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.
10/12/17 Be Grounded
I was back from my yearly Taiwan trip last night and back to the Mysore room this morning. It's been awhile since I practiced in the room. I missed the vibe and energy there. I took it easy today as it was my first day back from vacation. I only practiced the Primary Series to ground myself. It was a great practice, exactly what I needed after 11 hour flight.
10/16/17 Ready to Eka Pada Sirsasana or Not?
I was more than ready to get into my regular practice with awesome backbends (aka Kapotasana) and Eka Pada Sirsasana preparation. It's been too long since I got assisted in Kapotasasa and I missed it.
Today was one of the longest practice I've ever done, more than 2 hours long. To be honest, I wasn't really practicing the full 2 hours; instead, my teacher came and helped me quite a bit. She gave me lots of tips and advises on how to self correct certain asana alignments or deepen the postures. A lot of the focuses were on backbends and hip openings.
For backbends, She put lots of emphases on why I should keep my neck long, not to drop my head until the last minute, etc. When dropping the head too early in a backbend, I could easily lose the front body engagement and missed the opportunity to open shoulders. I felt a great shift in my backbend when keeping the gaze up until the last minute.
Since I have been prepping for Eka Pada Sirsasana for a while, she said to me today that the only way to learn the pose was to DO IT. So she came and helped me get into Eka Pada Sirsasana A & B. I was helped to get into variation A once and today was my first time to try B. Even with her help, I couldn't get into the full pose, but at least I got the sense of the asana. It wasn't easy and I had a long way to go.
Yoga is a lifetime practice. I don't expect to nail all asanas in a day or I will miss the joy of this journey.
10/18/17 A Breakthrough in Pasasana
I woke up 20 minutes earlier than usual today. Maybe I still had some jet lag. Since I was already up, I decided to start my practice early.
I have been practicing Pasasana for almost 10 months using a 2" thick block under my heels. I could bind on the first side most of times, but struggled on the second side. Today, the assistant came and told me that it was time to get rid of the block. I was thinking in my head that no way I could do it. Little did I know, she was right. I was able to bind and balance with my feet on the ground on the first side and with some help on the second side. I was shocked. I didn't think I could do it, but I DID it.
Sometimes, we are just too comfortable to stay in our comfort zone and refuse to step out.
Often times, we underestimate our capability and make no progress in our practice or at work.
Always, we'd be amazed by the outcome if we are willing to make the change and acknowledge our abilities.
10/31/17 Deal with Injury AGAIN
I pulled my left QL muscle over the weekend. As a result, I had to be careful with my practice today. I went to see the Physical Therapist yesterday and he helped ease the pain quite a lot. Luckily, he didn't think there was anything major and suggested me to practice with caution.
So I went to the Mysore room this morning. I felt the pain mostly when I did twist asanas or poses required me to life the left leg. Other than that, I was fine. Besides modifying my practice, I also skipped some asanas including jump back and jump through, Bhujapidasana, Kurmasana, Supta Kurmasana, Garbha Pindasana and Kukkutasana in the Primary series. I did practice the Intermediate Series up to Kapotasana. Of course, I didn't do the full Kapotasana. I was surprised that my back loved back bends. I thought my bad would disagree with Salabasana, but it turned out my back felt great while in back bends. I had a small chat with my teacher about my injury. Apparently, her back was similar to mine, which our backs loved back bends but not so much for twisting. She asked me to really engage my core while doing twisting poses as well as back bends to protect my back. She made me realize how little did I engage my core. Even my Physical Therapist suggested me to do my deadlift so strength my back muscles and tighten my core to stabilize the lumbar spine.
After finishing my practice, my back felt amazing. It was definitely not as painful as it was before the practice. I am glad that I did the Intermediate Series. Those back bends really help a lot.
Way overdue on publishing my Sept practice journal.
9/1/17 Home Practice
It's been a while since I did a full 1 hour and 45 minutes practice at home. Home practice required lots of discipline and dedication. There were too many distractions. On the flip side, I had more freedom to explore. I could investigate certain poses or body parts and deep dive into those areas; while in the Mysore room, I had to follow Ashtanga sequence. For example, I focused on the shoulder opening for the back bend today. I was able to do extra "warm ups" to stretch my shoulders before Kapotasana. Another bonus of home practice was that I could shoot some videos for the Instagram Yoga Challenges as my body was already warm.
I enjoy taking videos and pictures because I can see how my alignments are. I don't practice in front of the mirror as it tends to throw alignments off and causes distraction.
9/5/17 Preparation for Kapotasana
I learned a new way to warm up the upper back and shoulders to prepare for deep back bend today. I tended to drop the head first when going to the back bend, which could lead to lower and mid back collapsing. The teacher showed me a trick by keeping the head up with gaze at the nose first last week when going to Kaposana. By doing so, I was able to keep my upper back and sternum lifted and further open the shoulders. I started practicing this way before going into the Kapotasana. She pointed out today that I should keep my gaze at my nose for few breathes before entering any back bends including Ustrasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana. I really appreciated the tip she gave me. I felt I could get into deeper back bends.
I slowly but surely see the progress of my back bends!!!
9/13-14/17 Special Workshop (Mysore Practice) with Atsuro Chiba
Atsuro Chiba was in town this week. My friends highly recommended him, so I decided to attend his Mysore classes these two days. Recently, I am more open minded about taking other teachers' classes. I believe every instructor has something to offer and I can learn things from them.
Atsuro seemed to be a very calm person. I could sense his passion about yoga. He was knowledgeable in anatomy of asanas and great at adjusting students to take them deeper into poses safely. I did my normal practice these days, Primary Series till Baddha Konasana B and Second Series till Eka Pada Sirsasana preparation followed by finishing poses. His adjustment was one of the bests I've ever received. The way he adjusted students was different to what I used to in a good way. He definitely pushed me further and took me outside of my comfort zone. If he adjusted me on one side, he stayed next to me and waited the second side so that I wouldn't be "lopsided."
There were quite a few astonishing adjustments that I would like to share:
Janu sirsasana C -
I had been struggling with this asana since day one. My ankles were never conformable in the pose. Recently, it started to hurt my upper calves where I could feel knots on both sides. Atsuro instructed me square my pelvis. Apparently, the side of the hip with the bent knee was further back than the other side. While he was helping me to square the hip, I found this pose became even harder and unapproachable. I felt the limitation of the ankle flexibility. With the squared hip, I could not really fold forward. Note, I've propped myself on a block. He made my realize that there was lots of work for me to do.
Marichyasana C & D -
He sat next to me and helped me to get into a deeper twist with a deeper bind. In Marichyasana D, he grounded my non-marichysasa leg down and got me into deeper twist. It was such a good sensation. I wish I could express the feeling by words. He was able to take me deeper into the poses, where I've never been to in the past. He magically created more space between my vertebrae to allow deep twist to happen.
Supta Kurmasana -
I got assisted in this asana a lot. My hips were pretty open, but for some reasons, my legs couldn't go behind my head. Either my hips lacked of mobility or outer thighs were too tight, or both. I have been rolling my outer thighs and I hoped it would help. As to the mobility, I started adding additional hip stretch toward the end of my practice before the finishing sequence to prep for Eka Pada Sirsasana. In the past, I've never been able to cross ankles and hook my feet in Supta Kurmasana, but Atsuro helped me to get there today. I had no idea how he did it. My ankles were crossed and feet were rested on a block. Though I couldn't clasp my fingers behind my back, I was very excited about the progress and achievement.
It was another asana that I needed help. One a good day, I could bind on the first side (I couldn't bind in the second side without help yet), but normally, I could only get my fingers to touch unless the teacher came and helped me. I wondered if it was because of Atsuro's adjustments in Marichyasana C & D, I was able to bind and clasp fingers with ease on both sides. And of course, he came and helped me to get even deeper into the pose. Another big break through for me.
I didn't usually get assist in this pose, but I enjoyed it a lot when I did get help. Atsuro told me that my legs were too close to each other and I needed to separate the knees further apart. As he helped me to lift up the chest, I was surprised that there was so much more room that he could lift me up. I couldn't see how high I went, but I could feel it was VERY HIGH. I remembered my teacher told me to use the back muscles more to lift up. I tried, but there was so much I could lift by myself. Just another area that I need to work on.
One of my biggest fear. I always took a deep breath before going into Kapotasana to prepare myself. There was a voice in my head saying "here we go." In this pose, I could touch toes by myself when I didn't get help. With help, I could catch the arches of my feet, which was deepest Kapotasana I've done. I was shocked when Atsuro took me to a much deeper Kapotasana today. When he came to help me, I thought he would help me to catch the arch of my feet at most because that was what I was used to. I was so wrong. He came with an intention to help me "cup" the heels. I was so not prepared for that. I could feel how deep that back bend was. Muscles, tendons and fascias were stretched out so much so that I thought I was going to break into half. That said, there wasn't any uncomfortable or disturbing pain. It was just a DEEP back bend. I didn't feel much of stretch on my back. most of the tightness came from my front body, psoas, hip flexors and quadricepses, in addition to shoulders.
I might have mentioned before, back bend is not about the flexibility of the spine. The emphasis should be on opening the front body and improving shoulder flexibility.
Urdhva Dhanurasana -
After Atsuro's help on Kapotasana, I thought he would leave me along in the wheel pose. No, that was not the case. He helped me open the shoulders while I was already in Urdhva Dhanurasana. He put his hands over my scapulae to lift my chest up and forward (away from feet). I thought my arms were straight, but he found room to further straighten my arms without hyper-extending them. There was tremendous amount of external rotation action in shoulder girdles. I felt the road block, shoulders, while he was assisting me in this pose. In a such deep back bend, I felt the tightness of shoulders preventing me from going any deeper.
I appreciated what Atsuro has taught me with his hands. He silently pointed out all the areas that I needed to work on. He proved what I was capable of. He helped me to reach another mile stone in the practice. It was amazing to see the progress I've made along my Ashtanga journey.
8/14/2017 Never Under Underestimate Ourselves
My body was so tight today. I wasn't sure whether it was because I ran yesterday for 3 miles or I haven't practiced yoga for 3 days. Or it could be both. I recently started running to improve my cardiovascular. Last time I ran regularly was more than 15 years ago. I was never a runner and disliked running. I wanted to get back to running to increase varieties of exercises. I have been doing Tabata, HIIT and strength training besides yoga for almost one year now. It was time for to try out new thing.
I felt low in energy when walking into the Mysore room. I could feel the soreness and weakness of my body. I was thinking of practicing the Primary Series only today. As I finished the Primary, I felt like I could still keep going. Then I told myself I would stop by Ustrasana. After that, I still felt like I could continue practicing. Because of that, I ended up doing all the poses in Secondary Series that I've been given to Ardha Matysendrasana. I was surprised how strong the mind could be. By telling myself that I had more energy and I wanted more, I was able to finish the full practice, more than what I normally did. I usually skipped poses from Upavistha Konasana to Setu Bandhasana.
Never underestimate what we are capable of!!!
8/22/2017 My First Eka Pada Sirsasana
These two weeks have been emotionally difficult for me. My teacher is resigning from the studio where I practice. It's a shocking and sad news too all of her students, including myself. Regardless what happens in the future, she is my teacher, my mentor and my dear friend forever. This Friday will be her last day in the room holding the place for us. I value every moment of my practice with her, under her guidance.
Today was a special day for me. Not only was it my birthday, I also had a break through in my practice. My teacher guided me into Eka Pada Sirsasana today. What? Getting my foot behind the head? I never thought I would be able to do that. Or maybe I would need few more years of practice to get there. She taught me how to warm up my hip and get into deep hip opening and external rotation. During the warm up, I could feel how tight my outer hip and outer thigh were. Those were the areas that she had asked to me put more attention on. Indeed, they did need more love, lots of love. After the warm up, she sat behind me to help me getting the foot UP and BEHIND my head. It was no joke. With her help and support, I was able to bring the foot up. Although it wasn't the most comfortable asana, it was my first time. I was quite excited about the progress I've made throughout my Ashtanga Journey.
8/25/2017 A Rough Day to Practice
Today was the last day of my teacher holding the place for us. It was one of the most difficult days to practice for me. I was doing well until she entered the room as I was about to get into Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana. These were the asanas which I got her assist often. When she came to help me, I could feel her gentle touch and her adjustment that was full of love and care. At that moment, I couldn't help but crying. My tears were out of control. Soon after that, she called for the group chant. It was the hardest chant ever. The room was full of silence and sadness. Finally, someone broke silence and started the Om. The chant was mixed with tears and runny noses. It was probably the worst chant we've ever done, but the most heart toughing and beautiful one.
I tried to get myself back together by focusing on the practice, but it could only help so much. As I was ready for Supta Vijarasana, she came to help me. Here came my tears again. Then she said to me "I am not dying. I am still around." Indeed, she would be around. She just moved on to the next chapter of her journey and I should be happy for her.
I don't like changes. I am comfortable with where I am, but changes may not be a bad thing. Sometimes, things get better with changes. Maybe my teacher has resigned from the studio I practice at, but my friendship and mentor-ship with her do not end here. And of course, my practice will continue.
8/28/17 A Fresh Start of The Practice
First day in the room after my teacher's resignation. The vibe and energy were different today, but it was not necessary bad. I missed couple folks who used to come practice early. I was the first one there at 6AM and no one showed up until 20 minutes later. I had full attention from the assistant, which was nice. I was worried that not many people would come to practice today, but I was glad that more people showed up later. The teacher was a sub. She had been subbing in the past, so I was quite familiar with her style. Although her style was different to my teacher, she gave good advice and adjustment.
I was slowly adjusting myself and creating space within to accommodate the change. It is important to find the teacher that I am connected to, but it is MY practice, not my teacher's. Regardless what will happen next, I will carry on what I've learned, keep practicing and welcome the future with an open heart.
8/30/17 A Fresh Start of The Practice
I cried today during the opening chant. I wasn't sad or anything, rather I was emotional. The teacher who led the chant was my very first yoga instructor. I knew her since 2012. It was she who inspired me along my yoga journey. It was she who I did my 200 hour RYT with. It was a bless to have her as my teacher, my mentor.
I am blessed and grateful.
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