Monday, March 30, 2009

Sweet Breath, Sweet Life

I woke up breathing easily, taking in the cool, clean air without difficulty -- something not to be taken for granted. I don't ever have to use oxygen or an inhaler, and I'm really lucky, considering the condition my condition is in, as the barbecued chicken man once said. And with a 50-year history of smoking that barbecued my lungs, I feel like a guy who walked away from a train wreck.

My breathing rate is a little elevated, and I get winded easily, but most most normal activity is no problem.

Returned to the prescribed daily practice today after three days off, largely because of the shoulder. However, I'm beginning to think practicing is good for that, too. It's good for everything else.

I'm using a ready-made routine, from pages 70-88 of Kraftsow's Yoga for Wellness. I have to modify some of the movements, and just skip the headstand altogether; but I only have to adapt three or four out of the fifteen postures I work. An unusual feature of this practice is the instruction to hold the "stay" position for one breath longer on each successive repetition of most of the movements, with four reps. I find this works better than just inahale-up/exhale-down for someone with my condition.

Then I'm doing the breathing/meditation part after, rather than before the exercise portion. It's in the book.

This pranayama has a lot to do with the current sense of well-being. Everything that's been rattling a person seems to come into better perspective, and I've heard it works pretty much the same for everybody. I'm getting these results, too, doing a very imperfect pranayama. I can't claim to be keeping my mind still or always being strictly focused on the breath. But just trying to do it right apparently will get most anyone a real positive effect.

I'm still recovering, and I've got a lot to recover from. Now, from up here, I can see how far down I was, especially when I was in the depths of post-heartbreak depression these past two years.

Mixed media image, "Pranayama," by Ketna Patel.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shouldering Pain Aside

Right. Took a break from yoga today so I could concentrate on rehab.

My physical therapist, Michael, is zeroing in on just the right exercises for this shoulder injury I got from falling in the snow last December 24, and now we're starting to get somewhere. So every couple hours I'm pulling on the necktie just that certain way, and doing a couple other weird arm movements, then testing the result by lying on my back and trying to get my elbows to the floor while my hands are clasped behind my head.

"Great happiness," as King Malcolm said early on in Shakespeare's ""MacBeth" before he got stabbed in the neck. I'm just about there, and with less and less pain each time. Plus I'm not hurting in between sets and reps. So I think we're about there.

Our bodies are mostly tough and resilient, but vulnerable in a few key spots, and ya gotta take care of them spots.

What with feeling better, I'm getting more done around the condo. Shoveling out, mostly. God, I'm so ready to be out of here and on the other side of the water, in the big shitty. I want to play music -- low volume, contemporary, cutting-edge, quality stuff that I can hear in my head. With 50 years of experience and a smooth touch on the tubs, I'm sure people will overlook the fact that I'm old. It won't get in the way at all.

I want to carry the message of Viniyoga to people suffering from COPD, particularly to those people who might be sitting alone in little rooms somewhere today feeling hopeless, feeling like there's nothing they can do to help themselves. I want to give 'em the old "come to Jesus" pitch, and then show 'em how it's done.

There's so much I want to do, I feel so alive I'm about to bust out of my own skin.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Joie de Vivre

Participation report for March, 2009 (second of two): Six p.m. all-levels class at WLY, 3/25/09, taught by Beverly.

I hope this doesn't seem more like a personal letter than a formal report for a class, but I have to tell you I've never done a yoga participation that made me feel better than this one. Before class started I didn't know what to expect. The instructor, a woman of mature years whom I had never met before, conveyed a serious and intentional but at the same time very relaxed and friendly attitude that put everyone immediately at ease. There were eleven participants including me, and one observer.

We started with seven or eight minutes of directed breathing, and I noticed my breath was unusually short and labored. I hoped it wouldn't get in the way of a successful practice.

Starting with tadasana, the instructor had us incorporate a mild twist, optimally while up on the balls of the feet, although those who had trouble balancing were encouraged to include the twists with feet on the floor. I had never seen this before, but found it valuable. Balance poses are therapeutic for people with Parkinson's Disease.

We moved into cakravakasana/child's pose, a kind of flow with arm and leg lifts incorporated. The movements were precise, but the demands they made on each of us were no more than anyone could handle, as we were instructed several times to do no more than our bodies could comfortably execute. "Always listen to your body," was the specific advice the instructor gave us in that regard.

The first suite of poses transitioned into a down dog, and from there we went into prone postures -- salabhasana and bhujangasana with various arm sweeps -- the suite of cobra poses. I allowed my breath to get a little too ragged here, and finally checked myself, slowed it down, and re-established the linkage between respiration and movement. One thing I noticed is that my back is getting stronger, but I never push it to the limit.

Standing poses came next, both symmetrical and asymmetrical forward bends, and they felt very good. However, Parsvottanasana required a degree of muscular exertion that left me struggling for air, so I stopped and stood against the back wall for a minute to recover my breath. I always set up in the row closest to the back wall just for this reason.

Every Viniyoga class seems to assume a kind of triangular shape, with the level of exertion in the poses gradually increasing to a high point that generally peaks with a trikonasana of the utthita kind. I was able to perform this movement well except for the up-and-over sweep of the right arm, as I'm still having a bit of trouble with the shoulder on that side. The instructor noted approvingly that several of us were adapting the poses to our individual requirements.

We went into a supine posture for several minutes. Jathara parivrtti both followed and preceded apanasana, and during this twisting motion the teacher noted that this movement is a tonic for the nerves. It certainly was in my case, but more about that later. We ended with dvipada pitham bridges and savasana.

I came out of that class feeling physically better than I did going in, but what I noticed most was a remarkable elevation in my outlook and attitude. The mental effect was both surprising and welcome, and on the boat going home I felt really glad to be alive. I recalled Gary Kraftsow's words which I noted at the beginning of his Viniyoga introductory workshop I attended in Marin County eleven months ago: "the purpose of this is to enhance the flow of one's life."

This was a great class, and the flow of my life is definitely enhanced.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March Observation #2

Intermediate Class taught by Deirdre on Saturday, March 21, 9:15-10:30 a.m.

My main objective in this observation was to note and analyze the differences between an intermediate practice and "all-levels" classes.

The studio was full. There were 13 participants and two observers, and everyone looked pretty serious for a Saturday morning.

The instructor began by seating the students comfortably and having them draw attention to the breath. This phase of the practice was quite thorough, and lasted about seven minutes.

Movement began with arm sweeps and other arm movements, and transitioned easily to child's pose. At this point the students' attention was "reconnected" to their breathing, at about 9:31. This return to attention to the breath occurred intermittently throughout the practice, as it has in all Viniyoga classes I've seen or participated in.

Movement continued with cakravakasana/child's pose, with added movements of the arms and legs, such as lifting the right arm and left leg simultaneously during table top, then lifting the limbs on the other side on the next cycle of the movement. From simple lifts, the instructor moved the class to horizontal arm sweeps during table top, and in doing so provided a smooth transition from table top/child's to vajrasana.

This set the tone for the entire session; the repertoire of simple movements -- the same ones I had seen in all-levels classes -- remained the same, but their variations were explored more in-depth and with more detailed instructions and complexity of movement within the postures than I had seen before.

For example, vajrasana was the basis for moving into downward dog, then the class moved back through vajrasana to table top again, only this time with a lateral bend added, followed by a slow transit to upward-facing dog. The whole sequence used table-top as a hub for other, auxiliary forms of movement, and instructions were very detailed throughout.

At 9:43 the class moved to poses from a prone postion such as salabhasana and bhujangasana. Standing poses came after that, and then two postures that participants had requested specifically, a quadriceps-stretching/balance pose called "Dancer's" and a hip opener called "pigeon" prepared the group for savasana, which was approached through dvipada pitham (bridge) posture.

I spoke with Deirdre briefly after class, and she verified my observation that the movements of an intermediate group are intentionally designed and sequenced with greater attention to small details than those of an all-levels session. She explained that part of the rationale for this is that the participants need to pay very close attention to the instructions in order to execute the movements properly, which serves to keep students' attention securely fastened on the task at hand. It's a technique that helps increase mindfulness, in addition to stretching and moving all parts of the body.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Persistence of Memory

Reflecting on the Yoga Sutras, 1.5 -- 1.11

Looking back over a typical day, I'd have to say most of my mental activity is directed toward understanding, although whether the effort is successful isn't for me to say.

It's more successful than it used to be, that I'm sure of. In my youth and middle age, I spent a lot of time rationalizing the facts of my various addictions. I knew my behavior was unhealthy, but imagined it didn't and wouldn't have any serious consequences. I thought that addictive behavior was normal, that it's what regular people (like myself) did, so I was stuck in a combination of imagination (aphorism 1.9) and error (1.8). Today I spend quite a bit of time trying to reach an accurate understanding of how I got to be where I am.

I also spend part of each day reading, mostly on the net, pondering politics and history. This has been a habit of mine from a very young age (though not pursued on the internet until recently). I take in a lot of information, and try to discriminate between reliable and unreliable testimony so as to be able to draw clear and accurate conclusions. I'm not sure what good it does.

I don't think I'm a leaky vessel, or tipped, or upside-down. I'm a dirty vessel trying to get clean. And I remember everything. "Memory," as Patanjali tells us, "retains living experience" (1.11), but memories have to be processed for their meaning to become clear, and there again, the memories, like sensory perception of events in the present, can be either perceived accurately or erroneously.

There is one type of memory I want to investigate further, but I haven't found any guidance in Patanjali's Sutras (so far) for doing so. The sage speaks of mental activity, but doesn't discriminate between mental activity which occurs in the conscious mind and that which occurs in the subconscious. I'm speaking here of memories which well up spontaneously out of the subconscious when I'm practicing pranayama and/or meditation. These take a form very much like that of a still photograph, because, as C.G. Jung explains it, subconscious thought, "when represented to the mind, appears as an image which expresses the nature of the instinctive impulse visually and concretely, like a picture." (Jung, "The Undiscovered Self, p. 38.)

For example, nearly every day at the very beginning of pranayama, an image of an intersection in Desert Hot Springs, where I turned one way to go to one yoga class and the opposite way to travel to another, fixes itself briefly in the mind's eye, as if it's linked inextricably with the action of sitting down and drawing attention to the breath.

I've also confronted another type of recollection, the conscious but suppressed kind, as the mind has become less turbulent during pranayama or meditation. Ordinarily my mind is full of thought waves, like a wind-blown body of water, but as it becomes more settled during contemplation, like still water, memories of either things I've done which I regret, or things done to me which were unpleasant, sometimes well up from the bottom of the conscious mind. I think they were tamped down to the bottom of the can, so to speak, by the ego, which doesn't want to admit the full truth regarding my true identity.

I think any approach to the Ananda Maya, or even becoming aware that there is such a thing, will involve assimilating hard truths about oneself not formerly acknowledged. I wouldn't want to leave the house without my ego intact, but the truth is that's not me. That's just who I would like to think I am. As Andy Warhol once said, "It's not who you are that's important, it's who people think you are." But deep inside, I'd rather know the whole truth.

The painting "Persistence of Memory" is by Salvador Dali.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Life's Breath

The air we take in as breath is the most fundamental form of nourishment, or prana as it is designated by the Hindoos. Then, in order of importance, comes water, then food.

Reflect for a moment on how important breathing is to each of us in terms of our total nourishment, and the true extent of the damage done by habitual, long-term smoking comes into true perspective. Crippling the organ that gathers and processes the prana, one of the great gifts of the universe, seems insane, but people nowadays do it all the time, driven to self-destruction by a merciless drug addiction.

When I attend to my breathing, I do so with an awareness of my limitations. A 50-year history of cigarette smoking is common enough among people my age, and those of us whose bodies are compromised by such a history need to approach the practices of yoga -- asana (movement) and pranayama (attention to the breath) -- differently than those who enjoy whole respiratory systems and normal fluctuations of the breath.

For those with COPD, the ability of the damaged lungs to exhale completely is compromised. This means in turn that inhalation is by necessity somewhat short. However, regular breathing practice in which one remains still and relaxed and attending to nothing else does calm both the nerves and the breath. Even people with emphysema will notice a gradual increase in the ability to comfortably slow and lengthen the inhale over time. However, a "normal" regulation of breath will never be possible for such a person.

I now practice breathing to a count of 14; three beats on the inhale, hold (retain) for three, and eight counts for exhaling while pressing the belly to the spine. This is certainly not a breath of classic proportions, but it's an adaptation that might help provide optimal results for those who have smoked habitually over a long period of time, or lived in Bakersfield, or both.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March Participation #1

Cara F.'s All-Levels class in the a.m. on Monday, 3/16/09.

My main objective this morning was to closely monitor the breath and match it appropriately to whatever movement the class was doing. This is important for everyone who practices Viniyoga (or most any kind of yoga), but doubly important for me because my breath is compromised. I don't have much, so I have to watch it.

There were two other guys in class this morning, so I didn't feel like an interloper.

We started as usual by bringing our full attention to the breath while seated, then stood up and began asanas with Tadasana, then a forward bend. My movements were fluid and easy after kind of a stiff first rep, and we had complete running instructions on matching inhale and exhale to the appropriate segments of each pose. Breath came easily. So far so good.

We transitioned into the "chair" pose called Utkatasana. This one requires some fairly serious muscular exertion, and I ran out of breath and started huffing after a couple of reps, stopped, and stood up to catch some wind. Cara moved to the back of the room and discreetly checked to make sure I was all right (which I was), and after a minute or so I was recovered.

I went through the rest of the practice without incident.

It was a thorough class, worked every part of the body, stayed focused on matching breath and movement throughout, and included a balance pose of a type important for people with Parkinson's disorder to practice regularly. I walked out of the studio breathing easily and deeply, caught sight of myself in a floor-to-ceiling window, and noticed that I was postured up, shoulders back, and walking with energy, springing along like some healthy young dude. So I would say "Yoga been good to me."

Through these classes that I observe and participate in, and the reading we do for teacher training, I find myself looking for techniques and resources that might be used one day to help develop an approach for people with COPD who are committed to reversing some of the damage they've done to themselves. Yoga practice is just one element in an overall rehab scheme optimally suited to the needs of such people. Other elements include dietary changes (usually), lots of rest, and avoiding the destructive habits or environmental conditions that cause this disease.

One excellent resource for the kind of asana practice I'm looking for is in Gary Kraftsow's sample routine outlined in "Yoga for Transformation," pages 70-88. Some of the postures in this practice involve staying in position during each repetition of the movement for one full breath cycle longer during each successive rep, encompassing four reps altogether. I find this works better for me than doing the specified movements once for each breath cycle. Another valuable resource is the adaptations of the asanas supplied by AG Mohan's "Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind," many of them employing a chair and designed for people whose mobility or energy for movement is compromised.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This morning my physical therapist gave me four new exercises to treat this shoulder injury that's been getting in the way for a couple months now. Added to the four I was already doing, plus the one for Parkinson's, that's between half an hour and 40 minutes for each session, twice a day.

So I've suspended regular asana practice for the duration. Instead I'll do the shoulder therapy religiously, and work in a short practice routine with a few key postures. Today it was a standing forward bend, the Dvipada Pitham bridges, Navasana (the boat), table top/child's, a lying-down spinal twist, and Apanasana. I got my share of spinal adjustments doing this, and followed up with a full Pranayama, so that should be an adequate survival ration.

Controlled breathing is really difficult, especially the intake. Air gets about halfway down and hits bottom -- no more room. Full exhale is long, and requires effort. Suspension isn't even a possibility.

Clearing the mind of noise and clutter is even harder. But it does happen sometimes. Seems to be dependent on my being able to relax the hips and thighs, then there's this thing looking at me from some distance, only the distance is inside my head. It's like a point of light, or maybe a cluster of points. I don't know what it is. Also, I'm apprehending it from one point on the inside, not stereoptically.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sahana Vavatu on CD

I've discovered that I own a copy of our welcoming and dedication chant on a commercial compact disc I bought years ago at the old Gateways book store in Santa Cruz.

The CD is Chants of India, and features an ensemble of instrumentalists and singers put together and led by Ravi Shankar. The album was produced by the late George Harrison, former lead guitarist for the Beatles.

Unfortunately, it's out of print. Even though a few copies are available on Amazon, the prices are unrealistic. But maybe we can figure something out.

The chant lasts four and a half minutes. It's a beautiful treatment, with a long instrumental lead-in. The words are chanted three times by one male and one female vocalist.

Shankar is one of only three Indian musicians to have received the Bharat Ratna, India's highest and most prestigious civilian honor. The other two were the Tamil vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi, who died in 2004, and the master of the shehnai (Indian Oboe) Ustad Bismillah Khan, who died in 2006.

Dave B

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th. Yikes. Where's Jason? Gotta keep an eye on that boy.

I ate poison on the way home from class last night, but there were no ugly consequences. I can get away with that maybe once a week.

Class is working out better than well. I'm adopting the right attitude toward study. I go at it with a sense of awe. I sometimes get "outside." I respect my teacher.

The biggest problem I had last night during a long and intensely detailed practice was breathing. My inhale is shot, because the emphysema is quite bad. I think I may have given myself a small case of bronchitis too.

It feels like about the bottom two-thirds of my lungs is gone. It's because I can't empty out.

So I'm finding my assignment, and that's to help develop a Viniyoga practice for people with COPD. And that will begin, of course, with my developing a practice for me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Born Loser

I'm a born loser, baby,
And they call me 'The Ace of Spades;'
I'm a born loser, baby,
And I lose more every day..."

--Version of the 'Roll and Tumble Blues'
Sung by legendary Chicago street singer,
The Ace of Spades

No home practice today. I found out we'll be moving tonight in class. Today's the day for the big trip across the water, and maybe tomorrow, too.

Practice yesterday yielded results. I went to bed very early last night and got a phone call after I'd already fallen into a deep sleep. As I was reaching for the phone from an awkward position, halfway on and halfway off the bed with one foot on the floor, my L5 lumbar spine re-adjusted with a loud pop like I've never heard before.

Felt sooooooo good.

Right. So now I have to give up coffee. It's begun to make my kidneys hurt.

Do I have to give up absolutely everything? I never wanted to be a Holy Man.

I won't even bother with telling myself I'll cut down. I know myself a lot better than that.

This means I'll have to go cold turkey, and just tough it out through the headaches, the ennui, and the depression that follow. At least it won't last all that long.

Is there any vice in God's big world I don't have to give up? Even a small one? If anyone knows, please leave a comment.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Routine

I've turned over so many new leaves and made so many fresh starts lately, taken so many vows of "never again" and "this time I really mean it," and seen all this resolve come to naught so many times that I'll spare anyone who might be reading this the drama.

I spoke with Rachel a little while ago concerning the realm of Ananda Maya, that sort of Xanadu of the spirit beyond the realm of the individual's personality, ego, and "I" consciousness. I told her I can't imagine such a place, even though I've been there. And we both feel my only hope lies in getting back there again. You can drive there from here, but you can't take your car. To put it another way, one can find that place, but "I" can't.

It was in this spirit that I scrapped my old asana routine today, as it was past due for revision, having served me well since last August, and decided to take a ready-made straight from the book as the new routine. This is kind of a standard set of Viniyoga poses in a typical Viniyoga sequence, taken from pages 70-88 of Gary Kraftsow's second book, "Yoga for Transformation.

The first section starts with standing poses, which are great for warming up and entail very little risk of injury.

1. Tadasana, or Mountain pose. Up on your toes, back on your heels (now you're doin' the Varsity Drag), moving the arms up and down all the while. As with all these standing postures, inhale to the up, exhale to the down. No problem.

2. Parsvottanasana, an asymmetrical forward bend with one foot at a time placed out front of the other, knee bent on the bendover. Four times each side, holding the down position for one additional breath each time. No problem here.

3. Trikonasana of the Utthita (conventional) kind. Had a lot of trouble with this due to the sore shoulder. Tomorrow I'll substitute Warrior I.

4. Uttanasana -- forward bend with Padahastasana added in the middle. That's a chest lift/back flattener from the far forward postion. Same "stay" instructions as number 2. As with all these standing poses, inhale up, exhale down.

That's the end of standing poses. A couple of supine postures are next after an interlude of:
5. Down Dog: exhaling up to the pose from table top position. A little confusing because the move up is an exhale; the move out, or down, is on the inhale.

6. Dvipada Pitham -- the good old back bend, or bridge with raised pelvis, with an overhead arm sweep, inhaling up, exhaling down.

7. Urdhva Prasrta Padasana -- a long name for a simple supine leg lift. From a supine position with knees bent over chest, raise legs straight up, heels reaching for the sky. Slightly confusing, as one exhales up and inhales to the down, bent-knees position.

I skipped the next two in Gary's sequence. I'm not ready for a headstand yet. I'll try slipping in the shoulder stand at number 8 tomorrow, however. Following these two inversions, from prone position:

9. Bhujangasana arm and chest lifts. Not a good pose for me at all. Tomorrow I'll try a variation using leg and chest lifts with arms static and hands placed beside the chest. The version pictured in the book really hurt my shoulder, and I was confused by the exhale up/inhale down instruction for this one.

Skipped Dhanurasana, or bow pose. Too hard on the injured spinal portion (L5/S1).

10. Apanasana, that really lovely and therapeutic supine posture in which the bent knees are moved alternately closer to and further from the chest, with assistance from the arms. Exhale into the closed postion, inhale into the more open part of the sequence, which is slightly confusing, but I'll get used to it.

11. Pascimatanasana -- seated forward bend. Just like uttanasana, only sitting down. This would be a bit dangerous if done early in the sequence.

12. Matsyendrasana -- a seated spinal twist. I couldn't do the one shown in the book because the instructions were very complicated, so I'll continue doing the one Ellen taught me.

13. Vajrasana -- the pose with 1,000 variations. This version is the core version, or simplest one -- symmetrical arm lifts from the knees, exhaling into a variation of child's pose with the arms behind, hands resting palms up on the sacrum.

14. Good old Savasana: resting, supine with a pillow under the knees to take any pressure off the lumbar curve.

This is a good, thorough routine. I'll spend some time adapting it to my purposes in the next few days.

Conspicuously absent: Cakravakasana.

One more change I need to make: I've been doing pranayama as a prelude to asana. Today the breath was real ragged, and I counted 32 cycles in 10:30, as opposed to the usual 25 to 27. Starting tomorrow, I'll do pranayama at the end, and chanting at the very end.

Godspeed, everyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March Observation #1

Observation record of an All-levels class taught at Whole Life by Suzette on Wednesday, March 4, in the a.m.

My main objective for this observation was to closely watch the asana sequence and compare it to the one I observed a month earlier. My secondary objective was to discern the linkage of respiration with movement in and out of postures.

But detailed observation was challenging. I was the only male in the room among 11 students and the teacher, and felt out of place. I didn't want to stare at anybody, as that might be threatening and inappropriate.

Today's class began with a period of attention to the breath, then moved into cakravakasana, combining it with vajrasana after a couple of cycles. Vajrasana is an adaptable pose that seems to have about 10,000 variations. This combination of postures looks to be a Viniyoga staple, and I've seen it repeated both early and late in any given practice session.

It's easy to see abdominal breathing coordinated with arm lifts during vajrasana; all but impossible to see anything but slight movement of the exhaling back during child's pose/tabletop.

Deb's class also had cakravakasana early in the sequence, but combined it with leg and arm lifts performed from tabletop I haven't seen in Viniyoga classes before or since.

After a down dog/up dog alternation, Suzette led the group through a sequence of arm and leg lifts whose core was bhujangasana (I think). This mirrored the sequence I saw a month earlier, and in both cases the teachers pointedly reminded students to keep attending to their breath during this series of moves, which requires no small expenditure of muscular concentration. Suzanne did so by saying "Listen to your breath, and try not to let it get ragged."

Good advice. I've caught myself trying to go too fast and gasping during bhujangasana more than once.

Then came the standing poses, tadasana and the standard forward bend, then warrior I, with the class inhaling into the arm lift and chest pop and exhaling into a relaxed self-hug I hadn't seen before. The coordination of breathing with movement in this latter pose was very easy to see from both front and back.

Every Viniyoga class I've observed or participated in seems to start with simple and easy movement, then slowly build to a sort of crescendo, which for this session was reached with Trikonasana of the Parvrtti kind. That transitioned into a low back stretch I've only seen before in non-Viniyoga classes, a forward bend with feet spread.

Then came a period of decrescendo as the session moved toward closing, with an on-the-back sequence consisting of knees to chest, then jatthara Parvrtti (during which I not only saw, but heard students breathing in and out of the open/closed position of the pose), dvipada pitham bridges, supta badha konasana spreadeagle, in this session incorporating a novel series of slow leg closures and openings closely coordinated with the breath, apanasana, and savasana, supported by bolsters which the students used to prop up their lumbar arches.

What I'm seeing is that there seems to be a basic, fundamental Viniyoga sequence incorporating half a dozen postures arranged in a specific order that all the teachers use as a point of departure, along with a disciplined approach to coordinating breath and movement.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Medicine and Therapy

All-day marathon class at the yoga studio yesterday. It ended with some really nice movement. This was Viniyoga at its best, gentle stretching coordinated with the pace of each individual's controlled respiration.

From each according to ability; to each according to need, and always with attention to the breathing.

The way I recovered from alcoholism was by temporarily placing control of my life in the hands of other people, and allowing myself to be converted to a formula for living laid out in a book, one with spiritual overtones. The way I recovered from inflammatory bowel disease was by learning to regard all food as either medicine or poison.

The way I'll recover from the current crisis is by combining those two approaches. I'll turn control of my life over to other people, although they may not be aware of it. I'll immerse myself in the written version of the ancient philosophy of liberation and mindfulness. From now on, breathing is not just a necessary activity; it's my most essential therapy.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Let's see, did I practice on Wednesday? I don't think so. I had to go to the physical therapist really early, then later on to an appointment with the attorney to draw up my will. So I skipped that day.

Had a great practice yesterday, though. Breathing is truly a great new experience, but only possible when I'm behaving myself. Yesterday, I was; today I'm not. So it goes, as Vonnegut used to say.

I want to learn. I want to overcome my weaknesses and move on. It's so hard.

We can only learn from those who know more than we do, who are stronger than we are. Why do we have to be so weak and stupid?

Today I have homework to do -- reading and coloring in my anatomy books. That's how I'll spend the rest of the day, except for a brief blogpost at "Catboxx" which I'll cannibalize from BNet.

No BNet today, other than that. It'll be good for me. Tomorrow is all-day class in Seattle. That will keep me behaving.

I really need to be in an institutional environment where somebody else has charge of my behavior. I need to relinquish control of myself to some form of authority. I'm beginning to think it's my only hope.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I began a practice this morning and realized I was in no condition to do so.

I'll spend the day trying to recover from yesterday's mini-meltdown.

Between attempting (unsuccessfully so far) to quit smoking, trying to get a handle on health problems, and bouncing around between depressed anxiety and manic confidence, I'm beginning to feel like I don't have a handle on anything.

There's nothing to do but calm down and try again tomorrow.


Monday, March 02, 2009

PET Scan

No practice this morning, as I had to prepare early for another scan that filled me full of radioactivity. It was a time-consuming procedure and it pretty much disrupted the whole day.

For this one they injected a radioactive tracer into my bloodstream beforehand. I don't know what the purpose of that is. All I know is that I'm getting tired of this endless round of "absolutely essential" tests and procedures.

We'll see how absolutely essential all this stuff is after I lose my comprehensive insurance in July, when I turn 65.

The worse problem is that I'm losing my grip. Half the time I don't know what I'm doing. I'm disoriented, and can't find a center of gravity.

Tomorrow's project: get a handle on this mess.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nearly Hit

It was a disrupted breathing sequence I started the morning with, first disturbed by coughing -- a couple of extended spasms -- and secondly interrupted by intrusive thoughts, specifically angry and perplexed political thoughts.

I'm inclined to abstain from politics if it's going to do that to me. Too bad. I've always loved history and politics, except when one or the other or both starts looking less like it's composed of human activity and more like the snarling of mad dogs.

Ended up with a pretty good pranayama in spite. It was inerrupted, but I always went back to attending to my breathing.

Asana was good. The shoulder's better. Did a full on Matsyendrasana spinal twist with no problem. Trikonasana still hurts, as does Warrior I, but it's getting better.

I'm also doing the physical therapy exercises Michael showed me, and that shoulder is slowly healing.

I need to stay in my own body for a while, and stop worrying about the Communist Plot, lest I become like General Jack D. Ripper, who famously said, "I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."