Saturday, May 16, 2009


Friday 4:15 pm with Janna
Saturday 9:30 am with Amy

First the good news.  The studio will offer another class on Sunday.  No more starving until 4 p.m. for me if I want to practice on Sunday.  Even better, the reason Amy has confidence in starting this class is because Rohit and his wife have decided to stay in Houston, and are willing to take the class.  I'm very excited about this.

Friday's class was middling.  I had too much iced tea at lunch I suppose, and had to leave the room during party time for a pit stop.  I've only done this once before, and I had forgotten how bad it can be.  First, there is just the break in concentration.  During class, I'm not all that aware of it, but one thing that the warm-up does is put you in a rhythm.  When the warm-up goes well, it establishes a groove for the rest of the class.  Leaving the room totally throws that off.  Coming back in is almost like starting at square one again.

On top of that, there is the heat issue.  I love getting a slight blast of cold air in the middle of a hot class when, for example, someone opens a nearby door and the breeze passes over.  Going outside and getting blasted by air conditioning is another thing altogether.  It's great when the class is over, but lasting only for a minute, all it did was throw me off.

By the end of the balancing series, I was pretty well acclimated again.  And I had some good moments in class.  Janna was running behind in the floor series, and playing catch-up.  Different teachers have different approaches when the timing goes off.  Amy, for example, will skip one set of the final stretches.  Others will start to cut some of the poses short.  

And then there are teachers, like Janna, who start to skimp on the savasanas.  Sometimes this doesn't bother me, and it shouldn't.  But yesterday was not one of those days.  More and more, I have come to appreciate the savasanas on the floor, and its hard for me not to feel a bit cheated when the sit-up instructions start coming while I'm still taking my second breath.  The odd thing here, however, is that I think I would have rolled with it much more easily if I had not had to leave the room earlier.  I think that short break cast a bit of a shadow over all of the rest of the class.

This morning's class was a bit better.  My backbends seem to be coming along a bit.  I got a compliment from Amy in the first backbend today.  That rarely happens.  And I was still relaxing into it and getting a bit deeper when it was time to go out.  I've been paying even more attention to my arms in this bend recently, trying to keep them closer to locked, with the hands really squeezed together, and trying to lead with the hands.  It seems to be helping.  And oddly, paying attention to this part of the form has made me realize how much this bend depends on feeling secure with the strength of the lower and middle back.

I was in the middle row this morning, in a spot where my body was cut into pieces by at least seven different sections of mirrors.  My balance stunk.  I blame the mirrors.  That's my excuse for today and I'm sticking to it.  I also was acutely aware of all the people around me.  I had no place to fall without starting a domino effect.  And because I was thinking about where I was gonna fall without bumping someone, I was falling all the time. 

Then, oddly, I had a good toe stand.  Well, maybe not so odd.  If I fall in Toe Stand, its a roll backwards, which is no big deal.  And you look on the floor in Toe Stand, so the mirrors aren't an obstacle.  Recently, I've been on and off with this pose because of some tightness (possibly tendonitis) on the inside of my right knee. 

Floor series was good.  I went all the way back in Fixed Firm in both sets.  I'd have to check, but if I've done that before, its less than a handful of times.  Usually, it takes me so long to ease my hips onto the floor that there is no time to go all the way back in the first set.

Locust was pretty good.  Instead of getting a compliment here, which I've sort of expected from Amy, she insisted I really lock my knees and keep my feet together.  I did for the second set, and it really got the near-cramping going in my upper back.  After class, Amy mentioned how high I'm getting my legs up in Locust, so I finally asked how high.   It's somewhere between 3.5 and 4 feet.  Doing some quick trigonometry in my head, that means that I've got just under a 45% angle with the floor.  And today wasn't a particularly good Locust.  That tends to confirm my impression in some earlier classes that I was getting to the point where the muscle support starts to change.

Amy also said that, from what she's heard, the muscle cramps in the upper back are a really good sign.  It means I'm working the right area for this pose.  One day, eventually, in the future, (etc., etc...) the cramps will disappear and I will pop up much closer to vertical.  She says that she hasn't experienced that yet, so who knows.  However, this is one of those poses that I actually think I might get in this lifetime.

The Day 134 meditation feels to me either like a re-introduction, or a re-cap.  It discusses the relationship between the eight limbs of yoga, and its four aims.  Basically, the aims are the big picture -- the forest --, and the limbs are the particulars -- the trees.   Of course, we are not supposed to lose sight of the forest because of all the trees.  And conversely, we should still appreciate the trees themselves and not simply become overwhelmed or spellbound by the forest.

The Day 135 meditation also has something like the air of re-introduction.  It takes on the idea of good and bad (evil?).   Apparently there have been two very different basic attitudes underlying yoga practice.  

On the one hand, the world and everything in it is flawed.  With this starting point, yoga gives people a path by which then may ultimately be able to transcend all the flaws.   Gates doesn't mention this, but from what I've read elsewhere, I think this approach tends toward an obsession with Samadhi.   I've read things from people who regard all the rest of yoga as simply a means to this end.  This approach has always struck me as a form of escapism, and perhaps counterproductive.

The other hand regards the world as already OK.  The purpose of yoga is to lift the veil and to allow the yogi to see this truth.  I'm more sympathetic to this idea, but I'm still attached enough to western ideas to think that there may be a bit too much Pangloss in it.  Even if this idea is correct, there is still at least one part of the world that is not OK, and that is the part that is causing us to hold on to whatever it is that is preventing us from seeing this truth.  And if that's not OK, then I wonder whether it isn't at least possible for some other things not to be OK as well.

Despite these abstract criticisms, I have no quarrel at all with the idea that yoga provides an extremely practical program for improving life in every respect.  As a result, I don't necessarily agree with Gates that you have to take sides on this issue.  Start the practice, and reap the benefits.  Eventually, you might have moments where you realize that everything is OK with the world.  So much the better.  Someday, you might get a feeling of transcendence.  (I can't speak as clearly there.)  Maybe the two feelings are the same.  Frankly, I don't care all that much.  The good stuff on the journey is more than enough to sustain me for now.  And if I ever get to the "destination," I'll be sure to let you know which side of this argument got it right.

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