Destination Sensation

 

bw saddle web

Yoga is an inward journey, I fear this is increasingly forgotten. In the yoga studios and gyms lined with mirrors, I’m almost certain it IS being forgotten. It’s true that this is where we go, these studios, for motivation, or for convenience, for a certain teacher or style, an adjustment or two, to be a part of something, for a community of sorts, for a reliable heat source or a mat sized flat space to call your own for an hour or two. Or for a regular pay check without the frustration of self promotion. 🙂

But yoga is also solitary. Actually, yoga is primarily solitary. A solitary, inward journey. Every student coming to class regularly should ALSO be devoting time to self practice. Turning up on your own mat to your own time and doing something ( it doesn’t matter so much what, as long as there is breath and focus).

I hear, over and over, that you don’t have the motivation for self practice.. the discipline — but I beg to differ. If you can come to class you have that drive in you, already. You say you don’t know what asanas to practice. I say you’d be surprised by your kinaesthetic memory even if you’ve only been to a handful of classes.

( Sequencing poses is quite intuitive. In can be ‘pose and counter pose’…. ‘compressive followed by expansive’. And/or a series of poses working one group of muscles on one side of the body, perhaps building up in depth or strength or hold, followed by the other side. Breathing is even more intuitive. Upward movements ask for an inhale, downward for an exhale. The breath wants to be smooth and fluid by nature, not ragged and jittery. Not forced in. Certainly not forced out. Not usually held, but sometimes so quiet it drops away. Focus is all that is needed here. If in doubt just breathe naturally! )

Then, here is where the concept of a quiet practice comes in. A practice doesn’t always have to be based on the constant chatter of a teacher and her generalised ‘blanket’ cues ( as experienced as she is, she can’t feasibly speak for everyone).  Or paced with the prescriptive mantra of the breath of your fellow class attendees. Yoga doesn’t require an external noise source ( your teacher’s playlist ),  defining a choreographed plot line with a musical peak pose moment.

A silent, solitary, inward practice.

Self motivated. Without mirrors or selfie sticks.  Without the internet or a podcast. Without music. Without that hottie on the mat next to you. Without a teacher or his instruction. Without that ‘advanced’ student to follow along, in front of you. Without the back-drop of a rack synthetic hot pants for sale at the studio, or boxes of packaged vegan bars / trendy ( ok, delicious) cold pressed juices, the free coconut water that calls you to rush out of your savasana before it runs out.

Can I ask you to practice alone, in old, not particularly flattering but just comfortable clothes, on a no frills mat from Target rolled out in a little bit of space somewhere, with your eyes half closed?

A silent, solitary practice is where yoga takes flight. For here, without external reflection, the mind is drawn inward and you start to notice, and in time observe, sensation. The feelings of being in a physical body. The feeling of the muscles, bones, sinews, skin. The stretch of the fascia, the rebound. The sensation of the breath moving in and out of the body. And more subtly, the sensation of energetic movement and pattern. Each pose has an attendant sensation. Perhaps a little -or a great deal- different for every body. Perhaps changing every day. The actual quality of the sensation is not what matters. Noticing the quality, with curiosity,  without judgement or categorisation, is what matters.

This is the present moment. This is the gift we are given whilst placed in a physical body. Sensation which always already brings you to the present moment. The start and the end of the journey, sensation is forever present, woven through all experience.

 

 

 

 

Yin yoga, Myofascial release & Yoga for the Face!

Yin Yoga, Myo-Fascial Release and Face Yoga workshop:  A self-care workshop:

savasana
I’m holding an afternoon workshop on these three delicious gems of self care on Sunday May 22nd at Hummingbird Eco Retreat, Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula in the beautiful Yoga space there. 

EXPERIENCE Yin Yoga , a slow and mindful form of yoga designed to wipe your stress away physically and mentally and bring you to an altered state of being. Yin yoga is a beautiful adjunct to a busy life or indeed a more yang style yoga practice. In Yin yoga we concentrate on sensation in the present moment. It is literally the anti-thesis of multi-tasking, and at the same time it is a powerful physical practice, working on deep connective tissue to relieve the body of stagnant energies.


LEARN Myofascial self release techniques ( MFR ) to shift stubborn tightness in the fascia (the connective tissue ) and muscles, helping to release habitual muscular patterns and chronic pain and enhancing everyday mobility. We use tennis balls on trigger points and along acupuncture meridians to ease blocked energies, built up pain responses and chronic tension.


TRY out Yoga for the Face- a yoga facelift method to tone the face via its muscles – a workout we never think of doing but one that is just as important as all the muscles below the neck. Everyone knows that toned muscles don’t sag, and this is just as true for the face. Yoga for the Face also enhances circulation to help with clear smooth skin. On a less superficial note,  Yoga for the Face also helps with tension in the head, face and neck, bringing relief from headaches and jaw tension. 


RELAX with a guided Yoga Nidra meditation, deep relaxation through a mindful rotation of awareness.

The workshop includes notes on Myofascial techniques and tennis balls and sock for the MFR therapy, plus chai tea and a healthy gluten free/ dairy free snack.

1.30 – 4.30pm Sunday 22nd May

( this workshop would make a great early Mother’s day gift- vouchers available! )


Investment: $65
Couples/friends: $120 for two
Early bird price ( book & pay before May 8th ): $55,
$100 for two.

Suits all levels including absolute beginner and the established yoga student- and this includes most bodies!

Check out the lovely accommodation at Hummingbird if you want to make a weekend of it. http://hummingbirdeco.com.au/sleep/accommodation

Bookings for the workshop can be made via email :
heidi@yogaguerilla.com
or call/ text Heidi on 0403560850

Effort in Yoga, how much is too much, how much is too little?

Deep surrender in dragonfly, the effort is in the surrender. Note that I am dagging out in trackie dacks and keeping warm in home practice with ample clothes, practicing on a warm carpet and in front of the fire. All highly conducive to letting go.

Deep surrender in dragonfly, the effort is in the surrender. Note that I am dagging out in trackie dacks and keeping warm in home practice with ample clothes, practicing on a warm carpet and in front of the fire. All highly conducive to letting go.

As a teacher, I see a range of types of people coming to class to learn and practice yoga, and within that many variations in body types, and mind/ personality types. It’s a wonderful thing that keep us yoga instructors on our toes and far from being bored and complacent. No two body/mind/spirit combinations are the same.
There is always a wide range of effort in class, from person to person and from week to week, from season to season and from one type of class to another. Hence it is worth posing the question- how much effort is the right amount?
How do we know when to just allow the shape of the pose to do its work, easing into it without activating the muscles, or when to work against the shape of the pose to press and push deeper?

Obviously, the type of yoga you are practicing makes a great difference on a basic level- in an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class effort is seemingly key, while in a Yin class it seems it is all about letting go.

However it goes deeper than that. The intensity and therefore benefit of a yoga posture can be enhanced by conscious activation of the muscles surrounding the joints that are being worked in any given pose. Engaging or tensing the muscles towards the bones with effort protects the joints and allows the practitioner to move in and out of the pose safely.

Think of the hamstrings for instance- when stretching the hamstrings, a purposeful ‘engagement’ of the front thigh muscle ( the reciprocal part of the body to the hammies ) perhaps through pushing into the big toes or consciously pulling up through the arch of the foot, maybe also micro bending the knee- will activate the quadriceps and in turn protect the hamstrings from over stretching. The hamstrings will then in turn, after a few breaths, be able to move deeper and more slowly into the stretch without the threat of sudden, damaging over-stretching in the origin or insertion points of the muscle.

This action demonstrates how the muscles serve to activate the reflexes of reciprocal action, and the reflexes of relaxation- if you tense the muscles towards the joint being worked and hold them there, the muscles will after a time let go, allowing greater depth in the asana without the danger of letting go and surrender. Ok, I kind of repeated myself there but you get to drift.

This type of activation also increases the heart rate for many people and encourages deeper breathing, creating heat, which helps with flexibility.

How much should we be tensing the muscles towards and around the joints though, and when do you and don’t you tense them?

Key to this question is- how does your head and neck feel? Is your jaw and tongue able to stay soft and your forehead smooth when practicing poses. Is your face red? If there is tension in the face and head, you may be trying too hard. Many beginner Ashtanga students find themselves using the face too much to do a pose that has nothing to do with the head, tongue cleaved to the roof of the mouth, and that intense set jaw and stare… this is not yoga!
You may also find you can not move into the pose very much at all if the muscular effort is too intense. Shaking or quivering is another manifestation of over doing it. Not so much the quivering of a muscle that you are not used to using, but an internal quivering, signalling nervous system over stimulation. Often you won’t realise this until after the practice, whilst resting in savasana.
Over breathing- basically hyper ventilating with breaths too deep and too close together- is another major sign of over effort. Sure we need to do it sometime to manage oxygen levels in something causing exertion ( think of pushing a wheelbarrow full of wood up a hill ), but a whole yoga practice like this ??? That lends itself to nervous system irritation and in the longterm over sensitisation. not really yoga at all. In savasana or meditation at the end of your practice, see if there is any subtle pulsing or flickering in the eyes or behind the eyelids, like a mini strobe light effect. If there is, you have likely over doe it with the effort that day- and need to pull back a bit tomorrow.

You should be conscious and present in your own practice, whether in a class setting or at home, and use this mindfulness- this concentration- to see and feel and know what your body is doing in any given pose on any given day. Some poses may require more effort than others, others more surrender.

If you move too fast into a pose or a vinyasa without muscle co-activation, where the muscles are working together to protect the joint, the danger is that you will compromise the joint or muscle by moving too deeply into the weaker OR more flexible muscles of the area, without using the more stiff regions. Damage can result, and in the long term- even without damage- muscular imbalances may be formed which are hard to undo.

Generally, if you are cold or stiff, tired, unmotivated and/or distracted, a little extra effort in the muscles is all you need to get you back on track and bring greater benefits to your practice.
Some teachers will ask you to ramp up the breath in order to do this- I suggest in order to nourish and protect your sympathetic nervous system ( the one responsible for flight and fight/adrenal stimulation) that the effort comes from the muscles and you don’t force the breath into an unnatural depth or speed. There are far too many people out there that are over doing the breath and are on the path to yoga burnout/ nervous system burnout. Extreme hunger after practice can also be a sign that you have been over breathing/ hyper ventilating.

How about Yin yoga then, the yoga of sweet, sweet surrender?
This advice can also be incorporated into a Yin style practice without being completely contradictory.

First of all, in a Yin practice, you are not building heat through the breath, or through muscle activation or through vinyasa, or through effort. So, the key is to be warm– practicing in a warm room or sunny spot out of the wind, with plenty of clothes on, even socks!
As the body remains cool, and therefore somewhat stiff, there can be a danger to the joints, tendons and muscles if going into poses too quickly and too deeply. Luckily Yin yoga is about patience and staying in the pose for minutes, and seeks to use the reflex of relaxation by doing this. The bodily reflex of relaxation takes around a minute ( give or take) to kick in, and a few deep slow breaths can help it occur. Then you may feel your body soften and let go.
But you have to keep it real and be honest with yourself- not push in any way or expect to get into poses with the depth that you may in a more Yan style practice. Yin changes every single time you practice. Keeping your eyes closed or focus soft, and keeping the breathing natural and tidal helps you keep from grasping or trying too hard.

However, muscle activations can be used to benefit Yin yoga too.
Take for example drogon-fly pose- or the wide legged, seated forward bend known as Upavishta Konasana A in Ashtanga yoga. In Yin yoga you hold this for 5 minutes, and since it is not asking you to balance or make a muscular effort, it is a true Yin posture- as Yin as you can get- especially if your body is open enough to lie on the floor between your feet.

However, on coming into this pose when the body is cool, you may find yourself too stiff to move forward, and too stiff to let go. The muscles of the hips, the hip flexors and extensors, tend to hold on tightly in many people and require more than mindful ‘asking’ of your body/mind to let go. Tensing these muscles while in the first minute or so of the pose, activating towards the hip joints and increasing heat in the area, can help move you deeper into the pose once you let go and the blood flows back into the area. Surrender is then able to happen more safely and completely.

Say you have moved into a Yin yoga pose but feel unsafe- like you have gone too far and are stretching the muscles or tendons beyond what they are ready for? Thats is another time that the effort of muscle activation is beneficial. Say you have a pain in the knee… Immediately engaging the muscles towards the knee, in effect locking it and not allowing it go any further, will protect it. You can then either stay in an engaged form of the Yin pose, or move a little out of it until your knee feels good and then let go of the muscles again.
And if there is a sense of over stretching the lower back? Use the muscle activations of the abdomen- especially good to use when coming in and out of asanas, by imaging a wide 80’s style belt around your belly between the navel and the hip bones, and consciously pulling this belt in from all directions, as if cinching the belt in. This will protect the lower back within the pose, or until you move back to a depth more safely available to you.

How do you know, in any form of physical yoga, if you have not used enough effort? Well, first up, you don’t feel radially different than you did when you first rolled out your mat.
Did your mind wander while practicing, and get caught up in mundane worldly problems or issues? Another sign that you could have applied more effort.
Or, you may find you can’t relax in savasana ( this can also be due to over breathing and over stimulation of the nervous system- be mindful and work out for yourself whether its from over or under effort ).
Or perhaps you don’t feel it in your muscles at all later that day or the next day. We are working the muscles and joints, some sensation is likely, and a useful gauge of how the effort involved.
Or perhaps your practice is going backwards, not forwards? Often in yoga we make effort abut reach a plateau. I believe this to be normal, it can last a long time, and that’s fine. But if in regular practice you feel you are going backwards- physically and in concentration- then maybe more effort could be a useful tool.

All of these signs are good markers to work out for yourself what kind of effort you should apply to yoga practice, so that you neither damage your joints and muscles or your nervous system, or just waste time on the mat faffing around getting distracted and stagnating.

What are your thoughts? Where are you at right now and what do you feel affects your effort in practice the most?

Home made Coconut Yoghurt- budget friendly, tummy friendly food.

I’m really into yoghurt but I choose not to eat much dairy. I love the vegan coconut yoghurts out there on the market, but they are really very pricey, prone to going bad too quickly, and usually are sweetened with agave, which is just a fructose overload, or stevia which gives my mouth the complete heebie jeebies.
So I decided to bite the bullet and make my own. Making your own is a truly guerilla thing to do, anyway.

Homemade- twice as much for half the price

Homemade- twice as much for half the price

Coconut milk doesn’t thicken like dairy does, so I did a lot of looking around various recipes on the net for a thickener- many used kudzu or tapioca for thickening, but I wanted something less likely to go lumpy. Lumpy yoghurt doesn’t appeal, somehow. So I chose agar agar flakes as the thickener -which have the added benefit of being a rich source of calcium and potassium (plus a little iron).

High quality gelatine could be substituted for the agar, but I wouldn’t know how as I don’t use it, so please don’t ask me for advice on that one. 🙂 You could use canned coconut cream, but damn that stuff is nowhere near as good as the home made stuff, has a weird after taste- plus it often is packaged in BPA lined tins, and you can make your own for pennies- keep it on hand in the freezer as it doesn’t keep for long .

The resulting recipe is somewhat laborious, but that never stopped me. Ever. Someone who gets up every day and jumps around on a sticky mat for an hour or three is not going to be put off by such things.
If you are time poor, just buy the store bought stuff for 4 times the price, it’s good- but not nearly as good as the home made version.

You’ll need:
a high powered blender ( thermomix is perfect)
a nut milk bag
a wide mouthed thermos or thermoserver
( note to thermomix people- this recipe uses the older model and a thermoserver. Apparently you can make yoghurt straight in the bowl of the new model, but as that would put my thermie out of bounds for 8 hours I don’t much like the idea of it anyway. With the thermoserver you also get a nice long culturing time- greater benefits- without the use of electricity.
a thermometer that records low levels of heat
an esky ( Australian for coolbox ) or thick insulated, zip up shopping bag
probiotic powder of at least 45 million live cultures per 3 gm dose (tiny, powerful buggers )
Clean, filtered water ( I use my Nikken Pi Mag water for everything we consume including cooking pasta etc- I sell them if you are in the market for the best, purifying, alkalising water filter ever )

two clean towels and a ‘lacka band ( Aussie for elastic band ) or peg.

350gms of flaked or shredded coconut, organic and additive free
( you could make your own from coconut flesh just to make it that much more time consuming, but I can’t get organic fresh mature coconuts very often so am denied that privilege )

800ml of filtered water
100gm of melted coconut oil- extra virgin is best

2 tbsp agar agar flakes
a little under 1 tsp probiotic powder- with acidophilus, thermophilius, etc, nice and fresh is best.
1-2 tblsp organic maple syrup- or rice syrup if anxious about fructose ( don’t use honey, its natural bacterial components may mess with the system.)
1 TB is plenty, you may like to try the yoghurt once set and then add more sweetener when adding the vanilla, before blending or whipping.
1/2 teaspoon organic vanilla essence ( optional )

In your high powered blender, blitz the hell out of the coconut flakes until fine. Add the water and blend on high until absolutely thrashed- in the Thermomix this takes one minute, perhaps a fair bit longer in other machines. It needs to be as fine as it is going to get.

Strain through a nut milk bag and squeeeeeeeze every last drop out with your hands.
(You can re- blitz this pulp in water to make a much thinner coconut milk to add to soups, smoothies , green drinks, etc )
Put the coconut milk in a bowl sitting in a pot of warm- hot water to warm it very, very lightly to 37 degrees Celcius ( OR- ideally- put back in a clean Thermomix bowl if you are lucky enough to have one, and warm for 5 mins at 37 degrees, speed 5)
Slowly, slowly add the melted coconut oil, whilst the milk is warming- mixing well with a whisk if heating in a bowl over water, blending at speed 8 for 30 seconds if heating with a Thermomix.

Use 750 ml of the thick coconut cream style milk, place in a thick based saucepan or your Thermomix. You’ll have a little left over to add to something special- it’s a thick coconut cream, but not having emulsifiers it separates a bit in  the fridge.
Sprinkle the agar flakes over the top and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring constantly ( speed 4, @ 90 degrees in Thermomix )
Leave to cool naturally, uncovered ( don’t speed up the process ) until 37 degrees again- this will take an hour or two.
Add maple or rice syrup and the probiotic powder and mix very well with your whisk. ( speed 7 for a few seconds in thermomix ) Over doing the amount probiotics in the hope of making it work or better for you is not advised. Probiotics as with any fermentation agent need room to move. You can add more later if you like.
Pour the mix into pre warmed thermos or thermoserver ( pre-warmed with warm filtered water, not hot or boiling)
Wrap in two teatowels, one with the opening at the top, the other with the opening underneath, seal with a rubber band or peg or something clever, and gently place in an esky or insulated bag, sealing in the heat.

Place in a warmish room- not hot- which stays at a fairly constant temperature.

Try not to forget it is there.

In at least 5 and up to 12 hours , remove thermos from esky, check it has set. ( if not your agar is old, use the mix in smoothies instead – this has never happened to me however )

Place in the fridge for a few hours, then remove and blend again in your blender, first adding 1/2 teaspoon of organic vanilla essence, and checking the sweetness is to your liking. If you are using a thermomix, whip with the butterfly for the creamiest and most wonderful texture. If you think the yoghurt looks too thick, add a very little coconut milk before whipping. You may have been a little heavy handed with the agar agar.
You can also add more acidophilus powder now if you want to get even more friendly gut flora into your tummy.
Pour or spoon most of it into a glass container with a lid or a couple of jars, saving a bit to eat straight away. Place jars in fridge.
It’s quite rich and you may find you can’t eat nearly as much as dairy yoghurt. The agar agar makes it very filling and acts as an appetite suppressant- for better or for worse ( who wants their damn appetite suppressed??)

( I have no idea of the calories involved per gram/ serving, as I don’t believe in calorie counting, but it’s rich, like a dessert really )

Use a clean spoon each time you slip a mouthful in as you pass the fridge to ensure it keeps for a week or two.

I eat about a 1/4 cup post practice with my outrageously good coconut/sprouted buckwheat/macadamia/sour cherry granola- but that’s another lengthy (process and) post.

The Habit of Yoga

My family and I recently packed up our lives and moved them elsewhere, from our lovely spacious home in a lonely part of the world to a smaller, kinda crummy rental home in a thriving community. For me, the most important thing, was to claim a mat sized space to call my own in which to practice my daily habit. Without that, I’d be lost.
Having moved from a place with a mini yoga studio to call my own, to a small and grubby room in which I also must have my writing desk and film making stuff and an increasing pile of bills, it seemed a bit of a bum deal at first. But once I rolled out that mat on the first morning, and did my practice, I claimed the little space and I was happy.
How lucky to have a space to call my own, with no lego to step on or under couch dustballs to ponder over in headstand. How lucky to have a daily practice, a damn serious habit… something that is a given, like brushing the teeth. Second nature.
Habit is a powerful thing, sometimes selfish, sometimes obtuse. Always there. Even when travelling, camping, sick, tired, busy, broke, distracted, upset- however we find ourselves.
Without it, we all are lost.
And of all the habits in the world, a self practice of yoga and meditation are the ones I have chosen. What a blessing.

Here is a quote from the illustrious Mary Oliver on Habit:
What some might call the restrictions of the daily office they find to be an opportunity to foster the inner life. The hours are appointed and named… Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers… And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.

On the way to the Outback we camped at the Showgrounds at Burra and found the perfect open air shed to practice in.

On the way to the Outback we camped at the Showgrounds at Burra and found the perfect open air shed to practice in.

Yogis CAN go camping, too!

Lookout meditator

Handy bench, amazing view. The weather changed every few minutes up here on a lookout hill on a private 4WD track at Alpana Station.

So quiet in the middle of everywhere and nothing with incredibly ancient rocks

So quiet in the middle of everywhere and nothing with incredibly ancient rocks

It’s been a long time since we went camping. I grew up camping- the real kind of camping, the find-a-spot-far-out-in-the-bush off the beaten track, far-from-the-maddening-crowds kind of camping. No services, no toilet, no shower, no reception, no nothing. Except everything nature supplies. The bring-everything-you-need kind of camping, including a shovel for when nature calls and plenty of water.

However once we had kids, camping became more of a hassle for these particular Yogi’s, more than we ( ok, I ) could imagine getting excited about. Hassles like sleep deprivation, like kids that liked to wander- but weren’t old enough to safely, like nappies and poo and no baths for days on end. Like the thought of tackling motherhood insomnia/ hyper vigilance on seriously uncomfortable camping mats, whinging kids on a long road trip, etc etc.

But recently the call of the desert returned in an intense way, and I wanted more than anything to take the family to the Outback, away from the easy green of our country home, away from the Thermomix and the I-gadgets and Mine-craft. Away from all comforts including my lovely little warm, flat and dry yoga studio at home.

The thing about a daily self practice in Yoga, if I am quite honest, is that it limits what you do in your life. It is a marvellous, transformational life practice, but limiting all the same.
‘No sorry I can’t have breakfast in bed I have to do my practice ‘…
Getting up at the cracker and rolling out your mat may be hard to make into a habit at first, but after 25 years of doing it, it’s a near impossible habit to break. It defines your life. Truly. So camping was out of the picture for more than a moon day night or two as it all seemed too difficult, and indeed quite selfish, to get the kids to wait around while we did our morning practice.

But then the kids GREW UP a little and started looking after themselves… So, quite spontaneously, we decided to go camping for REAL. With a few concessions from me (like leaving Weet-bix and tinned fruit out for them to serve themselves instead of a hot, nourishing kind breakfast.. oh the horror, the guilt, the shame ) and a shortened practice ( Ashtanga primary series only, often only to Navasana ) the kids were able to look after and entertain themselves in a wonderfully independent way. They were free to roam and wander through the bush as they liked, as long as they were within coo-eee of their parents and stuck together. The kids had fun in their freedom, the parents had respite in our freedom, and our bodies recovered from the rigours of sleeping rough and days crammed into the 4WD. I dropped the need to do all poses, everyday, and it was all good.
Here a some photos of our yoga and meditation on this recent trip to the Flinders ranges and Arkaroola. 12 days of sleeping on hard mats and doing less, gentler but utterly delightful yoga on ancient earth in sacred places.

On the way to the Outback we camped at the Showgrounds at Burra and found the perfect open air shed to practice in.

On the way to the Outback we camped at the Showgrounds at Burra and found the perfect open air shed to practice in.

Burra

Beautiful warm sun, so stiff and sore after the first 1000 kms or so.

salutes

Alpana Station- first morning, sun salutes

standing meditator

Free Ranging Kids

Free Ranging Kids

Roo watching

Alpana

Handy tarp for keeping off the bindi bindi’s ( nasty prickles )

upward

More free range kids- imagine having this many

More free range kids- imagine having this many

second morning- pre practice photo

second morning in Alpana- pre-practice photo. It was so lovely there we stayed longer than planned.

wilpena hike

Always save some energy to hike, (skip the 20 backbends sequence)

at it AGAIN

at it AGAIN

Above the amazing old Blinman Copper mine- fragments of malachite everywhere.

Above the amazing old Blinman Copper mine- fragments of malachite everywhere.

My turn- leave me alone for 10 minutes now, please!

My turn- leave me alone for 10 minutes now, please!

Sandy dry river beds have the perfect flat, firm and shaded ground for practice- Arkaroola.

Sandy dry river beds have the perfect flat, firm and shaded ground for practice- Arkaroola.

Ardha Baddha Padma in Arkaroola

arkaroola pranayama

headstand lift

supine in river bed

Supine in river bed

football heart opener

Football Heart Opener

footy hamstring support

Football hamstring support, shavasana

On the way home- Broken Hill motel. Not ideal but better than nothing- of course being smaller I got the dodgy spot. And a lovely hot shower.

On the way home- Broken Hill motel. Not ideal but better than nothing- of course being smaller I got the dodgy spot. And a lovely hot shower.

Just a backbend


There was a time, a short time, where I could grasp my fingers to my ankles in Urdhva Dhanurasana. Mysore, 2003 during my time at AYRI in my early 30’s. Between the adjustments from Guruji and Sharath, I would have gone this deep 5 or 6 times, but more often just touching my fingertips to my heels. Super flexible people around me going all the way, every day, perhaps several times. A well known Japanese yogi had his hands on the back of his thighs and his head pretty much touching his backside.. in backbend!!! The look of concentration and vulnerability on his face remains with me. On those surreal days in Mysore I would feel quite nutty for the rest of the day… ungrounded, dizzy… not quite on the earth. Deep backbends are a lot for the nervous system to handle.

And then, upon my return to Australia, with a winter, a brand new mortgage to pay- and real life- deep backbends were to be never again.

Within a few months of returning home I was pregnant with my first child ( pregnancy being the only time in my 25+ years of daily practice of various traditions of yoga where I have had days off- and plenty of them). He wasn’t a sleeper, that first baby, practice became maintenance only, and even though practice was daily, it was nothing on what was possible before. Back in those self centered days when I didn’t have responsibilities …. and wasn’t utterly, unfathomably exhausted.

After recovering my sleep, strength and sanity… getting back to drop-backs and coming back up, along came my second child. In there were 5 or so years in total of breast-feeding my children into toddlerhood (all that rounding of the shoulders greatly reducing my shoulder flexibility), the years of never, ever getting to a Mysore class for adjustment or advice from a senior teacher (how can one get to a class at 6am when you haven’t got to sleep until 4am?), some big life shake ups requiring mental strength and moral fibre and all those kinds of things that get in the way of physical progression. That get in the way of maintaining deep backbends.

At first I missed them dearly, along with the thrill of achievement, the whacked out feeling after such an intense curve of the spine… I even hankered after those side effects.
But whenever I expanded my practice back into deep backbend territory my body would tell me otherwise. Urdhva Dhanurasana exacerbated my carpal tunnel syndrome more than any other repetitive strain- and in my daily life I had quite a few of them adding to the condition.

The extreme flexion of the wrists required to be stable in UD irritated my wrist nerves so that often I was in extraordinary pain at night- I couldn’t sleep- my fingers tingling and going numb, my hands in claws. But the next morning on the mat I would, more often than not, find myself doing a basic backbend sequence anyway.

Yes, I ignored it, as you do with things that only happen at night and barely effect you by day… occasionally dropping the backbends for months at a time but pretty much ignoring the CTS for 10 years. Until I found myself dropping cups and plates by day with increasing nerve damage causing loss of sensation in my fingers. Every night a full nights sleep was impossible for the pain… even with the kids now sleeping.

It was the surgery that shifted things for me… many yogis will tell you, injury is a great teacher. For me, accepting that an injury had occurred at all was the hardest part. When I got nerve conduction tests done ( on the 4th separate time I was given a referral script from my doctor ) he told me I had severe carpal tunnel, unusual for my body type
( most carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in obese patients ), and asked me how I could have left it for so long. I didn’t have an answer.

I remember waking up from surgery- a very simple procedure- and straight away being able to feel my middle finger again. A traditional Ashtanga practice was out for months. I discovered Matthew Sweeney’s Chandra Moon sequence which was a saviour, adapting it to keep weight off my hands. I used blocks with grip bars in them to keep the wrists straight. (I still practice the moon sequence series regularly to mix things up with my Ashtanga practice, relieve the standing series boredom of a long term practitioner, shift some of that physical repetition on the joints and muscles, and to work fully into all areas of the hips).

After surgery it took more than 18 months to be able to support weight in the hands in such intense flexion. Most back-bending practice was from the knees ( Ushtrasana, Laghu Varjasana etc). I re-discovered bridge pose from my early Hatha yoga days- such a wonderful, simple pose as one can choose which areas of the spine to move into.

Then, back to trying Urdhva Dhanurasana.. Slowly, I could reach my fingers to the floor beside my ears- using a rolled up mat to reduce the angle of wrist flexion- and push up, feeling weak and oh so stiff, feeling awkward and old and nothing like I had back in Mysore, 2003.

Gradually I began to realise what a great pose Urdhva Dhanurasana is- practiced as it is, a simple wheel. Old school, no frills… a nice arc with a gentle evenness, the vertebrae working towards equilibrium. The feet and hands planted strongly, open through the chest and lungs, deeply centered through the abdominals, the groins rotating to allow movement in the sacrum.

Done this way, the wheel is grounding. None of that mad, untethered, spaciness that deep backbends can cause. Sure, it gets you a little high, a nice rush of joy to start the day… but nothing that prevents me from coming in from my morning practice to make the kids lunch, negotiating homework, shoes and socks and getting them off to school.

So that is how I practice backbends now- and plan to continue- happily, for the next 25 years.