Friday, December 19, 2003

The attrition rate in pranayama class increases as Tim’s India trip hits the two-week mark. There were only four people in class, including myself.

I think Mark, who’s filling in for Tim, is working with reduced inhale, exhale, and retention times, because I managed to keep up through the entire series — which is the first time I’ve ever done so. There were a couple slips, but otherwise the series seemed way more manageable, somehow.

Mark uses a watch, and measures out the length of inhales, exhales and retentions using the seconds hand. I haven’t started counting time yet, so I don’t know if and when he varies the length of the counts. Is there an arbitrary number that he and Tim both use?

Tim brings an analog watch and sets it in front of him during pranayam, ostensibly to mark time. But there’s no way he could be using it for that, because we’re there before the sun is up. It’s really, really dark for a solid 20 minutes.

I asked a woman who’s been practicing pranayama about it. “I think Tim just breathes until he hears the rest of us struggling,” she said. “That’s how he sets the length of breath, because otherwise he could just keep going and going.“

Asana practice afterwards was good, but slow. I lacked an energetic spark. More yin than yang? I had coffee Wednesday and Thursday before practice, but not today. I’ve also not been getting enough sleep.

(On Wednesday, I saw the new Lord of the Rings movie after work, which meant I didn’t climb into bed until midnight. Last night was another company holiday party and an 11 p.m. bedtime. Because I get up at 5, two “wild” nights like those have utterly bushwacked me.)

So it was a mellow practice. I only did six backbends. Regardless, my back felt great. I really am getting a sense that my hip flexors, shoulders, and back are gradually opening. I believe Tim has given me several of the initial poses in second series, up to bekasana, in order to help my urdhva dhanurasana, and it really seems to be working.

Before bekasana, we do vajrasana, and I’ve been requesting help. A teacher stands on my quads while I recline. It’s really been blasting my hip flexors and quads, and has only gotten more comfortable. “When asana is correct, pain is gone,” says Guruji. It’s been proven true again and again in my case.

Allison has been leading the “dreaded” (says Tim) Thursday morning improv classes, and they’ve been brilliant as well. Yesterday, we spent the entire class working on preps for leg-behind-the-head poses. The class culminated in durvasana, which is where you put your leg behind your head in a seated pose, get your leg beneath you, and then slowly stand up—you’re standing up straight, with a leg behind your head.

It was another reminder of the disparity between my hips. I could mostly stand up with the right leg, and it was an incredible hip opener.

The left leg, though, was a different story. I could barely stand up more than 6 inches. Pretty crazy. I wonder how much of the difference is due to my 13 years skateboarding—my pushing leg/back leg, or right leg, externally rotates way more than the left, which has severely limited external rotation. The right hip is way more open, and the quad is a lot more developed.

My front/left leg, the leg that steered the board, has less developed quads and a tighter hip, yet more flexible hip flexors. I’m heaps more stable on my left foot.

The holiday party last night was interesting. I hung out with the company bosses, and a great bunch of people I’ve come to consider my friends. I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to have the job I have, even though I’m ultimately frustrated at it.

Since ashtanga has become a prime focus in my life, my career aspirations here have dwindled. Certain things just don’t mean as much to me anymore. Patanjali talks about how the practice of ashtanga cleans the indriyas, or sense organs, and this is what strengthens our powers of discernment. Perhaps this is why I’m not as interested in the game anymore.

Asana is only one of the eight limbs, but dedication to it has really cultivated a sense of how several of the other limbs work. When I read Patanjali now, I have a working, experiential, personal sense of what he means when he talks about tapas, for example.

It’s not so much the poses themselves. It’s showing up and practicing, every day, even when you don’t want to. It’s performing a pose you’re not good at, or that is frustrating, or scary, or intimidating. And not just once, but again and again and again.