Stiff yoga guide bonus: The wrong things I’m not doing right

Sunday came and that meant Bobbie and I had the chance to practice together in our little home shala.

Helpful reminder: Don’t practice with the person teaching you, especially if you’re the only other one there. That teacher likely will find the little things you aren’t doing right.

In this case, it is the wrong things that I’m not doing right. Can you do things you aren’t supposed to be doing incorrectly? The answer: Yes.

Here’s a probably incomplete list:

* I wrote about bring my arms up in Sun Salutes a little forward of my body. “Incorrect,” Bobbie told me, and showed me. “See how together the shoulder blades get?” I saw. So arms essentially in a straight line when bringing them above your head — including in Warrior.

* I’m having a tough time with keeping  the pads of my hands stuck to the ground in Down Dog.

* Do I even have to say my breath and bandhas could use some additional work?

* Here’s one to think about: In Utthita Hasta, she suggested for the final part of the pose, when you are extending your pointed foot, to have my dristi be where I want my foot eventually to be. Looking down at the sad, so near the ground foot, may be pitching me forward a bit. That was the first time I’d heard that. It seemed to work on the second “easy” side.

* Finally, less a doing it wrong that trying to show me what doing it right is: Bobbie, in Janu A, anchored my folded leg and really twisted my from the upper torso. “It’s a stretch here,” she said, patting the right side of my ribcage during the first “harder” side. And then we repeated on the left. I think, perhaps, you twist in this one where you breath in them all?

Now, a brief look back: On the Surya Namaskara B post (link above on “wrong”), a commenter, Michelle, raised another possible avenue to investigate: for stiffness relief Ayurveda. My initial reaction (since I’m feeling all petulant from the pain of stretching) is: Wasn’t the Rolfing enough?

My slightly less petulant reaction is: I’ll admit to being not sold on Ayurveda as being that … how to say it … effective as a cure. I think it is OK at maintenance, as part of a healthy lifestyle, but I’m not sure it is as efficacious for treatment.

But I don’t know that much. This is my experience of seeing people who follow Ayurvedic practices. And I know our raw diet is totally not Ayurvedically approved. So I feel like I’m starting from a difficult point if I were to tread that road.

But if anyone has a more informed opinion, I’m listening.

Posted by Steve

Stiff yoga guide: Surya Namakara B

If you missed Part 1 of my I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this feature, it is right here. It might be worth a look as I won’t re-state details from Surya Namaskara A.

As a reminder, here’s the thinking behind this:

My back-to-basics approach definitely has me feeling and thinking like the beginner I am, or ought to be. As I move through week two, and a few fundamentals continue to guide me, I realize there are some specific adjustments happening in the poses I’m doing that, perhaps, might make the practice more welcoming to stiff, resistant would-be (but probably claim to be “never-be”) Ashtangis.

I was one of those, for many years.

I do want to add that all the little tweaks and quirks we’ve added in have some root in advice we’ve gotten from Tim Miller, David Swenson, Maria Zavala and, I’m sure, others. It’s that these seem to be working for me; they may not work in this combo for anyone else. Or they might!

On to Surya Namakara B. And a reminder: SRG = stiff resistant guy.

  • As with A, the arms moving up as the knees bend seems to feel best just slightly forward of the body. And it just may be difficult to bring those palms together. So what? Keep the arms straight in an effort to get the shoulder blades loosened up.
  • Keep the arms straight as you fold forward from that bent-knee position. I’m finding it tough to get the weight on my big toes at this point (the ongoing inner rotation issue).
  • I mentioned I’m taking my feet out wide in Down Dog. For the brief ones during the moving into / out of the Warrior pose, I’ve got them more in line with my shoulders, aka “the right way.” But it is just because it is easier to bring the feet forward into Warrior.
  • What’s the rush? I know we’re supposed to get right up to Warrior on one inhale, but sometimes — the first one or two in the morning — I’m stiff. So the first breath gets me up into a too-high Warrior, with arms still down. On the exhale I settle down more, try to get the front thigh as parallel to the floor as possible, think about how straight ahead my upper body is. And then on the next inhale, arms up, head up.
  • I’ve been finding that keeping the arms parallel to each other, rather than bringing the palms together, seems to offer more loosening potential for my shoulders. I also think in some ways it is more difficult — you can’t brace your arms on one another. I know some folks love the “hands in a pistol” option. But… so un-yogic!
  • It might be worth trying to get through the so-called Surya Namaskara B + . For those unfamiliar, it includes five-breath Warriors. It provides a little more time to learn where your body should be and some time to work out some kinks. It also gives you time to answer this question: Is the outside of your back foot (the pinkie toe side) on the mat when you’re in Warrior?
  • When I get to the five breaths in Down Dog, as you probably guessed, I have my feet mat’s width again.
  • Here’s been a little challenge / quirk: When I was doing this pose with some “cheating,” i.e. bending knees in forward fold, it was easy to move into the chair pose or whatever we want to call the first/last move. But now when keeping my legs as straight as possible, I sometimes lift right up to Samasthiti.

You can probably figure out which pose will come next.

Posted by Steve

Stiff yoga guide: Surya Namaskara A

I’m succumbing.

And I apologize.

After so many repeated times of writing about how I’m not going to dwell on specifics of my practice, I will. Briefly. As briefly as possible.

My back-to-basics approach definitely has me feeling and thinking like the beginner I am, or ought to be. As I move through week two, and a few fundamentals continue to guide me, I realize there are some specific adjustments happening in the poses I’m doing that, perhaps, might make the practice more welcoming to stiff, resistant would-be (but probably claim to be “never-be”) Ashtangis.

I was one of those, for many years.

That said, I still think we may be too eager to find a “one size fits all” way to describing asanas. Like clothing, these work fine, I suspect. But always something transcendent might be missed, much as a bespoke suit transcends one pulled off the rack at Nordstrom. I do realize it is somewhat unrealistic to expect everyone to get their very own version of an asana practice such as, say, the Ashtanga sequence. One can be idealistic, right?

But first, I would direct anyone to have the stiff and resistant guys (I’m assuming most are men) they know read this post that describes how my move from running and weightlifting to Ashtanga didn’t result in any loss of strength or muscle. That kind of thing is important to them. (Again, I was them, so I remember that.)

Via, and no, not what I look like at all.

Here are the tweaks I’m finding helpful in Surya Namakara A. This is just the list of things I feel I’m adjusting from the typical or that I think a stiff and resistant guy (SRG) might try to cheat on:

  • Arms straight on that first breath, a little bit in front of the body (i.e. not directly out in one line but really close). This seems to be helping my shoulders and upper back loosen up a bit. And keep the arms straight on the forward fold.
  • Keep the legs straight during that forward fold! This is a major ego check. (If you can convince your SRG to keep those legs straight, I bet we have a real yogi in the making.) Rest the hands lightly wherever they fall (knees? shins?) to mimic the light touch on the floor that may, or may never, come.
  • Check and see at this point if the knees are hurting. If so, it may be (as in my case) that there is too much weight on the outside of the feet / too much outward rotation going on. Press through the big toe and try to get the inner things to rotate inward. (We’ll get back to that move later, and it is one that reoccurs or needs to reoccur frequently.)
  • On the inhale, make sure the back is straight (if you can be talking to our SRG about bandhas, great!) and extend forward, everything still staying straight.
  • I’ve been stepping back during this process. I alternate which leg is first (and step forward with the same one), but that’s a small detail that I think we can ignore. A benefit of stepping back is you can end up at the top of the push-up (in SRG terms) and then feel as though you are getting a little extra strength exercise from this lowering down. Bobbie also has argued it helps with loosening the hamstrings.
  • In Down Dog, I’ve got my feet spread as wide as the mat, and no, my heels aren’t down. I try to get my legs straight, which is hard. And then here’s a key thing: Rotate the things internally, i.e. towards each other (though not moving closer). My legs desperately want to externally rotate (as though I were trying to do Kurmasana). Such a bad habit! I’m not worrying much about my arms and shoulders; one detail might be making sure it is the pads of the hands that are really pushing into the floor. Oh! And push into the floor! Even if it hurts a little (or the wrists hurt a bit) and it seems counter-intuitive, this seems to work.
  • On the way back to standing, don’t forget all of the above.

So that’s that. Remember, this may only be helpful for me and my body. But perhaps something is transferable to others.

I happily will stop doing these if there is an outcry, believe me. Otherwise, more to come.

Posted by Steve

Sun salute flip book, KD, the Smithsonian and more

A quick list of things you ought to check out.

  1. David Robson has posted a Surya Namaskara Flip Book.  Flip it and have fun. (Seems to fit in with our jumping back themes of late.) You might also want to read the introduction. Nice, quick take on ye olde Ashtanga practice.
  2. If you missed Tim Miller’s blog post this week, go back and read it. I guess it it sort of Part II on the passing of his mother. Speaking of Tim, the 2014 dates for his Maya Tulum week are up: Feb 1 – 8, 2014.
  3. For those in Los Angeles, the Krishna Das documentary will be playing at the Nuart for a week, beginning at the end of the month. And here’s all the theater  where it is scheduled to screen.
  4. Yeah, we sort of missed it (we blame the move!)… the New York Times ran answers to questions about practicing yoga as you are. But the good news: Part II just came out, so we’re not lagging there. (Just be warned, the answers include this: “I believe the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar are the most anatomically sophisticated and therapeutically oriented, but there are many other good types of yoga.”)
  5. We’ve already reported about the Smithsonian putting on a show about the history of yoga. Now comes word that it will be crowdfunding in support of the exhibit. Blame it on sequestration.

Posted by Steve