Monday, December 15, 2003

In the mornings here in Encinitas, the mercury has been dipping into the 40s. Boo hoo, I know. But you have to take into account that almost everything in Encinitas is built for mild beach temperatures. Nothing is insulated, and every apartment I’ve lived in had paper-thin walls, a single dilapidated heater for the whole place, and drafts leaking cold air in from every possible nook and cranny.

Tim’s studio is no different. I’ve taken to wearing socks, sweatshirt, and hat for morning pranayama, which starts at about 6:15, just before the sun rises. Thankfully, after a few rounds of kumbhakas, or breath retentions, my body temperature shoots up and I begin sweating (never mind the trembling and panicking). During asana practice immediately thereafter, I’ve taken to posting my mat as close to the heater as humanly possible. If they had a horizontal heater, I’d practice directly on top of it.

The recent winter temperature has made me wonder about my attachment and need for external heat. I’ve become suspicious of things that I think are mediating my experience with the practice, such as coffee or heat.

I look at the people who practice Bikram’s yoga, the heated-room yoga, and think that many of them are addicted to the extreme heat in their studios, which boils north of 105 degrees.

In a larger sense, winter is proving to be another invaluable teacher. Am I reliant on a sweltering, humid environment to practice? I certainly thrive in temperatures in which I feel like I’m going to wilt.

This winter is different than last year, though. The rigors of a consistent, daily practice, the heating and wakening effects of pranayama, and nauli kriya, or abdominal churning, have allowed me to notice only minimal, subtle changes in my practice. Mainly, there’s little stiffness.

I’m curious as to the long-term effects of maintaining a daily, consistent practice in the face of such difficulties as cold temperature or wet, rainy, cold weather. How does that consistency affect your personality in the long-term?

Ashtanga provides a rigid structure I lean on and get support from. You show up to practice, every day, and you practice the same set series, every day. The discipline makes you stronger, not just in a physical sense, but as a person.

But ashtanga also insists on relaxation in the face of resistance. If you don’t relax — not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, because your mental and emotional stance directly corresponds to your body — if you don’t relax, you’ll hurt yourself, whether it’s hamstrings, knees, or shoulders.

Asana practice over the last few days has been excellent, as per usual. Hips, back: opening. I struggle with baddha konasana, but it’s gradually easing. It’s still a shock to have my face hit the floor, complete with these weird and alien popping noises emanating from my groin region.

I’m still trying to figure out how to come up from back bends. It’s on the horizon, somewhere. I expect it will just happen one day, once my hip flexors and shoulders open further. I must say that back bends are feeling especially great of late. I think the second series poses Tim has given me are making a huge difference.

I dropped in on an improv class on Saturday, and it was a real treat. Warm and good. Allison led, and did a lot of great preps for Hanumanasana, or splits. The first movement for the final prep consisted of propping the rear knee on the ground, so the rear shin was flush against the wall.

In the next movement, you walked the other leg out and straightened it onto the floor. Ideally, you would then be doing the splits, with the rear shin at a 90-degree angle to the rear thigh, propped against the wall.

In my case, I obviously couldn’t lower all the way to the floor, so I had to support myself with my hands. It really worked the hip flexor of your rear leg, which is where I definitely need work. (A chiropractor once described my hip flexors as “Ropy, lumpy, and scarred.”) They’ve always bothered me.

The other fun part of the improv class was the leg-behind-the-head poses (which I unashamedly requested). We did a wee bit of hip opener prep, then moved into eka pada sirsana and kashyapasana. As I’ve said before, they really, really work my hips and, unfortunately, feel really good.

It must be a function of my body dynamics or limb length or something. I can’t help it. Thankfully there aren’t really any poses in first series in which to indulge my ego and probably hurt myself.