Saturday, December 31, 2011

Easing into 2012

I love Garfield.  I read that in the Boston Herald newspaper yesterday and it really resonated with how I'm feeling about the coming year.  At the start of last year, there was a lot that needed to change in my life.  The big change of course was the new job, but a lot of 2011 was about letting go of a lot of things and not resisting the changes as they came.  In 2010 I was holding on to my yoga practice way too tight, refusing to let it change in any way that I didn't want it to.  My then-boss had said that I was dictating my whole schedule and forcing everyone else in the office to work around it.  Ironically, this year, in order to go deeper into my practice via the teacher training, I had to be willing to let it go, to let it change in ways that I wasn't actively pursuing.  With the new work schedule and the addition of dog-walking and dog-sitting, I suddenly was not able to practice with as wide a variety of teachers and classes as I used to.  At first I was bummed out because I had grown close to a couple of the teachers.  But, it was a change that definitely needed to happen (it kind of seems like that's how all unplanned life changes seem to be) and that I was ready for.  My Ashtanga practice became my home, the place where everything that I learned from the training and all my past teachers had a chance to actually integrate--rather than constantly bouncing between classes and teachers and taking in new information. 

Now, my practice is at a place that feels more sustainable and more intelligent and mature.  And so does my life, for now at least.  It still feels like there are some significant changes waiting just on the horizon for me next year (I've heard that's kind of a given when you start really practicing the Intermediate Series, lol) and I'm really curious to see where my practice goes and what changes will come in my life next year.  But it doesn't feel like there's anything that I have to actively "do" or change.  No big "resolutions" or intentions.  Just keep doing what I'm doing but be alert and open to changes when they come.  Even my body is on the same page for this one...yesterday I started fighting a cold.  Nothing huge, just enough to sap my energy.  So, no midnight yoga class or party with friends.  Sleeping, that's probably what I will be doing during the transition from 2011 to 2012, lol.  My first practice of 2012 will probably not be some grand feat of physical strength or endurance.  No 2 hour Yoga Mala (108 suns) like last January.  Though it might be heated because it feels like my body needs it to help sweat out whatever has taken up residence in my body, lol.  We'll see how it goes ;-)

See everyone in 2012!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ninja chakrasanas, Bhekasana, achy knees and a new way to flow

This week's practice was a little bit of a mixed bag--both in how it went and in what I practiced.

Sunday I took a break from the Ashtanga practice for 2 reasons.  One, my body needed it after the intensity of last week ;-)  Two, my very first yoga studio, Healing Tree Yoga, in Quincy, MA was holding a free yoga weekend (meaning every yoga class was free!).  It had been well over a few months since I'd been back to visit my teachers there so this seemed like a good opportunity.  It was really nice, felt like going back home.  Healing Tree is such a sweet little one-room studio and the quality of teaching there is on level with anything that I've seen at some of the bigger studios in Boston.  Even better sometimes because the class sizes are smaller so there's more opporutnity for discussion and individual attention.  It was so good to take class with my first two teachers from there, just to hear their voices and their instructions again.  It also made me realize how much I've grown since then.  During my first couple of months of yoga my emotions ranged from being extremely unhappy and feeling lost in my life to being ecstatic at this new way of moving that I couldn't even really understand yet.  In my practice I remember wanting to do all the hardest things that they could throw at me, just show that I could do it.  I can feel now that there is much more intelligence in the way that I practice and more fluidity--I don't have to concentrate as much on "what" I'm doing, it just flows more easily and organically.  I guess 2 years of daily practice and a teacher training will do that to a person!  It was also good to be able to talk with my teachers from there, even if most of the time it focused on them encouraging me to teach even though I don't feel ready.  "You're never going to feel ready Tara."  Probably true, lol, but it doesn't feel like it's time yet.  Is it weird that even though I've had a daily practice for 2 years I still don't feel like my practice is...stable?  I think that's the word I'm looking for.  I don't feel strong enough and stable enough in my own practice and life to be able to teach yoga to other people.  My teachers don't buy that explanation, lol, but that's how I feel.  Both of them offered to talk with me and help me in whatever ways I might need in order to get me moving in that direction and it's nice to know that I still have that support if I need/want it.

Monday was back to the Ashtanga room.  Practice was still flowing smoothly with the straight leg jump-throughs and I'm pretty sure they're here to stay.  It's so weird, it feels so natural and smooth now that it feels like I've been doing them that way for years, rather than just a couple of weeks!  I feel like at some point, after lots of practice, something just "clicks" inside and suddenly the body just understands how to do it.  I think a lot of it actually has to do with not thinking too much about "how" to do it.  That entrance to supta kurmasana from seated is still kicking my ass but my back is adapting quickly and it doesn't feel quite as tight as it did (I also got a 15 minute massage while I was at Healing Tree, so that probably helped too).

Tuesday was actually a home practice because I had an 8am-1pm time window for the gas company to come and replace the gas meter.  I didn't want to lose the momentum that my practice was building up, so I convinced myself to get out of bed just after 5:00am and do my practice at home.  At first, my body was not impressed and was completely against the idea of moving, lol.  I ended up doing about an hour of restorative/yin type poses before I actually started my Ashtanga practice.  And even after that, my body still felt stiff and it felt very hard to find the rythym and even to get the breath really moving.  It's hard to say why practice felt so sluggish that morning, almost like my mind was too engaged and my body too tired.  In the past when I've felt similarly, the standing balances tend to work really well to get me focused and connected.  Tuesday, not so much.  It felt like energy and focus were just not going to be there.  So, I had resigned myself to finish the standing poses and then move into doing something else once I got to the seated poses.  Odd thing happened though, as soon as I jumped through to the first seated pose, it was like a little switch got flipped on and suddenly, there I was--settled into my practice and ready to go.  The rest of it was pretty smooth sailing.  I was also pretty excited to practice the seated entrance to supta kurmasana a little differently--seeing as how I was at home and could do whatever I wanted ;-)  I'm "supposed" to put the left leg behind my head first and then the right.  But, as I've said before, I'm no where close to being able to do this "properly" and the left side of my back is getting tighter and "denser" than the right.  So, I tried with the left leg first and then I tried with the right as well.  The right side is actually a little easier, but that doesn't surprise me, my right hamstring is much more open than the left.  I still got no where close to coming into Supta K from seated but it gave me some good information on what I need to work on with the left side of my body.

I also went to a vinyasa class in Jamaica Plain with a teacher that I really like.  It's actually starting to become a regular thing to go to her class once a week (usually either Sunday or Tuesday).  I really like the way that she teaches.  She has a lot of energy in her classes but it's also really light and fun.  The other thing that's really cool is that she trusts her students.  You can tell by her cueing and the poses that she offers that she trusts both the physical ability of her students as well as their judgement in attempting the poses that she offers.  She also almost always includes some arm balances and fun transitions as well as inversion time--which I love.  I go to her classes to play :-)  She also challenges me by throwing things at me I don't normally do because she knows that I can do them.  My handstand is also getting much more stable because of the time I spend in this class.  I can find the balance pretty easily knowing the wall is in front of me and have been finding some "hang-time" pretty regularly now.  It actually almost feels calming.  She also had us do something really cool and fun on Tuesday night: she gave us the option to drop into chaturanga from a tripod headstand.  It was awesome!  You kind of feel like a rockstar when you do it, lol.  And I think it had a positive influence on my Ashtanga practice the next morning.

Wednesday morning, I did something in my practice that I have never done before.  I landed directly in chaturanga from my chakrasana!  I wasn't even trying to or even just thinking about it--my body just did it!  I lifted my legs up on the inhale, exhaled and pressed into my hands and all of the sudden I rolled over my head and landed directly in chaturanga.  I got this awesome little boost of energy from doing it and now it makes even more sense as to why it's in the series.  I feel like the tripod to chaturanga that I did in the Tuesday vinyasa class was the thing that kickstarted this because the movement is similar.  Once my body got a feel for the movement, it just naturally incorporated it into the chakrasana!  A friend of mine said that the few times that she's managed to do that she always feels like Chuck Norris.  I totally agree, you feel like this awesome combination of rock star and ninja, lol!

However, a little gremlin that I've been noticing popping up in my body and getting stronger finally came to a head later that day.  My knees had been getting tighter and more achy ever since I came back to Boston from my vacation in the desert.  Oddly the right knee was getting worse than the left (the left used to be worse than the right).  But on Wednesday afternoon I noticed a significant pain directly in the middle of my left knee and it soon became painful to walk normally.  Nothing odd happened during practice, it just started hurting later in the day.  By the end of the day I was limping and it was painful to straighten my left leg.  My doctor has told me that he thinks that I might have a degenerative tear in the meniscus of that knee and I started to worry that it might be getting worse since I started taking all the half-lotus positions.  I remembered my teacher (who is also an Ayurvedic consultant) once told me to try massaging the knees with warm sesame oil, so I did that Wednesday night to see if it would provide any relief.

The next morning (Thursday) it was not much better.  There was still pain when I straightened my leg and I was still walking with a limp.  I tried not to worry about how it would effect my practice and just to adjust my practice as it needed it, but the practice was still choppy and my mind focused more on my knee than on my breathing.  But, my teacher also gave me the next pose in the intermediate series, so my spirits picked up a little bit ;-)  I am now up to Bhekasana, frog pose (see below):

I know, it doesn't look like it would be good for someone who is having problems with their knees, lol.  Can't say I wasn't a little concerned, but it was actually fine.  The amusing part is attempting to extend your back in that position.  It felt like I couldn't get more than a couple of inches off the floor, lol.  Then my teacher sat on my legs and pulled back on my shoulders and I rocketed up!  It was hilarious, I felt like a seesaw, lol.  Even though the poses like these ones are more difficult for me because my back muscles aren't that strong, they feel great because they're strengthening my back.  I've really felt the difference in my Urdhva Dhanurasanas ever since my teacher added salabhasana.  My back has felt more open and it's been easier to get the bend moving out of my lower back.  Add in this new pose that also stretches the quads and backbends felt great that morning!  I'm so excited to finally be in this series.  I know that I've said it before but I feel like it's going to challenge me in all of the right ways.  And it feels great energetically as well.  I feel more awake and balanced after practice now--rather than the super calm/borderline sedated and balanced feeling that I have after practicing just the Primary Series.

I also talked to my teacher on Thursday morning (after practice) about my knees feeling worse.  I didn't want to because I was afraid that she would be hesistant to move me forward in the series, but they were definitely getting worse and she needs to know that.  She said that a lot of other people's knees were starting to hurt as well.  She thinks it's mostly the cold weather.  Could have a lot to do with it, but mine hurt here during the summer too.  The only thing we can think of is that the dry air in the desert was helping my knees.  She thinks a lot of it might be inflammation and possibly even some fluid in my knee since the pain seems to move around.  She recommended to do castor oil packs on my knees at night.  Massage warm castor oil on the knees and then wrap them up with plastic wrap.  Leave the wrap on over night and then wash it off in the morning.  She also recommended getting leg warmers or something to cover my knees in the colder weather as well as taking baths in epsom salts.  I tried the castor oil wrap as well as an epsom salt bath Thursday night and the next morning they felt remarkably better.  No more limp or pain when I walked or when I straightened my leg.  I still stayed away from any lotus positions on both sides during Friday's primary, just to be careful.

Speaking of Friday's led primary, that was actually the highlight and surprise of this week!  My teacher had us try something different in our sun salutations/vinyasas.  She had seen a book of Krishnamacharya (Pattabhi Jois's teacher) doing the vinyasas differently than Jois did.  In the book Krishnamacharya kept his gaze to the ground during chaturanga (instead of looking straight forward) and in the transition to up-dog, he kept his chin tucked in until the last moment and then he just let it fall back in up-dog (rather than keeping the chin up/level the whole time).  And in the transition from up-dog to down-dog, the arms bent out to the side a little bit when you push back to down-dog (as opposed to keeping the straight the whole time like you're normally taught).  My teacher had been trying it in her own practice and liked it and wanted us to give it a try, at least for just the 5 Sun A's and Sun B's.  The hardest part was getting the hang of letting the arms bend, it felt totally unnatural and choppy.  Not to mention it went agaist everything I was taught in my teacher training.  I could hear Natasha (a.k.a, alignment guru/nazi) gasping in outrage in the back of my mind, lol.  But the head position felt fantastic!  Keeping the chin tucked in until the last moment felt like it helped to isolate and emphasize the bend in the upper back during up-dog, whereas the "traditional" position felt like I was leading with the head and it felt harder to get the bend in the right place.  It also felt so much more relaxed in the neck area!  I kept the new head position for the duration of the practice and even the arms bending out to the side in the down-dog transition.  I tried keeping the arms straight but discovered that the slight bend out to the side actually helps to incoroporate the relaxed movement of the head.  My practice has never felt more fluid and was phenomenal.  It's amazing how making just a couple of small changes to something that you do everyday in your practice can completely change it!  I've never felt the neck/upper back region of my body feel more relaxed than it did after that practice.  I told my teacher afterwards how much I liked it and she told me that she was watching me and could see how much better it was for my body to do the vinyasa that way.  I think she was just as excited for it as I was, lol!

When led Primary finished on Friday, I just wanted to keep practicing, it felt so good.  It's cool, even though there still some days where the practice feels a bit off or super intense, I'm still really loving my Ashtanga practice right now.  It feels like I'm in this wonderful phase where all the work I did during the first two years of my practice has finally solidified and integrated itself enough to where a large amount of the practice feels almost effortless.  Like I no longer have to really think about what I'm doing, I just move.  Now it's less about building a strong and solid foundation and more about refining and smoothing out what I already know.  I can't wait to get back to my practice tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ashtanga growing pains

This has been quite an intense and awesome practice week for me thus far (and I still have 2 days left!) 

One big part of the awesome is how fluid my practice has felt, due largely to all the straight-leg jump throughs.  About a month after my teacher training ended in August, I did my first ever straight-leg jump through (after close to 2 years of practice).  But, while I could do it on my own at home (and not while doing dozens of vinyasas) I couldn't seem to incorporate it with any consistency in my Ashtanga practice.  I usually caught a few of them near the beginning of the seated poses, but my arms would eventually tire and I didn't do them throughout the rest of the practice.  Well, on Sunday, I just started doing them!  It didn't even feel like it was a conscious choice, as in "hey, I think I'll jump-through with straight legs."  I just started doing them, as if I'd been doing them like that for months and it was the easiest thing in the world!  And it's continued throughout the rest of the week, I don't even have to really think about it, I just do them.  One thing I've noticed is that if I take extra breaths between when I do the jump-throughs, it's like I lose the rhythm and my feet will skid.  I also noticed that I do my jump-throughs on the inhale, it's like the breath in helps to lift me through.  I don't know if that's the "proper" way to do it, but that is what seems to work for me.

I've also started working more consciously on actually attempting to jump back.  In the past I've usually just lifted up, put my feet down and stepped back.  Now, I actually put more effort into lifting up AND bringing the legs back through to chaturanga--even if it means my feet give a little push when I get stuck.  In the past, that always felt like cheating so I wouldn't do it.  Now I realize that it's helping me to get a feel for the motion of the jump back and they're starting to feel quite light. 

But, one of the best parts of my practice right now is that I can do nearly all of the lotus positions!  I haven't been able to since I started because my knees (particularly the left one) have been bad.  The doctor even thinks that I have a "degenerative tear" in the meniscus of my left knee.  But, the right one was good so I've usually been able to do at least the right side of any lotus/half-lotus type poses.  Well, for some reason, when I was practicing on my own back home in Arizona, my left knee stopped hurting!  I was floored!  I couldn't believe that it could just simply stop hurting like that!  Could have been the dry air, the break from having to walk every where or just simply being more relaxed.  Whatever the reason, it feels so good to be able to do the full version of those poses.  It's like I can actually feel what those poses are doing in the sequence and to the body.  Is it weird to say that I love feeling my heel pressing into my abdomen?  It feels fantastic, like a pressure release.  Since I got back to Boston, the knees have still been holding up, for the most part.  They're starting to feel a little tight since I've been doing all the lotus positions.  Not painful, just tight.  Actually the right knee (formerly the "good" knee) more than the left!  Sometimes, I think my body is either, weird, confused or screwing with me, lol.  Anyways, the tricky part right now is that in a full lotus position, the left leg sits directly on top of an old shin splint left over from my running days.  It was the last one out of about 3 areas on each leg to develop.  I was surprised at how tender it still is, even though it's been 3 years since I last ran consistently.  I know the compression is good for it, because it's going to help break it up, but damn it hurts, lol. 

My teacher also moved me further into the Intermediate Series and gave me Salabhasana A and B (the 3rd pose in the series).  The first version is done with the hands back and arms straight, keeping the hands on the floor.  Then you lift the chest and the feet off the floor for 5 breaths.  After 5, you keep the legs lifted and move the hands forward as if you were going to do a low cobra.  Stay there for 5 breaths.  After that, lift straight up to up dog and vinyasa through.  Not exactly a "hard" pose but definitely one that my body needs.  It strengthens the muscles in my back which tend to be my weaker muscles and back bends have been feeling pretty good afterwards.  It feels like a good prep.  My spine was about the only part of my body that didn't respond well to being back home in Arizona.  Backbends, twists...they all felt tight and achy during my week of self practice back home in the desert.  Add in 2 days of driving, 3 nights of sleeping on a thin futon and 2 plane wonder my back was resisting backbending!  It's still felt pretty tight and achy since coming back to Boston last week.  So, the addition of Salabhasana feels like it's really helping to uncurl my spine from all the travel and whatever it didn't like about being back home.

Supta Kurmasana has also been feeling amazing!  About a month ago, one of my teacher's assistants was able to get my hands to clasp--and stay clasped!  And a couple of weeks ago, when I spent a week practicing on my own back home in Arizona, I surprised myself and got the hand clasp by myself!  Tricky part, I could no longer get the feet on my own once I got the hand clasp.  But, when someone else wrangles my feet into the clasp, it's really deep--and it feels so good!  On Monday, my teacher noticed and decided that it was time for me to work on it differently. 

Since Supta Kurmasana is now coming fairly easy to me, she wants me to work on coming into it from seated.  Meaning she wants me to clasp my feet behind my head, while seated upright, by myself, and then lower down to Supta Kurmasana and clasp my hands.  In other words, come into it from Dwi Pada Sirsasana (pictured below, just minus the arm balance)

I don't know why I thought even for a second that it seemed simple.  It's not.  It's hella hard, lol.  I got my left foot behind my head and couldn't sit myself up straight enough to even attempt bringing the right leg up on my own.  Every time I'd try, I'd fall over.  I kind of felt like fish flopping around on land.  Except that I've bound up one of my fins and only part of my body can flop around in what can only be a comical sight.  It's quite possibly one of the hardest things I've ever had to attempt in yoga (along with eka pada bakasana and bound ardha chandrasana).  It makes the entire backside of your torso work.  And it hurts.  My newly recovered neck muscles are a bit sore and I've had a persistent muscle cramp on the left side of my back since my first attempt on Monday.  And only the left side because you're "supposed" to put the left leg up first.  And since I can't get more than the left foot behind my head without falling forward/over, only one side of my body is cramped.  I don't think my body has been this sore from Ashtanga since I first started practicing it 2 years ago and my hamstrings were screaming for mercy.  Oiy. 

I usually give it 3-4 good tries before either someone helps me or I resort to doing Supta Kurmasana the "regular" way.  And by the time I get there, I'm so tired from the attempts at the new way of coming into it that I have to struggle a bit more to get the hand clasp and then just collapse into the floor for the remaining 5 breaths.  If someone wrangles my feet together, great.  If not, I'm content to just stay there curled up without my feet clasped, lol.  Oooff.  It's amusing when I think about it and talk about it, but when I'm attempting it, it's hella frustrating and exhausting. 

But, this is Ashtanga.  No avoiding the poses you don't like.  You can either let the knowing that you have to "face" the hard pose (and probably get no where close to it, despite your best efforts) ruin the rest of your practice or you can take it however it comes when you get to it and then let it go and move on to the next pose.  I love my practice.  So, I'm doing my absolute best to not dwell on how that pose might be on that day...or how sore I'm probably going to be afterwards, lol.  Good news though is that the body adapts pretty quickly and even though the left side is cramped, it's not quite as bad as after the first time.  Interestingly enough, I've kind of felt like I've had more energy this week.  I don't know if it's the practice being more fluid from the easeful jump-throughs or the addition of new poses and backbends starting to feel better; but I have definitely noticed that I've felt less "comatose" post-practice this week and more alert--even though I'm getting my butt kicked in there.  And even with the "growing pains" (ouch my back muscles and shin!) my practice feels like it's made some significant strides just during these last 4 days.  And I've felt so much more focused during my practice.  It feels like a bunch of little things have clicked together and my practice has grown and deepened in some way.  And that's a pretty cool feeling :-)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What to do when the practice feels off

First off--brief update.  The neck is probably at about 99% now; the "injury" almost seems like it never happened!  The only remnant is a small twinge at the top of the neck that I feel from time to time.  Headstand, shoulderstand, setu bandhasana are all back and feeling good...I even did a couple of chakrasanas during this morning's practice (I had been staying away from them--for good reason, lol--and had fallen back on rolling the way that I was taught in karate, where you roll on your shoulder instead of your head, lol).  So, I'm back to my full practice (up to Krounchasana in the Intermediate Series) and feel stronger and more stable in the shoulders because of the way that I had to practice after I hurt my neck.  Funny how that works out ;-)

Second, I was going to write a post about my practice and time during my trip back home to Arizona over Thanksgiving, but after a comment that someone left I felt like I needed to write this one instead.  This one is about what to do when your practice, like you can't connect to your breath and "drop-in" like you usually do.  When I first started practicing, it felt like every practice was phenomenal and I never thought that it could be anything but that.  But, when things got really rough and confusing in my life, I found it very hard to connect and there were many days I just didn't want to go to yoga.  That I couldn't understand why I was doing it if I wasn't even enjoying it anymore.  It was kind of heartbreaking when I first felt that because I loved it so much.  But, I kept going and kept showing up and I've learned a thing or two along the way that I feel like I should share.

So, here are some things that have helped me in the past when the practice didn't feel like it's going so well, when the practice was rough:

1)  First and foremost, get on the mat.
A good friend of mine often says that the hardest pose of Ashtanga Yoga is getting out of bed.  And that's true for any practice of yoga.  Sometimes, when there's something really big and troubling going on in your mind or your life has become very turbulent, the hardest part is showing up.  So, that is a huge accomplishment in itself.

2)  Keep your focus on your breath.
The breath is the most important part of the practice.  One of my favorite explanations that I have heard is that "everything in yoga is optional, except breathing."  It's what helps open your body, focus your mind and help you connect to You.  In Forrest Yoga, one of the first things they do at the beginning of a class is some kind of pranayama exercise.  A lot of other classes do a similar thing where the first thing they do is get you to notice your breath.  Simply spending a few minutes just sitting and focusing on your breath IS a yoga practice and a good way to get centered before starting any asana practice.  Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, is a good one.  For those that don't know it, you start by closing off one nostril with your finger, say you start with closing off the right.  Breathe in through the left for maybe a count of 5 (some number that is a deep breath for you but not your deepest breath possible).  Switch, close off the left nostril and breathe out of the right nostril for the same count (5 in this case).  Inhale for 5 through the right, switch and exhale for 5 through the left.  That is one cycle.  You can either stay at the same breath count or you can try to increase it, just don't increase it so much that it makes you feel tense and panicky.  I think alternate nostril breathing is a great way to get connected to your breath when it seems difficult to do so.  It's very different than your normal everyday breathing, so it grabs your attention a little more.  And because you have to count and switch which nostril you breathe out of, I feel like it holds your attention better.

During your practice, keep bringing your attention back to your breath and making them as long, deep and steady as you can.  Regulating your breathing is one of the best ways to help focus and calm your mind.  I believe it was David Swenson that I heard say that "when you control the breath, you can control the mind."  Also, during your asana practice try to use your breath, rather than just simply inhaling and exhaling.  Try breathing into an area where you feel tension (like the back of your heart, neck or chest) and see if you can feel that you can actually use your breath to both open your body and help support it.  Pretty cool, right?

3).  "OM."
Seriously.  When I first started practicing I couldn't understand why we were doing it and felt really silly and uncomfortable doing it.  Then I did it on my own (at work, when no one else was in the office, lol) when I was feeling really flustered and scattered, and the centering and calming effect it had was remarkable.  In the Mysore room, we usually start our practice before the teacher comes in and leads us through the morning chant, and it always amazes me that it still has such a powerful effect on me and on the energy in the entire room.  After we've said the last OM, there's this awesome focused silence that follows it and you can feel you and everyone else in the room really "drop-in."  So: OM.  It doesn't have to be booming loud, just loud enough for you to feel it reverberate throughout your chest.  Do it as many times as you need to in order to feel that sense of "dropping in," and always pause and listen after you finish an "OM."  It is said that there are 4 parts to "OM:" the sounds that make it up, A-U-M, and the silence that follows it.  It's a "silence" that is so still but so focused.  It's really hard to explain, but you'll understand what I talking about when you "hear" it ;-)

4).  Slow down and stay in your poses longer
No one said that your practice has to be a grand amazing feat of asana.  It could be nothing more than a handful of juicy restorative poses and a 30 minute savasana.  But, when I'm feeling particularly scattered or worried or just off, one of the best ways for me to "drop-in" and get centered and connected is to stay in the poses longer.  For one, staying in them longer means you're going to feel it more in your body.  Try to have a scattered and wandering mind while staying in Utkatasana for 1 minute or more ;-)  One of the beauties about the asana practice is that we can use the body, something concrete, to get to the mind, which is more subtle.  So, staying in the poses for longer is going to really get you connected.  I'm not saying to do a 50 minute downward facing dog (but if you want to try, go for it, lol).  But just stay a little longer than you normally do.  You get more of a stretch, or, depending on what pose you're doing, wake up and energize the muscles a little more.  But it also has the chance to leave a stronger impression on your mind and your emotions. 

My go to pose when I'm feeling really scattered and ungrounded is Sirsasana, headstand.  There's a reason this pose is called "the King of Asanas."  It's a "heating" inversion, so it's invigorating and it reverses the flow of gravity and helps bring fresh blood to your head.  But, because of the contact with your head on the floor, it's also grounding and you can hold it for longer than you could a handstand or forearm balance.  But, it's still a balance (clearly, right?!) so it requires your full attention in order to do it.  During my teacher training, there was one practicularly rough day and I came home and was feeling so upset and all jumbled up that I needed to do something.  So, I unrolled my mat and held down dog for a little bit and it's like my body just knew what to do after that.  What it needed was a 5 minute headstand.  I had never done one for that long before but the after-effects were amazing.  I felt extremely centered and calm but also very rejuvinated.  It was like this perfectly balanced feeling.  I'm not saying it will be like that for everyone or that everyone should do a 5 minute headstand.  The point is that the poses we do have an effect on our minds and emotions.  So when you stay in them for longer, you'll experience more of it.  Start moving, find a pose that clicks with you at that particular time and stay there for a while and breathe.  Could be Warrior 2, Utkatasana, Downward Dog, Headstand, forward fold, one of the Prasaritas (wide-legged forward fold), plank, supported backbend...who knows, depends on what your body and mind need.  But, going back to point one, just start.  Your body will give you hints along the way if you listen.

5).  Keep your dristhi (gaze/focus point).
My Ashtanga teacher likes to say that "where the eyes go, the mind will follow."  So, try keeping your gaze steady on one point in each pose and see if that helps focus your mind. 

6).  Close your eyes.
I know, I just say to hold your dristhi, lol.  This is where my other yoga background comes in.  Quite often, especially in poses that I'm very familiar with and are "easy," closing my eyes helps me "drop-in" because I can feel what my body is doing a little better and feel the breath moving in my body more.  Closing my eyes also shuts off one source of incoming "stimulation," so there's one less thing to pull my mind around.  What's also cool is that closing your eyes in poses that you are familiar with also brings a newness to them, because suddenly your balance feels different.  You might even start to realize that every pose is actually a balance--even Tadasana.  Don't believe me?  Try it and see how much you sway back and forth when you stand ;-)

7).  Focus on the count.
You find this one in Ashtanga.  In the Ashtanga series, there is a set count for everything in the sequence: the number of vinyasas and how breaths you take in each pose.  Sometimes, this can have a very focusing effect because it gives your mind something to do.  Want to know how to stay longer in the poses in the Ashtanga sequence and still stay with the set number of breaths?  Longer breaths ;-)

8).  Longer savasana.
One last piece of experience I can give you is to take a longer savasana.  From my experience, savasanas in led classes are nowhere near as long as they need to be.  I think most people need 10 minutes, 5 at the bare minimum, for a 90 minute class.  Savasana is the most important pose in any class because it's the time when your body and mind absorb everything you just did to it---all the bending, twisting, inverting, focused do a lot in your yoga practice, give yourself the time to rest that it needs.  And use props!  For mine, I like an eye pillow, or at least a small hand towel, to cover my eyes and completely block out any light.  The eye pillow is also really good because the slight bit of weight on my eyes really helps to settle me in.  I also almost always place a blanket over my abdomen and thighs because having the weight and warmth over those areas feels very grounding and calming.  And, again, stay longer than you usually do, especially when you're feeling scattered, upset, etc because it will probably take longer for your mind to settle.  My Ashtanga teacher puts it really well, "stay until you feel like you need to get up and then stay a little longer."

And, going back to point one, always thank yourself for showing up and putting forth the effort to practice--even if you never "dropped in" or had a "bad" practice.  There were several months, earlier in my practice, when my life was turbulent to say the least.  Where I literally hated the job that I worked at and had stopped putting forth any effort to actually do my work once I was there (I'm amazed I wasn't fired); was unhappy with where I was living and totally lost on where my life was going, even my yoga practice had lost a lot of its joy.  To say I was depressed would have been an understatement.  But I kept going to yoga and putting out the effort.  Why?  Because it felt like that was the only thing I wasn't giving up on (meaning the pull to stay in bed, eat junk food and wallow in my depression was very strong).  Somedays, simply getting on your mat and putting effort into your practice is your practice.  So always give yourself credit and thank yourself for showing up and practicing.