Practicing Yoga with a Frozen Shoulder.

During any respectable teacher training, the topic “yoga & injuries” is an important subject, from the angle of injury prevention as well as from the perspective of practicing with existing injuries.

Whilst I studied this during my 200-hour teacher training and additional yoga anatomy courses over the years, my single best lesson was the frozen shoulder I sustained in 2015.

Sharing my experiences with you, the mistakes I made as well as the positive decisions I took, will hopefully help those of you suffering from a similar injury.

In February 2015 I had a seemingly harmless scooter accident in Bali. I slid over a bit of mud on the road and fell on my left side, hitting the tarmac with my arm and shoulder and the side of my – thankfully helmeted – head.

 

Though I felt a bit bruised on the left side of my rib cage – probably because I elbowed myself upon impact – I didn’t think anything of it and travelled home as planned the next day.

Over the course of the following weeks, the pain in my ribs disappeared but I noticed a slight pinch at the front of my left shoulder joint. So I went easy on the yoga practice and decided that rest was the best thing to do.

I basically ignored the growing pain I felt in my shoulder, not only because I thought it would go away by itself but also because I was busy moving from Egypt to Australia.

Aside from a couple of random visits along the way to a physiotherapist and a chiropractor who couldn’t really help me because I was on the move, I pretended everything was in order which in retrospect of course wasn’t the case.

The sharp pinches in my shoulder were gradually becoming worse, especially when I was making sudden or large movements with my left arm. I tried to give my arm more “rest” by using it less. Consequently, my range of motion became more and more restricted. Within a few months, I could hardly extend, flex, internally rotate or externally rotate at the left shoulder joint at all.

In normal English, I couldn’t put my left hand in my waist, lift my arm high enough to shave my armpit, make a pony tail or pull the car door shut. By July 2015, it was even too painful to bring a cup to my mouth, open a jar, sleep on my left side, hold the steering wheel or shift gears, which in Australia you do with the left hand.

The pain would sometimes shoot down from the front of my shoulder around the shoulder joint, into the armpit, down my biceps and sometimes even reach my fingers.

One day, while cooking, I burned my left hand and in reaction, jerked my arm back. The ensuing pain was so extreme that I sat crouched on the floor trying to fight back my tears for a good two minutes. And it was not because of the burn.

Needless to say that by then I was unable to do any kind of yoga. Poses requiring the slighest arm movement were impossible. Even gentle, reclined and supported shoulder openers were not an option.

When I settled in Australia in September 2015, I finally had the time to do something about it. I saw an osteopath who advised me to get an ultra sound in order to confirm his suspicion that I had a frozen shoulder and an inflammation. Up until then, I had not even bothered to get a proper diagnosis.


The exact location of where I felt the impingement initially.

Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder joint capsule) and bursitis (inflammation of the bursae) was the verdict. The first thing the GP advised me was to get a cortisone injection to reduce the inflammation.

I declined respectfully and went on a full fledged vegan diet, topped up with extra ginger, turmeric and garlic. Two weeks later, the inflammation was gone.

The inflammation was the biggest cause of the pain that I felt when trying to move. And if you can’t move, you can’t open a frozen joint. Now that the pain was gone, I was ready to start defrosting my shoulder.

Having read that a frozen shoulder can take several years to heal, I would, in my darkest moments, fear that my career as a yoga teacher was going to freeze too. However, the Health Coaching course that I had started, opened up a world of healing, food-based alternatives for me.

I continued a highly anti-inflammatory diet, with lots of green juices, no processed foods, very little articifial sugars, powerful supplements like Juice Plus, golden turmeric paste and healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados and fish oil. Instead of asana practice, I took up running, the only physical activity I could think of that didn’t require shoulder “effort”.

The osteopath would (usually) gently work on the range of motion of my shoulder, loosening up the connective tissues around the joint and releasing tension from neck, spine and pelvis. An acupuncturist helped by bringing my energies back in balance, needling in my hips, legs, fingers and feet and sometimes even putting electric voltage on the needles.

The “dead” feeling I had had in my arm for months (despite the pain), was slowly dissipating and it was coming back to life. Deep tissue and hot stone massages further helped the releasing of tightness in my shoulder.

One interesting recommendation came from the acupuncturist. Traditional Chinese Medicine does not just focus on and treat the “afflicted” area, but considers any illness or condition an imbalance of the entire body. During the treatment he suggested that I stop using hormonal contraception.

Observing that I had a strong constitution and was living a pretty healthy lifestyle already, he repeated word for word what an Ayurvedic doctor had already told me two years prior: the only thing that was possibly creating an imbalance in my body was the IUD.

And though it was the physical trauma of the accident and my subsequent ignoring of the injury that caused the frozen shoulder, it was very possible that a hormonal imbalance was impeding the healing process. So I said goodbye to my Mirena and after 25 years of birth control, hello to a body free of artificial hormones (and hello to PMS, but that’s a different story).

Bit by bit, my shoulder thawed. I introduced asanas into my life again with restorative poses and plenty of props. Slowly but surely, I was able to join gentle Vinyasa classes, although for the longest time all my down dogs were three legged dogs (one arm, two legs) and my trees would have one very sad branch. Planks, chaturangas and upward facing dogs also started coming back into my practice.

My left arm, which had visibly lost muscle mass, was growing back in strength. I got back into my Ashtanga practice and by June 2016 I was able to do a solid headstand again.

It took another full year for me to be able to open my left arm properly in poses like Revolved Triangle, for the combination of abduction and extension was the most stubborn one to master again. I cursed my way through a lot of shoulder openers Yin style to get there.


Broken Wing, or Evil Shoulder Opener, as I prefer to call it.

Yet here I am, two and a half years to the date after the scooter accident, roughly two years after I started regular treatment and adapted my lifestyle to my situation. I finally feel I am back where I was before the frozen shoulder.

Did I heal thanks to the osteopath? Or was it the acupuncturist? Would I have healed just as fast if I hadn’t gone running? Was it really necessary to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet? Was the removal of the UID of any use? Would simple massages have been enough? Was it the restorative yoga that did the trick or should I have pushed harder in my yoga practice to heal sooner? 

Who knows. If you thought this article was only going to be about yoga poses, I guess I tricked you into it. Yoga asanas are not a miracle cure by themselves. It’s always a package deal. Yoga is about how you live your life, not just those 60 minutes per day on the mat.

This frozen shoulder has been the best teacher I have had.

I learned how to heal naturally (I did not take a single painkiller or other pharmaceutical in the process), was taught patience (still not my strongest virtue), experimented with modified yoga poses and yoga styles to adapt my practice to my capabilities, was introduced to therapies and healing methods I had never needed before. And I now also know from my own experience that ignoring a problem is not going to make it go away.

These lessons have not only made me healthier and happier, but also a more versatile and multi-faceted teacher and health coach. I hope that they can be of benefit to you just as much as they have to me.

Comments or questions welcome!

Diary of Lazy Ashtangi and Why I Do Not Encourage Practicing Yoga with a Video.

Practicing in Purple Valley

Yep, that’s me ↑ in Petri Räisänen’s Led Class in Purple Valley, Goa, India in February 2010.

As I sit down and finally have time to write my next blog, I realise a month has passed since my last diary entry. Somehow, I lost track of time, like everybody else who has been dealing with the craziness upon approaching Christmas time, in Australia also known as the Summer Holidays.

Of course I love all the busy-ness, I have always relished working under pressure, but it did mean that my daily yoga practice became… well, more of a weekly yoga practice. However, I did manage to come up with some interesting results in this ongoing research of self-motivation to get on that mat as often as possible.

As I concluded in my last blog, I really enjoyed practicing with the video of John Scott’s Full Primary Series. This made me decide to investigate further so in the past few weeks, I have practiced with David Swenson, Petri Räisänen and Lesley Fightmaster. I had never heard of this last name before, but somehow she was mentioned to me twice recently so I decided to check her out.

The highlight was that in my digital archives, I also found the led class recorded with Petri when I was in Purple Valley. So last week, I practiced with that video as well and it’s almost identical to the online version with one major difference: I get to practice with my 34-old self and two of my friends who were there with me.

How is that for great company during a lonesome self-practice at home!

Anyway, below you will find my findings about each video, but first, let me say this: if you a beginner, I do not recommend practicing (Ashtanga) yoga with a video.

I believe that any asana practice should be taught under the supervision of a teacher. And no, I don’t necessarily mean a certified, authorised or otherwise registered person. I simply mean a person with the right experience, able and willing to share knowledge with another person.

In my opinion, physical alignment, breath control and mindful transitions between poses are crucial for a safe and beneficial asana practice. Since these aspects differ widely per person, personal guidance is very important.

Example: if a teacher on YouTube says that for Virabhadrasana B the heel of the front foot should line up with the arch of the back foot, that may be the perfect alignment for herself or the hyperflexible model in the video. However, for a large majority of the other practitioners, especially beginners, this may not be ideal at all.  I won’t go into the details as to why, but you know, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, lower back, instability, etc…

Google it and you’ll find plenty of good and bad articles illustrating what I mean. However, when you are doing an online class, I doubt you would interrupt your practice to google your alignment options, even when you feel quite unstable and are pretty sure that you don’t look as gracious as that skinny lady in her pretzel pose on your screen.

I think I made my point. If you are a beginner, go to a yoga teacher to learn how to practice asanas. Once you understand the basic alignment principles and more importantly, once you know your own body well enough to understand its strengths, weaknesses, limitations and needs, I think you could benefit from recorded classes as a support and inspiration, not so much for instructional purposes.

My rule of thumb would be that you are ready to practice Ashtanga with a video when listening to the counting is enough and you don’t need to look at the screen to understand what to do.

I can think of at least one exception to everything I said before and that is when there are simply no teachers available to you. Before I discovered Ashtanga, I practiced with Vinyasa DVD’s while I was living in a small village by the Red Sea in Egypt where I later became one of the first yoga teachers. There were no teachers around so there was no choice. Although practicing with the videos may not have taught me perfect alignment nor the philosophy behind the asanas, it did keep my passion for yoga going.

Also a reason why Ashtanga yoga lends itself well for recordings would be that it is a fixed sequence, therefore once you are familiar with it, you don’t need to look at what the video shows you. Listening is enough (see my rule of thumb above). With Vinyasa or any other form of yoga that does not know a fixed sequence, you will probably need to look up from your pose to understand exactly what you are supposed to do, thereby compromising your alignment.

Anyway, don’t let my rant above discourage you. I just try to make you aware of the limitations and risks of practicing with a non-interactive teacher. The same could be said of a teacher that does not do any adjustments and is too busy demonstrating the sequence and poses to properly supervise the students.

So Ashtanga encourages self-practice every morning, either in a Mysore style setting or alone, limited to the asanas that you have been give by your real-life teacher(s). My problem with self-practice at home is that I am simply not good at practicing alone. I miss the energy of fellow Ashtangis breathing and sweating next to me, I miss the observing eyes of the teacher and the incentive of practicing in a group setting.

Practicing with a video kind of fills some of those gaps. It’s a bit like going to a led class with a teacher that doesn’t do any hands-on adjustments. It has the added advantage that you can fast forward to the finishing sequence if for any reason, you are not doing the Full Primary that day, a good reason being that you haven’t been given all the poses yet.

By clicking on the links, you will find my reviews of the recordings of the Full Primary Series by the four previously mentioned teachers.

I would love to get your feedback on how you feel practicing with these, or any other videos!

Review of David Swenson First Series

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Fightmaster Yoga

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Led Primary Series with Petri Räisänen

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Led Primary Series with Petri Räisänen.

By far my favourite recording so far, because Petri, another amazing Ashtanga teacher, actually leads a class. It’s not a manicured, staged demonstration with a voice-over and edits. No, this is a real life led class, filled with Ashtangis of all levels and Petri guides the class through the Primary Series adjusting his pace and his instructions to the energy in the room. He does hands-on adjustments throughout and you can hear the shuffling, the panting, the jumping of the students.

He counts in Sanskrit and his Finnish accent make the pronounciation of the asanas much more acceptable to my ears than the American one. This class also lasts a good fifteen minutes longer than all the other ones. No rush, time for long deep Ujjayi breaths and best of all, when you practice with the video, you practice with 30 other students. I love it.

Another reason for me to love this recording, is because six years before this recording was made, I was there, practicing with Petri in Purple Valley. I know that shala, its echos, its smells and I know his voice. Petri was the first teacher to help me into Marichyanasa C without any struggle (he is an energy healer and renown for his amazing adjustments) and simply breathing through this practice at the count of his voice brings me back to India.

Total duration: 1 hour 49 minutes
Practice starts at 8 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 17 minutes.

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Fightmaster Yoga.

If you thought the David Swenson’s and John Scott’s videos were fast paced, than this one will have you hyperventilating. In less than one and a half hour, Lesley Fightmaster has you running through the entire Primary Series. Somewhere halfway, you can hear her sucking on a candy which I found distracting, although I understand that you can get pretty thirsty talking and counting for 90 minutes non-stop.

As she emphasises herself at the beginning of the practice, this is not meant for beginners as she does not give any alignment instructions nor modifications. Jessica Kass has a pretty practice with a few quirky habits. She adopts Anjali mudra every time in Samasthitih and does Gyan Mudra with her loose hand in the seated poses, something Patthabi Jois discouraged. Indeed, you will see most traditional Ashtangis make a fist, but hey, each their own rituals!

The counting is in Sanskrit and Lesley has a pleasant voice, yet altogether this was much too fast for me. I breathe super slow, but Lesley counts the breath to get into the pose as the first of the five holding breaths and uses the fifth breath to get out of the pose, effectively holding the pose for only three breaths. Perhaps this is how they practice in downtown Manhattan or LA where people live in a constant rush, but my background is the lush jungle or lazy beaches of Bali and India, where everybody has the time to breathe and a full practice takes at least 1 hour 45 minutes. I must admit I have never been to Mysore so I don’t know what the average practice time is at the main shala, I do know that the led classes are very fast. The idea of practicing alone however, is that you adopt your own pace.

So if you like a slow and intense practice, this would not be a suitable recording.

Total duration: 1 hour 24 minutes
Practice starts at 50 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 7 minutes 10 seconds

Review of David Swenson First Series.

David Swenson is another teacher from the old lineage and although the video must be at least three decades old judging by his clothes, his teachings are still invaluable. The video starts with a thorough introduction on what Ashtanga yoga is, what the important elements of the practice are and how to do the Surya Namaskaras and Vinyasas. Very useful for beginners.

Interestingly enough he skips the opening mantra and counts only in English, instead of the traditional Sanskrit. He gives plenty of options for beginners and instructions how to get into the poses, possibly even more than John Scott. Also David likes to stretch his arms out and jump in between standing postures which makes me think that this must have been the way in the old days. This and also lifting the chest and chin on the inhale before getting into the standing poses is not practiced much anymore nowadays. When practicing with Sharath at the main shala Mysore, I have been told that students are explicitly instructed not to look up or back bend when inhaling before folding over into the pose.

Even though also David Swenson counts a little bit too fast to my liking, I use the time he spends giving instruction on how to get into the pose to get one or two breaths in and so I often manage to take about four breaths, sometimes even five.

It’s a brilliant video and I like practicing with David.

Total duration: 1 hour 56 minutes
Practice starts at 24 minutes 10 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 32 minutes 40 seconds

Review of John Scott’s Ashtanga Yoga The Primary Series.

John Scott guides you through the Primary Series with full vinyasas, meaning that after almost each seated asana, he returns to standing and goes through a vinyasa before getting into the next. Considering that he does all that in just over one and a half hour, you will find that it is rather fast-paced. He does however, give a lot of instructions to get into the pose yet his voice is quite relaxed despite all the cues he manages to give in a short time. Beginners will find that he does not give any modifications though, so be mindful if you haven’t been taught the full expression of a pose yet.

He also gives the exact vinyasa count (the number of breaths) to get into each pose and he counts in Sanskrit, which I love. However, his Sanskrit pronounciation is terribly American and to me, a little bit distracting in the beginning. After a while, I got used to it and I really enjoyed this practice.

Although you shouldn’t be looking at the video while practicing (you’ll never hear him say that the drishti is on your screen), you might notice that he jumps to the side and back to get into and out of the standing poses and has his arms out to the side. I always practice (and teach) to step rather than jump and keep the arms in the waist, in order to bring some awareness to the alignment of the hips. If jumping is your thing, then by all means…

This recording is probably quite a few years old but traditional Ashtangis will certainly appreciate it.

Total duration: 1 hour 36 minutes
Practice starts at 3 minutes 25 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 17 minutes 30 seconds

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 9, 10 and an Epiphany.

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” – Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

I read this quote to my students the other day at the end of a class. It’s one of my favourite quotes from a book that has been described as a “a brilliant tour de force” and that I yet have to read.

Anyway, the past two weeks my practice has been erratic at best. And the last couple of days, I realised that perhaps I should listen to my own advice a bit better. Keep an eye on my objective, stay focussed, go around obstacles when they present themselves and just keep going, zigzagging, ducking, jumping, slowing down or picking up the pace when I need to. Just don’t give up.

Here’s how I came to that conclusion.

Note: Upon request, I have now linked the Sanskrit names of the asanas to a website where the poses and the sequence are all explained in great detail. Very valuable resource for those interested in the traditional way of Ashtanga.

Sunday 6, Monday 7, Tuesday 8, Wednesday 9 November
This reporting period starts with a slacking day on Sunday 6 November. On Monday I get my period. Two more days without Ashtanga and on Wednesday, I am at the tail end of my moon cycle, so I do a lovely long Yin session instead.

Thursday 10 November – 9.30 am
It looks like I am going to be indolent again. I didn’t get up in time to practice before my class and am not proud of it. Only one student rocks up for my class, a practitioner with a pretty steady practice, though only in led classes. I have a light bulb moment and I propose to her that we practice together rather than doing a guided class. That way, she gets to feel what it’s like to practice without the Vinyasas counted out loud and other cues and we get to share the energy of our individual practice. A win-win, the way I see it!

She agrees and we practice until Janu Sirsasana A, I set the pace as she follows me to get the sequence right. After the closing sequence we rest in Savasana and 90 minutes after our first Sun Salutation we get up and both feel the wonderful after-practice glow. Of course I ask for feedback and it turns out she really enjoyed the silent semi-guided practice.

I think I may have sowed the seed for a little local Mysore practice group for in the near future.

Friday 11 November – 10.30 am
It has been a few weeks, but I am back on the mat for a Restorative Yoga class with one of my favourite local teachers. I do have the energy for an Ashtanga practice but a friend is joining me at Restorative and I have tonnes of other things to do. So I skip the Primary Series and dive head first into my busy day after the Restorative bliss and brunch with my friend.

Saturday 12, Sunday 13 & Monday 14 November
I don’t practice for three days. I am not sure what the obstacles are that I am not able to tackle.

It is not a lack of energy because I am super active. In the weekend I am cooking, gardening, sorting through boxes with old memories, reading old letters, sending ex-boyfriends (the ones that I’m still on good terms with) copies of their own love letters and reminiscing about the years that I actually was as young as I still feel now.

On Monday I have just two classes to teach and no other appointments. So it is also not lack of time. It really wouldn’t hurt anybody if I would take two hours for my practice.

I think it is the loneliness. I simply don’t like practicing alone. I like to hear the breathing of fellow Ashtangis next to me, I like to feel the energy of their movement. Despite the eyes on me when I practice at home, it is still only just me.

Tuesday 15 November
It is the largest supermoon since 1948 and the moon won’t be coming this close to earth again until 2034. If there was ever a day not to practice in my life time, it is today.

I heard first hand (from one of my best friends practicing in Mysore at this very moment), that Saturday is not rest day anymore. Instead, at the main shala, Sharat – the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga as we know it today – teaches led classes on Saturday and Monday, leaving Wednesday through Friday for Mysore-style practice. So now Sunday is rest day.

Lo and behold, we are deviating from the tradition! Is the universe going to self-destruct? No, the sun still rises in the East and sets in the West and all is well in Ashtanga land.

Wednesday 16 November
I am teaching at 7.00 am so I really can’t be bothered to get up at 4 am to do my practice before going to the studio. Malesh! (Never mind in Arabic, vocabulary legacy from my time in Egypt).

It’s a busy day. Stefano has not gone to work since Monday, recovering from a little surgical intervention that left him… well, let’s say, very tender. If you are curious about what I am cryptically babbling about, read this blog that I wrote last year and puzzle the answer together yourself. Anyway, I enjoy his company at home, even though I have lots of work to do. Lucky for me, he is not unwell enough to not be interested in food, so when I come home at 7.30 pm from my evening class, a beautiful dinner is served.

Thursday 17 November – 9.30 am
Again only one student in my morning Ashtanga class, but not the same as last week. So I don’t hesitate and propose the same to her: practicing together instead of a led-class. She gets a taste of Mysore style while I get to practice too. Fortunately she loves it as well. My plan to cultivate Mysore style enthousiasts in the neighbourhood is steadily progressing.

Friday 18 November
No excuses, slack slack slack.

Saturday 19 November – 9.00 am
Saturday is not a rest day anymore right? I have a new idea. I google Ashtanga Primary Series on YouTube and select the first Full Primary that I come across recorded by a reputable teacher. You do find an endless number of bad yoga videos online but even if you do find a good led class on the internet, practicing with this is definitely not a technique that I would recommend to beginners. In my next blog I will explain why (click on Follow in the side column to make sure you don’t miss out on the next blog in which I will explain the pros and cons of practicing with a recorded class).

However, for today’s purpose, I find John Scott’s Full Primary Series and I love it despite the fact that my leg is still not well. Trikonasana and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana go as wobbly as expected and I have to be very careful in the Prasarita sequence. I struggle terribly in Bhuja Pidasana, Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana. Upavistha Konasana A & B are impossible and the drop from Supta Konasana to the floor is out of control. But I breathe with John Scott through the entire series and Stefano is even back home in time from early morning fishing to lend me his ankles for a modified Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Despite the fact that it is just a on computer screen, I have somebody breathing next to me, guiding me through the vinyasas and helping me to stay focussed.

I do the full Primary Series for the first time again since Sunday 2 October. Best Ashtanga practice in a long time. On a Saturday, of all days!

My little epiphany may prove to be a valuable one and I feel I may have found a way to keep the water flowing despite the rocks that are in the way.

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 6.

Full Moon Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi

In many styles of yoga, full and new moon are seen as the perfect time to practice yoga. The planets are impeccably aligned, there is a peak of energy or it is the ideal moment to self-reflect and set new intentions. New beginnings, lunar energy, you name it. Personally, I love to teach a slow flow with moon salutations or a gentle Yin practice set around the moon energy on those days.

In the Ashtanga tradition however, it is the exact opposite. We do not practice on full moon nor new moon days because our energy is respectively too strong or too weak. The full moon can make us lose control as we feel over-confident, risking injuries as we push ourselves into poses that we should not be doing that very moment. During new moon, our energy levels are low and we should take rest rather than deplete ourselves further with a demanding Asthanga practice.

What is your experience I wonder? I know how I felt on Sunday…

Sunday 16 October
Full moon, no practice, thank the Gods. After yesterday’s party which we left at 1 am, we stayed over at a friend’s place in Adelaide. This means getting up at 7 am so I can get to the yoga studio in time for the yoga for charity class that was supposed to be on the beach. The bad weather has forced us back into the classroom, but with 24 students, it is full on anyway!

Anyway, I am grateful for the break the full moon allows me to take, I don’t think a 5 am practice would have had any value at all today!

Monday 17 October – 9.30 am
The new Monday morning class that I am teaching is not yet taking off, so instead I do my own practice at the studio. I still take it easy, only until Utthita Parsvakonasana this time and with a modified Trikonasana, as that asana seems to irritate the back of my leg most. It feels good, but I miss the energy of other practitioners and teachers. I miss practicing in Bali… sigh.

Tuesday 18 October – 8.30 am
I go to the Old Church early, so I can squeeze in a practice before the class starts. After my Surya Namaskaras however, I get distracted by a Vinyasa flow sequence that pops into my head. I practice it a few times and end up using it for my class starting at 9.30 am. So much for focus…

Wednesday 19 October – 8.30 am
After the early morning Ashtanga class, I have time for a quick practice before I need to clear the studio for the next class. Still no noticeable improvement in my leg, so I work my way around it with a modified Trikonasana and of course bent knees in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog). Fortunately, it’s not getting any worse either. Hopefully I won’t injure myself any further until I can see the osteo who is fully booked for the next 10 days… I finish with Parsvakonasana and a quick closing sequence. Despite the limitations, I feel grateful for the practice.

Thursday 20 October – 8.30 am
Like Tuesday, I get to the Old Church early and do a short practice before my class starts. That way, I am already warmed up when I teach and I minimise the risk of further injury. It’s a known cause for injuries among teacher: demonstrating poses whilst not properly warmed up. With this weird injury, I feel that simple Uttananasana can do me harm if I don’t execute it mindfully. So I breathe through several sun salutations and the first few poses of the standing sequence, do some extra shoulder strengthening and core training and dream of an injury free body during savasana.

Friday 21 October – 6.55 am
Determined to gift myself a fuller practice today, I step on my mat with firm resolve and steady focus. I work on my alignment, my breath and Mula Bandha as I flow through the Surya Namaskaras and the standing sequence. For the first time since I admitted to my injury three weeks ago, I dare the standing balancing poses. With extreme care and control of my core muscles, I avoid putting stress on my external rotators. It feels okay, but I decide not to push my luck and stop after Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. I add some more core training and meditation. Mission accomplished.

Saturday 22 October
Ashtanga day off, but teaching two full-on Vinyasa classes is hardly a rest day… Despite my own internal physical struggle, I get rewarded with real positive feedback from my students. Gratitude and love all around!

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 5 with Timelapse Video.

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” – Paulo Coelho.

And since we are all so full of patience nowadays, I give you a 54-second timelapse of my 17 minute practice on Tuesday, read on for a peek!

Sunday 9 October – 9.45 am
After a nice long sleep-in, I get onto my mat with two yoga blocks and two balls for myo-fascial release. I am going to see if long held yin poses can help heal this nagging strain in the back of my left leg. I sit on the balls and swing my hips from side to side massage my glutes. I slide over the balls from the cervix all the way down to my sitting bones giving myself a rather intense massage along the spine. Then I do several long yet mindful stretches for my hamstrings, lower back and glutes. I do love yin, but will it help? Will let you now tomorrow what the result is!

Monday 10 October
No noticeable improvement in my left buttock. If anything, my left calf muscle now feels sore, as if I have had a super strong massage in the lower legs. I am disappointed but try to learn from this. I am not sure where it this new ache comes from, it’s not terribly annoying but it does make me wonder. Is it from the hours of gardening on Saturday? And the pain in my buttock, is it my posture? Am I compensating for an asymmetrical pelvis? Is this why I always have more trouble flexing my left hip and externally rotating my right hip? Does this have anything to do with my previously frozen shoulder? I know that everything is linked, in and outside the body and studying my own anatomy is really quite interesting but I can’t seem to connect all the dots just yet. I decide not to practice and rest, although I have to teach, so 100% rest is impossible.

Tuesday 11 October – 7.30 am
The left calf muscle is fine, but the left buttock/leg still feels tender. Nevertheless, I really really want to practice. On the other hand, I also really really want to make sure I don’t get injured any further. So I negotiate a compromise with myself: only a few Surya Namaskara A, Savasana and some Meditation. The short practice leaves me satisfied enough, happy that I practiced mindfully.

I film my practice, just to have something to show you. I haven’t bothered to change into my yoga clothes for this short practice so I am in my most elegant home pyjamas. I even forget to tie up my hair. But who cares. It’s about how I feel, not about how I look, right?

What do you think?

Wednesday 12 October – 8.45 am
After teaching the 7.00 am class, I decide to do a short practice at the studio, before the next class starts. Sun Salutations A and B, the first four asanas and Savasana. It feels good to move and breathe, but I still want to be careful, so I practice patience and hold back.

Thursday 13 October – 7.30 am
I am liking my short routine and my leg seems to like it too, so I keep it up. In my home pyjamas again. Nothing like a home practice.

Friday 14 October
Restorative yoga day! I bliss out during the class and walk out into the sun feeling happy and bubbly. Ready for the busy weekend with gardening, a birthday party in Adelaide and teaching a free yoga class for charity. Bring it on!

Saturday 15 October
Ashtangis day off. Happy rest day everybody! In the evening at the party, I wear high heels for the first time in months. I wonder what that is going to do to my leg. All in know at the end of the night is that my feet are killing me. Can’t wait to slide into my birkies again!

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 4.

Eyes on me during yoga practice

In 1989, the New York Times describes how the protected Bengal Tigers in the Ganges Delta regularly used to kill people. Someone came up with the idea of wearing a human mask on the back of the head. It was explained that many species use a similar technique to fool predators. Butterflies, beetles and caterpillars have patterns that look like big eyes in order to deter their enemies. It appeared that no one wearing a mask was ever attacked anymore. The tigers must have felt being watched…

Source: New York Times

Sunday 2 October – 9.30 am (feels like 8.30 am)
Friday at dinner, I told Stefano how much I actually like it when he is around while I practice, how it makes me feel “monitored”, even if he is not watching at all. A few minutes later, he asked me if my scanner and printer does full colour without explaining that totally off-topic question. After dinner, he got out his colouring pencils, started drawing, went to the scanner, got scissors out and 30 minutes later, there were pairs of eyes stuck all over the living room, a.k.a. my practice space. Proud of his artwork, he said “Now when you practice, you will feel eyes on you all the time.”

I bet you this is the most creative form of support any yoga practitioners has ever had. How much can you love a man?!

So today, even though yesterday we had a heavy dinner with wine, a late night watching several House of Cards episodes and slept an hour less due to daylight savings, my practice feels great.

Is it because it’s the day after New Moon, when energy blossoms again? Is it because for the first time since I got back I don’t need to turn on the heater and the sun is shining outside? Or is it because a dozen pair of eyes are looking at me from all corners of the room?

Monday 3 October – 9.30 am
The start of today’s practice is pretty good, after a nice sleep-in on this Public Holiday. After all, I know I am being watched. But as soon as I get to Trikonasana, I stop. I hate to admit it, but I think I have got a new injury.

For a couple of weeks now, I have pretended it was nothing. But the frozen shoulder is still fresh in my memory. I chose to ignore a little pinch in my shoulder after falling off my scooter and four months later I couldn’t even scratch the back of my head or shave my left armpit anymore. It took me over a year of rehabilitation to get to the level I am at now, which is almost back to my pre-injury flexibility and strength.

I decide not to go down that road again when I feel my body’s alarm bells go off in Trikonasana. I feel a strain in my left leg when I flex and externally rotate my hip with a extended knee. It’s most sensitive in Trikonasana A and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana but I also feel it in forward bends. I palpate my bum, my thigh, my sitting bone but can’t figure out which muscle is giving me grief.

I stop my practice and get behind my laptop for research. After a while, I conclude it could be one of the adductors or perhaps one of the external rotators. Rest is recommended, so I shall do that and look for treatment. Any recommendations?

Tuesday 4 October 2016
The wind is blowing hard outside, I can hear the rain slapping against the house and it’s cold. Maybe I’ll do some gentle muscle strengtheners later for this bloody muscle injury, but for now, I’m staying in bed for an extra hour.

Wednesday 5 October 2016
No early morning practice today, firstly because of my leg that is still giving me grief and second because I’m off to do a gentle Hatha class after teaching a beginners Ashtanga class. Life of a yoga teacher… 😉

Thursday 6 October 2016
I decide to give my leg more rest. Obviously continuing with my Ashtanga practice for the past two weeks did not improve the situation. I need to adapt my tactic so again no practice today. That in itself is not much of a game changer but the fact that I do not feel guilty about it is.

I do have to teach an Ashtanga class and a Vinyasa class today though. The first one doesn’t worry me, it’s a lead class for students that are already familiar with the first part of the Primary Series so I don’t need to demonstrate. The Vinyasa class however, might be tricky. I will just need to be very careful and be creative with sides when I demonstrate.

Friday 7 October 2016
Going to a restorative yoga class today. I can’t think of anything that my body could better use than that!

Saturday 8 October 2016
No practice of course and my leg seems a little less sore today… but I do end up working in the garden for the entire afternoon after teaching two Vinyasa classes in the morning.  Let’s see how I feel tomorrow morning!