Lurker Amnesty Week at CYT, Day 3

Thanks to Friend of Frogs (a.k.a. Friend of Squirrels) for sending the beautiful picture of a Costa Rican tree frog and for the kind wishes. May your telomeres always be long as well!

Today was more like a workshop-type of practice, doing Second Series to Eka Pada Sirsasana. In Salabasana, Teacher said that the ankle bones should touch and you need to have the legs doing an inward rotation, the same movement that one does with the legs in backbending asanas, which help us to get back up. In my second practice of Kapotasana, she assisted, helping me walk the hands and head inwards towards the feet. She made an observation that I find useful. I'm not yet entirely getting the hands to the feet by myself. When I go to Kapotasana B, I tend to push the arms away so I can straighten them easier. But she says that (in my case) I should not move the arms away, keep them close to the feet and concentrate on straightening them, so that I keep a good arch in the body, which will help me when the thighs bring me back up. If I push the hands away, I lose the arch and it's more difficult to come back.

Later, in Supta Vajrasana, she reminded me that when I am resting on the floor during the last five breaths, I should be putting pressure on the lotus bound feet, to offer counterbalance with which to come back up. In Bakasana B, she had me practice the jumping into it. I landed on the side of the legs, resulting in a bruise below the knee as shown in the sketch below. That's called a chichon in Puerto Rico. I commented to her that maybe the bruise is an indication that I need to land on the knees. She says that she gets bruises also, sometimes in the arms. They are "battle bruises". As I jump into Bakasana B, I should hover over the mat, without letting the toes touch the floor, and I should be gathering the knees towards each other. I noticed that one person who regularly does Third Series was not reaching the toes in Kapotasana. That reminds me of a discussion I had a while back with Ironman that Third Series requires a lot of strengh and the ability to do leg behind the head poses, but Second Series is important for opening the thoracic spine in all the back bending poses. We miss Ironman at the shala. It seems he's taken up swimming.

Seven Petal Lotus shared by email that the book Pelvic Power for Men and Women: Mind/Body Exercises for Strength, Flexibility, Posture, and Balance, by Eric Franklin, has exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor. Doing these exercises have helped her with deep backbending asanas while practicing in Mysore. The passive exercises recommended in this book help the lower back and with problems around the S-I joint. I could not find it at Amazon, Borders or Barnes and Nobles, where it was treated as an out of stock book and offered at $101.65. But I found a copy at pilates.com for $19.95. You have to scroll down when you link to that site to find the book.

Exercise for longevity study

This should be good news for yoga practitioners who practice many hours each week. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine yesterday suggests that at molecular level, physically active people have cells that look younger than those of sedentary people. Studies have shown that exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. This study, led by Tim D. Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College in London, studied the length of telomeres from white blood cells of study participants. Everytime a cell divides, telomeres get shorter. Aging occurs as cells reach the end of their telomeres and die, leading to weaker muscles, skin wrinkles, failing eyesight, clouded thinking. In the ten year study, participants who did about 100 minutes weekly of moderate exercise had telomeres that looked like those of someone five years younger than those of participants who exercised only 16 minutes per week. Those who did the most exercise, about 3 hours or more of vigorous activity, had telomeres that appeared nine years younger. This was reported in the Washington Post by Rob Stein on Tuesday, january 29, 2008. The image is from geneticsandhealth.com, January 13, 2007 issue.


Lurker Amnesty Week at CYT, Day 2

Thanks to all who are de-lurking. For Best Practices regarding de-lurking, laksmi can advice. But I guess towards the end of the week the proper thing would be to report on the results. I have been very intrigued as to why most of the readers of this blog that are in Latin America come from Argentina. Maybe there is a big ashtanga vibe there.

Today I practiced Second Series to Nakrasana, partially edged on by energetic visitors to the shala. Rick asks how I can practice on a (seemingly) minuscule diet. I was reflecting on this today before reading his comment. My progress in yoga is inversely related to my weight. If I gain weight, I have trouble binding and bending. If I'm close to my current ideal set point, I can do most of what the practice demands of me. Next to me practicing today was a very slender American guy. His practice was very strong and smooth. I may have overheard that he's traveled to Mysore. Across from us was the Indian fellow I've written about. He is also slender and has a very sprightly, energetic practice. I don't know their eating habits or whether they have a high metabolism. But the laws of thermodynamics apply. If one overeats, one is going to be heavier. If one is heavier, some asanas are going to present a challenge. Maybe Rick's question is about having the energy when you need it for the practice. I time my eating so that I will have energy, waking up two and a half hours before practice to consume some fruits and nuts with herbal tea. After practice I have one of my guar gum puddings.

Going back to practice, Teacher was really busy in the shala, Wednesdays being the most crowded day. I recall her observations regarding Supta Vajrasana. She said that after the five breaths in the arched position on the floor, when one is going to return to sitting and conclude the asana, one should put downward pressure on the knees, to help one in getting up. She mentioned how yesterday she had Snow White use a strap and place a bolster behind her back. She did the going up and down unassisted. I noticed the bolster, which reminded me of Karen's trick of placing a rolled mat behind the back to do SV by oneself. I could not see the strap, but I assume that it was reinforcing the grab of the toes.

I've been looking at pictures of masterplanned resort communities that have golf and someone tuned me to one in the French Island of Corisica called Sperone. The architecture is reminiscent of Sea Ranch, which is north of San Francisco. You might enjoy the photography in that site. Today's image is from National Geographic.


Lurker Amnesty Week at CRONyogitect, Day 1

Last week was Lurker Amnesty Week at Laksmi's blog, Yoga Squirrel Cage. Seeing if we can roll this lurker amnesty amongst the community of bloggers, here is my turn at it at CRONyogitect. So, those of you who lurk out there, feel free to say hi. It can be anonymously. Who knows, maybe you can set up a blank profile in Blogger, which is easy to do. Maybe some day you feel like blogging too. But no matter, it would be nice to hear from you. It's OK also if you don't feel like chatting. As far as wish granting- that's more Laksmi's department. I can think of good intentions for you during my meditation practices.

Oh, before I forget, regarding practice today, I did Second Series up to Eka Pada Sirsasana. During Salabhasana, Teacher said that it is not necessary to arch the feet up; it's more important that the feet be extended out straight when lifting them in the pose. On the second Kapotasana, I followed her recommendation of last week of walking the head inwards once on the floor, pushing up, walking the hands inwards towards the feet, pushing up, walking the head inwards, pushing up, walking the hands inwards, pushing up. When I got to Bakasana, she noticed my weak landing on the knees on the second Bakasana. Women maybe have the advantage here because their longer practice clothing offer some friction so that when you jump, you're more likely to get the knees to hold up on your elbows. We guys sweat a lot and tend to slip here. So the attention is on the bhandas. It's okay, when you're about to jump into the second Bakasana, to bend the knees. Then with a lot of bhanda action, with the gaze in front of the hands, move the body quickly hovering horizontally and land high on the elbows, without any touching of the toes on the floor. I can write that much better than I can do it. I stopped at Eka Pada Sirsasana on the left side because my left leg was stubborn today and did not enjoy being behind my back for too many breaths.

I'm still unsure what to do about the fact that I wimp out from practicing on Mondays. My practice week would go better if I practiced Mondays. No one gave me permission to take Mondays off from practice. I need to tell that to the pillow. More likely, I need to seek the advice of Seven Pointed Lotus about this upon her return from Mysore. This morning I practiced next to her hubby, who has a beautiful practice.

The fascinating image of the frog is from this source. The frog has inquisitive eyes; so do I. Don't be shy, say hi. Cheers, Arturo


Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

On Sunday a few of us from the shala got together to continue reading the Sutras of Patanjali. We're reading several translations simultaneously. The group is led by a sanskrit scholar who has a lot of exposure to the Sutras. We're amazed at the interrelationship to Buddhism that we found. We're doing this twice a month, on Sundays from 4 to 6pm, alternating between two homes. It was great to be with the group. We found the opportunity before and after the reading to discuss our yoga practice, exchanging tips learned from various teachers. Yesterday I learned a lot about Kapotasana in discussion with Snow White.

In the Sutras it says that attachment is clinging to pleasure and aversion is clinging to pain. This last one surprised us all, because we tend to think that we want to push our aversions away. But in a way, we're clinging to them in a sort of masochistic way. Something to ponder. By the way, the mascot for my blog is the frog. Here is a beautiful airbrush painting by Australian artist Sue Osborn. It's original location is here. These Australian frogs are very beautiful.


Practice Sunday

When I got into the bus that took me to the transbay terminal, there were about 18 Chinese people who, at 6:2oam, had already completed their purchase at the farmer's market in Civic Center and were heading home. One couple was pretty boisterous. I don't understand Chinese, but I imagined that their emotional conversation was about the right type of ingredients to use in making tapioca pudding, and how if you don't use the right ones, you can't do Aunt Hattie's pudding correctly. They were also talking, I imagined, about their souffle fiasco; how they had invited guests for 1:30 yesterday, at which time the souffle was in it's full puffed up glory. But with the guests showing up at 2:30, the souffle was no more.

During practice I learned that I need to extend the feet more straight in Purvottanasana. With Teacher's assist, I got a great grip during the wrap in Pasasana. In the backward-arching poses the only thought on my mind was "tailbone down." That helped a lot with acheiving opening. (Thanks Carl.) On my first Kapotasana, I came up lamely. On the second try, as I was hovering over the mat and arched back,Teacher instructed to move the hands closer to the feet at the same pace as my breathing, which was very steady. I actually touched the toes and felt no pain or fear. I applied Bindi's recommendations this week for my Urdhva Danurasanas and got a good lift. I printed her directions and have been carrying them around.

During assisted dropbacks, in the last Urdvha Danurasana to come to standing from, Teacher put pressure on both thighs, instructing to press down on the feet. Again, I felt no discomfort. I remembered that Tim Miller does this movement of the pressure on the thighs, to help the student develop an awareness of transferring energy to the feet, so they bring you up.

I practiced near Joules. He's tall, with a big upper body musculature. It doesn't impede him from getting the head all the way to the floor in the Prasaritta Padottanasanas or in being flexible in everything. I used to think that tall people had an advantage in ashtanga because maybe with longer limbs they could wrap around their bodies easier. I thought that erroneously because a certain famous yoga teacher seemed to be six foot tall and was very limber. But when I went to his workshop, I found out that he was only about a few inches taller than I. Photography and videos can make a person seem taller than in real life. Flexibility appears to be independent from the height of the individual.


Methods to improve heart health

An article in the Journal of American College of Cardiology shows great advances in medical nutritional science. I thought this is an important report, so I will summarize it. Some people summarize these reports professionally for journals. I'm doing the best I can. The study is entitled, Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-Prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health. You can find the full article in PubMed, PMID 18206731.

The regular American diet is calorie dense, highly processed and depleted of nutrients. It generally causes blood glucose and triglycerides to spike up right after meals. This causes oxidation, leading to changes in the blood such as inflammation and hyperactivity. Improvements in diet cause an immediate benefit for cardiovascular health, even if you're not diabetic. You need to eat a diet that contains a minimum of processed foods. Consume high fiber foods, and fruits and vegetables that are low in the glycemix index, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Other things you can do is consume lean protein, vinegar, fish oil, tea, cinnamon, very moderate amounts of alcohol, practice calorie restriction and do exercise, the study says.

The eating patterns in the Mediterranean and Okinawan diets follow these principles, reducing the incidence of coronary artery disease and diabetes. High calorie processed foods lead to elevations in blood glucose that cause inflammation and atherosclerosis. If you repeat incorrect eating events multiple times daily, it will led to inflammation and risk of CV related death.

Recent studies show that a single meal high in saturated fats leads to hyperglycemia, constricting of the arteries and elevated blood pressure. How does the modern diet cause inflammation? Easily digestible, calorie dense foods, says the study, overwhelm the cells that protect you from aging, overwhelm the fat tissue and overnourish the muscles. The result of excessive eating is that glucose and fatty acids stimulate an excess of, quote, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide production, which outstrips the capacity of oxidative phosphorylation and drives the transfer of single electrons to oxygen, creating free radicals such as superoxide anion.

Do I know what that means? No. But my brain makes up the following story: when you overeat bad foods, there is some ugly nicotine-like junk that rushes inside you like an ocean tide and limits the capacity of your cells to burp out the nasties from your body. The result is that you rust, dude, because some dying radical cells kill you inside. You got that? Forget that you might have received some sympathetic hyperactive feeling. Your arteries are getting clogged! Drop that beverage with whipping cream! It causes immediate oxidative stress. Don't wait for pills to fix the results of a bad diet.

What to eat

Ideal carbohydrate foods that you can eat that help avoid after meals glucose spikes include broccoli and spinach, fruits such as grapefruits, berries and cherries. Also good are red wine, dark chocolate, tea and pomegranates. Excess consumption of processed carbohydrates leads to excess visceral fat and disposes you to diseases. Eating small amounts of high glicemix index foods such as rice or potatoes will not greatly affect glicpse spikes, but overeating them will. Likewise, consuming large quantities of low glicemix index foods such as lentils can lead to glucose spikes, so portion control is important. Quoting the article, The portion size inflation that has transpired in American restaurants in recent decades is not just contributing to the obesity crisis but also is causing immediate toxic effects throughout the vascular system in the person who consumes such a meal.

Nuts - walnuts, almonds or peanuts, when eaten with high glicemix foods such as white bread or mashed potatoes, reduce glucose during digestion by 50%. Consuming nuts at least 5 times per week will reduce diabetes risk. Nuts are rich in antioxidants, fiber, magnesium and folic acid. It is a good idea to substitute nuts for sugary or starchy snacks.

Fish oil (omega 3 fatty acid) lowers post-meal triglyceride levels, so it protects the heart. (Personally, though I am vegetarian I am supplementing with DHEa, which contains fish oils.) Vinegar was used prior to modern medicine as a home remedy for diabetes. Vinegar reduces post meal glycemia because acetic acid slows down gastric emptying and improves satiety, which lowers food cravings and can help lower caloric intake. It's typically consume with salads, which are nutrient high and calorie low foods.

Proteins are important to heart protective diets. Unfortunately, the modern diet has bad sources of protein - ground beef, sausage, bacon and cheese - all of these are high in fat, which worsen post meal glucose levels. But good lean proteins improve glucose levels and are essential in muscle maintenance and repair. Sources of lean protein include egg whites, fish, lean red meats, skinless chicken breast and whey protein and other non-fat dairy protein.

The study then gives a big nod to calorie restriction studies: A reduction in calories by approximately 30% below the intake on an ad libitum diet has been shown to improve health and longevity in animal models. A similar degree of calorie restriction in humans has been achieved by diets low in processed foods and high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, low-fat dairy, egg whites, soy protein, whole wheat, and lean meat that provides greater than 100% of the daily value for all of the essential nutrients. This diet was associated with improvements in oxidative stress, inflammation, glucose, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, lipids, and cardiac function.

Consuming light to moderate amounts of alcohol has cardio-protective benefits and is traditional in many cultures with health and longevity. Exercise lowers post meal glucose levels and improves insulin levels, and reduces excess abdominal fat. Yoga practitioners have an advantage in this point.

I'm probably preaching to the choir, but for those Doubting Thomases out there, here is my own personal experience. Yesterday I had three pieces of cake during Cake Day at the office. Three cakes were served, hence the number of servings. In the morning, my resting heart rate had spiked up to 74 BPM from 63 BPM, where it had been most of the week.

Summary-Steps to Improve Post-Meal Glucose and Triglycerides, (quoting)

  1. Choose high-fiber, low glycemic index carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables and fruits.
  2. Eat lean protein at all 3 meals.
  3. Consume nuts on a daily basis, about 1 handful (with a closed fist). Eat with vegetables, berries or other fruits, or grains.Eat a salad of leafy greens dressed with vinegar and virgin olive oil on a daily basis.
  4. Avoid highly processed foods and drinks, especially those containing sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, white flour, or trans fats.
  5. Keep serving sizes modest.
  6. Avoid being overweight or obese; maintain a waist circumference less than one-half of height in inches.
  7. Obtain 30 min or more of daily physical activity of at least moderate intensity.
  8. Consider consuming 1 alcoholic drink before or with the evening meal (for those without a history of substance abuse).

Saturday morning

Early this morning I went to the corner donut shop for coffee and a croissant. This is a place where the kind employees are more social workers than service employees, because they have to help homeless people who cue up for their coffee and donuts, often making unintelligible requests. This morning, a group of three ordered food for all and then announced that they only have $2.25. The tip I placed in the tip jar was well deserved, and who knows, maybe it went to help pay the order of those who were coming up short. Armed with the coffee, I did laundry at my building, where I used the time to summarize an important medical nutrition science study. I will post it as soon as I can. It is quite long but reminds us of very basic nutrition advice to help keep the glucose low after eating meals.

Later this morning I went to a led hatha class, with Surfer Guy as teacher. I realized that even though I'm an adult, I'm just a big baby. I needed to practice yoga and do so with a teacher. Since I live by myself I need the interaction with people. Surfer Guy is a very dedicated ashtangi and a good teacher as well.



I received an email from Manduka that included the attached image. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to practice today. It has been very strange to have only practiced two days this week so far. This post reminds me of those posts of nutrition CRONies who confess that they have strayed mildly from their nutrition practices and they need to find their way back. I need to find my way back to my regular yoga practice. Next time I'm on the mat I want to do what Bindifry mentioned in her comment on my post on Wednesday regarding an approach to Urdvha Danurasana. Thank you, Bindi. I printed the post and plan to take it to the shala to remember.



Today I concentrated on the breath and dristhe. I practiced 2nd Series to Dwi Pada. I noticed that I was stopping for about 4 or 5 breaths between asanas. I'm not sure why I took these "breaks" and they bug me because they interrupt the flow. I asked myself if it was related to having reached my weight goal of 130 lbs more or less. Like, was I out of energy? I don't think my practice was too out of energy.

I did Kapotasana 4 times. That's because after the second time, L.N. gave me some instruction, so I practiced it two more times. The instructions was that, when doing the first part, since I haven't yet grabbed my feet, I should rest on the head, walk the hands in, then "walk" or turn the head while on the floor towards the feet, push out with the head and the hands, then repeat this several times, each time getting the head closer to the feet and the hands closer to the feet. Some people have enough curving action in the thoracic and cervical spine that they don't need to do this, but I'm still opening up. I noticed that the only little problem with "walking" the head was that the hair made the head slippery, whether it was located on the towel over the mat, or on the surface of the mat itself. But I did get a better curvature of the cervical spine, C1 through C7. Because of doing kapo so many times, I abbreviated Urdvha Danurasana. It's okay to sometimes make an asana the focus of your practice that day. Kapotasana was it for me today. Laruga wrote in her blog about surrendering to this pose. I guess I was influenced by reading it. I also find it funny that Boodiba called Kapotasana a condition. It's a condition serious enough, said Boodie, to merit requesting and obtaining a bulkhead seat in a plane.

One little tip on preparing for Supta Vajrasana. I learned this from Springy Sitarist in Berkeley and today L.N. expanded on it. You can spray your back a bit with water. Then you can spray the inside elbow of the left arm, and outside the elbow of the right arm. That helps when binding to the toes, in that the arms can slip over each other behind your back easier for a better grab. If that sounds too detailed, just spray around the left elbow and around the right elbow. It's also a good idea to put a towel over the toes so they won't slip from your fingers.


Practice Wednesday

Leigha N. was assisted by M. S. today. Wednesdays is when the shala is busiest. During Ustrasana, M. S. instructed me to move the pelvis more forward, more in a vertical alignment. When assisting me in Supta Vajrasana she commented on how color coordinated my new mat and towel were. I explained where I got them, and that I thought that they were less cushy than my previous setup. Previously I had an inexpensive sticky mat topped by a Manduka travel mat, topped by a Mysore rug. It may be true, she said, but the new set up is designed to make things stay and make the practice more balanced. I would agree that my practice felt more balanced today. But I better not carelessly fall, because it is not more cushier than the wood floor under it.

L.N. says that I'm putting strain on my wrists in Urdvha Danurasana when the elbows are not over the wrists and hands. She suggests doing three UD, coming to rest on the head in between, as they do in led classes in Mysore these days. Then I should do two more, making sure the chest is moving back and the elbows are aligning with the wrists, the hands straight, the feet pushing up. It may mean that the feet have to walk back towards the hands. Of course that corn-fuses me a bit because I thought one should walk the hands towards the feet, rather than the feet towards the hands. Doesn't walking the feet back in UD towards the hands affect the sacrum?

I practiced the dropbacks on the wall, with the elbow pushes. It seems that about 3'6" distance from the wall works best for me.

R., when he was visiting this weekend, asked me whether I practiced Saturdays, since I don't practice Mondays. No, I don't practice Saturdays. So frankly, I don't know what I should do about that. Maybe I should show up at the shala on Mondays and do yin yoga if that is what my body needs, or do a shorter practice. Of course, I would progress more if I practiced all 6 days every week, except for Saturdays and moon days.

make-up dharma

"There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Thomas Merton
I couldn't resist. Wise Albert was "making up" for being away visiting family by posting that short quote. I skipped practice Monday because I tend not to practice on Mondays, and Tuesday because it was moonday. That, despite that I bought a new Manduka Eko mat and an EQua towel at the YJ conference marketplace, which should have motivated me to practice. I slept overnight on the decision of whether to spend the money of the new mat and towel. It was offered at 15% discount and without shipping cost attached. I justified the purchase thinking that an architect needs to experiment with new materials. I realize that a new mat does not mean I will get the poses. My body has to allow it to happen. I'm not such a marketing drone that I would think that I saved $20, because I spent $100. Once I made the decision, the next biggest decision was the color combination. That's imporant to architects too. I chose the mat with night colored bottom, sand colored top, and the night colored towel. The moss colored mat is really beautiful too. They gave me a handtowel as a gift for buying the set.


Squash Soup

This is a variation of April's pumkin soup. She is so creative (go check her blog) that she has varied this soup to use it in portobello pizzas, as a topping for steamed vegetables, etc. I make this recipe with either sweet potato, pumkin or squash weekly. Since this has been a weekend to thank my yoga teachers, I'm taking a moment to thank my CRONista-teacher-friend April. Because a lot of the ingredients are canned, it helps someone like me, too busy to cut and pare the vegetables. Pacific Foods now has the vegetable broth in cup containers, so they keep in your cupboard until you need to use it.
  • 1 can squash (or pumkin, or sweet potato puree)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder

Mix all the ingredients in the container where it's going to be kept, with an electric mixer. Use as needed during the week. I put about 200g in a Tupperware container, adding brocolli and cherry tomatoes, then heat it to room temperature in the microwave it in the office, if I'm working late. This is a low calorie, nutrition dense recipe.

Sweet potato raw pate

I usually make two pates on weekends. Today the sweet potato pate turned out insanely delicious, well at least to my tastebuds. That is why I'm posting it. It's a raw food recipe. I eat this at lunch with another pate I make and 2 tablespoons of a commercially bought hummus, with the toppings of ground vegetable crackers and pumkin seeds.

Sweet potato raw pate

  • 1 carrot, peeled and cubed
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • fresh ginger, peeled and cubed, about 2" round
  • 1/4 red bell pepper
  • 1 artichoke head (from a canned in water source)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame tahini
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 teaspoons soy mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Gray Poupon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Process: chop up the ingredients up to the artichoke in the food processor with the S blade. Add the remaining ingredients and process until fully mixed. Place in a Tupperware container.

Comment: My food processor has sufficient power to process all the ingredients up to the artichoke. A smaller food processor needs the ingredients processed with the S blade a few at a time, then the ingredients mixed together in a separate bowl. I comment on that because I my mom prefers a smaller food processor in her kitchen and I broke her processor by putting all of the ingredients at once in her processor during the holidays. I already replaced it. But my food processor, which she and my dad gave me, has the highest horsepower in the Cuisinart line, and can chop all of the ingredients at once.

Practice Sunday

The birds accompanied me on the bus trip to Berkeley this morning. But they stopped chirping when a policeman stopped our bus driver. Apparently the bus had a short on the tail lights and the driver was driving at 60 mph in the highway in a 55 mph zone and the bus appeared to be swaying. It's a first for me to be in a bus stopped by a cop.

Reinaldo, one of my first ashtanga teachers, called me last night to say that he could visit and join me for practice in Berkeley. He's working in a project in the Bay area. I had not been to Springy Sitarist's shala since before the holidays, so it was nice to practice in the room. In Pasasana, I get the intuitive feeling that when one is about to wrap, the wrapping arm needs to be loose and I hope someone corrects me on this, but it seems that for the portion during which one is wrapping, the bandhas or all of the stomach area can be loose, so you can relax and wrap around your bent feet. I get this intuition because Springy Sitarist was instructing me to relax the arms and the stomach when he assisted me with that. In Bekasana, he instructed to relax the chest and and frame that was in contact with the floor while I pulled up. I did Kapo twice. Supta Vajrasana was so intense, that my mind was focused on the image of Shakyamuni Buddha when I was arched back in the last five breaths on the floor. Ha!

I attempted Dwi Pada on my own. At least I tried. My balancing is getting really good there. In a short time I will be able to hold it enough to get the right leg behind the left leg while balanced. I didn't come up to standing in Urdvha Danurasana. I need to practice that "walk hands inside feet" Mysorian instruction more. When I was arching backwards in dropbacks, Teacher asked me to drop all the way to the floor, to land on the tip of the hands. Well, I gave it a try, but it's still one of those places that scare me. He came by soon enough to help me fall. We also did the dropping to the crown of the head. In the final one, he had me get the hands as close to the feet after resting on my head for a bit, then asked me to extend the arms straight. They must have been bent because he instructed "arms straight" several times. Later on while meditating, while waiting for R. to finish his practice, Teacher stopped by and asked about Catherine's trip to India. I said I was sorry I didn't drop to the floor in dropbacks by myself, because I'm still not there. He said not to worry, he just was trying to push me a bit.

Well, this whole subject of dropbacks filled my weekend. I wrote to the other one of my first ashtanga teachers, Lewis R. in Orlando. I wasn't sure if he and his wife were coming to the YJ conference in SF. They sometimes go to those when they're held back East. In the email reply, he advised something that helped him to get dropbacks. He would stand three feet length from the wall, and drop back, each time coming to a lower portion of the wall. After a while, he was able to get sufficiently away from the wall and realize that he did not need it. I will try that this week.

After practice, R. and I went for coffee at the cafe near the shala. Talking to him was like carrying a conversation we were holding the previous day. But I had not seen him in two years. He recently moved to Carlsbad, where he can practice in Tim's studio. He also recently went to Mysore, where he practiced at the same time as Krista. All of us use to practice together in Orlando. If I could find a hotel project to design for a joint venture between an American firm and an Indian firm in India, that is how I could get to go and practice there. We talked about dropbacks. I think that Kiran in Tim's studio told R. what she learned from Matthew Sweeney regarding practicing for dropbacks by yourself against the wall. (Kiran, if you're reading, maybe you can correct this. And maybe Karen and Patrick can ask Matthew about this when they go to his training in Minnesota.) Okay, so it's good practice to do a dropback on the wall, but don't walk the hands one at a time on the wall, says Matthew. Rather, do a springing action with the elbows. Spring away from the wall. It's good for opening the chest, the thoracic spine. Also, the time to drop to the floor, is when, with hands extended back, your hands are at the level of your hips. Before that time it is not safe to drop to the floor. I want to try this springing against the wall this week at the shala. It's so nice to have these conversations. Hopefully we will get to practice together a few additional times if his work allows him to be in the Bay area.

Teacher's schedule while in Mysore

Teacher Catherine spent a month in Goa, where Sharath was teaching, and is now in Mysore. She writes that her daily schedule is as follows:
  • 3:00am Wake up – Meditation, Pranayama, a few warm-up stretches.
  • 4:00am Leave for the Shala.
  • 4:30am Shala doors open – practice begins. The Shala is packed, so the practices of dharana, dristi, and patience are of supreme importance.
  • 6:30am Finish practice and head for the chai stand. Drink several glasses of chai at dawn, my favorite time of day.
  • 7:00am Walk home, take a bucket shower (filling a bucket with hot water and pouring it over your head while sitting on a stool), wash clothes and hang them out on the line, and walk to Tina’s for breakfast.
  • 10:00am Prostration practice – I am working on the preliminary practices in the Tibetan Buddhist system, so I do full prostrations on the floor of my room – as if I didn’t already do enough chatarangas!
  • 11:00am Study and rest.
  • 1:00pm Lunch at Ganesh and Anu’s. Check email.
  • 2:00pm Tibetan language study (I brought my lessons with me), and reading – The Age of Kali, by William Dalrymple – essays about travel in India; Maximum City, a fantastic book about Mumbai; and A Search in Secret India, by Paul Brunton, about his travels in India and study with Ramana Maharshi in the 1920’s.
  • 6:00pm Meditation at dusk.
  • 7:00pm Evening bath, followed by passive stretches.
  • 8:00pm Evening meditation, followed by pranayama.
  • 8:30pm Sleep, unless the dogs start barking, the neighbors start quarreling, or the rickshaws start honking.
  • And so it goes! Saturday is the day off, and I sleep in until 6:00am!

That's inspiring. I bet one of her passive stretches is one she taught me of laying on two blocks to get the thoracic spine curving upwards. Honest Abe in our shala leaves for Mysore in two weeks. He is planning to be there three weeks. I could not begin to imagine when I would be able to go there. Of the two weeks vacation a year I get, I spend one with my family in Puerto Rico. So I may not be able to go to India until I retire. However, I am happy for other people's opportunities.


Urban slice of life, episode II

That beautiful laundrette I reported about last week? While my nose was stuck in a book this morning, someone reached inside one of the wash loads and took my bed sheets. Well, the joke is on that person, because the top sheet had a hole in it and I was planning to replace the set after three years of use. The person's thievery only precipitated the time of replacing them and caused me to need to get to Bed Bath & Beyond when I had not scheduled to do so today. It's a good thing I'm reading Urban Dharma, because this is an example of the drama of urban life. I still like the laundrette, even if it has strange characters following your every move in order to do these conniving things right under your nose. Next time I'll stay close to the clothes all of the time. I'm lucky I did not lose any of my clothes, which I had replaced at the beginning of the year.

This morning I went for meditation and service to Zen Center. The laundrette thievery reminds me of how my bicycle was broken into twice when I used it as transportation to get to Zen Center on two daylong retreats. I would come out with a heavenly feeling, having given my mind a restful vacation, to face the reality of theft. These days I take the bus and walk the remainder of the way to get there.

Inside the Bali Shala

Inside the Bali Shala
Originally uploaded by rsettles

The Bali Shala where Dena and Jack conduct yoga worshops

The "E" word

Ursula mused in a funny blog entry whether her boyfriend, or men in general, have an easier time of being enlightened, because he seems to not be thinking much while her brain is going all over the place. I came across this paragraph in the book I'm reading, City Dharma, by Arthur Jeon, page 101 that seems apropos.

"So many spiritual teachings talk about practicing to get to wakefulness or enlightenment. (I avoid the word "enlightenment," as it comes with the baggage of being in fully realized awakened awareness 24/7, all the time, with no slips. I haven't met anybody who is fully realized, and who needs that pressure anyway?) But the whole idea of practice, whether in the form of chanting, meditation, or trance dancing, in order to become enlightened in the future is suspect. Whether the practice is enjoyable or incredibly byzantine, it may work, it may be fun, but it isn't necessary. The only time you can actually be awake is right now! You can't wake up in the future, so what are you practicing for? It's like saying you're going to practice being human. Wait-you already are human."

Not speaking about enlightment, but it must be like going close to heaven, when Ross went to practice with Dena and Jack in Bali, he practiced in a room which opened to views of rice paddies. Here is a picture of a paddie from bali-pictures.com. It looks like heaven on earth.


Guar gum

Annabella asked what guar gum is, since I recommended eating puddings made with guar gum. Guar gum is primarily the ground endosperm of guar beans. The guar seeds are dehusked, milled and screened to obtain the guar gum. It is typically produced as a free flowing, pale, off-white colored, coarse to fine ground powder. It has 8 times the water-thickening potency of cornstarch. Warren Taylor adds to it commercial micronized baker's powder cellulose insoluble fiber. The mix is is used to create puddings that makes you feel full, are low in calories, can be mixed with flavorings and fruits, are lactose-free, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, sugar-free, low net carbs and fat-free. If you email him he'll give you more information. It is a pure and safe product to eat. You have to consume it with water because it is thick and expands in your stomach. Also, it is easier to digest if you are a person that eats dairy (yogurt, milk, or kefir.) If you don't eat dairy, then I would suggest taking a bean-zyme (beano) pill with the pudding, to aid digesting it. That is because it tends to cause rumbling in the stomach of people who don't eat dairy. If you read the wikepedia article linked to above, there is a list of nutritional benefits at the end. You can email Warren for more information at warren dot taylor at earthlink dot net. The image is from a creator of guar gum products in India.

Today's advice

L.N.'s observations: In Navasana, straighten the legs, pull up and tighten the hamstrings. In between the lifts, lift the assembly as if you were going to jump back, since you have the strength. In Marichyasana D, the foot of the leg you're wrapping around should be parallel to the mat. Get the head to the floor, eventually get the chin to the floor. Relax the neck to help the neck get to the floor. In Garba Pindasana, when about to begin to roll, bring the hands to the tip of the chin, roll the neck towards the chest (as if it was jalabara bhanda) then begin to roll. The advantage of rolling the neck inwards like this is that the spine is curved and it helps in rolling. You want a rolling figure. Otherwise, the back is flat and it's more difficult to roll. When you're about to do Kukutasana, straighten the hands.

When about to be assisted in dropbacks, I asked Teacher whether instead of resting the head on the floor in between the six Urdvha Danurasanas on the floor I should be walking the hands towards the feet. She agreed. After doing handstand with her spotting me, she said, explaining with hand signals, "You get into handstand, I straighten you, but you go like this." (She did a little "who-hoo" sound and lowered the five fingers in her hand. "You get into handstand, I straighten you and you go like this...". She said it a third time, explaining it with the banana boat shaped fingers. My face was probably smiling and blank. So I went to the wall to do the exercise she suggested, getting my hands close to the wall. I got up into handstand. "But the head is in the way, the dristhe is not on the floor." I said. "Well, the exercise on the wall is meant to get you to focus on the bandhas to get the feet to straighten. The head is in the way, so you look outwards. In this exercise it's not about balancing but about straightening, because you are not straight on the floor."

Anyhow, as I was doing the preparation for shoulder stand, a position that has a name that escapes me now, chikita? pritikita? - a variation of savasana - I wanted to laugh, realizing the patience Teacher has with my banana boated handstand after all these years. But instead my body started shaking and shuddering with laughter-effect. She may have noticed, probably thinking, Oh my God, what's going on? Maybe this is why they say teachers are very intuitive about our mental stuff.


The marketplace at the YJ conference is open to the public

There is a Yoga Journal Conference in S. F. is this weekend. I'm not registered for it, but since their Yoga Marketplace is open to the public, I might visit that. It would be fun to see different types of mats. Also I need to replace my zafu and zabuton cushions, since I accidentally threw the zabuton out when I moved to the new apartment. I might find some there. My coworker is planning to attend a kirtan. During another YJ conference here some time ago, I saw a lot of yogis carrying what looked like supersized rolls of purple yoga mat material on Muni trolleys. I assume you would roll out your desired size and cut it. I imagine these people ran shalas somewhere. There were lots of yoga clothes clad people all over the financial district, which is the area of the hotel where the conference is held. The vegetarian restaurants were jammed. A yoga teacher of mine decided to throw a backyard party this Saturday for yoga peeps. Hmm, I wonder if there might be some celebrity yogi sighting there. Not that I would recognize teachers outside the ashtanga world.

Janus Sirsasana C, or what they taught me 6 years ago

How old is my practice? I've been practicing these series 6 years, but I'm going on 7. It sounds like a little kid saying, "I'm 3 years old, but I'm going on 4." Today I had one of those going to basics moments, which with L.N. are a laugh filled delight. Since I've been a brat with my yoga practice this week, I thought the best way to reign in my inner brat was to do Primary Series. When Janus Sirsana C came, L.N. came by. My alignment was wrong and I was grabbing the foot of the extended leg. She said that the toes, the shin and the knee of the bent leg need to be 45 degrees to the straight leg. She suggested a block to prop up my sitting bones to get the right alignment. I mentioned that I was confused because Seven Pointed Lotus had seen that my alignment was wrong, so she had set up the toes and the feet, and stay upright. Then K. said to not worry if I fell, to make sure I grabbed the feet in a forward bend. So L.N. explained about the varying degrees between the relationship of the bent leg and the straight leg in Janus Sirsasanas. It's 90 degrees for Janus Sirsasana A, 85 degrees for Janus Sirsasana B and 45 degrees for Janus Sirsana C. I said I didn't know about the 45 degrees in C. That's where the question about how long have I been practicing came, and that its the first thing I would have been told. "Yes," I said, "I forgot. But I'm love degrees, I can get this." Well, I started to bend the leg with all the proper alignment, but something was in the way. "What do I do with the ankle?" "It needs to be in front of the pelvic bone, in front of the crown jewels." Well I managed to get the alignment, but had to run to the bathroom to relieve myself afterwards. It's a good thing that this asana is good for helping the prostate in men.

Near that point, I saw Surfer Guy doing Prasarita Padotanasana A and realized that I forgot to do the Prasaritas today. I asked Teacher if I should go back to the Prasaritas and continue from there as my practice today. She said no, to continue. She would not tell anyone. (Except I'm telling everyone else here how I forgot 4 essential asanas today.)

In Marichyasana D, she observed that I push the leg that is bent to one side to get the arm around it and wrap. But she said that after binding, I should make the effort to return the bent knee to vertical. As this happens, the sitting bone of that leg also starts moving towards the floor rather than remaining so far in the air. Getting the knee vertical, over the ankle, she said, helps reduce strain on the knee.

Somehow time flew by, because I had to stop at Supta Padangustasana. On the leg opening of this asana, I tried to see if I could open up the Tochanter Major and get a better extension. For some reason, I feel that I got a good extension today. I did a bridge, then went into the last three finishing poses. After Savasana, I went to the wall to do handstand. L.N. came by and asked, "I'm curious, didn't you just do Savasana? Why are you doing a handstand?" I replied, "I'm sorry, I'm being a brat in practice this week. I thought I should practice what you said yesterday about getting really close to the wall when practicing handstand." Well, it was a bit loopy of me to be doing handstand then, and the truth is that little brat me didn't practice yesterday, while I was steaming about my weight.

Today was a morning where most of the practitioners showing before 7:30 where guys - Surfer Guy, Windmill Captain, The Cyclist, El Crucero, Quiet Strength. Some days the ratio of women to men is even, and sometimes it's mostly women showing up for practice.

I had a brief discussion with a Zen priest. I thought that sitting Zazen was calming the fluctuations of the mind. But she said that in the Zoto Zen tradition, our devotion is to sitting. Sometimes the mind is in a crazy Buddha state, so we observe that. Sitting sometimes causes the mind to calm, but there is no guarantee it will be calm. I'm deciding to move the bookshelf in my apartment to one side, so I can arrange again permanently my tatami mat with a zafu and zafuton, so I can practice meditation at least once daily, and not just on weekends. However, my yoga practice is meditative, particularly if I'm focusing on the dristhe and on the breath. That's something I'd like to discuss with her. This priest does yoga, so she understand that perspective as well.


Weight fluctuations affect practice

CJ writes about the challenges in her practice because of wrist pain. There is wisdom in her observations, just as there is wisdom in the writings of those who experience knee problems (Cody, Dave). They write about how they modify their practice in response to that. It makes me reflect that for me what challenges my practice is weight. Gain a few pounds and a binding asana is a joke played on me. I have had my share of musculo-skeletal problem areas. During the last months of 2007 I injured my S-I joint area. Now that area seems healed. But weight gain is a bigger problem for me. That is where practicing calorie restriction is essential for my yoga practice. I've started 2008 five pounds heavier than last year. I've lost and gained three pounds in the last two weeks. I behave well calorie consumption-wise during the week, and slack off (or eat somewhat ad-lib, as we CRONistas are wont to say) on weekends. But also, my body has become more efficient. It needs less calories to stay at the same weight. So before to maintain a weight of 130lbs, I needed about 1700 calories a day. Now to get there and maintain it, I seem to need about 1350 calories a day. If I try to consume 1700 calories, which I can identify by entering what I eat into the software, I gain weight.

I wrote a big comment yesterday in my blog in response to a question from lasksmi about my current practice. And now I'm feeling kind of sheepish and humbly. I want to make some demands about being allowed to practice advanced poses, yet I'm not managing basic things in my body that will allow me to get those poses nailed. Uhm. I hate that word - nailed. Too many references to the cross.


Practice today

Today I did Second Series to Dwi Pada. During Danurasana, L.N. said that the dristhe is all the way continually the nose (nasagrai). For some reason I thought that as you reached the highest lift, you gazed at the ceiling, but she's right, the gaze is to the tip of the nose.

When doing Kapotasana, she observed that I tend to splay my shoulders in such a way that it can cause a kink. She says there needs to be an inward rotation to the arms, not outward. To explain what she meant, she had me hold her ankles when I reached the floor. Then she was able to rotate the arms correctly. She said it was an inward motion to the arms, bringing the arms in as if I was going to check the smell of an armpit. That's a funny reference, but it helps remember the instruction. This keeping the elbows and arms inwards also applies to Urdvha Danurasana. Snow White helped me during Supta Vajrasana. I had not seen her since December.

Since my handstand tends to be banana-boated, she suggested that before going to assisted dropbacks, I practice handstand on the wall, getting the hands way close to the wall, and get the feeling of how the body needs to be straight and the bandhas engaged. Before assisting me on Urdva Danurasana, she had me practice dropback on the wall, quite far from the wall, but falling on the wall with my arms. During assisted dropbacks, there was a lot of repeat instruction of transferring the weight to the feet, moving the feet forward, falling with the hands as close to the feet as possible, then rocking back, then forward, then keeping the chest lifted, the hands dangling when coming up.


Panoply of smells

It seems that I practice yoga 5 days a week now, regardless of the moon schedule. It's hard for me to get to the shala on Mondays. So I thought if it was a restorative day, I'd try putting some almond oil over different muscles before lathering in the shower. I think it is therapeutic, but as the day goes on, I can smell the almond on the skin. In addition, I thought I would try today the cologne recommended by my neighbor, who works for Channel, Platinum Egoiste. I bought some on Saturday. It smells great. And if that was not enough, since my coworker in the cubicle next to mine is a fan of hand lotions that smell, I thought I would buy Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy Orange Ginger hand lotion. I put some on my hands before beginning at the computer. So I feel like a pharmacy at the moment.

Tony sent a link to this great picture (below) of him doing Mayurasana. And Dr. Al Pater linked to this article by Dr. Rosedale that explains in laymans terms how calorie restriction helps avoid a lot of problems in the body, in particular the problems caused by Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). AGEs are everywhere - in crunchy snacks, fried foods, baked goods - any products that have been overheated in the process of cooking them. In layman's terms, they form a caramelization inside your body that is at cellular level and which the body cannot eliminate. It causes complications with diabetes and glaucoma. As the article says, it kind of leads to a caramelization of your body.


Tango time in the UK

Well, it may not be "tango time in the UK", but that was the mental hook I used to remind myself of the examples of right speech, one of the five precepts that lay Buddhist practitioners take. In order to be helpful, your communications are to be Timely, Truthful, Useful and Kind (TTUK).

The morning started by going to my usual shala today instead of to Berkeley, so that I could get in on time to a daylong Zen meditation retreat. L.N. observed that every time my hands where on the mat during the Surya Namaskars, the left hand was about a few inches in front of the right hand. We figured out that it is related to how my left shoulder is always popping out in my back. This has never been diagnosed, nor would I like to have someone medically name the fact that my body tends to do that. Scoliosis? Yikes, I would not want to think of it. I've know that my left shoulder is usually further out than my left since I started yoga. Maybe I carried too many heavy books on one shoulder during my first years in the university. One yoga teacher identified the problem. Another teacher would push the left shoulder down during downward dog. A certified teacher in a weekend workshop pulled the left hand outward to meet align with the right hand. I think that I just need to look up once my hands are on the floor and adjust them if they are not paired up.

Today I did my usual practice for Sunday, which is half Primary, half Second up to Dwi Pada, until I can get Dwi Pada perfectly on my own. I'm still at the threshold of doing it perfectly. In Supta Vajrasana, one minor detail is that Teacher suggested putting the towel that I place over the bound lotus feet over the toes as well. This helps in grabbing the toes. They don't slip because of how sweaty I am because the towel is over the toes. During her workshop here, she has been pleasantly surprised to find out that I can keep the binding of the feet when going up and down, since three years ago I could not do that. I don't know how long ago I began being able to do that. Springy Sitarist and Seven Pointed Lotus have helped me open up my body so that my practice has improved these past years.

QE2 did half of Second Series and most of Third Series nearby. Anyone that can do Durvasana deserves a bouquet of flowers. Her attention to deep ujahi breathing starts the moment she is on the mat. I'm sure it helps her in doing all of those challenging leg behind the head poses.

I then got ready for the meditation seminar, led by Zen priest Jeffrey Schneider. I got a soymilk latte and oatmeal cookie for breakfast at Starbucks. When leaving the store, one of the meditation participants opened the door right into me. I was stunned as I looked at the drink spilled over my jacket. He excused himself, saying there was a reflection on the door and he could not look in. The Starbucks at 18th and Castro in San Francisco needs a different door configuration. The place is jammed pack the entire day and I can't see how that small door fulfills its needs. I'm sure what happened to me happens daily to others.

So the retreat was on the subject of the five precepts in Buddhism that lay practitioners, as well as nuns and monks take: do not kill, do not take anything that is not given to you, do not misuse sexuality, do not use false speech, and abstain from intoxication. There was a lot of discussion in the teaching portions of the retreat on each of these. The first one leads to justifications for being vegetarian, since one would not want to hurt sentient beings. I'm glad that with respect to abstaining from intoxicants, the teacher said that it did not refer to drinking a glass of wine with dinner, but drinking a whole bottle of wine and making that the dinner. I like to drink a glass of wine once in a while, usually with coworkers or family. The rule also applies to using drugs.

He was talking from the Zen Buddhist perspective. Some other Buddhist traditions, particularly those of South Asia, are far stricter, particularly to monastics. For example, with respect to not misusing sexuality, monastics in certain orders cannot engage in sexual acts of any sort. The teacher explained the history behind why Zen priests can marry. In the 1800s, the Japanese government wanted to have some control over Buddhist monasteries. Instead of letting them be controlled by celibate monastics, they instituted that the clergy marry and pass the managing of the monasteries to their male offspring. So contemporary Zen monastics benefit from a government edict.

The only other precept I would develop further is the one that heads this blog entry. It is my hope that when I make a blog entry, it is timely, truthful, useful and kind. This is not a comment on humorous blog entries, which may twist truth for a comic effect. Good humor is necessary. But it is my hope that I'm following right speech by writing about the subjects important to me, ashtanga yoga, calorie restriction and architecture, doing so in a timely, truthful, useful and kind manner.


Urban slice of life

I dressed in urban chic to go do laundry in the 'hood, with a San Francisco 49ers cap, a black Adidas hoodie, black cargo pants and Nike clogs. I dress similarly to go to yoga in the mornings. It makes me feel inconspicuous. I laughed when I realized that as I dragged my laundry in a rolling duffel bag, I looked not very differently than the person who slept on the church's steps, woke up and started dragging his rolling bag. He probably carries all of his possessions in his. We cannot differentiate ourselves from those around us. It reminds me of what I read this morning in City Dharma, by Arthur Jeon:

"I am you.
You are me.
We are they.
All is consciousness." (p.31)

That helps stave off the neurosis of city living. Another gem in the book is Jeon's observations, "see if you experience peacefulness when you stop believing your thoughts to be real. Use your mind as the tool it is, designed to solve problems and be creative, rather than a swamp generating the mosquitoes of neurotic thought."

As I reached O'Farrell street, a stoned mate called out, "Hey Bro!" and wanted me to reciprocate a street hand salutation. Another bro called out "Hola guero." (Spanish slang for fair skinned guy) while crossing the street.

So I settled for doing laundry at Joey's Ice Cream, Expresso, Sausage, Wash n Dry, a very clean and bright washateria. That's as humorous a name as The Squat and Gobble Cafe and Creperie in a different neighborhood. These funny names for businesses reminds me that in the era when convenience stores began, in my town someone not to be outdone in naming his store, called it Prime Meat Discount Cash and Carry Superette. With that name, surely there would be something there you could find to your liking.

At the washateria I saw some guys whose ethnic background and language I could not identify. I found out that they were speaking Mayan and where from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. They were very gentle and reminded me of my Guatemalan Mayan roomate of one year when I lived in South Beach. As I transferred my clothes to the dryer, I noticed that the local policeman was reading my City Dharma book, which I had placed on a washer. I didn't interrupt him, hoping he would benefit from whatever he read from it. I enjoyed my morning so far.


Nice practice today

Primary Practice this morning has left me feeling in a meditative mood all morning, as if I needed to continue the gaze to the tip of the nose while at work. It's a good feeling. Today Leigha commented on my Chakrasana, for which I've been cheating by doing it rolling from seating. I explained that I had hurt my neck and was afraid of jamming it. That didn't bother her, but instead she asked me to focus on landing in Chaturanga, rather than thinking about bringing the feet way up and back. She had me get into Halasana, then asked me to shoot my legs back and land in Chaturanga, as she assisted by lifting me up a bit. This was useful because although I went back to sitting up then going into Chakrasana, I concentrated on what she said - shooting the legs back and landing in Chaturanga. That took the mind and the weight off the neck.

In assisted dropbacks I put into effect what I learned yesterday and did pretty well. In the handstand that followed, I still need to focus on strengthening the legs once aloft. I need to have the shoulders above the hands (rather than being far away as if I'm going to sprint into it). Then I can float the feet up. Once aloft, the feet need to engage, the bhandas need to strengthen, and I need to work on not getting a banana boat shape to my handstand.

I'm in a bit of a quandary with myself about dropping back. I remember that three years ago, with Leigha teaching, Ross put into practice all of the things we have learned about dropping back - weight on the feet, chest lifting, hands landing close to the feet, etc., and for the first time, he landed on his hands unassisted on his mat. When he landed, he said, "Oh!?" as if saying, "was that all there was to that?" I mean, he didn't come back up by himself that day, but it was the first time he went back. I'm sure he comes up to standing from Urdhva Danurasana and does dropbacks unassisted these days, but that was the beginning. No one can answer for me, but I'm asking myself, what am I to lose if I try dropping back by myself. I haven't come up by myself and I don't know if coming up to standing has to happen before you drop back. But, am I afraid of jamming a finger and having trouble using a keyboard afterwards? Am I afraid of landing on my head and getting a concussion of some sort? Possibly. But if I've been practicing all of these years for the time when I'll do this stuff unassisted, I am asking myself, can I go ahead and land on the mat in a dropback?


Mindfulness in eating

Robin wrote an inspired post regarding mindfulness in eating entitled, "The Examined Life". I track my nutrition, and on a typical day, recently, my caloric intake was less than 1700, around 1340. I'm working to lose the 4 pounds that I gained over the holidays. Yoga is helping. But it seems also that my body is becoming more efficient so that I need less calories. Well actually if I eat about 1700 calories, I gain a little bit. My metabolism is slow. Other CRONistas (Okay April, I will use your wording for us calorie restricters) have written that over time, their bodies adjust to the caloric levels that they set, so that they gain weight eating the same calories that helped them reach a desired target. Matt said as much.

From my C-O-M crunch it would appear that I'm not reaching my nutrition goals this week. Tony and Deborah might call my attention. But tomorrow I'll make sure to take my supplements. I don't enter my supplements in into Cron-O-Meter because it makes the sections on vitamins and minerals black out. It can't handle the doses found in supplements. Also, since the current thinking in the CR lists is to attempt to get your RDAs from your food only, I have stopped taking supplements on a regular basis. I take them occasionally. However, I think that since I'm vegetarian and mostly vegan, I need to take the supplements without fail. A quick look at my crunch today would say that I did not meet my RDAs through the food I ate.

For those who don't know my typical diet, pudding consists of 4 tsps guar gum-micronized fiber mix, 1/3c kefir, 1/3c oat milk and 1/3c pomegranate juice. I get the guar gum mix from Warren Taylor. Breakfast is 1/3 cup of berries and 1/4 cup of walnuts and filberts. Morning snack is two pieces of Dean's Megaleather (vegetarian jerkey) (about 70 cals). Typical lunch is 75g of sweet potato-carrot pate, 125 g of artichoke-carrot-blackeye pea hummus, dried vegetable crackers, and another pudding. Snack is carrots with peanut butter. Dinner is 200g of pumpkin or squash soup with 1/3 cup broccoli flowerets and five cherry tomatoes. I measured today to make sure I was correct in the amounts. This is how I eat on most weekdays. Sometimes I substitute a lunch with 1 1/2 cup of rice with 2 tbls of commercially prepared hummus. And some weeks I make flaxseed and tomato crackers.

Tony has warned me that repetition diets may cause problems. That may be true. However, the foods in my regimen are among those considered the healthiest - high in nutrients while low in calories. They include those stalwarts such as berries, sweet potato, mushrooms, kale, spinach, artichokes, legumes, dairy based kefir, carrots and nuts. The megaleather contains the first five I mentioned. It would seem from this post that I'm doing a moderate to extreme version of CR, but I consider that I do a moderate CR and I have a slow metabolism. Also, some days I "sin" and end up sneaking a bakery baddie such as a vegan pecan cookie or brownie. I do worry at times that the balance of Carbs to Protein to Fats is 40 20 40. But the source of fats is the nuts and possibly the tahini in the pates. I don't add oil to my recipes.

Attention to breath

The Second Series practice is helping me shed the holiday onset pounds. Also, I noticed that focusing on keeping the mouth closed during the entire practice and breathing through the nose makes me concentrate so much on the breath that there was little room for worrying. I noticed that when setting up for Pincha Mayurasana. I was not focusing on unease regarding getting into it, but rather on breathing. It reminds me that when you swim, you have to breathe at certain intervals and in a certain way and if you do so, you don't get tired. Similarly, in ashtanga, if you focus on doing the deep ujhayi breathing, the breath becomes the focus, and the practice becomes easier or at least the focus is moved away from fear. I did Second Series up to Nakrasana, my current stopping point. Teacher observed that I did Yoginidrasana particularly well today. Kapotasana and Dwi Pada were other stories. The LBH poses are a bit rusty at the moment.

Leigha gave a lot of instruction at assisted dropbacks time. My arms need to fall in line with the feet, not way open. I should not fall back like a tree in the forest. Instead, the legs are firm as I begin dropping back, the torso bends, the weight is transferred to the feet, the chest lifts. As I near the floor I lift the hands that have been in prayer and place them on the floor quickly, and as close to the feet as possible. Then I rock backwards, then forwards to come back up. The arms relax as I come up, the chest comes back lifted. I need to keep the Urdva Danurasana upward lift of the chest as I come up. The head is the last part to come up. She asked me to observe how well The Cyclist kept his chest in an upward bow as he came up from the assisted dropback. It's fun to be invited to see how another practitioner does something particularly well. For me it means, time to get the glasses on. Most of my practice is in a dreamy haze without my spectacles. It's amazing how The Cyclist's practice has improved in a year's time.


Yoga Sutras Study Group

There is a Patanjali Yoga Sutras Study Group starting, occuring the Second and Fourth Sundays every month from 4:00 – 6:00 PM, beginning this Sunday, January 13, 2008. (Frank S. prepared this announcement.)

Location: alternating between San Francisco and San Rafael. Maps, directions, topics, and more details can be found at www.rainbowbody.com/sutrastudygroup.htm All who are interested in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are welcome. Bring your favorite copy of the Yoga Sutras or download from the web.

This will be a thematic approach with topics decided by the group members. The approach will be experiential (practice oriented) as distinct from a theoretical, philosophical, or academic rendering of the Yoga Sutras. We will sit in silent meditation for the last 10 minutes.

Jan. 13 & Feb. 10, 284 Union St., San Rafael (Carpooling suggested)
Jan. 27 & Feb. 24, 2238 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
The RSVP information is located in the linked webpage.

Back in the saddle

I was back in the saddle this morning, but without a stellar performance. (The image is of John Wayne's, from here. New Yorkers possibly tend to think we San Franciscans still live in the wild west, so there.) I resumed my Second Series practice, standing sequence followed by Pasanana, today up to Yoginidrasana. I'm sorry to say that Pasasana was a laugh. I need to lose those 4 pounds I gained over the holidays so I can bind again. During the practice I was stiff, since I had not done this series in about a month. OK, today I feel like a yoga crim, since this practice was taken from me three weeks ago. However, my regular teacher lets me do the practice this way. She's seen my practice over three years and felt it was okay for me to progress. Am I wrong to think that if I practice Second Series by itself it will improve, rather than doing Primary to Kapotasana until Kapotasana is perfect? That's a koan, it does not need to be answered. But really, if you keep practicing many asanas, under the eye of teachers, won't the time come when you will actually improve and be able to do them correctly? Ouch, I shouldn't talk about that. But really, would you not agree that those of us who sit forward on a computer all day, hunched forward, benefit from the chest expanding of Second Series, regardless that one might not reach the full expression of each of those asanas? I mean we're talking about one body, hunched forward, in need of contrasting this motion by chest opening exercises. Okay, I'll shut up. But before I do so, Second Series really helps me keep my weight down also, so there are more benefits. The effort to do it is so great that the pounds shed off. So there, let me have my practice. It's for my health. It's not about ego. Please? (laugh). Thanks! Sending love and peace your way.

Honest Abe got his hands to his jaws in Garbha Pindasana, the full expression of the asana, and then L.N. assisted him in the rolling. The rolling in this asana when done correctly is quite funny, isn't it? I confess I've never given the attempt of trying to roll while having the hands all the way up to both sides of the ears. But then, my leg muscles are big and I don't typically get the hands past the chin. I was going to attempt to do Chakrasana today correctly without the extra rolling from seating. It so hapenned that the timing coincided with Surfer Guy doing Prasarita Padottanasana A adjacently to me, and although I'm sure he was focusing on his dristhe, I felt that if I goofed, he would notice. He teaches also so I felt a bit self concious. So I cheated with the rolling motion so I could move on.

Later on I shared with Moustache Blanc what I learned about the importance of breathing through the nose. He tends to breathe a lot through his mouth, then loses his energy. But he suffers from allergies that make it difficult in the morning to breathe through the nose. He says he's been finding natural remedies at the natural foods co-op for diminishing congestion. I'm sorry about the condition of someone being congested while practicing in the morning. I find that limiting my dairy consumption, and limiting foods that are highly congestive such as wheat products help to not have so much mucus. People who eat diets high in animal proteins tend to have more mucus, from what I have read. He's pescatarian, so he seems to have a healthy diet for yoga. I guess some people have a tendency for allergies and maybe they need to use products like claritin to help alleviate them.

La Margarita had moved to the East Bay and had stopped practicing with us, but she was there today. The first thing she does is go into a peaceful meditation before practicing. She's lovely. Enough with my reporting. Maybe I'm noticing everyone because I had been away about a month. As I left the room, Seven Pointed Lotus' hubby entered. Would you know I greeted him by the wrong name, Dale? It's a good thing he's not offended by the name; he thinks Dale sounds like a powerful name.


Last Sunset of 2007 - Half Moon Bay, CA

Last Sunset of 2007 - Half Moon Bay, CA
Originally uploaded by vgane

Amazing sunset pictures taken by my friend V.


I'm having trouble getting on with my yoga schedule. I was a bit congested overnight and used a nasal spray. It had the same effect antihistamines have on me - it knocked me out from waking up to go to yoga. Hopefully I'll return to the shala tomorrow. Leigha Nicole is teaching and I don't want to miss practicing with her. I know it's a moon day today, but I also missed Sunday and Monday. Too many "holidays".

The same story goes with my calorie restriction. It's amazing that 10 days of holidays can pack 4 pounds on me, but to lose them takes longer than 10 days.


Refinements of the practice

Today's practice was a led Primary Series class with Noah and Kimberly, their last class during their visit to AYSF. I'm very grateful for their teaching and I wished I had more time to practice with them, but I had to travel away for the holidays. I'm amazed at the little refinements that I picked up today. One of these are details that contrast to what other teachers teach, but I'll come to that in a moment. There was a lot of requests to reach the full expression of the asanas, which in some can be challenging.

They reminded us of the dristhe in each asana. The dristhe in most cases is the nose. This conjures up the question of what is the correct way to focus your eyes on the nose. I sometimes would look left, so that my right eye would see the tip of the nose. I feel that if I train both eyes towards the tip of the nose, it would make me cross eyed. One of my eyes is stronger than the other and if I'm not careful, my left eye can be a bit lazy in focusing. So the idea of purposely focusing both eyes on the nose does not make sense .)<>(. So I feel that this instruction means to look in the direction of the nose, at least with one eye.

In Pada Hastasana, K. instructed me to straighten the legs, no bending of the knees here. In Parivrtta Trikonasana, they instructed us to have the foot on the back of the mat 90 degrees to the one in the front. I'm probably sloppy with that and found that if I do it exactly that way I have a better balance in the asana. In both Utthita Parsva Konasana and Parivrtta Parsva Konasana, the dristhe is the tip of all of the fingers. Also both arms, whether it's the one supporting you on the floor or the one extended need to be straight - extend them straight.

In the beginning of Utthita Trikonasana and Utthita Parsvakonasana, I have been instructed by different teachers in San Francisco, one of them an authorized teacher, to start and end in angeli mudra. Kimberly was instructing to start and end in samastitihi, looking like Pathabhi Jois in his picture in samastitihi. She instructed this by demonstrating it nonverbally, although her arms would slap her thighs for an emphasis. This is interesting. You see, teachers that have been teaching this system for more than 35 years, like David Williams, would agree with this instruction. It was he who commented, and people don't throw a brick at me, this is what he said, that he thought the angeli mudra inserted here came from California to make the practice seem more spiritual. I also heard something similar from Lino Miele. Sharath may have changed it a bit. The practice used not to have the angeli mudra occurring in the standing sequence poses. So frankly I'm going to have to have a plan. If I'm in front of Seven Pointed Lotus or Springy Sitarist, I'm going to have to do the mudra. If I'm not in front of them, I don't have to do it. But then, they are the ones I practice in front of weekly. Any thoughts, people? Bindifry, (0v0), Karen, laksmi, Carl, Boodi, Vanessa, Cody, Elise .... This is one moment when I hope my teachers might read my blog entry. In the Prasarita Padottanasanas, they asked us to extend the legs as far as necessary to make it possible to get the head all the way to the floor. To me, it feels that one leg is in Poland and the other one in France when I reach the head to the floor. I can also negotiate it better in A and D, where the hands are close to the floor for support, than in B and C. In Utthita Parvottanasana I surrendered and got the chin to the chin. I still lack the full leg extension and leg-raised-high mode in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. In Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, they asked us to get the head to touch the standing foot somewhere. I can manage to get the head close to the standing foot on the first side, but on the right I have difficulty even just grabbing the toe behind the back, so expecting to get the head to the standing leg will be a long term project.

In Purvottanasana, it actually relaxed me to focus the dristhe on the nose and I was able to get a better lift of the chest. In Ardha Baddha padma Paschimottanasana, the instruction was to get the head to the extended foot. I can get the front of my head to the foot, not the chin in this one. But I confess that the effort to do so gives me a stomach cramp. Since it had happened before, I wasn't surprised when it happened today, so I did not panic. This cramp does not occur in any other forward bend. It may have to do with the combination of extended and bent leg of this asana.

Janus Sirsasanas, explained N, implies extended leg. K. noticed that after setting up the bent leg I tend to grab the foot of the extended leg one hand at a time. So she instructed me to grab the foot with both hands at the same time, in order to build strength. That is a very empowering instruction. The bent foot in Janus Sirsasana A is 90 degrees to the extended foot, and 85 degrees to the extended foot in Janus Sirsasana B. Believe me, that difference makes it easier to fold forward in B when you are resting the back of your foot on your perineum and bending forward. In Janus Sirsasana C, I have been doing for a long time a modification of setting up the foot so it has the correct angle. That leaves me looking forward and not bending forward. It was what my regular teacher had given me. K. instructed to go ahead and grab the extended foot, even if I fell to one side. Boy, I could feel the pressure on those bent toes, pero ni modo.

A silent instruction K. gave me by demonstration is that when I cross the legs at the conclusion of a seated asana, I need to curve the toes. It looks like the toes of a ballet dancer when standing on the toes. I guess that helps with curving them to get them through the legs when jumping back.

In Marichyasana B, they instructed us to get the head to the floor as the final expression of the asana. OK, will attempt to. In Marichyasana C, they instructed us to set up the wrapping and grabbing of the arms behind the legs in one breath. Boy, they sure know where we practitioners take our time. In Navasana, K. mentioned that it was really important to have the legs and the arms straight, even if the back was uneven and I collapsed. It would eventually build strength in the back. That is interesting. I guess Seven Pointed Lotus knows that one of my psoas muscles constricts and makes me do this asana lop sided, so she instructs me to bend the legs if I have to at the beginning, then extend the legs as much as I can. But K. was instructing on extending the legs and arms all at once. I wonder if I may have to discuss this with SPL when she returns? She wrote a lovely email about her practice schedule in Goa, where Sharath is teaching. But I digress.

I know that in Kurmasana you're supposed to extend the legs. I guess the feet when the legs are extended properly end up slightly hovering in the air. I have had SPL actually lift my feet so I can get the feeling of it. But my legs stay a bit bent in this one, so I don't get that lift yet. Another refinement to work towards. In Garbha Pindasana, the hands, once threaded through the lotus bound feet, should come to your ears. I thought it was the jaw, but I heard the hands should come up towards the ears. I'm lucky to get the fingers to touch on each side of the chin, but I'll work on that. And when you start rolling before Kukkutasana, you are supposed to bring the hands, folded together, touching the chin, and keep them there as you go up and down. Wow, I can get them in the general direction of the chin, but I haven't tried touching the chin and keeping it there while rolling up and down.

I did Chakrasana the cheating way, sitting up, then rolling. That meant that every time I did it I hit my head on the floor. I confess to not having been able to do it correctly, just bringing the feet back and rolling. *sigh* In Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, they emphasized the importance of touching the head to the feet while the legs are lifted and toes are pointed. I stopped at Paschimottanasana after Urdhva Danurasana because I needed to get to work. I missed the chai and question and answer period following the practice.


First practice of the year

It's fitting that my first Mysore practice of the year was the Primary Series, with Noah and Kimberly at AYSF. I was rusty after spotty practices during the last 10 days, so I didn't venture into Second Series poses. I think N and K understood. The instruction I remembered the most was to have a deep ujahi breath, breathing through the nose all of the time during the practice so as to keep the apanic energy rising. It helps in lifting the bhandas. It was nice to see a few familiar faces, Honest Abe, Lizzie N. and J. I get back to Yoga Studio SF next week and we have Leigha Nicole teaching while Seven Pointed Lotus is in India.

It took me 24 hours of travel to get from Puerto Rico back to San Francisco on New Years Day. This usually takes 16 hours door to door. We had to deplane and wait 6 hours for a replacement part to be flown in. I waited in line three hours to be given new connecting flight. When the part was replaced, we boarded the plane. After an hour of waiting, the captain announced that he could not get anyone on the phone to instruct ground crew to push us back from the gate. So I picked up the phone and called American Airlines reservations. I told the agent that the captain of our jet could not get anyone on the phone to instruct the ground crew to push us off the gate. Ha! As if I had any influence on such things. But five minutes later, we were being pushed back. Further flight delays in Miami did not seem to bother anyone because at least we were headed home. My baggage arrived earlier to SF than I did.
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