I hurt my knee again -- in my sleep! I was rolling over or something and I woke up feeling that something was out of place in my leg. But it didn't hurt yet. Then I tried to straighten it, really without thinking, because I was still half asleep, and yikes, it was painful.
So I was set back a couple of weeks in practice. I skipped all of Triangle, more out of fear for the knee than anything else. And I felt pretty terrible just standing at the beginning of Pranayama. But gradually, it started to feel better during practice, and then better and better through the course of the day.
The big problem that my knee is now giving me is that it takes me forever to get into and out of savasana from Fixed Firm on. After Fixed Firm, it can take me almost the full savasana simply to straighten out my right leg. I'm not missing much, but I have the impression that the teachers think I'm really suffering, when the truth is that I'm just a bit of a gimp for now. Actually, its closer to the truth to say that I'm riding the border between caution and fear when swinging my body around. Controlled movements are fine for now, but its exactly the kind of lateral swinging that gets you quickly into savasana that is also the most perilous for the knee right now.
Other than that, practice was solid. The biggest improvement I've seen since the workshop is in Rabbit. The tip about how to move the shoulders, along with dancingj's image of having no weight on the head have really helped with the depth of this pose, and surprisingly, its easier to breathe in the pose as well. This may be the first time when I've made a big correction in form, and the posture actually got easier as a result. It makes me wonder if I'm doing something wrong...
The day 255 meditation is our first on Pranayama. It opens with this sutra: "Pranayama is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention." There's an awful lot packed in those few words, and I doubt I will get close to unpacking all of it today.
Gates says that pranayama is where the internal and external parts of the practice meet. The control of the breath trains the mind to concentration on a single thing. And this concentration, in turn, opens the doorway to the metaphysical.
How do we start? Simple: just do what we are already doing but bring more attention to the breath. Inhale and exhale evenly through the nose, and try to retain the breath with a pause at the end of each inhalation and exhalation. From the sutra, we can see that there's extra emphasis on the retention aspect, on the pause I think there are two reasons for this. First, the pause is not totally natural for people, so focusing on it develops concentration. More important, its in the pause where we can find true stillness.
The idea of pausing and holding the breath comes in other disciplines as well. I use it all the time in photography. To get a better shot, especially with a slower shutter speed, simply make sure that you are holding your breath as you depress the shutter. I learned this trick, in turn, from reading about snipers, who do the same thing as they squeeze off the shot. In both of these, the object is to cultivate as much stillness as possible. And the same goes for yogis.
I need to focus some more on exactly this aspect in class. In many exercises, I know what to do on inhalation and exhalation, but the teachers rarely emphasize the still point between the two. In final spinal twist, for example, the idea is to lengthen the spine on the inhale, and twist more on the exhale. But the unspoken part is to find a still point in between the two. So that, I think, is my new big project. (And not just in final spinal twist.)
Of course, we have two breathing exercises in Bikram. The first is called pranayama, and it does just what this sutra describes -- regulating the inhalation and exhalation with retention. I wonder about the Blowing In Firm exercise at the end. It's a breathing exercise of course, but there is no regulation of inhaling. Instead, the inhales happen automatically. And, of course, retention is out of the question. Its just, blow blow blow blow blow blow blow. So, that makes me wonder whether other yogis consider this a form of Pranayama, or is it another kind of exercise. (Just to be clear. This question doesn't worry me at all. I'm not bothered in any way by the last exercise. I just am curious how it fits.)