10/31/07

Practicing opening the thoracic spine

Today's emphasis was on movements that open up the thoracic spine, since that will enable my kapotasana. So when doing upward dog in vinyasas, Teacher told me that I have to the feet strongly into the ground, then press the chest and spine frontward, while slowly lifting the gaze and dristhe to the ceiling. Sometimes they say learning is remembering. I remember this pressure of the feet down, but today I exaggerated it, such that I really did get an opening of the chest. Before septu bandasana, Teacher suggested a 15 breath exercise of laying my back over two blocks, one squarely under the thoracic spine and another holding the head. In septu, she corrected the positioning of my hands. It seems I tend to grab the ends of my shoulders. She suggested just crossing the hands over the front of the body, not hunching the shoulders, then pushing back with the feet into the full expression of the asana. I got more lift in my chest that way. Come to think of it, the placement of the hands reminds me of an Egyptian mummy. So in my practice, my hands should not be Egyptian pyramid like in virabhadrasana, but it's okay if they are Egyptian mummy like in septu bandasana. He he. Below is an image of ashtangi Petri Raisanen doing septu bandasana correctly. It is located here. Later, Teacher also emphasized not shrugging the shoulders when doing matsyasana during the closing sequence and achieving the maximum upward lift of the spine in the pose.


April is exhorting CRONies to write to their blogs more. I notice I don't write as much about CRON as I used to. I don't want to complain about my eating habits. It seems that five days a week I'm like a CRONie angel, eating everything right. My body appreciates it and stays slim. Then sometimes during the weekend, I relax my rules and eat some, well in CROnie speak, gak, if cookies be gak. Yes, I know they are. 100 lashes with a wet noodle. Come to to think of it, today our receptionist brought an apple pie made from scratch. Ahem. It was to celebrate Halloween. This does not happen often in our office and she is a new receptionist. I hope she doesn't find lots of reasons to celebrate by bringing pies, because it really is a temptation. Yes, I did have a piece. I still was in perfect behavior the rest of the day. My body feels better when I don't eat cookies or brownies. But there may be a gene somewhere in the brain that likes that stuff. Or maybe that is called conditioning to like sweets.

By the way, I'm looking over the pictures I posted of the Red Sox, particulary the one of catcher Vaitek practicing. By coincidence, I received an email today from a friend in San Antonio, with quotes from an interview by Oprah with Maya Angelou on the ocassion of her 70+ birthday. One of the things Maya Angelou said was, "I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back."

10/30/07

Kapotasana adjustment

This is an image based on a picture of Teacher Adarsh at YiY in Mountainview, adjusting a practitioner in Kapotasana. It makes you respect the effort teachers put into their work, helping us yogis while needing to protect their bodies as well during the work. It takes a lot of effort to help a student.

Red Sox

My sister-in-law took these pictures of my niece at Fenway Park and of the Prudential tower. I don't follow baseball, although I grew up in Puerto Rico, but my sister in law and niece are big Red Sox fans.

10/28/07

Day 2, Mysore practice with Tim Miller

Day 2. I had to stop the flow of my practice a few times to sit down and take notes. Well, it was a workshop. I'm sure it would have looked funny if I was in Sharath's room and stopped to take notes. I mentioned to Teacher C. that I had learned that I needed to arch my back in the thoracic spine from the chest up to the head to get kapotasana correctly and to be able to get my hands to my feet. She said that the way to research opening the thoracic spine in preparation for kapo is in other poses, such as upward dog and matsyasana (fish pose), because in those you have the opportunity to open the chest. Here is matsyasana, from this website

As I'm writing this I'm realizing how many teachers of mine I'm referring to. It's nice when you attend a workshop with your teacher, and your teacher's teacher is leading the workshop.

As yesterday, Tim adjusted in Parivtta Tri Konasana. My legs needed to straighten out. Frankly, from the student's perspective, if the teacher is adjusting, you just trust what he or she is doing, even if you feel that if you extended that far on your own you would fall sideways.

In Kapotasana, Tim and L. helped me again on getting my hands to touch my feet, citing that it was maybe a point in yogic history. Laughs all around. I told myself internally to relax, to not engage the Psoas. I felt a pull in my shoulders that I had not felt before. I commented to L. that I felt that my shoulders need to open up more. She said to think about the work in Urdva Danurasana as preparation for Kapotasana. Unfortunately, I did not spring back up out of kapo gracefully, kind of losing it. Bad man.

I requested help again on Dwi Pada. I have gotten to where I can set up the left leg by myself and get the right leg close to my head, but as I try to get it behind my head, remembering Kino's advice to not engage the feet, I feel as a Trompo or top that is being about to be spinned. Vanessa mentioned she experiences something similar when preparing for this asana in her blog. Tim commented, "Ah, dangerous man." and assisted me on Dwi Pada. I asked L. to spot me on Pincha Mayurasana. On a second try up, she instructed to not whack my feet, to not throw myself up, to not jump into it. She said I should lift, walking the feet towards the head, balancing the weight into it, a lot of bandha action, and once aloft, keeping the feet together. This reminds me of the similar advice by Kino about shifting the weight, floating up, not throwing yourself up.

I moved to Urdvha Danurasanas at that point. I noticed the previous day that many people moved on to Karandavasana. One guy in front of me started doing it from three point headstand. Tim commented as he passed by, "It's okay, research it." Then he helped him do it with the arms correctly placed on the floor. Several people got assistance on the challenge of getting your lotus-bound feet assembly back up once you've come to the ground. I see I have all of these delights to look forward to in the near future.

L. asked if I wanted help with dropbacks. Since she moved to Colorado, she had not helped me on this in several years. She instructed that as I came to the floors, the hands, which should act as in Urdvha Danurasana should be closer to the feet. The legs should be planted firmly, the weight should be placed on the feet. We did five repetitions, after which I did a handstand. Again, the instruction was to not jump into it. Walk the feet in, shift the weight towards the shoulders as I go up. Then when I get up there, I need to be like an Olympic champion, the legs have to suck right in together. Right now my feet are wobbly when they are up. She demonstrated with a wobbly dance what my feet where doing. It made me laugh, but it's true.

I was wiped out of energy, but very relaxed after the practice. I went to Noe Valley Bakery for coffee, a scone and an oatmeal cookie afterwards. There was an afternoon ashtanga improv workshop, but I had previous plans to attend my Buddhist Sangha, where we have been discussing the 4 Noble Truths each week. Today's talk was on the 3rd Noble truth, the path out of suffering. A massage would feel like a good path out of suffering for me today, if it wasn't so expensive. The instructor is a former Zen priest who explains how the Noble Truths are the foundation for all the various types of Buddhist traditions, regardless of the differences one perceives between different Buddhist groups in the outward expressions of rituals. There appear to be differences from Teravadan, Mahayanan, Zen, and Chinese sects of Buddhism, but basically, all stem from the teachings of the Buddha, who lived in India, and whose first teachings were on the 4 Noble Truths. The teacher's favorite is the 3rd Noble Truth, because it basically says that someone went and sat under a tree, came back and said, "Hey, I got it. I told you there is suffering, and I told you the cause of suffering is greed, hatred and ignorance. Now I realize there is a way out of suffering, and this is what you do."

Day 1, Mysore practice with Tim Miller

These are personal notes on two days of Mysore practice with Tim Miller, during his weekend intensive here in San Francisco. These are observations on my personal practice and advice received. On Saturday, Tim was assisted by Leigha Nicole and Lizzie Nichols, and on Sunday by Leigha and Catherine Shaddix. From the workshop promo: Day 1. This was a pretty busy ashtanga weekend around here, because over at YiY in Mountainview, David Roche was conducting a Mysore intensive as well. On Saturday, I was absentmindedly looking in the studio for a place to practice near a wall, in case I did Pincha Mayurasana and needed the wall. When I found a spot, I realized that C., who is my Teacher during the week, was practicing adjacently. I didn't sit there on purpose, but took the opportunity to discuss with her how I should practice Saturday and Sunday. After we shared some thoughts, it made sense to do half Primary, half Second on Saturday, to build heat, and Second to Pincha Mayurasana on Sunday. I remembered a story of an early ashtanga teacher of mine, who went to a workshop and ended up practicing next to his teacher. He kept wondering if his teacher would notice any flubs, but the concentration of both ended up being on their practice.

C. did her practice of Third Series beautifully. There are so many legs behind the head poses inThird, and she seems to do them without effort, although I know she is working. Durvasana, where you get a leg behind the head, then stand, seems like such a challenge of balance and flexibility. I have seen Horseback Rider doing it, and he's very muscular, so there is hope for me. Lino does Durvasana very gracefully, as illustrated in his website.Tim caught me when raising my hands during Suryanamaskar B not placing the hands sufficiently together straight. Looking at my pyramidal hands, he said, "This is not Egyptian yoga. Straight arms." "I know", I responded, and laughed. I could have added, "but I'm an architect." I really have to push my arms out to do this correctly, and they shake when I do. But shaking during yoga, I hear, is not bad, it means you're making an effort. Later on, after class, when I had the chance to thank him for the class, he asked me my name, so he would not have to call me "King Tut". He really is a dear teacher.

When I was doing Parivrtta Tri Konasana, Tim stopped by and said, "This is a tough nut to crack" and proceeded to adjust my hips, placing them more squarely with respect to the mat, then with his elbow opened my chest more, while stepping one foot on one of my feet, for grounding. It's difficult by oneself to get all of that correct alignment to happen.
After doing one kapotasana on my own, I requested help to do it again. L. helped me get the arms closer together and closer to the feet. Tim came by and asked me to move my head back closer to the feet. He got my hands closer to the feet, which has only happened once before, with Teacher Vance. L. commented to Tim that she had not seen my practice in a few years and that was the furthest she had seen me get in kapotasana. I told them I didn't know I had to arch my head further in this asana. Tim said that it was necessary in kapotasana to arch the thoracic spine from the chest up to the head. He placed a finger on the beginning of the thoracic spine to help me understand.

I tried Dwi Pada on my own, then requested help so I could get the right leg over the left leg. L. said to use the fingers to move the flesh of the calves out of the way. C. usually reminds me to wiggle forward the shoulder that is under the propped up leg. Once I had the leg up, L. instructed to lift the head up, to use the head a lot in lifting, then push the shoulders back, attaining a lift.
As I was doing Urdvha Danurasana Tim passed by and put my feet closer together, about shoulders width apart and made them slightly pigeon toed. Then he helped me get the elbows closer together. During assisted dropbacks, he had me cross my arms, and drop to touch the floor for five breaths, then up and down three times with arms crossed, then dropping with hands extended. I walked the hands in. He instructed to straighten the arms, as he put pressure on my thighs. As I walked the hands a bit closer and extended them, the pressure on the thighs made me spring upwards, making the hands float. I mentioned to him that I noticed that he put my feet closer together when in Urdhva Danurasana. He said that yes, because I have the tendency to splay the feet out. "Legs splayed, feet out, back pain is coming." The legs, he continued, should be rotating towards each other, calves rotating towards each other, thighs rotating towards each other, the shoulders should be rotating towards each others, the elbows should be rotating towards each other. This is beginning to make a lot of sense.

10/27/07

Padmasana

Ashtanga teacher Govinda Kai posted some beautiful photos on Flickr. There is one of an ashtangi in padmasana in jnana mudra. It is beautiful because it conveys the mystery that our practice allows us to reach in moments of nirvana. Here is an adaptation of the photo, which I hope Govinda doesn't mind I do, since I find the picture mysterious and inspiring.
This brings to mind that I'm doing Mysore practice during Tim Miller's weekend intensive. I plan to write observations on my personal practice and advice I received. Our fellow practitioner in the shala, M., whom I refer to as Snow White, attended the workshop on pranayama. She offered to transcribe her notes and share them with me. I suggested that I could post them here giving her credit. It makes me wonder if some of us who blog about these experiences are modern day scribes, helping future generations understand ancient traditions as they have been handed down from generation to generation.

10/26/07

Doing the TittiDee

I'm glad to have learned yesterday that in the Tittibasana series, once I'm done with C, then walking forward five steps, walking backwards five steps, it is not necessary to bring the feet to the splayed Charlie Chaplin pose. From C, you bring your head through further backwards in between the legs, leaving the feet where they are, grabbing the ankles (unless I misunderstood that.)

To the tune of "hokey pokey"-
I'm observing moon day today. I'll need my rest considering two Mysore practices this weekend. I managed to float up to Pincha Mayurasana yesterday. Concentrating on moola bandha and uddyana bandha helped. Teacher called out across the room to squeeze the thighs together once I was aloft. My mind was on not falling, but I'll pay attention to the thighs next time.

10/25/07

Ashtanga meme

Woo-hoo! A few spots opened and I'll be able to go to Mysore practice with Tim Miller this Saturday and Sunday. Cool beans.

As Karen pointed out, Lasksmi started an Ashtanga meme, where she asks whether one is an Ashtanga liberal or conservative. So here is my imput.
Ashtanga Liberals.

Practice during ladies holidays.
I'm male.
Have more than one teacher whom they may or may not listen to.
I listen to my teachers and have more than one, but that developed for reasons beyond my control, involving closing of a shala and opening of another. I listen to them both.
Give themselves poses.
Only at home.
Mix up one or more series together in the same practice.
Only when doing the half primary, half second thing.
Skip poses they can't 'do'.
Not any more. Teachers want me to make the effort.
Add poses they can 'do'.
Only if I'm practicing at home.
Mess with the number of sun salutations.
5 - A and 5 - B.
Practice on saturday.
No, unless it's a workshop.
Practice on moondays and don't even know when moon days are.
Recently I started observing the moon day. But if I missed practice a lot of days due to a cold or soreness, I might practice on a moon day.
Drink water during practice.
Nope. I know Guruji's dictate on that and understand the reason for the advice against drinking water during or immediately before practice.
Quote Tim Miller.
Yes, if I heard him recently.
May drink, smoke pot, shoot heroin occasionally or often.
Really! Wine on occasion, with colleagues or family.
Eat cheeseburgers and donuts.
Please! This is a calorie restriction optimal nutrition blog as well. I ate two donuts this year, and my lower intestines regretted it afterwards.
Do Madonna's version of vande gurunam.
Nope, but it is lovely. So is the late Thom Birch's rock version in his CD, Chanting Soul .
Skip vinyasas in the seated poses.
No.

Ashtanga Conservatives:
Always listen to their teacher.
Typically yes, I always listen to my teachers as respects asana practice. If I'm hurting and need to change something, then I will discuss the problem and look for a solution with the Teacher.
Practice between five and six days a week.
Five usually.
NEVER practice on ladies holidays or on Saturdays.
See above responses.
Take an almond oil bath on Saturday.
No. I know the tradition, but it's messy to use the crushed seeds to get the oil off. Sometimes I put on ginger orange massage oil before lathering up in a shower and get the benefits of oil that way.
Eat ghee.
I don't use dairy in my cooking, and use limited amounts of oil. If it is used as an ingredient in a dish at an Indian restaurant, then I would consume it.
Get a set of contact lenses, even though they hate them, so that they can have a sharp dristhe, just like their teacher told them.
I get allergies from the use of contacts, so what would be the point?
Never use props.
I do use props, if a teacher gives me one. I might use it for a reasonable time, then not use it anymore.
Never skip poses.
Yes, unless I'm sick and doing yin yoga that morning.
Never add poses.
See above answers .
Contact their teacher when they are going to be absent to explain the absence.
I do so, by email. One would inform Sharath if one was in Mysore, that one was going to be absent. So why not tell your teacher you're going to be absent and explain why? Here we do it by email.
Contact their teacher after the absence to explain the absence.
If I did not contact them by email earlier, I would, but there is no need to repeat the message.
Do primary series when they are sick, unless they have a fever.
Hmm, you gave me some ideas. Primary series poses are comforting when one is sick. But I did Second yesterday and today, and it helped my cold.
Do the proper, droning version of vande gurunam.
Yes. Sometimes the call and response, and sometimes the all together version.
Get to bed real early, skipping opportunities for fun/company/sex so as not to miss practice.
Yes. Not dating anyone at the moment. The sacrifices we make for this practice. But you can still stay out reasonably late, spending quality time with friends, and still get up at a reasonable time to go do yoga. If you're past 30 and still clubbing until the early morning hours, it's time to grow up. Tell your friends at midnight that you need to get to bed so you can do yoga.
Are vegetarian.
Of course, and my first Mysore teacher (when I was in my 40s) helped me return to being vegetarian. I was a vegetarian in my 20s then strayed.
Never eat or drink before practice.
I eat and drink 2 -3 hours before practice. I've consulted about this with teachers.
Would never think of drinking water during practice and openly scorn those foolish enough to bring a water bottle.
I don't drink water during practice, but I would not openly scorn a person who may not be educated on that.
Want to throttle people who come in and do that bloody sing-song version of vande gurunam
No. And one teacher I practiced with did it beautifully, so it was a nice change.
Quote Guruji.
Sometimes.
Keep Yoga Mala by their bed.
Funny. However, Mathew Sweeney's Astanga Yoga As It Is happens to be by my bed at the moment. My apartment is small, so the bed is close to my desk.
Know the vinyasa count.
Yes.
Know all the sanskrit names for the poses.
I know the sanskrit names for the poses of the Primary and Second Series poses. I don't know the names for the poses in 3rd series very well and the other day left a digital mistake on Lauren's blog, calling Urdhva Kukuttasana just Kukuttasana.
Never EVER experiment with a pose they have not been 'given' by their teacher.
Please! How could we not experiment? At home is a good place to do so, or in the shala, with permission of the teacher.


Maybe this makes me an ashtanga conservative, but that is different than being a fundamentalist. Or maybe I'm in the middle.

10/24/07

8 things I love about my body

Nenette tagged me to post this. Yikes. OK, I'll post these random thoughts, but I think our small CRONie bloggie community has been tagged already and our Ashtanga Yoga bloggie community, well, may have a lot on their minds. In general, when I read the Ashtanga blogs, with respect to nutrition and health, I sense that most ashtangis are moderate in eating, even if they eat junk on ocassion. They (we) know we have to take care of the puppy that is our body if it is going to function in yoga. Gain weight and you won't be able to bind in asanas, for example. The practice itself is sufficiently challenging to help burn the bad fat.

So anyway, 8 things I love about my body:
1. My green- hazel eyes. Thanks to my parents for that. Well thanks to my parents for a lot of things.
2. My curly hair
3. My smile
4. My strong legs
5. My thin waist
6. The gray matter inside the skull - good stuff!
7. My flexibility, a conditioning of yoga
8. My skillful hands

OK, I can think of fellow CRONies and Ashtangis, but I'll leave it up to them to post their list.
Cheers!

10/23/07

Restorative practice

My practice today was restorative, since I have a cold. Yin yoga poses followed by half of primary is comforting when one has a cold.

Surferguy was incredulous that I handn't signed up for any of Tim Miller's workshops this weekend. I wanted to go to the bandha workshop, but I have a work related meeting to attend which conflicts with the workshop. I've waited relatively late and the mysore classes are filled already. I've gone to several yoga workshops recently, and I need to control my expenses. My work in architecture requires that I attend training workshops in my field, and I usually am responsible for those cost. So I have to be careful because I'm over-extended financially. Sorry if I sound defensive.
If I went, Laksmi, I would quote Tim. Heck, I already started quoting him today. I was doing Virabhadrasana A today and Teacher came to adjust my arms. I asked her if I was doing Egyptian Warrior (hands in a pyramid), one of Tim's observations during a workshop, when my hands were not close enough together in this position, so that the arms resembled a pyramid. She helped me rotate them and bring them closer together. The image is adapted from a photo of a practitioner in Mountainview.

10/22/07

Karandavasana illustrated






















Karandavasana

Currently on Second Series practice during the week I'm stopping at Pincha Mayurasana. I tend to setup about 3 feet away from the wall,close enough to it that I could use it to kick back the right leg, which is the one I kick up first, in case I've gone too far when lifting. I'm working to doing it in the middle of the room, and not depend on the wall, and on keeping the balance. Teacher says to make sure the bandhas are engaged once I'm aloft. I also remember Vanessa's comment to use the weight of the head to balance. If your feet are falling forward, lift the head forward. If your feet are falling back, lower the head back.

The next challenge will be to get the following pose, Karandavasana. I can make my legs get into lotus by themselves, but since I haven't mastered the arm balance of Pincha yet, Teacher suggested, when we get to that point, that we could start off with three point headstand, binding legs into lotus, lowering the assembly, bringing it back up and exiting. I'm working on an illustration of the correct way to do Karandavasana, based on a picture of B., one of the teachers at YiY in Mountainview, with her permission.

10/20/07

Artist John Byrne


Today I have a cold, so I slept in to give my body rest. A few weeks ago, Jim S. gave an Open House to celebrate the completion of his meditation garden. The Buddhist reading group meets at his house. I met artist John Byrne, who designed and built the garden. His skills are wide-ranging. He's a carpenter, sculptor, and painter in mixed media. His area of specialty is abstract art. Here are samples of recent paintings that he placed on exhibit.

Friday

Yesterday the emphasis was on pushing the tailbone down in Urdvha Danurasana. It appears that pushing the tailbone down while engaged in UD, and pulling the pelvis forward, puts more weight on the feet and makes the arms and hands feel lighter, so that they can float up. So in assisted dropbacks, Teacher's concentration was on this.

On shoulder stand, I'm supposed to get the hands lower on the back, then press the shoulders and lift the neck. Lowering the hands on the back is tricky when one is sweating profusely. It's sometimes better if I go up with a towel already in place there. The hands need to be lower than in this illustration.Yesterday was a nice, quiet practice morning. There were several teachers practicing with us. Plus the usual stalwarts. Honest Abe discovered my name for him on this blog, and he likes it. hehehe. The other day at a workshop, Snow White smiled and said, "Snow White has arisen." It's all in good fun. We're enjoying our practice.

Before practice yesterday, as we were laying down our mats, Legacy Rose said that her thighs felt sore because she's working hard to get back up on Laghu Vajrasana. I mentioned to her David Swenson's trick of really rotating the hips inwards when you're about to come back up. It helps to straighten the spine. Of course there are a lot of other things that need to be happening. I have a suspicion also that guys who bycicle have more ease in coming back up in this position, since our legs are strong. The thighs need to be engaged, the tailbone pushing down, the pelvis moving forward, the chest opened, etc. But the trick of rotating the hips as you're about to come up does help. By the way, Teacher says that the current way in Mysore to come to the floor in Laghu Vajrasana is holding the ankles. Holding the knees while coming down is an earlier variation.

Legacy Rose may have trouble with this asana, but she is super flexible. She is one of those that on Prasarita D can get her hands, arms and shoulders on the floor.

10/18/07

The concept of guru, notes from a David Swenson training

The concept of Guru - notes from a David Swenson training on "flying, floating and backbending" These are my recollections, but I wasn't able to write everything word for word. David opened the room for questions, before entering into the practice portion of the workshop. A participant, a yoga teacher who recently spent a few months in India, mentioned that she wanted to understand the concept of guru. She also asked why people followed Sri Pattabhi Jois if he did not currently practice. (I think after the meeting I happened to walk with the lady who asked this question and she really was a practitioner of different types of yoga; ashtanga was not her focus. Ashtangis typically know SKPJ's age.)

David explained that Gu means darkness and Ru means light. The guru has a handle on a candle with a flame. In our culture there are many gurus - financial gurus, style gurus, computer gurus, etc. (Actually in my Google search afterwards, I came up with cultural gurus, internet gurus, information technology gurus, golf gurus, networking gurus, all experts who are knowledge resources for others.) Guru in the historic sense in ancient India is a spiritual leader. You don't call your guru to tell you what color to paint your house.

David does not think that people in the West understand the concept of Guru and in his opinion, people who say they have a guru may not be entirely honest to themselves, because it is not something found in our Western tradition. In his opinion such a relation is one of convenience, as for example, stating that someone is your guru, but you only agree with certain things that the guru stipulates for you, those convenient to you. In the traditional sense, you had to obey the guru entirely.

David told the story that Patthabhi Jois shared with him. Jois' guru was Krishnamacharya, who was also Iyengar's guru. If there is something that Yyengar and Jois agreed on, said David, was that Krishnamacharya was mean. One time during demonstrations, Krishnamacharya ordered Jois to do Kapotasana. He then stood on Jois's stomach, while he was in this pose, for the duration of a talk to the attendees, for about one half hour. There was a stick coming up from the floor boards, and it was embedding itself into Jois' shoulder. Jois showed David the scar he has from that stick embedding itself into his body. What could Jois do? It was his guru who asked him to get into the pose, so he had to obey.

David hopes that what Pathabhi Jois is remembered for is stating that in yoga, it's 99% practice and 1% theory. Jois, whom we call Guruji, did not call himself a guru. He doesn't tell people to put him on a pedestal. If people do that, it's their choice. There are no perfect people. People ask why some students bow to his feet. It's a tradition in his country, out of respect.

You can't criticize Baryishnikov for not dancing anymore. The man changed dance. Are you going to put him down because he does not dance currently? We should all respect Guruji. He's a sanskrit scholar. He carried the ashtanga yoga tradition for years all by himself. The people that walked the path also are teachers - Nancy Gilgoff, David Allen, David Williams. Give respect to the people that have walked the path before us. "I go yearly and pay my respects to him. I don't go to get more poses." says David.

The purpose of the guru is not to render you unable to think. The true teacher inspires thought and practice in the student. The only reason to do ashtanga yoga is to feel better. If the system works for you, keep doing it. If it doesn't work for you, don't do it.

David learned ashtanga from Patthabhi Jois, but Jois never demonstrated an asana. He showed you how you were going to get your leg behind your head. The man is powerful. When he arrives into a room and says, "samastitihi!" people immediately come up to attention. But he is not perfect.Become the perfect person yourself. Jois' real ability is to inspire. His clear purpose is that he has dedicated his life to this practice. He has lived his purpose.

(On a personal note, people would benefit from watching the documentary Guru. I got to see it shown in a theatre during Guruji's last visit to San Francisco, with an introduction by the filmmaker. The film helps understand the concept of guru.)

Tittibasanas

In Tittibasana B, I can bind my hands behind my head, but when it is time to walk a few steps forward and backwards, it's difficult to move. Teacher suggested holding my small towel, to give me some room to move. If I didn't use the towel and stayed bound, how would I move? Would I be shifting the weight with my hips to each leg to get me out of frozen state? Then in Tittibasana C, is the head in front of the feet, which are splayed out Charlie Chaplin style? Or is it behind the head? Oh, I checked Matthew Sweeney's book. The head is behind the feet, the hands can hold the ankles or the fingers of the hands touch. I don't know if I have gotten the head behind the feet but it seems it's like a standing supta kurmasana.

Anyway, I may have overexerted in practice yesterday because I felt robbed of energy the rest of the day. I told my coworker, who also does yoga, that I felt low in energy because I ran out of my guar gum pudding mix, which regulates my blood sugar. When I consume it, I don't have ups and downs during the day. But I'm not sure that was the problem. In any case my new batch of guar gum pudding should arrive today. I was a bit feeverish and maybe I just needed to rest, which is what I did this morning. I have been doing a lot of chest opening asanas/dropbacks and I'm reminded of something Elise said that when you're doing a lot of that in your practice, the back does a little shudder and you get flu-like symptoms, without having a cold.

10/15/07

Kino and Tim on subtle energy and opening the hips for LBH poses

The third workshop with Kino MacGreggor and Tim Feldman was divided into two parts, the first part on to the subject of subtle energy channels and the second part on opening the hips for legs behind the head poses.

Part 1. Tim Feldman said, chi - prana energy is present when you have been practicing a long time. Muscles become less important in asana practice when you focus on prana. Hang on to the voice of Guruji. Work with energy and work with alignment is the same thing.When you use the body with good energy you're aligned well. Energy is out there. It is visible in (the law of) gravity. The more we push (our weight) downward, the more Earth pushes back. The action of counter push is prana. The central nervous system is hydraulic (in nature). It can get shorter or longer depending on how you use it.

When you lift up, the spine comes up to support you. The more effort we do, the more we get in the way. A tense muscle has less motion than a relaxed muscle. When a muscle is relaxed, it is lubricated. The external muscular system, those muscles that we can touch, support the structural muscles. Structural muscles cannot be accessed directly. Control happens little by little. The breath is what makes those muscles manipulated.

It's important to understand energy kinestetically. Tim asked us to visualize a science class project from our childhood, where we placed metal pieces over a piece of paper, then guided a magnet underneath and watched how energetic forms came about. The body is the same. You can describe our bodies as energy structures - the spiral patterns of the bones, the tissues, muscles, skins. Our bodies are made of energetic movement. Energy patterns are exemplified in the structure of DNA. When in motion, we find those patterns back. Our most important job in ashtanga is to get out of the way (to allow the movement to occur).

Listen to your body. Pratyahara is the sense of withdrawal that happens during practice. The ying of practice is the opening. Guruji says it's a breathing and bending practice, regardless of the level of practice. When you work with energy, the right movement happens. In yoga we want to awake the kundalini energy to move from the center of the body to the top of the head.

At this point Tim demonstrated how if you try parsvottanasana with the front leg really grounded, pushing down like a rocket pushing into space, thrusting to the ground, when you come back up, it happens gracefully with the energy coming from the legs, rather than from the back bringing you up. The abdomen is the big brother, the psoas the little brother. When the big brother releases, the psoas go to work. When the abdominal muscles get out of the way, you can do twists.

We tried trikonasana, coming into it while engaging the legs muscles. With that action the body rose up in the right direction. In ardha pada pachimottanasana, Tim told us to emphasize pushing the sitting bone down. When coming up, push the quadriceps as if it where a rocket pushing on earth, slowly coming up, sitting bone pushing down. Imagine your body is like the balloon of a balloon artist. The more air in the balloon, the better. The artist can then open up the balloon and create fantastic shapes.

Another image you can hold is that of a set of tunnels. Each hand is a tunnel. Each foot is a tunnel. We're concerned more with what is inside the tunnel. This is a subtle, cerebral approach. But it's better than just hurling your body doing the forms. In the beginning, that is all you can do (because you're learning the sequence, learning to breathe in syncronization with movement, etc.) As you practice more you become more connected to the energy. The practice becomes an expression of energy flow. Tim danced 15 years. To jump in dance, you push on the Earth. The force to jump comes from the Earth. Coming up to samastitihi should look like being a Christmas tree. The energy is on the trunk and the branches are relaxed.

Kino then demonstrated Urdvha Kukkutasana A, starting from a three point headstand, binding the feet in lotus and bringing the feet down, then raising the head. She emphasized that you are not trying to come up to raise the head, you are pushing down on the floor. If you try to come up, you disconnect from the floor. You need grounding, so you push yourself to the ground. We took turns assisting each other in getting into this pose.

Part II. Opening the hips for leg behind the head poses.

I asked Kino regarding my practice of Eka Pada Sirsasana. A teacher told me that I needed to keep my back straight during the pose. I had trouble doing so. Kino said it was OK to round the back while getting into the pose, but that later, I could straighten the back, bringing the chest out and pushing back. More on this subject follows below.

The initiation for any leg behind the head is to turn the trochanter major, the head of the femur, of the thigh bone, and let it open out. Initially, this is just dropping open the leg. This outward rotation is necessary before putting one's leg behind the head. This is what Janus Sirsananas A in the Primary Series is for, the practice of getting the trochanter major open. (Thanks to Kino for emailing me the correct spelling. I was envisioning referring to "opening the turkey tenor".)

The practice some people have of "whacking" the leg back behind the head in preparation for a leg behind the head pose is really a hamstring stretch. That is OK to do if your hamstrings are tight. But it is not the right setup to get the leg behind the head. You need to get the outer rotation of the hips; otherwise you could hurt the knee. The proper way is to bring the leg and the knee out to the side. The back works. You need an upwards motion to the leg, but do not bend the knee. Set it up differently. It's better to not activate the legs when doing leg behind the head poses. Let the legs be soft when moving them around. Engaging them would inhibit the movement potential that exists around the hip joint. Success, says Kino, is in the setup.

We then tried applying some of these instructions. We first cradled one leg with our hands. Then we brought the feet up to the top of our chest. Then we pushed the leg to the side. Then we placed it behind the head, out and back. We pulled the chest up. We pressed the sitting bone down, and kept lifting the chest up. To get both legs behind the head in Dwi Pada, the sitting bones have to be like a root on the floor and you need to focus on lowering the sacrum.

Kino MacGreggor on backbending and dropbacks

This is the second installment of my notes from Kino MacGreggor and Tim Feldman's intensive in San Franciso recently. The subject of the workshop was on backbending and drop backs.

The first workshop was on about strength. This workshop is on flexibililty. Flexibility involves surrender and relaxation. Sometimes when we face poses that require flexibility there is a tendency to want to keep everything together. But it's the time to surrender. Sometimes we feel frustrated, asking ourselves, "Why can't I come up to standing?" This can frustrating, but you should not give up when you're feeling negative thoughts such as, "My hips are tight" or "I started too late." We have inner strength. One should oneself, "Yes I can give a little more. I can get it. It's okay to be relaxed now."

Think of Urdvha Danurasana (UD) as backwards bending of the spinal column. The spinal column is a transmitter of clean, live energy. In a back bend, don't hurl yourself backwards. You need to create space in between the vertebrae. You need to create space to bend. Keeping the shoulder blades down on the back help open the chest. At this point, Kino pulled out the illustrated anatomy book, The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga. We looked at various pages, starting with illustrations of the vertebrae of the spinal column and the muscles of the scapula. The large muscles on the back, the latissimus dorsi are important in supporting the spine in UD. They are the "hand" under your back that help bring back the body to standing.

We looked at the front of the body. The abdominal muscles go from the pubic bone to the sternum. When you do UD, you have to release the front of the body; you have to relax the front of the body. It is a common misconception that external muscles, those that have a "built" look represent core strength. The core strength muscles are those invisible from the outside, those that line the spine. Kino recommends the book, "The Science of Breath" by Swami Rama. Swami Rama talks about inner postural muscles and demostrated his ability to control them.

We looked at the psoas muscle. The spaciousness in the hip joint lets the spoas work. In UD, you need to relax the psoas and the quadriceps. If your psoas likes to constrict a lot, then your backbends can be stiff and you need to work to relax them. To this I commented that one teacher once observed that one of my psoas muscles was constricting and making some of my asanas involving raising the legs to be lopsided. A massage therapist sent me to an exhibition of bodies in which the muscles were revealed, in order to understand where the psoas was located. I asked, if I never felt my left psoas muscle in some asanas, did that mean that it was tight? Kino replied that she did not know, but that sometimes some of our muscles don't give us feedback. We're not used to paying attention to them and they don't seem to talk back to us. I have since gotten into the habit of telling my left psoas that I need feedback during poses, to awaken.

At this point we did some exercises, so my notes became scribbly and I don't understand everything that I wrote. I do remember an exercise we did in preparation for kapotasana. Kneeling in front of the mats, we tucked the tailbone under, sucked in the stomach, pushed the pelvis forward, we lifted the chest rib cage and curved backwards, continued lifting kept the curvature of the spine, we brought the hands in prayer position up to our third eye, curved back, then returned and did child's pose. In child's pose, Kino suggested we keep the feet together, because it releases the back. It is true that sometimes this pose is taught to be done with the feet open, but (I think she said this) that relaxes the thighs.

We did the same exercise as preparation to drop back. In dropbacks, it is safe to go to the floor when you see where you're going to land. In coming up to standing from UD, the chest has to be over the head. Lift with the hands. Shoulders work (?). Chest up. Straight legs. Walk hands towards the legs. Keep using the space created by the lifting. Don't walk the feet back towards the hands. It jams the sacrum. Relax the psoas. Your weight will tend to be on the hands. Transfer the weight to the feet. Keep the shoulder blades down. Use momentum to get up. Lean weight forward, until the fingers have less weight on them and are almost floating. Bring the pelvis forward. Keep the tailbone down. Let the psoas release.

Those were my notes from the talk on backbends/chest opening. The next morning, during Mysore practice, Tim Feldman assisted me in UD. He told me to lift my head up and, lowering the shoulders, let the head drop back, but not crunch the shoulders. This was a comfortable lowering as I arched back.

Emotional peaks and valleys

I'm reflecting on a day off work how I enjoy my profession. Working towards common goals with like minded people is rewarding. It also gives structure to my life, and keeps me out of trouble. It also keeps me from pushing a cart down the street (laugh).

This was a weekend of emotional peaks and valleys. Peak: meeting a good friend on Saturday, a fellow architect, bringing lunch from a fabulous vegetarian restaurant and sharing it with her family, later on spending part of the afternoon tooling around beautiful neighborhoods of the Oakland hills to get her son to a birthday party. Valley: doing my laundry in my neighborhood laundromat. A crack addict was using the space to strip and change her clothes. Two young guys thought it was amusing. A drunk woman brought her 9 year old daughter, husband and neighbor to do laundry, then bawled out the crack addict for being indecent in front of kids, as if being drunk was not an example of bad behavior. Luckily for me, a fellow zangha member of the Zen Center was doing his laundry, and he stuck his nose in a book. I stuck my nose in a magazine. Nearby, the police carried a body in a bag on a dolly and placed it into a van labeled "police examiner". Peak: doing great yoga on Sunday morning in Berkeley. Seeing a young couple embrace and kiss during breakfast at a nearby restaruant afterwards. Peak: listening to a Dharma talk on the first teachings of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths. Our discussion was on the first truth, that there is suffering. Peak: going to Symphony Hall, to listen to pianist Andras Schiff play 4 of Bethoven's piano sonatas. This was compliments of my architect friend, who had double-booked her weekend and could not use the tickets. I invited Lucas' mom, who loves classical music, to join me. Schiff's playing was spirited. His rendition of the 8th piano sonata brought tears of joy to my eyes. During the encore, he very generously played an entire three part sonata by Bach, which included a fugue requiring great piano skills. Valley: Lucas' mom offered me a ride back to my apartment. When we got to the car, someone had broken the passenger side window. There wasn't anything of value or use to steal, and this was the second time it hapenned to her when parking in the vicinity of the symphony. It reminds me of how my bike got broken into on several ocassions in front of Zen Center, after I had spent joyful daylong meditation retreats. If Brad, the Zen priest and writer of the blog, Hardcore Zen, were writing this, he would say that we can sometimes be such scum in our American society. At least I look back at the weekend and there were more peaks than valleys, more positives than negatives. Well, except that Lucas' mom has to spend a lot of money fixing her car.

10/14/07

Practice Sunday

In Pasasana, I can bind by myself, but I tend to do so while my feet are not flat on the floor. So Teacher had me first plant the feet on the floor, before binding. It was good that he was there, because I tend to tip over. But doing it this way makes me learn the correct way. In Kapotasana, I got very close to the feet, and the hips were lifting well. Somehow, some of the tricks I've been trying, such as bending the elbows to get the hands closer to the feet, and lifting the hands over the third eye and then rotating them over the head, varied a little from Teacher's approach. Teacher's opinion is that lifting the hands in prayer over the third eye as one is lifting in Kapotasana is correct, but as I get a few inches from the floor, then the hands should separate to as wide as the shoulders. The recent discussions in blogs related to backbends - that to walk one hand closer to the feet you have to shift the weight to the other hand - really helped. I managed to walk the hands closer a lot - thanks Karen, Tova, Bindi, Vanessa and others. In assisted Urdvha Danurasana, Teacher wanted to try concentrating on coordinating the breath with dropping back and coming back up. So it was exhale, drop back, hands to the floor, inhale come back up. This was repeated about 7 times because the first three time I sneaked in an extra breath when I came back up, and Teacher wanted me to exhale, drop back, inhale come up, repeat. It reminded me of the breathing flow of swimming, that you have to keep a certain sequence to the breath. Later, after practice I asked Teacher if when one is able to drop back and come up by oneself, is it expected that one has to have this rhythm of exhale, drop back, inhale come up and repeat 3 times. He says in theory, yes, but that sometimes you sneak in some extra breaths. But that today this was an exercise to make me aware of the breathing so that I would internalize it, along with all of the other things related to Urdhva Danurasana that one has to keep attention to, such as the placement of the feet, the opening of the chest, the walking of the hands, (the shifting of the weight to the legs, pushing the pelvis forwards when coming up - parenthesis mine- ) etc.

10/13/07

Granola-like sweet seed bars

Linda asked if I would post the recipe for sweet seed bars on the wiki of the Calorie Restriction Society. I have never posted there. But here's the recipe for dehydrated sweet seed bars. Ingredients: 2 cups flax seeds, one cup pumpkin seeds soaked overnight, 1/4 cup of sesame seeds, 3/4 cup dates and 1/2 cup dried Bing cherries, the juice of a lime, a tablespoon of agave syrup or honey. Soak the dates and cherries in water to cover them for 2 hours. (You can vary the amount of these fruits) When ready to dehydrate, mix all of the ingredients. Add about a cup of water, or sufficient water to cover the mixture or make a cohesive mixture. Let it sit about ten minutes while the flax seeds start absorbing the water and expanding. Spread on the jelly roll pans of dehydrator sheets that fit on top of slotted dehydrator trays. For this amount you need about 4 or 5 sheets. Dehydrate 6 hours or overnight at 105 degrees. In the morning, take out of the jelly rolls with a spatula, and dehydrate another 6 hours in the slotted dehydrator trays. Break into triangles and save in plastic bags. A 20oz serving has about 80 calories. I recommend the book, Raw Foods for Busy People, by Jordan Maerin. My recipe is a variation of one of his.

10/9/07

Kapotasana

Today I was applying some new knowledge acquired at the David Swenson training related to laghu vajrasana and kapotasana. At the beginning, he opened the floor to question, and one participant, a yoga teacher who recently returned from traveling in India, asked about the meaning of a guru. I took a lot of notes on David's response, which will have to wait until later.



I kind of summarized David's recommendations on these chest opening asanas in a note to Teacher. "David recommended that when coming back up from Laghu Vajrasana, one should rotate the hips inwards a lot. This springs the spine back up quickly. I tried it and it works. Regarding Kapotasana, David mentioned a lot of what Kino had mentioned in her workshop regarding tail bone down, hips forward, belly forward, shoulders relaxed, chest lifting, arms in prayer position. David says that he used to go back with the hands way extended, but his wife asked him why he did that, since they were a mile away from the feet. So he's incorporating this trick: as one is arched up, the hands come to the chin; as one is looking at the floor, the hands are still in prayer position, over the third eye, then, David recommends rotating the hands so that they go around the head, but as you land, they are already closer to the feet." Teacher commented that this method of the prayer mudra going over the third eye is also what she recommends. She also reminded me that, when coming back up from the floor, to push the pelvis forward. My kapo has improved dramatically.

David is a really nice teacher, who intersperses his teaching with funny stories. The workshop took place in the Castro, on the day of the Castro Street Fair, when about six streets were closed for a big party. The noise of house club music from the street was making the walls of the studio vibrate. David mentioned that it reminded him of the early days of yoga, when there weren't nice studios like today, but instead classes were held in gyms. A teacher's voice in the gym would have echoes, and while people were being told to breathe in silently, next door there would be an aerobics class with thumping music.

I had a moment at the beginning to tell him that my early ashtanga teachers, Lewis and Reinaldo, where his students, and that I also took some workshops with his brother, Doug. Thank you to all my teachers and the line of teachers who have passed the knowledge of our practice.

10/7/07

Notes from Kino and Tim workshop in San Francisco

On September 29 and 30 I attended a yoga intensive with Kino MacGreggor and Tim Feldman in San Francisco. Here is the first installment of my notes from the workshops I attended. I had signed up for two workshops on Saturday afternoon, and morning mysore practice on Sunday. Eeyore had signed up for the Saturday workshop and was not able to attend. He asked the program organizers whether they could let me use his place, which they graciously agreed to. I attended the workshop on Sunday because of that. Thanks, Eeyore! Please remember one thing. I took a lot of notes, but some of my composition here is from my recollection of what Kino and Tim said. If some elements are not interconnected as in a garland it's because we were also in a workshop during which we had to do certain asanas, so my scribbling had to be interrupted. So think of it as impressions.

I. Workshop on building strength to float in vinyasa jump backs and jump throughs. (Kino)

The physical body is just one element of our practice. The other element is our body. The mind limits us with thoughts. "This is where I am. If I was shorter I could do that. If I was taller. When I go on a diet. I'm too short. I'm too old. I'm a man and women are more flexible. I'm a woman and men are stronger. If I had started earlier in life." Thoughts like these limit us, if you believe them. When fish are placed in an aquarium, the first thing they do is test its limits by bumping into the edges. Then they will swim in a pattern constrained by the dimensions of the aquarium. If fish that have lived in an aquarium are placed in the ocean, they will continue swimming in the same pattern, unless something happens that pushes them out of their habit. Yoga is an awakening to get out of the boundary of the box we place ourselves in. Claustrophobic thoughts limit you. Strength is a decision that we make in our mind. Decide to bring more life into your being.

Kino thanked Guruji and his grandson Sharath, without whom we would not have been in that room practicing ashtanga. She recalled a time in Mysore when in the afternoon discussions, someone asked, "Sharath, how do you jump back?" His answer was, "You take it up, moola bhanda, uddhyana bandha, lift, take it back." That is the simple explanation. Kino's workshop is meant to elaborate on this simple instruction. She mentioned practitioners who have beautiful jumpbacks and jump throughs, such as Richard Freeman and Fabio Sajao. She once asked Fabio, who is from Brazil, what he did to make his jumpbacks so beautiful. He responded, "I take it up, moola bhanda, uddhyana bandha, lift, then take it back." Oh, thought Kino, just like Sharath.
Look at strength as an orchestra of your physical body - your muscles, the central nervous system, your energy, the body fluids. The Dalai Lama said that you should plant a seed of doubt. Question the opinions of your past. Remain curious, have an open mind. In the workshop we want to address learning to walk with our hands. When we wake up and get up to walk, we don't worry about whether your feet will know what to do when you want to walk, assuming we're in good health. But when we come to inversions we have to learn to walk with our hands. Kids fall many times when learning to walk.

Kino recommends the book, "The Wisdom of the Body Moving, an Introduction to Body-Mind Centering", by Linda Hartley. (I wrote a note to myself on the pad: "I like how Kino recommends certain books - it's certainly good for my path to read them." In my personal story that is very true. Kino tuned me to nutrition books four years ago in a workshop in Orlando and reading them greatly improved my knowledge of nutrition.)

Next followed a series of exercises reminiscent of cat/cow pose. The purpose was to break down the method by which to strengthen the core in order to find a way to balance into handstand. You get on all fours. You pull the stomach in, you rotate the chest rib cage inwards, you push your shoulders back and down, the point above your heart center should push towards the back. Kino mentioned that if we remembered all of these things when about to float into handstand or jump through, we will have the strength to do it correctly.

One's yoga practice gets grounded when it is practiced over a long time. Coordination between all of the body parts in asana practice takes years. You need patience and (the love of yoga) has to be in your heart. If when you're making effort throughout a day's practice you find your muscles shaking, that is okay. It means the muscles are growing. But beware of a whiny voice in the mind.

Kino addressed the concern people have about the possibility of wrist injuries in yoga. She says that when each part of the body is responsible for its part, then the weight is not dumped on the wrists. (The same could be applied to other parts of the body, in my opinion. I learned something from that. The previous day, coming out of kukkutasana, I should have used my hands as a fulcrum, let my body weight shift and then let the legs rise to then open and shoot back. But instead I put pressure on the lower back to make the legs release the lotus position they were in. That was not good form and put undue pressure on the lower back. Each part of the body was not doing its part to transition out of the position correctly.)

In "A Path to the Heart", Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says that no matter how we fall from grace, we're never a failure. In training a puppy, when the puppy falls, you pick it up, straighten, look up and try again. It's the same if we fall during an asana, or do it incorrectly. We pick ourselves up and do it again correctly. Work with your mind. Watch the negative thoughts. When you hear thoughts such as, "I can't take it. This is my limit. I'm stressed," challenge those thoughts. When building strength you have to ask yourself, "Can I stay one more breath?" Ask yourself that when you're about to quit. "Can I stay one more breath?"

Kino recommended doing the exercise that we did in class every day, leaning the weight into the hands, while the tailbone is tucking in, the stomach pulling up, the shoulders pressing down and back, the chest diaphragm rotating down towards the heart, the center of the chest pushing outward - in our daily practice. We can do this every time we go into chaturanga. We can do at every Surya Namaskara B. Before you jump, bring the hands in front (if your teacher will allow it). Lift the toes. Shift the weight of the pelvis forward and lift up and out.

Put your focus on the thing that you're weak in. If you do something well, others will tell you that you do it well, and you tend to keep doing that as a reinforcement. But you need to focus attention on what you don't do well. In jump throughs, do it cross legged, dangling your cross legged assembly over your hands before uncrossing the legs and releasing them through the feet. That helps build strength, compared to just jumping through with straight legs. Tell yourself, "I will not let my butt down until my legs are through." If thinking of jumping cross legged in the air and holding it scares you, think of it as springing, not jumping. In Kino's opinion, only two people in the ashtanga world can do straight leg jump through and jump backs.

Be your own coach. Do as dancers do, thinking your body. Tim Feldman's background is dancing and he's told Kino that when you see a dancer doing something very gracefully, the dancer's thought process is something like, "head turn, hand out, leg rotate, foot lift, chest lift..." A dancer is constantly thinking his or her body. So your thought process in strength jump backs and jump throughs needs to be something like, "Don't give up now. Move the pelvis a little forward, send energy to the arms. I've got it. Breathe." Work with where you are, with dana, or concentration.

Whenever you think that you want to quit, chose to stay. Don't give up. Pema Chodron, in her book, "The Places that Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times", talks about the effort one should make towards steadiness of the mind.

10/6/07

Weekend of get-togethers

This is a weekend of many get togethers, a rare thing for me. The first get together got postponed. My friend, Lucas Mom and her friend The Pianist wanted to get together for a drink with some of the guys from my office. The Pianist had to work late, so we postponed getting together.
This afternoon, one of the members of our Buddhist Sanga had an open house to celebrate the completion of his meditation garden. It's in his house that the book group meets. I discussed the book we're planning to read with several of the people of the book group. The book is a departure from their usual reading. The Sutras of Abu Ghraib, in the opinion of G., who lived in Thailand when there was a political uprising, represents a change in Buddhism where monks and practitioners are arising and reacting against oppression. Typically Buddhists are thought of as being passive.
I had a nice conversation with Z., an Indian fellow who came here to work as an engineer for a big Silicon Valley company in San Jose, and the guy who recommended the book we're about to read. He has been six months into a sabattical. The time of reflection has made him decide go back to work in helping developing green technologies. California is a good place to be to develop and apply those technologies.
There were several Buddhist priests at the gathering. I met a young guy who has been floating in different spiritual practices. He lived at Tassajara Monastery 9 months, then lived at Hartford Street Zen Center for another period, then lived in a Hindi ashram in New York City this past summer. We discussed his meditation practice, which is one hour of meditation with the eyes closed, focusing on the third eye. We also discussed the benefits of Hatha Yoga in helping one get ready for meditation. We also talked about how garlic and onions are forbidden in the cooking at the ashrams.
CRON wise I departed from my usual self control, overeating a bit today. I think my caloric level is at 2300 for today. Typically it's at 1800. I was on the lower end of my weight on Friday, 129 1/2 lbs, and my typical reaction is to freak out a bit and eat more to compensate.
Tomorrow V. is trying something new at Ashtanga Yoga Berkeley - a led primary class. I hope I can go to the bathroom sufficient times beforehand so as to not feel like I have to run there after the class. The pace should flow nicely, so maybe it will be okay. He says we might be doing this on Sundays once a month. Then in the afternoon the Berkeley ashtanga group is having a get together in the patio outside the shala. It's fun to get together with people you practice something with, whether that is yoga or meditation. People can share insights and interesting stories.
Here's a nice tree picture taken by my talented friend V. on his visit to Minneapolis.

I wrote that yesterday. This morning, a reminder email from the Mountainview ashtangis regarding David Swenson's workshops in San Francisco made me realize that the inversion and dropback workshop I signed up for was this afternoon. I had it in my calendar for next Sunday. So I won't be able to go to the Berkeley get together. I am in a bit of a daze at the schedule change, but it appears to be my fault to have entered it wrong on my calendar. Thanks to the ashtangis who emailed, I did not miss it.

Cost of doing laundry increase

My cost of doing laundry went up $1. This is in the laundry with the sign on the wall that reads, "No drug dealing inside laundry." I figured out last week that the lady who came every weekend to the laundry, placing single grocery items on the table, offering them for sale, was really asking for money. It seems to me that this method of asking for someones generosity at least makes an effort to give something back. There is some honesty to her begging. So I have started to give her a dollar every time I see her. I am not sure if the food items that she displays come from a food bank or whether she bought them elsewhere and is trying to make some money in the difference between what she paid and what she expects to sell it for. But I have never seen anyone purchase something from her so it finally dawned on me that it was her gracious way of asking for money. I prefer giving money to her than to someone such as the guy who shouts "one dollar, just one dollar, only a dollar" on the busiest corner of the city, with the confidence of someone offering mangoes or water bottles for sale. Except that one dollar is only his demand of your largess. Nothing else is offered.

10/4/07

New ashtanga yoga shala

I just got an email announcing the opening of the newest ashtanga yoga shala in San Francisco. You all might enjoy a visit to the beautiful and fun website, located here. My teachers are in the pictures section, labeled "Sangha". We're lucky in the San Francisco Bay Area to have so many wonderful and dedicated teachers. And we are all part of a sangha.

10/3/07

Jump backs, jump throughs

I'm a bit quiet with my posts. I took a break from practice Monday and Tuesday but went to practice today. I noticed that I was incorporating some of the things I learned during the intensive, but it made for a slightly longer practice. Hopefully the improvements will become natural to me. My attention was to what has to happen to the body in preparation for lifting - whether jumpbacks or jump throughs. 1) Jump back: hands further in front than usual for uttanasana, tell the hands they're going to get some weight, shift the weight forward, lift the legs to the toes, float the legs up, jump back. 2) Jump through from downward dog:The attention goes something like, tail bone down, moola banda, uddhyana banda, stomach in, chest diaphragm rotating inwards, top of chest pushing back, shoulders dropping, tell the hands, which are on the floor, "I'm going to throw some weight at you, be ready". Then jump up, cross legged, then bring the cross legged assembly dangling in the air, then, without touching the floor, pass them through the feet, extend them and land on the floor. I managed to do that last one well a few times. Other times I did what I typically do, which is jump through with straight feet. But jumping through with crossed legs builds strength, according to Kino, so I am going to continue working on that. There was a lot of emphasis during her teaching about keeping the tailbone down. I applied Tim's ideas on pressing down on the ground with your feet in many of the standing poses, so as to more gracefully spring back from the pose. I still haven't transcribed my notes, but it will be coming. We have a super busy week at work, lots of projects with deadlines.

10/1/07

How to live disease free to 100 - Dr. Day McNeel MD

The CR Society linked us today to a great website set up by retired neurosurgeon Dr. Day McNeel MD of San Antonio, Texas, on how to live disease free to 100. Among other things he recommends calorie restriction and exercise. Those of us doing ashtanga yoga and taking care of our nutrition are already on a good path. The website is located here.

It will take me several days to compile my notes on Kino MacGreggor and Tim Feldman's workshop, which was great, so it may not be until the weekend that I post those.

I just received a copy of "The Sutras of Abu Ghraib, notes from a conscientious objector in Iraq" by Aidan Delgado, who is Buddhist. I got my copy at Amazon. I usually don't participate in my Buddhist Sangha's reading group because they meet in the middle of the week and I usually work late. But when they announced they would be reading this book, it felt as if reading it would be like doing community service.
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