Another repetitive practice..? Or can I mix this up a little bit?

Fun with the Ashtanga PracticeI’ve been practicing Intermediate series for 2 years now with varying degrees of consistency.  But over the last 8 months, I’ve been doing it daily and leaning into it further and further.

So what do I practice?

When I’m in Mysore with Sharath, I go to Kapotasana.  However, when I’m not in Mysore, I drift a bit away from tradition (not in the count nor the pace but rather in the scheduling).  A typical week currently looks like :

  • Primary on Friday
  • Rest on Saturday
  • Sunday full primary and Intermediate up to Kapo
  • Monday full primary and Intermediate up to Kapo
  • Tuesday full primary and Intermediate up to Kapo
  • Now here is where I diverge.  I’m at the point where I get bored and tired of the repetition.  Some mornings before I start, just thinking of the monotony of the seated poses from Janu A to Mari D is almost enough to keep me on my laptop and off my mat.  So on these 2 days Wednesday and Thursday, I usually do split primary at Parsvottanasana and then practice up to Karandavasana.  This if nothing else provides me with some variety and a change of pace and time to work on Eka Pada, Dwi Pada and of course the ever so endearing Karandavasana (if I’m lucky, I’ll lotus)
  • Friday full primary and Intermediate up to Kapo

Who really cares?

Well, I guess I do. A bit.  I’m always self conscious about being out of “Mysore shape” or getting slower in my practice.  So I go to great pains to keep the pace of my practice in tempo with Sharath.  But the reality is, I”m not in Mysore, and I could use some time to develop, adapt to a much cooler room (temperature wise) and keep my motivation.

So what is untraditional is that I work on just Intermediate on those 2 days a bit before I should. In the traditional sense, I should keep my full primary and my intermediate poses from Sunday to Thursday.  But I’m at Kapo in Intermediate and that is just a little shy of the traditional place to split (Eka Pada Sirsasana which is 6 poses away).  But it does give me extra motivation and it also not only deepens my understanding of primary but also intermediate feels so different from those days that I do all of primary or just the first few standing poses up to Parshvottasana.

I like watching my primary change as I grow in intermediate, but if truth be told, I love the general feel of primary both during and after.  When I just do intermediate, I don’t feel as satisfied.  Sure my front is super open, but I miss the fun of the jumpbacks, the more complete vinyasas (i.e. more updogs), and the general feel of it.   Sure I’d be happy never to see Setu Bandasana again, but the linking of the postures of primary is more like a massage and complete package.  Intermediate just doesn’t hold the excitement for me nor do I hold on to that feeling throughout the day.

On days that I split primary and do more intermediate, I sometimes forget later on in the day if I’ve practiced or not.  It is harder sure (both mentally and physically), but just not as mentally engaging if that makes any sense.

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It is so much easier not to…like so much easier.

staying warmI’m usually a super early riser and I like getting up at 4:00 to 4:30am.  I realize that it is crazy early, but to me it is a very special time of day.  It is like extra time or the day become 26 hours and yet despite my wife’s rolling of her eyes or the “you need to be quieter as you get up in the middle of the night” remark sometime in the mid morning, it still just feels good.  But as of late since I got back to Canada, I’m struggling to get out of bed before 7am.

I’ve not been in a winter this bad in years.  There is a lot of darkness, cold and in general just shitty, stay inside weather.  Granted at 7am, it is still dark out (yaaa Canada!), but I can’t help a feeling of being behind when I do get up at 7:02 (still pushed it 2 extra minutes).  The bed is so dam comfy, the blankets are heavy and warm and the air in the apartment is chilly.  ”Why the hell would I want to get up?” is often the first full sentence that runs through my brain.

So it is much easier not to get up and skip practice.  But like all things worth doing, it is important to push through that resistance and urge to fall back into the easy. That one act of closing my eyes and dozing is in that moment, the easy choice but it will make the rest of my life more difficult.

If I can make that “difficult” decision (#firstworldproblems I know) of pulling back the covers and get up, then so many other things in my day will be easier.

If I do practice, then:

  • I keep my commitment to the tradition and lineage ofAshtanga
  • I sync my mind and body together via the breath and have that feeling of wellbeing all day.  This then makes my interactions with people, challenges, and thoughts, not only more pleasant, but much more honest.
  • I’ve done it and no matter what else I do all day, is not as hard and what is hard is put into a much more manageable perspective.
  • I’ve already spent 90-120 minutes alone with my thoughts and have a good handle on the quality of my mind (i.e. what’s on it for example) before I interact with anybody.  This dramatically raises the quality of my conversations, my ability to listen, and send meaningful emails and messages
  • I keep chipping away at yoga.  Yoga takes time and the more I do it, the deeper I go not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

So yes, giving up in the cold, dark early hours is the easier path in that moment.  But given all the moments in the day, learning how to not give into my primal urge to stay warm and sleep more, creates a much easier and enjoyable day. And yes, the quote by David Swenson always rings out in my head every time I feel myself wanting to drift back into a sleepy haze “I’ve never regretted getting up to practice, but I have regretted not”.  Works. Every. Time

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It is not downhill until you say it is; thoughts on turning 42 and yoga

Why Yoga?

Craig and Sharath1

I’m not a big birthday person. I don’t dislike them, nor do I play them up.  But, given all of the changes that life has brought over the past two years and especially the past two months, this one has hit me.

When I first started getting into yoga about seven years ago, I came across a David Williams quote that really summed up what I was looking for at the time.  He said: “I grew up in West Virginia and everybody around me  just got older and sicker as they aged.  I read about some yogis in India that got stronger both mentally and physically as they got older.  Life didn’t get worse.  So I went to India as a detective to see”.

This idea that life didn’t have to slip away really grabbed me, but it was also met with some challenge.

Yoga is not for guys

I thought yoga was stupid like most guys do.  I thought it was either for girls, new-agey, smiley annoying guys (the kind that wear baggy pants, lots of crystals and may or may not have a body odor problem), or for men who couldn’t play real sports.

Yet, I couldn’t deny that in my early 30′s I looked and felt like hell. Obviously, what I was doing or clinging to wasn’t working-I wasn’t getting physically and mentally stronger like the yogis in India. (see embarrassing photos below).

What wasn’t working

At that phase in my life, I was worsening.  I was drinking too much, smoking more and more, and watching my body really deteriorate into weakness, illness, and injury.  As well, my mind was very unsettled and I felt that I was at the mercy of my thoughts and moods.  I wasn’t sure what I needed or what was wrong, but I knew I wasn’t happy.  So when I read this quote, that life can get better as you get older, I was more than intrigued. Then, I went to my first Astanga class.

What yoga has done

I’ve kept a daily practice now for almost six years. At turning 42 (today), feel both embarrassed of the guy I was and proud of my life changes.  I was bought into the idea that aging had a fixed equation and we all had to undergo the same process at the same rate with the same changes.  Aging will happen sure, but not like you think it has to.  I’m physically better than I was at 35.  Even 25.  Even 15.  I’m mentally more grounded, focused and resilient.   Sure, I have a lot less hair, Gordon Ramsey-like wrinkles on my forehead, and I don’t necessarily spring back as quick as I used to after a physically taxing day.  But I’m capable of being vegetarian, practicing yoga for 90-120 minutes a day, and I’ve not been ill in the time I’ve started practicing from a cold or flu.

You don’t have to give in

Life does not  have to be a downward spiral after 30 or 40 or whatever age you look back on and long for.  I think there is a point in all of our lives where either life makes you or you make life.  For me, that moment was being brave enough to be that stiff guy in a yoga class to see if that David Williams’ quote was true.

You don’t need to look like a version of yourself you don’t like.  Nor do you need to act in ways that you constantly regret afterwards. There are ways of freeing your mind from those silent thoughts that create personal turmoil.  There are ways to hold onto a body and face that you are proud of.  There are ways of being comfortable in your own skin.  A daily Ashtanga practice can keep you not only physically young, but also mentally.  Your mind is challenged, stimulated, opened and continually growing while being humbled.

I have no doubt that yoga not only saved my life but made it possible to look toward the future in a positive light.  Moving forward into personal development demands a lot.  I mean a shit load.  But the good news is that it gives back more.  Yoga might not be for you and I am not trying to convert you.  It was simply my tool that allowed me to direct my life in a positive, meaningful and very much enjoyable direction.

There is something out there that can keep you moving in life in a direction of your choice.  Chances are you already know what it is and it is just a matter of listening to it and then having the balls to follow it.  If you are not sure, then you need to experiment, try things, until you have that feeling of the slope shifting from that depressing downhill slide you felt yourself on to moving upwards again to the “best is yet to come”.

What I work on daily

What keeps me engaged/frustrated/challenged each morning are these 3 poses:

1.  Urdva Danurasana with dropbacks

2.  Kapotasana

3.  Eka Pada Sirsasana

Eka Pada Sirsasana

 

 

 

 

 

You have to keep it interesting . If you’re stagnant, find a challenge.

 

 

Continual Growth via effort, honesty and humility.