Friday, July 31, 2009


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.