Ashtanga primary

Nov 2020, squat

Nov 2020, squat

Friday is primary day. I was looking forward to primary and all the forward bending asanas. Today I realized that I’m far away from my practice a few years ago. This is frustrating. I got so weak. It’s not possible to do all the vinyasa. If one likes Ashtanga, one must also like the vinyasa system, the dynamic connection between the asanas. That is an important part that makes Ashtanga to what it is. What is also true: If it were easy, it would be boring.

I consider to practice primary also on Wednesday. I’ll reflect on some supportive exercises.

Today was my last Ashtanga practice of this week. It feels deserved to have a day off.

Meeting point: Zoom

Nov 2020, hip stretching

Nov 2020, hip stretching

At 3 pm European Time stiff people meet at zoom to get more flexible. People join from 28 different countries. It’s possible to see many of the participants. Lucas is the trainer. Within fifteen minutes we stretch our hips. Every day two positions and alternatives are shown. Today was hard for me, I guess for others, too. Yet todays stretching will make back bending easier.

The course lasts 21 days. I’ll get to know 42 positions that stretch the hips in all possible ways. It’s an inspiration for sure. Above all one feels less alone on that globe during lockdown light. My phone is the window to that world. I think this is so special, I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago that I’d have a phone that allows me to watch other people stretching. I’m happy to be part of such a nice community.

What after these 21 days?

I learn that stretching can be rather relaxing. Indeed the goal is to relax. Exhaling shall be double as long as possible. This calms the nervous system. Then stretching is possible The method makes me even tired. Stretching before going to bed is like a sleeping pill. It’s so much better than watching TV.

Stretch and then sleep. What a lovely evening routine.

How long shall one hold an asana?

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How long shall one hold an asana?

The different yoga styles have different answers.

  • When practicing Ashtanga yoga the asanas are held for 5 breaths. In the early years an asana was held for eight breaths. This makes a long practice even longer. So one day one must had made a decision: 5 breaths are enough.

  • The Sivananda yogis hold asanas much longer. The more experienced a yogi is the longer he hols an asana. 5 minutes are standard also for beginners. 10 minutes in headstand is part of the advanced practitioners.

  • The BKS Iyengar students also don’t count breaths. They stay in an asana with all the props for quite some time. It makes no sense to get in and out of a composition of body, blocks, straps, chair, wall and whatever. Once you’re in, you stay. Voluntarily.

  • In Yin Yoga the asanas are held very long. Once I was in a yin yoga class. To hold the asanas for an ‘eternity’ can be rather challenging. The class was about bearing the pain for me. But that’s what stretching is. I prefer the word discomfort, but discomfort is part of stretching.

Those girls and boys who train for gymnastics know that when they want to stretch, they have to hold positions rather long. The nerve system must feel safe. Stretching happens best when mind and body are relaxed. To create a calm and nice atmosphere with even candles can make sense. A relaxed face, perhaps even a little smile on the face might create miracles.

After today’s gravity class created by Luccas (Bodywork) someone asked if the gravity training is like yin yoga? The answer was' ‘no’. It rather belongs to the gym. Yin yoga shall stretch the ligaments. I don’t know if this is true, I cannot imagine this.

All the training is supposed to complement whatever someone is doing as sportive activity: yoga, running, weight lifting and so on.

I experience a certain imbalance in my body. This is not new. All the forward bending asanas are rather easy for me. Stretching the hip flexor hurts and is a challenge. I did too long primary only.

Learning never stops. I also learn through my mistakes. They are part of every learning process no matter what it is.

Keep practicing, keep learning.

Gravity training

I joint a workshop offered by Lucas (Yogabody). He focuses on gravity training. The course I booked concentrates on hip opening.

I’m very much interested in the method. I had already bought another course and I realized how effective the method is. Especially the stretching that aimed at the upper body and shoulders helped me a lot in my regular Ashtanga practice.

I’m curious which positions are introduced during the coming 21 days. I checked them already as we got also access to former videos. To see a position and to do it is a difference. Another huge difference is to hold an asana up to 5 minutes. This is a crucial part of the method. Holding positions for a long time is effective and that’s what the course is about.

The gravity method in sum:

  • Let gravity work for you. It’s rather passive stretching. To relax in a position is important.

  • The breath helps to relax. Exhaling is double as long as inhaling. One shall exhale through the mouth, but exhaling through the nose is also possible.

  • The positions are held up to 5 minutes.

  • A warm up is not necessary.

A very good time for the stretching exercises is the evening before bed time. The exercises are like a sleeping pill. There are positions of another course by Lucas that make me even sleep while I’m still in the position. The bretzl arms relax me so much that I fall asleep despite that awkward position of the arms.

It’s nice to practice in a community. At 3 pm we all meet at zoom. People join from all corners of this world. To be part of such an inspiring group makes the Covid-19 lock down light rather bearable.

A few words to the first asanas (see pictures:

  • The hips shall be parallel. The stretching aims at the front side of the hip of the leg that is stretched backward. Having open hips helps a lot in back bending.

  • The hands can rest on the foot and knee of he bent leg, but then the height is different. I prefer to use blocks therefore.

  • The arms shall be stretched.

I think there is potential when I look at the pictures

The second asana is easy for me. Why ever. It’s a good one for stiff people.

Learning never stops.

My new altar

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A few days back I took pictures of myself doing yoga. The space where I practice these days is rather tiny but for me it’s a big enough. When I checked the pictures I realized how cluttered they were. In the corner that can be seen in the picture were books. This little shelf was full of books and the little Buddha stood in the left corner preventing the books from falling. It was so distracting and not beautiful at all. Again I went through my books with the goal to discard as many as possible. Books that I haven’t read for several decades, I very likely won’t read in the next decade. Also the yellowed books had to go. Even donation shops don’t take such old books. I still found knitting books. It’s too time-consuming for me in the meantime. I have different interests. At the end of the evening I was surprised by myself I had created this little altar. I love empty space. The buddha statue is now the one and only subject in that corner. It’s not in competition with all the books. Now its true beauty can be seen. It was my first buy at Ebay. I was enthusiastic when it arrived decades ago. A certain Helmut was the seller. This little buddha was packed so nicely. It was love at first sight when I had removed all the packing paper that should protect the statue.

This morning very early, it was still dark, I stared at the buddha. I got lost in time. I loved the space around him. The simplicity of this place is so intriguing. I need more of this calm areas, I thought. I skipped yoga. Before breakfast I started discarding books. Motivation was excellent. Sometimes I think desperation whips me forward. Books are no clutter. Books are my friends. When I read it’s like having a conversation with an author. Some authors become mental friends. Yet there can be a too many. Lately I heard an interview with a woman (Elke Heidenreich). Once she said that she wants to read a book every day. In that interview she said: One cannot read everything. This is so true. So this morning I updated and upgraded my shelves. I managed it to create other empty spaces. What a relief. What a joy.

When I’ll start my yoga practice tomorrow morning I’ll look at my little buddha with the closed eyes. I’ll know that time was not wasted. This little statue that sits in a most beautiful empty space will miracle a smile on my face.

Keep it simple.

Keep practicing

Nov 2020

Nov 2020

Keep practicing.

Not everybody likes the yoga practice. Yet it’s so rewarding. I like it. I like the shapes that one can form with a body. Focusing on breathing makes lively. One practice is over and I’m looking forward to the next one.

It’s a Corona-November. Restaurants are closed. My cooking skills get better and better. I also know recipes that are delicious and quick to prepare. My spicy red lentil soup is a legend.

Yoga can be a red thread in a life.

The challenge

Getting into sirsasana with straight legs, Nov 2020

Getting into sirsasana with straight legs, Nov 2020

Many poses of the challenge #pressingmatters look easy till I try them. It’s not the first time that I experience this when I follow a challenge on Instagram created by Carmen (@cyogalife). Trying something new is interesting. We’re on day 5 and twice I took already a picture of an easier pose that is suggested. I try the more challenging asana as well, yet safety first. If a new movement feels too awkward for me, I stop trying. I like to explore new variations of asanas. Sometimes I integrate them into my daily practice. If this is not possible I leave it behind me. I wonder: Is this a variation that I want to exercise daily? If the answer is ‘no’, I keep practicing and forget about the variation. To slow down and to do less is often good advice.

On the mat every morning I have my own challenges. It’s mainly back bending. I’m far away from where I used to be. I practice and this is what counts. I trust in the process. Asanas feel so much better already. Bridge pose felt amazing today. I could enjoy being in that pose. I repeated it three times. This is progress.

Tomorrow is Ashtanga yoga primary day. I love it.

Embrace discomfort

Bakasana, Nov 2020

Bakasana, Nov 2020

Since more than a decade I tried to eliminate all possible discomfort. I realize that it’s not possible. Discomfort comes, discomfort goes. Then something else arises at the horizon that isn’t pleasant.

I remember my pranayama teacher from India. He told me that he showers cold every day, even though warm water is available. He prepared himself for the times when warm water was not available.

We can learn to live with discomfort. Then it becomes easier to bear. An example: When I feel the stretching I focus also on the breath. I keep breathing evenly. This helps to relax despite the stretching discomfort.

Simply observing what happens is another method. With time we can learn to distinguish different sensations in the body. We might get closer and closer to our limits.

Discomfort helps us to learn and to grow:

  • A cold shower in the morning strengthens the immune system.

  • Taking the steps instead of the elevator is good for the heart.

  • Preparing meals is time-consuming, but healthier as the meals in restaurants.

The more often we face a difficult situation the easier it becomes to handle this situation.

Today I wanted to omit bakasana with straight arms. I’m not able to do it, I thought. But I tried it. It was not easy to move forward. I did it. When I saw the picture I loved it. Never before my arms were stretched like in the picture. This gives me self-confidence.

My lesson for today: Don’t avoid discomfort. Start easy. With time it becomes more and more satisfying to go through difficult situations. That’s how we learn.

Sitting on the sofa all day long is not really inspiring.

Keep practicing. Stay open for surprises.

Use it or lose it

Upavishta konasana, Nov 2020

Upavishta konasana, Nov 2020

We lose 40 % of our muscles between 40 and 80 if we don’t train them. This has a huge influence on our lives. I also read that when we have to go to a hospital we lose 1% of our muscles every day because we usually lie in bed all day long.

Therefore I think we don’t have a choice if life shall not aggravate. We must train our muscles 💪. If we want to stay flexible we have to stretch, too. It’s not always fun. Me too, I’m not always in the mood to put in the necessary work. Yet moods change. Practicing daily is easier than having an on and off relationship with the daily yoga session.

Easier said than done.

I prefer to stretch than doing strength training. Both is important. I don’t avoid to build strength anymore.

On the picture is upavishta konasana. Every day I exercise forward splits and side splits. I consider these asanas as basic asanas. When I learned to move forward instead of downwards upavishta konasana improved. The spine keeps rather neutral. To bow the back is not recommended. The above asana opens the hips. It’s relieving for the back. Engaging the leg muscles helps to get deeper into the pose. The legs move to the center and not away from it.

Yet as always experiment, compare how different movements feel.

November challenge

Bakasana variation, Nov 2020

Bakasana variation, Nov 2020

We have another lockdown due to Covid-19 virus. It will last till the end of November. In addition it’s raining today. It’s autumn at its best. Few leaves hang on the trees till the next breeze will blow them to the ground. I cooked a spicy Indian inspired meal with potatoes and carrots. All restaurants are closed. Another months that gives me the opportunity to improve my cooking skills.

Carmen started another challenge called #pressingmatters. I’m in. Time shouldn’t be an issue. Every day is a good day to practice yoga.

Back to bakasana: The task is to hold this asana for one minute. I practice bakasana every day. Tomorrow I shall see how long I can hold this asana.