The gap between the plan and the performance

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Sometimes there is a gap between the plan and what happens on the mat. A plan can only be a guide. It’s not written in stone. My plan today was to do 3 sets with 5 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. In addition I wanted to hold urdhva dhanurasana at least once for 1 minute. This was simply not what my body could do today. The idea to work on strength is surely good. It’s also good to hold the body longer in order to give the body time to stretch into the pose. The insight is that I have to create a training that picks me up where I’m now and not where I want to be . To create tiny steps are a good strategy. Tomorrow I plan to do 3 sets with 2 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. This is much less. I also want to hold this pose for 1 minute.

In many yoga classes I saw yogis before urdhva dhanurasana lying on the back, waiting. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana seemed so heavy. I observed myself doing the same. I lied there, I knew what I wanted to do, but it seemed undoable. I think I know now why this was so. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana required strength. I was not strong enough and at the end of a practice my willpower was exhausted, too. This is why I want to focus also on strength these days.

Strength: To get with an inhale into urdhva dhanurasana and to get out with the exhaling and to repeat this several times is more or less a strength training. The arms and legs are challenged.

Flexibility: Staying in urdhva dhanurasana for a longer time (1 minute or 2 minutes) and walking the arms to the feet or the other way round is a stretching exercise.

Both is needed. Urdhva dhanurasana requires strength and flexibility. One can work on both skills separately as described above.

Also the right technique plays an important role. The hips shall support the movement. A deep inhaling helps enormously to get into the pose. To create length in the body is also very important.

The wall is my favorite prop when I work on urdhva dhanurasana. It gives me orientation when I lift myself up from the floor. The upper body moves towards the wall. I also drop back against the wall from a standing position. One day I’ll surely drop back again in the middle of the room. It’s not the time yet for this dynamic movement.

Progress can be felt.

The final goal is that it’s relaxing and joyful to perform this back bending asana. I’ve been there.

Practicing effectively - the timer

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During the last 2 years I had enough time to reflect on my practice. I came to the conclusion that the method of learning the asanas and vinyasas can be improved. It’s not enough and rather ineffective to hold an asana for five breaths only. If one wants to learn an asana one must do more than this.

  1. I use a timer. I hold several asanas for 1 minute these days. Today I practiced primary. I held marichyasana B for 1 minute as it’s a good preparation for one of the most difficult asanas of this series, which is supta kurmasana. I also held the twist marichyasana C for one minute to balance all the forward bending asanas and I held the headstand for 1 minute at the end of my practice. One minute can be rather long. Scientific research have found out that the body needs time to relax. 5 breaths is not enough, this can not be repeated often enough. When the body is relaxed stretching is possible. One must also hold the position for a while to make it last.

  2. It’s useful to look for external clues. The timer is an auditive external clue. It has much more authority than my inner voice that is counting. The timer is also more precise. Another external visual clue can be the wall. When I stretch I aim for reaching the wall. This will never be possible as the wall is so far away, but the thought alone helps to lengthen the body more than without this external clue. Stretch your body is less effective than trying to reach a wall that is far away, also when it’s only a thought.

  3. The timer also tells me when 90 minutes are over. I aim for a daily practice that lasts 90 minutes. It’s so much easier to have a time frame than to practice till all poses are done. It intensifies my practice.I have no orientation how late it got already when I practice. To look at a clock again and again is only distracting.

To practice before breakfast is wonderful. The stomach must be empty in order to get deep into the twists.

The plan when practicing primary:

I want to hold a forward fold, a twist, my most difficult pose and headstand for 1 minute. The goal behind this goal is to get so used to be in asanas that one can finally enjoy these asanas. It must feel good to be in a pose. Breaths must flow easily. It would be good if the face is relaxed, too. If the pose looks as if it’s a piece of cake, if you can sleep in that pose, you’re there.

I wonder how to get stronger again……

Ageless by Sharath Jois

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Sharath Jois wrote a book. Of course I’m curious what’s his message. Sharath is a practitioner of Ashtanga yoga for decades. In addition he is a teacher with students around the globe. His focus in life is Ashtanga yoga. What does he want to tell the world?

The subtitle of the book is ‘A yogi’s secrets to a long and healthy life’. I think both adjectives are important: long and healthy. Life needn’t to aggravate only because we become older. There are surely methods that make it more likely to stay healthy, but there is no guarantee.

I like the book very much, even though I don’t agree with every aspect. It’s an inspiring book. I got surprised, too.

Sharath writes a lot about food and eating. This is indeed issue # 1 for many of us. In our Western societies more than half of the population is overweight. This comes with illnesses. We don’t know anymore what and how to eat.

How do yogis eat?

  • Do not eat breakfast like a king.

  • Eat one big meal a day, and make that lunch.

  • Keep it simple.

Yes, yes, yes, I agree 100%.

Yogis prepare their own meals. In order to eat healthy we have to. Restaurants don’t offer healthy food. Sharath goes so far, that he and his family also prepare their own food, when they travel. It’s perhaps possible when the chef accompanies you on your trips. For me this sounds not doable. Getting out, eating out is an opportunity to meet people when traveling. Nevertheless I love the idea. There are always alternatives. There are always improvements.

I’ll surely not start eating with my hands.

I’ll also not start drinking milk as it was the habit of P. Jois. It seems that also Sharath likes milk.

His book gives a lot of opportunity to reflect on one’s own habits and to question them. Last but not least what we do on a daily basis must fit to the own life style.

Sharath surprised me with his thoughts on walking barefoot and his thoughts on praying and social connectedness.

There is also a relative short chapter on asanas.

I don’t want to uncover too much.

The book can be inspiring when reflecting on one’s own life off the mat.

Being a yogi is a life style. Yogis sleep in a certain way, they get up early, they exercise being content. Living the life of a yogi might indeed help to get old and to get old healthy. It’s not an empty promise.

I’ll keep this book in my library. I’ll surely get back to it.

Ashtanga yoga primary - home practice

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A week begins perfectly with a yoga practice.

Habits make everything easier. To be honest, my habit to practice in the morning every day is medium strong.

My goal is to practice every morning at the same time. Then it’s done and I’ve time for all the other activities. Seven o’clock could be a good time. I remember a time when I was at the mat at 6 am and I had to commute to a yoga studio. It should be doable to create a stricter schedule than it is now.

Practicing yoga makes disciplined.

It’s a life style that effects all parts of my life. It determines when I get up and when I go to bed. It determines what I eat. I’ve tried a few other life styles, too, but the life style of a yogi fits very well to me. I don’t think that I miss anything when I don’t go to parties till the early morning. I find it boring to sit in front of the TV too long. I prefer to be in bed early. I love minimalism.

I miss the yogis and yogis, but I don’t want to give up my home practice. My yoga practice is adjusted to my needs. When I feel weak like today I do less vinyasa. On other days when I feel strong I add asanas and vinyasa and I challenge myself holding the asanas longer. I feel rather exhausted now, so it was enough what I did.

The week has started. I’m looking forward to it.

Tomorrow I’ll focus on back bending.