one of the best practices in a month. I almost came up to standing in Urdha Dhanurasana and felt no rashes bothering me. The receptionist in my office, who had tuned me to reading the book Happiness by Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard was a bit surprised that when she asked me how I was today I responded that I was happy, elated, strong and well. And I meant it.


Returning to normal

Although I missed practice yesterday, I returned to my normal practice today. I was able to bind in Marichyasana D and Teacher worked with me on assisted Urdha Dhanurasana.

My neck is still somewhat stiff, but I have the rotation I need for practice. My rashes are almost completely gone, thanks for medicines and following the advice of the docs. I'm eating more vegetables, adding broccoli and cauliflower to my soups. My weight has gone down a little bit, probably because I'm avoiding wheat products and sugar. My calorie consumption is at about 1700 to 1800, my usual daily caloric intake. Cron-O-Meter tells me one serving of the dehydrated pumpkin seed crackers (50g) I wrote about yesterday is about 200 calories. I think it is less, but I will accept the software's determination of the calories. It seems strange because a Lara bar is 190 calories, and one serving of a Lara bar seems far more dense than the cracker I prepared. Plus Lara bars have a great amount of dates, which is what holds their ingredients together, and dates are rather high in sugars. My crackers had one piece of date per serving.


Practice today

This morning I was S.A.D. No, I didn't eat the "Standard American Diet", I simply was Stiff, Achy and Dizzy during practice. I missed practice last Friday; Saturday was a day off; Sunday was a moon day, but technically, I could have practiced since my practice had been spotty in the past week. My body decided to sleep instead. So today I started with the standing sequence of the Primary Series. Then I digressed into seated poses from Yin Yoga. Then Teacher arrived, so I returned to the seated Primary poses, motivated by the dedicated practices of Ironman, Windmill Captain, Surfer Guy, Honest Abe and the Writer. I substituted in Marychasana D, not sure if I could bind today. And I could not do Septu Bandasana. An attempt to do a substitute landed me on the floor, so I moved to the next one. Tomorrow is another day.
At home I was incredibly thrilled to create my own version of a dehydrated cracker consisting of sprouted pumpkin seeds, sprouted sesame seeds, flax seeds, agave nectar, sea salt, dates and dehydrated cherries. I consulted a recipe book, which did not give me too much direction. I used similar ingredients to those in the live pumpkin seed cracker by GoRaw.com. I shared some samples with three of my coworkers and then quizzed them on how I can improve my version. The only change suggested was to chop the dates smaller. Next I will need to enter the recipe into CRON so I can figure out the calories per serving.


Double forward flips

This post is not about yoga, or maybe it is. When you live in a small apartment, there is not a lot of space to put things. Everything has to share space, or things have to get on top of other things. When I'm missing something, I can usually guess that it is under something else. I have noticed something of late, that in such an environment, things have a habit of falling to the floor. I have grown to accept that. So now I have begun observing that inanimate objects can have very graceful and dynamic movements as they travel to the floor. For example, when I lifted the mouthwash bottle, the adjacent tube of tooth paste did a double flip to the floor. When I reached for a spice, the tin of sugar free sour candy on top it did a bounce on the floor, followed by repeated swirls. Papers typically lift up in the air, then do a flutter to the floor. A screw driver falls, handle end first to the floor, bouncing up, followed by the metal end jabbing at the floor. My favorite movements are the double forward flips. I've seen many types of objects do these. They resemble the double front flips of divers, or the flips of gymnasts.

Putting my grocery shopping on CRON

I love Whole Foods Market, but since it has a reputation for being called, "Whole Paycheck" I've put my weekly shopping there on CRON mode. I originally wrote this as a comment on Sara's blog. I bought a calculator ($3.25 at Walgreens!) and enter everything spent. This requires weighing fruits and vegetables and items from the bulk section. By using the calculator, I have become more attentive to my choices. For example, when before I did not care what I grabbed from the stalls, now I typically select the Whole Foods brand, because it can be about 75% of the price of the regular brands. I set my weekly budget and have been able to stay close to it. Sometimes I have to put an item back and wait a week for it if I exceeded my budget for that week. The store has a card where they punch in every $5 spent on a Whole Foods brand supplement. When you fill up the card, you get $10 towards a supplement. I like that if you bring your own bags, you get a bag credit, or a token you can use to give to a charity. Employees notice my use of the calculator and are sympathetic. I have heard patrons who have seen me crunching on my calculator turn to their spouses and say, "put that down, it's too expensive." So, being aware of what you are spending is a wise thing to do. I don't want to delve too much more into it, but I feel that this company is very kind to its employees as well. I just thought I would share that.

Yoga keeps you fit

When I started practicing yoga in earnest, I would ask different teachers if yoga could be the only thing I needed to do for fitness. I was thinking, of course, of asana practice, since that is what in the West one is first exposed to. After years of swimming, weight lifting and aerobics, I was intrigued about how light and airy yoga made my body feel and wondered if I could substitute it for everything else I was doing. A recent Yoga Journal article agrees. Research into the health benefits of yoga are picking up. Yoga, the article says, helps with cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition. You can read the full article here. After years of practicing, I also learned about the other parts of yoga beyond asana practice...


Image on the page

The image on my header is from a photograph taken by the friend with whom I went hiking in King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks recently. The image depicts the reflection in a river of a majestic rock. It is located in the section of the park called Paradise Valley and it was taken with a Canon EOS 30D. I hope to post more of his pictures of the park soon. The image also reminds me of Mizzi's blog, named pure reflection. Her writing shows a clarity of mind.

Last night I arrived late from researching in the library in Berkeley, so I missed yoga practice this morning. Tony Z. and Bob C. observed that my recent rashes are probably from bacteria living in humid environments and not from my diet. So I'm being vigilant about hygiene. For example, since the shalas in which I practice have shower facilities, I'm showering right after yoga, whereas before I would do so a half hour later, when I arrived to my apartment. I am monitoring how much and when I'm sweating and keeping dry and clean. I am carefully returning to my usual diet, planning to abstain from consuming wheat, sugar and baked goods, and limiting the amounts of sprouts and acid fruits.


Birthday musings

Happy birthday, Guruji! Teacher Vance has been in Mysore and reports that Guruji is teaching the Friday led classes. My friend Krista arrived in Mysore and plans to chronicle in her blog on her experiences during her stay.

Today was Teacher Catherine's birthday. Earlier during the week, M. brought a birthday card for the Mysorians to sign. This morning we brought her flowers, including red and pink roses and pink lillies. Before chanting, M. read a sutra from Patanjali that stated that we were grateful for our teacher, who is kind and wise.

The previous day, Victoria, one of our young fellow ashtanga practitioners and yoga teacher died after having been diagnosed with cervical cancer last February. May she rest in peace.

During the few times that I lost my dristhe in class I noticed that Ironman did a perfect kapotasana, exactly as in the illustration. My hands don't touch the back of the feet yet. Whenever I'm placed in the position, the arms stubbornly bounce back. Snowwhite did vishvamitrasana beautifully. In my practice, my left leg stayed behind my head in eka pada sirsasana on the left side. When the leg finally springily popped out, I let out a little laugh.
CRON-wise, I was concerned about having lost 3 lbs, so I over-compensated. In addition to my usual breakfast and lunch, I had a pomegranate passion smoothie from Jamba Juice, two large vegan cookies from Segafredo's, two Lara bars, which are raw vegan nut, date and fruit bars. For dinner I ate palak paneer with roti bread at an Indian restaurant in Berkeley. That consisted of about 2800 calories, so I overate today.


Mayurasana preparation

My first Mysore style teacher, Reinaldo, told me that by the time you get to an advanced pose, you are already prepared it and you may have already done one form or another of the advanced pose. That made me realize I may be ready for mayurasana (peacock) when it is given to me because I do padma mayurasana daily. Who-hoo! I do it as a transition out of kukkutasana and tolasana, by leaning forward on my elbows, lifting back the whole assembly of the legs in lotus, then releasing the position. Cool beans!

Today I was able to do the entire primary series. Because I have lost 3 lbs, I actually balanced for longer than usual in handstand without effort. Observing my handstand, Teacher said, "You know, you can do it. Just keep focusing on your dristhe", as she helped me from swaying to the front or to the back. What if my dristhe is totally cross-eyed? I actually get cross eyed when I try to focus on the dristhe of handstand, which I think is the floor in front of you by a few inches. One more instruction from the brain to the body - "don't cross your eyes when focusing on the dristhe."


reclining hero digs garbanzos

I returned to practice today after a week of being away due to travel and overcoming some health challenges. I stopped the Primary Series at kukkutasana. Teacher mentioned a few weeks back that if I'm recovering from a health problem, I can make the practice restorative. So thought I would do the reclining hero, or supta virasana, after kukkutasana as my restorative pose. Teacher suggested interlacing the fingers and turning them outwards as my arms extended overhead. She help keep my legs from moving sideways. It felt like an intense stretch on the thighs and gave my chest an opening.
CRON-wise, I am avoiding baked goods, sweets, acid fruit and peanut butter in order to reduce the creation of moisture in the body. I noticed my caloric intake was low, in the 1400 to 1500 range, when it should be in the 1700 to 1800 range. So I started adding an apple and some canned garbanzos to my diet, because I had lost 2 lbs, which I did not want to do. I remembered that Erin had some unusual inventions of desserts made of beans in his "Vegan Done Light" book, so I placed one quarter cup of garbanzos that came from a can, in the energy shake that I eat after yoga practice. It gave it an interesting texture and tasted quite nice.



The ashtangis in Mountainview tuned us to this. It's not yoga, but it sure is inspiring for those of us attempting to do backbends weekly.


Floating to Chaturanga Dandasana from Uttanasana

I typically do uttanasana as in the second illustration. But since recently watching Nilaf's videos on the web and seeing the floaters in my shala, such as The Cyclist and Quiet Strength, I recently tried doing uttanasana with the hands further back as in the third illustration. It seemed to give my body more room to float my feet back when jumping to chaturanga dandasana. If any floaters out there care to make suggestions as to whether I'm on track by doing the uttanasana variation, or whether I should do it as I regularly do it and concentrate more on bandhas, please share your insight.


Female doing urdhva dhanurasana

This is for Ursula. Hope your Urdvha Danurasanas keep progressing!

CRON while on this week's trip

On the first day of my trip this week my CRON practice was OK, except I was high on the carbohydrates on both days. I started the day with my usual - 1/2 cup of fruits, 1/4 cup of granola, guar gum pudding, coffee & cream, 1/2 cup OJ. When I found out I had to fly out that day I ate a peanut butter cookie and a vegan pecan cookie. That was off-CRON. Lunch was 12oz of vegetarian split pea soup, a roll and a banana - all from the San Francisco Soup Company, which has a stand at the airport. I should not have eaten the roll, I know. During the flight I had 12oz of tomato juice, and two pieces of my homemade megaleather vegetarian jerky. Dinner was at the restaurant of a resort, where I enjoyed a glass of Australian Shiraz and a grilled vegetable plate called vegetable napoleon. Last year this plate was created to look like the napoleon pastry, with tofu and grilled vegetables. This year the chef took out the tofu, replaced it with two slices of mozzarella cheese. The vegetables were marinated in balsamic vinaigrette and grilled, and they included eggplant, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and avocados. They were arranged in a spiral on the plate. The next day my breakfast in my room was a Nature Valley granola bar, a banana and an apple. Mid morning breakfast with my colleague was two muffins, 2 tablespoons of honey, a teaspoon of jelly, coffee and OJ. I asked for a muffin, but I received two from the waitress. I have a hard time telling wait staff to correct something. And if someone places food on my plate, I am likely to eat it. The staff included young Australians, Bulgarians, French, Colombians and young people of other nationalities who come to the US to work during the summer at resorts. Lunch was a green salad, ranch dressing, 1/2 cup of pineapple, and a double chocolate cookie. Dinner was two pieces of my homemade megaleather vegetarian jerky and 8oz of tomato juice. I did not calculate calories, but my weight stayed the same - 130lbs. I just felt a bit bloated from all of the carbohydrates and from the high sodium content of prepared foods in general.

Since coming back, I have decided to modify my diet to exclude wheat, citrus fruits, sugar and processed foods. I plan to add yogurt to my diet, so I won't be vegan. The reason for this is that during the hot months of the year, I tend to get rashes from bacterial infections. My yoga practice is sweaty. I bicycle and walk a lot and I sit at a computer a long time. All of this creates too much heat in the crotch area. My doctor gave me a powerful antibacterial lotion that overnight has helped me a lot. The book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Dr. James Balch and Phyllis Balch, recommends making those changes to my diet because those foods tend to create moisture in the body. Also, bacteria thrive on sugars. Personally, I don't think I can give up fruits, but I'm willing to give up oranges, grapefruits, nut butters, baked goods, mushrooms and vinegar. The authors also recommend eliminating sprouts. So I may use canned legumes for my pates instead of sprouted legumes.

Constricting psoas makes my boat list

My boat lists to the left. On asanas where both of my feet have to be suspended in front of me, such as Urdha-Mukha Paschimatanasana and Navasana (boat pose), I tend to slope to the left. Observing this, Clayton Horton a few years back commented that my right psoas muscle was constricting. I did not know where this muscle was located or what to do to make it relax.

I found the following information in Wikepedia regarding the psoas: "Often of high significance in practice such as yoga, pilates, martial arts etc. Being the only actual muscular connection between body and legs, makes efficient and controlled usage of this muscle very important in terms of finding ones strength, balance, and grounding. Most forms of lunge will engage and stretch the psoas. Half- and full-lotus positions both stretch and elongate the psoas muscle and hip flexors in general." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoas_major_muscle and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoas_minor_muscle.

A massage therapist indicated to me where it was in my body and sent me to see a display called The Universe Within, where the muscles of the bodies are displayed. The exhibition is traveling throughout the US and I saw it during its stay in San Francisco. I know understand better the purpose of this muscle group and its location. Without it, we humans would still be crawling around on all fours.

In observing my listing, Catherine wasn't sure if it's the right psoas constricting that is causing the problem. She asked me if my left leg is shorter than the right leg. It isn't. She asks me to get into Urdhva-Mukha occasionally from seating, extending the legs at the same time and matching their extension.

My personal take is that the problem with the lop-sidedness may have to do with the right psoas constricting, because it is the only side of this type of muscle group that I feel at all during these asanas. The left side is usually numb, so the right side must be constricted, because I feel it. All I can do is develop more awareness and ask the muscle to relax so I can do the asana correctly.



On Monday there was talk that I would be accompanying the project manager for one of my projects which is now completed, on a site visit. We were to survey a different part of the building. It was an opportunity as well to see the completed project. I thought I had heard we were going, "next Wednesday", meaning the Wednesday of the following week, not "this Wednesday". When I arrived to work on Wednesday morning, my coworker asked me if I had brought a change of clothes for our trip. My face paled. I'm lucky that I live fifteen minutes walking distance to work. I walked back to the apartment, reinforced for energy by two cookies I picked up on the way, walked back to the apartment, packed a bag, and with the help of a coworker printed the drawings I needed for the trip. We arrived at the airport an hour and a half early. I have been perhaps a bit distracted because our office manager had given me an airline ticket and boarding pass, but the date did not register in my mind. Right now, my desk at my work is in impeccable order. My apartment is still a work in progress. I may have to shed more things and reorganize the layout in order to be more efficient at the apartment, and I estimate that may take another week.

As they were calling us to board the plane, they were asking people who needed extra assistance in boarding to board first. A young Asian man was walking very slowly with a young Asian woman in his hand. She appeared to be very feeble and was walking very slowly. She seemed to be at an extremely low weight. It brought tears to my eyes and it does now as I write this. I'm remembering the four noble truths in Buddhism. There is suffering (dukka), There is a cause of suffering. There is a way out of suffering. There is an eightfold path to freedom and enlightenment.

I'm glad there is a tie-in between Buddhism and yoga. The eightfold path in Buddhism reminds me that I practice ashtanga, eight limb yoga, of which asana practice is just one leg. There are many other legs to practice to get to samadhi or bliss. I suppose the sadness when thinking about the girl at the podium comes from empathy. It comes from realizing that this was not a senior person walking with difficulty because of old age, it was that of a young, vital body ravaged, hopefully temporarily, by disease. There is dukka, yes.

Marichyasana A

I asked Teacher for clarification on the position of the bent knee on this one. I recall that Beryl Bender Birch had said that for the amount of separation between the legs in this one you need about the space created by placing the palm of your hand spread out on the mat. I thought I had created enough space but Teacher was asking me to widen the stance, so I asked for how far should the bent knee be located. She said it should clear the line of the hip and buttocks - meaning not be in front of it. Then when you are bending the torso forward, the straight leg should be pulling upwards its muscles located above and below the knee.
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