28 Jun 2011

Broken Heart and Backbends

I'd avoided intermediate series for a little while directly after the earthquake, as it is such a heart opening and nerve stimulating practice, I felt I didn't need my heart opened any further when it was already torn to shreds. My heart is open, I have deep empathy and I'll admit I am highly strung,. When I watch the news my heart breaks, every time. It's bad enough for the survivors of the quake, often overcome with feelings of guilt at having survived, when their whole family perished, losing everything they’d worked hard for a whole life, but there is some modicum of focus to rebuild and start again. The destruction was visible, violent, yet it's happened. Over, reconstruction is under way.

It's Fukushima that is shredding my heart to pieces. Every time I see these poor confused, fearful faces on T.V. discussing matters, that until now it was only necessary for nuclear physicists to fully comprehend. There is confusion, and fear. Fear of the unknown, the unseen. The fact is much about radiation is still unknown, we know it is harmful, and that it works in mysterious ways. I have learnt a lot these last few months, we all have. You may say it's their fault for living in close proximity, for allowing these things to be done, but with the force of the government and rich corporations spending big yen to persuade, brain wash people into believing it's safe the regular farmer will go along, trusting the government not to put it's own people at risk. I shall not go into things here, it's not the place, I just want to say it's truly breaking my heart. Fukushima is a beautiful idyllic place. Many of these people work the land, have big old beautiful houses, some with gardens tended over generations, and they are being asked to leave. Or rather in some cases given the choice to leave. Where the radiation levels are clearly maxing out evacuation is mandatory. But where the accumulated dose over a year would equal that of a nuclear power worker's limit, they are given a choice.

I want to offer yogic condolences, suggest reading the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Yoga Sutras, find spiritual comfort and start life anew somewhere else. But these are normal people, attached to their land, possessions, many elderly, planning to live out their years amongst the things they have earnt, worked for and accumulated.

My heart breaks and breaks.

Of course the situation made me look at my life. I had dreams about evacuation, what to take, I was on the bus fleeing from the unseen danger seeping from the nuclear plant. I have been on a minimal possession  route since university. Well it's always been my ideal. however recent years saw this slip and I accumulated. For the past three years I have been steadily reducing, simplifying and clearing. I have no particular bonds to land. I could be happy here, in the UK, in India, the US. For me, on good days, I like to feel the world is my home.

Today was another relatively good practice, as good as it gets with this heavy heart, almost back on form. I try not to dwell, it does no good, but it's tough. Fukushima is our neighbour, I have many friends there. Some sticking it out at their posts, others nearer the plant moving away. One couple are hoping to move here.

To backbend intensely, or not? I feel that my heart needs relief, but is a little sore.

I'm doing minimal at the moment, three from the floor and then about 5 drop backs, it does feel good. Kapotasana was a lovely stretch, hip flexors aching pleasantly today. Haven't taken a photo for a few years, there is a little change. Feet still splayed to stand up, this picture was just before standing up. It's good to see the photographic evidence. Makes it clear where I need to work. My chest and shoulders seem fine, it's those hip flexors that need some attention.  Hmm, more drop backs tomorrow.  Was impressed with Grimmly's 108, I thought I'd go for a modest 35 first.  It looked like it felt sooooo good.

27 Jun 2011

Fragrant Potions

Yesterday I dragged my body, kicking and screaming, through a very difficult intermediate series, like it was a bag of bricks, a screaming bag with sharp corners. Lumpy, heavy and achy. Every emotion decided to raise it's head, and nearly dozed off at one point. Concentration at an all time low. But I made it to the end and felt moderately better for doing so.

Took myself to a hot spring, the bath was amazing, but was not in the mood for being stared at....being a white non-japanese person is still of interest to people here. Reminded me why I don't go out on Sunday's much unless it's up a mountain or in the ocean. I don't like being gawped at. Especially when having a bath.

Next was an aromatherapy class, held by a lady in one of my yoga classes. Glad I went, she taught us how to making a detoxifying massage oil.

I felt like a witch. I've always wanted to be a witch. She told us the properties of five oils good for detoxifying, then we selected the ones we liked, combining and proportions was left to us. Everyone's smelt totally different.

My mixture was:
Cypress: good for calming and soothing anger and irritability, relieving arthritis, cellulite, rheumatism, varicose veins, calms nerves.

Grapefruit: good for muscle fatigue, moodiness, mental and physical tiredness. Muscle stiffness, cellulite and bolstering the nervous system. Helps clear lymphatic system, stimulates and clears toxins.

Juniper: Calms nerves, relieves anxiety and mental exhaustion. Tonic effect on the liver. Relieves inflammation and eliminates uric acid, so relieves pain or rheumatism and arthritis. Good for study, concentration and spiritual awakening.

We were taught how to massage, with a focus on lymph glands and eliminating toxins. Like a good student I followed orders had a bath, drank lots of water and slathered on the oil before bed. Felt nice, smelt good. Had a long deep sleep.

However, it wasn't until I practiced this morning that I noticed I felt a little more bendy, lighter, generally better. Something seemed to work. Shall definitely be trying that again.

22 Jun 2011

Reading recommendations anyone?

Practice before reading the news was good,. Felt much steadier and more enjoyable, not so much craziness in my mind to calm first thing in the day. Instead I finished off the Bhagavadgita with morning tea. Such a slim text, but dense, perfect pre-practice reading. 

Think I shall have to restrict my news intake to basic checks once a day. It's just that I like to know, to know what's going on, and then why? What are the effects, what's happening around me. It's just that there is SO much bad news right now. It's overwhelming. The papers hop around from crisis to crisis.

The other morning I spent reading a text summerising A LOT of Chernobyl research, the final chapter: Decorporation of Chernobyl Radionuclides was of particular interest...hmmmm well information is power.

Time for a rest.

However living an area with the biggest nuclear crisis in history unfolding is tough. Even without the news my equanimity is disturbed. A visit from a friend with radiation on his mind, followed by a visiting student to class. His face look disturbed and his practice was intense, he hung around to chat. He was from a radiation hot spot area, there is a certain look of intense stress and ingrained fear that these people wear, very distinct expression. He is looking for a place to move to. We talked and talked. I tried to keep my mind from racing off into fear. Need to keep clear, to read the situation. Think he needed to talk, he face lightened a little and I could see his real self. Tough times, tough conversations, soul searching and decision making. At the end of our talk he asked where I was from and then told me I had a very eastern perspective on things.

So I shall continue to monitor the radiation here, and pray with all my might that something can be done to get this under control. Pray also that people have the power to do what they need to do.

The Bhagavadgita lent me inspiration of a strange bent, but the words resonated and offered a degree of comfort. These are the parts that resonated this time round, wonder what will next time I read it. 

Anyone read a particularly good translation? I have a feeling there maybe some better ones out there. And think I could read another version quite happily. What other inspirational books do people read? Or maybe I should just stick to escaping into novels again......

Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for a reward; but never cease to work.

A harmony in eating and resting, in sleeping and keeping awake; a perfection in whatever one does. This is the Yoga that gives peace from all pain.

The man who has a good will for all, who is friendly and has compassion; who has no thoughts of 'I' or 'mine', whose peace is the same in pleasures and sorrows, and who is forgiving;

He whose peace is not shaken by others, and before whom other people find peace, beyond excitement and anger and fear - he is dear to me.

The man whose love is the same for his enemies or his friends, whose soul is the same in honour or disgrace, who is beyond heat or cold, or pleasure or pain, who is free from the chains of attachments.

Freedom from the chains of attachments; even from a selfish attachment to one's children, wife, or home; an ever-present evenness of mind in pleasant or unpleasant events;

Intermediate, no krama insertions today. But full standing sequence, love the homey feel of it, and it felt good to do a more 'pure' practice for once. Still pain at times, and still definitely no leg behind head or lotus. But as I said I am concentrating on what I can do.  Shall do more Krama on days when I can practice for longer.

21 Jun 2011

That's better

Haa, feels like a breath of fresh air not to be writing on black anymore.  I am very much NOT a black person, and I really think my blog colour was having an effect on me. 

I really do believe, and feel the effect colours have on us, I love to have bright, airy colours around me.  Why oh why did I do the black blog for sooo long. 

Today's practice was cramped and forced, I really wasn't in the mood, so I did standing, slowly, slowly, slowly and a long savasana.  Felt good.  I must also change my morning routine.  I think I need to get on the mat before I check the news and take a look at the radiation levels.  It\s become a habit I am not too fond of.  Morning routines can really set the scene for the day, don't you think?  Think news after breakfast is probably a better idea right now.

Ahhh blue blog.  Feels good.

20 Jun 2011

Charity Yoga

Yesterday we gathered up the mountain for an early summer solstice celebration. Two days early because more people can come on a Sunday, and I wanted to donate proceeds to the earthquake fund. Last year we gathered on the solstice, at 5.30am, but this year it was a much easier time of 7.30am.  It was a god turn out, a big cirlce under an octagonal roof on the side of Mt. Zao.

We practiced a simple sequence, many sun salutations, then some pranayama finishing with a meditation. To charge us, keep spirits and bodies strong, and send out some much needed good vibes into the world. It was nice to see people from my different classes get to sit down and talk together, all having yoga in common, they chatted and shared and communicated. That's what it's all about. A community of beautiful spirits, sharing experiences on this path we walk. I randomly put people into groups, as with a group of that size people tend to stick to who they already know and topics they always share.  I wondered around joining in the group sessions, some good conversations going on, every little group had it's own vibe, some very serious, others more spiritual, all good, we talked about spontaneity, mystical experiences, home practice, consumer power, varied as the people that participated. Think we all felt the joy and comfort of a yoga community.

When everyone went home, I sat by a lake, still by myself for a while, reflecting on the morning. I often wish I were a participant of classes, as I don't get the full experience, having to keep the class going, watching time, trying to make things go smooth and fun. I hope it worked for everyone. The chai was a little too sweet perhaps, and shockingly I forgot our finishing mantra, oh well, organising these events, like anything else takes practice.

Oh and today I could donate 40,000yen to Red Cross. Every little helps, and a lot of help is needed.

Om Shanti.

18 Jun 2011

Playing yoga

Something is working.  Last weekend just walking hurt, going up and down stairs was very painful and had to hop and skip to take the weight off my right leg.  But now,  I can walk up and down pain free. Even sit in a loose half lotus, good leg in lotus.  An effective combination of time, yoga and supplements, given to me by a riend hyaloronic acid, collagen and other stuff pills, seems to be doing the trick...perhaps.

Practice is fun again. I have made an intermediate based sequence to work on for a while until things are back to normal.

Working on: leg strengthening, particularly glutes and quads.

Avoiding: lotus, externally rotating thigh bends (janu sirasana type), legs behind head until hip settles, and kapotasana for a little while due to the strain it puts on my nobbly knees.

For now it's standing asana for eight long breaths, minus parsvokasana and ardha baddha padmotanasana, replaced with standing eagle...which I love, and works all the places I want to get to right now. Always wish this were in the Ashtanga sequence, something about it, the focus and windy-roundy-ness of it.

Then onto Krama yoga's bow sequence, which I am thoroughly enjoying, bakasana, pincha murayasana, followed by attempts at vrishchikasana and mayurasana for fun. Scorpion is one of those I've always wanted to do, so while hips and knees are out of action shall keep focusing on what asana are left to me. Back bending and dropbacks still good, so finishing sequence is intact, finishing with extra long headstand and variations ending up with pranayama.

The whole point of this yoga for me right now is to continue with practice, to regain strength, peace of mind, and to enjoy it. To not get attached to achieving certain goals. Have had to let go of my dwi pada (both legs behind head) aspirations for a little while.

But feel like my practice has taken on a new lease of life, like I've just got a little freer while I iron out these physical kinks and see what can be done.  I am so happy just to be practicing pain free. I feel like I'm playing.

14 Jun 2011

My body, my style, and a bit of krama

So with new developments on the hip and knee front I have decided to buckle down and rehabilitate. Have always pretty much stuck with a relatively traditional practice but now, it just wouldn't be yoga to plough my way through. After all, what is yoga? Asana are to keep the body strong, supple and running smoothly biologically and energetically. I can still practice Ashtanga in the true sense of the eight limbs. 

Don't think I realised quite how much boarding both on snow and in sea kept my legs and hips strong and stable. Now all the weirdness in my practice over the years has come into focus. I thought my clonks and aches were just normal, that everyone had this. Seems that I was doing it right by the extra leg work exercise.  There will be no body boarding this year, so it's gonna be all down to my asana practice to get my strength back.

Right now I need some maintenance work. Am sticking with a intermediate framework. Lots of standing poses, especially work on gluteus medius and minimus, to keep that trochanter where it should be. Have found the one legged toes holds for extended periods and eagle pose are reaching the parts that need working on. Then am using the Krama, thanks to inspiration from Grimmly, sequencing for locust poses, the Bow Pose Sequence. Not a world away from Jois ashtanga, just a lot more build up and repetition, and sequenced very diferently, really working on and into the core of key asana. Can really feel that this yoga came from the same source so still feel like I am being true to my ashtanga roots.  Shall also work on the arm balances, and back bending.  Leaving of the leg behind head poses and tittibhasana well alone for a while, until I've stabilised my hips and the knee pain is gone.

Am actually quite excited.  Today's pincha mayurasana was great, even getting nearer vrishchikasana.  Mayurasana is a way off but shall work on that.  Back bends were also good, keeping legs grounded and strong.  Am feeling today's practice in all the right places.  Lotus will be off the menu for a little while, as will most bent knee asana but there is so much more out there.  This is fun, was so stuck in my regular practice, attached to the desire to complete intermediate series. It's actually rather refreshing to let go, and walk down a different road for a little while.  May even try to blog a little more...

13 Jun 2011

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Those were the words that struck me in Haruki Murakami's book, 'What I talk about when I talk about running'. This has been pure masochistic reading material. I used to really enjoy running, and was about to start up again, knee on the mend, ordered this book to pep me up for the occasional jog around the neighbourhood. I enjoy the simplicity of running, just one foot in front of the other, breathing and taking in the view. But alas, not for a while longer, my knee popped again, more days of hobbling around, trying not to suffer but doing a terrible job. Reading about running, longing my knee to heal, obsessing about what could be wrong. Pouring over anatomy books, internet sites, fiddling with bones and ligaments, trying to find the cause. I knew it was definitely coming from my hip, but why? I'm very very careful with my alignment, not too forceful, my hips aren't so tight that I've been forcing lotus.  

Was feeling down, not just because of the pain, but because I didn't know exactly what the source of this pain was. The only thing I’d been doing differently was working hard at both legs behind head……a valid enough cause perhaps, and had been experimenting with lifting my heels coming up from backbends in order to keep my feet parallel. Something I remember being told not to do a long time ago, by whom, I can’t remember but something about too much pressure on knees was mentioned.

This morning I gave up and went to the doctor. The doctor who gives me lessons. This time was quite a surprise, he pulled and prodded, questioned and listened. I like this doctor. So many doctors here just don't listen. Off I was sent for x-rays. Wasn't too keen, what with all the radiation talk about, but hey, top me up a bit more!! So it seems that I have something called developmental dysplasia of hips, very shallow hip sockets, which is quite rare in Caucasians, cartilage is normal hence the hip pain, hence the clonkiness of my femurs not quite in place, shifting position and putting pressure on my knee, thus slightly damaging my medial meniscus. He said it would have been very easy for me to dislocate my hips as a child, I do remember being very open in ballet class. So the recent change was probably brought on my me losing the muscle that was keeping my femur in place, abrupt ending to snowboarding, and no body boarding this year, and by lots of stretching.....so here we go again, knee rehabilitation part 2.  Experiments with Ashtanga yoga. How much modification will be needed unttil this one heals. For now I have to really work on building the muscles that stabilise my hip joints. A lovely lady in rehabilitation gave me some tips, most of which I can insert into my practice. Ride my bike up mountains more, and see how it goes.

Amazingly, now I have an answer, even though the pain is the same, I feel considerably less suffering.

11 Jun 2011

Married life and Practice

At times I have most definitely neglected my husband in favour of yoga practice, however marriage is also a practice and have since readjusted my misplaced priorities. But they do at times clash. Last Sunday I'd made plans with H, his last day off for a few weeks, but really felt like a Sunday morning practice with people - dilemma. Determined to have my cake and eat it too, I crept off early to practice, it was the fastest intermediate series, I have ever done. Done properly, to count, minimal fussing, maximum effort. It was amazing. I sweated profusely, focused intensely, I should be practicing like this all the time. One hour exactly, only practicing up to dwi pada, where I flail around like a weeble, three dropbacks and finishing. Felt wonderful, I was home, showered and changed before H even woke up. Mission accomplished. Must set time limits a little more often, seems I have been lacking in determination and speed of late. There is something to be said for a faster pace, as well as the concentration that comes from practicing somewhere with no distractions. Practicing with people does seem to make it much easier, less fiddling, unspoken support, more energy in the room. The irritations I experienced before were gone, as suspected it was all my problem, usually is. That's the biggest thing I've come to understand, both in yoga, and living in Japan and being married. Take a good look at yourself before pointing the finger. This has been the most revealing practice.

As I said I have, at times, spent a little too much time with yoga, and not with husband, but this is probably all for the best, and he is very encouraging of my pursuit. Undoubtedly because he has seen the positive effects it's had on me over the years, and thus upon us.

Marriage like yoga like life is all practice.  Open up and feel the light.

1 Jun 2011

As for practice

It's there、daily practice.. Each practice has a different focus, depending the state of my body, energy levels, weather, that day's schedule.

Recently I have been continuing the struggle with legs behind head. This week has been rather stiff and heavy Sunday it felt like I was dragging myself kicking and screaming through the whole practice. Thoughts of why am I doing this, I should quit ashtanga, my body just isn't the right shape, flashed through my mind. Actually, for the first time, my frustration peaked and nearly ended in tears. Negativity and defeat. To overcome this was my lesson of the week, keep practicing and let go of the outcome. Practice for practice’s sake, practice is the key word here, not perfection. Let go of expectation. That was Sunday, since then I’ve been focusing on what I can do, working harder at landing Bakasana B and generally enjoying the inner freedom I feel when on the mat and am able to let go of the outcomes.

I heard about a lady who is practicing really hard because she wants to be a yoga teacher. This struck me as so incongruent, such a bizarre goal to hold. To practice hard to become a teacher?? Seriously? Seems to be the antithesis of what a yoga practice is about. Is this really what it’s all about? Practice should be something a little sacred, something you enjoy, something that makes you feel better, to try hard to progress, to become a better, stronger, calmer, clearer person, at least that’s what got me practicing hard in the first place. Perhaps I should call myself the reluctant teacher, a role I originally took because I just wanted yoga in my life, with other people who love it around me, and with the departure of my teacher, fear that what we had would be lost. Admittedly I absolutely love to share, love to see the progression, love to see people change, love going to class and being with all the wonderful people gathered, for this I am incredibly grateful. But, I do have those weeks, like this last one, where I’ve been wishing I could concentrate more energy on my own practice, feeling like running off to India. Last week was the busiest week I’ve had in a while, no time to stop. I did get to practice everyday, but I really had to schedule in my practice time, and I wonder why I was so stiff and heavy.

So, I shall try hard to not attach myself to outcomes. Practice for practice’s sake. Ahem, while working on floaty jump throughs, some kind of jump back, and bakasana b landing, hmmm.