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Entries in yoga (45)

Tuesday
Jan012019

Jet lag Yoga

We made it back from Belize on New Years eve'ning. One adventure always leads to another .. so came home to four loads of laundry. At the end of the day we are a fiscally conservative family. We take in fresh clothes to a resort and come back with all the clothes in a large garbage bag. 

Started doing laundry right away after coming back. In fact I had quarantined all the clothes and shoes in the entryway and put deet into the suitcases, in the event any Belizian mosquitos or biting flies and assorted insects made it accidentally into the suitcase. I think every insect in that rain forest had some part of the Narayanan family for some meal. 

The washer broke down after the first load! Spent a good hour and a half trying to remove the soaking wet clothes out and drain out the water. Fortunately we have good friends and neighbors. After letting the wet clothes drain overnight, got them done this morning. With help from my neighbor we started troubleshooting the washer. We have now narrowed it down to a faulty drain pump. Given there is no way to go buy one today and most service guys are off today being New Years, the thing is now opened up and waiting for life tomorrow. 

Given this washer lasted almost 15 years, we were thinking of buying a new one. Sometimes old is gold. This one has no fancy electronics. Possibly a simple microcontroller at the most.. it doesn't even have a belt. It is one of those old direct drive motors. No digital displays of any kind.. no fancy algo's to figure out the size of the load etc. etc.. thinking of getting it fixed tomorrow..

In all this hoopla, got no chance to do Yoga this morning. Jet lag is jet lag. It doesn't care if you got it after a week in Asia for a biz trip, or a week in Belize with family. Last night I could not stay up till midnight. Just hit the bed at 10. Especially after being one of few participants in the blood drive to support the insects in Belieze, was feeling a little tired.  

There was one last chance to catch Yoga at 4:30 PM and yet again, New Years is a popular day for folks to try something new. We had a full house at BYSJ and a great class. I got a deja vu because almost the same people were in the front row on New Years class and this is the fourth time for this experience.. 

Finally feeling back to normal. Think we can reasonably conclude that Yoga has had an addictive influence on me...

Monday
Dec032018

The Rava Dosa of Asanas..

This blog always tries to cover multiple interests at one go.. today it will be food and Yoga.. I know those two don't mix well, as it is best to do Yoga on an empty stomach and thinking of food is the last thing you should do while attempting Yoga. 

That said.. please bear with me.

When this blog writing started a long long time ago, we used to go to every Indian restaurant and a week later, would write a review of the place with my own rating scheme. Half those restaurants are now gone. But the memories remain. On second thought, should start writing those reviews again.. Those were pre "Yelp" days. Once Yelp came out, the idea of putting out an elaborate review for like minded readers disappeared.. Once Trip Advisor showed up, the thought of trying to make the Travelog useful for others disappeared.. it started becoming a "writing for memory sake" journal.  

One way to rate restaurants, was to order multiple dishes but have a common denominator item to do a fair comparison. For North Indian restaurants it was Malai Kofta and butter naan and for South Indian places, it was Rava Dosa. One restaurant owner even named me Mr. Rava Dosa! 

If you are not familiar with a Rava Dosa, it is made with batter that is freshly mixed. It takes at least 20 minutes to make from the time you order it, and it is a real test for a south Indian chef. You can guage a lot of things about a south Indian restaurant by the Rava Dosa. If you go order it and don't hear "Sir, it will take some time compared to the other items? is that okay?" .. then you should seriously doubt the dosa quality. The crispiness of the Dosa is another thing.. too short on the stove, it sticks to the plate. Too long and it has a slight burnt taste.. you have a very narrow process window to make this one right!

Where am I going with this?

On Friday and Saturday PST, there was the World Yogasana Championship, held this year in Beijing. If I had a business trip, would have gone a day earlier to catch it on Sunday local time, but there were other plans for me that the higher powers had divined so stayed put at home.  Did manage to watch parts of it, thanks to a live feed on Facebook from the China Yoga Federation (which is real, and I hope they open more Yoga studios in Shanghai and Beijing).

The way the competition works (yes, yes.. yoga competition ? that is an oxymoron.. have heard that before.. have explained it also before.. ) there is 3 minutes per person. You get to do 4 mandatory poses in the final round and two optional poses. 

The Four mandatory poses are not the same asansa but rather picked from a certain category. The first is a forward bend compression, the second is a back bend compression, the third is a forward stretch, the fourth is a twist, then two optional poses. Within each category, you have different difficulty levels for different poses. If you do a Rabbit pose, which is a forward compression sitting down, it has a lower difficulty level than a standing head to knee pose which is a forward compression done standing on one locked knee..

I am not the expert here and you need to fact check the above, but think I got most of that right. If you fall off a pose, you can start again, but you lose points. Everything is marked by 3 judges and they give you points on a 1-10 scale. The poses have to be held for at least 5 seconds at the height of the pose (maximum). There are certain basic elements in each pose like a locked knee, or forehead touching knee or locked elbow etc. etc. which define the pose. So if any of those basic definitions are missed, you lose points. 

Basically, you start with 10 points and before you know it, you have lost it all!!! At least that was  my experience the one time I went to a yoga competition a few years ago. Just kidding. It is a lot more fun..

Now what has Rava Dosa got to do with Asanas? 

Well, there is this one pose that I have written the most about in this Yoga Journey, over the last almost 8 years. It is the Standing Head to Knee pose. Experienced Yogis (especially desis) who can do all kinds of complex poses like:

put their leg over their shoulder and stand up on the other leg,

get into lotus pose standing upside down on their heads in Shirasasana,

do a wheel pose effortlessly,

still falter when it comes to the head to knee. 

Why?

This pose is not about strength or flexibility or a tradeoff between the two. There is a third ingredient to it that takes time to develop. . . balance! Incredible physical and mental balance.!! You have to be able to tighten a select set of muscles while simultaneouly relax another set of muscles and breathe right or you cannot pull this off. The intense focus required, takes a lot of practice specific to this pose. 

There is also 4 parts to it (or so I thought, till Joseph Encina showed me there are 5 parts to it) and so far I have never gone past step 2 to successfully finish step 3 in the last 6 years.  Recently though,  I am consistently getting to step 3 which is a good sign. 

To me the six poses and all the rules in a competition are great, but mostly filler. They are like the other half dozen items we order to get an idea of the restaurant. If you have to judge all contestants with the least amount of effort, just look at how they do standing head to knee pose and you can pretty much get to the final ranking. 

It is the Rava Dosa of poses for me.. 

Really enjoyed watching the competition, although only for three or four 30 minute stretches. The best part of this competition was that my teacher and mentor Michelle Vennard won the Adult womens group.  My Yoga guru is a world champion! She smiled through the entire three minutes and was grace personified. I also got to see my friend Lee compete live and he did an amazing job. Have seen him on the mat next to me, have stared into his eyes during Yoga demonstrations, but to see him try his best the way he did gave me goosebumps. When you see folks you know transcend their usual, it is truly inspiring!

Have been very fortunate to be around champs in my life. My ballroom dance teacher was an International champion and I still hear her voice while doing Yoga, especially when the teacher says "breathe" with an accent. There are two things I still remember from my dancing days that she taught me. 

1. Sundar, you don't have to have your partner hang from the Chandeliers to win this one. You need impeccable timing and have a smile on your face the entire time.. even when you screw up

2. the trick to dancing effortlessly for round after round is to breathe right. If you know when to take a breath, you can dance for hours without any huffing and puffing

Same rules apply in Yoga! 

After watching the competition, it was time to do real Yoga..

There was a lot happening in the house over the weeekend and I was glad that there was no Asia trip. Our water main broke (service line) and San Jose Water came and shut our water down till we got a plumber to find and fix the leak. It was an interesting 36 hours. Brought back so many memories of  growing up in India when the Metro Water lorry would not show up.

Having to make some amends to schedules, using the handpump to get water from a borewell and rationing water for everyone in the house etc.. All those experiences came in handy. The inspector from the water company gave me a compliment "Sir, I am really going to do my best to help you because you are calm and not irate like most customers in this situation. Will try to jumper water from your neighbors garden hose back to your house".. He tried, but it didn't work. So we just adjusted till we got water flowing again.

It was a good experience for the kids as well, and a reminder of things we take for granted, especially when we are in a routine. 

All that said, seriously thinking about giving the competition another shot next year. For that to happen, one has to understand Rava Dosa.. I mean.. Standing head to knee..

On a side note, my beard experiment has crossed the one month mark. I am getting used to it, as are people who see me every day. The patches are gone, the gray looks dignified and as an unintended side effect, I am conscious of my breath .. every freaking breath, if I chose to be conscious of it.. because my moustache picks up the breathing. 

Even if I am not making loud noises or breathing loudly by previous standards, the breath going through the moustache literally whispers loudly. Trying to minimize that movement or sound has added a new complexity to breath control during asanas. You can't see it, but the faintest movement of those hair, makes me stop or slow down.

Even while lying down in Shavasana, the whiskers tell you the truth about how you are breathing. It is like an external meter that can give you a feed back loop.  It is interesting the way I am using it as a regulating mechanism. Maybe if I had whiskers around my knees that would do something everytime they came unlocked??? Was thinking along those lines today.

Think it is obvious that I am too eager to do that one pose which keeps evading me, but having waited all this time and seeing that  sometimes progress comes at the least expected times, will keep at it and see what happens.  My goal every year is to do yoga at least 200 times. The spreadsheet says I have done 212 this year and 1648 classes to date.. that is almost 6600 attempts at Standing head to knee (we do two sets on each leg)!

You can say "something is wrong with you", if I attempted something 6600 times and still failed at reaching the end result. While that is one way to think of it, the other way to think of it, is that this pose is not for everyone. That is why it is a mandatory pose in a Yoga Championship final.  

The yoga journey continues to be interesting..

ps. My house photographers are all on strike. So Yoga photos over the weekend..

Saturday
Oct132018

Something that clicked

It has been a long time doing the Triangle pose as part of Yoga class. Every type of yoga class in the US does some variation of this triangle pose is what I am told. It is also called as Warrior pose and is a lunge and stretch at the same time. 

It is not an easy pose as you pretty much have to stretch in every direction.

Having captured myself with photographs over the years, this has definitely come a long way. 

However, .. there is always a "However", on the recent workshop with Joseph Encina, he mentioned something I have heard for the first time. 

It is not a SINGLE triangle that we are striving for! It is THREE triangles. THREE freaking triangles.

The first and second one are dependent on how flat your thighs are with respect to the ground and how perpendicular you make the bent leg to the floor. 

The third one (which is the one I focus on) is dependent on how you stretch your hands away from each other and how you stretch the crown of your head away from your foot while still keeping that same line. That part I understood, but am not close to getting the 90 degrees. (have tried this on ice/ snow!)

Have tried to graphically capture this below. 

In class I am almost 90 degrees for all three. This was a late night attempt do a blog post with a tummy full of samosas, sundal, sakkari pongal, venn pongal, just to name a few of the tasty treats being eaten at 25 minute intervals all afternoon and evening as part of the Navarathri festival. 

The fact that you even see any geometric shapes in that photo after all that eating is a medical miracle! 

Will try to get this pic either in the hot room itself or right after coming home from class (provided one of my three angels is willing to be the photographer) and update this post. 

You learn something new every day!

Saturday
Sep152018

Like a flower petal blooming

As most of you know, I have been doing Bikram Yoga for the eighth year running. You also know that I make it a point to do Yoga at least 200 times a year and there is always some new thing that I learn with respect to the Yoga, myself, and the connection between my self and the yoga. 

It is a never ending practice to find new edges, improve on posture, breathing, reaction times and being able to listen and implement directions.

Today we had Joseph Encinia come teach a workshop at BYSJ. This is the second time he is teaching this workshop at BYSJ. Two years ago when he came, got to attend his talk but could not attend the workshop because of travel. This time I was lucky to be in town. 

It was a four hour workshop which would have gone on for 5 hours were it not for the fact that there was a regular scheduled class after the workshop.

Have posted blogs on special classes and workshops in the past at BYSJ and every one of them has been eye opening.  For example, I learned that drinking water was not a necessity in class after the last workshop. Have not had water during class since March 22nd and it is almost been six months. Putting that into practice and sticking to that for day after day to make it the new habit is one of the things that this Yoga teaches me. 

Yes, you do something for ~1600 classes (excel spreadsheet says 1597 to be exact) and find out that you are still not doing something right or you are not using the right muscle to do the right thing (it might look okay in the mirror but you are not doing it right) and you start correcting it. Maybe after another 200 classes there will be another correction, but it has to be made the new habit or else this doesn't work.

Joseph was amazing today. He did a demo before class to go over the entire sequence in under 10 minutes. Then he broke down every pose and explained the do's and don'ts. Some of us also got to go show him our poses that we thought were messed up and he helped figure out what was wrong and what needs to change. 

When he started doing this and everyone took our their phones to take videos, I looked at it through the iPhone and said "no. I just want to record this in my brain.". You know how sometimes you are in a national park and you just put your Camera back into the bag and just stand there and take it all in. It was like that. Have the beginnng few minutes of the workshop in this video. (I am sure BYSJ will post more information or Joseph will post information on his website)

He was not going to show us fancy poses but how the breath moves through the body and that he demonstrated in 4 hours with is own body as well as ours with amazing clarity.

As in most classes, even if I learn a 100 things, only 5 stick to my mind and can be made into a habit. The rest wait. Folks who know the yoga poses will be able to follow the below. Someday when I can show the difference between pre and post, will post a video of myself doing things the right way. That day will come sooner than later.

Ardhachandrasana or Half Moon pose: Have always struggled to push myself at the end of the half moon pose because of my attempt to keep up the breathing at 80/20. Keep 80% of the lungs full and just breathe 20% in and out. However, my lungs have had difficulty doing that, towards the end, trying to breathe. Today I learned that the trick is to use a lung, instead of both lungs. There is one lung that is compressed and one extended in Half moon pose. Use the extended lung to breathe comfortably. Apparently the "flower petal blooming" is to help drive that point home when the teacher says it in every class! The flower petal blooms from the inside out.. that lung was supposed to do that. I never got that in all these years. 

Dandayamana Janushirasasana (standing head to knee) : The second thing I learned today was that the three bandhas or locks have to be done for a lot of poses. In some poses only two are used, in others three. But the pelvic lock is mandatory. You lose that, you might as well come out of the pose and start all over again. I had no idea how many times I was unlocking it and trying to relock. It simply doesn't work that way. There are also poses where that lock implies pulling your navel straight back in vs. pulling your navel back and up. Again, these are things that you get to see only when you see a teacher demonstrate this up close and personal. I was on the floor and Joseph was standing 6 feet away and I understood. Many teachers have tried to show us this from the Podium and I still could not see the difference.

Purna Salabasana (Full Locust pose) : The third thing I learned was the shoulder joint when rotated outwards makes it easier for the neck to curve upwards. This might seem intuitive to some, but it was not obvious to me.  There is always a balance between strength and flexibilty, and maybe my body is different or my brain is, but it was another thing that I understood only after watching this close.

Tadasana (Tree pose) : Number four was that, a little pull in the inner thighs can straighten your legs and knees in multiple poses. Locking the knee by default pulls the legs outwards and to compensate, pulling in your inner thighs up works wonders. 

Janushirasana and Paschimotthanasana (Head to knee pose and stretching pose) : The last one was ingenious. When doing a separate leg stretching pose, if you push the bone below your big tow away from you, it magically straightens your entire leg on the floor. Just recently one of my task masters, Brad, taught me how to pull my ankle bones towards each other to rotate my feet right. That correction has been going on for almost two months now..and this gets added to it!

Those were things to remember and apply. Then again, there was what he left us with. No amount of teacher instruction, workshops is going to improve what we do unless we OWN it and work hard for it. 

We had a girl in the class who has been going through severe arthritis for 20+ years and we could literally see the surgery marks on her for various corrections, and she showed us what real dedication, drive, intent and intensity meant. I have no excuse after seeing that. 

Joseph himself had a heart attack at the age of 13 after he had a lot of treatments for his Arthritis and he turned his life around. He is vegetarian and does Yoga every day! 

He almost choked when he said "some of you lucky to be here without any chronic conditions. some of us are here because of chronic conditions. Doesn't matter why you are here. Own your practice and you will see results. Some of us have to work a lot harder and overcome challenges, but at the end of the day it is the same for everyone. don't be stubborn. don't be too patient. Dont be too determined in a stubborn way. have the right intent and intensity in your practice"

On a side note to my wife and kids and other close friends who keep asking me "how come you do all that yoga and never have six pack abs?".. Joseph answered that one too. Six pack abs are good for body building but it is difficult to back bend with those and back bending is key to a healthy spine. So I would rather have my back bend than a six pack, not that there is anything wrong with a six pack.

The thing that impressed me most was how down to earth Joseph is and how sincere he is in spreading the knowledge he has acquired over time and by experimenting with his own body.  

Was really happy that BYSJ brings teachers like this for such special workshops, so regular students can learn more and improve. We also get to see stuff up close and personal and understand body mechanics, something that is difficult to do watching Youtube videos or even teachers on the podium doing the occasional demonstration.

This was a beginner workshop, but in a way I was glad to take this workshop now and not six years ago. Most of the stuff he said would not have registered then, as I would have constantly doubted if I had certain muscles he was talking about. Takes a few years to realize that we all have the same muscles.. just that some are never used or activated in normal life, and we use the most dominant ones to make the poses look like the end result without doing it right. . . slowly things normalize and the body changes.

The learning and discipline continues. Maybe the next time Joseph shows up, the top five things that I managed to remember at the end of class will be the new normal!

Saturday
Jun232018

Combining two interests

Yoga and Photoshop..

call it what you want, but these two pictures were a good time pass.

Jr. volunteered to take the individual shots. She said it was more fun to keep clicking and watch me do yoga than have to do the Yoga herself.. also she got to yell "body down, stretch forward" a few times. (had taught her to repeat the right keywords at the right times to motivate me). 

One of my teachers Matt always tells me "Sundar, you have to take it one millimeter at a time. Trust the process. It is a process. Go for progress instead of perfection". Every word is etched in my head. 

Being a process engineer by background, this Process is asymptotic and can be imperceptible on a day to day basis.. but, a millimeter a day adds up to 36.5 centimeters a year.. that is more than a foot! That assumes you come every day. Sometimes a weeks break can reset you more than 7 millimeters.. but that is another story. 

If you keep going and practice routinely, you can see the millimeters add up.

Will leave you with these two pictures of the half moon pose backbend 

and standing bow pose

both of which were incredibly difficult for me to do as a beginner and as a regular student in every class.. Was probably going back or forward only to the first step you see in the pictures. Today can do slightly better than the lowest bends in these pictures given all the poses we do prior to doing this (in heat) compared to directly jumping into it without any warm up at home. 

Matt was right.. those millimeters all add up over the years. 

All that said summer is always a tough time to keep up the regularity of the practice. So the process takes an erratic path and some semblence of regularity is regained in fall.

Was originally going to spot the 10+ things wrong in every pose, but today has been a good day. So instead I took a different approach, admired my handiwork on photoshop and decided all those things can wait. 

They are going to take a lifetime to fix.. and I am surprisingly okay with it!

Hope all of you got to do or try some Yoga on International Yoga day on Thursday. If you tried it for the first time, hope you had a lifechanging experience and you keep coming. If you got your regular yoga done, go you! 

It takes an inner will to be absolutely selfish to go do Yoga on a regular basis. The only way you can take care of others if you take care of yourself first.