“The intelligence of the mind can’t think of any reason to live, but it goes on anyway because the intelligence of the cells can’t think of any reason to die.”
Robert Pirsig

Lila

Yoga On the Mat Practice: Summer 2015

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It’s been over a year since I wrote about my practice. It has been a period of regular practice but not of regular writing (which I guess reflects on my state of being too).

I made a conscious choice to travel less (than I did in the previous period). That made for less interruptions in the continuity of my practice. There have been short disruptions in practice like when Annelieke arrives for a visit (though that has become less disruptive as we settle into a known rhythm of being together) or when I went away to give a yoga weekend workshop.

During periods of disruption I don’t usually practice. In the past I sometimes tried to but I came to realize that I was pushing myself into a mode of struggling and overcoming myself and that neither works nor is something I want to nourish in myself. They effect of me in a subtle but noticeable way. While the practice itself has been robust, my life feels more fragile. I need to be stable and settled to get on the mat. Disruptions resonate strongly inside me.

My practice was severely disrupted when my spring allergy kicked in at the beginning of June. I was able to resume an irregular practice in July and am just now starting to settle back in to a continuous daily rhythm.

In February I visited Israel for a 4 day home retreat with Paul. I had a one-on-one session with Paul during which he offered me a vinyasa of Pranayama practices (see below or details).

Asana Practice

I have been living with the same asana practice (with slight modifications) for almost two years. I am sometimes surprised that it still engages me.

ronen-november-2013

  • I feel strength and stability in practice.
  • My base breathing throughout most of the practice sequence is either 8.0.8.0 and evolving towards 8.0.10.0 and beyond.
  • The breathing it what engages me most. When my attention lapses my breath is the first thing to be affected. When my attention is stable my breathing is full, consistent and spacious. It is my main avenue of exploration and development in the more stimulating asana like utkatasana, adhomukha svanasana and the raised leg sequence.
  • I have settled into a bhavana of opening / expanding the chest. It is predominantly noticeable in the standing and lying twists. It is present in all the forward bends … both in preparing to go into the bend and in coming out. It is present in adhomukha svanasana and in dandasana.

I have experimented with and introduced a few modifications:

  • The trikonasana sequence has been elaborated. Initially by my teacher who suggested I do 2x regular + 2x twisted + 2x regular. I have also added a stay of 1 breath on each side of the last couple of (regular) movements.
  • When I felt steady and established in utkatasana I experimented with a krama going down stopping for a short pause (with BK) in ardha utkatasana. Though it felt like a good modification it was demanding and I was only able to contain it during stable and continuous and undisturbed periods of at least 2 or 3 weeks of practice. Because of disruptions I decided to set it aside. Instead I have returned to a tried-and-true focus of refining and extending the exhale which, with stable attention, can go to 10 or even 12 seconds (without collapsing at the end of the 6x repeat).
  • I have introduced a breathing ratio in adhomukha svanasana of 2×8.0.10.0 + 2×10.0.10.0. This has been a remarkable evolution. When I started this sequence I was struggling with 4.0.4.0. The evolution of this asana has been all breath. Whenever I tried to focus on physicality I felt effort and tension building up. Whenever I focus on breath I find it leads to physical development (including spaciousness in torso allowing for elaborate directional breathing, hips loosening and lowering of ankles).
  • In urdhva prasrta padasna I raise my legs to 90deg and then with each movement gradually increase the angle to which I lower my legs: ~80, 45, 10 and back down.
  • In jathara parivrtti there are two modifications. I have gone back to the S1/2/3 variation and I have settled into a breathing vinyasa resulting in: S1/_ 6.0.8.0, S2/_ 8.0.8.0, S3/_ 8.0.10.0.
  • I explored for a few days with introducing a mild back-bend sequence. My physical body welcomed it. However it did seem to have a slight but noticeable agitating effect (at the time) which effected my pranayama and my sleep. I’m looking forward to reintroducing this … maybe later this summer when I re-settle into stability.
  • I have changed the dandasana sequence from repeat 4 times to repeat 2 times with stay 1 breath. This brings into focus for me opening of the chest, sustained extension of the spine and spaciousness in my shoulder and shoulder-blades.
  • In janusirsasana I have been gradually able to open up my hip joint more and more. Coming out of the allergy I have been gradually resolving a tension in my lower back and hips (which I believe is also related to the knee-pains I experienced while coming out of the allergy).

There has also been a subtle shift in my relationship with savasana. It is no longer a trap I prefer to avoid, fearing it my capture me and send me into heaviness. It serves me well. Many times a short stay is all that is needed. Sometimes I will stay longer. On rare ocassions, usually in or near illness, it may become the end of a practice session (meaning that I do not complete the practice) but that is not because of a feeling a heaviness but because of a good stay in savasana itself.

Pranayama

My teacher gave me the following practice sequence:

  1. 5.0.10.0 x8br anuloma ujjayi
    10.0.10.0 x12br pratiloma ujjayi
    5.0.10.0 x8br anuloma ujjayi
    5.0.5.0 x4br ujjayi
  2. 8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.0.10.0 x12br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    5.0.5.0 x4br ujjayi
  3. 8.0.12.0 x8br anuloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x12br pratiloma ujjayi
    6.0.12.0 x8br anuloma ujjayi
    6.0.6.0 x4br ujjayi
  4. 8.0.8.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    10.0.10.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x12br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

I stayed with the first sequence for almost 2 months – until ~mid-April. It took time for a stability and quality to manifest in the practice. Then things seemed to move fast. I moved into the 2nd sequence in mid April and then into the 3rd in Mid May. I was thinking of moving into the 4th sequence but then allergy crashed into my practice.

To my surprise (given how compromised my breathing was during the allergy period) to find that I could resume the 3rd sequence which is where I am. I have still not come back to a finesse I experienced before the allergy crash. I am still experiencing some blockage in my nasal passages and some irritation in my chest which are effecting my overall practice and especially the quality of my pranayama practice.

Also, I don’t know for how long this has been going on (it could be from when I recent got back to practice, but I really can’t say): I misread the practice sequence and I have been doing all pratiloma ujjayi instead of combined anuloma ujjayi (in the 3rd sequence that I am currently practicing).

On the Mat and Off the Mat

During the last couple of months I’ve been keeping busy by taking in a bulding project (building a wooden deck with a roof over it to create an outside space for me to be in and a summer kitchen). It filled my days.

Just this year I realized that the recurring allergy comes at exactly the time when gardening peaks and is having an accumulative effect. The allergy not only prevents me from being there at the right time. It also prevents me from going there because by the time I do weeds have taken over. Over the years this has inhibited me from forming a nourishing relationship with gardening. It has also created an avoidance since I do not enjoy “battling” weeds and I am interested in transforming the story of weeds from something I need to battle to something that nourishes and support me. So once, again the garden is mostly out of control … though there is some nice yield from plants that managed to get along without my intervention.

Many days my on-the-mat practice feels like the only substantial thing I do. Many days I feel that I live a purposeless life. I am also practicing living a life of rest and spaciousness. However there is also a part of me that is still looking to engage. If I let that part of me expand I end up hurting emotionally … and I don’t want to shut-off that part of me. Living with feels like a precarious balancing act. When I lose balance, my on-the-mat practice suffers and a negative feedback loop begins. Getting that balance is key to me arriving well at the mat and staying in an neutral loop and an overall feeling of equanimity and balance (=not falling into emotional pain).

In a way, the question of “why practice? what for?” is lurking in the background looking to make an appearance. I don’t feel it is a constructive question that has real substance to it. But I can’t really avoid it … it seems I can only try not falling into it.

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