Practice with Atsuro Chiba
Ashtanga Mysore Practice on Aug 22nd and 23rd, 2018
Whenever I take classes from a gust instructor, I tend to get nervous because of the unknown. The teacher doesn't know my body, nor is he/she aware of my progress. That said, I try my best to stay calm and practice as usual today. The main focus to me is to Do My Practice as It Is. Atsuro is very mindful and he pays attention to details. If he assists or adjusts a student on one side of the certain asana, he makes sure that he adjusts the second side to make sure both sides get the equal attention. One of the most remarkable adjustment from him is Utthita Parivrtta Trikonasana. I don't know how to describe it but he uses almost every part of his body to help me get deeper into the twist. He uses one to ground my back foot, his knee to help the spinal twist, one hand to stabilize the pelvis and the other hand to open my chest. You wouldn't know how good it feels until you experience it.
Prasarita Padottanasana -
I usually receive the adjustment in Prasarita Padottanasana C and the one from Atsuro was exceptional. Instead of simply taking my hands toward the ground, he brought my torso back in between legs. I felt deeper hamstrings and inner thighs stretch by doing so. As I folded deeper, my hands were even closer to the floor. Atsuro also gave me a recommendation when doing Prasarita Padottanasana D. He suggested me to bring my feet closer (shorter stand) to keep the neck long. When my feet were about leg length width apart, there was lots of space as I fold forward. I tucked the chin in allowing the back of the head to touch the ground. As a result, my neck was short and compressed. If my feet were closer, the crown of the head would be touching the ground not the back of the head, which would keep my neck long. I have been taking his advice and experiment the stand in my practice.
I get help in Kapotasana almost every time when I practice with my teacher or guest instructors. It has been over a year since I was given this posture. When I first practiced it, my finger tips barely touched toe tips, even with the help from the teacher. In addition, I got dizzy and panicking (thought I was going to pass out) when doing such deep backbend. I had lots of fear doing this asana. With consistent practice, I have no more "panic attack" and I am making progress little by little, day after day.
Lately, I like to warm up Kapotasana using the wall. After I did the warm up against the wall as well as Kapotasana A & B, Atsuro came by and stood in front of me with a smile. "Was I supposed to do it again?" Sure, I was. I could grab heels with his help. The challenging part was to keep elbows in and forearms down, which were areas I notice the difference between sides. My left shoulder is tighter and it's hard to keep the elbow in and to bring the forearm to the ground. In Kapotasana B, Atsuro firmly pressed my pelvis down and asked me to pressed up. Since I was pressing up strongly, as soon as he let go his hands, I came up and exited from the pose.
I witness lots of emotions coming and going when doing Kapotasana. It was fear and pain that bothered me in the past. Today, I feel the openness and relief. It's the feeling of Letting Go.
Practice and all is coming.
What is coming is the progress I've made along the journey. Knowing who I am, being self-acceptance, dealing with injuries and samskaras, and practicing non-attachments.
Laghu Vajrasana -
With Atsuro's assist, I was able to grab toes when doing Laghu Vajrasana. If my legs were pressed down (ground) too much, hands normally slid off. Thanks Veronica (the studio owner of Downtown Yoga Shala) to catch this moment for me.
Urdhva Dhanurasana, Drop Back -
I focus a lot on backbends in my practice and I have been making lots of progress. Before starting Ashtanga practice, I disliked backbends. I came up with lots of excuses to not do it in Vinyasa classes, but I had not choice in Ashtanga. I have to say, the more I practice, the more I enjoy doing backbends. I love the openness of the heart, upper back and front thighs. Harmony and Lisa were the first teachera who guided to me grab ankles in Urdhva Dhanurasana early this year. Ever since that, I haven't done so until I worked with Atsuro this time. He put emphasis on legs strength, which meant there was more weight on my feet. By doing so, I was able to stay grounded while my hands were grabbing ankles. Otherwise, I would fall back and land on forearms.
I love yoga for many reasons. What brought me to yoga initially was to release stress from work, but it gradually grows on me. Today, it has become my lifestyle. Harmony is coming to Downtown Yoga Shala in Jan, 2019. I can't wait to practice with her again.
June 2018 Practice Journal
It's been a while since I shared my practice journal last time. I have been busy, and mostly lazy. Pardon me for enjoying little spare time I have to relax and do nothing. I hope to have more time to share my journey in the near future.
Regardless how much or little time I have, I don't skip my practice. It's the top priority in life. Once I heard an empowering speaker mentioned that the truth of saying no time to do so and so is because that's not the priority. You would make time for whatever it's important to you. I can't agree more on what she said.
My practice has been getting longer and longer as more asanas are given to me, and I still practice the Primary Series for the most part (up till Baddha Konasana). Last Tuesday, I decided to skip the Primary Series and did the Second Series till Pincha Mayurasana, which turned out to be a bad idea. My body was not ready for that. Skipping Janu Sirsasana and Marichyasana, seemed to hinder my body from doing deep twist (Pasasana) and hamstring stretch (Krounchasana). I don't know how to describe the feeling, but it just didn't feel right. Although I "breathed" through it, I wouldn't skip the Primary Serious until I know I am ready.
1/11/18 - First Practice in 2018
I am glad to be back from the 18 day vacation in Thailand. One of the most excited things to be back is to go to the Mysore room and get back to my routine, my practice.
I was worried this morning for not practicing for 18 days, longest break I've ever had. I thought my body would be stiff, but it wasn't. That said, I scaled back on my practice to ease my way in. Surprisingly, I felt great besides my hamstrings were slightly tighter than usual. I was able to bind in Pasanasa this morning, which I've only done for few times. How excited! I didn't expect it to happen. My hubby said that was because of massages we had in Thailand. Maybe?
1/15/18 - Hamstrings are Talking to Me
I knew it's gonna happen. My hamstrings are super sore from the practice on Jan 11th. It's been four days and they still hurt. I had no choice but backed off from all the forward folds this morning. In addition, I wasn't able to bind in Pasasana, back to normal. Well, I just need to accept the fact that the body isn't the same everyday.
1/24/18 - Gazing Point in Backbends
Over the last week, I have been playing with the gazing point in backbends, particularly in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. I was listening to the latest episode of Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast - Ep31: Eddie Stern, it was so inspiring. I could listen to it over and over without getting bored. I kept finding hidden gems from this podcast. What I wanted to share today was the gazing point in backbends, which I learned from the podcast.
During my practice, I went over at least 50 rounds of Chaturanga - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana - Adho Mukha Svanasana. Often time, I flew through these poses and neglected some important details. What I focused on lately was to look at my nose in upward facing dog. Normally, I would look up and expected to go deeper in the backback. On the contrary, I cranked into my neck and did nothing to lengthen my upper back. As Eddie mentioned in the podcast, since the neck and lower back have the same curvature, as we look up, we tend to shorten (crank) the neck as well as lumber vertebrae. This is one of the causes that many people complain lower back pain when doing backbends. As I experimented in upward facing down by gazing at the nose, I was able to keep the neck long, and allowed myself to lengthen the upper back and work on the real backbend. Love it! I really enjoy working on details for fundamental postures, which will be beneficial for advanced asanas.
12/4/17 - Grounding in Ustrasana
Monday is always a challenging day to practice because I normally sit around and do nothing over the weekend. Glad it wasn't too bad this morning as I moved a little bit last night.
Two main focuses in my practice remain the same. It hasn't changed for months. I might be stuck in Eka Pada Sirsasana prep for a while. I don't know how long it will take for me to get those hips "mobile," but I have faith. While it isn't a very exciting news in Eka Pada Sirsasana, I've made great progress in Kapotasana. I can easily catch my toes now. With the help from my teacher, I can reach the arch of feet. The progress has shown in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. While I was taking photos and videos tonight for the IG Yoga Challenge, I was shocked and excited that my head could touch the back foot. Few months ago, my head was still few inches away from the foot. I couldn't believe now I was able bring them together. The Kapotasana Prep with the wall (the video I shared in Nov 2017 Practice Journal) worked!!!
All asanas are built from the ground up. Foundation is the key to succeed. I was called out by the teacher this morning to redo Ustrasana. She asked me to ground the top of my feet down, especially pinkies. She wanted me to actively press the pinkies down as I lifted the sternum up in camel. I got what she said. I was so caught up by lifting the chest up for the backbend and neglected some details. It's like Newton's third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In order to lift (chest), legs and feet have to press down.
12/6/17 - Quadratus Lumborum (QL) Hurt Again
I don't know why and how I keep injuring QL muscles. Few weeks ago, it was my right side, and this time was the left QL. It started to hurt yesterday when I woke up in the morning, and it wasn't any better today. It definitely affected my practice. I felt the pain the most when doing twisting poses. It showed in Pasasana. I couldn't go as deep as usual. Typically, my finger tips would touch as I tried to bind; but they were far from each other today.
Last time, I fixed the pain from doing Salabhasana. It was a magical pose. It helped to get rid of the pain again today. As soon as I started doing backbends, from Salabhasana to Kapotasana, the pain slowly diminished. I didn't know why, but I figured Salabhasana helped to reset and square my pelvis as well as released the tension. I should find out what caused the problem and fixed the root cause. I was told once that a good yoga instructor should know how to fix his or her injury and learn from it.
12/13/17 - Bhjapidasana
I recently start working on Bhujapidasana, Ashtanga variation in which I lower my chin down and bring the feed back. I had been doing the variation in which I had my feet crossed in front of me with chest lifted. It wasn't until last month did my teacher ask me to "graduate" from that variation. I struggled quite a bit in Ashtanga variation.
While I was in Bhujapidasana this morning, the assistant came over to me. Knowing I was working on this posture, she let me work my way into the pose; however, she did ask me to take an extra breath when lifting back up, pause in Titibasana, and stay in Bakasana before jumping back to Chaturanga. I knew I rushed through those transition poses, but it wasn't an easy task. This was a great area for me to find bandhas.
12/15/17 - Freedom vs. Discipline for Home Practice
I enjoy home practice every now and then. It gives me freedom to work on specific poses or areas, which I may not be able to do in the Mysore room. That said, there are still certain rules to follow or it wouldn't be called Ashtanga Yoga.
This morning, I wanted to explore hip mobility and inversion. Besides my normal practice, I added other poses to open hips and spent eatra time working on handstand. I still struggled in Eka Pada Sirsasana. Although I could bring my foot over the head now, my foot wouldn't stay up if I let go of my hand. Also, I couldn't bring both feet behind my head in Dwi Pada Sirsasana and Yoga Nidrasana. And of course, I could not do the full Supta Kurmasana. I did some lizard lunge variations to stretch my hips and work on external rotation. Also, I brought feet on a chair (either Baddha Konasana shape with feet together or crossed angles) and worked on tucking shoulders under legs. Again, I focused on external hips rotation.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana is not part of my practice as my teacher hasn't given me this posture, but I decided to work on it today with extra care to protect my shoulders. I used the wall to work on L-shape, L-spape with one leg up and crown of the head press. I have been getting stronger in handstand and able to balance to few second, but I am not there yet. I need to work on getting stronger core, more shoulders protraction and better bone stacking. Slowly... one at a time, I will get there.
11/13/17 - A Sloppy Practice
My practice was sloppy today. My mind was somewhere else, WORK. I had customer meeting in the morning, ~ 2 hours after my practice, and I was anxious about it. As a result, it reflected to my practice.
Although I was a little disappointed about myself, I still managed to get something good out of the practice. I received a tip from the assistant this morning. While in Prasarita Padottanasana C, she gave me an adjustment and an advise. She asked me to engage uddiyana bandha more in the pose. As I exhaled, really engaged it to stabilize and deepen into the pose. I was amazed by how powerful the bandha was. As soon as I drew the belly in to engage the bandha, I felt the stability in the pose. Not only that, I was able to stay deeper in the pose after her adjustment. That made me realize how much I've neglected the bandha work.
11/15/17 - Slow but Steady Breath
I breathed slower than usual today to focus on the exhale and to engage the bandhas pointed out by the assistant the other day. By slowing down the breath, I found peace and calmness.
I have been working on backbends and Eka Pada Sirsasana prep for a while, and they will continue to be my focus for a while. With my backbends, I see the progress in Kapotasana and drop back. I was quite excited today. When I was doing Eka Pada Rajakapotasana with a dining chair for #PropAndProud challenge, my head was able to touch the toes. That was the first time ever. Little did I know, all the effort I put in the Mysore practice helped. Now, I am investing more in the hip mobility and hoping to see some progress in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. Just need to be patient.
11/19/17 - Feel so Stiff
I don't normally practice on Sunday; however, I haven't practiced for 3 days, I decided to hit the Mysore room this morning. Normally I practice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Since this past Friday was a moon day (no practice), so I went this morning instead. My body was tight. I always feel better when practicing yoga everyday, but I also find myself injured more by doing so. It's hard to find the balance.
Today, my front body was extremely tight, especially hip flexors. I could feel the tightness when doing backbends. It was not just tight but sore as well. My hip flexors are always on the tighter side, but they were way tighter than usual this morning. Because of that, I had to back off from my backbends today. As a yoga teacher, I constantly tell my students to listen to their bodies. Our bodies are not the same everyday. Maybe you can get in certain asana easily today, but it doesn't mean you can do it the next day. Today was the day that I needed to follow my own advice to students. "Listen to my body and back off if necessary."
11/20/17 - How to Jump to Bakasana B
Surprisingly, I was able to get into one of the deepest backbends I've ever done today, especially knowing how stiff my body was yesterday. It is true that our bodies are different everyday.
Other than Kapotasana and Eka Pada Sirsasana, which I spent lots of time to work on, I also struggled in Bakasana B. I don't have problem going to Bakasana A though I could work on getting my arms straighter. I have hard time jumping from Downward Facing Dog to Bakasana B. I probably hopped 10 times or more everyday before getting it. In the past, I've been hopping from Downward Dog with feet hip distance apart (left picture below). Few weeks ago, my teacher suggested me to bring feet together, big toes touched, and bend the knees outward as preparation for the hop (right picture below). By doing so, I was able to "hug energy in." I haven't fully got the feel of it as I am still experimenting the hop. I hope I will be able to share more in the future.
11/23/17 - Thanksgiving Home Practice
I managed to squeeze in a practice this afternoon before friends showing up for dinner, barely. I thought I had couple hours to spare, so I decided to roll down my mat and practiced. As I got into Kapotasana, I grabbed my phone to shot a video to document my progress. Then I realized that I only had 50 minutes left to take a shower and prepare two more dishes (stuffing and green bean casserole). So, I had to stop there. Glad I was able to have everything done in time.
Besides the small episode I had, it was a good practice. I was able to focus. Also, my body was more open in the afternoon compared to the morning practice in the Mysore room. I was able to get in some asanas deeper and Kapotasana was one of them.
A Tutorial of How I Do Kapotasana Prep:
I like to warm up Kapotasana with the wall. I start on my knees and face opposite side of the wall about 1 ft. away.
This is part of my practice routine. I hope you may find it useful.
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