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 7, 8 and some of the Yamas & Niyamas.

Yaisa meditating on the beach

“Seeking out people and experiences we would normally avoid provides a fertile place to learn new things about ourselves and about life.”  –  Deborah Adele, The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice

Sunday 23 October
No luck this first day of the Ashtanga week. Stefano has got a bad case of gastro and is in bed so I have to prepare the house for this afternoon’s pot luck all by myself.

I am expecting a handful of local yoga teachers for lunch and though I don’t have to cook much because every body is bringing food, I still have a few things to take care of. I prepare a lemon-ginger-honey lemonade, clean the living room, prepare a quinoa asparagus salad and lay out the beautiful silverware that came in the boxes with my stuff from Holland.

It reminds me of the times that I used to entertain people almost on a weekly basis, cooking five course dinners for friends, rolling 200 pieces of sushi or throwing a party for sixty souls. Oh well, it’s nothing that fancy today, but enough to not have time to practice!

Monday 24 October – 11.30 am
After teaching the Ashtanga class, it’s finally time for my own practice. I didn’t get up early enough to practice before the class but now the studio is nicely heated up, so I decide to practice here. Like last week, I stop after Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, not wanting to over-exert my hamstring or whatever muscle it is that feels tender.

I am surprised at how good I feel about not going all the way. Two years ago, I would probably not have considered doing less than a full practice, when I did get onto my mat that is. Five years ago, I would most likely have pushed it even a bit further, going deeper and stronger.

Is it experience and wisdom that have taught me to listen to my body, to allow myself to rest when needed and to accept that being able to take it easy is just as valuable as knowing when to push through?

Or is it simply old age that forces me to slow down?

Either way, Ahimsa, non-violence, no harming, the first of the Yamas, the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga (the philosophy, not the asana practice) seems like a good one to keep in mind at this time of my life!

Tuesday 25 October – 6.55 am
Tuesdays are good for my routine. We are not fasting so I get up in time to make a juice for Stefano and as soon as he is out of the house and I have cleaned the juicer, I get on my mat. Again, I limit my practice in order to give my leg some healing space and take a beautiful long savasana. By restraining myself, I feel that I am giving and taking just what I need. Brahmacharya, the fourth of the Yamas, promotes moderation. And it works. I feel ready to conquer the world after this beautiful practice.

Wednesday 26 October – 7.30 am
Today I decide to do a Yin session and promise not to go easy on myself. The step from Yin to Restorative is easily made, but I stick to my intention. I do all my least favourite poses, such as Saddle and Frog and while I hold them, I practice surrender. Surrender to the pose, surrender to my body, surrender to the energy that surrounds me. The intensity of the poses become bearable thanks to this practice of Ishvara Pranidhana, the fifth Niyama which is about surrender to the higher power.

Thursday 27 October – 9.00 am
Stefano and I had a little squabble yesterday and I am not in the mood. I know it’s going to be okay, it always is, but right now I choose not to practice, be grumpy and stay in bed until it’s time to get up for work.

Satya, the second Yama, means truthful in feeling, thoughts and deed… Am I being truthful to myself? Am I saying the truth to Stefano? Why am I upset, really?

Friday 28 October – 7.00 am
After yesterday’s hiatus, I decide not to slack today, even though Stefano and I have not made up yet. He tried to, before leaving to work, but I was a typical obstinate Aries, Pitta, woman, whatever you want to call me.

During the practice, I realise my leg is still bothering me in certain poses, so I go easy and stop after the standing sequence. I spend lots of time on Urdhva Danurasana though. As advised by Prem and Radha, the teachers I practice with in Bali, I use blocks against the wall to ease into the shoulder opening. I pay particular attention to my legwork, engaging them properly so that I don’t worsen the injury. I feel positive and energised.

In the afternoon, I have an inspiring session with a group of entrepreneurial and creative women where we discuss our life’s objectives and areas that need refinement. I decide then and there that Stefano deserves my apology. At the end of his working day, I call him and ask if he wants to meet up for a beer. In the sun, enjoying a locally brewed beer, we kiss and make up. It’s a beautiful day.

Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama that is about self-study: by observing myself, my behaviour and the consequences of my actions, I bring about change, in this case for the better. I think we could all use a little bit more of that…

Saturday 29 October
By now you should know that if I have an excuse not to practice, I use it. Official Ashtanga rest day today!

Sunday 30 October
By now you should know that if I have an excuse not to practice, I use it. Yes, again. But today is a big day. I am running a Yin Yoga workshop and I know that even if I would have managed to get up in time to squeeze in a practice before heading to the studio, I would not have been focussed. So I don’t even try.

The workshop turns out a success and I so grateful that I have the opportunity to give and receive through yoga. For me, yoga is health of body and soul, a feeling of youthfulness and energy, a never ending and never boring journey of self-discovery.

Santosha, the second Niyama which translates as gratitude, is what I feel and hope to practice more of in my life.

Monday 31 October – New Moon
Aaaah… that explains the low energy levels of the past couple of days! After teaching the 9.30 am class, I sit down on my mat and meditate a little. At noon, I have an appointment with the osteo, who confirms that it could be an adductor injury, although very light as it doesn’t hurt when I sit, walk, run or do any of the regular daily activities. It only bothers me when I actively swing my leg out to the side or bend towards my left leg while opening my chest to the side (not something an average person does on a daily basis, I admit). All I can do it be careful and mindful with my practice.

Tuesday 1 November – 7.30 am
The day after new moon. You can believe in it or not, but I feel like I have more energy than the days before. It could also be because I fasted yesterday.

I decide to test my limits and extend my practice by including a few seated postures. When I reach Janu Sirsana B and try to sit on my right heel, it really hurts. I very inelegantly palpate the tender area and finally pinpoint the exact source of the pain. I almost get sad and frustrated about it all. Just recovered from a shoulder injury and now this lingering issue for weeks.

But I need to let go of my greed, of my attachment to the practice as far it will harm me. Yes, there are others out there that have progressed in their practice much faster than I have. Yes, there are people out there that do poses that I might never reach. Yes, it’s one step forward, two steps back sometimes. But thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s asana: Aparigraha, the fifth Yama, is all about non-attachment.

Wednesday 2 November – 7.00 am
Today I choose Yin. I breathe through long held asanas, trying to release tension from the back of my legs and lower back in 10-minute Squat, a very gentle Dragonfly pose, a deep Butterfly and reclined spinal twists. I don’t know where the time goes, but before I know it, it’s time to go for the restorative massage that I booked. Yin and massage. Not a bad way to start the day!

Thursday 3 November – 7.30 am
Today is fasting day again so I am not up at the crack of dawn to make our juice before Stefano goes to work. Nonetheless, I get up early enough to practice before my 9.30 am class. Since I am not doing the entire Primary, I only need an hour or so for the Surya Namaskaras, Standing and Closing. I am pleased to notice that in Urdhva Dhanurasana, my shoulders are feeling open and strong. I have come a long way since the injury that led to a frozen shoulder. I am grateful for the practice as it has greatly helped me recover my health in that department. Now fingers crossed for the leg!

Friday 4 November – 7.30 am
Tuesdays and Fridays are my no excuse days. I am up early to make a juice, I have no early morning class to teach and these are the mornings-after-fasting, so plenty of energy. Now that the temperatures are getting warmer, it’s all much less of an issue for me to get started in the mornings. I have a great little practice.

True, much of the yoga practice is a question of inner discipline. That is Tapas, the third Niyama. But my Tapas, my drive, my inner fire, certainly burns a lot better at 30 degrees Celsius than at 20. Summer can not come early enough as far as I’m concerned.

Saturday 5 November
An Ashtanga-free day, but yoga-filled nonetheless. Teaching two Vinyasa classes and then off to a friend’s garage sale of which the proceeds will go to her sweet dog that needs an expensive brace to walk. Karma yoga, right? I spend the rest of the afternoon pottering around the garden. What a feel-good day!

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!

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 3.

“These days we spend more time taking selfies than learning about the self.” – Joseph Rain.

I took these selfies last week. Just to make a point, which is that yoga selfies REALLY annoy me.

One cannot possibly take selfies while practicing yoga. I had to take at least 10 shots of myself before and after my practice just to look like before and after my practice. Seconds before these pictures were taken, I was adjusting the camera on the window sill and setting the timer. While these pictures (and the rejected ones) were taken, I was smiling a little more, a little less, lifting my chin a little more, a little less, pulling my top down a little more, a little less. And this is standing in a simple Samasthiti. Not in an impressive handstand, incredible twist or any other contortionist pose.

So unless a photographer is doing a photo shoot while you are concentrating on your yoga practice, any picture a.k.a. selfie of you in any yoga pose, is fake. It’s not yoga. Just like my pictures above. They have nothing to do with yoga. Even if I would have been in an arm balance, headstand or split, it would still not have been about yoga. Neither do your yoga selfies, you insta-stupid.

Just wanted to make a point. Now let’s get to it. Inhale – Exhale… My practice diary.

Sunday 25 September – 9.30 am
Last night was all about catching up with friends who came to visit from Sydney. I made boerenkool met worst – the Dutch traditional winter dish – with kale from our garden, we drank Moscato wine brought by our neighbour and we topped it off with grappa that Stefano bought in Italy. Then we had some strawberries with coconut icecream and some more liquors (yes, plural). It was a grand evening.

Needless to say that my performance on the mat today is lousy. In fact, half an hour into the practice, as I raise my right leg for Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, I suddenly feel completely drained of energy and collapse into Savasana. I console myself with the fact that as least I made it to the mat.

Monday 26 September – 8.00 am
I roll out my mat full of good intentions then go into the kitchen to drink a sip of water before starting my practice. That’s when I spot Stefano’s two liter water flask on the table and I realise he went to work without it. We are fasting today, so his water would be pretty essential. Therefore, change of plans; I will practice this afternoon. I call Stefano and offer to bring over his bottle to work, taking the opportunity to distribute some flyers around that area to promote my yoga classes.

In the afternoon I first try to finish a copy writing job that takes more time that I expected. No time to practice. Well done Yaisa, well done. But at least I got the writing job done. And I made sure Stefano didn’t die of dehydration. Those good deeds won’t go by unnoticed, will they?

Tuesday 27 September – 7.15 am
Looking back on the two past days, I start without any expectations. Ekham inhale. Dve exhale. One hour and 45 minutes later, I am in Savasana, full Primary done and dusted.

Why can’t all days be like this?

I know why. It’s because it’s the day after. The day after a fasting day that is. It’s amazing how light, agile and energised I feel after not eating for a day and two nights. I am so happy with what intermittent fasting is giving me!

Wednesday 28 September
Hatha class! It’s a style I never liked much, but it’s growing on me. It will never beat Ashtanga though…

Thursday 29 September – 7.15 am
Stefano is at home, another day off because of the biggest storm in 50 years raging over South Australia. So while I practice in the living room, he rummages around the house and is talking on the phone in the other room. Although it’s a bit distracting, I don’t mind. I like the company. I have good energy and feel well motivated from beginning to end. Despite the upcoming storm, my day starts well!

Friday 30 September
Restorative yoga class later this morning, so no Ashtanga practice today, although I feel I could squeeze one in before. I decide not to as I feel that allowing myself the agreed breaks throughout the week will make it easier to keep up a regular practice.

Saturday 1 October
New moon on Saturday, there is no valid reason to do an Ashtanga practice today. Another week has come to and end, where has the year gone… Last quarter of 2016, here I come!

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 2.

“I swing between procrastination and being really thorough so either way things aren’t getting done quickly.” – Freema Agyeman.

Sunday 18 September – 9.00 am
Unsure of how my practice is going to unfold after three days of rest, I procrastinate a little by cleaning up the living room first. Stefano observes me in wonder and asks where my sudden OCD behaviour comes from. My excuse is that I need a clear and clean space to practice so that I don’t get distracted.

Once I am out of things to put away, I get on my mat and am pleased to feel that it’s going well. I warm up swiftly. During my Surya Namaskara B rounds, I think about Gregor Maehle. In his book Ashtanga Yoga – Practice and Philosopy he writes “Do Surya Namaskara B until you start to perspire. Five rounds should be  sufficient under average conditions, three in the tropics and up to ten in colder regions.”

I do six rounds and flow through rest of the practice flows without hesitation. The three days of rest did me good.

Monday 19 September – 8.00 am
Yesterday afternoon, I spent five hours in the garden, ploughing, wheelbarrowing, weeding, potting and seeding. Needless to say that I feel a little bit sore this morning as I climb on the mat.

I start very slowly and am distracted. By the dust gathering under my couch and by the raven knocking on the window. By my lack of motivation and by my to-do list that suddenly seemed extremely urgent. I almost stop after Navasana, but give myself an imaginary kick in the butt thinking about the sad diary entry it would make if I quit for such lame reasons. Surprisingly, the rest of the sequence goes pretty smooth. I guess the diary thing works.

Tuesday 20 September – 7.00 am
Why is it so damn hard to get up early in the morning? During the teacher training course in Bali, I was getting up at 4.00 am, earlier than the roosters without a single complaint.

This morning, when my alarm clock goes of at 5.45 am, I moan, groan, toss and turn and finally drag myself out of bed at 6.00 am. With my squinty eyes, I shuffle into the kitchen to make our fresh juice. Stefano leaves the house by 6.30 am, so that’s my juice-deadline. By the time he is gone and I have washed the juicer, I am awake but freezing. So I take a nice hot shower, which I can’t seem to end. Every time I make a move to get out from under the steaming flow of water, I retract. It’s just too cold out there.

But finally here I am, on the mat. I breathe, I flow and soon, all is forgotten.

Wednesday 21 September
No Ashtanga today. I go to a friend’s Hatha flow class. No need to think, no need to count. Just being guided and breathe. Wonderful.

Thursday 22 September – 7.20 am
From the moment the alarm clock goes off at 6.00 am, I am procrastinating. We are fasting today, so I don’t need to make a juice but I still want to get my practice in before I head off to teach though. Yet, I snooze my alarm clock twice, I take a reaaaaaally long shower and I remember that I need to print something for my students so get behind my laptop.

By 7.20 am I am finally on the mat and decide to turn my laziness into an experiment. My practice takes close to two hours and I am always incredulous when I see other people doing a full Primary Series in less than 90 minutes. When I get to Navasana, some are already in Sirsasana and it is not like I am dragging my feet.

So today, since I have to be done by 8.50 am, I decide to see if I can do my full practice in 90 minutes. It doesn’t feel like my practice. I don’t feel any depth and I don’t warm up. Yes, I sweat but it feels like a superficial kind of sweating. My muscles don’t loosen up and my joints feel tight in all the asanas. Still, I keep going, breathing twice as fast as I usually do. I don’t go too deep in the poses, wanting to be careful. Until I reach Pindasana. I try to adjust my shoulders while I am upside down with my legs folded in Lotus towards my chest and my arms wrapped around my legs. When I bring my legs down to get into Matsyasana, I feel a muscle in my neck spasm and tighten.

I am done in. One hour later, I feel like Sylvester Stallone, I can’t look over either shoulder, nor up or down. I teach two classes nonetheless, I am after all quite experienced already in teaching with an injury. In the evening Stefano gives me a wonderful neck massage but I go to bed swearing that I will never again try to hurry through my practice. It was definitely a bad idea.

Friday 23 September – 10.30 am
My neck feels slightly better and I am lying on my mat, but for a beautiful restorative class with another yoga teacher. I had planned this already, but with all this tension happening in my neck, it’s even more of a blessing.

Saturday 24 September
Day off, yay!

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 1.

Sunday 11 September 2016 – 10.00 am
After three months of practically no alcohol, meat nor dairy and lots of local, fresh Asian food, I am back home and have some catching up to do. After a Saturday with meat and cheese galore, a few glasses of wine (more than I had during my entire stay in Asia) and a GoT Season 6 binge-watching session until 2.00 am, I find myself on the mat on a late Sunday morning.

The heater doesn’t work, it’s cold in the living room. From the first Surya Namaskara A, I know it’s going to be a struggle. I feel sluggish, cold and stiff. I decide to go easy on myself but it takes all the energy I have to stay in the flow and plough through the practice. For some reason, my shoulder and neck muscles feel super tight. After a meagre attempt at Shalabasana and Halasana, I finally give up and go straight to Yoga Mudra. During Savasana, I feel despair arising. Are all my self-practices going to be this hard from now on?

Monday 12 September – 8.30 am
Discouraged by yesterday’s practice and feeling the cold as soon as I stick my nose outside of the covers, I linger in bed a little bit longer than intended. By 8.00 am, I have gathered enough courage to get up. There is a plan of action: pre-heat the living room (and pray the heater is working again) to a blasting 23 degrees Celsius (we don’t want to do hot Ashtanga yoga, now do we?), take a steaming hot shower, put on leg warmers, wrap on a woolen wrap vest and get on that mat.

From the first Surya Namaskara A, I know it’s going to be fine. Yesterday, I had a super healthy diet, with roasted artichokes, potatoes and stir-fried broccoli and cauliflower leaves from our veggie patch. Okay, I had one campari soda and a bit of cheese from the farmer’s market too. However, we went to bed at 10.30 pm and the heater is doing it’s job again. I feel rested, strong and energised.

Well, a little distracted perhaps.

Inhale grab wrist around foot… Perhaps I could write a blog about this. Exhale there… About how the exact same practice can be so different from day to day. Inhale there, look at toe… Perhaps I could keep track of a few practices and then write a blog about what makes me fail and succeed in my daily practice. Exhale fold forward… Oh wait, that’s it! That’s what I need to do! Five breaths here… Yes! I’m going to keep a practice diary and publish it as a weekly blog. Inhale look up… That’s the commitment I need to make to get on my mat every day. Exhale there… Well, not on Saturdays of course, nor moon days… Inhale release, cross legs, pick up… And on the days I go some else’s yoga class, I won’t have to do Ashtanga either, let’s not exaggerate. Exhale jump back, Chaturanga Dandasana… But at least, if I commit to writing about it, I will put myself out there. Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana… The more people I tell about my intention to practice every day, the more chance that I will actually do it. Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana… Yep, I will blog it every week. Inhale jump through… And today after practice I will write the intro article. Exhale into Dandasana… Wow, I feel so much more open today. Inhale prepare for Marichyasana A…

Tuesday 13 September – 7.05 am
At 9.30 am I am teaching a Vinyasa class, so I need to get my ass in gear. We went to bed at 10.30 pm last night, so getting up at 5.45 am is not too hard. The living room gets heated up while I make our cold pressed juice and after my liquid breakfast, I hop in the shower to warm up. By 7.05 am I am on the mat.

I feel good.

Somewhere halfway the practice, I notice a weird twinge on the left side of my back when I come up in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. It could be the latissimus, the teres or perhaps the serratus anterior. I experiment with different opening angles of my shoulder as I breathe into Upward Facing Dog. Rolling my – previously frozen – left shoulder back and down and externally rotating my left upper arm more, results in no pain. Basically, I need to open the front of my body more. Problem solved. Full practice, full satisfaction.

Wednesday 14 September – 4.30 pm
There were no bookings for my 7.30 am class this morning, so I thought I would use that time to do my own practice. Unexpectedly, one brave student showed up, despite the raging storm that is still blowing over the Fleurieu Peninsula, so no morning practice for me.

At 4.30 pm, I finally manage to get on my mat, in the Old Church where I’ll be teaching a 6 pm class. I need to hurry. It’s freezing cold. The heater is blowing right at me but I can’t seem to warm up. My toes are frozen and hurt when I jump back and roll over them in the Vinyasas. I struggle through the whole standing sequence too. After the Paschimottanasanas I give up. I am still freezing, I can’t focus and I have a zillion other excuses to stop.

In the evening at home I discover that my period started. Aha, that explains a lot.

Thursday 15 September – 6.35 am
After a nice warm shower, the living room is heated and I am ready to start. Trying to get into better habits, I remove my rings before practice and I notice that my fingers are bloated. The one on my middle finger won’t even go off. Never mind, let’s get to it. vande gurunam…

Warmth makes such a difference, I feel good. I breathe through the Suryanamaskaras and get ready for Padangusthasana. As I grab my big toes, I feel my ring rubbing against my second toe. The bloated fingers are probably due to my menstruation… Wait? Shit! I am having my period! Why am I practicing? I should not be practicing… I completely forgot!

I stop, dead in my tracks. What to do? Continue? Stop? It was going so well… After mimicking a Madame Tussaud artefact for about 30 seconds, still half holding my big toes and blankly staring somewhere in between my feet, I decide to stop.

If I am to keep up a regular practice, I must take the “imposed” rest days. By taking Saturdays, full moon, new moon and menstruation days off, I will have enough breaks and no excuse to skip practice on other random days.

So I sit down, practice some meditation, pranayama and by 7.35 am, I am behind my laptop to make this diary entry. I actually already wrote it in my head during my attempt at meditation. Terrible meditator I am.

Friday 16 September
No practice today: still on my cycle and I am going to a Restorative yoga workshop that I booked a couple of weeks ago. Couldn’t have planned it better!

Saturday 17 September
Full Moon on Saturday: double whammy, no practice for sure! I am teaching two Vinyasa classes though, so I breathe through a few sun salutations and poses after all. Looking forward to tomorrow’s full practice again. Really? Really.

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Intro.

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Intro.

As I am flowing through the Primary Series in my living room, I suddenly have a brainwave: I need to keep a yoga practice diary and blog it.

Recently, I have been worrying about how to keep my daily Ashtanga self-practice going. After a year long struggle with a frozen shoulder (not yoga related!) and hence a long break from Ashtanga yoga, I am finally able to go through the full Primary again.

For the past three weeks, I have practiced under the guidance of two of my favourite teachers, Prem and Radha at Ashtanga Yoga Bali. Tuesday was my last practice with them. The weather was warm but not too hot. I felt focussed and energised. The vibes in the shala were in tune with how I felt. I almost shed a tear when I sang the closing chant. It was a great practice.

After travelling home on Wednesday, I allowed myself a day off. On Thursday, I went to a friend’s Vinyasa class and Friday, after sleeping in, I finally climbed on my mat again. It felt good, but not as good as my last practice in Bali. I was missing the energy of the shala, the presence of the teachers and fellow practitioners. Saturday no practice of course, but a few glasses of wine, a delicious meat stew made by our neighbour, lots of cheese, up till late and what do you know, when I finally made it to the mat on Sunday around 10 am, I felt like crap. The heating system in the living room wasn’t working, I was cold and unable to warm up. My body felt tight and rigid. Energyless, I skipped a part of the closing sequence and I was frustrated from beginning to end.

Am I really going to let all the progress I had achieved go to waste? After three weeks of daily practice with dedicated Ashtanga teachers who – as usual – re-polished my alignment and gave me all the practical modifications I need for my still rather tight shoulder joint, am I really going to fall back into my undisciplined routine?

It’s time for a change.

I will from henceforth commit to a daily practice again – Saturdays, moondays and “ladies’ moondays” excepted. Also, since I really don’t want to be an Ashtanga fundamentalist, I will allow myself to skip an Ashtanga practice if I go to another yoga class – Vinyasa, Hatha, Yin, anything. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

However, as my husband and several others close to me will attest, is it not the first time that I set that intention. And frankly, my self-practice track record is deplorable.

So here is where this morning’s brainwave comes in.

Instead of committing to just the practice, I will commit to writing about it. By creating a potential world wide audience for my acte the présence on the mat with my blogs, I will pretend that the entire world is watching over my shoulder. Even if not a single soul reads my blogs, I will feel the pressure of having to show up. I will ujjayi breathe my way through the practice feeling the piercing eyes of an anonymous crowd following my moves.

And perhaps, as a bonus, I will inspire some other lazy Ashtangis out there. Maybe, my stories will help others to find strength, knowing that they are not the only ones struggling with the discipline of a daily practice.

So here’s to the birth of my weekly blog, the diary of a lazy Ashtangi.

See you on the mat!

Yoga Farts (or why Ashtanga is fun).

Ashtanga is fun, really.

Ashtangis take themselves very seriously.  They are bit like the military branch of the yoga community. Ruthless training six times a week early in the morning, no deviation from the routine, absolutely no practice on Saturdays nor Moon Days and for the ladies, no practice either on their “personal moon days”.

Ashtanga is seriously intense if you want to do it properly.  Weakness (of the mind) is harshly looked down upon, so you need physical strength and discipline to keep up your daily practices.  And the practices are not for the faint-hearted.  None of that lying down in between asanas (poses) and resting horizontally for 20 breaths after each forward bend.  Oh no, you keep going, flowing from pretzel pose to pretzel pose, folding your shoulders under your knees and your ankles behind your neck in a constant, regular rhythm.  If you’re slow, like me, it takes 90 minutes to do just three quarters of the Primary Series.  Imagine how long my work out will be by the time I’m allowed to do the entire Primary…

Oh yes, proper Ashtanga teachers don’t just teach you the entire Primary in one week.  No no no, one by one, poses are “given” to you when you are well and truly ready to open up for a new asana.  You have to deserve it.  True Ashtanga practitioners also must go to Mysore, which is where the guru of modern Ashtanga came from.  You cannot pretend to be a serious Ashtangi if you have never been to Mysore and practiced with guruji or his descendants.  It’s almost like a cult and it scares me a bit, but at the same time, I really want to go there some day to see what the fuss is all about.

But to cut it short, the point I’m making is that Ashtangis take themselves rather seriously.

And this is where, according to me, it becomes crucial to consume only healthy foods when you practice Ashtanga.  Not only because one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga dictates inner cleanliness, but simply to avoid loss of far… sorry, face.  Let me explain my trail of thoughts to you.

I will not start the debate here on what is healthy and what is not (such as fatty meat, refined sugars, processed foods, just to mention a few), but in the end we all know that unhealthy food drains you of energy, can give you a bloated feeling in the stomach, followed by rumbling intestines and more of these discomforts.  And we all know this can lead to gas and we all know what happens when you get gassy.  You fart.  The air has to come out and there is only one way.  Out of your anus.  Everybody has the same embarrassing problem, even if they angelically pretend they don’t.  Meat farts definitely score high on the putridity scale, veggie farts are less toxic for the environment, it seems (human ones that is, not talking about cows here. Although I’ve seen some on the mat…).

Anyway, a fart is a fart.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can control it, but most of the time, it will come out anyway.  The pressure builds up, you’ve tried everything, from relaxing your belly to cramping up your poo hole but ultimately, you let one rip.  And that can happen in any normal daily situation, like in the crowded tram during peak hour or during an interview for the job of your dreams.

Imagine cutting one loose during your yoga practice.  There you are, desperately trying to get into Pindasana, folded back leaning on your neck and shoulders, legs crossed in lotus, your arms hugging your knees and your ass pointing upwards as vertically as possible.  Do you feel the pressure of last night’s cheese fondue building up? Exactly.  Mula Bandha or not, it’s straightforward physics… Or is it biology?

It gets even better (or worse) when the teacher is adjusting you.  Somehow, the ideal position for the teacher when assisting you, puts him more often then not with his face close to your bum.  So when your teacher, your guru, the person you look up to like to a god because he can do amazing asanas that you can only dream of, when this revered human being slowly and intimately pushes you into the pose with his nose dangerously close to the hole you’re supposed to control with your Mula Bandha, all you can think of is “Please don’t fart, please don’t fart, no no no, pleeease don’t fart…” and the harder you think it, the more you cramp up, the higher the pressure and… Yes, exactly.

So all these Ashtangis take themselves super seriously.  They don’t smile during practice, because somehow I think it’s physically impossible to smile when you have to stare at an imaginary point 10 cm from the tip of your nose – without looking completely retarded that is.  They can’t sit down and relax in between poses, because it’s key to stay in the meditative flow.  They can’t look around and enjoy watching other peoples accomplishments, because it’s all about internal focus and concentration.  But they know that beginners sneakily stare at them from under their armpits, so they need to look good.  It’s all very serious business.

Until all these efforts explode in the teacher’s face with a loud fart.

No wonder serious Ashtanga practitioners eat as healthy as possible…

Ashtanga is fun, really,  if you look at it from the right perspective.

Bums up!

Note:  I have to thank all the Ashtanga people I’ve met around the world who dared to share their windy stories with me, verbally or anally, voluntarily or not.  So far, I’ve been lucky.