“I’d say, ‘Trane, man, why are you doing that, beating on your chest and howling in the microphone?’. He’d say, ‘Man, I can’t find anything else to play on the horn.’ He exhausted the saxophone. He couldn’t find nothing else to play… he ran out of horn”
Rashied Ali

Coltrane - The Story of a Sound

Yoga Practice Charts 2021

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In some past Yoga check-ins, I tried using graphs to illustrate how my sense of well-being fluctuates. The graphs were created in retrospect and I invented data to try to express how I felt. In 2021 I initiated a journaling experiment to see what real data might look like. I use a spreadsheet to collect both qualitative indicators and textual notes.

In this post, I will describe the journaling process and share charts that describe the second half of the year 2021. In the future, I intend to periodically (probably quarterly) reflect and report in this way on my practice.

Quantitative Indicators

The first set of indicators are qualitative and describe how my feeling changed compared to the previous day. A negative number indicates a decline and a positive number indicates an improvement. I adopted the following value framing:

  • 1 indicates a slight, barely noticeable change.
  • 2 indicates a slight but clearly noticeable shift.
  • 5 indicates a minot shift.
  • 10 indicates a major shift.

I move within this basic framework to numerically express the change I am experiencing.

These are the qualitative indicators I journal:

  1. Phsyical vitality
  2. Physical strength
  3. Physical flexibility
  4. Physial lightness
  5. Breath strength
  6. Breath flexibility
  7. Breath open-ness of channels
  8. Presence

Qualitative Journaling Points

  1. Modality of practice (Healing/Health/Beyond)
  2. Life events that took place the previous day and stood out in my awareness in a way that may have affected my sense of well-being
  3. Emtional observations
  4. Physical observations
  5. Breath observations
  6. Presence observations
  7. Other notes

Asana & Pranayama Practice Journaling

For asana practice, I have mapped a group of columns that correlate each to either specific asana or groups of asana that make up my practice. I then use a number (a rating based on the above-mentioned 1,2,5,10 framework) in each to indicate the intensity and quality within the practice. This is of course subjective (the numbers don’t even offer any equivalency between different asana) but within a constant frame. The sum of those numbers says something about the breadth and depth of the practice. I sometimes also add some comments about the practice or its development.

For pranayama, I notate the actual breathing practice (using breathing formulas) and also give the practice an overall numeric value which is for charting its evolution.

Aggregating & Charting

The following indicators are aggregated and charted:

  1. The physical indicators are aggregated into one indicator.
  2. The breathing indicators are aggregated ito one indicator.
  3. The presence indicator is used as is.
  4. An integrated indicator is created for physical + breath + presence.
  5. An asana practice indicator is generated by summing up the asana indicators. Zero means I did not do an asana practice.
  6. The pranayama indicator is used as is. Zero means I did not do a pranayama practice.

These indicators are normalized to create a unified chart. However, the chart has no y-axis because the values are not really significant or comparable. There is, for example, no meaning to compare physical well-being to breath well-being. The integrated indicators is slightly raised compared to the base indicators for presentation purposes only.

Each monthly chart includes 10 days from the previous month and 10 days from the following month to allow for overlapping that can give some context to what occurred within the month.

2021 Monthly Charts

2021 Yearly Charts

Observations

It has been interesting to look at these charts, especially the overall half-year perspective and reflect on what the chart shows and how it correlates to my lived experience.

  1. Allergy – I started the journaling process as I was coming out of the allergy period which is a low point in the year. This is confrmed by the overall rise throughout the year. I feel this is a recurring yearly cycle though I do believe its form has changed over the years. I believe that this “allergy dip” has become more moderate (not falling as much), falls more gradually and less like a collapse, is overall shorter and the recovery is quicker. I am curius to see what future years bring both in terms of my direct experience and what the charts may show.
  2. Emotional Volatility – I experienced a lot of emotional volatility and fluctuation over the year. In my awareness this relates both to my personal sphere of existence and my perceived state of the world within my limited information intake. This is reflected in the continuous fluctuation of both asana & pranayama practice. My body and breath seem to absorb and express these fluctuations.
  3. Breath Sensitivity – at first look there seems to be a discrepency between the breath and pranayama graphs. Within my subjective experience my breath has not been well for quite some time. But when I think and say “not well” is needs to be put into perspective. It is “not well” in relation to my past perception of the potential of my breath. So even when I describe my breathing as “not well” it is still in in pretty good shape. Within this state-of-breath, relatively small fluctuations in my nostril-blockage and chest tightness can severely impact my pranayama. This is why the overall breath indicator is fairly steady but the actual pranayama practice fluctuates.
  4. Breath Blockage – Something in my mentality towards breath has shifted. I used to be in a “healing” mindset towards breath and I have slowly moved away from that. I have realized that my breath has been challenged in some way for most of my life. It expressed primarily as somewhat blocked nostrils and secondarily as tightness in the chest. My lived expereince is that my breathing difficulties are subtly correlated to stress and anxiety. Living in retreat has made stress and anxiety relatively subtle – which means I notice and am more sensitive to smaller fluctuations. In addition to that the emotional fluctuations of the past year have introduced a heaviess and lack of vitality which also negatively effects my breathing. I believe that changes to my overall life and well-being are both reflected in my breath and the key to improving it. So, I have settled into a posture of embrace and acceptance of my breath as it is. I try to inhabit it as best I can without applying any ambition to it.
  5. Body & Breath:
    1. Diminished breathing capacity (reflected as drops in Pranayama) is usually the reason for diminished asana practice. The pranayama and asana graphs either drop together or a drop in pranayama is followed by a drop in asana.
    2. Then, recovery in asana leads to a recovery of breath and pranayama. The asana graph usually rises before the pranayama graph.
    3. In this charted period I am still able to practice a moderated asana practice when my pranayama is diminished or absent. These periods when my breath and body feel diminishes create the conditions for practicing presence: if I am not present asana practice has a negative effect on my breath. So in order to practice I need to be attentive, soft and and caring with my body and breath.
  6. Steady presence and attention – it seems that while my body and breath absorb my emotional fluctuation my sense of presence has been fairly steady. It does fluctutate, it is clearly effected by more extreme emotional fluctuations, but overall I have felt, within this emotionally tumultous period, stable. I attribute this primarily to the Samkhya study process which has had a surprising effect on me (I still find it hard to believe how study of a text can have such an effect). I also attribute this to the mental shift (see 4 above) in relation to the breathing blockage. The shift from “fixing it” to “inhabitting it” also caused a shift from “applying force to it” to “softening into it” and that too has had a stabilizing effect on my sense of presence.
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