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 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 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!