Wednesday, December 30, 2009

freedom


What a great yoga practice this morning. How wonderful it is to be alive.

I quit smoking again, and this time I'm quitting for good. I can breathe. It's amazing.

I'm just back from my daughter and Sol's elegant and refined little love nest in Portland. They're so in love it made me cry. Portland is another homely city like Seattle, only colder due to its proximity to the river. And like Seattle, there are a lot of exciting, innovative things going on there just below the gritty surface.

Freedom and gratitude go hand in hand.

--30--

Sunday, December 20, 2009

reset


This morning's personal practice was the best in a long time, and lasted a full hour and a half. I've been taking LevoDopa-CarboDopa to treat my condition since Thursday, and it's been like resetting a dysfunctional machine.

Now I can do pranayama (controlled breathing) and meditation without fighting severe tremors in my right arm and hand. The tremors were distracting enough by themselves, but the worst of it was they also produced severe anxiety -- not the best state of mind for meditation.

I still have a lot of beefs against the way medicine is generally practiced in this country, and remain convinced the patient has to take responsibility for his or her own medical destiny, and not simply "leave it to the experts who know better," especially when the experts are determined to run an interminable series of endless tests and diagnostic procedures, and offer only minimal treatment. But sometimes I have to relent, and today I'm saying, "Thank God for modern allopathic medicine."

--30--

Saturday, December 19, 2009

teachers, gods, and the way home


The first principle is to always remember that your teacher is not a god. For example, Tracy is my yoga teacher, not my yoga goddess; her teacher was Kraftsow, and his teacher was Desikachar, and his teacher was Krishnamacharya, but none of these people is a god (although some will tell you differently).

You do your teacher a great disservice if you try to turn him or her into a god, and insult God in the process.

Now, a teacher has been sent (and not just to me alone) to help me find The Way, and what I'm finding is that my mind runs in a similar direction as his did. Not in the same channel, since he was of another time and another place, but in a direction harmonious with that of the teacher.

For instance, many of Jung's Red Book illustrations are enclosed in borders whose pictorial motifs either symbolically re-iterate the content of the image or graphically amplify the picture's theme. I was using that same technique years before I ever saw the Red Book or any of Jung's pictures, as I did with this tarot image which is, incidentally, a portrait of Dr. Jung as "Time" or "The Old Man," tarot trump IX, which in modern decks is usually called "The Hermit."

Of finding the way Jung says: "I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us...

"I will be no savior, no master teacher, no lawgiver unto you. You are no longer little children...May each one seek out his own way..."

I don't find it strange at all that even before I read these passages, I had decided that the Red Book was going to be more of a how-to manual than a revelation of The Way It Is. I find a lot of Jung's cosmological vision and imagery inscrutable and have no wish to try to climb into his mind. However, I think I could learn a lot of valuable pointers by closely studying the techniques he used to plumb the depths.

Plus, I have a natural aversion to gurus and holy books. I dread the kinds of situations we all face from time to time, when we get cornered by a couple Mormon missionaries (they always work in tag-team duos) in their little Hitler suits and buzz haircuts, trying to convince us that Joe Smith and his golden plates were the real deal. Or some overexcited fool with a copy of "Dianetics" and a bunch of Scientology tapes whose momentary mission is to convince me (why me?) that the alcoholic-psychotic-sex addicted L. Ron Hubbard was sent from the throne of God. Or some idiot clutching that towering mountain of made-up shit, The Urantia Book. God save us from those who make stuff up, slap it between two book covers, and then go out and use it to gain power over the weak and ignorant, and take their money.

Now, here's an important difference between me and Dr. Jung I've noticed: he had visions -- portents and illuminations that originated in his mind. I have dreams, but no visions. What I have instead are occurrences of real, tangible things crossing my path that take on a tremendous symbolic significance, and become encoded as talismans of what I'm experiencing at any given time in my life.

For example, this morning I went out at about two a.m. because I was unable to sleep. I drove to a 7-11 store to get a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes, and encountered a number of bizarre and in some cases frightening people. As I headed home along a nearly deserted 105th street I saw what I thought was a cat crossing the road up ahead.

"Better be careful crossing this busy street this time of night, kitty," I said out loud. But then as I got closer to this animal I saw it wasn't a cat at all, but an enormous rat, the largest I've ever seen.

"Welcome to the trailhead of The Way," says the rat to me over his shoulder as I went by. I guess nobody ever promised it wouldn't be scary.

UPDATE: I've made a second re-identification of that "cat" I saw this morning, and decided that the animal who crossed my path must have been an opossum. There has never been a rat that big. It was dark and I was driving a moving vehicle, and saw an animal which had what looked like a naked tail and a long, pointed snout. Opossums and raccoons are fairly common around here, even in the city.

--30--

Monday, December 14, 2009

bright shining star


I still would like to teach yoga, mainly because I think I would be very good at it.

I have a conception of yoga. It's not an original concept, but I find it very beautiful. I think asanas, the postures, should be done slowly, carefully, gracefully, linked one to another like a choreography or a string of sausages, and always intimately wedded to the breath. This is Viniyoga.

Also, a good practice shouldn't end with the ending of asana. There should be more; that might be a little tough to sell, but this is also Viniyoga.

Besides knowing what I want to teach, I also know who: people around my own age, primarily. And I think I could help a lot of them.

It's not going to be easy reaching this goal, this bright shining star. Before I can do so I have to deal in a more effective way with my current difficulties. I've been sliding along, moving slowly or not at all and mostly just hoping for the best. But this disease is aggressive, and I have to be aggressive back. It's worth a try, and we'll see what happens.

If I can do this thing -- something fairly simple, I think, for a lot of people -- it will be one of the major achievements of my life, and in its way harder than the process of establishing myself as a classroom teacher was, 20 years ago. It's like a war this time rather than just a series of steps, and I'm going to have to be a real tough guy.

Take me home, bright shining star, as Charlie Patton sang in "High Water Everywhere."

--30--

Sunday, November 29, 2009

giving thanks


It's occurred to me the past couple days (even though Thanksgiving was three days ago) that I've got a lot to feel grateful for.

Physical health is not something to take for granted, as I did for 50 years. But aren't the body's powers of recovery something to behold? "I'm grateful" is an understatement.

I've learned that if we're to have a future in this insane environment we find ourselves in, it's a do-it-yourself inside job, and I'm thankful to know that.

Mostly, I think about how I looked in the mirror slightly over two years ago and saw dying man, or maybe even one who was dead already. And I felt dead, inside and out.

How could I have gotten from there to here so quickly?

Finally, I'm glad I get to move to Seattle, because along with Portland it's the most happening city in the country.

--30--

Thursday, November 19, 2009

graduation's here


After nearly 10 months, about five inches of paperwork (vertical stack), and who knows how many hours of practice routines, I'll graduate tonight from my 200-hour yoga teacher training program in what promises to be a fairly gala ceremony, hosted by our teacher, Tracy W., at her studio.

I'm experiencing the feeling of accomplishment you'd expect to feel on such an occasion, especially considering that I'm a 65-year-old guy with a couple of chronic health conditions who toughed it out through this training alongside a bunch of healthy 30- and 40-somethings. But at the same time, there's a certain amount of sadness that accompanies the end of a five-times-monthly process that's been mostly enjoyable and has provided nearly my only social life during this past year, during which I've been living in isolation at my late mother's condo, far away from the city and separated from Seattle's bright lights by water and a boat ride.

That will all change soon enough. I hope to be living in the city within the next couple of weeks, and to begin looking for work right after the new year. Change -- change, what would life be without it?

--30--

Monday, November 09, 2009

Unforgiving Practice










This practice of meditation is causing dramatic and unanticipated disruptions in my mind and life, but I guess I mean that in a good way.

It's got to be the meditation doing this. I haven't made any other significant changes in my mental routine lately.

The most recent upheaval came a couple of days ago. I got my new copy of the New Yorker (Nov. 9) from the mailbox, went back inside, and sat down and turned first to the book reviews as I always do. My eye fell on a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals."

Halfway through this article the realization came to me -- actually more like struck me between the eyes like a bullet -- that I have to become a vegan. No buts, no compromises, no vacillation, no ambiguity, no choice. I have to do it, and that's the end of it.

So of course, that's what I'll do.

This creates enormous problems. At 120 pounds I'm already seriously underweight. I now have to give up the eggs, cheese, butter, chicken meat -- all the stuff that's keeping any weight on me at all. So I'll have to get some books, including a cook book, and eat more, and learn how to do this.

The thing is, I've been aware for years of the savage cruelty dealt out to animals on factory farms and feedlots, but somehow I was able to pretend I wasn't. At the same time I went around in a state of political outrage at this country's endless wars, and over the millions now out of work because of the criminals who ran the great real-estate Ponzi scheme of the earlier part of this decade.

I had fallen into the familiar moral trap of condemning the misbehavior of others, and ignoring the evil business in which I played my willing part as an accomplice. "Why," Jesus asked, "do you see the splinter in your neighbor's eye and ignore the plank in your own?"

I wouldn't want to say that this and other recent, major shifts in my thinking are the result of words coming from God's mouth to my ear, but sometimes that's how it feels. I've never heard that booming voice coming from heaven, but at critical moments simply become aware that a sort of tectonic shift has occurred in my mind, seemingly by way of an agency not my own.

It wasn't me who decided I have to now be a vegan, but I'm the one stuck with having to live under changed conditions. Ain't life hard? And then we die.

But I guess I wouldn't have it any other way. I got up this morning, looking forward to doing my daily practice, pranayama, and meditation.

I've got about 10 eggs, a little block of cheese, and half a tub of light butter left. I'll finish those and then it's a New World. This is kind of like quitting smoking, but easier I hope.

--30--

Monday, November 02, 2009

the blue sutras



Answering the question of how balanced the three aspects of kriya yoga are in my life -- the three Patanjali specifies in aphorism 2.1 (tapas, svadhyaya, and isvara pranidhana) -- I find it more useful to think of these three things as aspects of the practice which are intertwined in the manner of the three elements at the center of the Buddhist dharmachakra (pictured) rather than three separate legs holding up a stool.



The evolution of Dave B the Yogi began with tapas -- with asana a couple times a week in a class setting at first, and with gradual dietary changes, and then ditching the smoking habit. Pranayama came about a year later, and taken altogether these things by degrees led to svadhyaya -- self-reflection and meditation, and also to the frequent reading of spiritual texts, if the definition of spiritual texts is broadened to include the Christian/Jewish Bible as well as Hindu/Buddhist works alongside that bedrock of yoga scripture, Patanjali's Sutras. And in time these things led me to the work in progress -- discovering who I am, compared with that other guy I used to be.

This has been a blue experience -- calm, quiet, gradual, and gentle, as opposed to the red experience of overheated, traumatic, and hysterical religious conversion in the way we ordinarily think of it.

I meditate on the nature of the higher power sometimes, but still can't get my human mind around it. The ultimate God would have to be infinite and eternal -- two things my mind as yet cannot conceive of, for my experience here on earth has only encompassed people, places, and things that are finite and temporal. So at this point I would have to say I'm moving toward isvara pranidhana. The Taittiriya Upanishad tells me that the mind inside my head is the universe -- not like the universe, but is the universe, and thus infinite and eternal. Patanjali tells me that with the attainment of a focused mind, the inner being will establish itself in all its reality (YS 1.3), which would open the door to the realization the Upanishad promises. These are not things I'll accept on faith, however, but will have to experience them to fully understand them, and as I said before, that's a work in progress.

There's no doubt that this has been and continues to be a religious experience, but not of a sort I ever expected. We westerners with our nearly exclusive identification of religion with Christianity tend to view religion as a highly emotional and somewhat traumatic experience. How strange it is, then, to find texts like the Yoga Sutras, with their quiet, unhurried, rational tone, or the Upanishads, which are obviously formulations of lists and set pieces intended for memorization and recitation. How different these things are from the scary imagery of the first chapter of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation, or the emotional trauma of Job, or the psychologically wrenching symbolism of the blood sacrifice of the crucifixion. Not for the yogi is the high drama of the conversion experience of a St. Paul, thrown off his donkey and knocked unconscious by the power of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Instead, Patanjali only urges us, gently and in a quiet tone, to practice what he prescribes respectfully, seriously, diligently, frequently, and with devotion over a long period of time (YS 1:14). By this means, through gentle penetration, gradually, quietly, and without any crisis or panic attacks, the light of religion, like mild sunshine which tenderly warms all it falls upon, will gradually infuse itself throughout all aspects of one's life. And I believe it, because that's been my experience.

--30--

Friday, October 30, 2009

finding the line


At yoga teacher training class last night in the old brick schoolhouse on Phinney Ridge, our teacher and mentor rang the bell to signal the start of a practice she promised would be "hot and spicy." I was feeling pretty cocky, so didn't bother to ask myself for whom the bell tolled.

To make a long story short, I had to drop out about 2/3 of the way through this extremely challenging sequnce because I simply couldn't continue. I probably should have quit sooner, but kept trying to stay with it until I felt like I was going to pass out. At that point I knew I wasn't doing myself any favors by keeping on.

Sometimes it's hard for a person to admit that there are things he's not young enough,or strong enough, or well enough to do. But then, on the other hand it's important to know what our limitations are, and I found mine last night.

I can attend all-levels classes and even the weekly intermediate session at the teacher's studio and get through that stuff without any problems, so I figure it's best to count my blessings instead of feeling bad about what I can't do. And those classes, like my daily practice, provide a tremendous boost to my physical, emotional, and mental health rather than posing a danger or being something I shouldn't be doing.

The first time I taught chair yoga to the over-65 crowd I remember thinking, "I'm sure glad I don't have to sit in a chair to do my practice," but now I realize that sooner or later that day is coming, and not just for me. And that's a great thing, because it's better than just sitting around like I did for years.

One of the great aspects of Viniyoga is that it's truly elastic and adaptable. It genuinely is for everybody, and speaking of chair yoga, I'm beginning to feel like there's a great opportunity there for me. Frequent yoga for active, older adults is something we're going to be seeing a lot more of in the near future.

--30--

Monday, October 19, 2009

bump

Taught my last class at the Shoreline YMCA today, and it ended really well. That makes 4 of 4.

I had five ladies turn out, and they really enjoyed themselves. I got a positive reaction.

They got together and were making a request that my class be continued as I was leaving.

I doubt there's a job there, but it's really nice to be appreciated at your very first gig.

--30--

Saturday, October 17, 2009

faith community


Gradually as I've continued hanging out in the yoga community in Seattle over the past eight months, it's slowly become apparent to me that this is a faith community, of sorts. It's not the kind of society where people sit around discussing theology very much.

Not that there aren't people who spend time talking about yoga or writing about it -- there are, and some of them do a great job of it too.

But for the most part yoga is a theology of action, and something that needs to be done rather than just believed. The idea is that the mind will follow certain actions the way a cartwheel follows the ox pulling it.

This is my kind of faith community, that's for sure. I always did find theological debate really tedious and boring.

--30--

Thursday, October 15, 2009

negative to positive



The word for the day: breathe in; breathe out.

Breathe from the top of the chest downward. On exhale, push towards the spine with the belly, from the bottom up.

From the top down, from the bottom up.

In with the positive, and out with the negative.

In with the good, out with the not-so-good.

In with the "Yes, I can," and out with the "No, I can't."

With such small steps as these you can make yourself a new reality.

Miniature sculpture: Reverse Polarity (artist unknown).

--30--

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

into the future


After teaching a second class yesterday I can see where this is going, and I also see what's missing. I need to keep on doing everything I'm doing, but I also need to add a big dose of Ellen.

Ellen B. was my first yoga mentor, way down deep in the semi-civilized wastes of SoCal, and sometimes I think she has no idea what a great teacher she is. Some of the simplest things she taught us will turn out to be the most valuable for my purposes.

I'm seeing a lot of severe arthritis among the people who show up in my classes: a lot of chronic, nagging pain in shoulders, knees, and elbows. Shoulders especially. These are mostly people who would have a very difficult time getting onto the floor and back up again unassisted. They're not old and feeble and senile, in fact just the opposite. They tend to be lively and animated, but everything they do in an exercise class has to be adapted to address the deteriorated condition of their joints.

The key is finding the right adaptations of the right movements for this group as a whole. If I can do that I can probably help a lot of people. This is kind of exciting; it's unfolding like a story in one of those children's pop-up books.

--30--

Saturday, October 10, 2009

paradise


Paradise is real, but exists only in the mind. Located in a specific time as well as a specific place, it's impossible to capture or hang on to.

Once those magical feelings of security and abundance have slipped away they never return, and paradise becomes a memory and a vapor, like a dream.

I remember my paradise clearly, for I recognized it at the time, though it was very humble, and definitely a low-intensity experience. For some, ecstasy is extreme exuberance, but for others of us, it's tranquility.

--30--

Thursday, October 08, 2009

got thru it


I taught my first yoga class today and survived it, in pretty good shape actually. I'm really glad it's behind me rather than in front of me.

I'll do it again this coming Monday, and it'll be stronger than it was today.

It didn't look like the class pictured here, because mine was older people sitting in chairs. Older Active Adults -- AOA -- that's my class. I had to hand it to those people, some of whom are infirm, for example, hampered by arthritis. Yet they're still out there, moving and doing what they can to help themselves.

--30--

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

into the sunset


As we approach the boarding gate for our final departures, it's best to discontinue all our destructive habits, even the ones we've carried with us most of our lives. I've found those things gather intensity over time, become even more destructive in the end times than they were previously, and who doesn't want to go out experiencing some insight into one's own behavior?

It was a rough two days, first with insomnia that just wouldn't leave, then coughing fruitlessly all the following night. Then last night was sleep enough to compensate, and today has been recovery with food, yoga, clean clothes and contemplation.

The breath comes easily now, but the shaking distracts and also detracts from the practice. I keep hoping for a treatment; will proceed slowly, carefully, one thing at a time.

I also need to move. My mother's sad spirit hovers over this place.

--30--

Saturday, October 03, 2009

quiet practice


Returned today to the quiet, slow-paced, and gentle practice I've been doing variants of, with numerous add-ons and changes, for the past six months. It's perfect for my physical, mental, and respiratory needs, and lasts nearly exactly an hour.

It always begins with a 40-minutes (including savasana, the rest period at the end) asana sequence, based on the routine in Gary Kraftsow's Yoga for Transformation, pages 70-88. What I find particularly attractive about this sequence is the unusual breath prescription for most of the postures: staying one breath longer during each successive repetition of the movement, up to four breaths/four reps. This is a user-friendly approach for a an older person like myself who also suffers from emphysema. Staying one breath longer with each repetition prevents any of the breathlessness which often occurs when I try simply moving in and out of these postures with each breath.

Next is pranayama, and I've learned to keep it simple. Six breaths to warm up deepen the inhale and extend the exhale, then, by the clock, six-second inhales and 12-second exhales with short, one-second pauses in between for a 20-second threshold, 18 repetitions. This works out to about eight minutes and leads directly into a short period of chanting: Om; then om namaha; then om shanti.

From there, the practice becomes very quiet indeed. With the eyesight turned inward, I meditate on the first four chakras, the ones with characteristics we have in common with the animals, and those associated with the four common elements: muladhara, the base of the spine, the "earth" chakra, and the foundation of our security; then svadisthana two inches above it, the water in which the earth is dissolved, the creative and regenerative instinct. Then comes manipuraka, the fire which vaporizes the water, and is the fire of transformation; finally anahata the heart, the wide air into which the fire is dispersed, and the lotus which, when right-side-up and open, allows us to love.

After that I slowly open my eyes and begin to come back to a more ordinary state of mind. It's kind of like waking up from a deep sleep, but not exactly the same. I notice a very slow, quiet hour has gone by, and I'm better for it.

--30--

Sunday, September 27, 2009

inside the bod


Each of us lives inside a human body, or physical vehicle. It's kind of inconvenient to have to live that way at times, but there's no alternative available -- yet.

Inside each of these bodies of ours, an interrelated bundle of functions constantly occurs -- breathing, heartbeat, circulation, digestion, and so forth. Beyond these gross, physical manifestations of our existence, there also dwells somewhere inside each body a mind or intellect which is hardly ever still or at rest as long as we are conscious, a set of personal attributes we call ego or "personality," and at the very center of these subtle energy forms, a core, or soul, or what might be called the germ of personality. The psychoanylist C.G. Jung theorized that this last aspect of ourselves existed not just inside us, but outside and everywhere as well, as what he called a "universal pre-consciousness."

One of the best ways to condition and optimize the muscles, joints, and organs of the physical body and its vital functions is through asana, the movements prescribed by the various lineages of Hatha Yoga. Pranayama, the art of disciplined and controlled breathing, also can have a profound impact on the vital functions, as well as opening up avenues by which we gain deeper access to the mind and personality. The mind is also susceptible to improvement through reading and study, and can be quieted by meditation, which also affects the personality. The personality can be further refined through chanting, prayer, and other forms of ritual.

Devoting an hour a day to any of these practices will enhance the flow of anyone's life. There is a logical sequence inherent in the array, and each person can determine, with guidance, which of the elements and in what proportion best suit his or her needs. This may seem egotistical or narcissistic, spending one hour of every 24 attending strictly to the details of life inside one's own body, but it actually shows consideration for others, especially those closest to us, since in the long run our steady practice means that we will be able to care for ourselves so others won't have to.

--30--

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

...and the day after...

9/21/09 -- combined (mainly) chest inhale with "closing a zipper" exhale. Over all a successful 6: 2: 12: 2 practice lasting about 12 minutes, with some disruption due to shaking.

9/22/09 -- Same as yesterday's routine, but with added pelvic floor contraction on the exhale. I found as this practice progressed that I was not paying as much attention to breathing technique as I had been. Much of my mental effort went into monitoring the level of relaxation in shoulders, arms, hips, and thighs, in order to minimize the shaking in the right hand.

This points the way to the emphases in my future pranayama method, and concludes the two-week personal practice assignment due 9/24.

9/23/09 -- Stayed with the same number of breath cycles adopted during the assigned practice (36), but with slightly altered duration of each cycle (6: 1: 12: 1 = 20). The techniques I'm using are the ones I've mostly used learning pranayama -- breathing mainly into the chest above the diaphragm by concentrating on filling the space between the large ribs, and "closing the zipper" on exhale, with a mild perineal-floor squeeze at the end. I've used these techniques long enough now that they seem almost natural, which enables me to devote sufficient attention to relaxing the large joints and appendages sufficiently to minimize the shaking due to Parkinson's, along with frequently shifting the position of the right hand.

This assignment and the journaling that went with it helped me determine my optimum approach to pranayama.

--30--

Monday, September 21, 2009

the dopamine chronicles


Hey you...you wanna feel really good for a few minutes? Try some of this.

Unfortunately, that stuff has become hard for me to get. And there's only one place I can go to get it -- in my brain.

Sounds like a figment of the imagination, eh? But it's not, and most days I just have to practice without it.

Friday the 18th -- did not practice, after arriving home from class very late the night before and staying up even later.

Saturday the 19th -- the day for "solar plexus inhale" was something new, as I have almost no experience with this technique. Without knowing whether I was actually doing it right, it felt as if air was filling the entire body cavity evenly on inhale, and my trunk felt as if it was shaped something like a kidney bean (only much bigger, ha ha). Using the "closing a zipper" exhale in tandem with this inhale, it was easy to establish and maintain the same 22-second breath cycle I've been using all along, divided into 6: 2: 12: 2. Also experienced some shaking during this practice, but was able to stay concentrated on the task at hand in spite of it. Mission accomplished, second week, first day.

Sunday the 20th -- not a good day. A relaxed exhale apparently does not permit complete or near-complete emptying of my impaired lungs. My counts today were off, although for a while I was able to achieve a duration of 19 seconds divided into 5; 2: 10: 2, but was not able to sustain it over a dozen cycles. The problem I think is that an incomplete exhalation messes up the inhalation that follows.

In addition, shaking in the right hand today was so severe I could hardly keep my mind on what I was doing. On top of that, my mind, being agitated, tended to wander. I did manage to finish the 36-cycle practice, but just barely. This is all just a part of the learning experience entailed in this particular lesson, I suppose.

--30--

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A-U-M

Much better today, after a really good night's sleep. I think that was half the problem yesterday.

Techniques: "Belly only" inhale; bottom-to-top ("zipper") abdominal squeeze on exhale.

Duration: 22 seconds -- inhale 6, retain 2, exhale 12, suspend 2.

Cycles: 36 -- 6 to prepare (not timed), 6 inhale/exhale, 6 inahale/retain/exhale, 12 inhale/retain/exhale/suspend, 6 inhale/exhale.

Elapsed time: about 12 minutes.

Shaking due to Parkinson's was mild to moderate.

This concludes the first week of the current two-week assignment.

--30--

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

cut short again

After asanas this morning, I began pranayama practice following the instruction for the day of doing belly breathing only on the inhale, and using the same count, duration, and ratio as before.

Unfortunately, however, I was unable to complete the practice. About halfway through the 12-cycle portion in which all four elements of the breath are activated, the shaking in my hands due to Parkinson's intensified to the point where I could no longer keep my mind on what I was doing, and I had to stop.

This is a distressing and dark turn of events. The disease seems to be progressing very rapidly now, and every day is worse than the day before. Besides the shaking in the right hand and forearm, I've began shuffling and stumbling around the house.

I'll try again tomorrow, but I may have to suspend this practice until I can see a doctor and begin to manage this disease more than I have so far, which is to say not at all. I've just been living with it and hoping for the best, but apparently that's no longer going to work for me.

--30--

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

mistaday

Practiced in class for about three and a half hours on Sunday, 9/13, but with very little pranayama, and did not practice yesterday, 9/14.

When I returned to my routine this morning I used the same ratio and total duration for the same number of breath cycles (36) as before, but this time with full-chest-only breathing on the inhale.

I found this to be almost, but not quite, a strain to draw the inhalation out for six seconds. It was not as effortless as with the chest-t0-belly technique of inhaling. However, by the time I got into the 12 breaths in the middle of the cycle where I was using all four elements of the cycle, it felt pretty natural and comfortable.

Left to my own devices, however, I'm sure I'd prefer a chest-t0-belly inhale for six seconds as a standard practice.

--30--

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cut Short



Here are the first two days (of eight) of the new pranayama exercise.

On both these days, inhale was chest-to-belly, and exhale was accomplished by pressing the abdominal muscles toward the spine from the bottom, below the belt and navel, to the top, just below the diaphragm. So in a way these two days were simply a continuation of the previous 28 days -- same breathing technique, same total duration of the breath cycle, using the same ratio.

9/11/09 -- As before, a fully-articulated cycle of 6: 2: 12: 2 for 12 breaths, preceded by six cycles of extending the inhale and exahle without a count, six cycles of 6: 12 without retention or suspension, and six cycles of 6-2-12-0. It was also supposed to be followed by returning the breath to normal with six more cycles of 6:12, but I had to cut that short after three breaths due to a full-blown attack of emphysema, complete with violent coughing and extensive sneezing. I have no idea what caused this, except it might have been triggered by residual smells or smoke in the air from having a fire in the fireplace the night before.

9/12/09 -- As yesterday, only this day I was able to complete all 36 breath cycles in good order. Same breathing technique, durations, ratios, etc. The total elapsed time for this practice is about 12 minutes, which is exactly what one would expect from 36 repetitions of a breath cycle which averages 20 seconds, or roughly three breath cycles a minute.

Painting: "Nearly Hit," oil on canvas, by Paul Klee.

--30--

Thursday, September 10, 2009

change for the better



This concludes the 28-day formal paranayama journal, though by my count I still have two make-up days to practice and chronicle. I'll send that last part of the assignment along by e-mail when it's done.

Today's pranayama was exactly like the most recent ones from the past couple days. After half a a dozen preparatory breaths to lengthen the breathing cycle:

6-0-12-0 (6)
6-2-12-0 (6)
6-2-12-2 (12)
6-0-12-0 (6)

____
36 cycles with a target duration of 22, ratio = 3-1-4-1

I think of pranayama as another element in my recovery, a defining lifetime event for so many of us these days. I believe that's because you can't really live in this society of ours, but can only recover from it. I live with residual conditions that result from exposure to our toxic culture, and the way I lived my life. But I don't really suffer from them, since I've eliminated their causes and adjusted. In fact, I've recovered from seemingly hopeless conditions of the body, breath, and mind. A lot of this recovery has occurred since I enrolled in this class. Pranayama and asana have both played significant parts in it.

On a day like today, I can wake up in the morning and thank God for being here, and for feeling the way I do.

--30--

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Natural Rhythm


After encountering difficulties on 9/7 in attempting to lengthen retention and suspension, returned to the 6-2-12-2 pattern for the last two days.

I'm comfortable with this total duration of 22 and ratio of 3-1-4-1. With the 18-cycle preparation, by the time I get to the 12-cycle sequence that includes both retention and suspension, the pattern feels very natural, and nothing is forced. The main distraction continues to be shaking due to my nervous system disease, but there's nothing to be done about that, at least not right now.

Probably my next step in advancing pranayama practice should be to seek medical help and initiate a program for managing Parkinson's Disease.

--30--

Monday, September 07, 2009

Difficulty at the End

Yesterday, 9/6, practice was identical to what it had been in the few days prior. Pranayama total duration was 22 seconds per cycle, with a breakdown of 6: 2: 12: 2, or a ratio of 2:1: 6: 1. Elaspsed clock time for that part of the practice was about 12 and a half minutes.

Today, 9/7, I ran into some difficulty during pranayama. For some reason it felt natural today to slightly lengthen retention and suspension, so I increased both from two seconds to three, which yielded a 24-second cycle, as everything else remained the same. But toward the end of the practice, the pranayama was interrupted several times by coughing, which in turn touched off spasms of shaking that pretty much sabotaged the end part of practice.

We'll see where we are tomorrow.

--30--

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Extended Breath


Today's practice was long and slow, lasting over an hour altogether.

Picking up where I left off yesterday, I found my inhale to be longer and more controlled during asana practice than it had been previously, with the result that I had less trouble with losing breath, being winded, etc. Plus, I was very attentive to linking movement and breath, and if the breath even began to grow ragged I'd stop and rest.

Pranayama followed a fairly short (five minutes and change) but deep savasana, assumed the exact same pattern as yesterday's, and lasted about 12 and half minutes. The biggest problem I have in this segment of practice is becoming distracted due to the shaking associated with Parkinson's Disease. If I keep the muscles of my hips and thighs relaxed, that seems to minimize it. It's more to think about.

However, even with that, I feel like I'm really getting somewhere in my practice now. Paradoxically, by exerting greater self-control, I feel a greater sensation of freedom.

--30--

Friday, September 04, 2009

Prana


Practice yesterday, 9/3, was identical to those of the preceding four days, with a pranayama segment of 36 cycles anchored by a four-count inhale and a 12-count exhale.

However, today's practice saw an unaccountable shift in the breathing pattern whose most significant feature was an unplanned lengthening of the inhalation, from a count of four to a count of six. This happened seemingly by itself and completely naturally, without any planning or conscious attempt to make it happen.

After six breath cycles lengthening the two active portions of respiration, I continued breathing according the the following patterns:

6 breaths: 6: 0: 12: 0
6 breaths 6: 2: 12: 0
12 breaths 6; 2: 12: 2
6 breaths 6: 0: 12: 0

for a total of 36 breath cycles.

I believe this is significant, and a positive development. I'm not sure what it means, but I suspect it indicates a greater level of control over the process.

--30--

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Repeating the Cycle

Nothing new to report today or yesterday, 9/1 and 9/2, except two more identical practices to the ones on 8/30 and 31.

Morning, between 7:00 and 7:30 seems a good time to begin the asanas. Pranayama starts about 45 minutes into the practice, and on both of these days went in exactly the same manner as the two days preceding.

I have not been meditating, because I wanted to focus all my concentration on pranayama until I was sure I had it right. But I will start meditating again tomorrow. AG Mohan says that "Pranayama leaves the mind in a state where meditation...is possible," and that "Without the proper preparation of pranayama, meditation may involve only the imagination." He concludes by reminding the reader that the ultimate goal of this breathing practice is to alter one's state of mind.

--30--

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pranayama Exercise: End of August


Success at last! I think I'm finally following the instructions precisely, and did so during the past two nearly-identical days of practice, at seven in the morning.

After asana practice and savasana, tuned into the ticking of my alarm clock and spent six breath cycles lengthening the two active portions of respiration, then continued breathing according the the following patterns:

6 breaths: 4: 0: 12: 0
6 breaths 4: 2: 12: 0
12 breaths 4; 2: 12: 2
6 breaths 4: 0: 12: 0

for a total of 36 breath cycles.

Did this twice, on 8/30 and 8/31/09. I'm relieved that I finally got right with the instructions, and also that this particular pattern seems well-adapted to emphysema, natural, and comfortable.

--30--

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thursday/Friday/Saturday

Thursday, 8/27/09 -- Pranayama was part of a complete morning practice, immediately after savasana and before meditation. Began with six breaths to establish length, then six with a count of 4 -- 2 (retention) -- 14, then 12 cycles of 4: 2: 14: 2. Ended with six long breath cycles uncounted as a transition to meditation.

Friday, 8/28/09 -- Followed exactly the same routine as yesterday, with the only difference being a slight lengthening of the exhale during the 12-breath segment, yielding a count of 4: 2: 15: 2.

I reviewed the instructions and again found I am still not following them precisely. I'll try again tomorrow to get it right.

8/29/09 -- no formal pranayama today, but I did some breathing in Deirdre Wilcox's class at Whole Life.

--30--

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Instructions


OK, so I finally carefully read my instructions for this week (and for the rest of this four-week exercise), and I think I'm finally doing it right. Better late than never.

8/25/09: After asana practice and a five-minute savasana, I began pranayama practice with a six-breath lengthening of the cycle, during which I concentrated on pushing the belly to the spine on exhale. Following that I began to count, establishing a pattern of 4 counts inhalation, 2-count retention, and 12-count exhale for six breaths. This was all done with the supervision of the clock/metronome.

Then, introducing a 2-count suspension after exhale, maintained this pattern for 12 breaths: 4: 2: 12: 2.

The exhale felt a little short at times.

Six breaths at the end restored respiration to a normal but considerably slowed-down pace as I transitioned into meditation.

8/26/09: A virtually identical repeat of yesterday's exercise, only today the 12-beat exhale did not feel short or uncomfortable at all. Meditation was very satisfying today also.

--30--

Monday, August 24, 2009

In Between


Yesterday, 8/23: It was that rare day when formal breathing was not preceded by asana practice. I felt pressed for time, so sat down and did pranayama followed by meditation with no prep other than bringing attention to the breath for 2-3 minutes before commencing, followed by a short prayer.

It didn't work out all that well. I had the usual six-cycle warm up, maintained 12 cycles of 6: 2: 14: 2 without any struggle, and followed with six cycles during which breathing returned to the new normal (it's always longer and slower than normal for a while after pranayama).

However, I experienced quite a bit of shaking today, and it's a distraction, both during pranayama and meditation. I don't doubt that early asana practice helps keep the shaking down the rest of the day.

Today, 8/24/09: Same routine as yesterday, only with much better results, as pranayama was preceded by movement practice, and shaking due to Parkinson's, while still present, was minimal. Used the same pattern and same length breath components as yesterday, yielding a strange ratio of 3-1-7-1, but such is my idiosyncratic respiratory system.

I always use a clock as a metronome now.

Woodcut: "The Knight, Death, and the Devil" by German artist Albrecht Dürer (1513).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Air Supply


Yesterday, 8/21/09, begins week two of this four-week exercise.

It was a full one-hour practice, and included a pranayama sequence of 6: 2: 12: 2 as measured by the clock.

Six breaths to establish the pattern; 12 cycles of measured breath; six more cycles for decompression and transition to meditation. Total elapsed time for this exercise was about 8:50.

This is a comfortable ratio for a person with moderately severe emphysema -- 3: 1: 6: 1 -- in which the lungs cannot be emptied completely due to the permanent destruction of a significant percentage of the alveoli, which necessarily limits the ability to inhale fully.

Today, 8/22/09: almost exactly the same routine as yesterday -- a one-hour practice with a pranayama sequence which included the same identical constituent parts, breath proportions, total duration, etc., with the difference that today 12 counts did not seem adequate for fully emptying the lungs as much as I'm able to empty them. So tomorrow I'll try to lengthen the exhale just a little, while still retaining the short suspension at the end. That will mess up my nice, symmetrical breath ratios, but one must listen to the body.

--30--

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dave's Yoga Journal


Decided to write up the whole practice today rather than just doing the assigned pranayama notes, so as to get a better idea where I am overall.

Set up to start at noon, but waited until three striking clocks in the house had struck before commencing to attend to breathing.

Asana practice ran just a couple ticks shorter than usual -- about 28 minutes today, not counting savasana. I looked back over my written-out routine and discovered I'd left out uttanasana. It's an easy one to forget -- so simple, yet so important. I do it right after trikonasana, and today because my breathing was stressed during that somewhat demanding pose, I must have been anxious to get to down dog, a rest pose for me.

Pranayama was like this: six cycles to lengthen breath (and it really needed lengthening); 12 cycles of inhale = 6, retain for 3; exhale = 12, suspend for three. This makes 6: 3: 12: 3, yielding a total duration of 24, or a ratio of 2:1:4:1. Then six breaths of decompression followed. All this took about 8:30 altogether.

The suspension was somewhat straining, while the retention feels very strong and natural. Today ended the first week of this exercise. Tomorrow I'm going to try to smooth things out and lengthen the cycle by going to a retention and suspension of one count each.

Followed up pranayama with a meditation on the first four chakras, mentally chanting their associated syllables on exhale (bija mantra). Ended practice with one "Om" and a seated forward bend from cross-legged position, at about 52 minutes.

--30--

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Disturbed Breathing

August 18 -- Pranayama notes for the fourth day of the 65th year of our Babylonian captivity.

The breathing was interrupted several times by coughing today, and concentration was difficult because of excessive shaking due to Parkinson's Disease. I need to see an acupuncturist.

Today I changed the counting method, and counted each individual tick of the pendulum as "one" rather than using every other tick as I had been doing before. After six warm-up breaths, the ratio was 6: 2: 12: 2 for a total duration of 22 per cycle.

After 12 monitored breaths and six cycles of decompression, 10 minutes exactly had elapsed.


August 19 -- Breathing was disturbed again today, and during asana practice I noticed the inhale coming rapidly and quite shallow.

The six warm-up breaths went by quickly. Once monitored breathing was begun, I couldn't get any suspense after exhale for about the first six of 12 monitored cycles and was counting 4: 4: 12: 0. During the second half of monitored breathing I settled into 4: 4: 12: 4, for a total duration of 24 per cycle (using the grandfather clock) and a ratio of 1: 1: 3: 1.

Six unmonitored (but deeper than the warm-up) cycles returned breath to normal. The total elapsed time today was about eight minutes.

I noticed that my breathing was better during the meditation period that followed pranayama than it was during pranayama itself. Tomorrow I'll try setting a goal and preparing mentally for pranayama and see if that makes a difference, because right now I'm not getting the results I want.

--30--

Monday, August 17, 2009

Three Days in August


8/15/09 -- I was very busy with a garage sale on this day, and so did not practice. I'll stretch the period for this project out to 29 days, and hope this is the only day I miss.

8/16/09 -- In-class practice at Whole Life. During this coached session of pranayama I was able to sustain a period of suspense after exhalation for the first time, having never been able to do this before.

After a warming-up period, maintained a consistent inhale of three beats, retention of two, exhalation of six, suspension of two, for an unusual ratio of 1-1/2: 1: 3: 1. Followed this with a short period of returning the breath to normal.

I have no idea of how much time this exercise took.

8/17/09

Morning practice at home. Six cycles of lengthening the breath, followed by twelve cycles of 3: 2: 6: 2, just as I did yesterday. Used the grandfather clock as a metronome.

I forgot to keep track of the time, but I'll be sure to do that tomorrow.

Painting, "Pranayama" by Ketna Patel; mixed media on canvas.

--30--

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Midpoint of Meditation


The manipuraka chakra at the level of the navel, is the seat of transformation, corresponds to the transformative power of digestion, and is represented by an equilateral triangle. It's also where one of the body's three diaphragms, which we know simply as "the diaphragm" is located, and is associated with the fire element.

If the digestion is weak or ineffective, our physical well-being is undermined and we suffer from lethargy and energy deficits. Through lack of energy, we become incapable of transforming our lives when necessary.

On deep inhale, think of the manipuraka chakra as the transforming fire, and imagine it as an upright triangle resting on a solid base. Retaining the breath after inhalation, mentally invest this mid-point chakra with its power of mutability derived from its strong but flexible central location. On exhale, mentally chant the syllable "rahm," the sound associated with this chakra. Five repetitions.

A span (the maximum distance between thumb and forefinger) above the navel chakra is the source of love, the anahata or heart chakra. Our feelings of empathy emanate from this spot, and our freedom from the dead weight of resentment and selfishness as well, for it is associated with the air, in which the fire of the third chakra dissipates.

As you inhale, visualize the heart chakra as a lotus flower opening upward, and imagine tapping into the enormous power of love, previously inhibited up by feelings of fear and insecurity generated by an unstable foundation in your first chakra or a lack of fire in your transformative third chakra. Suspending the breath, imagine the relief conferred on your entire life by the potential empathy you possess. On exhale, mentally chant the syllable "yahm," the sound associated with the anahata chakra. Five repetitions.

Take a cleansing breath, then inhale deeply. On exhale chant "Om." Three complete breath cycles, three times.

Open your eyes slowly. You've been meditating deeply, so don't move too fast too soon.

--30--

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pranayama

Yesterday: 8/13/09, mid-morning.

6 breaths preparatory breathing -- lengthening the breath.

12 breaths at a ratio of inhale = 5, exhale = 10, duration 15.

6 breaths returning respiration to normal.

Total elapsed time was 10:30.

Did not use the grandfather clock.

**********************************

Today, 8/14.

Counting with the grandfather clock, inhale = 6, exhale = 12, duration 18.

Same pattern of preparation, counting, and decompression as yesterday, but today's practice only lasted about eight minutes altogether.

Something felt not right with it. It didn't feel natural like yesterday's.

--30--

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lumpy Gravy, Soggy Crust



What a very pleasant and auspicious full practice I had this morning. It set me up nicely for today's work, which was to write up and draw the final sequencing assignment that's due before our yoga class goes on three weeks' vacation.

The writing went pretty easily, now that I have a printer. I've had serious problems writing by hand lately. It's become nearly impossible, and really slows me down. I can still use the keyboard, though, and I'm still able to draw.

Didn't finish the assignment today, but the writing's done, and I'll finish drawing it out tomorrow.

For dinner I made homemade pizza (tomato and basil) for the first time in a great long while. I found that it's a little harder to work with whole wheat floor than the white flour I used to use, but I sweated away and got a decent doughball made at last. Then later, I forgot to pre-bake the crust by itself for about ten minutes before adding the toppings, which I've found over the years you have to do with homemade pizza or end up with a soggy crust every time.

So tonight my crust was a bit underdone, but the flavor was excellent and now I've reviewed everything I need to know to get it perfect next time, which will be Friday.

--30--

Monday, August 10, 2009

On the Mountain



As I look back over my life from the beginning of old age, I see recurring behavior patterns that have limited or at times blocked my growth as a fully-evolved human being, and some of these I'm just now starting to deal with effectively. I've grown and matured rapidly in the last couple of years, partly under the benign influence of yoga and the positive outlook yoga encourages, partly out of necessity and because survival requires it, and partly as the result of the natural evolution of a normal, aging human soul.

Blocking personal cohesion and concentration of the mind, and causing its opposite ("inner obstacles that disperse the mind" according to Bouanchaud's translation), Patanjali lists nine roadblocks. Of these, my history has probably been most severely affected by vyadhi or sickness, most often caused by avirati, which Bouanchaud translates as "intemperance." That word refers among other things to the kinds of substance abuse which pretty much crippled any opportunity I might have had to grow and mature for many years. Alcohol abuse was the main negative actor in my life from the time I was in my late teens, and with increasing severity from about age 30 until age 49 (when I quit for good). The associated illnesses included mental and spriritual immaturity and most of the other personality disorders Patanjali lists, as well as acute inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis) aggravated by alcohol.

After I quit drinking I was able to mature somewhat, and would estimate I finally shed my adolescent self-absorption and became a full-fledged adult at about age 50. I began to excel in my job of teaching high school English, becoming much more self-controlled and able to deal more effectively with my students. For example, if a kid went out of his way to give me a hard time, I no longer took it personally, like some insecure semi-adult. I went to A.A. meetings, admitted my shortcomings, and faced the music. It was all good.

However, I was still physically and mentally sick because of drug addiction -- cigarettes (nicotine) to be exact. Also, I never exercised and ate a poor diet, especially heavy on refined white flour. I was still quite sick, often couldn't sleep well, felt lethargic and tired all the time, and at times didn't know by Tuesday where I would find the energy to finish the week. And this combination of conditions led to depression sometimes.

I don't blame myself entirely for acquiring all these destructive habits, often referred to as "lifestyle choices." Looking back at the way things used to be, I think some of these behaviors were at the very least culturally encouraged, although I would never go so far as to "blame society" for my becoming a drunk or a cigarette addict. Neither am I ashamed of my past, and there's very little that I wish I had done differently. For as I was taught in A.A., there is no reason to "regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it,"* and past suffering helps put our present, changed conditions into perspective.

The symptoms of suffering remaining in my life are also disease-related, but I don't know whether to regard them as obstacles to growth or motivational tools. Emphysema is simply the permanent legacy of cigarette addiction, and even though it manifests as physical limitations, I can't exactly say I suffer from it. It causes no discomfort except when I climb a mountain (which I did at my sister's urging not too long ago), and my breathing is so much stronger and less troubled than it has been for the past 50 years that I feel nothing but gratitude for still being able to breathe decently, even with limitations. Parkinson's Disease was probably caused by environmental factors in combination with smoking, but dealing with it has become a spur to action, and a challenge to maintain the new-found joy of living without surrendering to depression or the self-pity that sometimes accompanies such a condition.

Yoga, especially since I started a daily practice including pranayama a little over a year ago, and doubly especially since I started yoga teacher training, along with other seismic events in my mature life, has caused me to experience rapid physical, mental, and personality changes. I have no idea where this is going. The changes occur so quickly from one week to the next that I don't have time to evaluate where I am before finding myself somewhere else. Out of necessity, this process is about the journey, not the destination, because I have no sense of where that destination might be, or what it might consist of, and no expectations, excepting I don't expect things to go back to the way they were before.

*(The Big Book of) Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Ed.; New York, 1976, p. 83.

Photo by Chris Warmedahl; click on image for a larger view.

More Peacefuler



I've been having problems in class, specifically trouble learning sequencing, but I finally figured out with a little help from my friends that I simply hadn't studied the rules enough. So every time I draw a sequence now, I'll need to go back and spend an hour or so reviewing those "do's" and "don'ts" and keeping them in mind while cobbling together a proper and "elegant" order of postures.

Yesterday we began our teaching practicum in class at the studio (Whole Life -- see left sidebar). Teamed up with two or three other people over the past couple of weeks, we put our heads together, wrote an hour-and-a-half sequence, and then yesterday each taught a third of it to the rest of the class -- a very full room indeed, since the studio only comfortably holds about 20. I was the very first to perform (of course -- I always seem to be) and surprised myself by doing about as well as I could have hoped -- got high marks and lots of pats on the back, and suddenly realized my job was done -- the pressure was off.

Then during the second half of class, it was another team's turn and I got a full practice in moving through their very well-crafted and pleasant routine -- well taught, too. Afterward most of us convened at a very relaxing potluck at the house of one of the students who lives in the Greenwood neighborhood. I went home late, but fed, relaxed, and happy.

--30--

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sea of Tranquility


Today's was my first full morning yoga practice in a long time, and it felt great.

I still have the remnant of a torn-up shoulder from that fall I took last December, and if I don't get my complete morning stretch it just doesn't feel right.

Concentrated, controlled breathing, pranayama by name, requires more concentration than anything else in the practice, more even than meditation. It's nearly impossible to empty out the mind for more than a few seconds; when unoccupied it immediately seeks a thought, like a child afraid of his own reflection.

Afterward, with tranquil mind and relaxed body, I contemplate the history of our time, which is the last 250 years or so, compared with the time that preceded it -- the previous five thousand years. A historian of the French Ancien Régime I once read -- I forget who it was -- said that the government and culture of Louis XIV's France and ancient Egypt were more similar than the life of the Ancien Régime and that of France in 1890. Materially, we're much better off than our ancestors, better off than they ever even dreamed of being. In our family lives, our spiritual existence, our security or life's foundation...I'm not so sure -- can't really tell. Was there ever a generation before like ours, that didn't know from year to year what their lives were going to be like?

--30--

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Supta Badha Adjustasana


Class has gotten tougher lately, I guess because we're getting close to crunch time. Three of us working together have to teach an hour-and-a-half class this coming Sunday, but when I ran through my segment of it twice today I came up about ten minutes short of my allotted half hour both times.

At least we have four days to adjust.

I've also been having a lot of trouble with sequencing, and need to redraw and re-submit an hour-long sequence due day after tomorrow. I can't seem to get my head around the main idea, even though I know it. I think I'm getting distracted by details and zoning out on that main idea -- a bad habit a teacher should know enough to avoid.

We'll try putting a little more effort into it and see what happens.

--30--

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Since I Can't Remember When

Today's the first day I did a complete, three-part practice since the 30th. At least I think that's right.

I didn't practice at all yesterday, and the day before that I did movement (asana) only.

I don't remember what I did or didn't do beyond that.

I'll have to be more conscientious about keeping a thorough yoga journal, even though it will make for boring reading sometimes.

Today's complete practice was exhilarating.

--30--

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fresh


I had another smoking episode a couple days ago. It was scary, as those things always are, but recovery from it has been easy and enjoyable and different this time.

This time there's no nicotine patch.

I found out once more that the universe has ways of keeping us from having everything we want. I'd like to smoke AND experience optimum breathing. Unfortunately, we can have one or the other, but not both.

It's never felt this good to breathe before. I need to keep this in mind, because breath is life, and for someone like me, strong breathing is right next door to ecstasy.

--30--

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Release Valves



(Reflections on daily personal practice at home and participation in an all-level class at Whole Life Yoga on Saturday, 7/18, taught by Sharon, 10:45 a.m. -- noon.)

When I attended Sharon's late-morning class on Saturday the 18th she included utthita trikonasana in the standing sequence, and probably the peak posture as well. As it happens, this is a movement I do regularly in my daily personal practice as well, so I'm familiar with its inherent difficulties.

The biggest problem I have with utthita trikonasana is a tendency to move the upward-facing arm out in front of the body when coming out of the posture. In fact, this seems to be the most troubling and persistent problem I deal with in any of the various movements common to Viniyoga, with the possible exception of the universal and ever-popular hunching the shoulders toward the ears on forward bends. Other than that, I have a slight tendency to stick my butt out when releasing from this pose, but that's not nearly as pronounced as the problem with the arms wanting to come down at an outward angle as opposed to staying within a vertical plane.

This is a particularly important posture for me to perform properly, because it's been so instrumental in helping me to recover from a shoulder injury I sustained in a fall in the snow last December, which still nags a little sometimes. So I try to pay attention to the proper form, in order to get the full daily benefit of this very complete lateral bend and cervical twist.

I seldom do parivrtti trikonasana (and we didn't do it in Sharon's Saturday-morning class), but when I do I've noticed a tendency to buckle the right knee and rotate the right leg inward when twisting left, and use the same release valve on the other side, although it's not as pronounced when I'm twisting to the right. That's surprising, because I can't twist to the right and raise my right arm in that posture without experiencing a bit of shoulder pain.

In jatthara parivrtti, the universal release valve is bringing the right shoulder off the floor when twisting left, and vice-versa. But as I learned in class when demonstrating this pose, it's not a bad idea to let that happen within limits in order to increase the intensity of the twist. What I found in that demonstration is that working to keep the shoulder glued to the floor or, on the other hand, allowing it rise in an uncontrolled manner, are both ways to undermine the optimum benefit of the pose by restricting the twisting movement of the spine.

We did jatthara in Sharon's class toward the end of the session that Saturday, and I applied what I'd learned in class to maximize the benefit of the posture.

Other than what I've noted above, release valves I've found myself using are:

*Hunching the shoulders toward the ears on forward bends or other postures where the arms are swept up over the head;

*A tendency to collapse the chest over the abdomen on forward bends (especially pascimatanasana), particularly if the shoulders are already hunched;

*Letting the arms trail behind when coming up out of forward bends, causing a tendency to bend from the waist rather than the hips.

I'm sure I'm using other release valves as well that I haven't noticed, and that haven't yet been pointed out to me.

--30--

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Daily Practice



Daily Practice now takes about an hour and twenty minutes. It's a comprehensive set of procedures that includes movement (asana), structured breathing (pranayama), and meditation.

Many people mistake asana for the total package because in this country the emphasis and public face of yoga emphasize that facet. That's where most of us start, and a majority of practitioners, while deferring to "the spiritual aspect," probably don't go there. It's Gary Kraftsow's observation that 90 percent or more of his students never develop a daily pranayama practice. "They just won't do it," he says resignedly.

However, because the original intent and ongoing goal of yoga is intended to enhance the functioning of body, breath, and mind, a practice that doesn't include disciplined breathing and meditation is incomplete.

So far my teacher training class has focused only on asana, its fundamental postures and a few of the more difficult ones, its sequences, and planning a class. However, the study of pranayama and meditation is on the schedule.

My current personal practice at home starts with a short prayer, then goes into about 40 minutes of very basic sorts of movements ending with six or seven minutes of rest, which is the perfect transition to pranayama (about 11 minutes).

Because I have emphysema, I can't achieve the "classical" prescribed breath proportions for inhalation, retention of the breath after inhalation, exhalation, or suspension of the breath to end the cycle. One symptom of the disease is an inability of the lungs to fully exhale; there's always some air left no matter how conscientiously one tries to empty them completely. Consequently, full inhalation is impossible, and mine lasts only for a short count of three, followed by a three-count retention. The exhale is proportionally much longer, and lasts for eight counts, with only a very brief pause before the by-now-necessary inhalation begins. This makes a complete cycle of 14 counts.

There is no transition from pranayama to meditation; the object of attention merely shifts from the breath to concentration on the chakras, one at a time and starting with muladhara, at the base of the spine. With the mind focused on the attributes and qualities of each chakra on inhale, and mentally chanting the bija mantra, or sound associated with each of these centers on exhale, the attention moves sequentially up the spine to the point between the eyebrows over the course of 12 minutes or so. Practice ends with a short period of chanting.

My asana practice is fairly progressed, as I've been doing movement more or less regularly about five years now. Pranayama is coming along; I've been at it close to a year. I've barely scratched the surface of meditation, but feel like it's already taken me to places I can't identify. They're very far away, these places, even though on the inside. Coming back from that far place always takes awhile. It has a profoundly calming effect on the mind, which consequently becomes capable of enhanced insight.

I wonder where I'll be going as I progress in this practice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mountain Climber

I haven't done a regular practice since Sunday, and won't today either. Spent most of the day working up a written sequence due in class tomorrow.

Yesterday in lieu of yoga practice I clomb a mountain instead. Some people, like my sister the mountain climber might call Hurricane Ridge a hill (a 600-foot vertical ascendancy over 1.6 miles), but to me it was a mountain.

I didn't do too bad for a 65-year-old guy with emphysema, and my sister took this picture of me at the top, from where we could see all the way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, B.C., Canada. The weather here this summer has been perfect for these kinds of outings. Actually, perfect and then some.

I'll return to regular practice tomorrow morning, before I have to catch the boat into town for Thursday night class.

--30--

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Across the Water


It was a beautiful high-summer Saturday to be out on Puget Sound with the mountain showing through the mist, and I went early.

Observed Deirdre's intermediate class at Whole Life, and it's going to be tough to draw. She's an accomplished teacher, and some of her flow sequences are like ballets.

I don't think I'm quite ready to practice at the intermediate level. Maybe someday, if I stay with this like I'm doing now.

Then I stayed and practiced in Sharon's class. It was great, and I have to say I'm a real convert to Viniyoga. As they always used to say in A.A. (and I'm certain they still do), "Easy does it."

So why tie yourself up like a pretzel and injure something? The idea is to feel better, and my back hasn't felt this well in years.

I didn't even try to get on the boat coming back, but drove around through Tacoma and then back up the Kitsap to the Hood Canal Bridge crossing. I saw an electric sign near Poulsbo that said the wait in Kingston was two hours, so I'm sure it was the same in Edmonds.

--30--

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Practice, Weekly Progress


It's a beautiful day here in the enchanted forest. I've been kicking a bad internet habit, and re-emerging into the real world.

Practice today was perfect. Long, slow movements accompanied by long slow breaths, followed by a very mindful pranayama. Then came meditation, which I took to the sixth level (out of seven).

I'm beginning to see that the period of my life I've thought of as the time of greatest happiness wasn't so great after all, and that more is possible.

Tomorrow's assignment: up at four, leave at six to catch the boat at seven, observe a class at nine, practice in another class at 10:45, depart for home at noon. The ferry dock will probably be non-negotiable (summer crowds) for the return trip, so I'll most likely make the long drive. It might even be kind of relaxing.

--30--

Monday, July 13, 2009

Progressives and Wingnuts


Had a very long, slow, satisfying, complete morning practice this a.m. It's been a few days -- so I can't remember exactly the last time I had the opportunity. I think it may have been Friday.

Saturday I was busy all morning cleaning up the condo, with a trip to the hazmat dump thrown in. Yesterday was all-day yoga class in Seattle, which included a kind of half practice (sometimes you take what you can get).

The most important development lately was the denouement of a battle among the keyboards, during which I discovered that verbal combat at the political issues boards on BeliefNet.com is an addiction, like crack cocaine or cigarettes or Anisette. After locking horns with wingnuts all afternoon and evening Saturday (I've been mixing it up with some of these people for years), I got up Sunday morning with a hangover, realizing (and not for the first time) that it's doing me harm.

"Better to travel on alone," the Buddha said, "than with a fool for a companion." I began to suspect that in dealing with emotionally disordered people, I might be exposing myself to something contagious, and wondered how far the paranoia, resentment, and self-pity the most delusional among us exhibit might spread through contact with the infected.

In class yesterday, our teacher reminded us that the Sutra's advice regarding interpersonal communication is short and to the point: Say little; always speak the truth; and speak from ahimsa (non-violence) or say nothing.

I can no longer, participate at all, much less immerse myself for hours on end, in conversations characterized by anger and hostility, conducted in bad faith at least on one side, and leading nowhere. Doing this is psychologically debilitating, karmically hazardous, and yields nothing but frustration.

I can still write about politics from time to time if I do so in the right spirit and the proper format. But more importantly, I have my assignment and I need to get serious about it: at this time in my life and from here on out, I need to read, study, learn, and teach. Much remains to be done, and there's no time to waste.

--30--

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Keeping Current

I did complete practices today and yesterday, both uncharacteristically late in the afternoon. That actually works pretty well.

Practice now consists of

1) a standard prayer or two in English;

2) Asana -- about 35 minutes;

3) Savasana -- seven or eight minutes;

4) Pranayama -- about 11 minutes

5) meditation -- approximately 10 minutes;

6) chanting and bowing down (gesture of gratitude) -- a couple of minutes.

It usually works out to just about exactly an hour.

--30--

Friday, July 03, 2009

Bits and Pieces


Haven't had a regular practice since Tuesday morning. Wednesday I worked most of the day on the written-out sequence I turned in for class last night, and since it was supposed to be for a one-hour (exactly) practice, I ran through the first 14 postures that evening to time it.

I finished the sequence the same night, then got up yesterday and moved through the rest of it. So far, so good. It was another busy day, and then early in the p.m. I was off to meet Dian for coffee in Greenwood and thence to class. The boat was crowded -- overrun by families with kids out on holiday, and it was a superb day to be out on the water.

Class was energizing last night, and we did a few minutes of movement. So that was all good.

What I'm finding is that even if a person is only able to do a little daily asana practice in bits and pieces on a catch-as-catch-can basis, he (or she) can still derive all the benefits of a regular practice.

The physical benefits of the asana portion of the discipline that I notice most are in the large muscles, which are wonderfully toned and elastic, and the joints, which stay supple, flexible, and even at my age, free of arthritis.

Photo(s) by moonmaid.

--30--

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beginning Meditation

The muladhara chakra, at the base of the spine, is also the base of our being. It corresponds to the body below that point, the legs and the feet as well as the anus, and is represented by a square or cube. It's also where one of the body's three diaphragms, the mula banda, which we know as the perineal floor, is located, and is the foundation upon which our being rests.

If the foundation is shaky or compromised in some way, our lives will undermined by feelings of insecurity and dread, someties called "existential anxiety."

On deep inhale, think of the muladhara chakra as the earth, and imagine it as a solid cube, stable and secure. Suspending the breath after inhalation, mentally invest your first chakra with its innate immutability and its low center of gravity, strong, but flexible. On exhale, mentally chant the syllable "lahm," the sound associated with this chakra. Five repetitions.

Two inches above the first chakra is the focus of the creative instincts, the svadisthana chakra, associated with the genitals, sacrum, bladder and kidneys. Our children emanate from this spot, and our own origins as well, as it is associated with water, in which the earth of the first chakra can be dissolved. All life begins in water.

As you inhale, visualize the svadisthana chakra as a crescent moon with the two points turned upward, and imagine activating the enormous reservoir of untapped creativity which till now may have been bottled up by feelings of insecurity and doubt generated by an unstable foundation in your first chakra. Suspending the breath, survey the huge potential of the latent creativity you possess. On exhale, mentally chant the syllable "vahm," the sound associated with the svadisthana chakra. Five repetitions.

Take a cleansing breath, then inhale deeply. On exhale chant "Om." Three complete breath cycles, three times.

Open your eyes slowly. You've been meditating deeply, so don't move too fast too soon.

--30--