Monday, May 30, 2011

Home Practice & my first yoga class sequence

I just spent at least FOUR HOURS in a home practice.  Probably more!  I don't remember when I started, but at some point after I started, I updated my Facebook status (got momentarily distracted, lol) and when I finished, it had been 3 hours since I posted it.

It was amazing, it felt like no time had passed at all.  Not only is 4 hours just a really long time to be practicing...anything, I'm just really surprised at the quality of my home practice today.  It wasn't just lolling around in restorative postures mixed with playing with inversions--I even worked up a little bit of a sweat!  Part of the homework from this past weekend of teacher training is to write a "level 2 YogaWorks sequence" leading up to Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1).  "YogaWorks Level 2" means that there are only certain poses that I'm allowed to include in the sequence and that I have to follow a specific structure.  So, that is what I was working on this morning into the afternoon (...still, whoa!  That was a LONG practice, lol).  I had already started writing it out at work, but it's just so different once you actually start doing it.

I'm actually kind of amused because I had to do the sequence the same way I wrote my papers in college:  I found a song that "clicked," put it on repeat, and then I had to work backwards.  Vira 1 is a really common pose for me.  I do it every time I do my Ashtanga practice and it's common in other classes as well.  So, my body is already used to it.  The squaring-the-hips action is the one that is usually the most challenging for people to do; but the stance that the legs are in during this pose is also one that I'm familiar with from my karate training back when I was 7 1/2 years old.  Those legs are the "front stance" in Shotokan karate.  My point is, that because I'm so used to it, I realized that I didn't really understand what it felt like--what was required of the body to do it: which muscles are getting lengthened/opened, which ones are working, etc.  I literally had to hold the pose for over a minute to understand what was going on: what needed to be taught in order to do the pose & enjoy its benefits and what needed to be done to counter it.

You know what I found out?  I didn't really like Vira 1!  Which could be another reason I'm not really aware of what's going on with it, lol.  Why don't I like it?  Even though it's easy for me to get my body in that position, there are a couple of old injuries that it bothers: the right low back and the right foot (when that foot is in back, angled in).   It also bothers a new tweak in my left knee that results in some frustrating sharp pain to outside of that knee whenever I bend it.  But, physical injuries aside, I didn't like how it felt.  Something about facing the front and having my arms up kind of bothered me.  Kind of felt like I  Maybe because my arms are up above my head?  Where as, in karate, they were down in front of me, making it easier to defend myself.

So, I sat with it some more and just focused on feeling what was going on in my body.  Took a while, lol.  Aside from the muscles in the hip flexor needing to be open in order for the back leg to straighten and square the hips, my biggest revelation was that, in this pose (at least for me) my back leg was working a hell of a lot more than my front leg!  I would have thought that it would have been more in the front leg because...well, you're facing the front.  But it's like the back leg was working harder to square my hips than the front.  Not sure why, that's just what it was doing.  So, my practice and sequence was focused heavily around waking up the muscles in the hip/butt area (a.k.a, the "external rotators") that are needed for the front leg to help square the hips, and give the back leg a break, lol (after all, that's the one getting the deep stretch!).  There was also a good bit of twisting because Vira 1 also asks for a little twist in the upper body (I don't think I was really aware of it before).  And, obviously, there was a lot of standing poses.  My legs weren't on fire, but they were definitely working hard.  And it actually felt really good!  It felt really warm.  So, not on fire, but like there was energy running through my legs.  I'd forgotten how great it feels to have strong legs.  Since hurting my foot and doing so much Ashtanga, my arms are now the stronger part of my body.  I could have stayed in those standing poses for many more minutes, they felt so good.

I'm also amused at how my running background informed my sequencing for this practice.  Mostly in the cool-down phase.  I was always better at cooling down than figuring out how to warm up my body before practice.  So, after I worked my way up to the Vira 1 peak, the "cool-down" part was very slow.  My reaction after doing so much leg stuff was to get to the ground as quickly as possible, because, even though it felt good, my legs were getting tired.  BUT...that's not the best idea.  After you finish a race or a practice, you never just sit down and stop moving.  It's like a shock to your legs and body to go from intense action to nothing.  It has to be slow and gradual, even if your legs say, "no more!"  So, keeping that in mind, I still did a few more standing poses but just shifted which leg muscles would be working.  I also combined it with some standing forward bends to start bringing the energy down.  Followed by a nice long hold in downdog.  Then I went to the seated-melt-into-the-mat poses.

It was also really cool to see the influences of all the other classes I've taken, teachers I've practiced with and the styles I've experimented with.  I could see the Forrest influence in the long holds, experimenting with different arm variations while holding Vira 2 legs, a sweet little variation to twisted Crescent pose that I learned in classes with Ame Wren and Georgia Reath that gets you using your core and not your arms to twist, a lot of the alignment cues are coming from Natasha (not surprising).  The warm-up part feels very Forresty (minus the abs, those are not YogaWorks moves, lol) but there is also some stuff that I remember doing with one of my very first teachers from Healing Tree.  I pulled a lot from the Ashtanga series for the sequencing the standing poses but also from the YogaWorks method (which makes sense, since they pull from there too).  Anyways, it was really cool to see them all come together.

A good amount of the 4 hours was start and stop between writing down what poses I did (and why, very important, lol) and then going back and putting them together to make sure they still made sense.  It was really helpful to have a specific pose to work towards and structure to work with.  Actually, the structure is more like an outline or "guidelines."  It also really helped knowing that someone was going to be holding me accountable to it.  Not just having to turn the sequence in for the training.  Last week, I was talking with Georgia about the shifts that it felt like my practice was going through and she encouraged me to practice at home more.  That's not the first time a teacher has suggested it, but it's the first time one was going to "hold me accountable" to it, lol.  She said that the next time she saw me, she would ask if I had.  Obviously nothing would "happen" if I hadn't, but just knowing that someone would ask gave me an extra nudge (which is what she intended).  Having a lot of time at my disposal really helped too.  On the rare occasions that I do practice at home, I spend a lot of time doing it--even if it's just lolling around in restorative poses.  Which is probably one reason I don't practice at home that much.  I like to be able to have plenty of time to work slowly and really feel the poses.  That's probably got a lot to do with the Forrest yoga background, but it also seems to be a general progression--like the more you practice yoga, the longer and more slowly people tend to practice.  That could be an over-generalization, but that's just something I've noticed.

Either way, I'm really glad I did my own practice today.  I'd been working myself into a bit of a funk with my shoulder and wrist hurting (something happened to the wrist about a week and a half ago, best guess: strain + ganglion cyst; whatever, it's getting better) and it felt really good to practice.  With all these injuries, it's becoming harder to do public classes, just because my body needs so many different things.  Such as, I have to warm up differently because I need my shoulders to be really open in case I have to switch to doing dolphins instead of downward facing dogs because my wrist is hurting.  But, I think that this is also a natural progression.  The yoga practice is meant to be an individual practice.  What and how you practice depends on what your body and mind need...and that is different everyday too.  I still love some led classes because it provides a different kind of relaxation for your mind, because you don't have to think about what to do next.  Doing a home practice/self-practice makes you use your mind--it focuses it.  And, as I've learned in reading about meditation, having just one thing to focus all your energy on is relaxing, because you're no longer trying to figure out which thing to follow or bouncing between a bunch of different things in your mind.  That's one part of the yoga right?  "Restraint/calming of the fluctuations of the mind."  Single focus = no fluctuations.  :-)


  1. thanks for sharing your sequencing thoughts! i'm planning to work on a class this weekend and it's really great to have a little window into what you're up to. inspiring. :)

  2. THRILLED to be reading your writing!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your journey.